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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Professor Helena Sanson

Photo of Helena Sanson
Professor of Italian, History of Linguistics, and Women's Studies
Fellow of Clare College
University Gender Equality Champion (AHSS)
Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership (Training and Development Group, Cambridge representative)
Contact details: 
Telephone number: 
(+44) (0)1223 333204 (College)

Clare College 
Memorial Court 


Helena Sanson (PhD Reading, 2002) joined the Department of Italian in 2003 as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and in 2005 as a University lecturer. She is Professor of Italian, History of Linguistics, and Women's Studies and a Fellow of Clare College.


Teaching interests: 


Helena Sanson teaches across various papers for the Department of Italian, in all years of the degree course (16th-, 19th-, 20th-century literature; ‘Questione della lingua’; political theory; women’s history and writing; conduct literature). She teaches on the ‘Women and Writing in Italy’ module for the Faculty’s MPhil in European, Latin American and Comparative Literatures and Cultures, and contributes to the interdisciplinary modules ‘Cultures of the Renaissance’ and ‘Marginalities in the Nineteenth Century’, as well as to the core course seminars ' Gender: Theory and History' and the module 'Approaches to Gender'. She also teaches on the MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies (University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies).

Professor Sanson welcomes doctoral students interested in doing research on a range of topics related to language, literature, and culture in Italy, between the 16th and the early 20th century, in particular with reference to women and gender; also women's history and women writers; conduct literature; history of linguistic thought in Italy and 'Questione della lingua'. 

Prospective doctoral students are encouraged to get in touch by email with a provisional research proposal. Interdisciplinary projects are particularly welcome.

Professor Sanson is also happy to supervise students applying for an MPhil or PhD at the Centre for Gender Studies.



Research interests: 


Professor Sanson’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the history of the Italian language, literature and culture in Italy, between the Renaissance and the post-Unification period. She is particularly interested in the relationship between the history of linguistic thought and the history of women, as representative of the less learned, as well as in the role of women writers and women readers, in the same period. She has published a number of articles and chapters on these issues and is the author of Donne, precettistica e lingua nell'Italia del Cinquecento: un contributo alla storia del pensiero linguistico (Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 2007) and Women, Language and Grammar: Italy 1500-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2011; this book was one of the winners of the ‘British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monograph Series’ competition). Another strand of interest is the vast production of conduct literature for and about women that aimed to define women’s nature and their role in society. She has prepared modern editions of sixteenth-century texts on conduct, and among these Lodovico Dolce's Dialogo della instituzion delle donne, secondo li tre stati che cadono nella vita umana (1545) and Isabella Sori's Avvertimenti e ricordi [...] Difese [...] Panegirico (1628) for the MHRA 'Critical texts' series (2015 and 2018). She co-edited (with Francesco Lucioli) a volume on Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016).

She is currently completing a new monograph, Knowledge across Boundaries: Women, Language and Translation in Italy’s Long Eighteenth Century, which investigates the role of women translators in the circulation of new ideas and the popularization and dissemination of knowledge in Italy from Arcadia to the beginning of the 19th century.

Prizes and awards:

Professor Sanson is the recipient of a number of prizes and awards; among these: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship; British Academy Small Research Grant; AHRC research leave grant; British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monograph Series competition; CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) Early Career Fellowship; Isaac Newton Trust research grant; British Academy Conference Grant; MHRA conference grant; Cambridge Humanities Research Grant; Leverhulme Research Fellowship. In 2018-19, she was awarded a Senior Visiting Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna, where she also was Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Classic Philology and Italian Studies in 2019-20. She is also the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize.



Recent research projects: 


Recent collaborative research includes a Leverhulme Trust- and Isaac Newton Trust-funded investigation on 'Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life' (1 October 2012-30 March 2014) (for more details and a full list of the project outcomes, click here). In collaboration with Prof. Wendy Ayres-Bennett (University of Cambridge, Faculty of Applied and Theoretical Linguistics), she has worked on a co-edited volume that examines, with the contribution of near to 30 specialists from around the world, the role of women in the history of language codification and the history of linguistic thought across a range of European and non-European traditions. Women in the History of Linguistics will be published by Oxford University Press in 2020.

Professor Sanson is the UK host and co-applicant of the Newton International Fellowship project Female Portraits in Italian and British Travellers’ Accounts from Poland (1600-1700) carried out by Dr Małgorzata Trzeciak Cygan.


Professor Sanson is the General Editor of the book series Women and Gender in Italy (1500-1900)/Donne e gender in Italia (1500-1900), Paris, Classiques Garnier (for more information, click here) and of the interdisciplinary journal Women Language Literature in Italy/Donne lingua letteratura in Italia. See here and also here.



Published works: 


(Selected only)

Books (monographs/scholarly editions of texts; single-authored)

  • Isabella Sori, Ammaestramenti e ricordi, circa a’ buoni costumi, che deve insegnare una ben creata madre ad una figlia, da citella, d'accasata e da vedova; [...] divisi in dodeci lettere [...]. Con [...] dodeci Difese, fatte contro 
    alcuni sinistri giudicii, [...] e nel fine un Panegirico [...] dell'Illustrissima città d'Alessandria (1628), critical edition with introduction, notes, and index of names (Cambridge: MHRA, Critical Texts Series, vol. 48, 2018), xi+254 pp. ISBN: 978-1-78188-151-4 (Italian edition forthc.).  Click here for details.
  • Lodovico Dolce, Dialogo della institution delle donne, secondo li tre stati che 
    cadono nella vita umana
     (1545), critical edition with introduction (pp. 1-68), notes, and index of names (Cambridge: MHRA, Critical Texts Series, 2015, ix+203 pp.). ISBN: 978-1-907322-24-2.  Click here for details.
  • Women, Language and Grammar: Italy 1500-1900 (Oxford and London: Oxford University Press for The British Academy, 2011; xiv+420 pp.). This book was one of the winners of the 2008 'British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs' competition. ISBN: 978-0-19-726483-6. Click here for details.
  • Donne, precettistica e lingua nell'Italia del Cinquecento: Un contributo alla storia del pensiero linguistico (Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 2007, xviii+382 pp). ISBN: 88-89369-07-8. Click here for details. 
  • Orazio Fusco, La vedova (1570), critical edition with introduction, notes, glossary, and index of names (Paris: Classiques Garnier, Women and Gender in Italy series, forthc.).
  • Donne, educazione e condotta nell'Italia del Tardo Cinquecento. Storia e testi. Modern editions of three late-sixteenth century conduct literature texts for women; with introduction, biographical note, bibliographical note, text, notes, glossary, and index of names (in prep.).


Books (themed volumes/special issues of journals)

  • Women in the History of Linguistics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, co-edited with W. Ayres-Bennett, in press 2020; 656 pp.). ISBN 9780198754954. See also the related British Academy conference.
  • Women and Translation in the Italian Tradition: From the Renaissance to the Present (Paris: Classiques Garnier, in prep.).
  • Da madri a cittadine: le donne italiane dall'Unificazione alla Repubblica, special issue of The Italianist 38 (3), 2018, 298-459, 162 pp., with Sara Delmedico and Manuela di Franco, 2018. Click here for details.  
  • Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life (Paris: Classiques Garnier, co-edited with F. Lucioli, 2016; 438 pp). ISBN 978-2-406-05916-5 (paperback); ISBN 978-2-406-05917-2 (hardback). Click here for details.
  • 500 Years of Italian Grammar(s), Culture, and Society in Italy and Europe: From Fortunio’s Regole (1516) to the Present, special issue of The Italianist 36 (3), with F. Lucioli, 2016, 154 pp. Click here for details.
  • Women and Gender in Post-Unification Italy: Between Private and Public Spheres (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 'Italian Modernities' Series, with K. Mitchell, 2013; x+275 pp.). ISBN 978-3-0343-0996-7. Click here for details.


Critical editions in peer-reviewed journals

  • ‘“Margherita infelicissima” e l’Epistola de la vita, che dee tenere una donna vedova (1524) di Giovan Giorgio Trissino’, in Miscellanea di Studi in onore di Antonio Lanza, vol. II, ed. by M. Ceci and M. Troncarelli (forthc.)
  • Ragionamento del Sig. Annibal Guasco a D. Lavinia sua figliuola, della maniera del governarsi ella in corte; andando per Dama alla Serenissima Infante D. Caterina, Duchessa di Savoia (1586), modern edition with introduction, notes, glossary and index of names, Letteratura Italiana Antica, 11 (2010), 61-140 (Introduction: pp. 61-99).
  • L’Instituzione della sposa del cavalier Pietro Belmonte ariminese (1587), modern edition with introduction, notes, glossary and index of names, Letteratura Italiana Antica, 9 (2008), 17-76 (Introduction: pp. 17-34).


Peer-reviewed journal articles/book chapters/introductions

  • ‘Style: The Bridge Connecting Writer and Reader: Jane Tylus in Conversation with Dacia Maraini (Italian Cultural Institute, London, Friday 9 November 2018)’, Women Language Literature in Italy, 2, 123-35.
  • ‘Women, Multilingualism, and Access to Learning in Early Modern Italy’, in The Relation of Literature and Learning to Social Hierarchy in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Neil Kenny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ‘Proceedings of the British Academy’, forthc.)
  • 'Women in the History of Linguistics: Distant and Neglected Voices', in Women in the History of Linguistics, ed. by Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Helena Sanson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press, 2020), pp. 1-30 (with W. Ayres-Bennett)
  • ‘Women and Language Codification in Italy: Marginalized Voices, Forgotten Contributions’, in Women in the History of Linguistics, ed. by Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Helena Sanson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press, 2020), pp. 59-90
  • ‘“Una scheda nell’urna”: per non dimenticare’, in Da madri a cittadine: le donne italiane fra l’Unificazione e la Repubblica, eds Sara Delmedico, Manuela Di Franco, and Helena Sanson. Special issue of The Italianist, 38(3), 2018, 450-59. 
  • ‘La Vraie méthode di Nicolas Adam e le sue grammatiche “à l’usage des dames”’, in Streifzüge durch die Romania: Festschrift für Gabriele Beck-Busse zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. by Astrid Lohöfer and Kirsten Süselbeck (Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2017), pp. 201-29.
  • ‘Grammatiche dell'italiano “pour les Dames” nel Settecento: Antonio Curioni fra Parigi e Londra’, in 500 Years of Italian Grammar(s), Culture, and Society in Italy and Europe: From Fortunio's Regole (1516) to the Present, special issue of The Italianist, ed. by H. Sanson and F. Lucioli, The Italianist, 36 (2016), 448-471.
  • ‘Women and Conduct in the Italian Tradition, 1470-1900: An Overview’, in Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life(Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016), pp. 9-38.
  • ‘Conduct for the Real Widow: Giulio Cesare Cabei’s Ornamenti della gentildonna vedova(1574)’, in Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016), pp. 41-62.
  • ‘Vittoria Colonna and Language’, in A Companion to Vittoria Colonna, ed. by Abigail Brundin, Tatiana Crivelli Speciale, Maria Serena Sapegno (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 195-234.
  • ‘Dorotea a lezione di “creanza” nel Dialogo [...] della institution delle donne (1545) del Dolce’, in Per Lodovico DolceMiscellanea di Studi. I. Passioni e competenze del letterato, ed. by Paolo Marini and Paolo Procaccioli (Manziana (Rome): Vecchiarelli, 2016), pp. 245-69.
  • ‘“Ma e in latino nulla? Qualcosa sì, ma tanto poco, che paja un nulla”: donne e latino in Italia fra Sette e Ottocento’, Romanische Forschungen, 127 (2015), 449-81.
  • ‘Widowhood and Conduct in Late-Sixteenth Century Italy: The Unusual Case of La vedova del Fusco (1570)’, The Italianist, 35 (2015), 1-26.
  • ‘Women, Culture and Conduct at Carnival Time in Annibal Guasco’s Tela cangiante(1605)’, Letteratura Italiana Antica, 16 (2015), 551-76.
  • ‘“Femina proterva, rude, indocta [...], chi t’ha insegnato a parlar in questo modo?” Women’s “Voices” and Linguistic Varieties in Written Texts (Italy, 16th-17th Centuries)’, in Oral Culture in Early Modern Italy: Performance, Language, Religion, ed. by S. Dall’Aglio, L. Degl’Innocenti, B. Richardson, M. Rospocher, C. Sbordoni, special issue of The Italianist, 34 (2014), 400-17.
  • ‘“Simplicité, clarté et précision”: Grammars of Italian “pour les Dames” and Other Learners in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century France’, Modern Language Review, 109 (2014), 593-616.
  • ‘“La madre educatrice” in the Family and in Society in Post-Unification Italy: The Question of Language’, in Women and Gender in Post-Unification Italy: Between Private and Public Spheres, ed. by K. Mitchell and H. Sanson (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang), pp. 39-63.
  • ‘Women Writers and the Questione della Lingua in Ottocento Italy: The Cases of Caterina Percoto, La Marchesa Colombi, and Matilde Serao’, Modern Language Review, 105 (4) (2010), 1028-52.
  • ‘“Orsù, non più Signora, [...] tornate a segno”: Women, Language Games and Debates in Cinquecento Italy’, Modern Language Review, 105 (1) (2010), 103-21.
  • ‘The Romance Languages in the Renaissance and after’, in The Cambridge History of the Romance Languages, ed. by A. Ledgeway, M. Maiden and J. C. Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2 vols, 2013), II, pp. 237-82.
  • ‘Ancora sulle donne, il volgare e la grammatica nel Cinquecento’, in Scrivere il Volgare fra Medioevo e Rinascimento. Atti del Convegno di Studi, Siena 14-15 maggio 2008, ed. by N. Cannata and M. A. Grignani (Pisa: Pacini, 2009), pp. 141-51.
  • ‘Women, Vernacular and the "Questione della Lingua" in Sixteenth-Century Italy’, in Languages of Italy: Histories and Dictionaries, ed. by A. L. Lepschy and A. Tosi (Ravenna: Longo, 2007), pp. 147-60.
  • ‘Consigli di un padre alla propria figlia in occasione delle nozze: Pietro Belmonti e l’Institutione della sposa (1587)’, The Italianist, 27 (2007), 5-49.
  • ‘Women and Vernacular Grammars in Sixteenth-Century Italy: The Case of Iparcha and Rinaldo Corso’s Fondamenti del parlar Toscano (1549)’, Letteratura Italiana Antica, 6 (2005), 391-431.
  • ‘Donne che (non) ridono: parola e riso nella precettistica femminile del XVI secolo in Italia’, Italian Studies, 60 (1) (2005), 6-21.
  • ‘Semasiologia e onomasiologia della “lingua materna” nella Questione della Lingua cinquecentesca’, Rassegna Europea di Letteratura Italiana, 25 (2005), 23-46.
  • Ornamentum mulieri breviloquentia: Donne, silenzi, parole nell’Italia del Cinquecento’, The Italianist, 23(2) 2003, 194-244.
  • ‘A proposito di –essa’, in L’Accademia della Crusca per Giovanni Nencioni (Florence: Le Lettere, 2002), pp. 263-75 (with G. Lepschy and A. L. Lepschy).
  • ‘Lingua italiana e femminile’, Quaderns d'Italià, 6 (2001), 9-18 (with G. Lepschy)



  • Public engagement events in conjunction with the international conference Women, Language(s) and Translation in the Italian Tradition (Clare College, Cambridge, Nov. 2018). Click here for details.
  • Public event: The Fortunes of the Orlando furioso, 1516-2016. See here.
  • Book exhibition: The Fortunes of the Orlando Furioso, 1516-2016. See here.
  • Book exhibition: 500 Years of Italian Grammar(s), Culture, and Society in Italy and Europe: From Fortunio's Regole (1516) to the Present, Cambridge University Library, 19 November-12 December 2015. See here.
  • Book exhibition: Conduct Literature for and about Women, Italy 1470-1900, Cambridge University Library, 17 February-23 March 2014. See here.



Postdoc mentor to:

Dr Sara Delmedico
Dr Małgorzata Trzeciak Cygan