Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson

BA (Sydney), MA (Melbourne), DPhil (Oxon)

Director of Studies, Postgraduate Mentor

College Roles

  • Director of Studies in English (Parts IA)
  • Postgraduate Mentor

University Roles

  • Fellow, Director of Studies, Tutor and College Associate Professor at Downing College


Telephone: 01223 335719

Email: bcl24@cam.ac.uk


Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson is a fiction writer, essayist and Shakespeare scholar with a particular interest in the Elizabethan botanical renaissance. 

In 2012 I took my Oxford DPhil, supervised by Sharon Achinstein and Laurie Maguire, before coming to Cambridge. I am Fellow of Downing College and a member of the English Faculty. In Part I of the English Tripos I teach Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature and in Part II, I teach Tragedy, Material Renaissance and Early Modern Drama. I represent the University on the BBC / Cambridge National Short Story Award.

Research Interests

My first monograph, Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture, traced the medical, theological, literary, and revolutionary uses of chastity from The Winter’s Tale to the death of Charles I. It argued, among other things, that court ‘performances’, including royal birthing ceremonies, need to be considered part of the same debate as political and theological pamphlets. My second book was Blood Matters, a collection of interdisciplinary essays as part of the Wellcome-Trust funded The Blood Project.

I am now writing about the Elizabethan botanical renaissance: a movement that involved a wide range of popular practices from domestic decorative arts to pedagogy, gardens and food, printed herbals, and the Shakespearean theatre itself, but which also shaped Elizabethan proto-colonialism and expansionist privateering through growing markets in cochineal, tobacco and sugar. This work also covers chorographic texts, travel (local and global), plants as objects of nostalgia and exoticism and shifting theological and proto-scientific understandings of the created world. As part of this research I am editing The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants, a 20-chapter volume charting literature’s interest in plants (from Virgil to contemporary nature writing and spanning all global regions) and finishing a monograph on Shakespeare’s botany.

From 2020-23 I convene the Faculty’s Plant Life research group with Kasia Boddy. In 2021-22 Kasia and I received a Research and Collections grant to hunt in our college and university collections for images and stories about Cambridge’s role in the global saffron trade and the local cultures that emerged around the growing, cultivating, selling, and use of saffron as medicine, dye, pigment, food. For centuries, both locally and globally, saffron has been caught up in nationalist, commercial and religious tensions, but we have all but forgotten the role Cambridge played in this long history. This project will culminate in an online exhibition and a conference at CRASSH: Saffron: Global History, Cambridge Stories.

I also bring my interest in religious and scientific discourses around nature to modern and contemporary writing. I am working on recent nature writing about plants and also 20th-century prose in the tradition of the divine imagination. With Julia Meszaros at Maynooth, I am charting the forgotten history of the role women played in the Catholic Literary Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries. This movement is usually characterised by the work of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene but in fact women writers from across the English speaking world (especially Britain and Ireland) were the movement’s most numerous members. Their work is almost entirely forgotten. For CUA press, I am editing a multi-volume series of paperback novels: Catholic Women Writers. I am also writing historical, literary and theological accounts of the divine imagination and its uses of nature to describe the ways in which ordinary life is raised by mystical reality.

More recently, I have been writing creative-critical pieces using my research on Renaissance culture to experiment with voice and the interleaving of the critical and novelistic ‘I’. Two of these pieces can be found in Hinterland and Howl, both nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I also write fiction.