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The John Rylands Research Institute

Our people

Find out more about our researchers and support staff below.

Hannah Barker, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute and Professor of History 

Hannah Barker

Hannah Barker is Director of the John Rylands Research Institute and Professor of British History.  

Hannah is a historian of industrial revolution England. She is Chair of Manchester Histories, a charity which works to transform lives in Greater Manchester through histories and heritage, a Historical Advisor for the National Trust and a feoffee of Chetham's charity.

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Rachel Beckett, Associate Director of The John Rylands Library and the John Rylands Research Institute

Rachel Beckett

Rachel is responsible for the leadership and development of the John Rylands Library with a particular focus on increased engagement with the academic community, research and engaging wider audiences with the Library as a cultural attraction. Rachel is a member of the University of Manchester Library’s Leadership Team and co-Chair of RLUK’s Leadership Group for Special Collections.

Research staff

Naomi Billingsley, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow 

Naomi studied Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London. Her PhD, awarded by the University of Manchester in 2016, was entitled ‘The Visual Christology of William Blake.’ Before joining the Institute, she worked in a research role for the Diocese of Chichester, and lectured in Art History at Birkbeck, University of London. Naomi’s research is at the intersection of the History of Christianity and the History of Art in Britain, especially in the Romantic Period. Her current project is concerned with the Macklin Bible - an ambitious illustrated edition of the Bible, published in 1800, based on specially-commissioned paintings by the leading artists of the day. Her project will investigate the formation and reception of the Bible, and will draw on a variety of material in collections in Manchester, including copies of the Bible and archival materials at the Library, and visual collections at the Whitworth. 

Maria Cioată, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish Studies and Fellow of the John Rylands Research Institute

Maria’s main area of research is Jewish and Christian narratives from the Second Temple period and the Middle Ages and their reception. She is also interested in the study of folklore and 19th-century intellectual history. Maria has recently worked on a German manuscript from the Rylands Gaster collection (F Horn’s Nationaltraum der Juden), which contributes to the history of Zionism. The aim of her project, Moses Gaster (1856-1939): Eclectic Collector, is to evaluate Gaster’s identity as a collector, and to assess his contribution to scholarship, focusing particularly on his work on Romanian folklore and medieval Hebrew and Slavonic apocryphal narratives.

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Florence Impens, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Florence Impens

Florence studied at University of Paris III - Sorbonne Nouvelle and at Trinity College, Dublin, where she was awarded a PhD in English in 2013. She has lectured in English and in French at Trinity College, Dublin, and was a NEH-Keough Fellow at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame in 2014-2015. Florence is researching into 20th- and 21st-century British and Irish poetry, with a particular interest in translation and classical reception studies, and in comparative literature. Florence’s previous research looked at classical reception studies in Irish poetry after 1960.

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Katharina Keim, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Katharina studied Religions and Theology at Cardiff University, and Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester. Her doctoral thesis was entitled “Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer: Structure, Coherence, Intertextuality, and Historical Context”, and offered a literary profile of the Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer, a Hebrew work dated to the late eighth or early ninth century CE. This work was informed by the methodology theorised in the Typology of Anonymous and Pseudepigraphic Jewish Literature in Antiquity c. 200 BCE to c. 700 CE project. The thesis brought text-linguistic and historical-critical approaches together to describe the literary characteristics of the text and to examine the intertextual relationships that exist between traditions found in the Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer and in related Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. Katharina’s research interests include the development, transmission and translation of traditions found in Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

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Dr Grigory Kessel, Research Associate

Grigory Kessel is affiliated with the University of Manchester and Austrian Academy of Sciences and specialises in the study of the literary heritage of Syriac Christianity, with particular attention to its manuscript tradition. Besides manuscripts, his publications deal with Syriac medical and monastic texts, as well as bibliographic research.  Kessel is a participant in a number of cataloguing projects, including the Sinai Palimpsest Project and those of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. At present, he is a Principal Investigator on the European Research Council Starting Grant Project, "Transmission of Classical Scientific and Philosophical Literature from Greek into Syriac and Arabic," and holds a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship in Humanities for an editorial project, "The 'Syriac Epidemics' - Reception and Transmission of Classical Medicine in the East".

Alice Marples, Research Associate

Alice Marples

Alice studied History at the University of Glasgow and King’s College London, where she completed her PhD in 2016. Her thesis is entitled ‘Collecting and Correspondence in the Papers of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753),’ and explores the rise of public natural history in eighteenth century Britain through the archive of the physician, naturalist and collector. Her current research uses the papers of the Medical Manuscripts Collection in the John Rylands collection to illuminate the complex medical networks of industrial Manchester between 1750 and 1850, a crucial context for the development of professional provincial medical practice and wider processes of Enlightenment and ‘improvement.’ She has previously held fellowships at the Edward Worth Library in Dublin, Windsor Castle and the Science Museum. She teaches on a wide range of subjects in early modern European history, the history of science and medicine in Britain, and the history of collections and museums.

Nil Palabiyik, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Nil Palabiyik

Nil studied at the University of York and Royal Holloway, University of London, where she completed her doctoral thesis on “Nicodemos Metaxas and the first Greek printing press of Constantinople (1627–1628)”. She is a specialist in book history and printing culture of the Early Modern period with an interest in the publishing of Byzantine and post-Byzantine theological texts in Europe, Greek printing in Constantinople and the printed book trade in the Ottoman Empire during the hand-press period. Nil has lectured at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and been awarded research fellowships at the Scaliger Institute, Leiden University and Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

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Karen Rushton, Medical Manuscript Cataloguer

Karen Rushden

Karen is a qualified archivist, with an MA from Liverpool University. She has worked for the Highland Archive Service in Inverness on a broad remit cataloguing projects of public records, business records and private collections, including working with the Highland Health Board records, which mainly consisted of hospital and asylum records. In 2014, Karen moved to the Northumberland Archives and began work as a Project Archivist on a year-long Wellcome Trust-funded project to catalogue, part-digitise, and promote the records of Stannington Sanatorium, the UK’s first purpose-built children’s TB sanatorium. The unique nature of the collection meant that the project was able to engage with a range of academic audiences, from archaeology to creative writing. Karen is now the Medical Archivist at the University of Manchester Library and this role has allowed her to further develop her interest in medical history.

Stefania Silvestri, Research Associate

Peter Pormann

Stefania studied at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where she obtained her PhD in 2013 with the thesis “Hebrew Bibles from the Iberian Peninsula: Patronage, Production and Circulation between the 13th and 16th centuries”. She was awarded a PhD grant from the National Research Council of Spain, participating in the ERC starting grant INTELEG (The Intellectual and Material Legacies of Late Medieval Sephardic Judaism) and a one-year grant within the Doctoral Fellowship Programme of the European Jewish Foundation. She has produced the online catalogue of the collection of Jewish marriage contracts from the Library of the Museo Correr of Venice, within the Italian project Nuova Biblioteca Manoscritta.

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Renate Smithuis, Research Fellow

After studying Semitic Languages and Cultures (Hebrew/Aramaic and Arabic) at the University of Amsterdam, Renate came to the UK in 2000 to write her PhD on Abraham Ibn Ezra's Hebrew and Latin astrological treatises with Professor Philip Alexander. Between 2003 and 2009, she was the Research Assistant for the [AHRC] Rylands Cairo Genizah Project, for which she prepared, as part of a small team, the online image collection and catalogue of the John Rylands Library’s 15,000 Genizah fragments. In 2009, she became a Lecturer in Medieval Jewish Studies at Manchester. Renata’s work also includes a collaborative project on Abulafia's Secrets of the Torah for “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Kabbalistic Library” project led by Professor Giulio Busi, and the pursuit of research interests in 13th-century Jewish intellectual life and thought in Italy, Provence and Spain. 

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Support staff

Anne Brandolani, Administrative Assistant

Anne Brandolani

Anne’s role is to assist with administrative matters, including financial administration. Most of Anne’s career has been spent in higher education. She was Manager of Postgraduate Research Programmes at Alliance Manchester Business School for seven years, moving to Manchester Metropolitan University to take up the role of Manager of the School of Law.


Stella Halkyard, Joint Head of Special Collections, Visual Collections and Academic Engagement Manager

Stella Halkyard

Stella is Joint Head of Special Collections, and Visual Collections Manager at the University of Manchester Library. As Head of Special Collections she shares responsibility for providing team leadership in the collective pursuit of exemplary academic engagement, reader services and curatorial responsibilities. She also curates the Art, Photography and Object Collections. Her research interests include visual culture, portraiture, the history of photography and the material culture of writers and writing. She also acts as the curatorial link to the John Rylands Research Institute.

Chloe Jeffries, Grant Writer

Chloe Jeffries

Chloe is responsible for helping to build projects and scale up ideas. She is no stranger to special collections, thanks to an MSt in Historical Research and a D.Phil in History from the University of Oxford. She also spent a year in French archives, at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris. Chloe previously worked in research development for Brunel University London. She has won bids with researchers across the Humanities and enjoys strong links with the arts, heritage and charitable sectors.