Two scraps of a medieval manuscript salvaged from the binding of a 16th century copy of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes Vitae Christi.
I use this page to share some of my academic interests and ongoing projects, mostly in the area of late medieval literature and culture. The illustrations are from my very small collection of medieval manuscript fragments and leaves.
My research interests
My research focuses on the religious culture in the late medieval period, c. 1350-1550. I am particularly interested in Middle English religious and mystical writing, performance and affective forms of devotion, religious lyric religious, religious drama, Lollardy and heresy, medieval theology and intellectual history in general. With Ian Johnson from the University of St Andrews I have published a volume of essays entitled The Pseudo-Bonaventuran Lives of Christ: Exploring the Middle English Tradition. This publication investigates the literary tradition of Middle English Lives of Christ in its cultural, theological, and manuscript contexts. A related research interest is in the areas of book history and the history of reading. Some of my most recent research consists of a number of case studies that looks at the book collections and reading practices of a Catholic community in nineteenth-century New Hampshire. This has appeared as Books and Religious Devotion: The Redemptive Reading of an Irishman in Nineteenth Century New Hampshire (Penn State University Press, 2014).
I have taught at universities in Poland, Denmark, and the University of St Andrews. My teaching has focused on subjects of medieval and early modern literature, from Old English writing to John Milton. I have also taught survey courses on British literature from the Anglo Saxon period to the present, and contributed to seminars on literary theory and the history of the English language.
BA Aarhus University (English & Philosophy), 1995
MA Aarhus University, English Language and Literature,1998
MA Queen's University Belfast (English Medieval Studies), 1999
PhD Aarhus University (English Medieval Literature), 2007
PostDoc University of St Andrews, 2007-11
With the Reformation (often proclaimed as the triumph of the printed book) it was common for discarded medieval manuscript to be cut up and used as part of book bindings.
‘A Borrowing from Eadmer of Canterbury’s Liber de excellentia virginis Mariae in a Medieval English Translation of the Meditationes vitae Christi’, Notes and Queries, forthcoming.
Chapters in books
Books and Religious Devotion is a study of a remarkable book collection of a nineteenth-century New England farmer, Thomas Connary. Through a detailed reconstruction of how this Irish Catholic immigrant read and annotated his books, the study gives new insight into the capacity of books for structuring a life of devotion and social participation, and it presents an authentic and holistic view of one reader’s interior life.
This is a collection of pioneering studies by a distinguished transatlantic team of scholars on a neglected yet canonical tradition of medieval English literature. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries and beyond, the remarkable ‘pseudo-Bonaventuran’ tradition, flowing from the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi (and thought, wrongly, to have been composed by St Bonaventure), gave Europe orthodox models for how to represent, know, and follow Jesus Christ. How to live, what to believe, how to feel, and how to be saved: this eloquent mainstream tradition had an impact on the public and private lives of English people more profound and lasting than any text save the Bible itself. For many, it even did the Bible’s work. The tradition of the Meditationes provides us with a gauge of lived religious sensibility without equal in the English later Middle Ages.
A verso leaf (10 x 14 cm) from a medieval prayer book (known as a book of hours) c. 1400. The prayers are in Latin and the page shows an illuminated initial 'E'(xaudi) with floral ornamentation and an image of a squirrel. Click here for an image of the recto. I assume the animal motifs are medieval and not drawn in later, but I cannot be certain.
The page contains the words from Psalm 59-60, beginning 'Nonne tu Deus qui repulisti nos et non egredieris Deus in virtutibus nostris. Da nobis auxilium de tribulatione et vana salus hominis. In Deo faciemus virtutem et ipse ad nihilum deducet tribulantes nos'. ('Wilt not thou, O God, who hast cast us off? and wilt not thou, O God, go out with our armies? Give us help from trouble: for vain is the salvation of man. Through God we shall do mightily: and he shall bring to nothing them that afflict us')
The book of hours is the most common type of surviving medieval manuscript, and it was used to structure daily religious prayer for people at most levels of society, very often women. Often the books of hours are found with lavish illustration, sometimes with full-page miniatures.
It is unusual for a book of hours to contain Psalms 59-60; most often it contains only the seven so-called penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). It is possible, therefore, that this page is in fact from a medieval psalter, another common type of manuscript containing the Book of Psalms in combination with other devotional materials.
The Thomas Connary research project
Although my main specialist area is the literature and culture of late-medieval England, I allow myself to be open to serendipity in my research pursuits. Generally, it is my conviction that allowing an openness to interdisciplinarity and new research paths can make one more curious, perceptive, and open-minded.
A recent research project of mine examines the publication of Irish Catholic literature in New England in the nineteenth century, and it focuses on one remarkable collection of enhanced and annotated books owned by an Irish immigrant by the name Thomas Connary (1813-1898). In my forthcoming book Books and religious Devotion: The Redemptive Reading of an Irishman in Nineteenth Century New Engand I examine the book collection of this Irishman who settled as a farmer in New Hampshire, and I apply methods of medieval text and manuscript studies to this much later material. The motivation behind this work is my belief that the deep understanding we acquire in medieval studies about the material culture of the book and the dynamics of book production and dissemination can be of the highest value, theoretical and applied, outside of our narrow disciplinary boundaries.
Click here for more details and illustrations of the library of Thomas Connary
A leaf (6.5 x 9.5.cm) from a manuscript of Latin liturgical chant with an example of the medieval notational system.
The text is from Psalm 139, 7-8:
Dixi Domino Deus meus es tu exaudi Domine vocem deprecationis meae. Domine Domine virtus salutis meae obumbrasti super caput meum in die belli. (I said to the Lord: Thou art my God: hear, O Lord, the voice of my supplication. O Lord, Lord, the strength of my salvation: thou hast overshadowed my head in the day of battle.)
A leaf from a Latin religious manuscript, known as a breviary, measuring 11 x 15 cm. with large painted initials in blue and red. The breviary was a liturgical manuscript used throughout the middle ages and it contained a medley of psalms, hymns, and prayers, as well as scripture lessons and quotations from church fathers. This illustrated recto contains extracts from St Augustine’s In Iohannis Evangelium tractatus. Click here to see the verso. I'm unsure where this leaf was produced but I think it's fifteenth century.
A tiny leaf from a miniature Latin Bible manuscript that measures no more than 6.5 x 9.5cm. The page begins with John 16.9 ‘De peccato quidem quia non credunt in me’, which is part of the King James Version ‘And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, of sin, because they believe not on me.’ The origin of this leaf is uncertain but I’m guessing France sometime around 1450. Click here for an image of the verso which contains John 16.15-16.19.
Ongoing Research Project: Moving Texts: The Cultural Locations of the Stimulus Amoris
I am working on a large-scale investigation of a much-neglected group of medieval devotional texts popular in translation in late-medieval England, and circulated throughout Europe in the late-medieval and early modern periods. By looking comprehensively at the texts as a pan-European phenomenon, and with influence reaching into preaching, visual art, and liturgical and dramatic performance, I want to revise the traditional boundaries of discipline, chronology, and language that continue to dominate and inhibit our scholarly endeavors.
The research project Moving Texts examines the European-wide dissemination of texts, their cultural mobility, and influence on religious practices across medieval and early modern division. The ambition is to outline a new approach to canonical yet little understood medieval religious writing that thinks in unusually broad terms about the utility and mobility of texts.
My ability to read in English, the Scandinavian languages, German, French and some Dutch and Latin enables me to work across vernacular traditions and to draw on a particularly rich international scholarship which researchers in English departments often do not benefit fully from.
Research material and objectives
Central to my research is the group of medieval writings translated and adapted from the Latin religious texts Stimulus Amoris (c. 1300). The text, originally a Franciscan meditative work, circulated through more than 250 years in many distinct adaptations and in unprecedented numbers of manuscripts. A published survey of the full existing manuscript corpus records more than 500 manuscripts, a wealth of translations (entire or partial) into European vernacular languages, and thirteen incunable editions.
The project will offer a series of in-depth case studies of the many adaptations and applications of the Stimulus Amoris. Some emphasis will be on the rich English-language material but always with a view to the full European context. It is important to note that the main focus of my work will not be on editing texts or on manuscript descriptions. Instead, it is on how dynamics of textual translation, adaptation and dissemination throw light on late-medieval theological and political interests, and on mainstream and dissenting/reformist religious culture (all of which will vary from one region to another).
Central themes I explore include:
The purpose of these investigations can never be a totalising description, but rather a series of case studies that provide a fresh perspective on an important but much under-studied text which was in constant movement. My understanding of movement here is threefold, including the concrete geographical movement of texts, the translation and revision of texts, and the ability of texts to move and influence different readers in different ways. These case studies will emphasize both local, vernacular peculiarities and the rich interchange of languages and cultural forms between different locales and periods.
A brief word about research outcomes
In addition to articles in academic journals and conference papers, the planned research output includes a monograph, Moving Texts: The Cultural Locations of the Stimulus Amoris. This will provide a fresh theorization of the cultural mobility of medieval religious writing. It will offer a fresh account of how an important text was received and re-imagined as it travelled in and out of institutional affiliation and across linguistic boundaries, indicating a plurality of religious and reformist attitudes through the European medieval and early-modern epochs.