Laura Saetveit Miles's picture

Laura Saetveit Miles

Associate Professor, Førsteamanuensis / associate professor
  • E-mailLaura.Miles@uib.no
  • Phone+47 55 58 22 88
  • Visitor Address
    HF-bygget, Sydnesplassen 7
    HF 252 (PHONE: 55 58 22 88)
  • Postal Address
    Postboks 7805
    5020 Bergen

My research encompasses Middle English literature, medieval religious culture, women's writing, manuscript studies, and feminist, gender, and queer theory. How did women readers and authors shape literature in the Middle Ages? How did religion open up new opportunities for women to create and engage with texts, even as it restricted women in other ways? How did books and texts function as powerful, sacred objects? Language shapes the self, literary critics across time would agree - but what if language saves the soul? 

I became interested in medieval mystical and visionary writing as an undergraduate studying at Brown University and the University of Oxford and don't see an end in sight - from my first article on Julian of Norwich's rhetoric of space, to my recent publication on visionary interpolations in devotional compilations, to my next project on Birgitta of Sweden's reception in England, these complex texts remain an alluring challenge for me. My forthcoming book looks not at one genre of text but rather at a theme across many genres, media, and centuries: Virgin Mary reading a book at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greets her and she conceives Christ. Focusing on Middle English and Latin works read in England, in this book I argue that her reading offered a rich model of interpretation through flesh, soul, and mind: the maternal body could actually enable sophisticated meaning-making out of texts. This project takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining literature with visual art, to trace a new history of reading that further illuminates the role of women in medieval literary culture. 

My other publications engage a range of methodologies – close textual analysis, paleography and codicology, feminist theory, queer theory – in order to probe how religion and literature shaped the lives of medieval people. I am most concerned with the intersection of women’s literary culture and devotional practice because only recently has this field begun to receive proper attention, and there are still so many relevant manuscripts neglected in libraries, with scores of texts unedited and unexamined. That is why my next project gets back to the archives to ask a pressing question: how and why was Birgitta of Sweden so incredibly popular with English readers in the 150 years between 1380 and the Reformation? The story of England’s obsession with the Swedish visionary has the potential to change the history of women writers. 

Courses currently in rotation at UiB

ENG100: Introduction to Literary Studies

ENG125: Introduction to British Literature

ENG 200-level (upper undergraduate seminars):

  • Visions and Madness in Medieval Literature 

ENG 300-level (masters seminars):

  • Chaucer After Theory
  • Women Writers' Blazing Worlds 
  • Arthurian Literature: Medieval to Modern
  • Thesis Writing Preparation for English Literature and Culture

Past courses at Michigan and Yale, undergraduate level

  • Book of Monsters: Reading the Beowulf Manuscript
  • From Table to Tablet: The History of the Book
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Shakespeare
  • Vikings!
  • Old English
  • Introduction to Literary Study - Islands

11 MA Theses advised or in progress at UiB, on topics including:

  • Gender and Margaret Cavendish's plays
  • Satire in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
  • Character development in Siri Hustvedt’s novels
  • Gender, trans theory, and the gothic genre in Shelley’s Frankensteinand Ian Banks’ Wasp Factory
  • Medievalism in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire
  • Death in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, purgatory visions, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
  • Competition in Mount Everest summiting narratives
  • Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses
  • Ecocriticism and Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native
  • Gaskell’s Cranford
  • Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Wharton’s House of Mirth
Journal articles
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2017. An Unnoticed Borrowing from the Treatise Of Three Workings In Man’s Soul in the Gospel Meditation Meditaciones Domini Nostri. Journal of the Early Book Society. 20: 277-284.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2016. Book review of: Birgitta of Sweden, The Revelations of St. Birgitta of Sweden, vol. 4, trans. Denis Searby, introduced by Bridget Morris. Archives: The Journal of the British Record Association. 2: 90-91.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2016. Book review of Ralph Hanna, Introducing English Medieval Book History: Manuscripts, their Producers and their Readers. Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen. 253: 212-214.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2016. Book review essay of Hans Jørgensen, Henning Laugerud, and Laura Katrine Skinnebach, eds., The Saturated Sensorium: Principles of Perception and Mediation in the Middle Ages and Henning Laugerud, Salvador Ryan, and Laura Katrine Skinnebach, eds. The Materiality of Devotion in Late Medieval Northern Europe: Images, Objects, Practices. In Kunst og Kultur 3 (2016), 187-89. Kunst og kultur. 3: 187-189.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2016. Book Review of Virginia Blanton, Veronia O’Mara, and Patricia Stoop, eds., Nuns’ Literacies in Medieval Europe: The Kansas City Dialogue. Journal of the Early Book Society. 19: 267-270.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2015. Review of Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 37: 314-315.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2015. Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text. Early Modern Culture Online. 6: 41-47.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2014. Review of Jennifer Bryan, Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England. Speculum. 89: 750-752.
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2014. The origins and development of the Virgin Mary's book at the annunciation. Speculum. 89: 632-669. doi: 10.1017/S0038713414000748
Book sections
  • Miles, Laura Saetveit. 2018. “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture". Ch 6, pages 77-89. In:
    • Johannesen, Lene; Ledbetter, Mark. 2018. Emerging Aesthetic Imaginaries. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 216 pages. ISBN: 9781498571999.

More information in national current research information system (CRIStin)

2018  “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture,” in Emerging Aesthetic Imaginaries, ed. Lene Johannessen and Mark Ledbetter (Lexington Books), 77-89

2017  “An Unnoticed Borrowing from the Treatise Of Three Workings In Man’s Soul in the Gospel Meditation Meditaciones Domini Nostri,” Journal of the Early Book Society 20, 277-284.

2015  “Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text,” Early Modern Cultures Online 6, 41-47.

2014  “The Origins and Development of Mary’s Book at the Annunciation,” Speculum 89/3, 632-669.

2012   “St Bridget of Sweden” in History of British Women’s Writing, Vol. 1: 700-1500, ed. by Diane Watt and Liz Herbert McAvoy (London: Palgrave), pp. 207-215 [Commissioned essay].

2011   “Looking in the Past for a Discourse of Motherhood: Birgitta of Sweden and Julia Kristeva,” Medieval Feminist Forum, Volume 47.1, 52-76. Winner, Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship 2010 Prize for Best Article by a Graduate Student.

2011   “Richard Methley and the Translation of Vernacular Religious Writing into Latin” in After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth Century England, ed. by Vincent Gillespie and Kantik Ghosh (Turnhout: Brepols), pp. 449-466.

2010   “Scribes at Syon: The Communal Usage and Production of Legislative Texts at the English Birgittine House” in Saint Birgitta, Syon and Vadstena. Papers from a Symposium in Stockholm 4-6 October 2007, ed. by C. Gejrot, S. Risberg & M. Åkestam (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien), pp. 71-88.

2008   “Space and Enclosure in Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love” in A Companion to Julian of Norwich, ed. by Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer), pp. 154-165.

2008    “Julian of Norwich and St. Bridget of Sweden: Creating Intimate Space with God” in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold: Space, Place and Body within the Discourses of Enclosure, ed. by Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cardiff: University of Wales Press), pp. 127-140.

PhD + MA, English Literature and Language, Yale University

MPhil, Medieval Studies, Yale University

MPhil, Medieval English Literature, University of Cambridge

BA, Brown University


The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England

To the modern viewer, Mary’s book at the Annunciation seems so familiar: it is a commonplace in the hundreds of late medieval and Renaissance Annunciation paintings which cover the walls of our museums. But to the early medieval Christian, this was a new innovation which transformed the Annunciation scene into an accessible example of text-based spiritual devotion and prayer to God. This project examines the development of the motif of Mary’s book in the literature and art of medieval England, and how the Annunciation scene offered a vital model of reading, devotion, and vision remarkably adaptable to a plurality of audiences including both enclosed women and lay readers.

Forthcoming from Boydell & Brewer (2020).

CURRENT PROJECT - beginning August 2019

2019-2023, Norwegian Research Council Young Research Talents Grant (8,000,000 NOK / ~$915,000):

“ReVISION: Re-assessing St. Birgitta and her Revelations in Medieval England: Circulation and Influence, 1380-1530”

In the medieval period, one of the most common genres of writing that women produced was the visionary account. Holy woman Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known across the Continent and in England through her huge collection of divine visions, the Latin Revelations, which was translated into many vernaculars. However, our understanding of Birgitta’s influence in England is uneven because most of her English texts have not been edited, and her influence on literature and religion remains understudied.  

This project proposes the first comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on medieval England. How were her texts received and circulated, and what was the extent of her influence? A bold overarching hypothesis will be tested: that from around 1380 until the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping English society - and, at the same time, the English also shaped Birgitta and her texts to fit their own needs and tastes, sometimes through dramatic adaptation.

In order to test this hypothesis, the project combines three innovative methodologies. First, we will create a multi-faceted, open-access database of English manuscripts and other evidence related to Birgitta. Second, select Middle English versions of Birgitta’s Revelations will be edited for the first time, in both print and digital editions. Third, we will produce network graphs that can illuminate how Birgitta’s texts circulated in England, and how her influence spread. Finally, with all this knowledge combined, our analysis will enable us to suggest a new narrative of women’s writing in England, centered on Birgitta of Sweden as the most influential female author. Altogether, the project could advance our understanding of how gender, authorship, and religious literature functioned in late medieval England.


I middelalderen var en av de vanligste typene av tekster som ble produserte av kvinnelige forfattere visjonære tekster. Den hellige kvinnen Birgitta av Sverige (1303-73) var kjent over hele kontinentet, og i England, gjennom sin enorme samling av guddommelige åpenbaringer. Den latinske Revelationes, ble oversatt til mange folkespråk. Imidlertid er vår forståelse av Birgittas påvirkning i England fremdeles utydelig fordi de fleste av hennes engelske tekster ikke har blitt redigert. Hennes innflytelse på litteratur og religion er derfor fremdeles et uutforsket felt.

Dette prosjektet legger opp til den første omfattende studien av Birgitta og hennes  Åpenbaringers fulle innflytelse i middelalderens England. Hvordan ble hennes tekster mottatt og sirkulert, og hva var omfanget av hennes innflytelse? En dristig overordnet hypotese som vil bli testet er at fra rundt 1380 til den engelske reformasjonen på 1530-tallet var Birgitta den mest innflytelsesrike kvinnelige forfatteren i middelalderens England, med en uutslettelig påvirkning på det engelske samfunn. Samtidig endret engelske lesere Birgitta og hennes tekster for å passe til sine egne behov og preferanser, noen ganger ved noen dramatisk tilpasninger av tekstene.

For å teste denne hypotesen, kombinerer prosjektet tre innovative metodiske tilnærminger. Først skal vi opprette en mangefasettert database med engelske manuskripter og annen dokumentasjon relatert til Birgitta med åpen tilgang. For det andre vil flere av de engelskspråklige versjonene av Birgittas Revelationes for første gang bli redigert, både i trykte og digitale utgaver. For det tredje skal vi lage nettverks grafer som kan belyse hvordan Birgittas tekster sirkulerte i England, og hvordan hennes innflytelse spredte seg. Til slutt, gjennom en kombinasjon av alle denne kunnskapen, vil vår analyse gjøre det mulig for oss å presentere en ny fortelling om kvinners forfatterskap i England, med fokus på Birgitta av Sverige som den mest innflytelsesrike kvinnelige forfatter. Samlet kan prosjektet fremme vår forståelse av hvordan kjønn, forfatterskap og religiøs litteratur fungerte i middelalderens England.