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Laura Saetveit Miles's picture

Laura Saetveit Miles

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

Winner, 2020 Meltzer Prize for Outstanding Younger Researcher at UiB -- UiB Medieval Cluster news article -- På Høyden article -- Khrono article 

Sassoon Visiting Fellowship, Bodleian Library Special Collections, Oxford University, UK - October 2021

Short-Term Visiting Fellowship, Jesus College, Oxford University, UK - Michaelmas 2021 (Sept-Dec)

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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 2020 monograph, The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Boydell & Brewer) looks not at one genre of text but rather at a theme across many genres, media, and centuries: 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 and Culture

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

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

  • Ecocriticism, fairies and Middle English romance
  • Malory and adultery
  • Gender and LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness and Griffith's Ammonite
  • Cross-dressing in Shakespeare's comedies
  • 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 Frankenstein and 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
Academic article
  • Show author(s) 2020. Introduction to Colloquium: Women's Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon: Gender and Genre. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 285-293.
  • Show author(s) 2020. Canon, Anon., or a Nun? Queering the Canon with Medieval Devotional Prose. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 295-310.
  • Show author(s) 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. 277-284.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text. Early Modern Culture Online. 41-47.
  • Show author(s) 2014. The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation. Speculum. 632-669.
Lecture
  • Show author(s) 2020. Book Launch Webinar: "The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation".
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Visions, Visuality, and Materiality in Medieval England”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity".
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Performing Female Masculinity in the Margins: Glosses on the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Formation: The Ethics of Devotional Reading and the Visionary Canon at Syon and its Contemporaries”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Compilations in Context: Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42 and its Visionary Inhabitants”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. "Mary as Hermeneutic Key".
  • Show author(s) 2014. “How to Read Like a Virgin”.
Popular scientific lecture
  • Show author(s) 2021. My Favourite Mystic podcast episode #4: Richard Methley.
  • Show author(s) 2019. News on my current research.
  • Show author(s) 2018. Class: "How can literature make you a better person?" .
  • Show author(s) 2018. "How can literature make you a better person?".
  • Show author(s) 2016. “The Mystery of the Oldest English Poem”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “The History of the Book: Touching 1000 Years of English Literature”.
  • Show author(s) 2016. "What professors do when they're not teaching: An example".
  • Show author(s) 2015. “Why do we read literature?”.
Academic lecture
  • Show author(s) 2021. Presentation on Roundtable, "Moving Holy Women in the Middle Ages".
  • Show author(s) 2021. Comparing Mystics Across Time and Gender: Julian of Norwich and Philip K. Dick.
  • Show author(s) 2020. “St. Birgitta of Sweden in Middle English Devotional Compilations”.
  • Show author(s) 2019. “Visions of the Annunciation in Books of Hours”.
  • Show author(s) 2019. “The Everyday Materiality of Carthusian Richard Methley’s Visionary Spirituality".
  • Show author(s) 2019. “Re-Assessing Birgitta of Sweden in Medieval England: Young Research Talents Project, 2019-2023".
  • Show author(s) 2019. “On the Controversy of the Revelations of Elizabeth of Hungary".
  • Show author(s) 2018. “Latour’s ‘How Not to Misunderstand the Science and Religion Debate’: A Useful Philosophy against False Binaries.”.
  • Show author(s) 2018. ‘Reforming the Virgin: Mary Reading at the Shrine of Walsingham, Pre- and Post-Reformation’ .
  • Show author(s) 2017. “Canon or Anon or a Nun? The Continuing Case of Elizabeth of Hungary”.
  • Show author(s) 2017. “A New Syon Manuscript? The Carthusian Door Verses of Beinecke MS 317".
  • Show author(s) 2015. What Nuns Read... And Didn't Read.
  • Show author(s) 2015. The Peculiar Story of the Annunciation Scenes in the Medieval English ‘Life of Christ’ Prose Tradition.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Narrating the Visionary-Devotional Reading Experience.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Could poetry save the pre-modern soul?
  • Show author(s) 2015. Conceiving the Word: Mary as Hermeneutic Key in Medieval Women’s Visionary Narratives.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Compiling St. Bridget in Late Medieval England.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Christine de Pizan and Julian of Norwich in Conversation.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Once and Future Feminism.
Book review
  • Show author(s) 2020. Review of Susan Powell, The Brigittines of Syon Abbey: Preaching and Print. Medieval Review.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Review of Liz Herbert McAvoy, ed. and trans., A Revelation of Purgatory. Speculum. 862-864.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Review of Cynthia Richards and Mary Ann O’Donnell, eds., Approaches to Teaching Behn’s Oroonoko. Medieval Feminist Forum (MFF). 157-159.
  • Show author(s) 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. 90-91.
  • Show author(s) 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. 212-214.
  • Show author(s) 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. 187-189.
  • Show author(s) 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. 267-270.
  • Show author(s) 2015. Review of Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 314-315.
  • Show author(s) 2014. Review of Jennifer Bryan, Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England. Speculum. 750-752.
Academic monograph
  • Show author(s) 2020. The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England .
Interview
  • Show author(s) 2015. Unge forskere vil spre kunnskap og kritisk sans.
  • Show author(s) 2015. UiB sine yngre utvalde.
Academic chapter/article/Conference paper
  • Show author(s) 2021. To Hugh Hermit. 8 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2021. Introduction. 46 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2021. Beinecke MS 317 and its New Witness to the Latin Door Verses from London Charterhouse: A Story of Carthusian and Birgittine Literary Exchange. 22 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2020. The Living Book of Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42: Compilation, Meditation, and Vision. 22 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2019. Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation. 33 pages.
  • Show author(s) 2018. “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture". 13 pages.
Poster
  • Show author(s) 2014. Imaginative Reading, Books of Hours, and the Late-medieval Devotional Treatise "Of Three Workings in Man’s Soul".
Academic literature review
  • Show author(s) 2014. The origins and development of the Virgin Mary's book at the annunciation. Speculum. 632-669.
Website (informational material)
  • Show author(s) 2021. “Hva betyr jomfru Marias bok i bebudelsen?”, Religionsoraklene.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity: Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve.” Blog post on In the Middle.com.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve racked up prizes – and completely misled you about the Middle Ages.” Article on Vox.com.
  • Show author(s) 2016. “Hvorfor ‘kvinnelige forfattere’?” Blogg innlegg på forskning.no.

More information in national current research information system (CRIStin)

MONOGRAPH

2020     The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Woodbridge, UK: D.S. Brewer), 312 pp.

EDITED WORK

2020     Co-edited with Diane Watt. Colloquium of 7 essays on “Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval English Canon: Gender and Genre,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 283-376.

PEER-REVIEWED PUBLICATIONS: JOURNAL ARTICLES & VOLUME CHAPTERS

2021     “Beinecke MS 317 and its New Witness to the Latin Door Verses from London Charterhouse: A Story of Carthusian and Birgittine Literary Exchange” in Manuscript Culture and Medieval Devotional Traditions: Essays in Honour of Michael G. Sargent, eds. Jennifer N. Brown and Nicole Rice (York Medieval Press / Boydell & Brewer, March 2021), pp. 3-24.

2021     “Introduction” (pp. vii-liii) and translation of “To Hugh Hermit” (pp. 149-155), in The Works of Richard Methley, trans. Barbara Newman. Cistercian Studies Series No. 286 (Liturgical Press, Jan 2021).

2020     Co-authored with Diane Watt. “Introduction” to colloquium on Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval English Canon: Gender and Genre, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 285-293.

2020     “Canon, Anon., a Nun: Queering the Canon with Medieval Devotional Prose.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 295-310.

2020     “The Living Book of Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42: Compilation, Meditation, and Vision,” in Late Medieval Devotional Compilations in England, ed. Marleen Cré, Diane Denissen, and Denis Renevey (Brepols), pp. 363-384.

2019     “Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation” in Touching, Devotional Practices and Visionary Experience in the Late Middle Ages, ed. David Carrillo-Rangel, Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel, and Pablo Acosta-Garcia (Palgrave), pp. 203-235.

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), pp. 79-91.

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: 1-38. 

  • Winner, 2014-2015 Prize for Best Article, Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship 
  • Article of the Month, May 2015, Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

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

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, 2010 Prize for Best Article by a Graduate Student, Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship

2011     “Richard Methley and the Translation of Vernacular Religious Writing into Latin” in After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth Century England, ed. 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.

 

MONOGRAPH

The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Boydell & Brewer, 2020)

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.

CURRENT PROJECT - from 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”

https://www.uib.no/en/birgitta

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.

NORSK

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.

PhD + MA, English Literature and Language, Yale University

MPhil, Medieval Studies, Yale University

MPhil, Medieval English Literature, University of Cambridge

BA, Brown University

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