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 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

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
  • 2020. The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England .
  • 2020. The Living Book of Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42: Compilation, Meditation, and Vision. 22 pages.
  • 2020. Review of Susan Powell, The Brigittines of Syon Abbey: Preaching and Print. Medieval Review.
  • 2020. Book Launch Webinar: "The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation".
  • 2019. “Visions of the Annunciation in Books of Hours”.
  • 2019. “The Everyday Materiality of Carthusian Richard Methley’s Visionary Spirituality".
  • 2019. “Re-Assessing Birgitta of Sweden in Medieval England: Young Research Talents Project, 2019-2023".
  • 2019. “On the Controversy of the Revelations of Elizabeth of Hungary".
  • 2019. Review of Liz Herbert McAvoy, ed. and trans., A Revelation of Purgatory. Speculum. 862-864.
  • 2019. Review of Cynthia Richards and Mary Ann O’Donnell, eds., Approaches to Teaching Behn’s Oroonoko. Medieval Feminist Forum (MFF). 157-159.
  • 2019. Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation. 33 pages.
  • 2019. News on my current research.
  • 2018. “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture". 13 pages.
  • 2018. “Latour’s ‘How Not to Misunderstand the Science and Religion Debate’: A Useful Philosophy against False Binaries.”.
  • 2018. ‘Reforming the Virgin: Mary Reading at the Shrine of Walsingham, Pre- and Post-Reformation’ .
  • 2018. Class: "How can literature make you a better person?" .
  • 2018. "How can literature make you a better person?".
  • 2017. “Canon or Anon or a Nun? The Continuing Case of Elizabeth of Hungary”.
  • 2017. “A New Syon Manuscript? The Carthusian Door Verses of Beinecke MS 317".
  • 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.
  • 2016. “Visions, Visuality, and Materiality in Medieval England”.
  • 2016. “The Mystery of the Oldest English Poem”.
  • 2016. “The History of the Book: Touching 1000 Years of English Literature”.
  • 2016. “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity: Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve.” Blog post on In the Middle.com.
  • 2016. “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity".
  • 2016. “Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve racked up prizes – and completely misled you about the Middle Ages.” Article on Vox.com.
  • 2016. “Performing Female Masculinity in the Margins: Glosses on the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.”.
  • 2016. “Hvorfor ‘kvinnelige forfattere’?” Blogg innlegg på forskning.no.
  • 2016. “Formation: The Ethics of Devotional Reading and the Visionary Canon at Syon and its Contemporaries”.
  • 2016. “Compilations in Context: Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42 and its Visionary Inhabitants”.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 2016. "What professors do when they're not teaching: An example".
  • 2016. "Mary as Hermeneutic Key".
  • 2015. “Why do we read literature?”.
  • 2015. What Nuns Read... And Didn't Read.
  • 2015. Unge forskere vil spre kunnskap og kritisk sans.
  • 2015. UiB sine yngre utvalde.
  • 2015. The Peculiar Story of the Annunciation Scenes in the Medieval English ‘Life of Christ’ Prose Tradition.
  • 2015. Review of Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 314-315.
  • 2015. Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text. Early Modern Culture Online. 41-47.
  • 2015. Narrating the Visionary-Devotional Reading Experience.
  • 2015. Could poetry save the pre-modern soul?
  • 2015. Conceiving the Word: Mary as Hermeneutic Key in Medieval Women’s Visionary Narratives.
  • 2015. Compiling St. Bridget in Late Medieval England.
  • 2015. Christine de Pizan and Julian of Norwich in Conversation.
  • 2014. “How to Read Like a Virgin”.
  • 2014. The origins and development of the Virgin Mary's book at the annunciation. 632-669.
  • 2014. The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation. Speculum. 632-669.
  • 2014. Review of Jennifer Bryan, Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England. Speculum. 750-752.
  • 2014. Once and Future Feminism.
  • 2014. Imaginative Reading, Books of Hours, and the Late-medieval Devotional Treatise "Of Three Workings in Man’s Soul".

More information in national current research information system (CRIStin)

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 (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 - 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.