Winner, 2021 Frank D. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Book Prize, American Society of Church History for outstanding scholarship in the history of Christianity by a first-time author: The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England
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)
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
- Old English
- Introduction to Literary Study: Islands
17+ 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
- Animal studies, ethics, and novels narrated by horses
- Jane Eyre and folklore studies
- (2020). Introduction to Colloquium: Women's Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon: Gender and Genre. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 285-293.
- (2020). Canon, Anon., or a Nun? Queering the Canon with Medieval Devotional Prose. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 295-310.
- (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.
- (2015). Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text. Early Modern Culture Online. 41-47.
- (2014). The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation. Speculum. 632-669.
- (2021). “Was Birgitta of Sweden the Most Influential Female Author of Late-medieval England? A Detective Story".
- (2020). Book Launch Webinar: "The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation".
- (2016). “Visions, Visuality, and Materiality in Medieval England”.
- (2016). “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity".
- (2016). “Performing Female Masculinity in the Margins: Glosses on the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.”.
- (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). "Mary as Hermeneutic Key".
- (2014). “How to Read Like a Virgin”.
- (2021). My Favourite Mystic podcast episode #4: Richard Methley.
- (2019). News on my current research.
- (2018). Class: "How can literature make you a better person?" .
- (2018). "How can literature make you a better person?".
- (2016). “The Mystery of the Oldest English Poem”.
- (2016). “The History of the Book: Touching 1000 Years of English Literature”.
- (2016). "What professors do when they're not teaching: An example".
- (2015). “Why do we read literature?”.
- (2021). “Reading Circles, Social Networks, and the Circulation of Birgitta’s Revelations in Late Medieval England".
- (2021). Presentation on Roundtable, "Moving Holy Women in the Middle Ages".
- (2021). Comparing Mystics Across Time and Gender: Julian of Norwich and Philip K. Dick.
- (2020). “St. Birgitta of Sweden in Middle English Devotional Compilations”.
- (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".
- (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’ .
- (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".
- (2015). What Nuns Read... And Didn't Read.
- (2015). The Peculiar Story of the Annunciation Scenes in the Medieval English ‘Life of Christ’ Prose Tradition.
- (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). Once and Future Feminism.
- (2021). Review of Irina Dumitrescu, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen. 215-217.
- (2021). "En djerv kvinne": Anmeldelse av Unn Falkeid, Den hellige Birgitta: Enken som utfordret Europa. Klassekampens Bokmagasin.
- (2020). Review of Susan Powell, The Brigittines of Syon Abbey: Preaching and Print. Medieval Review.
- (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.
- (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.
- (2015). Review of Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 314-315.
- (2014). Review of Jennifer Bryan, Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England. Speculum. 750-752.
- (2020). The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England .
- (2015). Unge forskere vil spre kunnskap og kritisk sans.
- (2015). UiB sine yngre utvalde.
- (2021). To Hugh Hermit. 8 pages.
- (2021). Introduction. 46 pages.
- (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.
- (2020). The Living Book of Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42: Compilation, Meditation, and Vision. 22 pages.
- (2019). Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation. 33 pages.
- (2018). “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture". 13 pages.
- (2014). Imaginative Reading, Books of Hours, and the Late-medieval Devotional Treatise "Of Three Workings in Man’s Soul".
- (2014). The origins and development of the Virgin Mary's book at the annunciation. Speculum. 632-669.
- (2021). “Hva betyr jomfru Marias bok i bebudelsen?”, Religionsoraklene.
- (2016). “The Ethics of Inventing Modernity: Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve.” Blog post on In the Middle.com.
- (2016). “Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve racked up prizes – and completely misled you about the Middle Ages.” Article on Vox.com.
- (2016). “Hvorfor ‘kvinnelige forfattere’?” Blogg innlegg på forskning.no.
2020 The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Woodbridge, UK: D.S. Brewer), 312 pp.
- Winner, 2021 Frank D. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Book Prize, American Society of Church History (for outstanding scholarship in the history of Christianity by a first-time author)
- Reviews: Speculum, Journal of the Early Book Society, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Medieval Feminist Forum, The Medieval Review, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, CHOICE
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.
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”
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.
PhD + MA, English Literature and Language, Yale University
MPhil, Medieval Studies, Yale University
MPhil, Medieval English Literature, University of Cambridge
BA, Brown University