Research Interests

Research Themes

- History of ideas, intellectual thought and culture in the early middle ages

- History of the Church in early medieval England and Europe

- National identity in historical discourse

- Medieval theology and liturgy, and interactions between theology and society

- Hagiography and saints’ cults

- Textual culture and manuscript production

 

Current Research Projects

Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England (funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Leicester)

I am writing a book entitled Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: theology and society in an age of faith, which will be published by Ashgate. Using a series of case-studies, this book shows how theology interacted with the secular world, while also exploring the ways in which lay individuals – although isolated for the most part from the intricacies of theological discussion – nevertheless were evidently influenced in many spheres by theological ideas and responded to them in their own lives and actions. The influence of the Church as an institution is well-known, but abstract theological speculation, which was usually undertaken by monks or other ecclesiastical individuals and often isolated from ‘real life’, had a much greater and more significant impact than has been realised by modern scholars. The role of supernatural beings, such as angels, or ‘popular’ magic, is also extremely important here.

Formal theology and less orthodox religious beliefs informed structures and institutions such as justice and kingship, and influenced the decisions of people who leased land, granted property and portable wealth, and sought to benefit from the help of the angels and saints. The significance of my current research is that it opens up new areas of study and makes a substantial contribution to the ways in which early medieval history is considered and understood. It is not possible to understand a historical narrative without understanding the people who shaped it: only by interpreting these processes in the light of theology and theological debate, as well as considering the roles of supernatural beings and magic and ‘popular’ belief, is it possible to see the vibrancy of the early medieval world.

 

Manuscripts as networks: transmitting texts and information in early medieval England (funded by the British Academy).

This project uses computer-based (semantic web) technologies to explore medieval manuscripts as key points in networks of people, information and trade; and to investigate how treating manuscripts in this way can inform approaches to and methodologies for the study and editing of medieval texts. My case-study is a group of manuscripts connected with Archbishop Wulfstan (d.1023), dating from the late tenth century to the twelfth. Scholars have tended to explore the texts in these manuscripts with a view to ascertaining an authorial original and hierarchical relationships between surviving copies of the texts. However the manuscripts themselves were produced for specific practical circumstances, and texts and information travelled physically – with people as agents – rather than only intellectually. By using technology to identify links and patterns I will develop new methodologies for understanding texts and manuscripts which treat each book as a cultural artefact representing both the changing circumstances and reuse of texts as well as the movements of individuals and information. 

 

Other projects

Other projects include work on textual editing, the historiography of Anglo-Saxon England, and the history of science, religion and magic in early medieval Europe.

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