Congratulations to Richard Shaw and Helen Marshall who have successfully defended their PhD dissertations at the end of 2013. Here’s some further information about their work:
Richard Shaw (defended in December), How an Early Medieval Historian Worked: Methodology and Sources in Bede’s Narrative of the Gregorian Mission to Kent.
Supervisor: Alexander Murray; External Examiner: Dr. Alan Thacker, University of London.
This dissertation examines the methods and sources employed by Bede in the construction of his account of the Gregorian mission, thereby providing an insight into how an early medieval historian worked.
In Chapter 1, I begin by setting out the context for this study, through a discussion of previous compositional analyses of Bede’s works and the resulting interpretations of the nature and purpose of his library.
Chapters 2-4 analyze the sources of the narrative of the Gregorian mission in the Historia ecclesiastica. Each of Bede’s statements is interrogated and its basis established, while the ways in which he used his material to frame the story in the light of his preconceptions and agendas are examined.
Chapter 5 collects all the sources identified in the earlier Chapters and organizes them thematically, providing a clearer view of the material Bede was working from. This assessment is then extended in Chapter 6, where I reconstruct, where possible, those ‘lost’ sources used by Bede and consider how the information he used reached him.
In this Chapter, I also examine the implications of Bede’s possession of certain ‘archival’ sources for our understanding of early Anglo-Saxon libraries, suggesting more pragmatic purposes for them, beyond those they have usually been credited with. The Chapter ends with an assessment of Bede’s primary sources for the account of the Gregorian mission and an examination of the reasons he possessed so few.
Finally, in Chapter 7, I discuss those passages of Bede’s account of the ‘mission fathers’, whose origins were not able to be established in Chapters 2-4. Bede’s use of a set of proto-homiletic sources of a hagiographic nature, dedicated to the early bishops of Canterbury and the mission, emerges. The basic outlines of this collection are set out and the context for their composition described.
Throughout, the dissertation is intended not only as end in itself, but as the basis for further investigation both of Bede’s methods and sources, and those of others. In particular, the provision of a more comprehensive awareness of Bede’s resources enables future work to dispense with the narrative Bede has superimposed on his evidence. This thus lays the foundations for re-writing, and not merely re-interpreting, the history of early Christian Kent on a firmer evidential basis than previously possible.
Helen Marshall (defended in November), Literary Codicologies: The Conditions of Middle English Literary Production, c. 1280-1415.
Supervisor: Alexandra Gillespie; External Examiner: Susanna Fein, Kent State University.
This dissertation studies three important textual projects that speak to the conditions of Middle English literary production from 1280-1415: the West Midlands collection of saints’ lives compiled at the end of the thirteenth century known as the South English Legendary; NLS, MS Advocates 19.2.1 (Auchinleck), a compilation of romances, historical and religious texts copied by six scribes in London in the 1330s; and the Prick of Conscience, an anonymous penitential treatise from the north of England and one of the most widely produced Middle English texts of the second half of the fourteenth century. Central to this dissertation is a methodology that connects techniques of bibliographic description including dialect analysis, comparison of layout and booklet structure, and identification of scribal hands with a holistic examination of how texts were produced and circulated. This dissertation argues, firstly, England’s vernacular literary culture was shaped by the relationship between manuscripts and texts; secondly, that the manuscript producing activities of secular and religious manuscript users, and of various institutions (monastic, fraternal, civil), were interpenetrative rather than discrete; thirdly, that the production of Middle English manuscripts was never isolated from other languages and other kinds of textual production including documentary production and the production of religious books; and, fourthly, that England’s vernacular literary culture at the national level depended upon and emerged from local instances of production, the circulation of manuscripts and texts beyond their site of production, and the institutional and cultural ties that facilitated the resulting networks of textual exchange. Although the textual projects under study in this dissertation differ in date, genre, origin and form, they show how certain elements—local resources, the availability of exemplars, the organization and training of scribes, and techniques of book-making—contributed to and sustained the development of a national Middle English literary culture.