I teach medieval English literature and English language topics. My interest in medieval subjects goes back a long way, to the time when I wondered why it was that my school history syllabuses always seemed to have a large black pit between the departure of the Roman legions from Britannia and the arrival of the Tudors and Stuarts when it was apparently believed that Something Interesting started to happen again. So I did my best from an early age to try and fill that gap. I read English language and literature at the University of Newcastle, where I specialised in medieval subjects. I came to Oxford as a research student, irresistibly drawn by the lure of being able to read medieval manuscripts at first hand, and by the training in research skills which was (and still is) offered. It was a big thrill when the librarians at the Bodleian handed me my first manuscript to consult. In due course I completed my doctorate here.
After teaching posts at several Oxford colleges, and at the University of Bristol, I was appointed to my present position at Exeter.
My research interests have changed direction during my time at Exeter. During the first half of my career, I worked on medieval Church history, looking especially at the development of religious writing in English in the late medieval period, at a time when various cultural and social pressures were encouraging the use of written English, rather than Latin. A fat book was the principal result of these studies. Latterly my interest has turned towards study of the development of medieval English scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: a large part of this story concerns the Victorian enthusiasms for King Arthur, Gothic revivalism and ‘philology’ (the close and, as they proudly called it, ‘scientific’ study of language).
In addition to my writing and research, I am also the Editorial Secretary of the Early English Text Society, founded in 1864, and still one of the leading publishers of medieval writing in English. I have been commissioned by the Society to write its history: a tale which begins with the Victorian giant, F. J. Furnivall (who figures as ‘Ratty’ in The Wind in the Willows), and progresses through two World Wars and beyond. This publishing society has endured stirring times, and has included great scholars, including redoubtable women, novelists (J.R.R. Tolkien was one), entrepreneurs, eccentrics, soldiers, dictionary-makers and at least one secret agent.
I teach early medieval language and literature during the students’ first year (Prelims, Paper 2, ‘Early Medieval Literature, 650-1350’), along with work towards the portfolio of essays submitted in the final term of the first year for Paper 1, ‘Introduction to English Language and Literature’. Topics for this last include the standardisation of language, prescriptivism, lexicography, literary language, metaphor and the construction of genre through language.
In the students’ second and third years I teach Paper 2, ‘English literature, 1350-1550’, along with papers for the more specialised Course II, in which students concentrate more on medieval literature, with an opportunity to study texts in languages other than English.
English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages, Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1993)
‘Pearl: “God’s Law” and “Man’s Law”, Review of English Studies, New Series, 59 (2008), 317-41.
‘F. J. Furnivall’s Last Fling: The Wyclif Society and Anglo-German Scholarly Relations, 1882-1922’, Review of English Studies, New Series 65 (2014), 790-811.
‘F. J. Furnivall’s Six of the Best: The Six-Text Canterbury Tales and the Chaucer Society’, Review of English Studies, New Series 66 (2015), 601-23.
‘The Mystical Philology of J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Israel Gollancz: Monsters and Critics’, forthcoming in Tolkien Studies, 14 (2017).