Somerville is home to the largest college-based group of medievalists in Oxford. Genuinely interdisciplinary, the group’s interests range from manuscripts to music theory, from genre to gender studies, and from the British Isles to Russia.
The Somerville Medievalist Research Group was first conceived by a group of Somerville academics more than 10 years ago as a means of discovering shared interests and exploring topics beyond the strict boundaries of its members’ respective disciplines. Today, this eclectic group represents the largest college-based body of medievalists within the university, with its latest volume, Medieval Temporalities (2021), joining the earlier Aspects of the Performative in Medieval Culture (2010) and Polemic (Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse) (2015), with a fourth volume on ‘Openness’ forthcoming.
The SMRG meets regularly for informal lunchtime discussions, but also organises interdisciplinary work-shops and conferences drawing on its diverse membership. Over the last five years, these have resulted in a series of conferences and workshops as well as the aforementioned publications.
Jim HarrisResearch Fellow
Jim Harris is the Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, and an art historian specialising in late-medieval and early-Renaissance sculpture.
At the Ashmolean, he is responsible for exploring the use of the Museum’s collections in the university curriculum, devising and delivering classes and courses across a wide range of disciplines and training faculty and early-career researchers to deploy objects and images in developing their own teaching practice.
He has been an Academic Visitor at Somerville since 2017 and a member of the Somerville Medieval Research Group, building a number of long-standing teaching partnerships with members of the college. He has taught the college’s English undergraduates alongside Dr Annie Sutherland every year since 2012.
Jim trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and later, after over a decade in theatre and television, as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute. He wrote his PhD thesis on the polychrome sculpture of Donatello, and held the Courtauld’s Andrew W Mellon Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Caroline Villers Research Fellowship in Conservation before coming to Oxford.
“My research has been focused on the materials and techniques of sculpture, and especially in the question of how three-dimensional surfaces are transformed by polychromy, the addition of paint, gold and inlays, and by the subsequent, successive alterations, deliberate or by chance, that they undergo during their lifetimes.
“However, since arriving at the Ashmolean, working with museum collections as tools in university teaching, I have begun to explore the ways that the object-focused classroom offers a democratic, inclusive and equitable alternative to more traditionally hierarchical, text-centred spaces for teaching and learning. It’s a grand claim; but in the face of the basic question, ‘What do you see?’, no member of a group carries more privilege than another: experiencing an object collectively and building a shared understanding of it is a work of knowledge creation in which the contribution of every student is valued. In a culturally and socially diverse student body, therefore, the Museum represents an equally and uniquely diverse resource for enabling otherwise disregarded or less-audible voices to speak and be heard.”
2022 Why Didn’t Sculptors Draw? in M Cole, A Debenedetti and P Motture (eds.), Creating Sculpture: Renaissance Drawings and Models (V&A Publishing: London), pp.50-61
2021 Building a House for Repentance: the monochrome Passion cycle of San Nicolò del Boschetto in A Suerbaum and A Sutherland (eds.), Medieval Temporalities: the Experience of Time in Medieval Europe (DS Brewer: Cambridge), pp.203-227
2018 A Comparison of Change Blindness and the Visual Perception of Museum Artefacts in Real-World and On-Screen Scenarios, with Jonathan Attwood, Christopher Kennard and Chrystalina Antoniades, in Zoi Kapoula et. al. (eds), Exploring Transdisciplinarity in Art and Sciences, (Springer: Cham), pp.213-233; previously published in Frontiers in Psychology, 2018, 00151
2017 Agile Objects, with Senta German, Journal of Museum Education, vol.42, no.3, pp.248-257
2017 Lorenzo Ghiberti and the Language of Praise, Sculpture Journal, vol.26, no.1, pp.107-118
2016 Exploring Psychiatry through Images and Objects, with Charlotte Allan, Maria Turri, Kate Stein and Felipe da Silva, Medical Humanities, vol.42, pp.205-6
2011 ‘Una insalata di più erbe…’: A Festschrift for Patricia Rubin, with S. Nethersole and P. Rumberg, (London)
2009 immediations Conference Papers 1: Art and Nature – Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture, with L. Cleaver and K. Gerry, (London)
Almut SuerbaumFellow & Tutor in German; Associate Professor of German
For the last three years, I have been involved in Oxford’s first Marie Curie international training network in the humanities: the project on ‘Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Texts’ (MITT) studies the medieval transmission of learning from the univiersities to the wider readership that could be reached through the vernacular.
Together with partners in Antwerp, Freiburg, Lecce, and Leiden, we have built up a network og 20 graduates and post-docs and held regular interdisciplinary workshops. One of the early stage researchers, Racha Kirakosian, is based at Somerville, and together,we organized a conference on ‘Medieval Women and their Books’, held jointly at the Talyorian and at Somerville.
Arising from this project, I have completed a series of articles on the use of song in mystical writing, and am planning a joint colloquium with a musicologist on the ‘Jenaer Liederhandschrift’ and the ‘Carmina Burana’ manuscript, as well as a project on voice and style as medieval literary concepts. I am interested more generally in the relationship between cultures in the middle ages – Latin and the vernacular, manuscript and voice, lay and institution, and in the role which gender plays in negotiating such cultural tensions.
Further details of my research interests, as well as an updated list of my publications, can be found on my departmental page.
‘A Room with a view. Zur Spannung zwischen Kontemplation und Leben in der Welt in den Dorotheenviten des Johannes Marienwerder’, in Mußediskurs im kulturellen Wandele, ed. Burkhard Hasebrink, Philipp Riedl ( Berlin: de Gruyter, in press)
‘Style over Substance? Interkulturelle Austauschbeziehungen zwischen geistlicher und weltlicher Lyrik am Beispiel der Hymnik’, in Stil in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters, ed. Elizabeth Andersen, Ricarda Bauschke, Nicola McLelland, (forthcoming, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2013)
‘An Urban Housewife as Saint: Dorothea von Montau and Johannes Marienwerder’, in Companion to Mysticism and Devotion in Northern Germany (1200-1500), ed. Elizabeth Andersen, Henrike Lähnemann, Anne Simon (Leiden: Brill: 2014), 179-204
‚Formen der Publikumsansprache bei Bertold von regensburg’, in: Predigt im Kontext, ed. Volker Mertens et al. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), 21-33
Caesar asl Integrationsfigur im Mittelalter? In: Praktiken europäischer Traditionsbildung im Mittelalter. Wissen – Literatur – Mythos, ed. Manfred Eikelmann, Udo Friedrichs (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 2013), 229-243
‘gedenk ûf scheiden! Transformationen des Tagelieds im 13. Jahrhundert, in Wolfram-Studien XXI: Lyirk im 13. Jahrhundert, ed. Susanne Köbele ( Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2013), 231-249
‘Tauler reception in religious lyric: the (pseudo)-Tauler cantilenae’, in Ons Geestelijk Erf 83.3 (2012), 41-54
Editor, with Elke Brüggen, Sebastian Coxon, Franz-Josef Holznagel, Text und Normativität im deutschen Mittelalter. XX. Anglo-German Colloquium. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012)
‘Es kommt ein schiff, geladen: Mouvance in mystischen Liedern aus Straßburg, in Schreiben und Lesen in der Stadt.Literaturbetrieb im spätmittelalterlichen Straßburg, ed. Felix Heinzer, Stephen Mossman, Nigel F. Palmer (Berlin:: de Gruyter, 2012), 99-116
‘Wissen als Macht. Figurendarstellung in Thürings von Ringoltingen Melusine’, in Figurenwissen. Funktionen von Wissen bei der narrativen Figurendarstellung, ed. Lilith Jappe, Olav Krämer, Fabian Lampart, (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2012), 54-74
Annie SutherlandRosemary Woolf Fellow & Tutor in Old and Middle English; Professor of Medieval Literature
At Somerville, I teach Old English to first-year students and Middle English to the second years.
I also supervise finalists who have chosen to write dissertations on Anglo-Saxon or later medieval topics and authors.
In the English Faculty, I teach a wide variety of medieval literature to undergraduates, though I particularly enjoy lecturing on religious texts and cultures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In conjunction with these lectures, I regularly take students to workshops in the Ashmolean, where we have the opportunity to view, handle and discuss the Museum’s extensive collection of devotional objects. I also play a role in the provision of teaching for second and third-year students who have chosen to specialise in the literature and language of the medieval period (we call this Course 2). At graduate level, I supervise a range of MSt and DPhil students, particularly those who work on religious and biblical literature, and on devotional texts written by and for women. Current and recent DPhil students have worked on the language of suffering in thirteenth-century pastoral texts for women, the practice of prayer in early medieval and contemporary contexts, the manuscripts of devotional texts, and the Wycliffite translation of the Bible.
In my own research, I am interested in English religious literature of the early Middle Ages, particularly that which was intended for the use of female audiences. At the moment I am working on a collection of thirteenth-century prayers which were apparently composed for (and possibly by) a group of women living on the borders between England and Wales. These women seem to have been highly intelligent individuals, very possibly from wealthy backgrounds. Yet they chose to spend their lives in seclusion, voluntarily locked into small cells in which they could focus their attention on God. I am fascinated by what motivated them to live such lives, and by the books that they read in their isolation. My edition of these prayers (known collectively as the ‘Wooing Group’) is to be published by Liverpool University Press. Below is a list of my further publications.
English Psalms in the Middle Ages, 1300-1450 (OUP, 2015)
‘‘In eching for the best’: The Fourteenth-Century Prose Psalter and the Art of Psalm Translation’ in Leneghan and Atkin (eds.), The Psalms and Medieval English Literature (Boydell and Brewer, 2017)
‘The Wycliffite Psalms’ in Solopova (ed.), The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation (Brill, 2016)
‘Psalms as Polemic: The Middle English Translation Debate’ in Suerbaum, Thompson and Southcombe (eds.), Polemic: Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse (Ashgate, 2015)
‘Julian of Norwich’ in Taylor (ed.), The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters (Baker Publishing Group, 2012)
‘Performing the Penitential Psalms in the Middle Ages’ in Suerbaum and Gragnolati (eds.) Aspects of the Performative in the Middle Ages (De Gruyter, 2010)
‘Comfortable Wordis’: The Role of the Bible in The Doctrine of the Heart’ in Renevey and Whitehead (eds.), A Companion to the Doctrine of the Heart (University of Exeter Press, 2010)
‘The Middle English Mystics and the Bible’ in Rowland, Joynes, Lemon, Mason and Roberts (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
‘English Psalms in the Middle Ages’, Bodleian Library Record, 28 (2009)
‘All my rites of holy church: Julian of Norwich and the liturgy’ in Herbert McAvoy (ed.), A Companion to Julian of Norwich (Boydell and Brewer, 2008)
‘Biblical Text and Spiritual Experience in Richard Rolle’s English Epistles’, The Review of English Studies, New Series, 56, no. 227 (2005), 695-711
‘The Chastising of God’s Children – A neglected text’ in Barr and Hutchison (eds.), Text and Controversy from Wyclif to Bale – Essays in Honour of Anne Hudson (Brepols, 2005)
‘‘oure feyth is groundyd in goddes worde’ – Julian of Norwich and the Bible’ in Jones (ed.), The Medieval Mystical Tradition Exeter Symposium VII (Boydell and Brewer, 2004)
‘The dating and authorship of the Cloud corpus – a reassessment of the evidence’ Medium Aevum vol. lxxi, 2002, 82-100
Benjamin ThompsonFellow and Tutor in Medieval History; Associate Professor of Medieval History; Associate Head (Education) of Humanities Division, Oxford University
Benjamin Thompson (FHRS) is a medieval historian who specialises in the role of the church in society and politics between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation in England.
He is working on a book provisionally titled The Alien Priories Transformed: Church, Society and Politics in Late Medieval England which examines the ‘alien’ priories, lands and monasteries in England owned by French abbeys as a result of the Conquest. These came under increasingly xenophobic scrutiny during the Hundred Years War, which provoked a public debate about the correct use of ecclesiastical resources. Their eventual confiscation – more than a century before the Dissolution of the Monasteries – established the legitimacy of the secular power’s intervention in re-ordering the church.
Dr Thompson has investigated these broad themes across a range of material. Recent articles have focused on the underlying ideology of the church in its relation to society and politics, for instance the tension between the clergy’s sense of difference from the laity based on their spiritual function of ministering to souls, and their practical integration into a society which embraced religious culture and practice, and in which they were powerful officials and landowners.
He explored the ‘polemic’ of ecclesiastical reform as part of the Somerville medievalists’ interdisciplinary research group’s second project: their book on Polemic: Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse was published in 2015: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472425089
Temporal Dislocation in Material-for-Spiritual Exchange
Thompson, B in ‘Medieval Temporalities: the Experience of Time in Medieval Europe’ ed. E Suerbaum, A, Sutherland,
Political Society in Later Medieval England A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter
Thompson, B, Watts, J
16 July 2015
Natalia NowakowskaFellow & Tutor in History; Professor in Early Modern History
Natalia Nowakowska is a historian of late medieval and early modern Europe, with a focus on the history of Poland in its European context.
She is a University Lecturer in History, and a Tutor & Fellow in History at Somerville College.
Brought up in the Polish post-WW2 diaspora community in London, Natalia read History at Lincoln College, Oxford (1995-8). After a spell working in social policy research, she returned to Oxford to complete a doctorate on a Polish Renaissance cardinal, and subsequently held postdoctoral research positions at King’s College London and at University College, Oxford. She joined the Oxford History Faculty in 2007.
Natalia has published on religious change in Renaissance Europe, and on the role which the Polish monarchy and its Jagiellonian dynasty played in those processes. Her first book Church, State and Dynasty in Renaissance Poland (co-winner of the Kulczycki Prize in the USA, 2008) explored the career of the allegedly syphilitic Polish cardinal-prince Fryderyk Jagiellon (d.1503). Her current book, Elusive Church: Luther, Poland and the Early Reformation, is the first major research project in over a century on the early Reformation in this sizeable sixteenth-century monarchy, and asks how the Polish story can inform our understanding of the European Reformations as a whole. Natalia has been awarded a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship for 2012-13 for this project.
Natalia teaches a range of late medieval and early modern papers at Oxford, encompassing European, British and South American history. She gives a lecture course on Jagiellonian Central Europe in the Renaissance period.
Natalia has a regular blog, Somerville Historian, about teaching and writing History at Oxford. While on British Academy leave in 2012-13, she has a new blog about the ups and downs of writing a historical monograph, History Monograph.
Zielinska, Agata. (2019). Nowakowska (ed.), Remembering the Jagiellonians (Routledge, 2019). Royal Studies Journal. 6. 126.
Nowakowska, N.. (2018). King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The reformation before confessionalization.
Maryks, Robert. (2008). Church, State and Dynasty in Renaissance Poland: The Career of Cardinal Fryderyk Jagiellon (1468–1503) (review). Renaissance Quarterly. 61. 583-584.
Tracz, Szymon. (2012). Natalia Nowakowska, Królewski kardynał. Studium kariery Fryderyka Jagiellończyka (1468–1503). Tłum. Tomasz Gromelski. Towarzystwo Naukowe SOCIETAS VISTULANA. Kraków 2011, 251 ss.. Folia Historica Cracoviensia.
Nowakowska, N. ‘What’s in a word? The etymology and historiography of dynasty – Renaissance Europe and beyond’.
Journal of Global Intellectual History, 2020
Nowakowska, N. “Rioting Blacksmiths & Jewish Women: Pillarized Reformation Memory in Early Modern Poland” In ‘Remembering the Reformation’, ed. B. Cummings, C. Law, K. Riley and A. Walsham, 2020
Francesca SoutherdenFellow & Tutor in Italian; Associate Professor of Italian
Professor Southerden’s main area of research is in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante and Petrarch, and the relationship between language and desire in lyric poetry.
Francesca Southerden holds a BA (Honours) in Italian and French from Somerville College, Oxford and a D.Phil in Italian literature from Hertford College, Oxford. Her thesis considered the modern poet Vittorio Sereni’s relationship to the preceding lyric tradition and his reframing of a discourse of desire that goes back to Dante and Petrarch. Before joining Oxford she was Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval-Renaissance Studies at Wellesley College, MA (2010-16) and Mary Ewart Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Somerville College (2007-10).
Francesca Southerden’s research focuses on the relationship between language and desire in the works of Dante and Petrarch. Her current book, Dante and Petrarch in the Garden of Language (forthcoming with Legenda), explores the significance of the garden for Dante and Petrarch’s thinking about language and desire and how the authors reimagine Eden in their poetic works. This book develops, within a medieval context, the concern with the relationship between desire, subjectivity, and poetic space that was at the heart of her first monograph, Landscapes of Desire in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni (Oxford University Press, 2012). She is interested in the relationship between literature and critical theory, and in the concept of lyric from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Francesca Southerden teaches a broad range of topics within medieval Italian literature. She is interested in hearing from graduate students who would like to work on thirteenth- or fourteenth century Italian literature and culture, especially Dante, Petrarch and the early lyric tradition. She is also happy to supervise projects with an interdisciplinary focus within medieval Italian literature.
In addition to being Associate Professor of Medieval Italian at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Somerville College. Professor Southerden holds the post of Lecturer in Italian at St Catherine’s College and at Lady Margaret Hall. She previously held the post of Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval-Renaissance Studies at Wellesley College, MA (2010-2016).
A list of publications can be found on my departmental page.
Landscapes of Desire in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
The Possibiities of Lyric: Reading Petrarch in Dialogue, with an Epilogue by Antonella Anedda Angioy (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, 2020), co-authored with Manuele Gragnolati
The Oxford Handbook of Dante, co-edited with Manuele Gragnolati and Elena Lombardi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)
Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, co-edited with Manuele Gragnolati, Tristan Kay, and Elena Lombardi (Oxford: Legenda, 2012).
Articles and Chapters in Books
‘The Art of Rambling: Errant Thoughts and Entangled Passions in Petrarch’s “Ascent of Mont Ventoux” (Familiares IV,1) and RVF 129’, in Medieval Thought Experiments: Poetry and Hypothesis in Europe, 1100–1500, ed. by Philip Knox, Jonathan Morton, and Daniel Reeve. Forthcoming.
‘Faith’s Embrace: Paradiso 24’, in California Lectura Dantis: Paradiso, ed. by Anthony Oldcorn and Charles Ross (Berkeley: University of California Press). Forthcoming.
‘From Paradox to Exclusivity: Dante’s and Petrarch’s Lyrical Eschatologies’, co-authored with Prof. Manuele Gragnolati, in The Unity of Knowledge in the Pre-Modern World: Petrarch and Boccaccio between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. by Igor Candido (Berlin: De Gruyter). Forthcoming.
‘Vittorio Sereni’, entry for The Literary Encyclopedia (https://www.litencyc.com/). Forthcoming.
‘Between Autobiography and Apocalypse: The Double Subject of Polemic in Petrarch’s Liber sine nomine and Rerum vulgarium fragmenta’, in Polemic: Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse, ed. by Almut Suerbaum and others (London: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 17-42.
‘The Ghost of a Garden: Seeds of Discourse and Desire in Petrarch’s Triumphus mortis II’, Le tre corone: Rivista internazionale di studi su Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, I, 2014, 131-52.
‘Desire as a Dead Letter: A Reading of Petrarch’s RVF 125’, in Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, pp. 185-207.
‘Introduction: Transforming Desire’, co-authored with Gragnolati, Kay, and Lombardi, in Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages, pp. 1-11.
‘“Per-tras-versioni” dantesche: Post-Paradisiacal Constellations in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni and Andrea Zanzotto’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, ed. by Fabio Camilletti and others (Berlin; Vienna: Verlag Turia und Kant, 2010), pp. 153-74.
‘Lost for Words: Recuperating Melancholy Subjectivity in Dante’s Eden’, in Dante’s Plurilingualism: Authority, Knowledge, Subjectivity, ed. by Sara Fortuna and others (Oxford: Legenda, 2010), pp. 193-210.
‘Performative Desires: Sereni’s Re-staging of Dante and Petrarch’, in Aspects of the Performative in Medieval Culture, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati and Almut Suerbaum (Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2010), pp. 165-96.
‘Dialogo col paesaggio’, in Luino e gli immediati dintorni: Geografie poetiche di Vittorio Sereni (Varese: Insubria University Press, 2010).
Sean Curran, JRF in Music, Trinity College, Cambridge (bio)
Manuele Gragnolati, Professor of Italian, Sorbonne; Senior Research Fellow, Somerville (bio)
Racha Kirakosian, Professor, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg; Affiliate, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard (bio)
Monika Otter, Associate Professor in Medieval English, Dartmouth College (bio)
George Southcombe, Director, Sarah Lawrence Programme, Wadham (bio)
Dr Brian McMahon, Associate Lecturer, Oxford Brookes, former Chapel Director, Somerville College, Oxford (bio)
Dr Laura Slater, University Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture, University of Cambridge and Fellow, Peterhouse College, Cambridge (bio)
Dr David Bowe, University of Cork (bio)
Dr Jim Harris, Ashmolean Museum (bio)
Dr Oren Margolis, I Tatti, Florence (bio)
Dr Katherine Sykes, University of Birmingham (bio)
Dr Mary MacRobert, Senior Research Fellow, Somerville College, Oxford (bio)
Dr Johannes Wolff (bio)
Alastair Matthews, Marie Curie Research Fellow, University of Southern Denmark (bio)