Dr Daniel Sawyer

I am fascinated by questions about how and why texts work, and how they fitted, or did not fit, into their material and social contexts. I investigate these questions using close readings, but also other bodies of expertise, chiefly codicology (the systematic study of physical manuscripts) and textual criticism (the study of the transmission of texts and the practice of editing them).

My book, Reading English Verse in Manuscript, c.1350–c.1500, will offer the first monograph-length history of reading for later Middle English poetry. It is developed from the close consultation of hundreds of surviving medieval manuscripts, and deploys techniques ranging from readings of rhyme to surveys of manuscript weight to establish a new ‘baseline’ picture of the reading of verse at this time. It is currently in production at Oxford University Press, and will be published in 2020.

I am pursuing a research project on the manuscripts which do not survive from later medieval England—in fact, most of the manuscripts which once existed. This loss of material is a widely acknowledged hurdle for scholarship, but the missing books have received little attention as a research problem in and of themselves. Many now-lost manuscripts have left small traces of evidence behind, however, and by gathering these on a large scale I believe we can fill in more of the period’s literary and book history. I will also be exploring the ways in which writers and scribes themselves thought about the loss and destruction of books. The first published result of this project is a substantial article titled ‘Missing Books in the Folk Codicology of Later Medieval England’.

Additionally, I am involved in two major textual-critical efforts. First, I am helping to work towards a new edition of the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete English translation of the Bible and the most sophisticated and successful European vernacular Bible translation before print. Second, I am editing Cook’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales for the forthcoming Cambridge University Press collection of Chaucer’s works.

At Merton College I teach Old English and early Middle English (Prelims Paper 2), later Middle English (FHS Paper 2), and English language studies (Prelims 1A). I serve as the director of studies for second- and third-year undergraduates taking ‘Course II’, the version of Oxford’s English degree which focuses on earlier literatures and the history of English. In some years I have taught specialist papers on Arthurian literature c.500–2000 and on the material text. I have also taught palaeography and codicology for Oxford’s MSt in English.

Beyond these core responsibilities, I supervise BA and MSt dissertations, lecture for the English Faculty, undertake various examining duties, and mentor graduate students.

Publications

  • Reading English Verse in Manuscript, c.1350–c.1500

  • Pedant’s Revolt: Dissent in the Hierarchy of Scripts

  • Missing Books in the Folk Codicology of Later Medieval England

  • Navigation by Tab and Thread: Place-Markers and Readers' Movement in Books

  • ‘He That No Good Can’: An Unrecorded Copy of a Middle English Proverb

  • More
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