Dr Daniel Sawyer

I am ultimately interested in literary-critical questions about how and why texts work, and about how they fitted (or did not fit) into the societies which produced them. I investigate these questions using traditional close readings, but also other bodies of expertise: the history of reading as an activity itself, codicology (the systematic study of physical manuscripts), and textual criticism (the study of the transmission of texts and the practice of editing them).

I am preparing a book which will offer the first monograph-length history of reading for later Middle English verse. It is developed from the close consultation of hundreds of surviving medieval manuscripts, and deploys techniques ranging readings of rhyme to surveys of manuscript weight to establish a new ‘baseline’ picture of the reading practices which were applied to English verse. I show how later medieval readers navigated through Middle English poems, handled books of poetry, and responded to poetic form.

I am also pursuing a new research project on the manuscripts which do not survive from later medieval England—which is to say, most of the manuscripts which once existed. This loss of material is a widely acknowledged hurdle for the study of the period, 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. Medieval writers and book producers themselves sometimes thought about the loss and destruction of books, and I will also be providing a literary-critical examination of this theme in their work. The first result of this project is a substantial article, ‘Missing Books in the Folk Codicology of Later Medieval England’, forthcoming in 2019 (see below).

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. This text, originating in Oxford in the late fourteenth century, is the most sophisticated and most successful of the medieval European vernacular Bible translations. Oxford’s long-term project to re-edit the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete English translation of the Bible. This text, originating in Oxford in the late fourteenth century, is the most sophisticated and most successful of the medieval European vernacular Bible translations. Oxford’s long-term project to re-edit the Wycliffite Bible can be found online here. Second, as part of a new edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, I am editing the Cook’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales

At Merton College I teach papers on Old English and Early Middle English (Prelims Paper 2) and later Middle English (FHS Paper 2). I also teach the introductory English Language half-paper (Prelims 1A), and 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.

I am also a Stipendiary Lecturer in English at Corpus Christi College for the 2018–19 academic year. At Corpus I teach FHS Paper 2 and Prelims 1A, and am temporarily serving as overall director of studies for all the undergraduates studying English.

Beyond these core responsibilities, I supervise undergraduate dissertations, lecture occasionally for the English Faculty, and mentor (but do not supervise) some graduate students.
 

Publications

  • 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

  • Rediscovered Manuscript Fragments of The Prick of Conscience in the Library of Queens’ College, Cambridge

  • More
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