Dr Harriet Soper


My current research primarily explores issues of time and identity in medieval writings, especially Old English poetry. It attends to how ideas of ageing, for example, are constructed linguistically, rhetorically and through narrative. 

My first monograph, The Life Course in Old English Poetry, explores depictions of human ageing in this body of verse. In previous scholarship, these depictions have mostly been approached with reference to learned Latinate theories of the normative ‘ages of man’, or else considered through the lens of one or two life phases, such as childhood and adolescence or old age. My study foregrounds Old English poetry's deep interest in fluid and variable life courses, shaped by contingency and surprising turns of events: each person's takes a different shape. The monograph furthermore demonstrates what can be learned about poetic discourses of ageing from narratives of nonhuman lives, most notably those of the Exeter Book Riddles. In doing so, it builds on ideas I have previously advanced in The Review of English Studies. I anticipate publication in 2022.

I also encourage new interrogations of the life course through collaborative research. With Dr Thijs Porck (Leiden University) I have co-edited a volume of essays, Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives, forthcoming with Brill in 2022. This volume builds on a series of panels at Leeds International Medieval Congress (2016–17), as well as a stand-alone conference in Cambridge (‘The Life Course in Early Medieval England’, 23 March 2019). 

My second major research project, planned to culminate in another monograph, is concerned with destruction and physical matter ‘in bits’ in Old and Middle English poetry, encompassing ideas of dissolution, dispersal and the creation of waste, as well as the human body comprehended as dust. With wide-ranging implications for Old English poetics, this project will give a new account of a corpus often characterised as obsessed with structural integrity, enclosure and cosmic coherence. This monograph will be interested in moments of glorious destruction, easily overlooked when we approach the poetry as uniformly elegaic, concerned only with mourning loss and wreckage. Moving forward into Middle English literature, this project will have anonymous lyrics at its centre, including well-attested but under-discussed poems such as Erthe upon Erthe

More widely in the field of medieval studies, I have also published in The Library on the subject of the manuscript contexts of the late fifteenth-century ‘Winchester Anthology’, and look forward to publishing a study of the use of echoed speech in the Old Norse eddic poem Skírnismál in Old Norse Poetry in Performance, ed. Annemari Ferreira and Brian McMahon (Routledge, 2021), as well as a related study, 'Recontextualising the Echoing Retorts of Hárbarðsljóð and Lokasenna', forthcoming in Scandinavian Studies


At Lincoln College, I teach Prelims Paper 1(A), ‘Introduction to English Language’; Prelims Paper 2, 'Early Medieval Literature, c.650–1350'; FHS Paper 2 (Course II, Paper 3), 'Literature in English 1350–1550'; Course II, Paper 1, ‘Literature in English c.650­­–1100'. I also supervise dissertations in the field of medieval literature and act as College Advisor for graduate medievalists.


As an undergraduate, I studied English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (2010–2013). I then completed an MSt in English c.650–1550 at Lincoln College, which was funded by the AHRC (2013–14). Specialising in Old English literature, I then moved to Cambridge for a PhD in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at King’s College, funded by the AHRC and the Isaac Newton Trust (2014–2017). My doctoral thesis was supervised by Dr Richard Dance, and explored the presentation of narratives of human ageing in Old English poetry. I continued at Cambridge as a Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College (2017–2019), before returning to Lincoln College, Oxford, in 2019.