Dr Harriet Soper


My work primarily explores issues of personal and social identity in Old English writings, attending to how such ideas are constructed linguistically, rhetorically and through narrative. I also investigate how early medieval English material culture and visual art resonate with the written sources.

I am currently completing my first monograph, The Life Course in Old English Poetry. This will uncover Old English poetry’s unique understanding of human ageing, too often presumed by scholars to align with modern categories of ‘childhood’ and ‘old age’, or else Latin taxonomies of the ‘ages of man’. My study allows the alterity of Old English verse to come to the fore, and reveals how ‘life stages’ in these texts are not seen as distinctly separate, but rather deeply interconnected, while also encompassed by broader categories of life as a dogor-gerim (‘count of days’) or lif-weg (‘life-way’). The monograph furthermore illustrates what can be learned about ideas of human ageing from narratives of non-human lives, most notably those of the Exeter Book Riddles. In this it builds on ideas I have previously advanced in The Review of English Studies. Cambridge University Press have requested a full manuscript of this monograph, and I anticipate publication in 2021.

I also encourage new interrogations of the life course through collaborative research; with Dr M. H. Porck (Leiden University) I am currently co-editing a volume of essays, Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives, forthcoming with Brill, also in 2021. 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 will be concerned with physical matter ‘in bits’ in Old English literature, encompassing ideas of dissolution, dispersal and waste, and the human body 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, cosmic coherence, and aesthetics of the regular.

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).


At Lincoln College, I teach Prelims Paper 1(A), ‘Introduction to English Language’, and Prelims Paper 2, 'Early Medieval Literature, c.650–1350'. For FHS I teach Paper 2 (Course II, Paper 3), 'Literature in English 1350–1550', and Course II, ‘Literature in English c.650­­–1100'. I also supervise Paper 7 dissertations on Old and Middle English, and advise graduate students at Master’s and DPhil level.


As an undergraduate, I studied English at Corpus Christi, Oxford (2010–2013) and then moved to Lincoln College for my MSt in English c.650–1550, which was funded by the AHRC (2013–14). Specialising in Old English literature, I moved afterwards to Cambridge, to complete 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. 


  • The Light in the Old English Rhyming Poem, lines 1–2

  • Reading the Exeter Book Riddles as Life-Writing

  • Three Newly Recovered Leaves from the ‘Winchester Anthology’

  • Eald æfensceop: Poetic Composition and the Authority of the Aged in Old English Verse

  • Review of Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf, eds., Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (2018)

  • More