Dr Rachel A. Burns

I work on medieval literature, with particular focus on Old English verse, manuscript studies, materiality, and verse metre.

Current monograph projects

My first monograph, under contract with ARC Humanities Press, is titled Rethinking Old English Verse Layout and the Role of the Scribe. This book will explore the visual presentation of Old English verse in early medieval manuscripts, challenging the oft-cited belief that Old English verse is written out 'like prose'. Through comparative analysis of Old English and Latin verse layout, identification of unusual layouts in Old English, and assessment of inter-word spacing, this volume will demonstrate that the layout of Old English was more dynamic and responsive than has been hitherto assumed, and was in large part determined by its distinct metrical structure.

My second monograph, under consideration with an academic publisher, explores materiality in early medieval English thought and poetry (proposed title: On the Nature of Things: Material Objects in Old English Verse). In this book, I seek to recover an early medieval English theory of things by bringing Old English verse into conversation with teachings on materiality in early medieval theological and philosophical texts. The book will approach diverse range of textual 'things', including holy relics, speaking tools, sweet breath and broken bodies. Making use of questions raised over the last three decades of literary studies in the fields of Thing Theory and New Materialisms, this book will assess the place of post-modern and post-human materialist enquiry in the study of medieval things.

Other publications and work

In 2022, I published a collection of essays on Old English metre and literary criticism, co-edited with Rafael J. Pascual, titled Tradition and Innovation in Old English Metre (Arc Humanities Press, https://www.arc-humanities.org/9781641894586/tradition-and-innovation-in...). This collection follows a highly successful workshop on the application of Old English metre to questions of literary criticism, held in Oxford in 2019 (https://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/event/anglo-saxon-metre-and-literary-studies). I have also contributed a chapter to this volume ('Mind the Gap: Inter-word Spacing and Metrical Organisation in Old English verse'), positing a relationship between word-spacing and metrical organisation in a sample of Old English verse in its manuscript context.

I have worked extensively on the collection of Old English texts known as The Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn, and plan to work towards a monograph on this topic. I have recently produced a chapter on these texts for an edited collection as part of the international research project From East to West: the Idea of the World in Anglo-Saxon England. This chapter, titled 'The Wanderings of Saturn: Psalms, Psychogeography and Solomon and Saturn', conducts a psychogeographical analysis of the eponymous character's wanderings in the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn II. My article, 'Solomon and Saturn I, 89a, “prologa prim”: an Exercise in Monastic Reading Practice' was published in Anglia in 2020. Here, I propose an emendation of the ungrammatical half-line, prologa prima, arging that the multivalence of this half-line provides an exemplum of monastic reading practice. I published a short article on an aspect of the link between Solomon and Saturn I and Isidore's Etymologiae in Notes & Queries. I am currently producing a further article on one of the riddles in Solomon & Saturn II, and will be contributing an article on emotion in the Dialogues to a forthcoming special issue of a journal.

I largely work with Old English texts, but also with Anglo-Latin material and on western medieval manuscript culture more broadly. I have produced an edition and commentary of a fourteenth-century Middle English lyric, which is forthcoming in Studia Neophilologica (‘God send vs þe dew of heuene’ in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 172: a new edition of a bilingual lyric, with commentary').

From 2018-2022, I was a researcher on the ERC-funded CLASP Project (A Consolidated Library of Anglo-Saxon Poetry, https://clasp.eu/). My focus on this project was the manuscript record of Old English verse, expanding the database of scribal errors and editorial emendations.

Further interests arising from my research include: perceptions of Greek language and culture in early medieval England; Old English and Anglo-Latin riddles; the mise-en-page of modern English texts; digitization practice and the production, usage and preservation of digital resources.


Teaching areas: Old English and Middle English literature; English Language; Manuscript studies

I am Stipendary Lecturer in English at Hertford College, where I teach Old and Middle English (Prelims Paper 2; FHS Course II Papers 1 and 2). I am also non-Stipendiary Lecturer at St Peter's College, where I teach Middle English and English Language (Prelims Paper 1a, FHS Paper 2). I lecture on Old English in the Faculty of English for first-year (Prelims Paper 2) and second-year (FHS Course II Paper 1) students, and I have taught English Language for the Department of Continuing Education. I teach on the Material Texts course for second-year students (FHS Course II Paper 5a).

I am available to supervise undergraduate dissertations in medieval literature, and masters dissertations in pre-Conquest English and Anglo-Latin literature.

I am interested in developing new tools for teaching, and exploring different approaches to pedagogy. I am co-editor of the annual newsletter published by the Teachers of Old English in Britain and Ireland (TOEBI).

I run a website which shares class plans, blog posts and book reviews related to a study of medieval literature through material culture (including manuscripts, materialism and digitisation). This includes a class plan aimed at tutors of undergraduate students, which uses objects from digital exhibitions to teach students about Old English riddles. You can access my site at www.saywhatiamcalled.co.uk


Rethinking Old English Verse Layout and the Role of the Scribe (forthcoming 2024, ARC Humanities Press)


Edited Collections

Rachel A. Burns and Rafael J. Pascual, eds. Old English Metre: Manuscripts, Poetics and Style (York: Arc Humanities Press, 2022).


Articles and Chapters

'"God send vs þe dew of heuene" in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 172: A New Edition of a Bilingual Lyric, with Commentary', Studia Neophilologica (forthcoming 2023).

‘The Wanderings of Saturn: Psychogeography, Psalms, and Solomon and Saturn’, in Ideas of the World in Early Medieval English Literature, Studies in Old English Literature 1, ed. Mark Atherton, Kazutomo Karasawa and Francis Leneghan (Turnhout: Brepols, 2022), 69–102.

'Mind the Gap: Inter-word Spacing and Metrical Organisation in Old English verse', in Old English Metre: Manuscripts, Poetics and Style, ed. Rachel A. Burns and Rafael J. Pascual (York: Arc Humanities Press, 2022), 207–18.

'Spirits and Skins: the sceapheord of Exeter Book Riddle 13 and Holy Labour', Review of English Studies 73 (2022), 429–441.

'Saturn’s Scythe: A Note on Solomon and Saturn I, Line 109a', Notes and Queries 67 (2021), 467–468.

'Solomon and Saturn I, 89a, “prologa prim”: an Exercise in Monastic Reading Practice', Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie 138 (2020), 618–48.


Other publications

‘Manuscript Studies, Palaeography, and Facsimiles’, The Year's Work in English Studies 101 (2022).

TOEBI Newsletter 39, co-edited with Niamh Kehoe (2022).

‘Manuscript Studies, Palaeography, and Facsimiles’ (co-authored with Colleen Curran) and ‘Beowulf’ (co-authored with Kaifan Yang), The Year's Work in English Studies 100 (2021).

‘Manuscript Studies, Palaeography, and Facsimiles’ (co-authored with Colleen Curran), The Year's Work in English Studies 99 (2020), 186–91.

TOEBI Newsletter 38, co-edited with Niamh Kehoe (2021).

TOEBI Newsletter 37, co-edited with Niamh Kehoe (2020).