Dr Daniel Sawyer

Fitzjames Research Fellow in Medieval English Literature

I have the primary teaching responsibility at Merton for Old English, Middle English and the history of English; my research focuses on works and manuscripts from the Middle English period.

Before taking up my current post I was the Postdoctoral Research Assistant attached to Oxford’s ‘Towards a New Edition of the Wycliffite Bible’ project (2016–19, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council). I studied at St Hilda’s College, Oxford for my DPhil in English (awarded 2016, funded by the AHRC) and my MSt in English (awarded 2012, funded by the Jeremy Griffiths Studentship in the History of the Book). I began my studies with a BA in English at Queen Mary, University of London (awarded 2010). I have also held the Erika and Kenneth Riley Fellowship at the Huntington Library, California, a Junior Research Fellowship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a Long Vacation Scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge.

Research

My recent study, Reading English Verse in Manuscript c.1350–c.1500, offers the first book-length history of reading for later Middle English poetry. It emerged from the close consultation of hundreds of surviving manuscripts, and it deploys techniques ranging from close readings of rhyme and syntax 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 poems, handled books of poetry, and responded to poetic form, and I flip the present-day canon of Middle English verse inside out, demonstrating that readers at the time saw a landscape of poems rather different to that imagined in modern scholarship.

Some of my current work tackles the problem of the books from later medieval England which do not survive; another strand pursues a history of Middle English writings ‘from the outside’. I have also drafted a teaching book explaining English and Scots verse-craft c.1100 to c.1500 for beginners.

On the side, I publish on various topics such as manuscript fragments and the history of reading. I’m involved in the effort to produce a new edition of the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete English translation of the Bible and 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. I have also edited Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale and Man of Law’s Tale for the Cambridge Chaucer project.

Teaching

At Merton I teach Old English and early Middle English (Prelims Paper 2), later Middle English (FHS Paper 2), and English language studies (Prelims Paper 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 topics such as Arthurian literature c.500–2000, the material text, and Middle English verse-craft.

Beyond these core responsibilities, I have also taught palaeography and codicology for Oxford’s MSt in English, and lectured at Oxford’s Digital Humanities Summer School. I supervise BA and MSt dissertations, lecture for the English Faculty, undertake various examining duties, and mentor graduate students.

Publications

‘Verse-Craft, Editing, and the Work: Shadows of Orfeo, Review of English Studies 73.309 (2022), 219–38, doi:10.1093/res/hgab058

Forgotten Books: The Application of Unseen Species Models to the Survival of Culture’, Science 375.6582 (2022), 765–9, doi:10.1126/science.abl7655

The Influence of Pearl on Thom Gunn’s “Lament”’, Notes and Queries 68.3 (2021), 363–66, doi:10.1093/notesj/gjab133

Form, Time, and the “First English Sonnet”’, Chaucer Review, 56.3 (2021), 193–224, doi:10.5325/chaucerrev.56.3.0193

Reading English Verse in Manuscript c.1350–c.1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), doi:10.1093/oso/9780198857778.001.0001

Pedant’s Revolt: Dissent in the Hierarchy of Scripts’, Journal of the Early Book Society, 22 (2019), 269–80

Missing Books in the Folk Codicology of Later Medieval England’, The Mediaeval Journal, 7.2 (2019 for 2017), 103–132, doi:10.1484/J.TMJ.5.117366

‘Page Numbers, Signatures, and Catchwords’, in Book Parts, ed. by Dennis Duncan and Adam Smyth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 138–49

Rediscovered Manuscript Fragments of The Prick of Conscience in the Library of Queens’ College, Cambridge’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 15.4 (2016), 515–40

“He that no good can”: An Unrecorded Copy of a Middle English Proverb’, Notes and Queries, 63.1 (2016), 15–17, doi:10.1093/notesj/gjv252

Navigation by Tab and Thread: Place-Markers and Readers’ Movements in Books’, in Spaces for Reading in Later Medieval England, ed. by Mary C. Flannery and Carrie Griffin (London: Palgrave, 2016), 99–114

Reviewing

I have reviewed books for, or am currently reviewing books for, Speculum, The Library, The English Historical Review, The Review of English Studies, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, the Journal of the Early Book Society and Arthuriana.

I welcome review requests from editors and consider them all carefully, though I cannot guarantee that I will take them all on!