Dr Daniel Sawyer

Fitzjames Research Fellow in Medieval English Literature

I study English literature from before about 1550. In my research I focus on texts and manuscripts from the Middle English period, and I have the primary teaching responsibility at Merton for Old English, Middle English and the history of English.

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, and a Long Vacation Scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge.

Research

I am fascinated by questions about how and why texts work, and how they fitted, or did not fit, into their material and social contexts. I investigate these questions using close readings, but also other bodies of expertise, chiefly codicology (the systematic study of physical manuscripts) and textual criticism (the study of the transmission of texts and the practice of editing them).

My book, Reading English Verse in Manuscript, c.1350–c.1500, will offer the first monograph-length history of reading for later Middle English poetry. It is developed from the close consultation of hundreds of surviving medieval manuscripts, and deploys techniques ranging from readings of rhyme to surveys of manuscript weight to establish a new ‘baseline’ picture of the reading of verse at this time. It is currently in production at Oxford University Press, and will be published in 2020.

I am pursuing a research project on the manuscripts which do not survive from later medieval England—in fact, most of the manuscripts which once existed. This loss of material is a widely acknowledged hurdle for scholarship, 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. I will also be exploring the ways in which writers and scribes themselves thought about the loss and destruction of books. The first published result of this project is a substantial article titled ‘Missing Books in the Folk Codicology of Later Medieval England’.

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 and the most sophisticated and successful European vernacular Bible translation before print. Second, I am editing the Cook’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales for the forthcoming Cambridge University Press collection of Chaucer’s works.

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 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 Arthurian literature c.500–2000 and on the material text. I have also taught palaeography and codicology for Oxford’s MSt in English.

Beyond these core responsibilities, I supervise BA and MSt dissertations, lecture for the English Faculty, undertake various examining duties, and mentor graduate students.

Publications

Reading English Verse in Manuscript, c.1350–c.1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

‘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

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!