Medieval English Studies at Bern covers English literature and culture from the Anglo-Saxon period to the end of the fifteenth century. We take an interdisciplinary approach to our research and teaching, which is fostered through our collaboration with individuals and institutions across the disciplines, joint teaching and study trips (Canterbury, York, London, Paris, St. Gaul) and particularly through our affiliation with the Berner Mittelalter Zentrum, which offers an interdisciplinary lecture series each semester.
Research focus: The Senses in the Middle Ages
The Medieval Studies Section of the Department of English provides a hub for studying the senses in the Middle Ages. Annette Kern-Stähler is co-PI of the international project ‘The Senses: Past and Present’ (with Fiona Macpherson and Elizabeth Robertson, University of Glasgow) and co-editor, with Elizabeth Robertson, of Literature and the Senses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and of The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England (Leiden: Brill, 2016) (with Beatrix Busse and Wietse de Boer). She has organised several workshops and conferences on the senses in the Middle Ages; the April 2023 conference ‘The Senses: Present Issues, Past Perspectives’ instigates a dialogue between contemporary philosophy/science and medieval sensory studies. Her current research focuses on multisensoriality, sensory regulations and surveillance, and the senses in dramatic performance.
Funded by the SNSF, her project ‘Sensing Nature’ investigates the role of the senses in the literary representations of the non-human world. Will Brockbank, the postdoc on this project, is preparing a monograph on ‘Sensing Creation: Perception and the Book of Nature in Anglo-Saxon England.’
The senses in medieval romance is the focus of Hannah Piercy’s postdoctoral project ‘Representing the Senses in Middle English Romance’. Nicole Nyffenegger’s research focuses on skin as a writing surface. The section’s SNSF professorial fellow Mary Flannery has written on connections between the physical sense of taste and the concept of aesthetic taste.
We are particularly interested in:
- How medieval literature captures and articulates sense experiences;
- How representations of sensory experiences and attitudes to the senses are influenced by genre;
- How learned writers in Anglo-Saxon England understood the role of the senses in human perception of the Christian Creation;
- How sensory experiences are evoked in dramatic performances;
- The role of plot-driven imaginative fiction in expressing everyday understandings of the senses;
- The role of the senses in medieval devotion;
- Medieval constructions of sensory disabilities;
- Sensory regulations and surveillance;
- The circulation of sensory knowledge in medieval England