My route to the doctorate, while organic, was certainly surprising, and took a route that I didn't necessarily anticipate when I began thinking about what I wanted to do after my undergraduate. Here, I will try to unpick that journey, and give a little background to what I wrote my doctorate on.
My undergraduate degree was in the History of Art and Architecture with a minor in French at Trinity College Dublin. There I came under the tutelage of the wonderful Professor Roger Stalley who taught courses on medieval art and architecture. I took every course he offered: The Gothic Cathedral, Romanesque Art and Architecture, a special subject in Irish Art in the Golden Age, and wrote my dissertation under his supervision and guidance. While I toyed with the idea of going into curatorial work, the arts sector was so saturated and so competitive, that I decided to get a Master's degree.
I realised that I needed a stronger grounding in the historical background to the medieval art that I was interested in, and so applied and was accepted to the MA program at UCL in Medieval Studies (now called Medieval and Renaissance Studies). There I took courses in Latin, Medieval Latin, Paleography, and a course on medieval education. It was for an essay on the course 'From Cloisters to Classroom' that I came across the text that would form the basis of my PhD. I wrote about it for a 2,500 word essay, but it was crystal clear that more substantial work could be done on it.
I went home to Ireland, anticipating a return to Art History for my PhD but the essay lingered with me, and ultimately, after a year of unsuccessful job hunting during the recession, applied to the University of Oxford to work on the twelfth-century Latin text entitle 'Urbanus magnus' or 'The Book of the Civilised Man', attributed to Daniel of Beccles. I did not expect to get accepted, so it was an immense surprise when the acceptance letter arrived! And so I nominally left behind art history and launched myself wholesale into a life as a medieval historian.
Morals and Manners in Medieval England: Urbanus Magnus and Courtesy Literature
My thesis was based on a twelfth century text which broadly surveys social life in medieval England, from social interactions, household management, table manners, dietary habits, sexual practices, and taboo subjects such as urination, defection, etc. (seriously, I was so lucky to work on such a fun and surprising text!).
No one had written substantially on the subject, there was no translation of the poem, and the only published edition dates from 1939. My thesis was framed around a number of issues:
- a codicological survey of the extant manuscripts of the poem. There are currently 12 known manuscripts of the poem (in full and partial copies). Therefore, I was lucky to get to work in the British Library, Bodleian Library, Cambridge college libraries such as St. John's and Gonville and Caius, Worcester Cathedral Library, Trinity College Dublin, and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.
- a working translation of the poem.
- an updated critical apparatus for the edition of the poem
- extensive research and questioning of the authorship of the poem, along with tracing its complex composition
- manuscript dissemination and use
- genre - how does Urbanus magnus fit into the genre of courtesy literature
- thematic survey of the poem in a historical context, focusing on hierarchy and social advancement, the medieval body, and diet and health.
Ultimately, I plan on publishing an updated translation of the poem (through a collaborative translation project), and I will likely set up a blog solely about the poem itself in order to increase its awareness to more people.
If you want to know more about this poem, you can check out:
However, hopefully in the next year or so, the monograph will appear, coupled with a dedicated blog on the poem. Stay tuned!