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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam

Re-assessing St. Birgitta of Sweden and her Revelations in Medieval England: Circulation and Influence, 1380-1530

Alternative title: En re-vurdering av Den Hellige Birgitta av Sverige og hennes Revelationes i middelalderens England: Sirkulasjon og innflytelse, 1380-1530

Awarded: NOK 7.6 mill.

In the medieval period, one of the most common genres of writing that women produced was the visionary account. Holy woman Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known across the Continent and in England through her huge collection of divine visions, the Latin Revelations, which was translated into many vernaculars. However, our understanding of Birgitta?s influence in England is uneven because most of her English texts have not been edited, and her influence on literature and religion remains understudied. This project proposes the first comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on medieval England. How were her texts received and circulated, and what was the extent of her influence? A bold overarching hypothesis will be tested: that from around 1380 until the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping English society - and, at the same time, the English also shaped Birgitta and her texts to fit their own needs and tastes, sometimes through dramatic adaptation. In order to test this hypothesis, the project combines three innovative methodologies. First, we will create a multi-faceted, open-access database of English manuscripts and other evidence related to Birgitta. Second, select Middle English versions of Birgitta's Revelations will be edited for the first time, in both print and digital editions. Third, we will produce network graphs that can illuminate how Birgitta's texts circulated in England, and how her influence spread. Finally, with all this knowledge combined, our analysis will enable us to suggest a new narrative of women's writing in England, centered on Birgitta of Sweden as the most influential female author. Altogether, the project could advance our understanding of how gender, authorship, and religious literature functioned in late medieval England. Progress on the project as of November 2021 involves the creation of the beta version of the "DIGITAL BIRGITTA" online resource and initial stages of development of the graphing visualization of manuscript relationships, in cooperation with the digital team at the University Library, and led in part by the PhD candidate. The project post-doc has transcribed and edited the first book of the Revelations and has drafted much of the introductory material to the edition of the Julius manuscript text, and received preliminary encouragement from a publishing press. The PI has begun on research concerning the Revelations in medieval devotional compilations. As of autumn 2021 the post-doc has found a permanent position elsewhere and a new researcher position is about to be announced. Also in autumn 2021 the PI and PhD are stationed in Oxford for 4 months to conduct manuscript research at the Bodleian Library and other archives.

It is a commonplace that we continue to underestimate women's roles in shaping literature and culture, both in the present and in the past. Holy woman and visionary Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known in late-medieval England and her Revelations were translated multiple times, but she remains chronically understudied. Nearly all of the English texts concerning Bridget are unedited and trapped in medieval manuscripts, and no-one has yet undertaken what this ReVISION project proposes: a comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on English literature and culture. The main research question will be: what was the reception and influence of St. Birgitta of Sweden, and her Revelations and related texts, in late-medieval England? In pursuing this question by means of a text database, new editions, and their analysis, the ReVISION project will test a bold overarching hypothesis: that from when the Revelations first crossed the Channel around 1380 into the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping the English society - and, at the same time, the English also shaped Birgitta and her texts to fit their own needs and tastes, sometimes through dramatic adaptation. The original methodologies chosen to tackle this question would be path-breaking in two ways. First, the combination of an open access database, network graphs, and digital editions represents a leap forward in the development of new knowledge about medieval manuscripts in England and textual circulation (not only for within the project itself but for other research). Second, analysis of these resources offers high potential for significant theoretical advancement about how gender and authorship functioned in late medieval England. This creative approach to expanding the current knowledge base fills important gaps in the fields of English literature, women’s writing, and religious culture.

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam