We pursue our work in three main research strands: Canon and Library, Imperial Languages, and Transformations and Translocations.

Canon and Library

This strand is led by Lars Boje Mortensen and Réka Forrai.

The research of CML moves beyond the national canons by understanding literature in a broad, pre-Romantic, sense and working across a wide European geography. In looking at medieval literature, we interrogate the relationship between canonical and less studied texts, as well as the medieval and modern mechanisms of canon formation itself. In the first phase of CML, we emphasized the enabling roles of specific non-canonical texts or types of texts, developed a broader typology and chronology for medieval canon formation, structured around concepts of exegesis, experiments and critique and opened up the place of female literary patronage in creating a European canon. A synthesis of the work on canon so far is published here (Lars Boje Mortensen, "The Canons of the Medieval Literature from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century").

In the current phase, building on our earlier work, we will center attention on the interplay between canon and library, again both in the Middle Ages and later. There are important links to be made between the literary and intellectual horizons of medieval authors and the concrete bases of these horizons in their worlds of reading, storing and retrieving texts. While canonical authors and individual medieval libraries have attracted much research, larger-scale views of the role of medieval libraries in intellectual and literary history need both theoretical input and case studies of the lesser-known authors which are the focus of the ‘Canon and Library’ strand. The planned or unplanned meeting of authors and book collections often gave rise to new inspiration and the widening of intellectual horizons. More surprisingly, the separation of author and library, in the predicament of exile, is a particularly promising field of comparative studies, given the fact that a significant amount of groundbreaking texts spring from periods of exile. 

While the great libraries of the ancient world, and their canonical authors, are often used as a modern mirror, this research strand promotes the very rich and diverse, but less studied, medieval experience of the world of books as a foil for the modern, in two ways. Our 21st-century experience of distributed authorship and of flexible texts has a clear parallel in the medieval world. At the same time, European and global access to the medieval textual world seeks to transcend the hitherto dominant organization of the medieval (and modern) literature through national canons and national libraries.

Imperial Languages

This strand is led by Christian Høgel and Aglae Pizzone.

The CML has been developing the concept of ‘imperial languages’ as a framework for understanding the status and development of written languages in the Middle Ages.  As languages of dominion over peoples with different cultures and ethnicities, pre-modern imperial languages shared a number of characteristics. In addition to using the written word, they also possessed a grammar, literary canon and institutions of learning. Imperial languages were used across all domains of knowledge (religion, science, literature, government, law), and they exerted a major influence on the development of literate written traditions in other local languages, some of which in turn became imperial languages themselves. The resources available to Latin, Greek and Arabic make them a natural point of departure for studying the whole pattern of European languages that possess a medieval written record. The rich resources of imperial languages underpin a complex dialectic between hegemony and desire: imposed, through conversion, colonization, and bureaucratization, imperial languages also represent a cultural capital which is desired from within and from without an empire. 

Languages carry a special weight when it comes to medieval studies. Many written languages employed in the Middle Ages were later shaped into national languages, which has profoundly informed the way that they have been studied. Exploring the use of writing for local languages within the ‘Imperial Languages’ framework circumvents later nationalizing paradigms, opening up space for scholarly debate across the different philological traditions.

The ‘Imperial Languages’ strand contributes to the CML’s connective methodologies. We have considered the use of written Old English as part of the development of an imperial English kingdom, participated in discussions of the wide spread of French as an alternative Latin rather than an identity marker and developed a model of Byzantine literature as multilingual. ‘Imperial Languages’ has been a central element of our Afro-Eurasian approach to European literature, which we aim to widen through research on the Silk Road. The concept of ‘imperial language’ in Antiquity and the Middle Ages was developed in close collaboration with colleagues from Ghent University and we are also looking forward to working with researchers at Kings College London, SOAS and the Courtauld in exploring the dynamics of language and empire up to the present time and on a global scale.

Transformations and Translocations

This strand is led by Elizabeth Tyler, George Younge, and Rosa M. Rodríguez Porto.

‘Transformations and Translocations’ aims to contribute to the understanding of medieval literature through the development of methodologies which examine form and social networks simultaneously. These methodologies attend to the agency of people (men and women), genres, modes (verse, poetry, prose), styles, texts and manuscripts (book types, layouts, images) in forging literary links across space and time. Building on the practices of both comparative literature and history, our approach will open up the connections between literary cultures often considered as distinct, whether geographically or chronologically. But equally, we will be alert to absence of connections, to discontinuities, shedding light on the commonalities, diversities and ruptures of medieval literature.

The connections and disconnections between literary cultures invite explanation in formal and historical terms. This strand will explore the way that historical explanation can be articulated using form as the primary evidence of connection. In this way what is often approached from a comparative perspective (for example links between romance in Persia, Greece and France) can become part of a network analysis, with the tracing of shared literary universes exposing otherwise barely visible social connections. Projects within the strand will be driven by a multi-layered back-and-forth between close reading and careful attention to the social networks of men and women, visible or invisible, synchronic or diachronic, of authors, makers, patrons, audiences and objects. Literary history of this kind subscribes to the cognitive power of historical imagination, as an important dimension of scholarly practice, when it is disciplined, collaborative and rigorous; we are interested in promoting this aspect theoretically in working out, through a range projects (including major ones on ‘What is medieval European literature?’, on poetic anthologizing in the Latin West and on history-writing across and beyond Europe), the balances between formalism and historicism.

The deep integration of aesthetics and history will underpin CML’s conceptualizations of ‘Europe’ by exploring formal and social intersections within a transregional framework which includes regions within Europe, Europe as a region and larger regions of which Europe is a part. By following formal and social connections from antiquity to the early modern period, the strand will also open up questions around periodization and the non-linear time of literary history, thus interrogating what we mean by ‘medieval’.

‘Transformations and Translocations’ is a new strand, building on our earlier work on ‘Fiction’.


Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures is published by the University of Milan in collaboration with the Centre for Medieval Literature.

For the complete CML bibliography, please see our public Zotero library.