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Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of English

Seafaring Conference

Department of English: Conferences

Seafaring: an early medieval conference on the islands of the North Atlantic - November 3-5, 2016 - Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management

Seafaring: an early medieval conference on the islands of the North Atlantic is a three-day national conference that brings together scholars of early medieval Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia to imagine cooperative, interdisciplinary futures for the study of North Atlantic archipelagos during the early medieval period.  

Designed less around traditional conference presentations than as a "workspace," Seafaring: an early medieval conference on the islands of the North Atlantic invites proposals that will engage participants in mini-tutorials, masterclasses, writing workshops, and learning laboratories - all of which are designed to widen their linguistic competence, interdisciplinary methods, geographic familiarity, and temporal scope, within and beyond the early medieval period.


The primary workspace for this conference will be an eight-to-twelve-person seminar.  Seminars will meet for two days of the conference in order to foster extended discussion.  Seminar organizers may wish to ask participants to read their papers or summarize pre-circulated writing.  Either way, the emphasis of the seminar is on protracted, constructive discussion: of an individual's paper, of connections between papers, and of the seminar topic.  As a format that takes up some but not all of the conference, the seminar allows each participant to be a full member of one seminar and to sample others during remaining time blocks.

Joey McMullen, Harvard University,
Georgia Henley, Harvard University
Nov 3-5th, 1:00-2:45pm, Knoebel 344

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Borderlands and Frontier Zones: Transmaritime Interactions with the Celtic World

The Celtic cultures of medieval Britain and Ireland, though recipients of a considerable amount of scholarship in their own right, are often superseded in discussions of the history and literature of the British Isles by their more powerful Germanic and Francophone neighbors. While Celtic influence on neighboring groups is often acknowledged, modes of transfer and communication are little understood. 

This seminar encourages an interdisciplinary approach to the study of medieval Celtic peoples and languages by drawing together a number of disparate voices, historical traditions and practices. With more attention given to the modes of interface between England, Scandinavia, and its Celtic neighbors, we might better understand both the quality and effect of the high degree of transmarine travel and cultural exchange which occurred between these various peoples. 

Proposed papers might fall into the following thematic strands:

  • explorations of literary influence across borders
  • studies of textual transmission and manuscript networks
  • postcolonial concern
  • discussions of ecclesiastical connections
  • economic ties and trade routes
  • cross-influence in insular art and palaeography
  • examinations of portrayals of a neighboring group in historical chronicles and other writing

Geographical areas that are particularly fruitful for this line of inquiry are the March of Wales, northern England and southern Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Viking Dublin, though discussions pertaining to other frontier zones and borderlands, whether marked by sea or by land, are also welcome. Though the title of the seminar suggests a perspective external to the Celtic world, looking in, papers considering Celtic cultures from within, looking outward at external forms of influence, are equally encouraged. 

Jordan Zweck, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Mary Kate Hurley, Ohio University
Nov 3-5th, 9:00-10:45am, Knoebel 344

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Archives of the North Atlantic 

Interest in archives, inspired by the work of Derrida and Foucault, drives much recent scholarship on memory and temporality, but it remains a question how useful Derrida and Foucault are as models for study of the Middle Ages (K. Davis, “Time” [2012]; Brown et. al Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages [2013]). Their emphasis on hierarchy and massive, large-scale collections is problematic for medieval archives, as is the fact that their work is informed by the practices of modern states and technologies. What, then, is an archive (or archives) in a medieval context? Much good work has recently been done on how legal documents participated in preserving and promoting institutional memory, especially in the context of the church (Tinti, Sustaining Belief [2010]; Tollerton, Wills and Will-Making [2011]; Snook, The Anglo-Saxon Chancery [2015]), but many of these projects study the work of a single archive or country, or do not engage with unofficial practices.   

Although “archives” are often understood to be collections of records and other documents, this seminar will explore the ways in which medieval people conceived the archive as constituted by other media as well, including coins, poems, cups, and ships. Archives are often distinguished from other collections like treasure hoards in that archives are deliberately gathered and maintained, curated by guardians over an extended period of time. What would it mean to imagine the Staffordshire Hoard as an archive, or to take up Martin Carver’s argument regarding Sutton Hoo that burial is “poetry,” and that  “A grave is not simply a text, but a text with attitude, a text inflated with emotion….like poetry, it is a palimpsest of allusions” (37)? 

For Derrida, the archive is always bound up with the death drive: the archive would not exist without the desire to destroy, because our desire to preserve is bound up with our awareness of mortality. But this destruction is not merely a source of loss. Instead, the archive demands its own destruction in order that it may become replicable. In similar ways, medieval archives respond to loss, erasure, forgetting, and destruction by carefully cultivating materials that might survive that loss. Drawing on the work of Renee Trilling, we ask whether there is a nostalgia of the archive, what might be the temporalities of the archive, and what the archive’s relationship is to the affective possibilities of memory. The seminar should also appeal to those concerned with the future of the archive, especially in the age of big data or the Anthropocene. 

Archives have the potential to gather materials from a wide array of sources, and over a broad range of time. This seminar invites participants from a wide range of fields, including history, literary studies, art, archaeology. It is particularly excited about the ways in which reconceiving the archive might encourage interdisciplinary conversations among its participants, and about the ways in which the seminar format encourages formal or informal discussion of the challenges in accessing and assembling bodies of primary texts among participants from diverse backgrounds. 

While one prong of the seminar might examine how medieval peoples conceived the archive, a second prong of the seminar might examine how medievalists must reconstruct their own archives of the medieval past, and the special challenges encountered in doing so. By this we mean not just that one must have the proper knowledge and credentials (and sometimes a bit of luck) to gain access to manuscripts, but also the ways in which studying certain topics (music, the senses, daily life, etc.) requires the scholar to assemble materials not already gathered, or not even extant. We hope this kind of conversation might inspire fruitful ideas for future work, and that participants could share knowledge of Irish and Norse resources that scholars working on England might have less access to (and vice versa).

Jeremy DeAngelo, Rutgers University,
Marjorie Housley, Univeristy of Notre Dame
Nov 3-5th, 9:00-10:45am, Knoebel 211

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The Archipelago: Comparative Methodologies for the Medieval North Atlantic

Scholars from a variety of disciplines have discussed the importance and value of comparative approaches to medieval literatures; however, the comparative approaches taken have been inconsistent, and some major areas for comparison have been overlooked. Using the archipelago to conceptualize the literatures of multicultural maritime regions has been a fruitful avenue of inquiry in other literary subfields, and most recently attention has expanded beyond its usual arenas of modern-day Caribbean, Polynesian, and South Asian literatures. Given its extensive littoral, numerous archipelagoes, history of seafaring, ethnic diversity, and prominence of island cultures, Medieval Europe is a promising new lens that has not been explored to its fullest potential. 

This seminar pursues comparativity along two axes: time and space. How is the connectivity of medieval maritime cultures expressed in their literatures? How does the archipelagic quality of “unity in diversity,” as Simone Pinet describes it, reveal itself in the literatures and practices of communities that are in turn isolated and connected by the sea? At the same time, what does the study of modern archipelagic cultures have to contribute to the analysis of their medieval counterparts? What qualities of the archipelago have remained constant over time, what differs, and how can the advances made in archipelagic research into the modern maritime world help us better understand the seafaring Middle Ages, and how can a better understanding of the Middle Ages aid approaches in other geographic and chronological areas of study? 

As an opportunity for a prolonged and lively discussion about comparative methodologies in early medieval Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and around the world, we hope to have seminar participants from a variety of disciplines and areas of interest. 

Possible paper topics might include, but are certainly not limited to: 

  • Multidisciplinary approaches
  • Comparative archipelagic theory
  • Ecocriticism (including ecofeminism)
  • Queer theory
  • Gender theory (feminist theory, masculinity studies, etc.)
  • Comparison across time periods (i.e. studies of Old/Middle English, dating controversies, modern island literatures, etc.)
  • Manuscript Study/History of the Book

Eileen Joy,
Nov 3rd, 11:00-noon, Knoebel TBA

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Feminist Feelings: What are the State(s) of Affect Theory in Early Medieval Cultural Studies 

How has affect theory contributed to the study of early medieval literature and culture—and what might it have to do with feminism? Alternately, how can Anglo-Saxon Studies, Old Welsh Studies, Old Irish Studies, and Old Norse Studies contribute to the theorization and history of Affect, the History of the Emotions, and related fields? These questions are newly primed for a range of approaches by an emergent discourse on affect and emotion within, at least, Anglo-Saxon Studies, including Leslie Lockett’s monumental study of Anglo-Saxon Psychologies (2011) and the collection Anglo-Saxon Emotions: Reading the Heart in Old English Literature and Culture (2015, ed. Alice Jorgensen, Frances McCormack and Jonathan Wilcox).

Affect theory and the history of the emotions has been shaping and taking cues from feminism and queer theory in interventions pertinent across the humanities. Additionally, feminist approaches to affect in the early medieval North Atlantic can benefit from work that moves between traditional boundaries of national literatures. This session thus seeks a range of approaches to the question of affect in the early medieval North Atlantic, with a special interest in how the study of affect in these fields might relate or contribute to feminist critical approaches or feminist issues in the profession. The session is equally interested in work theorizing Affects and work Historicizing the Affects, as well as—and especially—in work recuperating earlier, perhaps too-often overlooked contributions to the field. What work do we look to as critical touchstones, preambles, pioneering forays, or forgotten by not exhausted false-starts for feminist approaches to affect in the study of early medieval cultures? What movements of contemporary affect theory might inflect a feminist approach to early medieval culture, and how can the study of early medieval culture exert a stronger tide-pull in the drift of contemporary affect theory?

Possible topics might include:

  • historicizing affect theory
  • theorizing the history of affect and the emotions in early medieval culture
  • affect in the archaeology of the early Medieval North Atlantic
  • feminism and "feeling adrift"
  • the state of feminism in the study of affect in early medieval culture
  • the place of the study of affect in feminist approaches to the field

Tiffany Beechy, University of Colorado-Boulder,
Nov 3-4th, 1:00-2:45pm, Knoebel 211

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Free Floating across the North Atlantic 

On the one hand, this seminar serves a practical purpose: to provide a forum for participants whose papers do not fit the topics advertised in other seminars. 

On the other hand, this seminar understands its “open call for papers” as a productive activity, one that brings scholars who might not normally converse with one another into conversation. It hopes that as participants engage one another’s ideas, they will float freely—without the navigational supports of a topic or theme—towards new medieval narratives and uncharted theoretical territories. 

All topics are welcome, but we especially invite papers that extend early medieval scholarship beyond traditional research horizons. For example: 

  • comparative discussions that locate the North Atlantic in proximity to the Mediterranean, East Asia, or the Americas
  • “radical” interdisciplinary methods (for example, coordinating early medieval research with issues in theoretical linguistics, anthropology, computer science, geography, engineering, or the biosciences)
  • reflections upon the “forms” of early medieval research methodologies and practices (e.g. source analogues and close reading; paleography and archival study; field excavation and laboratory analysis). How are they poetic? How do they shape the scholar’s body? How can the body function as a site for reshaping traditional methods of medieval scholarship?
  • interrogations of scholarly space—how do the architectures of our conference facilities, offices, and classrooms participate in the construction “medieval scholarship”? Can we imagine different spaces in which this scholarship might take place? How might these alternative spaces produce different kinds of medieval knowledge?


Fostering truly collaborative and interdisciplinary work across the early medieval North Atlantic often requires scholars to continuously expand already highly-developed expertise in methodology, languages, or discipline.  Such efforts are often time consuming and proceed in autodidactic isolation. A scholar of Old English, for example, may find herself wanting to work with medieval Welsh or Irish or gain facility with the language of archaeological reports. We thus seek proposals for one-to-two hour workshops and forums in which participants share and learn from one another's expertise in order to broaden their awareness and understanding of other islands of the North Atlantic. 

Scheduled Workshops/Forums to Date: 

Michael Joseph Walsh, University of Denver,
Aditi Machado, University of Denver,
Nov 3rd, 3:00-4:45pm, Knoebel 211

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This workshop will explore experimental, creative ways to approach the translation of early medieval texts, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on texts in Old English and Anglo-Latin. Our focus will be less on scholarly fidelity and more on engaging the vast creative possibilities inherent in the act of translation and exploring how an engagement with the full range of these possibilities might deepen our current and future translation projects.

Joey McMullen (with Georgia Henley), Harvard University,
Nov 4th, 9:00-10:45am, Knoebel 231

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Old Irish is widely regarded as one of the most difficult Indo-European languages, famous for its (absurdly) complicated verbal system—this workshop will serve as a very basic introduction to Old and Middle Irish, with a focus on pronunciation and word recognition.

We will begin with the essentials of pronunciation, including the effects of initial mutations (lenition, nasalization), with a focus on personal names from well-known prose tales and concept words (dindshenchas, óenach, fír flathemon, immram, etc.) important for teaching. We will then provide a basic overview of grammatical features, ultimately with the goal that one will come away from the seminar with enough knowledge to identify a passage in an edited text for quotation and, ideally, with a head-start toward looking up lexical items in eDil (or another dictionary). If time permits, we will begin to translate a poem (e.g., Messe ocus Pangur Bán—the famous poem about a scholar and his cat) at the end of the seminar. We will also offer a suggested “syllabus” and other beginner-level resources to continue learning Old Irish at home, on your own.

Georgia Henley (with Joey McMullen), Harvard University,
Nov 5th, 9:00-10:45am, Knoebel 231

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This workshop offers an introduction to the study of Middle Welsh. No knowledge of Celtic languages is presupposed, though participants with experience studying inflected languages may have an easier time. While Celtic languages are widely regarded as difficult, this workshop is intended to de-mystify Middle Welsh, giving participants an introduction to pronunciation, orthography, basic syntactical structures, and grammatical features, such as mutation, that are specific to Celtic languages. It is hoped that participants will become comfortable with identifying parts of speech, and looking up words in a Welsh dictionary, to facilitate the translation of texts. Following this, we will also provide an overview of the extant texts in Middle Welsh, which include a vast array of historical prose, narrative tales, bardic poetry, saints’ lives, wisdom literature, and apocrypha. We will also discuss some of the manuscripts in which these texts are contained. Participants should come away from the workshop comfortable with pronouncing Welsh, able to identify parts of speech when translating, and familiar with resources for studying and engaging with this language on their own.

Livia Roschdi, LMU Munich, RuneS
Nov 3-4th, 3:00-4:45pm, Knoebel 344

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This workshop is an introduction to Pre-Old English, Old English and (Pre-)Old Frisian runes. It will focus on the Pre-OE inscriptions as they reflect the sound changes not attested in early Old English manuscripts but merely 'reconstructed' in grammar- and handbooks; it will talk about field-runology and the methodology of runology; and it will cover runological graphemics and runological pragmatics. There will also be a brief overview of the long-term project RuneS 'Runic writing in the Germanic languages'. 

Andrew Pfrenger, Kent State University, 
John Sexton, Bridgewater State University
Nov 3-4th, 3:00-4:45pm, Sturm Hall 353

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Most medievalists, especially those attending conferences, are passionate about their subject. We come to conferences to share the fruits of that passion and to feed that hunger for new and interesting avenues of exploration. While our academic community tends to be rather small, the number of people interested in what we do and in the findings of our research is actually much larger than we imagine. This workshop explores how we can reach that audience more easily through podcasting, an exciting and relatively easy means of sharing what you love with a lot more people. The workshop will provide attendees with an overview of podcasting and its potential uses, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as discussion of the potential value of podcasting for professional development. Andrew Pfrenger of Kent State University and John Sexton of Bridgewater State University will discuss the development of their popular podcast, Saga Thing, which explores the Sagas of the Icelanders, and offer a hands-on experience guiding workshop members through the process of creating an episode from start to finish. Topics will include, conceptualization of the podcast itself, research, scripting, recording, editing, publishing, and promotion. No previous experience with scripting or audio recording is necessary. Our goal is to help you realize the potential of your gifts and how to share them with a broader audienREADING

Lyle Tompsen, Durham University (UK), University of Iceland,
Nov 5th, 1:00-2:45pm, Sturm Hall 353

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The study of Old Norse, runic material, and the Icelandic textual tradition has a history spanning almost a thousand years. Interest in these works has only increased over time with the chisel and feather being replaced by electrons. This workshop session will present and overview the online resources available that can support this research.

The workshop session will cover two related areas. The first is a brief introduction to Old Norse literary sources. We detail the Old Norse textual sources from Iceland, as well as other sources from Scandinavia. The purpose of this area is to present the standard authoritative texts used by scholars in the Icelandic tradition. The second area is to provide and demonstrate the extensive internet resources available for researching this material. There are many websites that present or examine these sources. Our major purpose is to present these websites and provide a list of these sites that can be utilized by scholars researching these fields.
The websites included relate to:

  • Online resources for Old Norse/Iceland texts.
  • Sources aiding in the translation of these texts.
  • Online resources related to runic material.
  • Language resources, including those for the modern Scandinavian languages and Old Norse language aids
  • Miscellaneous and perhaps not well known online resources. Example in this category include medieval legal and ecclesiastic documents, toponymal resources, etc.

Erin E. Sweany, Indiana University, 
Mathew T. Sharples, University of Colorado-Boulder,
Nov 5th, 1:00-2:45pm, Knoebel 211

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Plants give us the metaphor of rootedness to describe that which is stable and fixed in place or nature (even to the point of being stuck or entrenched). But the roles and representations of plants in early medieval texts demonstrate that plants had (and have) dynamic and active qualities. From food, to medicine, to cosmology, plants occupied a vital and central place in the early medieval world.

This workshop will explore the representations of plants in early medieval texts, thinking about textual representations, pictorial representations, and, to an extent, the material reality of early medieval plants. Additionally, we will discuss the way plants are addressed by modern scholarship and explore how critical plant studies does or should transcend temporal and disciplinary boundaries. Come to the workshop, take home some dried betony—a medieval cure-all herb!

Ragnhild Ljosland, University of the Highlands and Islands,
Nov 4-5th, 9:00-10:45am, Knoebel 229

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This workshop explores inscriptions made in the Scandinavian runic scripts, i.e. the Younger Futhark with its various medieval modifications, in the North Atlantic Viking diaspora. The learning goals for the workshop are to be able to recognize the Scandinavian Younger Futhark runes and distinguish them from the Anglo-Saxon and Elder Futhark, and to gain an overview of the distribution of these runes in the North Atlantic area. We will furthermore have closer look at a sample of inscriptions from each of the following territories: England, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Orkney, Shetland, Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.

 Plenary Speakers:

Alf Siewers

Dr. Alf Siewers, Associate Professor of English and Affiliate Faculty Member in Environmental Studies at Bucknell University.

Alf Kentigern Siewers is Chair and Associate Professor of English at Bucknell University, where he also is an affiliate faculty member in Environmental Studies. Author of Strange Beauty: Ecocritical Approaches to Early Medieval Landscape (Palgrave), editor of Re-Imagining Nature: Ecosemiotics and Environmental Humanities (Bucknell Press), and co-editor of Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages (Palgrave), his articles have also appeared in journals and collections such as the Cambridge Companion to Literature and Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-First Century (Routledge).

His current work focuses on non-modern environmental semiotics, rhetoric, and ecopoetics (both written and visual). His current projects include an ecocritical survey of Anglophone ecopoetics (including literature and film) from those perspectives; a series of environmental humanities documentaries produced in collaboration with students as part of the Stories of the Susquehanna Valley project at Bucknell; and a collaborative effort with other universities to produce a digital edition of the pioneering nature text Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper. A former urban affairs writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and Midwestern correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, his background includes experience in environmental journalism, and he also teaches journalism and advises student media at Bucknell.

Dr. Siewers' plenary talk is titled "A Green World in the Desert Sea: Seeking an Ecopoetics of Nature's Hidden God." It engages connections between sea, desert, and forest in early medieval and nineteenth-century literature that are directly relevant to ways of thinking about nature today. His plenary talk will be held Nov, 5th, 11am-noon, in Knoebel 229.

Lees Overing

Clare Lees, Professor of Medieval Literature and History of the Language, King's College London and Gillian Overing, Professor of English, Wake Forest University.

Clare Lees and Gillian Overing have a long collaborative history, as co-authors and co-editors. They share a deep interest in and commitment to the study of women and gender studies in the field of Old English, and a passion for place. Their published work together includes “The Clerics and the Critics: Misogyny and the Social Symbolic in Anglo-Saxon England,” in The Debate on Women, Men, and Gender in the Middle Ages  (Palgrave 2001), Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England, (Pennsylvania UP 2001, rprt. University of Wales Press, 2009), A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes (Penn State Press 2006), and “Women and the Origins of English Literature,” in The History of British Women s Writing 1350-1500 (Palgrave 2012).

They have given many joint presentations in a variety of formats and contexts, most recently,  “Sonic Illumination,” a multi-media presentation at Whitechapel Art Gallery (London, UK, February 2015);   The Collaborative Spiral: Thinking over Time,” at the International Medieval Congress (Leeds, UK, July 2014); and “Deep Water Tales,” a multi-media presentation for Midsummer Water Day, as part of a day long series of interactive talks and events by King’s College London in collaboration with the Museum of Water installation at Somerset House, London UK (June 2014).

Their plenary talk for this conference is titled ,""Still Water" (Roni Horn, 1999): The Contemporary Medieval in Art, Culture and Practice." It explores their developing interest in water as a lens and mirror for the contemporary and the medieval, and their current book in progress, The Contemporary Medieval: Reflections on Practice. Their plenary talk will be held Nov, 4th, 11am- noon, in Knoebel 229.

More on Clare A. Lees

Clare A. Lees is Professor of Medieval English Literature at King’s College in London and Director of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (AHRC-DTP) of King’s College London, School of Advanced Study (University of London) and University College London.Lees works mainly in early medieval literature from the perspective of contemporary Medieval Studies. Research interests include gender and the history of women’s writing, religious literature and cultural studies – including issues of place and landscape – as well as textual and material culture. She is increasingly interested in modern, contemporary engagements with early medieval culture. Editor of The Cambridge History of Early English Literature (CUP 2013), her publications include a chapter titled “'In Ælfric's words,” in A Companion to Æ lfric (2009) and  “The Ruthwell Runes and The Dream of the Rood” in Fragments of history. Rethinking the Ruthwell and Bewcastle monuments (2007).  In 2016-18, she will hold a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust for her research on “The Contemporary Arts and Early Medieval Culture in Britain and Ireland”. 

More on Gillian R. Overing

Gillian R. Overing is Professor of English at Wake Forest University. Her research interests include Anglo-Saxon literature, cultural geography, and gender studies. Overing’s work has focused on Beowulf, includingLanguage, Sign and Gender in Beowulf (SIU, 1990)

"The Women of Beowulf: A Context for Interpretation" in Beowulf: Basic Readings, (Garland 1995). “Beowulf on Gender” (New Medieval Literatures, 2012), “Beowulf: A Poem in Our time,” in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature (CUP, 2013), and on landscape studies, (Landscape of Desire:  Partial Stories of the Medieval Scandinavian World, with Marijane Osborn. (University of Minnesota, 1994). She is currently co-editing a volume American/Medieval: Nature and Mind in Cultural Transfer, and working on affect and the environment in Old English poetry.