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Research Projects

Current Projects

An Historical Typology of Irish Song: Transmission, Performance and Cultural Memory

Principal Investigator: Professor Edward Larrissy

Funding Body: AHRC Large Grant Scheme (2012-15)

Description: The project will establish a typology of Irish song based on evidence of transmission, performance and cultural memory. The main problem in interrogating this archive is the dearth of written musical documents which might bridge the gap between pre-18th-century sources and the activities of field collectors of oral-tradition song during the 18th-20th centuries. Also to be taken into consideration are the intellectual and methodological challenges posed by the overlay of several generations of editorial hands.

We accept that we cannot necessarily trace the longer-term historical trajectory of a given song text or melody for which earlier evidence is absent. Therefore we propose to develop a typological method which unlocks information on continuities of tradition, and discloses possibilities for developing a theory of cultural practice. An example is the funeral elegy which was kept up in both Ireland and Scotland until the mid-20th century and keys into a pattern of singing and social ritual well attested throughout medieval Europe (and still continuing in parts of Central and Eastern Europe today). A given elegy may in itself not be particularly old, but its 'type', i.e., melodic elements and textual topoi, are unchanging and thus recognisable as belonging to an older style of singing (and social expression). Such melodies are characterised typologically as formulaic or cellular in structure and relate to oral-tradition performance for which the earliest European textual evidence survives in ninth-century French and German sources (the date of the oldest surviving manuscripts containing Latin song texts with neumatic music notation).

The work of composers and arrangers which survives in manuscripts and printed sources of the 17th-20th centuries in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man compensates in part for the rupture in historical evidence. It suggests links to an earlier era and to living practice, thus providing important material for testing the typology (albeit at one remove) and for closing historical gaps. Furthermore, the census of primary sources and the resulting typology will present an opportunity to interrogate these materials in a completely new way. By establishing criteria for identifying historical layers in the collecting, editing and arranging of oral-tradition song, these processes themselves will come under scrutiny - processes such as the standardisation of melodic nuances which might have been alien to outside observers, errors in recall, or indeed re-arrangement of materials to suit other environments, such as harmonic settings for piano accompaniment in urban salons and concert halls. The engagement of 21st-century sensibilities challenges us to re-evaluate older world-views.


The Signs of the Weather in Anglo-Saxon England

Investigator: Dr Marilina Cesario

Funding Body: Leverhulme Trust, Individual Research Fellowship (2013-15)

This project explores Anglo-Saxon knowledge of and attitudes to natural phenomena in the literature of the 10th-12th centuries. It argues that astro-meteorological phenomena acquired an importance based on previously undeveloped scientific awareness in the minds of late Anglo-Saxon learned communities and that such knowledge was assimilated into historical sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other monastic products. Investigation of references to weather phenomena offers insights into key developments in many areas of Anglo-Saxons' life: intellectual, scientific, medical, mathematical and astronomical, as well as cultural. Surprisingly, despite its potential, no comprehensive examination of these phenomena within the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature has been undertaken. This project, through a systematic investigation of weather phenomena, seeks to fill in a gap in our knowledge of the literary, religious and scientific culture of late Anglo-Saxon England. The approach is historical, a range of different texts is surveyed, from historiography to prognostications, charms and poetry. It demonstrates that celestial phenomena also acquired a prognosticatory dimension and were considered signs, portending momentous events in the world of men. It makes the case that prognostication and scientific thinking were not in opposition to each other. On the contrary, scientific knowledge of a meteorological phenomenon enhanced its prognosticatory force.


Completed Projects


Apocalypse and drama, 1400-1642

Principal Investigator: Dr Adrian Streete

Funding Body: Leverhulme Trust, Individual Research Fellowship (2010-12)


Geographies of Orthodoxy: mapping the late medieval pseudo-Bonaventuran Lives of Christ, 1300-1550

Principal Investigator; Co-director: Professor John Thompson; Dr Stephen Kelly

Funding Body: AHRC Large Grant Scheme (2007-2010)

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Filming and Performing Renaissance History 1500-1660

Principal Investigator: Professor Mark Burnett

Funding Body: AHRC Research Networks Scheme (2007-2009) 


Imagining History: culturally mapping the Middle English Prose Brut

Principal Investigator: Professor John Thompson

Funding Body: AHRB Large Grant Scheme (2002-2005)

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