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John Niles


Professional Statement

I retired from the Department in 2003 after twenty-six years on the faculty, after having served in all three ranks of the professorship, and I recently wound up my teaching career as Professor of Humanities at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  As someone whose undergraduate degrees as well are from U.C. Berkeley (BA in English, 1967; PhD in Comparative Literature, 1972), I have indelible memories of the years I spent here, from the time I first walked into classes taught by the likes of Thom Gunn and Alain Renoir until recent years. I am grateful to the colleagues from whom I absorbed so many insights over that time.

I continue to work on projects that fascinate me. These mostly have to do with the origins of English literature  in the period of cultural synthesis that followed the adoption of Christianiity by the Germanic-speaking peoples of Britain (Beowulf and all that), and also with the role of oral narrative in the creation and evolution of collective memory, as exemplified by Scotland's travelling people, or tinkers.



Title Fields
Content Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings
Reviews the critical reception of Old English literature from 1900 to the present day, with illustrative examples.  In addition to evaluating the interpretation of individual texts, the book surveys the evolving schools, methods, and assumptions that have shaped the field in the past and continue to do so at present. Ten chapters are supplemented by substantial excerpts from the critical l....
Idea of anglo-saxon england The Idea of Anglo Saxon England 1066-1901: Remembering, Forgetting, Deciphering, and Renewing the Past
Probes how the field of Anglo-Saxon studies, together with the idea of Anglo-Saxon England itself, evolved over the past ten centuries. ....

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered

Chief Books

1. Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

2. Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.  Paperback edition, 2010.               

3. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts.  Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 2006. 

4. Old English Heroic Poems and the Social Life of Texts.  Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007.

5. Beowulf and Lejre.  Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007.

6. The Idea of Anglo Saxon England 1066-1901: Remembering, Forgetting, Deciphering, and Renewing the Past. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

7. Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.


Chief Editions

1. Old English Literature in Context: Ten Essays. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1980.

2. A Beowulf Handbook.  Co-edited with Robert E. Bjork.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

3. Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity.  Co-edited with Allen J. Frantzen.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.  

4. Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition.  New York: Norton, 2008. With Seamus Heaney’s translation of the poem.

5. Klaeber’s Beowulf.  4th edition. Co-edited with R. D. Fulk and Robert E. Bjork. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

6. The Genesis of Books: Studies in the Scribal Culture of Medieval England in Honour of A.N. Doane.  Co-edited with Matthew T. Hussey.  Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.

7. Anglo-Saxon England and the Visual Imagination. Co-edited with Stacy S. Klein and Jonathan Wilcox. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ca. 2016.

Current Research

I am presently heading an international team that is re-editing the whole corpus of Anglo-Saxon medical texts for publication by the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.

Concurrently, since my retirement, I have been learning much about the archaeology of Iron-Age Eurasia as part of an attempt to put pressure on the category of the “Germanic” — one that has long been enshrined in Anglo-Saxon studies to the possible strait-jacketing of the field.

A third area of research, Scottish oral narrative, remains close to my heart, and I hope in due time to produce additional publications based on the many hours of fieldwork I undertook with singers and storytellers in that region from 1984 to 1993.

Recent English Courses Taught

No recent courses taught.

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