The Centre for Medieval Studies: Examining the Past into the Future

The Centre for Medieval Studies is a leading centre for research and training in all aspects of medieval studies, providing an ideal research environment for staff and graduate students in an area that is inherently interdisciplinary. With more than 30 Centre staff members from across the Faculty of Arts and beyond, we have an exceptionally broad range of specialists learning from the different methodologies of our individual disciplines. 

Internally, the Centre nourishes excellence in research, promoting interdisciplinary research and training in medieval studies, facilitating grant capture, and providing a network for mutual support and exchange of knowledge and expertise. Lecturer, Dr Steve Bull, comments: 

‘As an ECR still finding my place in the wider academic community, the advice, support, and connections that I have gained through the CMS have been invaluable. There is a genuine feeling of collegiality amongst the centre’s members.’

We are raising the profile of Bristol’s medieval research community nationally and internationally. We have an extensive network of partners, including local heritage organisations, facilitating impact, and offering student placements (e.g., Bristol Cathedral and Berkeley Castle), and national and international research partners. Professor David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania), a frequent visitor to the Centre, comments:  

‘Bristol’s Centre for Medieval Studies has great medievalists across the range to sift the secrets of Bristol (a great medieval city), of Europe, and of the global Middle Ages.  A truly exceptional centre for student education and international scholarly collaboration.’

We lead several externally-funded projects. A recent project we initiated is the Marie-Curie Doctoral Training Network ‘Re-mediating the Early Book: Pasts and Futures’ (REBPAF); it will support 13 PhD researchers at the universities of Bristol, Galway, Antwerp, Alicante, Vienna and Zürich, enhancing our already strong postgraduate cohort and international reach. PhD applications for the REBPAF project close on 10 January.

We offer exceptional support to our postgraduates, integrating them into our research community with regular social events and research seminars, some tailored to meet their needs, including seminars on ‘what every medievalist needs to know about…’ (useful for us all, but especially early career researchers) and an annual ‘student choice’ seminar with a speaker nominated by the students. We also host on our Blackboard site a constantly upgraded ‘training hub’ with online resources and run a range of reading groups, notably for medieval languages, such as Old French and medieval Latin. Our successful MA in Medieval Studies, with its unique placement unit, attracts students from different disciplines and diverse backgrounds with a high conversion rate to postgraduate research, here and elsewhere. 

A highlight is the annual postgraduate conference, the longest-running of its kind; this brings to Bristol, and now also online, an international group of postgraduates. PhD student Maria Rupprecht, from Germany, who chaired last year’s organising committee, notes: 

‘It is the perfect environment for postgraduates to present their research in progress and connect with medievalist peers and leading scholars from Bristol and beyond in a most benevolent, constructive, and supportive framework. The conference is an absolute highlight in the CMS. It is conceptualised, organised, and managed by Bristol’s postgrads and with this approach allows for discovering and developing organisational and managerial skills as well as teamwork in a committed and friendly environment.’

In the year ahead, in addition to our regular programme, we look forward to strengthening local ties through the research of our BA Global Professor, working with Bristol Central Library on their early books, including a planned public workshop. Visiting professors enrich our research environment: we are currently hosting a specialist in Old French from Stockholm, and we look forward to welcoming a Newton International Fellow next year. Our research into the past always looks to the future. 

Professor Ad Putter and Professor Kathleen Kennedy, Co-Directors, and Professor Marianne Ailes, former Co-Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

Centre for Environmental Humanities – Who we are and what we do

By Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant

The stories we tell about the environment and the images we make of it end up shaping the environment itself, for better and for worse. This is one of the key principles of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings together historians, literary critics, philosophers, scholars of visual culture, cultural geographers, and more.  

As the COP27 climate change summit gets underway in Egypt this week, it is striking to note how little coverage the summit has had in the media, especially when compared with the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year. It seems that expectations of meaningful progress are low, despite stark warnings from the UN that drastic action is needed. The environmental humanities can help us understand how we have arrived at this point, and reflect on how culture can play a role in building a more hopeful future.  

The Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol, established in 2017, has rapidly built a reputation as one of the leading centres in the field. Our community spans all of the disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, and our members include postgraduate researchers, professors, and all career stages in between.  

We support our academic members in developing their research ideas, by providing seed funding, and supporting applications for external grants – recent funded research from Centre members includes Andy Flack’s ‘Dark Pasts’ project and Paul Merchant’s ‘Reimagining the Pacific’ project, both funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). We are particularly proud of our vibrant postgraduate community, whose members organise reading groups, workshops and the Literary and Visual Landscapes seminar series (you can watch a recording of their most recent seminar).  

The River Avon at low tide, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge above. It is dark and the lights from nearby buildings are reflected in the water
The River Avon at low tide. Credit: Kristoffer Trolle, CC-BY 2.0

It’s really great being part of the Centre for Environmental Humanities here at Bristol. Being involved in a community of researchers from many different disciplines—from History, English, Geography, and many others—is incredibly stimulating. It’s a genuinely creative melting pot centred around a brilliant programme of events, seminars, reading groups, and field trips.” 

Milo Newman, PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences 

In the 2022-23 academic year, we are exploring the future of the environmental humanities – where does the field need to go next? Where are the gaps in current research? How can our interdisciplinary community of scholars and students at Bristol shape new developments? With these questions in mind, we will be holding a special workshop in February 2023, with internal and external participants.  

Over the next few years, we are also looking to expand our network of international partners. This year, we established a formal partnership with the Greenhouse Center for Environmental Humanities at the University of Stavanger in Norway and the Environmental Humanities Center at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Partnerships provide opportunities for visiting fellowships, networking, and collaborative grant applications to our members. We are also developing a series of co-hosted online seminars on environmental humanities in Latin America with the Center for Environmental Studies at Rice University (USA). Professor Gisela Heffes from Rice will be visiting as a Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor in May and June 2023.  

Collaboration both within the University and with community partners, including Bristol’s Black & Green Ambassadors and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, is fundamental to our work, and the Centre is at the forefront of interdisciplinary innovation. One recent initiative, ‘Keywords in Environmental Research and Engagement’, worked with a range of community organisations across the city and academics from different disciplines to explore how to generate a common understanding of key terms like ‘resilience’ and ‘transitions’. 

We’ve also been promoting a place-based approach to collaborative scholarship, where we use field trips to provide a focal point for interdisciplinary conversations. Recent field trips have included visits to the Island of Lundy (see our co-authored article), Exmoor, and the Brecon Beacons.  We’re planning to continue these field trips this coming academic year with visits to the See Monster in Weston-super-Mare and to the Somerset Levels.   

We are very excited to be developing a new MA in Environmental Humanities, which is due to start in September 2023. You can find out more and apply on our website. 

Dr Adrian Howkins and Dr Paul Merchant, Co-Directors, Centre for Environmental Humanities 

Graduate research opportunities in the Faculty of Arts

The University of Bristol is home to a vibrant and thriving community of more than 3,000 postgraduate researchers from all over the world, with around 400 in the Faculty of Arts. Whether working towards a PhD or studying for a master’s degree – taught or by research – students in the Faculty of Arts can benefit from world-class academic and professional training and cross-disciplinary collaborations. 

Let’s take a look at just a few of the many opportunities available to our postgraduate students within the Faculty. 

Research and collaboration opportunities 

The Faculty of Arts hosts several Faculty Research Centres which act as hubs for innovative, cross-disciplinary research. Our postgraduate research students are encouraged to join a Centre, enabling them to build strong networks and engage in collaborative research with colleagues from across the University and beyond. With each Research Centre working in partnership with international institutions, Bristol’s Faculty of Arts has a truly global reach and presents unique networking opportunities.  

One recent example stems from the Centre for Medieval Studies. Academics from the Centre were awarded a €2.4 million EU Horizon grant to train a new generation of medievalists from across Europe in the history of the early book. Most of the funding will go towards financing postgraduate research studentships, including two at Bristol. Co-Directors of the Centre Professor Ad Putter and Professor Marianne Ailes said: “Importantly, we will train a cohort of young researchers who will, from the beginning of their research careers, see international collaboration as integral to how they work.” 

Research placements 

Industrial placements will form the cornerstone of the research studentships mentioned above, enabling the Faculty’s strong research partnerships with a variety of organisations and institutions to enhance the student learning experience. Professor Putter and Professor Ailes said: “The placements give students the transferable skills to succeed outside academia and, for those who remain in university research, will provide skills in public engagement and impact which will stand them in good stead.” 

A further example can be seen on one of our popular MA courses. Past and current placement partners on our MA Medieval Studies course include the Churches Conservation Trust, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Bristol Archives, and Bristol University’s own Arts and Social Sciences Library Special Collections. The latest addition to the impressive list of over a dozen placement partners is Magdalen College Library and Archives, Oxford 

These research placements have proven invaluable to both students and partners from the cultural heritage sector, as Director of the MA Medieval Studies programme and its Placement unit, Dr Ben Pohl, explains: “Our students regularly highlight the transformative effect that these placements have had on their future career plans, and just how well prepared they felt for a career in the cultural heritage sector as a result of this bespoke experience. Our partners, in turn, have been full of praise about the students they have hosted and the innovative ways in which their work has helped them connect with audiences both within academia and amongst the general public.”  

Indeed, several of our students have found employment in the cultural heritage sector upon graduation, some even at the very institutions at which they undertook their placements during their degree. 

13th-century deed from Kingswood Abbey, Gloucestershire showing ornate script.
13th-century deed from Kingswood Abbey, Gloucestershire. Credit: University of Bristol Special Collections

Postgraduate Research Summer Internships 

Postgraduate Research (PGR) students within the Faculty of Arts are eligible to undertake a PGR Summer Internship, a scheme designed to enable supervisors and postgraduate research students to work together on a project to achieve common goals. The six-week internships provide an opportunity for focused research on collaborative projects, which this year ranged from authoring a historical research article on Anglican slave missions to developing a website for a British Academy Knowledge Frontiers Project that explores energy access and resilience among forest peoples of Brazilian Amazonia. PGR interns receive mentoring and guidance throughout their internship. This year’s cohort attended a welcome session led by the Faculty’s Research Impact and Knowledge Exchange Manager, Dr Hannah Pearce, which encouraged interns to use the experience to develop their skills, consider their strengths and identify opportunities for reflection.  

Alice Kinghorn, a third-year PhD History student, undertook a PGR internship in summer 2021, and found it to be a rewarding experience: “My internship involved recording interviews with staff and students about current research in the Faculty for our YouTube playlist. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as not only did it allow me to practice valuable communication skills, I also learnt how to edit videos and use graphic-creation software. I undertook a second internship in summer 2022, where I had the opportunity to apply these skills to create a ‘Day in the Life of a PhD Student’ video. The internship scheme has been a fantastic addition to my studies.” 

Keep checking back for more Arts-related content, including our upcoming blog series all about the PGR Summer Internships.  

Find out more about postgraduate study within the Faculty of Arts 

Learn about PhD Scholarships in the Faculty of Arts  

Discover research in the Faculty of Arts