Where can a semester in London lead? An English graduate student’s perspective

Author: Amanda Bohne

Amanda Bohne

Amanda Bohne, studying for her PhD in English at the University of Notre Dame, taught ‘Romance and Medieval Britain’ on the London Undergraduate Program last year. With her studies now bringing her back to London, Amanda reflects on the opportunities that the city opened up for her and shares how her research is taking shape. 


During the spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year, I spent sixteen weeks teaching in Notre Dame’s London Undergraduate Program, while living in Conway Hall and doing research for my doctoral dissertation. This opportunity immensely benefited my overall professionalization as well as my teaching and my research, and directly contributed to my return to the United Kingdom this summer to present at conferences and continue further research. Because I am a medievalist, access to manuscripts of the texts I interrogate as well as historical documents such as wills and deeds is critical to the work I do. In addition to the general, ongoing progress I made on my dissertation during those months, the research I did last year in London and in Oxford allowed me to open up a new path in my dissertation research and lay the  groundwork for two new projects.


Firstly, I have been working on a network of late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century wills that are recorded in the Husting Court Rolls held by the London Metropolitan Archives. Starting with the wills of two sisters, Isabella Bukerel and Johanna Vyel, I have traced their decisions and those of other relevant family members through several other documents. Most significantly, the wills demonstrate the (sometimes conflicting) efforts of a network of women to ensure the correct bestowal of their property to family and other loved ones. One chapter of my dissertation focuses on these families and I believe I will eventually focus another project entirely on this compelling network. My return this summer allowed me to identify and examine further documents and confirm some theories about how members of these families were related.


Secondly, I was able to use my time here in the spring of 2016 to examine all four manuscripts of one of the most important texts in my dissertation, The Awntyrs off Arthure. In this fascinating poem, Guinevere’s mother appears to her as a ghost to offer Guinevere and Gawain advice about the future of Arthur’s kingdom and to beg her daughter to pray for her soul. The poem is presented differently in each manuscript, which allows us a manageable set of examples to consider when we think about the choices a scribe could make when copying a manuscript and how a scribe might think about a verse form. Each copy is held at a different library. I examined a facsimile of one, Lincoln Cathedral Library MS 91 (the Lincoln Thornton Manuscript), at the British Library, and a digital copy of another, Princeton University Library MS Taylor 9 (the Ireland-Blackburn Manuscript), online. Copies of the other two manuscripts are held in Oxford at the Bodleian Library, as MS Douce 309, and in London at Lambeth Palace Library, as Lambeth MS 491. Scribes frequently used rhyming brackets or braces to mark or link the rhymed lines of a poem, but MS Douce 309 is particularly interesting, as the scribe used red brackets to link the lines in an unusually intricate pattern. The layout is not deeply relevant to my dissertation, but I presented on these manuscripts at the XVth Biennial Conference of the Early Book Society and the IVth International Congress of the John Gower Society, a joint conference held in Durham this July. It was a very lively session and the most productive feedback I have ever received for a conference paper. Since the conference, I have been encouraged to publish the paper, which is an exciting development.


Without the extended period of time I spent in London in spring 2016, my trip this summer would have been much less fruitful. Because of the generous opportunity afforded me by the London Global Gateway and the London Undergraduate Program, my dissertation will be a richer document and I have completed significant work on a future project on the Bukerel and Vyel families and on a journal article on the manuscripts of The Awntyrs off Arthure. These, of course, will eventually lead to and influence further projects, so I could not be more grateful!


Have you studied or taught in London? Where did your semester lead? Share your story with us at ndlondon@nd.edu.