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Name: Rachel Evans

PhD: Medieval literature and culture

Thesis Title: ‘A wide-warp warns of slaughter…’: Textiles, Gender and Identity in Old English and Old Norse Literature 


Thesis Description:

The aim of this thesis is to explore the overlooked connection between identity and textiles in early medieval literature. A brief glance at the literary representations of textiles (clothing, housewares, tapestries, sails, etc.) demonstrates how important cloth and the cloth-industry was to the daily lives of everyone, regardless of the intersections of their identity. Through closer reading, however, it becomes more apparent that textiles are used as a type of shorthand through which the subtleties of identity can be expressed. By paying close attention to the language used to describe (or name) textiles, as well as to the context in which they appear, it is possible to achieve a deeper understanding of medieval identity.


It is absolutely vital, however, to remember that Old English and Old Norse texts are highly problematic. In the case of the Íslendinga sögur, for example, the narratives depicted occurred at least a century (if not more) before they were recorded, lending extant versions a certain ideological bias, as well as multiple factual inaccuracies. There is also the problem of language and translation, as there are no specific resources for textile terminology in Old Norse, and limited resources for terminology in Old English. With these problems in mind, I plan to undertake an interdisciplinary approach, utilising relevant resources and approaches from literary studies, as well as history, archaeology, language and material culture.


Finally, a sustained study of the function of textiles in early medieval society will cast a light on certain groups who have, thus far, not received as much scholarly attention. In my thesis, I will focus on women, using third-wave feminist and gender theory as a vehicle for analysing the connection between their textile-based labour and their identity, but it is also possible to extend this analysis to include other, underrepresented groups. These could be wide-reaching or specific, such as non-white and non-European medieval communities, or even small, diasporic communities within British Isles or Continental Europe. This subject area has the potential to be explored further, beyond a PhD thesis, and it is my intention to do so.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr. David Clark (The University of Leicester)

Dr. Ben Parsons (The University of Leicester)


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