Professor James Clark.

Professor James Clark to give his inaugural lecture, ‘The lost books of medieval England’.

A professor in the Department of History, James came to Exeter in 2013 after more than a decade at Bristol where he had progressed from lecturer to professor. His research focuses on the cultural, intellectual and religious life of medieval England between two historical moments of profound upheaval, the Black Death (1348-51) and the Break with Rome (1534). 

James has a particular interest in the raw material from which researchers seek to recover something of the cultural experience of the medieval era; the manuscript books that were written, read, treasured, traded, lost and stolen. These books offer a glimpse of the ideas and imagination that drove, and, increasingly in the shadow of Reformation, divided society.

Henry VIII’s revolution in the church dislocated, dispersed and destroyed England’s medieval book heritage. It has been suggested that for every one manuscript fragment that is still preserved today as many as twenty have been lost. Our impression of what medieval England thought, wrote, read, learned, imagined and laughed at, is gathered from a small and arbitrary sample: the tip of an iceberg the shape and substance of which we do not know.

Speaking ahead of his inaugural lecture, Professor Clark said, “The good news is that further glimpses of that iceberg – new material to be added to the sample – are still being uncovered. In fact, the advent of digital technology – which enables us to capture rare and fragile fragments, study them in close-up and – crucially - share them instantly across the worldwide research community – is accelerating this work of recovery, and discovery”.

James has recently begun work on fragments of manuscripts dating from the Anglo-Saxon period to the sixteenth century which have been retrieved from the bindings of books in the library of Belvoir Castle. With Exeter’s Digital Humanities team, he is also conducting research and digitisation work on the manuscript fragments at Powderham Castle near Exeter. Aspects of this current research will feature in his inaugural lecture.

To book a place at the lecture please contact: or tel: 01392 726315/4231.


Date: 29 November 2016

Read more University News