The Centre has a background in research excellence, demonstrated by the various research projects, journals and monographs that CeSMA is associated with.

Medieval labyrinth from Lucca

CeSMA staff are currently working on or associated with the following research areas:

Research projects

Invisible Worlds: Place-Making, Augmented Reality, and Alderley Edge

Invisible Worlds is an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the University of Lincoln. It explores the relationship between historical and contemporary acts of story-telling and place-making associated with Alderley Edge, a National Trust site in Cheshire. The project traces the legends associated with the Edge and the network of mines beneath its surface, and frames a new intervention in the representation of the site’s invisible history through a publicly participatory Augmented Reality resource.

The project is run by PI, Dr Victoria Flood (University of Birmingham), and Co-Is, Prof. Catherine Clarke (Institute of Historical Research, University of London) and Dr Andrew B. R. Elliott (University of Lincoln).

Group Identity and the Early Medieval Riddle Tradition

Several hundred poetic riddles -- composed and written down from the seventh- through tenth-centuries -- record the minutiae of daily life and worldly wisdom in early medieval England. They tell us that onions could be the butt of a rude joke, cats were then (as now) fiercely independent, and violence did not go unquestioned when swords were given the chance to speak. Because they exist in two languages, Old English and Latin, these riddles are rarely brought into conversation with each other and some are little known to any but specialists. This project will bring the entire early medieval riddle tradition to light, through a website that provides open-access texts and translations, alongside commentaries that unpack literary and cultural information, a discussion forum and competitions that invite members of the public to engage with the riddles in creative ways. If the early medieval riddles are a window onto life many centuries ago, this project seeks to throw it wide open. This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and run by Principal Investigator Dr Megan Cavell (Birmingham) and Co-Investigator Dr Jennifer Neville (Royal Holloway).

The Medieval Convent Drama Project

Olivia Robinson is currently working on a research project on drama in medieval women’s religious houses. The Medieval Convent Drama Project is fully funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation 2016-2020, and is a collaboration with the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. It explores the theatrical cultures and activities of medieval nuns.  It investigates the traces of theatrical activity – which include play-scripts, but also other, more fleeting and fragmentary accounts – within late medieval women’s religious houses in England, Northern France and Burgundy.  In opening up this neglected area of study to new investigation, we hope to integrate study of medieval nuns’ theatre more coherently and fully within contemporary and future critical appraisals of the medieval dramatic canon and its performance history. The principal research task which Dr Robinson has in progress currently is an edition and translation of a group of medieval French-language convent plays performed as part of the project.

Crafting English letters: a theory of medieval scribal practice

Professor Wendy Scase is supported by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for three years to pursue this project. It focuses on understanding the problems that scribes faced when they copied English, on distinguishing different solutions, and on explaining the variety of practices and their relationships. Current hypotheses use a model of three types of copying: letter-by-letter, dialect translation, and mixed practices. This project aims to demonstrate the inconsistencies and inadequacies of this model, to test and refine it through investigation of selected manuscripts from the earliest survivals to c. 1500, and to produce a new theory of the craft practised by scribes of English writing. The result will be a new perspective on the thousands of hand-written texts that comprise the medieval English archive. 

Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages

Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages is funded by an Alexander von Humboldt alumni network award. The network brings together scholars at all career stages from across Europe, tracing the transmission and translation of literary texts across Britain, Ireland, and Iceland, during the period 1250-1550. The focus of the network is a pilot for a digital database of transmitted and translated medieval texts. The database will detail key texts in two important medieval categories – historical and scientific literature – identifying known manuscript witnesses, with date, provenance, and language. This forms the basis of a digital map of textual transmission. The digital aspect of the project is produced in association with Culture Lab, Newcastle University, and is now publicly accessible.

You can follow the project on twitter @insularworld.

The project is led by PIs, Dr Victoria Flood (University of Birmingham) and Dr Aisling Byrne (University of Reading)  

Bearers of the Cross: Material Religion in the Crusading World, 1095–c.1300

Dr William Purkis has been awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellows grant for this project, which will run from 2015 until 2017. The project is studying the lived, material religion of crusaders through a wide-ranging analysis of the texts, art, architecture and material culture associated with crusader belief. It explores the devotional worlds that those who ‘took the cross’ inhabited, examining the ritual practices crusaders observed, the religious objects and images they treasured, and the sacred spaces they shaped and were shaped by. The principal output of the project will be a monograph, to be published by Yale University Press. The project also involves collaboration with a post-doctoral research assistant and a partnership with the Museum of the Order of St John (MOSJ) - ‘a hidden jewel in the City of London’. With a direct connection to a religious order founded in Jerusalem in the early twelfth century, MOSJ has an important but little-known collection of crusader material culture. The project team are studying and raising awareness of this collection through the development of an open access database for use by scholars, MOSJ staff, volunteers and visitors, heritage professionals and a wider public. As part of the project there will also be a series of public lectures (2016–17), a conference on medieval material religion (June 2016), and a workshop on best practice in collaborations between academics and heritage professionals (December 2017). 

Understanding cities in the pre-modern history of Northeast Asia, c. 200-1200

This project will provide the clearest picture yet of everyday life in urban centres outside the Chinese heartlands. This sharper view will challenge the dominant image of the superiority of Chinese culture in this region, will require us to think again about socio-political organisation and interactions of all kinds between groups in Northeast Asia, and will locate both China and the grasslands within a wider world.

Previous projects

Simeon manuscript project

The Simeon manuscript is one of the most exceptional books of English literature ever made. Containing songs, prayers, homilies, legends, and classic works of spiritual guidance, it is a massive compendium of literature for pious readers. Even more remarkable is that, unlike most books that survive from this period, it is written in English. The manuscript has many secrets to disclose about how it was made, who for, and why. Simeon also has much to tell us about how books were made in later medieval England and about the scribes and audiences who used the scribe’s dialect of the West Midlands. The Simeon Manuscript Project team at the University of Birmingham are investigating these questions.

Vernon manuscript project

The Vernon Manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet.a.1) is the biggest and most important surviving late medieval English manuscript. The Vernon Manuscript Project will create a Digital Edition of the manuscript published on DVD in the Bodleian Digital Texts series. The project is based in the Department of English and is funded for three years and one month from 1 July 2006 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Resource Enhancement Scheme.

Viking identity project

This project aims to stimulate both academic and popular discussions about the creation of ‘Viking’, ‘Norse’ and ‘hybrid’ identities in the Viking Age, and their 21st-century legacy. It is a collaborative project run by scholars from the Universities of Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham.

Life, work and death in Birmingham city centre 1100-1900 AD

The Life, Work and Death project sought to synthesise all the unpublished grey literature reports from PPG 16 work, in conjunction with recently published material and the Birmingham GIS project, and integrated more in depth analysis of artefacts, town plan analysis and environmental evidence. Funded by English Heritage and Birmingham City Council, the project produced a monograph collating all of the PPG 16 generated data, alongside more focused publication of the story of the city centre from AD 1100-1900.


CeSMA staff are associated with the following academic journals:

New Medieval Literatures

An annual of work on medieval textual cultures. Its scope is inclusive of work across the theoretical, archival, philological, and historicist methodologies associated with medieval literary studies. Co-founded and co-edited by Professor Wendy Scase.

Midland History

Since 1971 Midland History has been the premier peer-reviewed academic journal for all aspects of the history of the Midland counties of England, from the early Middle Ages to the present day. Its research articles and book reviews examine local subjects within their wider contexts.

Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies

Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies is an internationally recognised, peer-reviewed journal and one of the leading publications in its field. It is viewed as an important outlet for current research. Published twice a year in spring and autumn, its remit has always been to facilitate the publication of high-quality research and discussion in all aspects of Byzantine and Modern Greek scholarship, whether historical, literary or social-anthropological. It welcomes research, criticism, contributions on theory and method in the form of articles, critical studies and short notes.

Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies

The Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies (JMIS) is a new interdisciplinary journal for innovative scholarship on the multiple languages, cultures, and historical processes of the Iberian Peninsula, and the zones with which it was in contact. Recognizing the vitality of debates about change in the fourth and fifth centuries, and conscious of the artificiality of the boundaries associated with 1492, we encourage submission of all innovative scholarship of interest to the community of medievalists and Iberianists.

Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations

Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (ICMR) provides a forum for the academic exploration and discussion of the religious tradition of Islam, and of relations between Islam and other religions. It is edited by members of the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom. The editors welcome articles on all aspects of Islam, and particularly on:

  • The religion and culture of Islam, historical and contemporary
  • Islam and its relations with other faiths and ideologies
  • Christian-Muslim relations.


Crusades covers seven hundred years from the First Crusade (1095-1102) to the fall of Malta (1798) and draws together scholars working on theatres of war, their home fronts and settlements from the Baltic to Africa and from Spain to the Near East and on theology, law, literature, art, numismatics and economic, social, political and military history.


CeSMA staff are associated with the Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Monographs, which is devoted to the history, culture and archaeology of the Byzantine and Ottoman worlds of the East Mediterranean region from the fifth to the twentieth century. It provides a forum for the publication of research completed by scholars from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham, and those with similar research interests.

Research seminars