Professor William Purkis MA, PhD

Professor William Purkis

Department of History
Professor of Medieval History
Head of School of History and Cultures

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a historian of medieval religious cultures (c.1000–c.1300), with particular interests in crusading, pilgrimage and monasticism.

Feedback and office hours

I do not hold regular Student Hours, but if you would like to meet with me please contact Tom White ( to arrange a convenient date and time.


  • BA (Hons.) in History (Lancaster University)
  • MA in Historical Research (Lancaster University)
  • PhD in History (Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning (Royal Holloway, University of London)


I developed an enthusiasm for the Middle Ages as an undergraduate student at Lancaster University, where I completed a BA (Hons.) in History in 1999 and an MA in Historical Research in 2000. In October 2001 I began doctoral research at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I worked under the supervision of Jonathan Riley-Smith. Upon completion of my PhD in September 2005, I taught for two years at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Queen Mary, University of London. I was appointed to a lectureship in medieval history at Birmingham in 2007, promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2012, and to Reader in 2016. In January 2022 I began my new role as Head of the School of History and Cultures.


First year

  • Discovering the Middle Ages
  • Living in the Middle Ages
  • Practising History A – Bodysnatchers: How To Get Sacred Stuff  (And What To Do With It Once You’ve Got It) 
  • Practising History B – The Crusaders’ Kingdom: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages?

Second year

  • Group Research - The First Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries
  • Option - Crusading and Crusader Kingdoms
  • Option – Radical Pieties: Militants, Martyrs and Mystics in Medieval Christianity and Islam
  • Research Methods

Third year

  • Dissertation Supervision
  • Special Subject - 1066, 1099: Chronicling Conquest on the Frontiers of Medieval Europe 

MA teaching

  • Approaches to Medieval Studies
  • Research Skills for Medieval Studies
  • Dissertation supervision

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently supervising the following postgraduate research students and topics:

• Serish Baseel (PhD Medieval History PT, co-supervised with Dr Christopher Markiewicz), ‘The Muslim Persecution of Minorities: Understanding Medieval Arab Constructs of the “Other”’

• Giles Connolly (PhD Medieval History FT, full Wolfson Scholarship, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow), ‘From Living Memory to Recent Past: Recording Thomas Becket’s Life in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’

• James Kawalek (PhD Medieval History FT, full AHRC M4C studentship, co-supervised with Prof. Aengus Ward), ‘A Cultural Centre at the Edge of Europe: Historical Writing and Europeanisation in Twelfth-Century Compostela’

• Liam McLeod (PhD Medieval History PT, co-supervised with Dr Daniel Reynolds), ‘Rebuilding Jerusalem: Receiving Ideas of the Holy City in the Early Medieval West’

• Stephen Thompson (PhD Medieval History PT, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow), ‘Monastic Representations of Lordship during the Long Twelfth Century’

My completed postgraduate research students are:

• Michael Alley (MRes Medieval History FT), ‘Was the Norman Conquest of Sicily a Proto-Crusade?’ (2016)

• Dr Frances Durkin (PhD Medieval History PT), ‘Crusade Preachers: Identities and Impact, 1095–c.1215’ (2020)

• Dr Georgina Fitzgibbon (PhD Medieval History FT, full AHRC M3C studentship, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow), ‘For Fear of the Multitudes: Disruptive Pilgrims and Appropriate Audiences for Cistercian Relics in the Twelfth Century’ (2019)

• Moayad Hanoush (MRes Medieval History PT, co-supervised with Dr Arezou Azad), ‘Ibn al-Qalanisi, his Chronicle, and the Counter-Crusade 490/1097–520/1126’ (2017)

• Dr John Seasholtz (PhD Medieval History PT [DL], co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow), ‘Money, Markets and Morality on the Camino de Santiago (1085–1212)’ (2021)

• Dr Beth Spacey (PhD Medieval History FT, full AHRC studentship), ‘Miracles and Marvels in Latin Narrative Histories of the Crusades, 1095–1204’ (2016)

• Dr Ian Styler (PhD Medieval History PT, full UoB College of Arts and Law studentship, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow), ‘The Story of an English Saint’s Cult: An Analysis of the Influence of St Æthelthryth of Ely, c.670–c.1540’ (2019)

I would be pleased to discuss the possibility of supervising postgraduate research on any aspect of the religious cultures of the central Middle Ages (particularly the history of crusading, pilgrimage and monasticism), the social and cultural history of Iberia or the Latin East, and medieval traditions of historical writing.

Find out more - our PhD History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


I am currently working on the following research projects:

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

I have 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). 

In my past research I have worked on monastic influences on the religious ideas and devotional practices of the eleventh- and twelfth-century laity, with a focus on the spiritual ideals associated with crusading and pilgrimage in the Iberian peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean. In my first book, Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c.1095-c.1187, I placed the origins and evolution of crusading ideology within a broader context of ideas more normally associated with monastic reform; in particular, I considered how ideas of the imitation of Christ and the pursuit of an apostolic life influenced early crusader piety. I have also worked on the relationship between ideas of crusading and reconquest in eleventh- and twelfth-century Iberia and assessed the impact of crusading ideas on peninsular perceptions of the past. My most recent publications have examined the relationship between the Cistercian Order and the crusading movement, with a specific focus on the way that the Cistercians integrated their involvement in crusading into the Order’s sense of institutional memory and its traditions of storytelling.

I have also worked in collaboration with Dr Thomas Asbridge and Dr Nicholas Morton on the construction of an on-line historiographical database of scholars working in the field of crusader studies. The project’s website contains profiles of a range of individuals who have made significant contributions to the history of the crusades and the Latin East from the early nineteenth century to the present day

Other activities


Recent publications


Purkis, W & Weetch, R (eds) 2018, Material Religion in the Crusading World: A Special Issue of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. <>

Purkis, W & Gabriele, M (eds) 2016, The Charlemagne Legend in Medieval Latin Texts. Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures, D.S.Brewer, Cambridge.


Purkis, W 2020, '‘Holy Christendom’s new colony’: the extraction of sacred matter and the colonial status of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem', The Haskins Society Journal, vol. 30, pp. 177-212.

Purkis, W 2018, ''Zealous Imitation': the materiality of the crusader’s marked body', Material Religion The Journal of Objects Art and Belief, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 438-453.

Purkis, W 2018, 'Introduction: Material Religion in the Crusading World', Material Religion The Journal of Objects Art and Belief, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 433-437.

Purkis, W 2014, 'Memories of the preaching for the Fifth Crusade in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogus miraculorum', Journal of Medieval History, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 329-345.

Purkis, W 2013, 'Crusading and Crusade Memory in Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus miraculorum', Journal of Medieval History, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 100-127.

Purkis, W 2010, 'Eleventh and Twelth Century Perspectives on State Building in the Iberian Peninsula', Reading Medieval Studies, vol. 36, pp. 57-76.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Purkis, W 2016, Introduction: The Many Latin Lives of Charlemagne. in W Purkis & M Gabriele (eds), The Charlemagne Legend in Medieval Latin Texts. Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures, D.S.Brewer, Cambridge, pp. 1-8.

Purkis, W 2014, Rewriting the History Books: The First Crusade and the Past. in M Bull & D Kempf (eds), Writing the Early Crusades: Text, Transmission and Memory. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, pp. 140-154.

Book/Film/Article review

Purkis, W 2011, 'Crusaders and Settlers in the Latin East', English Historical Review, vol. 126, no. 523, pp. 1502-U361.


Purkis, W, Holy City, Holy War: Devotion to the Sacred in Crusader Jerusalem, 2017, Exhibition. <>

Other chapter contribution

Purkis, W 2010, Miracles as Propaganda. in L Taylor (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Brill, Leiden, pp. 432-434.

Purkis, W 2010, Miracles of Protection. in L Taylor (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Brill, Leiden, pp. 443-445.

Purkis, W 2010, Miracles of Rescue. in L Taylor (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Brill, Leiden, pp. 445-448.

View all publications in research portal