Professor Nigel Harris BA, DPhil

Department of Modern Languages
Professor of German

Contact details

Ashley Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a medievalist with an extension into the sixteenth century. I am particularly interested in late-medieval didactic literature in German and Latin, in the presentation of animals in literature, and in the Swiss Reformation.


  • BA (Birmingham) in French and German
  • DPhil (Oxford) in Medieval and Modern Languages


I am a Cornishman who was brought up and educated in Somerset. I did my first degree at Birmingham, then went to Oxford for postgraduate study, before returning to the Birmingham German Department in 1984. With the exception of a year as Visiting Professor at the University of Florida, I have been here ever since.  


I have taught, and still do teach, many different things. The core elements of my teaching, however, have always been second- and final-year courses on medieval German language and literature. Nowadays these activities encompass a final-year course on ‘Epic and Romance’ and a substantial contribution to the Core III module ‘Other Germanies’. I also greatly enjoy teaching a first-year option on modern German literature, ‘Writing Identities in the German-speaking World’, and doing a wide range of language teaching. I particularly relish grappling – and helping students to grapple – with the ultimately impenetrable complexities of German grammar.

Postgraduate supervision

I am always delighted to supervise postgraduates interested in any aspect of German literature and culture between, very roughly, 1100 and 1600 – whether on my own or in collaboration with other Birmingham colleagues. Some of the dissertations I have supervised to completion in recent years have been on the following topics:

• The Schachbuch of Heinrich von Beringen
• Christian imagery in Hartmann von Aue’s Gregorius, Kafka’s Die Verwandlung and Thomas Mann’s Der Erwählte (with Nicholas Martin)
• Utz Eckstein’s Zwinglian dialogues Concilium and Rychsztag
• Peasants in dialogue with authority in three Reformation dialogues
• Albrecht Dürer’s scientific writings
• Max Mell and Reinhold Schneider’s reception of the Nibelungenlied (with Nicholas Martin)
• British Library Add. 24946 (an important manuscript source of late-medieval didactic literature)


Throughout my career I have tried to fill gaps in our understanding of the late-medieval and early-modern worlds that other scholars have either not been aware of or have shied away from. Hence I have prepared – from the original manuscripts and/or early prints – the first modern editions of several fourteenth-, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century works that were popular in their day but thereafter fell into oblivion – such as the Latin and German Etymachia (1994), the In campo mundi treatise (2005), the complete works of the Tyrolean bishop Ulrich Putsch (2007, 2013), and two dialogues by the Swiss reformer Utz Eckstein (2013). These activities have led me in turn to become very interested in ways in which animals were perceived and used in the Middle Ages (see for example The Thirteenth-Century Animal Turn, 2020), and also in the Swiss Reformation. At present my main project is a translation and re-interpretation of the letters exchanged by the Swiss Reformers Huldrych Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius between 1522 and 1531. This work, carried out in collaboration with my colleague Sharon van Dijk, is being funded by the Leverhulme Trust between January 2021 and December 2022. We hope it will lead to a significantly new understanding of the importance of the early reformers in Zurich (Zwingli) and Basel (Oecolampadius) for the development of the Protestant Reformation, not least in England.


Recent publications


Harris, N 2020, The Thirteenth-Century Animal Turn: Medieval and Twenty-First-Century Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Harris, N & Stace, C 2016, "Gesta Romanorum". A New Translation by Christopher Stace with an Introduction by Nigel Harris. Manchester Medieval Studies, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Harris, N & Love, J 2013, Dialogue and Disputation in the Zurich Reformation: Utz Eckstein's "Concilium" and "Rychsztag". Peter Lang, Oxford.

Harris, N 2013, The Shorter Works of Ulrich Putsch: "Diarium'", "Oraciones super missam" and "Manuale simplicium sacerdotum". Peter Lang, Oxford.


Harris, N 2021, 'Pride, Popes and Vows: Some Medieval Representations of the Peacock', Modern Language Review, vol. 117, no. 2.

Harris, N 2021, 'The Lion in Medieval Western Europe: Toward an Interpretive History', Traditio, vol. 76, pp. 1-29.

Harris, N 2013, '‘Das es teutsche zung vernimpt’: Zur Übersetzungsliteratur Tirols um 1400', German Life and Letters, vol. 66, no. 3, pp. 233-253.

Harris, N 2011, 'Der Pfau bei Konrad von Megenberg – und anderswo', Jahrbuch der Oswald von Wolkenstein-Gesellschaft, vol. 18, pp. 175-188.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Harris, N 2018, "Der Seele Rat" in komparatistischer Sicht: Heinrich von Burgeis, "L'Omme Pecheur" und "Everyman". in E De Felip-Jaud & M Siller (eds), Heinrich von Burgeis: 'Der Seele Rat': Symposium zu einem hochmittelalterlichen Predigermönch. Schlern-Schriften, Wagner, Innsbruck , pp. 199-212.

Harris, N 2017, Lehren und Bilden in den Schriften eines mittelalterlichen 'Machtmenschen'. Bischof Ulrich II Putsch von Brixen. in H Lähnemann, N McLelland & N Miedema (eds), Lernen, Lehren und Bilden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters: XXIII. Anglo-German Colloquium, Nottingham, 2013. Narr Francke Attempto, Tübingen, pp. 139-49.

Harris, N 2016, Salzburg. in D Wallace (ed.), Europe: A Literary History, 1348-1418. vol. 2, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 589-602.

Harris, N 2015, Hans Vintler, Ulrich Putsch, Michel Velser und die Tiroler Übersetzungsliteratur um 1400. in M Siller (ed.), Hans Vintler: ‘Die Blumen der Tugend’ (1411): Symposium nach 600 Jahren. Schlern-Schriften, Wagner, Innsbruck, pp. 165-186.

Harris, N 2013, Monsters, Pictures and Translations. Some Observations on the Reception of Virgil in the Sixteenth Century. in A Simon & K Fleming (eds), The Reception of Classical Antiquity in German Literature. London German Studies, vol. 14, Iudicium, Munich, pp. 36-63.

Book/Film/Article review

Harris, N 2011, 'Review of Brian Murdoch, 'The Apocryphal Adam and Eve in Medieval Europe: Vernacular Translations and Adaptations of the " 'Vita Adae et Evae"'', Modern Language Review, vol. 106, pp. 195-6.

Harris, N 2011, 'Review of Sabine Obermaier (ed.), 'Tiere und Fabelwesen im Mittelalter'', Arbitrium, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 15-18.

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