Dr Andrew Dunning


R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford | Fellow in Book History, Jesus College, Oxford


I grew up on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabeg, and Haudenosaunee peoples in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Having the opportunity to learn from the flourishing Six Nations of the Grand River over many years inspired me to learn more about the version of European history that was credited during my early years as the foundation of Canada. Few Canadians recognize how many of the country’s symbols are grounded in Victorian medievalism, a movement that romanticized the Middle Ages and grew in popularity in response to the French Revolution and industrialization. It inspired literature and art, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, but it also gave rise to many misconceptions of medieval history, and Victorian restorations have skewed our conception of artefacts such as manuscripts, art, and buildings. The application of medievalism under colonial rule gave Canada an origin story and symbols that comforted settlers but were often presented as superior to First Nations cultures.

A more accurate presentation of medieval history places Europe on a level ground with global indigenous cultures in its approach to the environment, governance, and storytelling. This is a potential tool towards reconciliation in Canada. My research focuses on understanding the full history of medieval manuscripts and how they have been used through to the present day, reconstructing the ‘textual communities’ that not only formed writers and readers, but also includes people dismissed until recently as ‘illiterate’, who we now know could engage and analyse texts with oral performance and memory. I am writing a book on how the story of Frideswide, an eighth-century Mercian princess turned abbess, inspired a textual community in Oxford that reached people from all walks of life. My interest in First Nations culture also extends to my participation in the Digital Analysis of Chant Transmission (DACT) partnership funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).