Predicting the past with deep neural networks

We are pleased to announce the Hilary Term Lecture of the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures (CMTC). The lecture will take place on WED 1 March, 5-6.30 (UK time) in the Memorial Room at The Queen’s College in the University of Oxford. 

Our speaker will be Yannis Assael, Intelligence Research Scientist at Google DeepMind

Title: Predicting the past with deep neural networks

Abstract: Ancient history relies on disciplines such as epigraphy for evidence of the thought, language, society and history of past civilizations. However, over the centuries, many inscriptions have been damaged to the point of illegibility, transported far from their original location and their date of writing is steeped in uncertainty. To address these challenges we present Ithaca, a deep neural network for the textual restoration, geographical attribution and chronological attribution of ancient Greek inscriptions. The goal of this presentation is to demonstrate how recent advances in the field of Deep Learning can assist and expand a historian’s workflow, and highlight the importance of joint interdisciplinary research.

We look forward to welcoming you.

Piers Plowman Performance at St Edmund Hall

The Fair Field of Folk. Piers Plowman: A Potted Adaptation of the B Text

When: 11 February 2023, 2–3pm
Where: Broadbent Garden (behind the library church of St-Peter-in-the-East) at St Edmund Hall, Queen’s Lane, OX1 4AR Oxford. Part of the National Garden opening day 2-5pm. The performance ticket is included in the charity donation of 4GBP to see the gardens
Director: Eloise Peniston


  • Solas Macdonald as  Will
  • Jonathan Honnor as Piers Plowman
  • Clare-Rose McIntyre as Holychurche
  • Rei Tracks as Conscience

With original music by Anna Cowan

Eloise writes: I first discovered Piers Plowman at a bus stop. I was characteristically lost with a dead phone and only a charity shop book to keep me company. While no one murmured ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness’, at me, I was acutely aware of being in the presence of the literary as I thumbed through the wind-swept pages. I was intensely confused, which, at the age of fifteen, I supposed was the hidden intention of all literature. With the charmed hand of A. V. C. Schmidt to guide me, I followed a man named Will, who fell asleep beside a stream on a May morning in Malvern Hills. There he falls into a succession of dreams, beginning with a tower on a hill, a dungeon, and a fair field of folk. On his quest for Truth, Will meets a host of allegorical personifications, wandering through the marriage and later trial of Lady Mede, the confession of the Seven Sins, the Crucifixion, and the Harrowing of Hell. In the midst of all, Piers Plowman emerges, taking only momentary repose from his plough to guide Will towards Truth and, rather scandalously, chastise members of the clergy. I remember after being “found” an hour later how I, rather breathlessly, recounted the events of the B text to my mother as she, mid-flap, chastised me about reckless spontaneity and the need for charged phones.

At that bus stop, I knew that, by the fortuity of an Oxfam find, I had discovered something wonderful, but I had no idea that seven years later, I would be scavenging liripipes and slit-mittens in an attempt to bring this dream-vision to life. Now, I often take that humble copy with me to Malvern Hills, and it is positively crammed with pressed, may-morning flowers. However, little did I know then how deeply entrenched this text was into the public sphere or about the literary and literal rebellions that have emerged beneath the mouldboard.

From the pen of a man who described Piers Plowman as “not worth reading”, Gerard Manley Hopkins perfectly captured the flesh-good of the text:

And features, in flesh, what deed he each must do–
His sinew-service where do.

He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist
In him, all quail to the wallowing o’ the plough: ‘s cheek crimsons; curls
Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced–
See his wind – lilylocks – laced;
Churlsgrace, too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls
Them – broad in bluff hide his frowning feet lashed! raced
With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls –
With-a-fountain’s shining-shot furls.
Harry Ploughman
G. M. Hopkins

This particular poem encapsulates the essence of Piers Plowman: pure inscape, or as Stephen Medcalf calls it, an “extraordinary combination of roughness and a delicate magic.” It is incredibly difficult to describe what happens in Piers Plowman but “churlsgrace” is certainly the perfect descriptor for the essence of the text. A mere ploughman knows the way to Truth and is gracious enough to guide the reader, in return for help in plowing and sowing a half-acre.

Piers Plowman is ultimately a text that encourages mental labour, in a field, at a bus stop, or even in the gardens of St Edmund Hall…

We invite you to toil with us at Teddy Hall on the 11th of February. From a tower on toft, a trumpet shall hail the dream, before the gentle plucking of a harp will guide you to sleep.

Come and set forth on a dream-pilgrimage, exploring political satire, social upheaval, and spiritual crisis. Maybe salvation will be found in the ridge and furrow but if not, you will- at the very least- have a pilgrim badge to take home as a souvenir.

We hope to see you soon in the fair field. God spede þe plouȝ!

Performance poster for Piers Plowman

The Oxford Seminars in Cartography (TOSCA)

We’d like to draw your attention to the first of the TOSCA seminars, details below!

‘Please use the postcode’: navigating the past, present, and future conservation needs of the Hereford Mappa Mundi

 -who: Andrew Honey, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and Conservation Inspector to the Mappa Mundi Trust

-when: Thursday 2 February 2023, 4.30–6pm (GMT)

-where: Sir Victor Blank Lecture Theatre, Weston Library and online via Zoom

-This talk will examine the conservation needs of the Hereford Mappa Mundi, chart the effects of some of the historic repairs and cleaning campaigns carried out in the past, explain the ingenious methods used to mount the map, and outline future conservation needs, as well as presenting some discoveries from recent conservation inspections.

Book here to attend, in person or online

Oxford Medieval Visual Culture Seminar

Where: St Catherine’s College, Arumugam Building
When: Thursdays 5.15 p.m.

Convenors: Elena Lichmanova ( and Gervase Rosser

The Oxford Medieval Visual Culture Seminar series is exploring visual aspects of medieval knowledge: from anatomy to alchemy, from geometry to the concepts of time and space. We hope that the programme may appeal to audiences beyond those studying the medieval period and art history, so please do share it with anyone who might be interested. 

Week 2, 26 January
Sarah Griffin Lambeth Palace Library, London
From Hours to Ages: Time in the Large-scale Diagrams of Opicinus de Canistris (1296-
Anya Burgon Trinity Hall, Cambridge
In a Punctum: Miniature Worlds in Late Medieval Art and Literature

Week 4, 9 February
Lauren Rozenberg University College London
In the Flat Round: Brain Diagrams in Late Medieval Manuscripts
Sergei Zotov University of Warwick
Christian Motifs in Fifteenth-Century Alchemical Iconography

Week 6, 23 February
Jack Hartnell University of East Anglia
Visualising Wombs and Obstetrical Fantasies in Late Medieval Germany

Week 8, 9 March
Mary Carruthers New York University, All Souls College, Oxford
Envisioning Thinking: Geometry and Meditation in the Twelfth Century

We very much look forward to seeing you in the Hilary Term!

CPF: Old Norse Poetry in Performance

Old Norse Poetry in Performance: Inheritance and Innovation Following its covid-induced hiatus, the third iteration of the triennial Old Norse Poetry in Performance conference will take place at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, on the 21st and 22nd of June 2023. Building on the successes of the conferences in 2016 and 2019 – which resulted in the recent publication of Old Norse Poetry in Performance (2022), a collection of essays edited by the previous organisers Brian McMahon and Annemari Ferreira – the intention of this conference remains, as before, to platform and develop the network of scholars and practitioners mutually interested in the poetic performance traditions of medieval Scandinavia.

With the theme ‘Inheritance and Innovation’, the 2023 programme aims to reflect even more completely the diversity in the performance traditions of the Old Norse source material, the scholarly traditions within the field, and the new, interdisciplinary perspectives being developed today. To this end, this conference will maintain the format of its previous iterations, showcasing academic research, practical performances, and the possibilities offered by combining the two.

The organisers invite proposals for 20-minute papers and/or performances, which might cover, but need not be limited to, the following:

• Comparative approaches to eddic, skaldic, and rímur performances

• Legacies of performance traditions

• The ‘beyond-the-page’ approach to source texts

• The effects of translation on performance

• Legacies of scholarly traditions

• Interdisciplinary adaptations of Old Norse poems

Proposals should be no more than 300 words and should be sent to, accompanied by a brief biographical note, by midnight on 17th February 2023.

For more information, please visit the conference website , or contact the organisers, Inés García López, Clare Mulley, Richard Munro, and Ben Chennells, at the email address given above.

Trust in the Premodern World: Interdisciplinary Conference

When: 13-14 January, 2023

Where: Faculty of History, Oxford / Online (a hybrid event with virtual attendance option)

Virtual attendance registration is still open (deadline 23:00 12 January 2023). Virtual registration fee is £15 and you can sign up here.

Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Music

All Souls College, Oxford

Hilary Term, 2023
Led by Dr Margaret Bent (Convenor, All Souls College, Oxford) and Matthew Thomson (University College Dublin)

The seminars are all held via Zoom on Thursdays at 5 p.m. GMT. If you are planning to attend a seminar this term, please register using this form. For each seminar, those who have registered will receive an email with the Zoom invitation and any further materials a couple of days before the seminar. If you have questions, please just send an email to

Seminar programme

Thursday 26 January, 5pm GMT

Julia Craig-McFeely (DIAMM, University of Oxford)

The Sadler Sets of Partbooks and Tudor Music Copying

Discussants: Owen Rees (University of Oxford) and Magnus Williamson (University of Newcastle)

The digital recovery of the Sadler Partbooks has revealed considerably more than simply the notes written on the pages. Surprisingly more in fact. It has led to a re-evaluation of pretty much everything we thought we knew about the books and their inception, and indeed the culture of music copying in England in the mid- to late-16th century. This paper examines the question of who was responsible for copying Bodleian Library Mus. e. 1–5. Some tempting speculations are explored, and some new paradigms proposed.

Thursday 16 February, 5pm GMT

Martin Kirnbauer and the project team Vicentino21: Anne Smith, David Gallagher, Luigi Collarile and Johannes Keller (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis / FHNW)

Soav’ e dolce – Nicola Vicentino’s Intervallic Vision

The musical ideas and visions that Vicentino sets out in his writings L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (Rome 1555) and the Manifesto for his arciorgano can only be concretely traced on the basis of a few, mostly fragmentary, surviving compositions. However, the research carried out within the framework of the SNSF-funded research project “Vicentino21” (, with the aim of creating a digital edition of Vicentino’s treatise, now provides concrete findings. Using the example of the madrigal Soav’ e dolce ardore (III:51, fol. 67), questions concerning Vicentino’s musical visions and the edition will be discussed.

Thursday 9 March, 5pm GMT

Emily Zazulia (University of California at Berkeley)

The Fifteenth-Century Song Mass: Some Challenges

Discussants: Fabrice Fitch (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and Sean Gallagher (New England Conservatory)

Love songs and the Catholic Mass do not make easy bedfellows. The earthly, amorous, even carnal feelings explored in fifteenth-century chansons seem at odds with the solemnity of Christian observance’s most central rite. Recent scholarship has attempted to bridge this divide, showing how some of these genre-crossing pieces conflate the earthly lady with the Virgin Mary, thereby effacing the divide between sacred and secular. But a substantial body of song masses survives whose source material is decidedly not amenable to this type of interpretation—masses based on songs that are less “My gracious lady is without peer” and more “Hey miller girl, come grind my grain”—or, as we shall see, worse. This paper turns an eye toward these misfit masses, surveying the corpus for a sense of what there is—the Whos, Whats, Wheres, and Whens—as a first step toward the Hows and Whys of these puzzling pieces. One particularly tricky example, the mass variously referred to as Je ne demande and Elle est bien malade, suggests that it may be time to replace prevailing sacred–secular interpretative models with a new approach.

Medieval Matters: Week 7

It’s only November, but the Oxford Christmas lights are up, and the Christmas market has come to Broad Street! It strikes me as a little early for Christmas celebrations just yet, particularly as we still have two whole weeks of term. Here is some advice from Alcuin on not getting ahead of ourselves:

Omnia vestra honeste cum ordine fiant. Tempus statuatur lectioni.
[Do all of your tasks decently and in order. Fix a time for reading, Ep. 72]

Of course, as well as fixing reading time, you should also fix time to attend some of our wonderful range of events. To help you keep your diary decently and in order, please see below for a list of the week’s happenings:


Monday 21st November:

  • The Medieval Latin Manuscript Reading Group led by Matthew Holford, Andrew Dunning, and Tuija Ainonen is meeting as usual via Teams on Mondays from 1-2pm, continuing with the Ashmole bestiary (MS. Ashmole 1511), picking up after the Elephant on f. 16r, line 6.
  • The Byzantine Graduate Seminar takes place at 12.30-2pm online via Zoom. This week’s speaker will be Bahattin Bayram (İstanbul Medeniyet University), Barbarians of Eusebius. To register, please contact the organiser at
  • The Medieval History Seminar takes place at 5pm in the Wharton Room, All Souls College and on Teams (Teams link here). This week’s speaker will be Barbara Bombi (Kent), ‘Lost in translation: diplomacy and the use of languages at the papal curia in Avignon’. The Teams session can be accessed by logging in to Teams with your account and joining the group “Medieval History Research Seminar” (team code rmppucs). If you have any difficulties please email: 
  • The Old Norse Reading Group meets at 5.30-7.30pm. Please email Ashley Castelino ( to be added to the mailing list.

Tuesday 22nd November:

  • Workshop: Visual search for exploring and dating collections: lessons from Spanish chapbooks will take place at 09:30-11:30am online and in Cambridge. This workshop will explore the challenges and opportunities that using digital tools can bring to the study of large collections of images and their associated metadata. Registration required:
  • The Medieval English Research Seminar takes place at 12.15pm in Lecture Theatre 2, English Faculty. This week’s speaker will be Eleanor Myerson (Cambridge), ‘Syrian Silks: The Fabrics of English Identity‘. The paper will be followed by lunch with the speaker. All welcome.
  • GLARE (Greek and Latin Reading Group) takes place at 4-5pm at Harold Wilson Room, Jesus College. Please meet at Jesus College Lodge. This week’s text will be Sophocles, Iphigenia at Taurus. All welcome to attend any and all sessions. For more details and specific readings each week, or to be added to the mailing list, email or
  • The Medieval French Research Seminar takes place at 5pm at the Maison française d’Oxford ( Presentations begin at 5.15pm. This week’s speaker will be Dr Melek Karatas (John Rylands Library, Manchester): ‘Makers of Manuscripts as Readers of Manuscripts: The Montbaston Illuminators and the Roman de la Rose’. For more information and to be added on the seminar’s mailing list, contact 
  • The Medieval Church and Culture Seminar takes place at 5pm at Charles Wellbeloved Room, Harris Manchester College. The theme for this term is ‘Women’. This week’s speaker will be Elena Rossi (Magdalen): Our Mother the University: maternal roles and the medieval university. Everyone is welcome at this informal and friendly graduate seminar.
  • A network social for Early Medieval Britain and Ireland network will take place at 6:00 PM at the King’s Arms. Anyone with an interest in early medieval Britain and Ireland is most welcome. 

Wednesday 23rd November:

  • The Medieval German Graduate Seminar meets for a paper by Ruth von Bernuth and Henrike Lähnemann on the Yiddish and German versions of ‘Sigenot’ as part of the ‘Dietrichsepik’ seminar at 11:15am in Somerville College – ask at the Lodge for directions. If you want to be added to the medieval German mailing list, please contact Henrike Lähnemann.
  • The Medieval Latin Document Reading Group meets on Teams at 4-5pm. We are currently focusing on medieval documents from New College’s archive as part of the cataloguing work being carried out there, so there will be a variety of hands, dates and types. A document is sent out in advance but homework is not expected. Contact Michael Stansfield ( for further details and the Teams link.
  • The Late Antique and Byzantine Seminar takes place at 5pm at the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles. This week’s speaker will be Liz James (Univ. of Sussex), Connecting Mosaics.
  • The Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures meets at 5.15pm in Memorial Room, The Queen’s College and on Zoom for the Michaelmas Term CMTC Lecture. The lecture will be Nikolay Tarasenko (Kyiv/Pembroke College, Oxford): ‘What Can the “Greenfield Papyrus” (pLondon BM EA 10554) Tell Us about Its Owner?’. Please register here (whether you are planning to attend in person or online).

Thursday 24th November:

  • The Celtic Seminar will take place at 5.15pm via Zoom and The History of the Book Room, English Faculty. This week’s speaker will be Myriah Williams (Berkeley): ‘Beginnings and endings: ‘Moli Duw yn Nechrau a Diwedd and Cyntefin Ceinaf Amser’‘. Please contact if you need a link.

Friday 25th November:

  • The Medievalist Coffee Morning takes place at 10:30-11.30am in the Visiting Scholars Centre in the Weston Library (access via the Readers Entrance on Museum Road: straight ahead and up two floors!).
  • The Anglo-Norman Reading Group meets at 5-6.30pm at St Hilda’s College, in the Julia Mann Room. The text will be extracts from the Chronicle of Langtoft; pdf will be provided. For access to the text and further information, please email: or


  • Oxford Research in English: Call for submissions: ORE invites papers on the theme of ‘conversations’, across all periods, genres, and literary disciplines. We invite full papers of 5,000-8,000 words, due on the 6th of January 2023 to All questions and queries should also be submitted to this email address. The editors also invite expressions of interest for book reviews and feature articles. For full details, please see here.

Finally, for anyone eagerly looking forward to the Christmas season, when things are not so busy: some advice from Alcuin on enjoying the present and not hoping too much for the future (even when you are very busy with admissions or MSt essay writing):

Tempus huius vitae velociter currit… ideo pretiosa nobis debent esse tempora
[This life passes quickly… so we should hold our time as precious, Ep. 78]

In other words, enjoy the last couple of weeks of term. May you have a week filled with precious times!

[A Medievalist tries to focus on their work and not on the Broad Street Christmas market…]
Ashmole Bestiary, Bodleian Library MS. Ashmole 1511, f. 95 v.
Viewable in full at Digital Bodleian

The Seven Sages of Rome as a Global Narrative Tradition

Oxford-Berlin Workshop 11-12 November 2022, organised by Ida Toth (Oxford) and Jutta Eming (Berlin)

The Seven Sages of Rome (SSR) is a title commonly used for one of the most widely distributed pre-modern collections of stories, which – remarkably – also happens to be barely known today, even among medievalists and early modernists. Several early versions of the SSR exist in Greek (Syntipas), Arabic (Seven Viziers), Hebrew (Mishle Sendebar), Latin (Dolopathos, Historia septem sapientum), Persian (Sindbād-nameh) and Syriac (Sindbād) as well as in the later translations into Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, German, English, French, Hungarian, Icelandic, Polish, Russian, Scottish, Serbian, Swedish, Spanish, Romanian, Turkish and Yiddish. The multilingual traditions of the SSR, with their many intercultural links, cannot be adequately understood within the current division of research disciplines into distinct medieval and modern linguistic areas. To mend this deficiency, the workshop has invited specialists in affiliated fields to address the problems of surveying the long history of creative adaptations associated with the SSR. The participants will consider the complexities of the philological, literary, and historical analysis of the SSR in many of its attested versions across the pre-modern and early modern periods. The workshop is envisaged as a forum for a robust discussion on possible ways of advancing the current scholarship of the SSR, and as an opportunity to strengthen the inter-institutional collaboration involving specialists based at the universities in Oxford and Berlin, and more broadly.

The workshop will start with a session in the Weston Library on Friday morning where the group will meet other Oxford medievalists at the Coffee Morning, followed by a view of special collections in the library. While this is for speakers only, their is limited capacity to attend the following talks at the Ioannou Centre. If interested, please contact the workshop co-ordinator Josh Hitt.


  • 2 pm – 3 pm: Beatrice Gründler, Kalīla and Dimna – AnonymClassic: Methodology and Practical Implementations (via Zoom, 1st-fl Seminar Room)
  • 4 pm – 5 pm: Daniel Sawyer, Forgotten books: The application of Unseen Species Models to the Survival of Culture (In person, Outreach Room)


10 am – 11.30 am

  • Jutta Eming, The Seven Sages of Rome in Literary History and Genre Theory
  • David Taylor, Re-examining the Evidence of the Syriac Book of Sindbād
  • Ida Toth, The Byzantine Book of Syntipas: Approaches and Directions
  • Emilie van Opstall, The Representation of Women in Byzantine Syntipas and Latin Dolopathos

12 pm – 1.30 pm

  • Bettina Bildhauer, Consent in the German Version of the Seven Sages of Rome
  • Rita Schlusemann, Genre, Dissemination and Multimodality of the Septem sapientum Romae, especially in Dutch and German
  • Niko Kunkel, Statistics and Interpretation: Annotating the German Sieben Weise Meister
  • Ruth von Bernuth, Yiddish Seven Masters

4.30 pm: Tea and a guided tour of St Edmund Hall with Henrike Lähnemann

5.45 pm: Evensong at New College

Appendix: List of manuscripts and early printed books in the Bodleian Library:

  • Arabic: Pococke 400
  • Greek: Barocc. 131 and Laud. 8
  • Armenian: MS. Arm. e. 33 and MS. Canonici Or. 131
  • Hebrew (Mishle Sendebar/Fables of Sendebar): MS. Heb. d. 11 (ff. 289-294) and MS. Bodl. Or. 135 (ff. 292-300r)
  • Yiddish: Opp. 8. 1115 Mayse fun Ludvig un Aleksander and Opp. 8. 1070 Zibn vayzn mansters fun Rom
  • Welsh Jesus College MS 111
  • Middle English: B. Balliol College MS. 354
  • English, early printed book: The History of the Seven Wise Masters of Rome. Now newly Corrected better Explained in many places and enlarged with many pretty Pictures etc. London, Printed for John Wright, next to the Globe in Little-Brittain, 1671

Image: British Library, Add. MS. 15685, f. 83r (XIV century, Venice)

Poem, Story, and Scape in the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland

‘Poem, Story, and Scape in the work of Kevin Crossley Holland’: An exhibition in the Old Library of St Edmund Hall

Open to the public on Monday 24 and Friday 28 October from 10:00-16:00

Or by appointment:

This exhibition explores the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland, Honorary Fellow and alumnus of St Edmund Hall, prize-winning children’s author, translator, poet, librettist, editor and professor. Kevin engages creatively with language and poetry, place, history and legend. He captivates us by telling stories deeply rooted in past cultures, which he remakes to be compellingly contemporary and relevant. For this exhibition, Kevin has generously loaned items from his private collection to add to material from St Edmund Hall’s Archives and Special Collections; we gratefully acknowledge his help.

Early in his career, Kevin established himself as a poet and as a translator and re-teller of Old and Middle English poetry, romance, and folklore for all ages, and as an enthusiastic collaborator with composers and visual artists. His Arthur trilogy has sold over one million copies worldwide and is available in twenty-six languages; it has inspired young readers to become medievalists and writers themselves. Recent works, such as Norse Tales: Stories from Across the Rainbow Bridge (2020) demonstrate how Northern European myth and legend continue to beguile him.

Kevin is passionate about how history, landscape and poetic language shape and inform one another. This exhibition explores continuities from Kevin’s childhood in how he sees, interprets, and responds to these creative stimuli. It also reveals how meticulously he researches the past to create his imaginary yet historically accurate worlds, and how carefully he crafts his poetry.

The exhibition is based on and inspired by ‘Poem, Story & Scape in the Work of Kevin Crossley-Holland’ which ran at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds from 29 March— 20 August 2022, curated by Dr Catherine Batt, Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at the University of Leeds. Many thanks to Sarah Prescott and the University of Leeds for their generous help and support in staging this version.