Book Series Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts, vol. 26

Nuns’ Literacies in Medieval Europe: The Hull Dialogue

Virginia Blanton, Veronica O'Mara, Patricia Stoop (eds)

  • Pages: xxxiv + 370 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:25 b/w, 6 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English, Middle English
  • Publication Year:2013

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53972-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54055-9
  • E-book
  • Available

This is the first concentrated study to examine the literacy of nuns in a comparative fashion and at the same time pays close attention to the individual textual and cultural complexities.


"In vier Sektionen präsentieren siebzehn Forscherinnen und Forscher ihre Erkenntnisse über Lese- und Schreibpraktiken in mittelalterlichen europäischen Frauenkonventen. So entsteht eine breite Palette von Fallstudien unterschiedlicher Größe und Ausrichtung, die insgesamt ein ungemein vielfältiges und breites Bild nicht nur der Schriftkultur, sondern des weiblichen Religiosentums insgesamt ergeben - der Plural "Literacies" im Titel ist wegweisend für den ganzen Band." (Cordelia Hess, in: Sehepunkte, Ausgabe 14 (2014), Nr. 7/8)

"Bringing together in this volume studies on medieval nuns at religious houses in eight countries and integrating work by scholars in many disciplines (who deal with archival sources in seven languages) is a broad and ambitious undertaking. The book lays the groundwork for future studies of the thousands of manuscripts and documents left by nuns in the Middle Ages. The approaches to studying them, the array of issues addressed, and an extensive bibliography make this volume an essential part of any introduction to medieval women and their books." (Anne- winston-Allen, in: Manuscripta, 58.1, 2014, p. 138-142)

"This fascinating collection advances our knowledge of medieval nuns' literacy, but shows that it is still uneven." (Alexandra Barratt, in: Parergon, 31.2, 2014, p. 143-144)

"This beautifully produced and generously illustrated volume brings together seventeen essays and an introduction from scholars working on the broad question of northern European nuns’ literacies and literary habits across the medieval period. (...) Bringing together so many approaches and critical traditions can create some difficulty in presentation and organization: my one criticism of the collection concerns the overwhelmingly dense footnotes in the introduction, for instance, and in several of the essays. In these cases the footnotes are used to provide exhaustive bibliographic information — useful and important, certainly, but potentially distracting and overwhelming on the page. As the intent of many of the footnotes seems to be to demonstrate the range of the field and the critical conversations in which the chapters intervene, a larger bibliography organized thematically around questions for “further reading” might have been more effective. But this is a small criticism and shouldn’t detract from the many accomplishments of this rich and multiply diverse collection. Bridging national, geographic, and historical boundaries, these essays are a welcome addition to ongoing scholarship on female literacy, convent scribal and literary activity, and medieval religious practices." (Jacqueline Jenkins, in Speculum 91/1, 2016, p. 178-180)

"Ce volume d'actes bien conçu autour d'un projet de recherche ambitieux et innovant est une réussite. (...) The Hull Dialogue ouvre des perspectives heuristiques pour les médiévistes qui se consacrent à l'histoire des femmes. Il intéressera aussi les historiens du livre, de l'enseignement, de la vie religieuse et de la culture au sens large. Quant à l'histoire du genre, Nun's Literacies nuance les clichés tenaces de la misogynie des clercs. Même si le paternalisme affleure, plusieurs cas présentés ici montrent un respect mutuel et une collaboration effective. On attend avec impatience et curiosité les deux volumes suivants." (Thérèse de Hemptinne, in: Revue Mabillon, n.s. 26, 2015, p.338-339)

"The two volumes that have appeared so far are marvelous ones. They are consistently solid reassessments of nun’s literacies and the association of such women with both practical literacy and book culture. The third volume promises to be so as well. Together the series revolutionizes our thinking about nuns’ literacy; there will no longer be any excuse to cite Eileen Power on this. These volumes and the more than fifty articles included within all three, along with insightful introductions, full bibliographies and lists of manuscripts, useful indices, many illustrations and even some color plates, are impressive publications. More importantly is their major achievement in totally changing what we know about nuns’ literacies! Brilliant!" (Constance H. Berman, in: Analecta Cisterciensia 65 (2015) 392 – 410)

« Cette publication est remarquable. » (Paulette L’Hermite-Leclercq, dans Le Moyen Age, 122/1, 2016, p. 128)

“L’insieme di questi tre volumi (…) rappresenta senza dubbio un valido strumento per chi desidera conoscere lo stato attuale della ricerca attraverso un’articolata serie di studi che rappresentano una molteplicità di punti di vista e gettano luce sull’argomento esplorando a tutto tondo le testimonianze disponibili.” (Roberto Gamberini, in Studi Medievali, LIX/2, 2018, p. 780)


This collection of essays, focused on the literacies of nuns in medieval Europe, brings together specialists working on diverse geographical areas to create a dialogue about the Latin and vernacular texts nuns read, wrote, and exchanged, primarily in northern Europe from the eighth to the mid-sixteenth centuries. To date, there has been some significant research in this field but little in the way of cross-cultural study. Drawing especially on the rich body of scholarship that currently exists about nuns and books in England, Germany, the Low Countries, and Sweden, these essays investigate the meaning of nuns’ literacies in terms of reading and writing, Latin and the vernaculars.

Contributors to this volume investigate the topic of literacy primarily from palaeographical and textual evidence and by discussing information about book ownership and book production in convents. In this first concentrated study that examines the literacy of nuns in a comparative fashion the essays pay close attention to the individual textual and cultural complexities of nuns’ literacies in the European Middle Ages.





Literacy and Nuns: Finding and Interpreting the Evidence

Reading Women at the Margins of Quedlinburg Codex — HELENE SCHECK

Making History at Fontevraud: Abbess Petronilla de Chemillé and Practical Literacy — BRUCE L. VENARDE

‘Mathild de Niphin’ and the Female Scribes of Twelfth-Century Zwiefalten — ALISON I. BEACH

Rendering Accounts: The Pragmatic Literacy of Nuns in Late Medieval England — MARILYN OLIVA

The Late Medieval English Nun and her Scribal Activity: A Complicated Quest — VERONICA O’MARA

Language and Literacy: Latin and the Vernacular

Nuns and Latin, with Special Reference to the Birgittines of Vadstena — MONICA HEDLUND

Vernacular and Latinate Literacy in Viennese Women’s Convents — CYNTHIA J. CYRUS

Praying in the Vernacular: Middle Dutch Imitative Forms of the Divine Office from the 1370s to 1520s — THOM MERTENS

Literate Nuns: Reading and Writing in the Convent

Conceiving the Word(s): Habits of Literacy among Earlier Anglo‑Saxon Monastic Women — LISA M. C. WESTON

The Literary Culture of the Anglo‑Saxon Royal Nunneries: Romsey and London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 436 — STEPHANIE HOLLIS

The Devotional Reading of Nuns: Three Legendaries of Native Saints in Late Medieval England — VIRGINIA BLANTON

Between Court and Cloister: Royal Patronage and Nuns’ Literacy in Medieval East-Central Europe — ALFRED THOMAS

Books in Texts — Texts in Books: The St. Georgener Predigten as an Example of Nuns’ Literacy in Late Medieval Germany — REGINA DOROTHEA SCHIEWER

The Birgittine Sisters at Vadstena Abbey: Their Learning and Literacy, with Particular Reference to Table Reading — JONAS CARLQUIST

Vadstena Abbey and Female Literacy in Late Medieval Sweden — INGELA HEDSTRÖM

Authorship and Nuns: Writing by the Nun for the Nun

Writing, Editing, and Rearranging: Griet Essinchghes and her Version of the Sister-Book of Diepenveen — WYBREN SCHEEPSMA

Nuns’ Literacy in Sixteenth‑Century Convent Sermons from the Cistercian Abbey of Ter Kameren — PATRICIA STOOP


Index of Manuscripts, Archival Documents, and Incunabula

Index of Texts

Index of Convents

Index of People