Dr Richard Sowerby (MA (Hons), MLitt, DPhil)

Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History

Background

I grew up in North Yorkshire, where the seeds of my interest in the Middle Ages were probably planted by days out at Fountains Abbey down the road. A few summers spent in the company of the York Archaeological Trust did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm, and I headed north to study Medieval History at the University of St Andrews. I stayed there for five years, then went to the University of Oxford to write a doctoral thesis about imaginary creatures.

I was lucky to be able spend the next few years first as a lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford, and then as the Osborn Fellow in Medieval History and Culture at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. In 2015, I returned to Scotland to join the School of History, Classics and Archaeology here in Edinburgh.

Responsibilities & affiliations

External examiner at Lancaster University (2021–25)

Undergraduate teaching

  • Medieval Worlds: A Journey through the Middle Ages (pre-honours)
  • The History of Edinburgh: From Din Eidyn to Festival City (pre-honours)
  • The Transformation of the Roman World, ca. 300–800: Towards Byzantium and the Early Medieval West (pre-honours)
  • The Kings in the North: Scotland in the Early Middle Ages (honours elective)
  • Medicine and Health in the early Middle Ages (honours special subject)
  • Historical Skills and Methods II (honours pathway on medieval visions of the afterlife)

Postgraduate teaching

  • Body and Soul in Early Medieval Thought (MSc)
  • Historical Research: Skills and Sources (MSc)

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?

Yes

Areas of interest for supervision

I would welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students who are interested in pursuing further work on any aspect of early medieval social and cultural history. Projects which intend to deal with matters of religion, belief, healing or medicine are especially welcome, as are studies into the cults of saints in the early Middle Ages.

Current PhD students supervised

Hayley Boulton, 'The social and cultural contexts of gynaecological texts in the early medieval West, c. 700-1000' (PhD thesis, co-supervising with Dr Zubin Mistry)

Research summary

My research focuses on the social and cultural history of early medieval Europe (c. 500-1100 CE). My work seeks to better understand the ways that early medieval men and women thought about the world in which they lived, and to explore the way that their beliefs, ideas and values changed during the first millennium CE.

My published work deals chiefly with religious culture of the period, and has examined subjects such as beliefs about angels, speculation about the creation of the world, theories about the fate of the dead, and the veneration of saints. My current research seeks to develop new understandings of medieval systems of healing, focusing especially on the place of animals in medieval healing practices, to investigate both the ways in which animals were cared for and the ways that they themselves were implicated in the processes of human medicine.

Affiliated research centres

Books:

"Angels in Early Medieval England" (Oxford University Press, 2016) [Awarded the Ecclesiastical History Society Book Prize, and the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England Best First Book Prize. Shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize.]

"Natural and Supernatural in Early Medieval England", Cambridge Elements: England in the Early Medieval World (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

Articles and chapters:

'Sainthood', in Fiona Edmonds and Rory Naismith (eds.), "The New Cambridge History of Britain. Volume I: Early Medieval Britain, c. 410–c. 1100" (Cambridge University Press: forthcoming)

'The "Second Synod of St Patrick" and the "Romans" of the early Irish Church', "Traditio" 78 (2023), 47–78

'The heirs of Bishop Wilfrid: succession and presumption in early Anglo-Saxon England', "English Historical Review" 134, no. 571 (2019), 1377–1404

'A family and its saint in the Vita prima Samsonis', in Lynette Olson (ed.), "St Samson of Dol and the Earliest History of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales" (Boydell and Brewer, 2017), pp. 19–36

'The Lives of St Samson: rewriting the ambitions of an early medieval cult', "Francia" 38 (2011), 1–31

‘Hengest and Horsa: the manipulation of history and myth from the "adventus Saxonum" to "Historia Brittonum"’, "Nottingham Medieval Studies" 51 (2007), 1–19

Translations: 

‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’, ‘Walter Map’ and ‘Arthur and Gorlagon’, in Laura Ashe (ed.), "Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer" (Penguin, 2015)