Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

9/1/2016 - 8/31/2017

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Ars Vivendi: The Poetics of Practicality in Late Medieval England

FAIN: FA-232633-16

Lisa H. Cooper
University of Wisconsin System (Madison, WI 53715-1218)

Completion of a book-length study on the relationship between medieval manuals of practical instruction and medieval English literature.

The late Middle Ages saw the creation of a vast syllabus of "how-to" books in English, works whose purpose was to help their readers to do something or to make something tangible in the world beyond the page: cookbooks, calendars, hunting manuals, and more. This project reveals the many intersections of these medieval "arts of living" with the more frequently studied forms of medieval "literary" fictions. It takes explicitly practical writings seriously in their own right, arguing that the Middle Ages show us how to imagine a world in which the aesthetically pleasing and the technically proficient, the beautiful and the necessary, need not just warily coexist but might rather mutually enrich one another. The project joins ongoing scholarly conversations about material culture, animal studies, ecocriticism, and the history of the book, and contributes to discussions about the role of the humanities both then and now.

Media Coverage

"English professor explores the 'useful and sweet' in medieval how-to texts" (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Susannah Brooks
Date: 1/19/2016
Abstract: UW-Madison newsletter; description of award and of project.

"Plowing, bloodletting, and a long tradition of showing off with books" (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Kevin Hartnett
Publication: The Boston Globe ("Brainiac" column)
Date: 1/31/2016
Abstract: Article about the project topic.

Associated Products

"Figures for Gretter Knowyng: Forms in the Treatise on the Astrolabe" (Article)
Title: "Figures for Gretter Knowyng: Forms in the Treatise on the Astrolabe"
Author: Lisa H. Cooper
Abstract: This essay seeks to elucidate the conjuncture of literary art with science in Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe, one of the earliest of technical treatises in English. Turning in part to Caroline Levine’s recent work on wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks, and noting the centrality of those very forms to premodern cosmology more broadly, it argues for seeing the Treatise as an education in and drama of overlapping forms, one in which its readers must participate as they look to more securely anchor themselves in the cosmos. Demonstrating that the concatenation of forms in the manual operates in the service poetic as well as practical ends, it further argues for seeing the Treatise as an integral part of the Chaucerian corpus rather than as a curious outlier.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to PDF of article. Hosted by Box at UW-Madison.
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Cambridge University Press website link for the essay collection *Chaucer and the Subversion of Form," in which this essay appears.
Access Model: Through author's personal Box file or purchase from Cambridge UP.
Format: Other
Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Agronomy and Affect in Duke Humfrey's *On Husbondrie* (Article)
Title: Agronomy and Affect in Duke Humfrey's *On Husbondrie*
Author: Lisa H. Cooper
Abstract: Between the years 1439 and 1443, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (1390-1447)—brother of Henry V and uncle of Henry VI, and often called England’s first humanist—commissioned a Middle English verse translation of the Latin prose work *Opus agriculturae* by the Roman author Palladius Taurus Rutilius Aemilianus (late 4th—early 5th century CE), the most widely copied classical agricultural manual in the European Middle Ages. Of the Middle English poem known as *On Husbondrie*, however, only three manuscripts survive, and of these only one—the glorious presentation copy for the duke, which includes the use of multi-colored inks and gilding, Latin glosses, and a complex indexing system—is complete. In this essay, I attempt to account for this curious feat of Middle English literary and textual production by examining its representation of agriculture as affective labor and, conversely, its evocation of affect through the (versified) labor of farming. I argue that the most interesting effect of its form upon the content of the work re-presented in the text—that is, the principal result of rendering Palladius’s prose agronomy into Middle English verse—is less a gain or loss of utility than it is a rather significant increase of emotive force, one that goes hand-in-hand with the affective technologies of the medieval manuscript book. Humphrey, I show, is invited by the translation made at his behest less to know than to feel what he knows, in—and through—his own vernacular.
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Speculum, published quarterly since 1926, was the first scholarly journal in North America devoted exclusively to the Middle Ages. It is open to contributions in all fields studying the Western Middle Ages, a period ranging from approximately 500 to 1500. European, Arabic, Byzantine, Hebrew, and Slavic studies are included. The language of publication is English.
Access Model: subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Speculum
Publisher: Speculum