Portrait of Dr Ryan Perry

Dr Ryan Perry

Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature
Director, Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

About

Ryan joined the University of Kent in September 2011 after working as a post doctoral researcher in the School of English, Queen’s University of Belfast where he worked on two large AHRC-funded projects; most recently, ‘Geographies of Orthodoxy’ and previously, as a research associate on the ‘Imagining History’ project.  

Research interests

Ryan’s research focuses on the situation of texts within their material contexts; that is, within the hand-made books produced, patronised and read by medieval consumers. He has published on the ways in which the people who read (and heard) Middle English texts may have responded to them, what meanings literature held for contemporary audiences, and what the books that carried these texts tell us about literary reception.
Ryan also has specific interests in Medieval religious literature and his research questions how books containing such materials were recruited as part of lay devotion and religious pedagogy. It is in so-called ‘devotional manuals’, miscellaneous collections of varied religious texts, that his current and future research lies. He contends that such books might have been the most ‘popular’ kind of book in the English language in the late Middle Ages, dwarfing the numbers of copies of texts such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He has co-authored (with Dr Stephen Kelly, QUB) research suggesting that fifteenth-century England should be understood as a period of ‘devotional cosmopolitanism’, rather than as a period of straightforward religious dichotomy (between ecclesiastical orthodoxy and Lollard heresy).
Ryan also has broader interests in material culture studies, and along with Professor Catherine Richardson leads the University’s Material Web, a hub for the discussion of new approaches to the study of premodern material culture. It is this that has also led to his involvement in the CHASE-funded Material Witness postgraduate training scheme. 

Supervision

Ryan is interested in supervising research into Middle English manuscript culture and all aspects of religious textual culture in the late Middle Ages. Current or completed PhD dissertations undertaken by students he has been primary supervisor for have included:

  • the production and reception contexts for romance literature in fifteenth-century England 
  • the utility of the concept of doomsday in late medieval pastoral literatures 
  • new contexts for John Bromyard’s Summa praedicantium 
  • London’s mercantile culture and the idea of ‘common profit’ 
  • Margery Kempe’s devotional vocation 
  • the idea of despair in cenobitic and pastoral literatures 

Publications

Article

  • Perry, R. and Westphall, A. (2018). Gathering Good Corn from the Weeds: Theological and Pastoral Engagements with the Prickynge of Love in Post-Reformation England. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies [Online] 48:301-340. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-4402239.
    This essay represents a new approach to the highly conflicted responses of scholars from the period of the English Reformation to medieval religious literature. Recent studies of sixteenth-century antiquarian engagements with medieval literature have thrown much light on the attitudes of bibliophiles like John Leland, John Bale and the circle of antiquarians connected with Archbishop Matthew Parker. However, there has been little detailed documentation of post-Reformation engagements with actual books and of the productive rehabilitation of texts that had become doctrinally problematic in Elizabethan England. This essay analyses the engagements of Stephen Batman and an anonymous ecclesiastical annotator with the Pricking of Love, a deeply affective late fourteenth-century devotional treatise. The medieval text, infused with fervent Christological and Marian piety, is seemingly an unlikely source for reformed Elizabethan readers in which to recognise valuable religious lore. But in fact, these readers go far beyond repudiating ‘papistical’ errors to demonstrate both the past roots of their own reformed theologies and the continuing pastoral utilities of much of the medieval text.
  • Perry, R. (2014). Making Histories: Locating the Belfast Fragment of the Middle English Prose Brut. Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures [Online] 3:240-256. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/dph.2014.0011.
    In this essay Ryan Perry employs a fragment of the Middle English Prose Brut, recently discovered in the Special Collections department of Queen’s University, Belfast, to discuss larger issues in respect of the diverse production methods which characterise the production of this text. As part of this process the essay investigates the origins of the unique textual interpolation contained in the Belfast Brut fragment, and through comparison with Dartmouth College, Rauner Special Collections Library, Codex MS 003183, the essay suggests some of the different approaches Brut producers took when tasked with ‘making history’.
  • Perry, R. (2013). An Introduction to Devotional Anthologies. One Volume ‘Collections’ and their Contexts. Queeste. Journal of medieval literature in the Low Countries [Online] 20:119-133. Available at: http://queeste.verloren.nl/archief-2013/124048/104387/ryan-perry.
    Centraal in dit artikel staat een groep Engelse devotionele ‘meerteksthandschriften’
    die beschouwd kunnen worden als op zichzelf staande verzamelingen. Vooraleer in
    te gaan op deze devotionele bloemlezingen, wordt aandacht geschonken aan de beperkingen
    die de onderzoeker van middeleeuwse handschriften in institutionele collecties
    ondervindt, dit in tegenstelling tot de vermeende liberale omgang met boeken
    in de middeleeuwen. Als alternatief voor zulk een vrije omgang met boeken,
    wordt beargumenteerd dat ook in de middeleeuwen toegang tot collecties en boeken
    vaak voorbehouden was aan een selecte groep van mensen die allen behoorden
    tot een concreet sociaal netwerk. Vervolgens worden inhoud en uiterlijke kenmerken
    van deze devotionele bloemlezingen verder onder de loep genomen. De keuze van
    en omgang met teksten in twee monumentale verzamelingen, Bodleian Library, Eng
    Poet A.1 (‘Vernon’) en British Library Additional 22283 (‘Simeon’), wordt verbonden
    met het ruimere corpus. Een laatste casestudy, Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Bodley
    789, werpt licht op de structuur van de besproken bloemlezingen. Het artikel besluit
    met een voorzichtige schets van de context waarin devotionele verzamelingen werden
    vervaardigd en het proces dat aan hun productie ten grondslag lag.

    Central to this article is a group of English devotional miscellanies which can be considered as separate collections. Before going into these devotional anthologies, attention is given to the limitations faced by the researcher of medieval manuscripts in institutional collections, in contrast to the supposed liberal intercourse with books in the Middle Ages. As an alternative to such free intercourse with books, it is argued that in the Middle Ages access often reserved access to collections and books to select groups of people who belonged to a excusive social networks. Next, content and appearance of this devotional anthologies are further examined. The selection and handling of texts in two historic collections, Bodleian Library, Eng Poet A.1 (Vernon) and British Library Additional 22283 (Simeon), is connected to the larger corpus. A recent case study, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 789, sheds light on the structure of the discussed anthologies. The article concludes with a tentative outline of the context in which devotional sets were manufactured and the process that formed the basis of their production.
  • Perry, R. (2011). ’Thynk on God, as we doon, men that swynk’: The Cultural Locations of Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord and the Middle English Pseudo-Bonaventuran Tradition. Speculum [Online] 86:419-454. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0038713410004707.
    “Awak, and thenk on Cristes passioun!” So exclaims John the carpenter in the Miller's Tale, simultaneously performing the sign of the cross in his frantic efforts to stir Nicholas from a feigned trance. Then, babbling folk charms and prayers, John continues his attempts to wrestle the young astronomer free from supernatural forces, the “elves” and “wightes” he supposes have afflicted his boarder. Here the text of the urbane late-fourteenth-century Chaucer apparently reflects upon a tradition often considered characteristic of fifteenth-century devotional literature and praxis, that is, “affective piety.” Tantalizingly, John's claims for the spiritually cathartic benefits of thinking “on Cristes passioun” parallel a construction used at the beginning of the Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord (hereafter MSOL) where the author states, “Whan þou þenkest þys [of Christ's Passion] yn þy þo?t / Thyr may no fende noye þe with no?t.” This kind of idea resonates throughout the pseudo-Bonaventuran tradition, a cluster of meditative literary treatments of the lives of Christ and Mary based on versions of the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi (hereafter MVC). The Privity of the Passion similarly promises “comforthe and gostely gladnes” to those who “with a besy thoghte … duell in it [the Passion].” The Middle English translation of the Meditationes de Passione Christi (hereafter MEMPC), a text that was probably composed during Chaucer's lifetime, is representative of the tradition in how it promotes thinking on Christ's Passion as a means of spiritual renewal:
  • Perry, R. (2009). A Fragment of the Middle English Prose Brut in the Special Collections Dept., Queen’s University of Belfast. Notes and Queries [Online] 56:189-190. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjp046.
    Provides information about a fragment of the Middle English Prose Brut discovered by the author that was previously unknown to scholarship.

Book section

  • Perry, R. (2019). Chaucer’s God. In: Johnson, I. R. ed. Geoffrey Chaucer in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 157-166. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139565141.
    Chaucer’s God considers how characters invoke God, both in terms of the everyday language of late medieval England and in the ways that the idea of God is reflected in Chaucer’s fiction. Conventional, non theological utterances of the names for God by Chaucer’s characters as part of their, by turns, outwardly pious and unthinkingly impious phraseologies are discussed in the opening section, God Woot– God knows. Under the heading God Forwoot– God foreknows, some of the more challenging invocations of God are considered, such as the implications of divine foreknowledge and predestination on human free will in the Knight’s Tale, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde. The concluding section, God in a Cruel World, asks whether in the Clerk’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale, if Chaucer allowed his tales to reflect, and characters to reflect upon, the heretical notion of a God lacking in compassion for humanity.
  • Perry, R. (2019). Sin. In: Brown, P. ed. A New Companion to Chaucer. Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., pp. 421-433. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118902226.
    This essay invites its readers to view the Canterbury Tales through the prism of the Parson’s Tale, utilising his treatise to diagnose the manifold sins of Chaucer’s cast of characters. At times the Canterbury Tales encourages its audience to activate their knowledge of sin, garnered in Chaucer’s contemporaries through repeated exposure to penitential guidance. Tavern sins, and Harry Bailley’s defining sin, exposed by the opportunistic Pardoner are discussed amongst other trespasses. The discussion concludes by considering Chaucer’s Retractions and how he may have attempted to mitigate the penitential burden of being the author of stories that might ‘sownen into synne’.
  • Perry, R. (2019). Robert Mannyng and the Imagined Reading Communities for Handlyng Synne. In: Clarke, P. D. and James, S. eds. Pastoral Care in Medieval England: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Routledge. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315599649-9.
    The essay explores the way in which the author, Robert Mannyng, imagines his text's audience and reception contexts within the pages of his work _Handlyng Synne_. The actual limited material survival of the work is described and compared to the ways in which the author situated his work, imagining aural reception contexts among audiences of a mixed-status laity who would be read to by a clerical lector.
  • Perry, R. and Tuck, L. (2016). ’[W]he[th]yr [th]u redist er herist redyng, I wil be plesyd wyth [th]e’: Margery Kempe and the Locations for Middle English Devotional Reading and Hearing. In: Flannery, M. C. and Griffin, C. eds. Spaces for Reading in Later Medieval England. UK: Palgrave Macmillan / Springer, pp. 133-148. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137428622.
    This essay discusses the places in which Middle English devotional reading took place, focussing particular on the church and household as centres for access to religious literatures. The possibility of aural 'reading' contexts are examined, and in the process the idea that a listener is somehow less powerful in the dynamics of medieval literacy is challenged – indeed, the reader-by-hearing, it is argued, is often empowered in such a mode of literary access, able to ruminate upon text rather than the somatic instrument of textual performance.
  • Perry, R. (2014). ’Introduction’. In: Devotional Culture in Late Medieval England and Europe Diverse Imaginations of Christ’s Life. Belgium: Brepols, pp. 1-15. Available at: http://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/abs/10.1484/M.MCS-EB.5.103035.
    Christ’s life, as related through the Gospel narratives and early Apocrypha, was subject to a riot of literary-devotional adaptation in the medieval period. This collection provides a series of groundbreaking studies centring on the devotional and cultural significance of Christianity’s pivotal story during the Middle Ages.

    The collection represents an important milestone in terms of mapping the meditative modes of piety that characterize a number of Christological traditions, including the Meditationes vitae Christi and the numerous versions it spawned in both Latin and the vernacular. A number of chapters in the volume track how and why meditative piety grew in popularity to become a mode of spiritual activity advised not only to recluses and cenobites as in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx, but also reached out to diverse lay audiences through the pastoral regimens prescribed by devotional authors such as the Carthusian prior Nicholas Love in England and the Parisian theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson.

    Through exploring these texts from a variety of perspectives - theoretical, codicological, theological - and through tracing their complex lines of dissemination in ideological and material terms, this collection promises to be invaluable to students and scholars of medieval religious and literary culture.
  • James, S. (2014). Hospitable Reading: in a Fifteenth-Century Passion and Eucharistic Meditation. In: Kelly, S. W. and Perry, R. M. M. eds. “Diuerse Imaginaciouns of Cristes Lif”: Devotional Culture in England and Beyond, 1300-1560. Brepols, pp. 593-605. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1484/M.MCS-EB.5.103055.
    Christ’s life, as related through the Gospel narratives and early Apocrypha, was subject to a riot of literary-devotional adaptation in the medieval period. This collection provides a series of groundbreaking studies centring on the devotional and cultural significance of Christianity’s pivotal story during the Middle Ages.

    The collection represents an important milestone in terms of mapping the meditative modes of piety that characterize a number of Christological traditions, including the Meditationes vitae Christi and the numerous versions it spawned in both Latin and the vernacular. A number of chapters in the volume track how and why meditative piety grew in popularity to become a mode of spiritual activity advised not only to recluses and cenobites as in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx, but also reached out to diverse lay audiences through the pastoral regimens prescribed by devotional authors such as the Carthusian prior Nicholas Love in England and the Parisian theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson.

    Through exploring these texts from a variety of perspectives - theoretical, codicological, theological - and through tracing their complex lines of dissemination in ideological and material terms, this collection promises to be invaluable to students and scholars of medieval religious and literary culture.
  • Perry, R. (2013). ’Some sprytuall matter of gostly edyfycacion’: Readers and Readings of Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. In: The Pseudo-Bonaventuran Lives of Christ: Exploring the Middle English Tradition. Belgium: Brepols, pp. 79-126. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1484/M.MCS-EB.1.101691.
    The author looks at a sample of manuscripts containing this widely copied religious text from the early fifteenth century and questions the power of the author to truly control the readers' experience of the Mirror. The essay looks at varieties of annotation and other markings in manuscripts, from copies in private ownership to those in institutional settings. The essay is able to reveal how the Mirror was used in Syon abbey as part of the liturgical cycle in the Brigittine house, and by female readers in wealthy secular households. The essay explores the idea of how free the reader of meditative literature might be, or how far an author can impose structures for devotional practice upon actual audiences.
  • Perry, R. (2013). Editorial Politics in the Vernon Manuscript. In: Scase, W. ed. The Making of the Vernon Manuscript: the Production and Contexts of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng.Poet.A.1. Brepols.
  • Kelly, S. and Perry, R. (2013). ’Citizens of Saints’: Creating Christian Community in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 23. In: Rice, N. R. ed. Middle English Religious Writing in Practice: Texts, Readers, and Transformations. Brepols.
  • Kelly, S. and Perry, R. (2012). Devotional Cosmopolitanism in Fifteenth Century England. In: Gillespie, V. and Ghosh, K. eds. After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England. Brepols.
  • Perry, R. (2010). Objectification, Identity and the Late Medieval Codex. In: Hamling, T. and Richardson, C. eds. Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and Its Meanings. UK: Ashgate, pp. 309-319. Available at: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754666370.
    The essay weighs materialist anthropological approaches in respect of late medieval books and how books may have 'objectified' aspirational identities for their patrons, owners and readers.
  • Perry, R. (2007). The Clopton Manuscript and the Beauchamp Affinity: Patronage and Reception Issues in a West Midlands Reading Community. In: Essays in Manuscript Geography: Vernacular Manuscripts of the English West Midlands from the Conquest to the Sixteenth Century. Belgium: Brepols, pp. 131-159. Available at: http://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/abs/10.1484/M.TCNE-EB.3.2767.
    The medieval English West Midlands has long been associated with the production of vernacular texts, in Old and Middle English, and with the making of several famous manuscripts. The aim of this volume is to re-think assumptions about medieval literature and the region in the light of new research in medieval book history. A series of specially commissioned essays in ‘manuscript geography’ examines the making and use of texts and books in relation to cultural networks in the region and beyond. Included are case studies of manuscripts of Worcester and the Worcester diocese from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries; investigations of manuscript production in fourteenth-century Shropshire and its wider regional links; and essays on textual cultures in Warwickshire from the activities of the aristocrats and gentry of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the projects of later antiquarians. Essays in the final section of the volume reflect on the possibilities of large-scale, corpus-based research on medieval manuscript books. Collectively the essays identify and explore some of the investments of traditional regionalist accounts of vernacular literary culture and model new theoretical and methodological approaches. Ryan Perry's essay identifies a particular reading network which is mapped onto the social network of the gentry affiliates of the Beauchamp family. He suggests theoretical models for understanding such books in terms of the ways materials were sourced by book patrons, and their social meanings to members of this aspirational class of consumer.

Edited book

  • Perry, R. (2014). Devotional Culture in Late Medieval England and Europe Diverse Imaginations of Christ’s Life. [Online]. Perry, R. M. M. and Kelly, S. P. eds. Belgium: Brepols. Available at: http://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/book/10.1484/M.MCS-EB.6.09070802050003050409030504.
    Christ’s life, as related through the Gospel narratives and early Apocrypha, was subject to a riot of literary-devotional adaptation in the medieval period. This collection provides a series of groundbreaking studies centring on the devotional and cultural significance of Christianity’s pivotal story during the Middle Ages.

    The collection represents an important milestone in terms of mapping the meditative modes of piety that characterize a number of Christological traditions, including the Meditationes vitae Christi and the numerous versions it spawned in both Latin and the vernacular. A number of chapters in the volume track how and why meditative piety grew in popularity to become a mode of spiritual activity advised not only to recluses and cenobites as in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx, but also reached out to diverse lay audiences through the pastoral regimens prescribed by devotional authors such as the Carthusian prior Nicholas Love in England and the Parisian theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson.

    Through exploring these texts from a variety of perspectives - theoretical, codicological, theological - and through tracing their complex lines of dissemination in ideological and material terms, this collection promises to be invaluable to students and scholars of medieval religious and literary culture.
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