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.
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.
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: