Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies

Research Projects

With an interdisciplinary staff drawn from the University of Kent's departments of English, History, Architecture, Classics and Archaeology, History and Philosophy of Art, members of MEMS are involved in a wide range of high-profile research projects. Here are some of our current and most recent initiatives:


Bishops, Canon Law and the Making of the Medieval Church, 875–1025 - Dr Edward Roberts

'Bishops, Canon Law and the Making of the Medieval Church, 875–1025', is running in 2018-19 and is funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.

This study looks at the transformation of the office of bishop in Western Europe between the eras of Carolingian and Gregorian 'Reform'. It proposes that new approaches to church law by bishops and their followers in the tenth century underpinned a fundamental shift in the development of clerical identities and episcopal group consciousness. These changes, moreover, provided the institutional foundations for the triumph of the 'reform papacy' in the later eleventh century.​

Dr Roberts has recently had the following journal article published:

'Construire une hiérarchie épiscopale: Flodoard de Reims et la correspondance de l'archevêque Foulques (vers 850–vers 950)', Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 61 (2018), 11-26.

This article investigates how a tenth-century historian and canon of Rheims used an archive of letters written by a ninth-century bishop of Rheims to construct a historical basis for the pre-eminence of their bishopric in a milieu of episcopal rivalry and competition.

Encounters with the Orient in Early Modern European Scholarship (1580-1800) - Dr Jan Loop

The aim of this collaborative research project is to document the scholarly European encounter with Oriental cultures, languages and religions between c. 1500 and 1800. The three main objectives are 1) to describe the scholarly and religious incentives for this encounter between Europe and the Orient; 2) to document the exchange of knowledge, ideas, values and material objects this encounter stimulated in the early modern period, and 3) to explore the institutional, conceptual and religious transformations which the encounter initiated in theology and Biblical studies, in the teaching and learning of Arabic and other Oriental languages, in literature and poetry, and in historical and anthropological thinking in general.

The Project formally began on 5 September, 2013, with the opening of the exhibition ‘Voortrefflelijk en Waardig. 400 jaar Arabische Studies in Nederland’ at the National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden (6 September 2013 to 2 March, 2014). The exhibition, which was co-funded by HERA, celebrates the long tradition of Arabic studies in the Netherlands. The curators of the exhibition, Arnoud Vrolijk and Richard van Leeuwen, also wrote a beautiful catalogue to the exhibition, which is at the same time a richly illustrated history of Arabic studies in the Netherlands. With the support of HERA and EOS, the catalogue was translated by Alastair Hamilton and appeared as Arabic Studies in the Netherlands: A Short History in Portraits, 1580-1950.

On Saturday, 16 November, the conference on ‘The Learning and Teaching of Arabic in Early Modern Europe’ was held at the National Museum of Antiquities, to complement and supplement the exhibition there. This conference was organised by Jan Loop. It covered the teaching of Arabic in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, and England. The event provided fascinating insights into technical aspects of early modern teaching of Arabic, but also into the institutional, political and religious contexts in which the study of Arabic took place from the 16th to the 17th century. Preparations are being made for publishing the proceedings of the conference (with other invited papers) in a series dedicated to the output from the HERA project.

The next milestone of our project will be a two-day conference on the ‘The Christian Turks': Religious and Cultural Encounters in the Ottoman-Habsburg Contact Zone". The event is organised by Professor Gerard Wiegers (Amsterdam) and Dr Tijana Krstic (Central European University, Budapest) and will be held on 26-27 May 2014, at the Centre for Religious Studies at the Central European University.

Dr Jan Loop's project is funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area).

'Picture this...' - Dr Stuart Palmer

In collaboration with Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library and Canterbury Christ Church University.
'Picture this...’ is a collaborative project bringing together academics and researchers with the aim to share the wonderfully rich collections of Canterbury Cathedral Library & Archive’s collections with the wider public.

Initially the brainchild of Dr Jayne Wackett (MEMS) and Karen Brayshaw of Canterbury Cathedral Library (now of Special Collections at the Templeman Library, University of Kent), the project is now co-ordinated by an editorial team led by Dr Stuart Palmer (University of East Anglia), alongside Dr Diane Heath (Canterbury Christ Church), Dr Robert Gallagher (MEMS) and Cressida Williams (Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library).

Now entering its seventh year, ‘Picture this…’ is a monthly online feature which takes a digital image from Canterbury Cathedral Library’s store of manuscripts and early printed books and shares the content and context of the picture with an online audience via an accompanying article. Over the years the project has developed a wide readership, and attracts interest from historians, archivists and librarians looking to contribute and participate in the project. 

Over the course of over seventy articles, all of which are available via the cathedral website, a multitude of authors have discussed some of the highlights of the collections, from Shakespeare’s folios to stunning examples of medieval manuscript illumination and early modern map making. However, the project also maintains an appetite for more obscure texts held within the library, and has covered topics as diverse as the early modern frog and the cathedral’s medieval waterworks, and in the year ahead unicorns, elephants and medieval charms and incantations.

Picture This…’ has allowed research students from MEMS and, more recently, from Canterbury Christ Church to gain first-hand experience of working with the cathedral’s resources and to share their expertise via online publications. It is infamously difficult for postgraduates and early career scholars to make their debut in the publishing world and online articles on a credible website provides a small but viable platform for voices to be heard. This process starts with annual writing workshops at the cathedral library where PGR and PGT students and staff browse a selection of the library and archive’s treasures looking for inspiration.

‘Picture This..’ is an exciting and energetic collaboration that brings together a range of scholars, researchers, institutions and the wider public in a shared love of the past and its visual riches. As we enter 2019, the editorial team have lined up a range of articles from MEMS and CCCU students and staff, all of which will be released via the cathedral website and Twitter accounts on the first of every month.

Visit the ‘Picture this…’ website to see all published articles: http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/conservation/library/picture-this/

'The Paper Stage': - Dr Harry Newman and Dr Clare Wright

'The Paper Stage' is a new public play-reading group in Canterbury dedicated to the extraordinary and diverse drama of the Renaissance. A number of exceptionally talented playwrights flourished in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and yet today the period is dominated by prominent figure of Shakespeare. This series, which consists of monthly events focused on different plays, offers students and the public the chance to experience this golden age of theatre through lively and experimental group readings that place you at the heart of the plays. 'The Paper Stage' initiative has been founded and run by Dr Harry Newman and Dr Clare Wright.

DocExplore: - Professor Catherine Richardson

Discovering and augmenting historical documents in the Digital Age

DocExplore was a collaborative project investigating the computer-based access and analysis of historical manuscripts. The project aimed to empower citizens on both sides of the Channel to engage with, explore and study their cultural heritage, as embodied in written and printed documents, in meaningful, informative, accessible and entertaining ways, through the provision of transparent computer-based interactive tools. We therefore envisage developing a generic document analysis framework which provides a basic operational infrastructure and interactive toolkit.

The project drew upon the expertise of academic research groups based at the Universities of Kent and Rouen alongside the support the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and the Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen.

Professor Catherine Richardson's project was funded by the EU INTERREG IV.

For more information, please visit the project website at: http://www.docexplore.eu/

Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior - Professor Catherine Richardson

For more information, please visit the project's website

This research network investigated peoples’ experience of household life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the time in which Shakespeare was writing – and considered how we might use this information to enhance our experience of visiting historic properties in the twenty-first century.

The network used the latest developments in computer science and cognitive science in order to understand how the domestic interior was experienced in early modern England. Dr Richardson and her co-investigator Dr Tara Hamling from the University of Birmingham brought together researchers in the humanities and sciences, conservators, museums curators and heritage professionals, including individuals from English Heritage, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Historic Royal Palaces and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. We experimented with, for instance, virtual reality environments that recreate historic atmospheric effects and eye tracking equipment that measures where and for how long we look at our surroundings, and saw how this technology might be used to reconstruct historical perception. In order to make the task more manageable, we focused on a specific case study – ‘how did early modern men and women respond to decorative textiles in their houses?’

We asked the following questions:

1. How did someone living in Tudor or Stuart England prioritize, interpret and assimilate the various messages being communicated by the combination of domestic surfaces, materials, colour, form, imagery and texts?
2. What was the effect of this combined visual, material and textual dynamic on how people experienced the space in which they lived and on how they thought and behaved?
3. How can we use new technologies to interrogate these issues and represent our findings to academics, heritage professionals and visitors to museums and historic houses?

For more information, please visit the project's website

Professor Catherine Richardson's project was funded by an AHRC grant.

European cultural, religious and intellectual history in the period 1150-1850 - Dr Jan Loop

Dr Jan Loop of the School of History will lead a Kent team examining the many ways in which the Muslim holy book influenced European cultural, religious and intellectual history in the period 1150-1850.

The funding is being made through the European Research Council’s (ERC) Synergy Grant and Kent will receive €2.5 million over the coming six years.

The project will produce ground-breaking interdisciplinary research through scientific meetings across Europe, with the universities of Madrid, Nantes and Naples also involved.

As well as producing  academic conferences and books, it is planned that the project will also be accessible to non-academic audiences through a creative multimedia exhibition on the place of the Qur’an in European cultural history.

Dr Loop said: ‘The Qur’an is deeply imbedded in the political and religious thought of Europe and is part of the intellectual repertoire of Medieval and Early Modern Europeans. As such, this research will question the belief that Islam is ‘foreign’ to Europe but also challenge certain Islamic fundamentalist views about the Qur’an.’



Shadow Economies: - Dr Danielle van den Heuvel

Informality, institutions and economic development in northwest Europe (1600-1800)

Dr Danielle van den Heuvel's project analysed the role of the informal sector in the economy of early modern northwest Europe. The streets of many pre-industrial European towns were filled by small-scale traders, often operating outside the official framework, lacking permission from governments and guilds. From modern developing economies we know this could have a large impact on their lives and the economy at large, but in historical studies this issue has hitherto received hardly any attention. This project filled this lacuna by investigating informal retailing in a period in which large commercial transformations took place. It examined who was operating in the shadow economy, why they did so, and what effects this had on the people involved and the wider economy. Through a comparison of various urban economies with different institutional frameworks over two centuries, this project aimed to explain how the economic participation of marginal groups, institutional flexibility, and economic development were linked in early modern Europe.

Dr Danielle van den Heuvel's project was funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Interpreting Medieval Liturgy - Dr Helen Gittos

Dr Helen Gittos and Dr Sarah Hamilton (Exeter) established this international research network which brought together historians, musicologists, literary scholars, theologians, palaeographers and art and architectural historians, to discuss the problems involved in studying the surviving evidence for occasional services.

The project was funded by the AHRC.




Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NX

Telephone +44 1227 823140. Fax +44 1227 827060

Last Updated: 25/02/2019