Photo of Dr Liam Lewis

Dr Liam Lewis

Lecturer in French Languages, Cultures and Film

Research

Research Overview

"My mission as a medievalist is to extend debates in posthumanism, environmental theory, and the human/animal divide into a period traditionally overlooked by scholars interested in such matters: the Middle Ages. Putting medieval literature to work in dialogue with critical theory and modern philosophy, I seek not to ‘apply’ theory to medieval texts in anachronistic ways. Rather, I create a dialogue between medieval and modern ways of conceptualising nonhuman perspective, by thinking about how medieval texts challenge modern ideologies, as well as how such texts may be understood using modern and contemporary ecological methodologies.

With this mission and methodology, I have defined three key areas of my scholarly intervention: theoretical and critical approaches to medieval ecologies, medievalism and textual reception, and literary history, with further details below:


• Theoretical and critical approaches to medieval ecologies.

My PhD in French Studies (Warwick, 2019), entitled 'The Sounds of Beasts and Birds: Noise and Nonhuman Communication in Medieval French and English Texts Written in Anglo-Norman England', argued that medieval writers exploit the sounds associated with animals, birds, and legendary creatures to construct acoustic environments that produce and reinforce human subjectivity as distinct from the nonhuman. This form of human exceptionalism is in large part based on physical or cognitive power, the expression of hierarchy, and control of language. Through the examination of a range of episodes in English and French texts featuring animals making noise, I analysed textual sounds using insights drawn from Translation Studies, Musicology, and Continental Philosophy/Critical Theory, and provided an original methodology for studies of medieval literature in dialogue with Sound Studies and Critical Animal Studies.

My monograph, Animal Soundscapes in Anglo-Norman Texts (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, in press, to appear May 2022 in series: ‘Nature and Environment in the Middle Ages’), is the first in-depth study redefining the animal’s relationship to sound and language by thinking explicitly about the ways animal sounds inflect conceptions of ecology in literary texts. It takes my research to the next stage, reconsidering the long-held assumption in European philosophy that nonhuman creatures have historically been deprived of voice. Combining work for my thesis with a closer inspection of the methodologies employed to interpret sonic phenomena in Sound Studies, I demonstrate that the sounds of animals as they are represented in early francophone texts are fundamental to rethinking what language is, and how religious, racial, and gendered communities are defined in relation to such sounds.

My postdoctoral research is informed by global perspectives on the environment and intermedial translation praxis, putting ecological change and sustainable narrative building at the forefront of my work. My research combines medieval francophone literature and Critical Animal Studies in a way that extends traditional understandings of premodern concepts of nature, by approaching those concepts from the perspective of nonhuman life. I offer a new model for interpreting the nonhuman sensory experience in light of the human influence on the environment and the Anthropocene, a model which joins ecomaterialist thinking with the notion of biophilia and ecophobia. My publications in these areas provide a foundation for developing ecomaterialist reading practices that attend to the scope of ecological material and matter that surrounds and supports literary production and practice. My published research in this area includes the following articles in some of the top refereed journals in my field:

• ‘Noise on the Ocean Before “Pollution”: The Voyage of Saint Brendan’, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 29.3 (in press, to appear Fall, 2022); preview: <https://doi.org/10.1093/isle/isaa157>. 8,600 words. Peer reviewed article.
• ‘Animal Umwelt and Sound Milieus in the Middle English Physiologus’, Exemplaria: Medieval, Early Modern, Theory, 34.1 (in press, to appear Fall, 2022), 8,500 words. Peer reviewed article.
• ‘Quacktrap: Glosses and Multilingual Animal Contact in the Tretiz by Walter of Bibbesworth’, in Vincent Debiais and Victoria Turner (eds), Les Mots au Moyen Age: Words in the Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols, 2020), pp. 161–80. Peer reviewed book chapter.
• ‘Wolfe Yollez’, The Learned Pig (2017); 2,000 words for public audience. <https://www.thelearnedpig.org/wolf-yollez/4930>.

Publications under review or in preparation in this area are listed below:
• Medieval Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology Before the ‘Anthropocene’ (monograph in preparation, expected completion date: 2026).
• ‘Rewilding with the ”Cri” in Medieval French Texts: Yvain and Mélusine’ (article under 2nd peer review with French Studies); 7,000 words.
• ‘Sloughing the Lion in Villard de Honnecourt’s Sketchbook’ (article in preparation for research cluster in Cahiers de Recherches Médiévales et Humanistes); 8,000 words.
• ‘Singing Through a Storm: The Siren as Absent Referent’ (article in preparation, 2022); 8,000 words.

• Medievalism and textual reception

My work as a medievalist has led me to consider the reception of the medieval period in twentieth-century contexts. This led to a study using translation theory and queer theory to rethink the reception of medieval chant in contemporary spirituality:
• ‘Eko; Eko; Azarak’: Witchcraft, Medieval Gibberish and Queer Untranslatability in High Magic’s Aid’, in Special Edition ‘Mainstreaming Queerness: The New Queer Vanguard’, Sexualities, with forward by Professor Heather Love, University of Pennsylvania (article in preparation); 7,000 words.

• Literary History.
Alongside my focus on theoretical approaches to medieval texts, I am engaged in scholarship that re-addresses the understated role of women in medieval literary history. One forthcoming book chapter demonstrates my intervention in this area:
• ‘Adeliza of Louvain: Patron’, in Danna Messer (ed), English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty: Normans to Early Plantagenets (London: Palgrave Macmillan, in press, to appear 2022); 6,500 words.


Monograph reviews

I regularly review academic monographs for leading journals, with contributions listed below:
• Alison Langdon (ed.), ‘Animal Languages in the Middle Ages: Representations of Interspecies Communication’, Medium Aevum (forthcoming, 2022).
• Sarah Kay, ‘Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries’, French Studies, 72 (2018).
• Jameson S. Workman, ‘Chaucer and the Death of the Political Animal’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 38 (2017).
• Miranda Griffin, ‘Transforming Tales: Rewriting Metamorphosis in Medieval French Literature’, French Studies, 70.3 (2016).


Research Networks

The networks I engage with provide me with a framework through which to launch public engagement projects and further research projects. These include:
• Professor Emerita Linda Paterson's AHRC medieval performance project on 'Lyric Responses to the Crusades', University of Warwick, and the work on my own public engagement film project 'Translating Cultures of the Past' (Universities of Warwick and Monash, Australia:
< https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/ren/researchcurrent/translatingcultures/>.
• I am a member of the international four-year conference programme on 'Inhabiting Premodern Worlds' (partners: University of Oxford; University of California, Davis; University of British Columbia), which examines premodern ecologies in relation to Ecocriticism and Critical Race Studies: <https://oecologies.com/>.
• My work as a translation reviewer coordinator for an international charity (HDYO) has led me to generate funding plans for a public engagement project on the translation of science.

I am a member of multiple academic societies, which support my research through funding and conference organisation. These are:
Member of the Society for French Studies.
Member of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.
Member of the New Chaucer Society.

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Medieval Animal Studies

My monograph 'Animal Soundscapes in Anglo-Norman Texts' explores the themes of animal sound, noise and language in medieval French and English literature written in Anglo-Norman England, including glossaries and treatises, bestiaries, hagiography, fables, lyric and song. My work challenges some theoretical assumptions in contemporary animal studies by focusing on how language and sound expression is used to redefine networks of relation between humans and nonhumans in the Middle Ages. I consider the ways important texts from the Middle Ages, including the Fables by Marie de France and the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi use the sounds of beasts and birds to reinforce human exceptionalism whilst simultaneously placing the noises of different creatures back into the mouths of human audiences. I am currently writing articles on Walter of Bibbesworth's Tretiz, the vernacular Lives of St Francis of Assisi, and the literary patronage of medieval consort Adeliza of Louvain.


My postdoctoral project considers the use of ecology and the environment in conceptualisations of medieval medicine, in particular how myths and legends of healing with nonhuman animals and birds were communicated through medieval texts. In broader terms, I am also interested in ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, sound studies and translation studies.