Laura Ashe

Professor Laura Ashe is Professor of English Literature and a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. She works on English medieval literature, history, culture and ideas, writing new ways of understanding the whole period from the Anglo-Saxon world to the court of Henry VIII. She has published on chivalry and kingship, on the invention and rise of fiction in the twelfth century, on medieval figures of the hero, the lover, and the saint, on national and imperial identities and ideologies, interiority and individuality, and the philosophy of love.

Her early research focused on post-Conquest England; Fiction and History in England, 1066-1200 (2007), examined ideologies of national identity and imperialism, the genres of romance and chronicle, and the first colonial discourses of the English in medieval Ireland. In 2015 she published Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer, a Penguin Classics volume showcasing the period’s invention of fiction and romance, intended both for students and the general reader. As an interdisciplinary historian she contributed a volume to the Penguin Monarchs series, Richard II (2016). Her most significant work to date is a new interpretation of the great changes of the high middle ages as a whole, in both religious and secular cultures: The Oxford English Literary History vol. 1. 1000-1350: Conquest and Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2017), issued in paperback in 2021.

She is keen to open up this period to a wider audience: it was the twelfth century which reinvented fiction, the romance, and the psychologized individual, and so (she insists) made possible the rest of literary history. She’s currently writing a monograph on Chaucer, developing new readings of his works that show his deep affinities with modern and current philosophies of subjectivity, recognition, and ethical agency – and discuss his creation of a concept of human love.

Laura read English at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and spent a year at Harvard on a Kennedy Scholarship, before returning to Cambridge for the Ph.D. She was a Research Fellow of Caius, and then lectured at Queen Mary, University of London, before moving to Oxford. She presented the archival documentary Plague Fiction for BBC 4 in 2020, and has been an expert guest on a variety of programmes, including Art That Made Us (BBC 2, 2022), Cunk on Earth (BBC 2, 2022), and Cunk on Britain (BBC 2, 2018 – one clip of her interview has been viewed more than 8.5 million times). She is a regular guest on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, appearing in ten episodes across medieval literature, culture and history, and for Radio 4 has presented ‘A Cultural History of the Plague’ and ‘The Birth of Love’ (2014).

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