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Dr Aisling Byrne – University of Reading

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  • Dr Aisling Byrne

    Medieval Otherworlds

Dr Aisling Byrne

aisling byrne shotDr Aisling Byrne specialises in medieval literature. Her first book was entitled Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature and she developed a final-year module, 'Medieval Otherworlds', based on her research.

"I was sixteen when I first encountered medieval literature. I had read The Lord of the Rings and my interest in Tolkien led me to the Old and Middle English writings that he studied in his academic career. I can trace my interest in all things medieval to that discovery."

Researching her book opened Aisling's eyes to a whole range of medieval stories about strange and wonderful alternative worlds. She wanted to feed this research into her teaching. On the module, Aisling and her students explore medieval accounts of fantastical places: texts where questing knights arrive in fairy kingdoms, surreal accounts of the world of dreams, and travellers' tales that fill remote corners of the world with marvels.

"I worked on medieval otherworld descriptions for seven years while writing my book, but in every class students come up with new perspectives, new material, and new ideas. There has been wonderful intellectual collaboration on the module and that's always really exciting."

Alongside the module on 'Medieval Otherworlds', Aisling also runs two introductory medieval modules in the second year of the degree. One of these is a module on Chaucer, and the other introduces the very earliest literature in the English language: Old English literature. Aisling has now started work on her next book which explores how two popular genres, romance and epic, intersect in medieval writing. This project was inspired by classroom discussions about Old English epic poetry.

The collaboration involved in seminar discussions means students come away with a real sense of ownership of the material - they are engaging with new research as it takes shape.

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