A Note from Dr Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

Welcome to Dr Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

January is my first month as the R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. This position is named for Richard Hunt, the beloved Keeper of Western Manuscripts from 1945 until 1975. I am working with Martin Kauffmann (Head of Early and Rare Collections) and Matthew Holford (Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts). Together, we are responsible for the Bodleian’s premodern manuscripts from across Europe and the Byzantine Empire. I’m often asked: What does a curator do?

R.W. Southern’s obituary for Hunt notes that he was attracted to the Bodleian for the prospect of ‘helping and advising readers’. This remains my first priority. Curators make collections accessible: our catalogue descriptions interpret their contents, physical makeup, and history; we look for new acquisitions; and we produce new research to demonstrate the importance of underappreciated items. We also participate in the university’s teaching, collaborate on exhibitions, and promote public engagement. We’re constantly looking for ways to fund all this and grow the library’s capacity through grants and donations.

By caring for both collections and people, we are ensuring that Oxford’s manuscripts will be here for generations to come, and that future readers will still care about them. To read a medieval book, one must empathize with someone quite different from oneself – we all need to develop that skill. At a time when we are facing change and loss, preserving cultural heritage is crucial to human resilience. Manuscripts are for everyone.

My own research uses evidence for collaboration in manuscripts to reconstruct the relationships between textual communities of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – producing prose analysis, digital resources, and new editions and translations of source texts. My forthcoming book Two Priors and a Princess: St Frideswide in Twelfth-Century Oxford, in collaboration with Benedicta Ward, reinterprets manuscripts made at St Frideswide’s Priory (now Christ Church) and shows how everyday people in medieval Oxford coped with physical and mental illness.

I was previously Munby Fellow in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library; a Mellon Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto; and Curator of Medieval Historical Manuscripts (1100–1500) at the British Library. I conducted my postgraduate work at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies.

It is my ambition to strengthen the Bodleian’s position as a hub for the university’s community of medievalists: our research, teaching, and public engagement. If you would like to discuss an idea or have a question about a manuscript, you can find me at our weekly coffee mornings, every Friday at 10:30–11:30 in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre of the Weston Library; or write me at andrew.dunning@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

For more information on the Oxford Medieval Studies forum, click here.