John Niles


I retired from the Department in 2003 after twenty-six years on the faculty, after having served in the three ranks of the professorship, and I recently wound up my teaching career as Professor of Humanities at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  As someone whose degrees are from U.C. Berkeley (BA in English 1967; PhD in Comparative Literature 1972), I have indelible memories of the years I spent here, from the time I first walked into classes taught by the likes of Thom Gunn and Alain Renoir until recent years. I am grateful to the colleagues from whom I absorbed so many insights over that time.

I continue to work on projects that fascinate me. These mostly have to do with the origins of English literature in the period of cultural synthesis that followed the adoption of Christianiity by the Germanic-speaking peoples of Britain (Beowulf and all that). My next book project, however, is a study of long-term changes and continuities in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

Current Research: 

My 2022 book Webspinner: Songs, Stories, and Reflections of Duncan Williamson, Scottish Traveller is linked to a website, Scottish Voices, that provides public access to a comprehensive selection of still photos, audio clips, and video clips drawn chiefly from field research I undertook in Scotland during the 1980s and early 1990s:

I have recently been researching island cultures and maritime cultures in connection with a book project centered geographically on the islands of Mull, Iona, and Staffa in the Western Isles of Scotland. In addition, I have been researching the archaeology of Iron-Age Eurasia with an eye to putting pressure on the category of the “Germanic” — one that has long been enshrined in Early Medieval studies to the possible strait-jacketing of that field.

Selected Publications

Chief Books

1. Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

2. Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.  Paperback edition, 2010.               

3. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts.  Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 2006. 

4. Old English Heroic Poems and the Social Life of Texts.  Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007.

5. Beowulf and Lejre.  Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007.

6. The Idea of Anglo Saxon England 1066-1901: Remembering, Forgetting, Deciphering, and Renewing the Past. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

7. Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

8. God’s Exiles and English Verse: On the Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2019.

9. Webspinner: Songs, Stories, and Reflections of Duncan Williamson, Scottish Traveller. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2022.

Chief Editions

1. Old English Literature in Context: Ten Essays. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1980.

2. A Beowulf Handbook.  Co-edited with Robert E. Bjork.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

3. Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity.  Co-edited with Allen J. Frantzen.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.  

4. Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition.  New York: Norton, 2008. With Seamus Heaney’s translation of the poem.

5. Klaeber’s Beowulf.  4th edition. Co-edited with R. D. Fulk and Robert E. Bjork. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

6. The Genesis of Books: Studies in the Scribal Culture of Medieval England in Honour of A.N. Doane.  Co-edited with Matthew T. Hussey.  Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.

7. Anglo-Saxon England and the Visual Imagination. Co-edited with Stacy S. Klein and Jonathan Wilcox. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2016.

8. Medical Writings from Early Medieval England, Volume I: The Old English Herbal, Lacnunga, and Other Texts. Co-edited with Maria A. D’Aronco. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023.