Dr James Paz

Lecturer in Early Medieval Literature

Full contact details
View graph of relations

Research interests

I am a medievalist and a specialist in Old English literature. My research interests include: the voices and agency of nonhuman things in Old English literature; the links between early medieval literature and material culture; the connections between work, craft and creativity in early English culture; modern medievalism (especially in science fiction and fantasy); theoretical approaches to medieval literatures (especially new materialism and ecocriticism).

In 2017, I published my first monograph, Nonhuman Voices in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Material Culture, which draws on thing theory to argue that 'things’ do not simply carry Old English voices across the ages but change them, sometimes reshaping or even subverting the messages intended by their original human makers. In arguing for the agency of things, this monograph rethinks the divisions between ‘animate’ human subjects and ‘inanimate’ nonhuman objects.

In 2016, I co-edited (with Carl Kears) a collection of essays on Medieval Science Fiction, addressing the recurring omissions of the Middle Ages from constructed histories of SF. Contributors consider where, how and why ‘science’ and ‘fiction’ intersect in the medieval period; explore the ways in which works of modern SF illuminate medieval counterparts; but also identify the presence and absence of the medieval past in SF history and criticism.

I have published articles on texts and topics such as unreadable things in Beowulf, performing scientia in the Old English charms and dialogues of Solomon and Saturn, translating The Order of the World, mind, mood and meteorology in the Exeter Book 'storm' riddles, Wayland the Smith, and Eilmer the 'flying monk' of Malmesbury.

My second monograph, The Inhumanity of Work and Craft in Old English Literature, will start by exploring the relationship between animal weorc (painful suffering and undergoing) and animal cræft (purposeful doing and making) in early medieval literary sources. It will then examine hybrid beings whose technical skills trouble concepts of human creativity as well as devilish, pagan and monstrous characters whose misuse of craft causes them to lose or gain their humanity. Craft is sometimes invoked as a quality that makes us human. The political philosopher Hannah Arendt, for example, sees humanity in its role of homo faber as distinct from animals and divided off from nature. In an early medieval Christian context, Ælfric expressed a similar view when he advised young monks to beo þæt þu eart by performing a craft. Yet some Old English literary texts, such as the Exeter Book riddles and Physiologus poems, represent animals as both workers and crafters while other texts, such as The Wonders of the East and Passion of St Christopher, depict human-animal hybrids who possess technical skills. My monograph asks how and why the possibility of a creative, skilful animal poses problems for anthropocentric (or perhaps theocentric) concepts of craft in early medieval England. Theories and practices of craft have also been utilised by social reformers such as William Morris to promote an idealised picture of pleasurable work that enables makers to display individual talent. This positive view of craft was anticipated by King Alfred, who saw a craft as an inborn talent to serve a moral purpose. My monograph will study the boundaries between painful weorc and pleasurable cræft in Old English texts, analysing moments when the former shades into the latter and vice versa. For medieval Christians, work was often linked to suffering and was understood as a postlapsarian punishment. But craft likewise had monstrous and murderous origins, embodied by figures like Cain and Tubalcain in Old English biblical narratives. Similarly, pagan craftsmen such as Wayland the Smith personify the darker side of craft in which creation and destruction, making and unmaking go hand in hand. In many Old English literary texts, then, craft does not always make us human. Rather, the abuse and misuse of craft threatens to break down the human body, mind and even soul, turning men and women into wild beasts.


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display