Dr Charles Roe on his return to the Institute for Medieval Studies

IMS Alumni Charles Roe talks about his new role Teaching Fellow in the IMS, his research interests, and his thoughts on the importance of Latin learning and scholarship in medieval studies.

What does your role involve?

“My title is Teaching Fellow in Medieval Latin, so the main part of my role is taking charge of Latin teaching for MA and PhD students in Medieval Studies for the next two years. This is very exciting, because Leeds has one of the strongest traditions of specifically medieval Latin teaching in the UK and I’m honoured to have the chance to uphold that and develop it in new ways. I’ll also be giving seminars on saints’ cults on the MA in Medieval Studies and contributing to undergraduate teaching in medieval history.”

In what ways do you intend to build on the standard of Latin teaching left by Dr William Flynn?

“When studying for my PhD at Leeds, I found the community of Latin scholarship maintained by William Flynn in the IMS had a really stimulating effect on the research students were carrying out, given the specialised training it was offering at a high level in material which has never received the scholarly attention it deserves, and the sense that any venture into this material would be supported by peers.
I’m delighted to inherit a community like that, and I want to carry forward the most important thing it can do: finding places where students’ interests meet the huge – and often untapped – potential of the material available in Latin, invite them into that (slightly forbidding) world of research, and support them to engage with it at a professional standard. That’s a job which changes every year, as students bring new interests and priorities, but I think students often find that this can be a really exciting academic experience, and one which can have a formative impact wherever their career takes them.”

What attracted you to work in the Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds?

“As I mentioned, I was informally affiliated with the IMS as a PhD student, so I’m coming to this role with a good sense of where I’ll be working. It was very appealing to take on a teaching role in an institution which prioritises medieval work and provides very sharp training in archival methods, from Latin to palaeography and other research skills. It’s a great opportunity to teach in a way which can directly inform fresh research, as well as opening ways of meeting and understanding the past which students won’t have had the chance to experience before. I also think this is a really exciting time to be joining the IMS, given its growing commitment to a global perspective on the middle ages, and its particular expansion of expertise in the East Mediterranean and wider connections across Europe and Asia. There’s a tendency to equate Latin with the study of Western Europe and, in doing so, align it with a very provincial understanding of what medieval studies might include, but this is a mistake. Latin wasn’t exclusively used in Western Europe, and it forced Western European readers and speakers to confront a wider sense of the world whenever they used it; it’s easy to forget that many of the most influential Latin writers were African (Augustine, Lactantius, Apuleius, Martianus Capella, Symphosius). I find it very appealing to be able to take the tradition of Latin expertise in the IMS into dialogue with a wider sense of the remit medieval studies can have.”

It’s a great opportunity to teach in a way which can directly inform fresh research, as well as opening ways of meeting and understanding the past which students won’t have had the chance to experience before.

Can you tell us a bit about your previous experience and research interests?

“I’m coming from a role at the University of Derby in which I led a module on conceptions of tragedy from Ancient Greece to the present, and I’m currently working on my first monograph, which is about the fourteenth-century English poets Chaucer and Gower’s careers as translators of Latin and French moral works, and where that shaped their practice as poets. It might seem surprising to think of Chaucer and Gower as translators of religious works. Scholars haven’t paid enough attention to this because the religious texts they translated are often thought of as commonplace and slightly dull – and are lost in some cases – but there’s good evidence that this translation work was very important for them. Chaucer and Gower were actually leading figures in the translation of religious works in late fourteenth-century England, and this was relevant to their poetic work, even though much of their poetry didn’t address religious matters at all: they constantly had to consider how these two parts of their writing careers might relate to each other, and this had an influence on famous works like The Canterbury Tales. I’m also working on a series of Latin editorial and translation projects which should appear in due course.”

How will your experience and research inform your new role?

“This role builds on the role I held at Derby: I’m drawing connections between the classical foundations of cultural practices, and their mutations in the post-classical world – some of which have had a huge influence on the present, and some of which make the past look very unfamiliar indeed! In terms of my research, this role allows me to examine my own practice as a researcher, share it with students, and be challenged by them as they come to explore the medieval past through looking at original texts in depth.”