Julie Orlemanski

Julie Orlemanski
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
Rosenwald 415A

I teach and write about texts from the late Middle Ages and theoretical and methodological questions in present-day literary studies. What distinguishes medieval thought from our own –and what links it –are of persistent fascination to me. Accordingly, I have longstanding interests in the theory and practice of hermeneutics and historicism. Aside from my monograph projects (described below), ongoing research interests include fictionality, the Song of Songs, disability studies and the history of the body, semantic and historical approaches to narratology, and the secularization thesis or so-called disenchantment of the world.

My first book project, Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Signs, and Narratives in Late Medieval England, considers embodiment in the historical period just prior to what might be called “corporeal modernity”–before Renaissance anatomy, before the centralized regulation of medical professions, before empiricism and the rationalist division of mental from physical substance. I tell the story of how bodies were interpreted and imagined between the arrival of the Black Death, in 1348, and the start of English printing in 1476. During this period, England witnessed remarkable growth in the production of medical writings, largely for readers without university medical degrees. Contemporary writers discovered in medicine a vocabulary specially designed to link self and universe by relations of causation. Authors like Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Henryson, Thomas Hoccleve, and Margery Kempe narrated the adventures of “symptomatic subjects,” figures who struggled to control their bodies and control the interpretations that shape their bodies’ meaning. More broadly, the book attends to the imbrication of medicine and selfhood in the “etiological imagination”of the later Middle Ages, that is,the project of explanatory invention concerned to coordinate tangled causal chains.Symptomatic Subjects offers new readings of canonical texts, which are informed by the multiple tactics in the later Middle Ages for contending with the signifying life of the flesh.

My second book project, “Things without Faces: Prosopopoeia in Medieval Writing,” begins from the seemingly simple question of what happens when textual persons speak. Writing conjures the likeness of a voice, and with it an embodied figure comes flickeringly into existence. This movement from text to speech to imagined corporealization fascinated medieval writers, and it forms the heart of “Things without Faces,” a new history of literary “person-making,”from twelfth-century innovations in devotional imagery and speculative allegory to the dazzling vernacular poetry of the centuries following. I argue that modes of literary personation now sharply distinguished –character, lyric address, and allegorical personification –are best considered in mobile interconnection and that medieval writings stand poised to alter current literary-theoretical conversations.

I am committed to the project of teaching and studying the Middle Ages critically in the present era of ascendant white supremacism and to making medieval studies a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable field. For a statement to this effect signed by various University of Chicago medievalists, see here.

I am Book Reviews Editor at postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies. For the academic year 2017-2018, I am a Visiting Associate at the Institute for Advanced Study.


Past graduate courses: “Historicism, Medievalism, and Modernity”; “What Was Fiction? Being Imaginary in the Middle Ages”; “Figura, Persona, Vox: Prosopopoeia in the Middle Ages”;and the PhD Colloquium.

Selected Publications

  • “Prosopopoeial Heaviness in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess,” forthcoming in Chaucer and the Subversion of Form (Cambridge UP), ed. Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld
  • “Leprosies,”forthcoming in the Ashgate Research Companion to Medieval Disability Studies, ed. John P. Sexton and Kisha G. Tracy
  • “Modernity within the Middle Ages,” in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology 116.3 (2017)
  • “Philology and the Turn Away from the Linguistic Turn,”in Florilegium 32 (2017 for 2015)
  • “Literary Genre, Medieval Studies, and the Prosthesis of Disability,” in Textual Practice 30.7(2016)
  • “Margery’s ‘Noyse’ and Distributed Expressivity,” in Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe (2015), ed. Irit Kleinman, Palgrave
  • “Scales of Reading,” in Exemplaria 26.2-3 (2014), special issue on “Surface, Symptom, and the State of Critique”
  • “Thornton’s Remedies and the Questions of Medical Reading,” in Robert Thornton and His Books (2014), ed. Susanna Fein and Michael Johnston, York Medieval Press
  • “Genre,” in A Handbook of Middle English Studies (2013), ed. Marion Turner, Wiley-Blackwell Critical Theory Handbooks
  • “Desire and Defacement in The Testament of Cresseid,” in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture (2013), ed. Katie Walter, Palgrave New Middle Ages Series
  • “Jargon and the Matter of Medicine in Middle English,” in The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 42.2 (2012)
  • “How to Kiss a Leper,” in postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3.2 (2012), essay cluster on Disability and the Social Body


Ph.D. and MA, Harvard University, 2010.BA, University of Georgia, 2004.Teaching at Chicago from 2014.