Benjamin A. Saltzman

Benjamin A. Saltzman
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
Walker 518

I research and teach the literature and culture of early medieval England, focusing on texts written in Old English and Anglo-Latin roughly between the seventh century and the eleventh. My work focuses on the relationship between textuality and religious/social practices in medieval law and monastic life with particular attention to manuscript culture and paleography, the cultural implications of literature, and critical theory.

My first book, Bonds of Secrecy: Law, Spirituality, and the Literature of Concealment in Early Medieval England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), investigates the tensions between the medieval Christian belief in divine omniscience and the social experience of secrecy. The book argues that as these tensions manifested in the legal culture and monastic life of early medieval England, they profoundly shaped the practices of literary interpretation during the period and in ways that can inform how we approach literary criticism today. In parallel to this project, I have considered some of its larger and related methodological implications in a recent PMLA article (“Secrecy and the Hermeneutic Potential in Beowulf”) and examined the paleographical complexity of interpreting encrypted text in an article recently published in Speculum (“Vt hkskdkxt: Early Medieval Cryptography, Textual Errors, and Scribal Agency”). I have also written on topics ranging from the political and religious psychology of “forgetting one's self” to the promise of friendship in monastic life.

I am now beginning work on a new project about early medieval perception and experience, which I envision as two complementary books. The first investigates visual and literary representations of sin and the witnessing of evil, asking how early medieval literature visually mediates encounters with violence and atrocity. The second book, by pleasant contrast, will be about sonic and poetic experiences of joy.

I also research and teach courses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century medievalism (including the reception of medieval literature and the disciplinary history of Medieval Studies). I have published on these topics in Victorian Poetry and postmedieval, and I am currently editing a collection of essays with R. D. Perry on the influential group of intellectuals, such as Erich Auerbach and Hannah Arendt, whose scholarship on the Middle Ages emerged and flourished in the years after WWII and has had an enduring effect on the shape of Medieval Studies today as well as numerous other fields of study. This collection, Thinking of the Middle Ages: Midcentury Intellectuals and the Medieval, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

My research has been supported by major fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies/Mellon Foundation.


2018-2019 Courses: Winter 2019, Introduction to Old English (graduate & undergraduate); Spring 2019, Beowulf (graduate & undergraduate)

Selected Publications

  • Bonds of Secrecy: Law, Spirituality, and the Literature of Concealment in Early Medieval England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019)
  • Vt hkskdkxt: Early Medieval Cryptography, Textual Errors, and Scribal Agency” Speculum 93.4 (2018): 975-1009: Download the Article and the Abstract.
  • “Secrecy and the Hermeneutic Potential in BeowulfPMLA 133.1 (2018): 36-55: Download the Article.
  • "The Friar, the Summoner, and their Techniques of Erasure," The Chaucer Review (forthcoming): Download pre-publication version.
  • "Towards the Middle Ages to Come: The Temporalities of Walking with W. Morris, H. Adams, and Especially H. D. Thoreau," postmedieval 5.2 (2014): Download the Article and the Abstract.
  • "The Mind, Perception and the Reflexivity of Forgetting in Alfred's Pastoral Care," Anglo-Saxon England 42 (2013): 147-82. Download the Article and the Abstract.
  • "William Morris's 'Golden Wings' as a Poetic Response to the 'Delicate Sentiment' of Tennyson's 'Mariana,'" Victorian Poetry 49.3 (2011): 285-99. Download the Article.
  • "Writing Friendship, Mourning the Friend in Late Anglo-Saxon Rules of Confraternity," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 41.2 (2011): 251-91. Download the Article and the Abstract. Best Article Prize, Honorable Mention, International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (2013).
  • Education

    Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2014. Teaching at Chicago since 2017.