Benjamin A. Saltzman

Benjamin A. Saltzman
Associate Professor
Walker 518
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2014
Teaching at UChicago since 2017


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 issues of paleography, artistic representation, and the cultural implications of literature.


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 also beginning work on a new project about early medieval perception and experience, which I envision as two complementary books. The first investigates literary and artistic representations of violence 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 various aspects of 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.

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

Work with Students

I work with students who are interested in any aspect of early medieval English literature and culture, whether they are looking to focus principally on this area of study or build a foundation for other avenues of inquiry (e.g., in late medieval literature, linguistics, theories of friendship, secrecy, the history of literary interpretation). I also welcome the opportunity to work with students who specialize in nineteenth/twentieth century literature and are keen to explore the important influence of medieval culture in these later periods.

Select Publications

  • Vt hkskdkxt: Early Medieval Cryptography, Textual Errors, and Scribal Agency.” Speculum 93, no. 4 (forthcoming, 2018): Download pre-publication version
  • “Secrecy and the Hermeneutic Potential in Beowulf.” PMLA 133, no. 1 (2018): 36-55Download
  • “The Friar, the Summoner, and their Techniques of Erasure.” The Chaucer Review 52, no. 4 (2017): 363-95Download
  • “Towards the Middle Ages to Come: The Temporalities of Walking with W. Morris, H. Adams, and Especially H. D. Thoreau.” postmedieval 5, no. 2 (2014) 235-52: Download
  • “The Mind, Perception and the Reflexivity of Forgetting in Alfred’s Pastoral Care.” Anglo-Saxon England 42 (2013): 147-82. Download
  • “William Morris’s ‘Golden Wings’ as a Poetic Response to the ‘Delicate Sentiment’ of Tennyson’s ‘Mariana.’” Victorian Poetry 49, no. 3 (2011): 285-99. Download
  • “Writing Friendship, Mourning the Friend in Late Anglo-Saxon Rules of Confraternity.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 41, no. 2 (2011): 251-91. Download


  • Old English Language and Literature
  • Beowulf
  • History of the English Language
  • Nineteenth-century medievalism