English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-16-2018


The term “material culture” represents many different approaches and schools of thought across multiple academic disciplines, but its place in the study of medieval literature is particularly difficult to ascertain. The long tradition of simply using the archaeological record to “fill in” gaps left in the textual historical record does little to expand our understanding of the place that these objects actually occupied in the users’ daily lives, nor does it allow us to make greater connections between the texts, their audiences, and their broader environment. Likewise, the role of the text and its reception has a great deal to do with the physical attributes of the object in which that text is recorded. An examination of this intersection of text and object can thus provide us with a clearer picture of daily life and thought in pre-Conquest England

This dissertation examines the ways in which references to objects of material culture are used in the context of the first five poems of the Old English Exeter Book, as well as the impact of the Book as a physical thing upon the poetry. After establishing a list of twenty categories of material culture derived from the text of the Exeter Book itself and assigning each reference to material culture to one or more of these categories, the larger patterns of usage become visible, making apparent the thematic and structural functions of such references. Likewise, by examining the physical nature of the Exeter Book and the roles it has played throughout its millennium of history, we gain insight into the ways in which the Book was valued and used. Taken together, twenty-first-century readers can use this analysis to gain a greater understanding of the importance of things in the context of pre-Conquest England, perhaps even including the purpose for which the Exeter Book was assembled.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Jonathan Davis-Secord

Second Committee Member

Anita Obermieer

Third Committee Member

Timothy Graham

Fourth Committee Member

Leslie Donovan




Old English, Old English Poetry, Exeter Book, Codex Exoniensis, Material Culture, Textual Culture

Document Type



Contains 58 color images showing traces of gold leaf throughout the manuscript.