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Arthur Bahr
Associate Professor  .  Office: 14N-424 .  PBX: 617-253-3616 .  Email: awbahr@mit.edu

Arthur Bahr Research Interests: Old and Middle English literature; the structure and interpretation of medieval books; formalism(s), aesthetics, and the idea of the literary.

Arthur Bahr joined MIT's Literature Faculty in 2007 with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He currently holds the Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Chair, and in 2012 received the James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching.

His first book, Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London, has recently been published by University of Chicago Press. Using compilations from fourteenth-century London as case studies, Fragments and Assemblages argues that we can productively bring comparable interpretive strategies to bear on the formal characteristics of both physical manuscripts and literary works. By situating itself at the intersection of material history and aesthetic theory, this form of manuscript studies offers insights both on the literary culture of the past and on how the past continues to mean in the present. With Alexandra Gillespie of the University of Toronto, he is co-editing a special volume of The Chaucer Review on the intersection of aesthetics and codicology, which will appear in April 2013. His second book project is on the four poems of British Library Cotton Nero A.x., the so-called Pearl or Gawain manuscript.

With generous support from the Class of 1960 Endowment Fund for Innovation in Education, Bahr has joined forces with colleagues from across the Institute to strengthen and expand MIT's program in Ancient and Medieval Studies (AMS@MIT). This initiative has involved bringing Latin instruction to campus, launching a monthly colloquium series of distinguished speakers from art history, musicology, literature, history, and philosophy, and designing "Empire," a team-taught, interdisciplinary exploration of the representation and reality of pre-modern empires. A HASS Exploratory subject, "Empire" includes case studies on Rome under Augustus, Western Europe under Charlemagne, and English imperial ambitions in France during the Hundred Years' War.

Arthur can also be found serving as a National judge with the United States Figure Skating Association; undertaking long, involved, and sometimes overly ambitious cooking projects; listening to Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot, and a wide range of baroque opera; and petting his cat Alcina, who's still pretty much the fuzziest fuzz that ever did fuzz. He wants the world to know that he was devoted to Betty White before she was all the rage.

Why study medieval literature?


How are medieval manuscripts like snowflakes?




Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London. University of Chicago Press.

Pleasurable Forms and Speculative Histories in the Pages of the Pearl Manuscript. In Progress.


Recent and Forthcoming Publications

"Variance and Miscellaneity in the Medieval Book," in The Culture of the Medieval Manuscript Book: New Directions, ed. Michael Van Dussen and Michael Johnston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Co-Editor, with Alexandra Gillespie, Medieval English Manuscripts: Form, Aesthetics, and the Literary Text.  Special issue of The Chaucer Review (volume 47.4, April 2013).

"Finding the Forms of Cleanness," in Studies in Philology 110.3 (2013): 259-81.  

“Fear, Time, and Lack: the Egesa of Beowulf," in Essays on Aesthetics in Old and Middle English Literature in Honor of Howell D. Chickering, Jr., ed. John D. Hill, Bonnie Wheeler, and R. F. Yeager (Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies / University of Toronto Press, 2013).

Co-Author, with Alexandra Gillespie, "Medieval English Manuscripts: Form, Aesthetics, and the Literary Text," in The Chaucer Review 47.4 (2013): 346-60.

"Reading Codicological Form in John Gower's Trentham Manuscript," in Studies in the Age of Chaucer 33 (2011): 219-62.


Recent and Upcoming Presentations

"Pause for Effect: Unpunctuating Patience," International Congress of Medievalists, Kalamazoo, MI (May, 2013).

"Pleasurable Forms and Forms of Pleasure in the Pages of the Pearl Manuscript," Canada Chaucer Seminar 2013, Toronto, Canada (April, 2013).

"The Manifold Singularity of Pearl," invited speaker, The New England Medieval Conference, Amherst, MA (October 2012).

"Knots, Chaucer's Squire, and Sir Gawain," New Chaucer Society Conference, Portland, OR (July 2012).

"Sizing Up Miscellaneity," British Academy Conference on Insular Books, London, England (June 2012).

"Scribal Labor, Literary Value, and the Economies of Pearl," University of Rochester Medieval and Renaissance Studies Lecture Series, Rochester, NY (April 2012).

"Urban Romance, Musical Lordship, and the Situation of the Auchinleck Sir Orfeo," Center for Medieval Studies Conference, Fordham University, New York, NY (March 2012).


Classes Taught

21L.001 Foundations of Western Culture: Homer to Dante

21L.005 Introduction to Drama

21L.014J Empire: Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Studies

21L.325 Small Wonders: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

21L.455 Classical Literature: Transforming the Classical Corpus

21L.460 Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur

21L.460 Medieval Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer

21L.705 Major Authors: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

21L.705 Major Authors: the Beowulf- and Gawain-Poets