UROP projects 2014: Monsters and Mythical Beasts

Dr Helen Parish is currently researching the place of dragons, monsters, and mythical beasts in late medieval and early modern culture, and has secured funding under the UROP scheme for an undergraduate researcher to work alongside her on this project.  The successful candidate will make extensive use of primary source materials held in the University of Reading’s Special Collections. The Cole Library contains a wealth of relevant and under-used, primary sources, which can be supplemented by materials from the Hawkins and Overstone Collections, and Early English Books Online to which the University subscribes. Key items at UMASCS include Topsell’s History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents, Gesner’s Histories of the Animals, and Ray’s Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation.

topsell lamia

Attitudes to monsters and the ‘monstrous’ varied significantly in the early modern period, from a focus on the sheer physical size of such creatures, concerns about magical or supernatural causation, discussions of divine providence, to more ‘scientific’ and ‘natural’ interpretations. This project will use close readings of early print literature alongside recent scholarly writing on monstrosity to examine the way in which mythical beasts, monsters, and particularly dragons, were understood in this period. Thinking with, and about, monsters will open up debates over the interactions of nature, medicine, religion, and custom, and contribute to ongoing research in what is a burgeoning historiographical area. With support from the project supervisor, and staff at UMASCS, the student researcher’s work will hopefully by published in the form of a co-authored journal article with the supervisor, and disseminated in a seminar paper / poster presentation.

gesner3 Gesner1


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