Professor Ian Wood

Professor Ian Wood

Professor of Early Medieval History

Summary: Late Roman culture; Barbarian kingdoms of the Dark Ages: Anglo-Saxon sculpture: Northumbrian monasticism: eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century historiography of the Barbarian Invasions.


I took my BA, MA and Ph.D. at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and I also held a research fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research from 1974-6.  My thesis was on Avitus of Vienne: Avitus was a bishop and writer of importance in the late fifth and early sixth century, and he has left us with an important dossier of letters and poems which are central to an understanding of the culture of the post Roman West from 470-530.

I was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Leeds in 1976 and have remained here (as senior lecturer from 1989-95 and as Professor of Early Medieval History since 1995).

I was a co-ordinator of the European Science Foundation's scientific programme on the Transformation of the Roman World (1992-8), and have held guest professorships at the universities of Vienna (1994-5, 2000) and Århus (1997), and fellowships at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (1995-6), the British School at Rome (2006) and the Collegium Budapest (2009). I have also held a British Academy Research Readership in 2005-6 as well as a grant from the AHRC (2009).

I was one of three investigators on a HERA-funded project Cultural memory and the resources of the past, 400-1000 AD, which has now concluded.  We explored the eclectic uses of the resources of the past in the post-Roman successor states of western Europe in the early middle ages.

Research interests

My research interests focus on the history and historiography of the early Middle Ages and my published work has covered:

  • The historiography of the early Middle Ages
  • Barbarian migrations and settlements
  • The history of the Franks
  • Cultural history of the post-Roman period
  • The history of mission from 400-1050
  • Jarrow and Northumbrian monasticism
  • Anglo-Saxon sculpture (the book I co-authored on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle monuments (Fragments of History) won the 2008 Historians of British Art prize for a multiauthored volume)

Current Research Projects

Cultural memory and the resources of the past, 400-1000 AD

I was one of three investigators on this project which will explore the eclectic uses of the resources of the past in the post-Roman successor states of western Europe in the early middle ages. The aims were two-fold:

  1. to determine the role played by the resources of the past in forming the identities of the communities of early medieval western Europe

  2. to identify the process by which the new discourses, ethnic identities and social models of early medieval Europe have come to form an essential part of modern European national and transnational identities

The project was made up of 2 postdocs in Vienna, and 6 doctoral studentships (2 in Amsterdam, 2 in Cambridge and 2 in Leeds).  The Leeds research theme is 'Otherness in the Frankish and Ottonian Worlds' which is made up of two doctorates: 'Defining the Other in the Merovingian and Early Carolingian Periods' and 'Missionaries and changing views of the Other from the ninth to twelfth centuries'.  Both topics are concerned with the use of Biblical and Classical learning to deal with the unknown.

Students and postdocs worked on similar themes in Vienna, Utrecht and Cambridge.  All those involved had annual meetings to exchange ideas, and cross-fertilise their work.

The project leader was Prof. Dr. Walter Pohl,  University of Vienna and the other 'investigators' were  Prof. Dr. Mayke de Jong, Utrecht University, and Prof. Dr. Rosamond McKitterick, University of Cambridge.

This project is funded by Humanites in the European Research Area Joint Research Programme (HERA JRP). HERA is a partnership between fifteen Humanities Research Councils across Europe and the European Science Foundation.

Fall of the Roman Empire and the Barbarian Settlements

I have just published a book on the ways in which the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Barbarian Settlements have been interpreted since the early eighteenth century: on how that interpretation was influenced by the circumstances in which historians were writing, and on how their interpretations were exploited by politicians and artists. For this project I have had support from the British Academy and the AHRC, and I have held fellowships at the British School at Rome and the Collegium Budapest.

I have also published a commentary on Bede's Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth-Jarrow, his sermon on Benedict Biscop and his Letter to Ecgbert, as well as the anonymous Life of Ceolfrid, to accompany a new edition of the texts by Chris Grocock.

Past Research

My first book was on The Merovingian Kingdoms (450-751) (London, 1994), and was a history of France in the Merovingian period.  This was followed by Gregory of Tours (Bangor, 1994) and The Missionary Life (2001), which was a study of the lives of missionary saints.  Much of the research for The Missionary Life was carried out while I held a Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. More recently I have published, jointly with Danuta Shanzer, Avitus of Vienne: Letters and Selected Prose (Liverpool, 2002), and, with Fred Orton and Clare Lees, Fragments of History: Rethinking the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Monuments (2007).

Postgraduate Supervision

I can offer supervision in the history of western Europe in the early Middle Ages, in particular the history of the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons.

Current and recent PhD students have studied: Gildas; relations between Franks and Anglo-Saxons in the period before 800; the Liber Vitae of Durham; Mercia; Spain in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries.

Current students

  • Ricky Broome, Defining the Other in the Merovingian and early Carolingian Periods
  • Tim Barnwell, Missionaries and changing views of the Other from the ninth to twelfth centuries
  • Michael Kelly, Early medieval language and legal practice
  • Jason Berg, Transmission of knowledge in the early medieval west
  • Sami Kalliosaari, The development of the ideology of sacred imperial kingship (with Prof. Catherine Karkov)
  • Kivilcim Yavuz, The Trojan narrative in Frankish History
  • Ioannis Papadopoulos, The idea of Rome in the early Middle Ages
  • Hope Williard, Perceptions of the contemporaries of Venantius Fortunatus
  • Otavio Viera Pinto, Military thought and organisation in Ostrogothic Italy
  • Michael Burrows, Dissidents in Late Antiquity
  • Lia Sternizki, Representations of the afterlife, 751-990

Past students

  • Philip Shaw, The Uses of Wodan (2002).  Philip is currently a lecturer at Leicester University
  • Paul Barnwell, Kellogg College, Oxford University
  • Caitlin Corning, George Fox University, Portland

Outreach / Wider Community

Among the lectures I have given in recent years to non-academic audiences are 'The Most Holy Abbot Ceolfrid' (Jarrow Lecture, 1995): The Priest, the Temple and the Moon' (Brixworth Lecture, 2008): 'Lastingham and its sacred landscapes' (Lastingham Lecture, 2008).

I have served on committees for Bede's World, and am currently involved in the World Heritage bid being submitted by Wearmouth and Jarrow.  I am also a trustee of the Coachouse museum at St Dogmaels Abbey, Pembrokeshire.