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Kathleen Cawsey

Associate Professor

headshot cawsey
Department of English

Email: kathy.cawsey@dal.ca
Phone: 902-494-6903
Mailing Address: 
Room 3198, McCain Building, 6135 University Avenue
PO BOX 15000, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Research Topics:
  • Literary theory
  • Pedagogy
  • Arthurian literature
  • Fantasy


  • BA (Wilfrid Laurier)
  • MPhil (Oxford)
  • PhD (University of Toronto)

After ‘clearing the way,’ as it were, in my book Twentieth-Century Chaucer Criticism: Reading Audiences, in which I tried to make sense of the disagreements among Chaucerians over Geoffrey Chaucer’s ideas of audience and reception, I’m now turning to the project I wanted to do in the first place: exploring the way Chaucer and other late medieval writers think audiences, story-telling, and language itself work. While we have philosophical texts on language in Latin from the Middle Ages, we don’t have too much explicit analysis of the workings of language in the vernacular. My contention is that the images and metaphors vernacular writers use to describe language can provide access to their implicit ideas about language and the way it works: so, for example, if someone describes the dissemination of stories as sparks that will burn up a city, that suggests a very different understanding of language than someone who writes about a devil picking up dropped syllables like grains of salt. My book is tentatively titledGreynes of Salt: The Image of Language in Medieval English Literature, and will combine work I have already done with new research on Chaucer’s House of Fame, Langland’s Piers Plowman, the play Mankind, Margery Kempe’s The Book of Margery Kempe, and the Arthurian tales The Morte Darthur and the Prose Merlin.

My teaching is as important to me as my research, and I work hard at making sure those two aspects of my professional life complement rather than compete with each other. My research on Chaucer obviously ends up informing the two Chaucer courses I teach, an undergraduate course called “The Canterbury Tales” and a graduate course on “Chaucer’s Tales Non-Canterbury: Dream Visions and other Stories”. Every year I get new research ideas from my second-year “Sampling Medieval Literature,” and ideas which originated in fourth-year courses such as “The Margins of the Middle Ages” have provided the seeds for several articles I have published. In my teaching I am becoming more and more interested in medievalism – the way modern fantasy writers draw on the Middle Ages – and have enjoyed exploring twentieth-century works side-by-side with medieval works in courses such as “Tolkien and Medievalism” and “Arthurian Literature.” I am also branching out – or, rather back – in time, resurrecting the Old English course at Dalhousie.

I am active at a local and national level in the Canadian medieval community. I am the medieval editor for Representative Poetry Online at Toronto, and will be publishing an edition of the poem “Pearl” there. I am the secretary-treasurer for the Canadian Society of Medievalists, and one of the founding members of the Atlantic Medieval Association.

Selected Publications

  • Twentieth Century Chaucer Criticism: Reading Audiences. Ashgate Press, 2010.
    Co-ed. with Jason Harris, Transmission and Transformation in the Middle Ages: Texts and Contexts (Four Courts Press, 2007).
  • “Disorienting Orientalism: Finding Saracens in Strange Places in Late Medieval English Manuscripts.” Exemplaria 21.4, Winter 2009. 380-398.
  • “An Online Poetry Course (for Carol)” in Teaching Literature and Language Online, Ian Lancashire, ed. (Modern Language Association of America, 2009).
  • “Tutivillus and the ‘Kyrkchaterars’: Strategies of Control in the Middle Ages,” Studies in Philology 102.4 (Fall 2005).
  • “‘Alum de glas’ or ‘Alymed glas’? Manuscript Reading in Book III of the House of Fame,” The University of Toronto Quarterly 73.4 (Fall 2004).
  • “Merlin’s Magical Writing,” Arthuriana 11:3 (2001).
  • “The Hanged Man: Lancelot and Guinevere in Malory’s Morte Darthur.” British and American StudiesVII (2001).
  • “Shepherds, Regents and Lecherous Widows: The Strategies of Power in Middle English Literature.” The AnaChronist (2000).
  • “When Polemic Trumps Poetry: Buried Medieval Poem(s) in the Protestant Print I Playne Piers” in Renaissance Retrospections: Tudor Views of the Middle Ages, Sarah Kelen, ed. (Medieval Institute Publications, Forthcoming).


  • Nominated for the Dalhousie Alumni Association Award of Excellence in Teaching, and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching, Dalhousie University (2009).
  • Arts Innovation Fund Grant for Student Teaching Pilot Project, Wilfrid Laurier University (2006-7).
  • SSHRCC Doctoral Fellowship (2000-4).
  • University of Toronto Open Scholarship (2001).
  • Visiting Scholar, University of Debrecen, Hungary (2000).
  • Overseas Research Award, Universities of the United Kingdom (1997-9).