Lisa H. Cooper

Position title: Senior Open-Topic Fellow (2023-2027)

Professor, English, UW–Madison

Headshot of a woman with curly blue-tinted hair and wearing an orange v-neck shirt, standing outside with a medieval stone portal behind her.

The Poetics of Practicality in Late Medieval England

The late Middle Ages saw the creation of a vast syllabus of “how-to” books in English: recipe collections, medical texts, agricultural tracts, astronomical manuals, hunting treatises, and more. Such works taught a practical ars vivendi (art of living) but were also often artful in their own right, something that contemporary poets were quick to recognize and exploit. My project explores this productive intersection of poesis and praxis—of making to doing, and of textuality to action—while also contributing to discussions about the value of the humanities as purveyors of useful knowledge both then and now.

Lisa H. Cooper is Professor of English and Director of Medieval Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she specializes in the literature and culture of late medieval England; her scholarly investments lie particularly in the intertwined histories of labor, technology, science, material culture, and the practices of daily life from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. She is the author of Artisans and Narrative Craft in Late Medieval England (Cambridge UP, 2011; paperback, 2014), and with Professor Andrea Denny-Brown (UC-Riverside) she is co-editor of Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in the Fifteenth Century (Palgrave, 2008) and The Arma Christi in Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture (Ashgate, 2014). A former ACLS and NEH fellow who has held two previous semester-long faculty fellowships at the IRH, she has published articles in multiple venues including Studies in the Age of Chaucer, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Speculum. She is finishing her second monograph, provisionally entitled The Poetics of Practicality in Late Medieval England.