Professor Helen J Swift

MA, MSt, DPhil (Oxf)

Teaching and Research

Tutorial Fellow in Medieval French and Communications Fellow, St Hilda's College
Associate Professor, Faculty of Medieval & Modern Languages

Professor Helen Swift became a Fellow of St Hilda's College in 2005. She teaches French language and Medieval French literature, and lectures for the University on a variety of medieval topics from 1100 to 1530, as well as on Old French language and certain aspects of critical theory, women's writing, and literature and the visual arts.

Helen's research interests straddle the late medieval and early modern periods, looking at the poetics of vernacular literature between 1330 and 1550; she is particularly preoccupied by issues of narrative voice. A particular interest, pursued in her doctoral thesis, concerns literary defences of women written by men from 1440 to 1538. Her work is interdisciplinary, in that it often involves visual studies of text-image relationships, as well as studying the history of the book in this period of transition between manuscript and print cultures. She also integrates critical theory into her work as a tool for opening up new perspectives on earlier literature to modern readers. Her first book, Gender, Writing, and Performance, examined the literary and rhetorical structures of literary defences of women written by men in the period after Christine de Pizan. Her second book, Representing the Dead, addresses issues of identity construction and narrative voice in response to the question 'Who am I when I am dead?'

Helen enjoys working in several collaborations. She has, for instance, contributed work on the Roman de la rose to the MARGOT project, based at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and has participated in the Mellon-sponsored 'Machaut in the Book' project, as well as a British Academy-sponsored group on 'Text/Image Relations in Late Medieval French Culture'. She also recently co-ran, with Prof Sophie Marnette, a research group on 'Voices in Medieval French Narrative', funded by a British Academy Small Grant.

Contributing to the rich interdisciplinarity of Humanities research and teaching at Oxford, she has convened both the MSt in Women's Studies and the MSt in Medieval Studies, and is a founding member of the Oxford Medieval Studies TORCH Programme, as well as serving on the committee of the Women in the Humanities Programme. She has just completed a stint as Vice-President of the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature (

To help prospective applicants better understand the admissions process from a tutor's personal perspective, she completed a tutor's-eye-view video diary of the interview period when she was Schools Liaison Officer for the Modern Languages Faculty.

Helen is currently Communications Fellow for St Hilda's and has been Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages since October 2017.


Select recent publications include:

Representing the Dead: Epitaph Fictions in Late Medieval France (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2016)

Gender, Writing and Performance: Men Defending Women in Late Medieval France (Oxford: OUP, 2008)


Co-edited publications:

with Sophie Marnette, Les voix narratives du récit médiéval: approches linguistiques et littérairesCahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistiques 22 (2011)

with Christine McWebb, The Digital Middle Ages: Teaching and ResearchDigital Medievalist 8 (2012)


Selected recent articles:

'Picturing Narrative Voice: Communication and Displacement', Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age: Re-Examining Guillaume de Machaut's Material Legacy, Digital Philology 5.1 (2016), 28-46

‘Limits of Representation in Late Fifteenth-Century Burgundy: What the Eye Doesn’t Hear and the Ear Doesn’t See’, in Text/Image Relations in Late Medieval French and Burgundian Culture (14th c. - 16th c.), ed. Rosalind Brown-Grant and Rebecca Dixon (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), pp. 65-85

‘The Merits of Not Knowing: The Paradox of espoir certain in Late-Medieval French Narrative Poetry’, inUncertain Knowledge in the Middle Ages, eds. Dallas Denery, Kantik Ghosh, Nicolette Zeeman (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), pp. 185-210

‘“Je l’ay faict ensuivant ma puissance et scavoir”: Narrative Structures of Power in Jehan Du Pré’s Le Palais des nobles dames (1534)’, in Ambition and Anxiety: Courts and Courtly Discourse, c.700–1600, ed. Giles E. M. Gasper and John McKinnell (Toronto: Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Durham University/Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, 2014), pp. 190–216

‘The Poetic “I” ’, in A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Master, ed. Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 15-32