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Unique partnership between the Universities of Oxford and Freiburg

Henrike Lähnemann begins professorship in Medieval German studies at the University of Oxford with a regular presence in Freiburg
Unique partnership between the Universities of Oxford and Freiburg

Bodleian Library,MS.Don.e.248, fol. 20v

On 21st January 2016, Henrike Lähnemann will officially assume the Chair in Medieval German studies at the University of Oxford with a public lecture on manuscripts from northern German convents. The chair is the result of a partnership between the University of Oxford, the University of Freiburg and renowned German foundations. Each year, Lähnemann will spend two months in Freiburg as a fellow at FRIAS, where she will strengthen the close cooperation between Medieval German studies in Freiburg and Oxford. Henrike Lähnemann is the first woman in 150 years to hold a chair in Modern European Languages at Oxford.

The picture of the manuscript shows Psalm 1 with King David and Bernhard of Clairvaux.


Laehnemann_OxfordThe chair is an example of new forms of collaboration in the humanities and at the same time signals the strengthening of German studies in Great Britain. “Examples of this model can be found in the Middle Ages, when scholars switched between universities, invigorating academic culture,” Lähnemann noted. During her time in Freiburg, she will hold lectures and workshops at the university and foster communication with colleagues in German studies and Medieval studies in addition to conducting her own research at FRIAS. She is especially looking forward to bolstering the internationalization of Medieval German studies in Freiburg on the basis of her experiences with competency trainings for graduate students and early-stage researchers at Oxford. As the chair of "Women in German Studies" (WIGS) she also advocates for increasing the number of women in German studies as well as the visibility of Modern European Languages in Great Britain.


Henrike Lähnemann already demonstrated the contemporary relevance of Medieval studies when she first spent two months at FRIAS in summer 2015. In a workshop for students and doctoral students, she offered direct support, for example in writing abstracts in English or using Twitter and other social networks for publicizing research. She herself actively makes use of possibilities offered by the internet to make her research accessible and comprehensible through blogs and networks.


The Chair of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at the University of Oxford is the only chair outside of German-speaking countries dedicated entirely to the German Middle Ages. Located in St. Edmund Hall College, the chair was created in 1972 for Professor Peter Ganz, who championed strong connections between German Medieval studies in Germany and Great Britain during his tenure. He was succeeded in 1992 by the medievalist Nigel F. Palmer, who, along with the Rector of the University of Freiburg, Prof. Schiewer, started the project "Cultural Topography of Southwestern Germany", which laid the foundation for close cooperation between Medieval studies at the Universities of Freiburg and Oxford. After Palmer was made a professor emeritus, the future of the chair was initially uncertain. Through the initiatives of the Volkswagen Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the New University Foundation Freiburg (“Freiburger Neue Universitätsstiftung”) and various faculties at the University of Oxford, it was possible to ensure funding for the chair and pave the way for a unique partnership between the Universities of Oxford and Freiburg in the person of Henrike Lähnemann.


Lähnemann's research focuses on religious literature in the Low-German region, in particular the manuscript tradition of the Cistercian convent in Medingen during the 15th century. In her inaugural lecture, she will draw on the contents of the Medinger prayer books as well as the evidence of their use to discuss why nuns in the early printing age increasingly emphasized the material aspect of their manuscripts with precious embellishments and personal touches. One of her first official acts as a professor at Oxford was to acquire a psalter from the Medinger Convent for the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The psalter will be carried by the Abbess of Medingen in the procession for Prof. Lähnemann’s official inauguration. Lähnemann is especially fascinated by the nuns' self-assured stance, which makes it possible to discern a unique theological profile in their writings. For example, the Medinger nuns translated their prayers from Latin to Low German, which made their religious messages accessible to laypeople.

Henrike Lähnemann's next stay in Freiburg will be in July and August 2016.

Press release of the University of Freiburg, FRIAS, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Volkswagen Foundation

Further information on Henrike Lähnemann is available on the websites of FRIAS and the University of Oxford.

Pictures: St. Edmund Hall