Peter Knowles

Department: French
Discipline: Modern Languages
Research Centre/Unit: REACT

Project Summary

My project explores how far the paradigm of 'network' is a useful lens through which to study historical moments in time. More specifically, I am interested in medieval socio-literary networks, and what they can reveal about contemporary social thought. These networks were formed of groups of people, brought together physically or mentally by a common cause or interest. I have identified three branches of these kinds of network: formal, informal, and virtual. All of these networks satisfied the human need to belong, invested participants with social prestige, and facilitated competitive play for their members.

My approach blends historical notions of networks, reception, and social exchange; the literary concept of poetic collaborative debating communities; and wider sociological ideas related to game structure and theory.

On the historical side of things, I’m looking predominantly at three main case studies: the London Puy of c.1300 (my formal network); the court poets who wrote in support of Louis XII’s early sixteenth-century dispute with Pope Julius II (my informal network); and the dual literary motif of the Flower and the Leaf, popular in France and England across the late-fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (my virtual network).

For roughly a third of the project, I am working with Antenna International (, researching how today’s social networks and their gaming features are used in modern cultural spaces. This will provide a comparative point to the medieval networks considered above, and I’m keen to discover how far social networks in today’s cultural spaces are perceived and exploited in similar ways to their medieval counterparts – despite their obvious technical differences. I'm also working alongside Antenna to develop a digital prototype combining Google's Project Tango device with binaural sound which can be used as a new way of experiencing cultural sites.

Supervisory Team

I am primarily supervised by Professor. Emma Cayley, Head of Modern Languages and Associate Professor of Medieval French. My second supervisor is Dr. Elliot Kendall, Senior Lecturer in English.

I am also working closely with the Digital Media team at Antenna International, in particular with Michelle Penn, their Storyteller-in-Chief, and Giles Pooley, their Experience Designer. 

Wider Research Interests

Away from my thesis, I remain fascinated by the wider currents of medieval social history, in particular those of religion and heresy. I am also an enthusiastic participator in the college's Centre for Translating Cultures, which provides an insight into cultural exchange and dialogue across a wonderfully varied selection of spaces and times.