William James Simpson

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William James Simpson (born 16 March 1954, Melbourne) is an Australian academic.


Work Life[edit]

Simpson has worked in academia in Australia, the United Kingdom and The United States of America focusing on Medieval Literature more recently on Middle English and Early Modern literature and culture from 1150-1600.


  • Tutor in English Literature and Language, University of Melbourne (1977–1978)
  • Lecturer in English Literature, Westfield College, University of London 1981-89
  • Lecturer, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge (1989–1999)
  • Official Fellow and College Lecturer, Girton College, University of Cambridge (1989–1999)
  • Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English, University of Cambridge (1999–2003)
  • Professorial Fellow, Girton College, University of Cambridge (1999–2003)
  • Life Fellow, Girton College, University of Cambridge (2003)
  • Professor of English and American Literature, Harvard University (2004–2006)
  • Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English, Harvard University (2006-)[1]
  • College Professor, Harvard University (2008-)
  • Chair of Harvard University English Department (2010-)



His early work centred on literary analysis of poetry, especially the late 14th century English poem, Piers Plowman.[2] He later worked on Medieval Humanism. In 2002, he published an award winning literary history.[3] His most recent work, "Burning to Read" centres on the fundamentalist Bible reading in the early 16th century.

Simpson frequently lectures internationally[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] and reviews books extensively for a range of publications.[15][16][17][18][19]

Simpson contributes to many organisations and societies focussing on literature.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

Books: Author[edit]

Books: Editor[edit]

Books: Contributor[edit]


  • “Open, Closed and Divided Books: Reflections on the Two Cambridges,“ Girton College Annual Review, 2004-5 (Girton College Cambridge), pp. 18–20
  • “George Harrison Russell (1923-2006),” Proceedings, Australian Academy of the Humanities (2006), 46-49
  • “Literature on Foot”, for What’s the Word?, NPR, 2007
  • “Crisis in the Humanities? What Crisis?”, in “Off the Page: Harvard University Press Author Forum”
  • “Why Liberals are Weak Faced with Fundamentalism,” History News Network, posted 25 February 2008, at http://hnn.us/articles/46753.html
  • Appearance on “John Leland’s Travels” BBC Radio 3, Sunday 26 April 2009.
  • “Tyndale as Promoter of Figural Allegory and Figurative Language: A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments,” for Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 245 (2008): 37-55
  • “Bonjour Paresse: Literary Waste and Recycling in Book 4 of Gower’s Confessio amantis,” The Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, Publications of the British Academy, 151 (2007), 257-84
  • “Making History Whole: Diachronic History and the Shortcomings of Medieval Studies”, in e-Colloquia, 3 (2005), at http://www.ecolloquia.com/issues/200501/index.html
  • “Confessing Literature,” English Language Notes 44 (2006): 121-26
  • “Chaucer as a European Writer,” in The Yale Companion to Chaucer, ed. Seth Lerer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 55-86
  • “Consuming Ethics: Caxton’s History of Reynard the Fox,” in Studies in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Texts in Honour of John Scattergood, edited by Alan Fletcher and Anne-Marie D’Arcy (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), pp. 321–36
  • “Not the Last Word,” being a reply to review articles for a number of JMEMS wholly dedicated to consideration of Reform and Cultural Revolution, JMEMS, 35 (2005), 111-19.
  • “Martyrdom in the Literal Sense: Surrey’s Psalm Paraphrases,” Medieval and Early Modern English Studies (South Korea), 12 (2004), 133-165
  • “Chaucer’s Presence and Absence, 1400-1550,” A Chaucer Companion, edited by Jill Mann and Piero Boitani, second edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 251–69
  • “Faith and Hermeneutics: Pragmatism versus Pragmatism,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 33 (2003), 215-39
  • “Grace Abounding: Evangelical Centralisation and the End of Piers Plowman,” Yearbook of Langland Studies, 14 (2000), 1-25
  • “Bulldozing the Middle Ages: the Case of “John Lydgate,” New Medieval Literatures, 4 (2000), 213-42
  • “Medieval Literature, Class 1,” in The Virtual Classroom, http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/vclass/virtclas.htm, 2000-
  • “Breaking the Vacuum: Ricardian and Henrician Ovidianism,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 29 (1999), 325-55
  • “Ethics and Interpretation: Reading Wills in Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 20 (1998), 73-100
  • “Ageism: Leland, Bale and the Laborious Start of English Literary History, 1350-1550,” New Medieval Literatures, 1 (1997), 213-35
  • “The Death of the Author?: Skelton’s Bowge of Court,” in The Timeless and the Temporal, Writings in Honour of John Chalker, edited by Elizabeth Maslen (London: Queen Mary and Westfield College, 1993), pp. 58–79
  • “The Information of Genius in Book III of the Confessio Amantis,” Mediaevalia, 16 (1993, for 1990), 159-95
  • “’After Craftes Conseil clotheth yow and fede’: Langland and the City of London,” in England in the Fourteenth Century, Proceedings of the Harlaxton Conference, 1991, edited by N. Rogers (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1993), pp. 111-129
  • “The Information of Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus: a Preposterous Interpretation,” Traditio 47 (1992), 113-160
  • “Poetry as Knowledge: Dante’s Paradiso XIII,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, 25 (1989), 329-43
  • “Ironic Incongruence in the Prologue and Book I of Gower’s Confessio Amantis,” Neophilologus, 72 (1988), 617-32
  • “Spirituality and Economics in Passus I-VII of the B-Text of Piers Plowman,” The Yearbook of Langland Studies, 1 (1987), 83- 103
  • “From Reason to Affective Knowledge: Modes of Thought and Poetic Form in Piers Plowman,” Medium Aevum, 55 (1986), 1-23
  • “The Transformation of Meaning: a Figure of Thought in Piers Plowman,” Review of English Studies, n.s. 37 (1986), 1-23
  • “Dante’s “Astripetam Aquilam” and the Theme of Poetic Discretion in the House of Fame,” Essays and Studies, n.s. 39 (1986), 1-18
  • “Et Vidit Deus Cogitationes Eorum: a Parallel Instance and Possible Source for Langland’s Use of a Biblical Formula at Piers Plowman B.XV.200a,” Notes and Queries, n.s. 33 (1986), 9-13
  • “Spiritual and Earthly Nobility in Piers Plowman,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 86 (1985), 467-81


  1. ^ English: Graduate & alumni profiles - Melbourne University
  2. ^ Piers Plowman: An Introduction to the B-Text, Longman Medieval and Renaissance Library, 1 (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1990)
  3. ^ Reform and Cultural Revolution, 1350-1547, Vol 2 of The Oxford English Literary History, General Editor Jonathan Bate (Oxford University Press, 2002)
  4. ^ Clarendon Lectures, Oxford University Press and University of Oxford(2009): "The Sins of the Fathers: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition"
  5. ^ Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, British Academy (2006): "Bonjour Paresse: Idleness in Middle English Literature"
  6. ^ University of Chicago, English Department and Center for British Studies (2009): "Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the English Revolution"
  7. ^ University of Oxford, “After Arundel” Conference (2009): "Images in and Around Arundel"
  8. ^ Melbourne University, Australia (2008): "Iconoclasm in Melbourne, Massachusetts and the Museum of Modern Art"
  9. ^ University of Western Australia(2008) "Leaning to Die: The pre-Reformation English Image"
  10. ^ Duke University, “In the Footsteps of Petrarch”: International Conference(2004): "Subjects of Triumph and Literary History: Dido and Petrarch in Petrarch’s Trionfi and Africa"
  11. ^ Korea National University, November (2003): "Martyrdom in the Literal Sense: Surrey’s Psalm Paraphrases"
  12. ^ Université Paris I, Sorbonne, December (2002): "Diachronic History and the Shortcomings of Medieval Studies"
  13. ^ University of Victoria, BC, Lansdowne Lecture (2002): "Reform and Cultural Revolution 1350-1550"
  14. ^ University of Cambridge, Inaugural Lecture(2000): "The Rule of Medieval Imagination"
  15. ^ Ian Gadd and Alexandra Gillespie, eds., John Stow (1525-1605) and the Making of the English Past: Studies in Early Modern Culture and the History of the Book. (London: The British Library, 2004), for Speculum 81 (2006), 849-50
  16. ^ Ralph Hanna, London Literature, 1300-1380 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xxi, 359, for Studies in the Age of Chaucer 28 (2006): 290-93
  17. ^ Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, for Speculum 82 (2006), 198-200
  18. ^ john Bowers, Chaucer and Langland: The Antagonistic Tradition. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007, for Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 30 (2008), 343-46
  19. ^ J.A. Burrow, The Poetry of Praise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), for Notes and Queries, 56 (2009): 278-280
  20. ^ Organizer, Cultural Reformations Conference, Harvard University 13–16 September 2008
  21. ^ Founding Co-editor, with David Aers and Sarah Beckwith, ReFormations: Medieval and Early Modern, a monograph series published by University of Notre Dame Press, 2006- (two books published by 2009)
  22. ^ Trustee, New Chaucer Society, 2004-2006
  23. ^ Initiator and organiser of “Suffering History: Martyrdom in England 1401-1573,” 30 June-2 July, Queens” College Cambridge 2002
  24. ^ Co-organiser of the Second International Langland Conference, 29–31 July 1999, University of North Carolina, Asheville
  25. ^ Co-organiser of “Images, Idolatry and Iconoclasm,” an interdisciplinary conference at King’s College Cambridge Research Centre, 29–30 June 1999
  26. ^ Member, Editorial Board, Parergon, Journal of the Australian & New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1999-
  27. ^ Co-Editor, Yearbook of Langland Studies Vol 14, 1993-1996
  28. ^ Secretary, London Medieval Society, 1987-89