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The daughter of the military historian M. R. D. Foot, Sarah Foot was educated until 1979 at Withington Girls' School in Manchester. She then went up to Newnham College, Cambridge to study at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, where she was taught by, amongst others, Rosamond McKitterick and Simon Keynes. She gained her doctorate in 1990.
Foot was, from 1989 to 1990, research fellow at Gonville and Caius College before becoming a fellow and tutor there. In 1993 she took up a lectureship at the University of Sheffield where subsequently, in 2001, she was made senior lecturer. In 2004, she was appointed to the newly established chair of Early Medieval History.
On 22 February 2007 Queen Elizabeth II appointed Foot to the Regius Chair of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford. She is the first woman ever to hold this chair. Postholders are expected to lead research and develop graduate studies within their areas of specialisation, and to take a leading part in developing the work of the Oxford Theology Faculty. The professorship is also annexed to a canonry at Christ Church, although the postholder need only be a lay Church member; and at a special ceremony on 6 October 2007 Foot was installed as Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral.
Her main areas of research lie in the history of Anglo-Saxon England, particularly Anglo-Saxon monasteries, women and religion, and the Cistercians. She also works on the history of the early medieval Church and society as well as the invention of the English in historiography, and historical theory. In 2001 she was awarded a major grant to carry out research into the ruined Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire. She has written a biography of Aethelstan, the first king of all England. Among her current projects are the charters of Bury St Edmunds Abbey.
She is an editor of the Oxford History of Historical Writing.
- Handbook of Historical Theory, Sarah Foot and Nancy F. Partner (eds.), London, Sage 2012. ISBN 978-1-4129-3114-4
- Æthelstan: The First English King, New Haven, Yale University Press 2011. ISBN 978-0-300-12535-1
- "Patrick Wormald as Historian", in: Stephen Baxter, Catherine E. Karkov, Janet L. Nelson and David Pelteret (eds.), Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, Farnham, Ashgate 2009. ISBN 0-7546-6331-0
- "Where English becomes British: Rethinking Contexts for Brunanburh", in: Julia Barrow and Andrew Wareham (eds.), Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Brooks, London, Ashgate 2008. ISBN 0-7546-5120-7
- Monastic life in Anglo-Saxon England, c. 600–900, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2006. ISBN 0-521-85946-8
- "Reading Anglo-Saxon charters: Memory, Record or Story?", in: Elizabeth. M. Tyler and Ross Balzaretti (eds.), Narrative and History in the Early Medieval West, Abingdon, Marston 2006. ISBN 2-503-51828-1
- "Finding the Meaning of Form: Narrative in Annals and Chronicles" in: Nancy F. Partner (ed.), Writing Medieval History (Writing History), London, Hodder Arnold 2005. ISBN 0-340-80845-4
- "The Historiography of the Anglo-Saxon 'Nation-State'" in: Len Scales and Oliver Zimmer (eds.), Power and the Nation in European History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2005. ISBN 0-521-84580-7
- "Confronting Violence: a Medieval Perspective on the Ethics of Historiography" Storia della storiografia 42 (2002), pp. 23–41
- Veiled Women I: the Disappearance of Nuns from Anglo-Saxon England, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing 2000. ISBN 0-7546-0043-2
- Veiled Women II: Female Religious Communities in England, 871–1066, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing 2000. ISBN 0-7546-0044-0
- "Remembering, Forgetting and Inventing: Attitudes to the Past in England after the First Viking Age", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series 9 (1999), pp. 185–200
- "English People" in: Michael Lapidge et al. (eds), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford, Blackwell 1998, p. 170f. ISBN 0-631-15565-1
- "The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series 6 (1996), pp. 25–49
- "Violence Against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in Ninth-Century England" Medieval History 1.3 (1991), pp. 3–16
- "Glastonbury's Early Abbots" in: Lesley Abrams and James P. Carley (eds.), The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey: Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C. A. Ralegh Radford, Woodbrigde, Boydell 1991, p. 163-189. ISBN 0-851-15284-8
- "What was an Anglo-Saxon Monastery?" in: Judith Loades (ed.), Monastic Studies, Bangor, Headstart History 1990, p. 48-57. ISBN 1-8730-4100-4
- "Parochial Ministry in Early Anglo-Saxon England: The Role of Monastic Communities" in: W.J. Sheils and Diana Woods (eds.), The Ministry: Clerical and Lay, Oxford, Blackwell 1989, p. 43-54. ISBN 0-631-17193-2
- Brian Bond Obituary: MRD Foot, The Guardian, 21 February 2012
- "Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History University of Oxford". Official bulletin of 10 Downing Street. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
- "First woman to be Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
- "Welcome for Canon Professors". Christ Church, Oxford. Retrieved 10 October 2010.