Michelle Karnes

Associate Professor of English

: Late medieval literature, philosophy, and religion

Degrees: BA, University of California, Berkeley; MA and PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Michelle Karnes studies late medieval literature in its intellectual context. She investigates medieval theories about how literature affects ushow it engages us, confuses us, or amazes usby looking at medieval literature and philosophy in tandem. Her first book, Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages (University of Chicago Press, 2011), explores the role of imagination in medieval religious meditations and theories of cognition. It argues that meditations draw on imagination, as it was newly understood by scholastic philosophers, to give the meditant new power to inhabit imagined scenes. As a consequence, such meditations expand the powers associated with literature. Her current project studies marvels in medieval romance and philosophy. In all of her scholarship, she identifies similar interests between writers of fiction and philosophy, as in the mechanisms of metaphor and the power of marvels, and even in the sort of "truth" that literature lays claim to, and uses those similarities to build arguments about the purpose of literature as it was understood in the late Middle Ages. 


Selected Publications

  • “Wonder, Marvels, and Metaphor in the Squire’s Tale,” English Literary History 82:2 (Summer 2015): 461-90.
  • “Marvels in the Medieval Imagination,” Speculum 90:2 (Spring 2015): 327-65.
  • “Julian of Norwich’s Art of Interpretation,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 42:2 (Spring 2012): 333-63.
  • Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages, University of Chicago Press, 2011. 
  • “Will’s Imagination in Piers Plowman,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 108:1 (Winter 2009): 27-58.
  • “Nicholas Love and Medieval Meditations on Christ,” Speculum 82:2 (Spring 2007): 380-408.



Postal address
Department of English
356 O’Shaughnessy
Notre Dame, IN 46556