Elizabeth Keen

Elizabeth Keen studied English Language and Literature at Bristol University (BA Hons 1964) with special attention to the medieval period. While raising a family in Australia she worked as a teacher, then resumed her studies in the History Department at The Australian National University (MA 1996, PhD 2002). As a Visiting Fellow in the Department she published a number of papers on the medieval encyclopaedic genre and the monograph Journey of a Book: Bartholomew the Englishman and the Properties of Things (ANU Press) in 2007. The book-chapter ‘Shifting horizons: the medieval compilation of knowledge as mirror of a changing world’ is due to appear in 2011 in Encylopaedism before the Enlightenment ed. J. König and G.Woolf (CUP, in press).

The Journey of a Book »

Bartholomew the Englishman and the Properties of Things

Authored by: Elizabeth Keen
De proprietatibus rerum, ‘On the properties of things’, has long been referred to by scholars as a medieval encyclopedia, but evidence suggests that it has been many things to many people. The sheer number of extant manuscript copies and printed editions, along with translations, adaptations, and mentions in poems and sermons, testify to its continuous significance for Europeans of all estates and different walks of life, from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. While first compiled soon after the time of St Francis by a humble continental friar to meet the needs of his expanding religious brotherhood, by 1600 English men of letters had claimed Bartholomew as a noble compatriot and national treasure. What was it about the work that propelled it through a progression of medieval cultures and into an exalted position in the world of English letters? This reception history traces evidence for the journey of ‘Properties’ over four centuries of social, political and religious change.