Research Summary

Alison Beach's primary scholarly interest is in medieval European religious history, with a focus on spirituality and intellectual life in twelfth-century monastic communities.

Her latest monograph, Women Among the Disciples: Female Religious Life in the High Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania Press, under contract) is rooted in the notion of female apostolic authority, including the idea that women were present among the biblical apostles as well as in other important contexts in the Gosepels. The book seeks to understand developments in female religious life without prioritizing the development of formal male-centered monastic orders and it challenges the notion that women were marginal at best, and a significant burden at worst, to what was primiarly a male movement. The book engages deeply with evidence from material culture in order to eluciate the lived experience of medieval religious women. It stands apart from other studies of medieval religious women for its careful attention to a broad range of evidence, including manucripts, archaeology, and bio-archeology.

Together with Isabelle Cochelin, Prof. Beach has recently edited the "magisterial" 2-volume Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West (Cambridge University Press, January 2020). The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West offers a comprehensive treatment of medieval monasticism, from Late Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. The essays, specially commissioned for this volume and written by an international team of scholars, with contributors from Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, cover a range of topics and themes and represent the most up-to-date discoveries in the history of medieval monasticism in the West.

Prof. Beach's recently-published monograph, The Trauma of Monastic Reform: Community and Conflict in Twelfth-Century Germany (Cambridge University Press, October 2017), examines the monastery of Petershausen in Constance, Germany, and its experiences during the Hirsau Reform. It opens a window on the lived experience of monastic reform in the twelfth century. Drawing on a variety of textual and material sources from the south German monastery of Petershausen, it begins with the local process of reform and moves out into intertwined regional social, political, and ecclesiastical landscapes. The book reveals how the shock of reform initiated decades of anxiety at Petershausen and raised doubts about the community's communal identity, its shifting internal contours and boundaries, and its place within the broader spiritual and social landscapes of Constance and Swabia. The Trauma of Monastic Reform goes beyond reading monastic narratives of reform as retrospective expressions of support for the deeds and ideals of a past generation of reformers to explore the real human impact that the process could have, both on the individuals who comprised the target community and on those who lived for generations in its aftermath.

Google Scholar page.



Women Among the Disciples: Female Religious Life in the High Middle Ages, University of Pennsylvania Press, under contract.
(ed. with Anne Diekjobst and Agnes Schormann) Epistolary Cultures and the Medieval Cloister. Communication, Consolidation, and Change, Brepols, under contract.
(with Shannon Turner Li and Samuel Sutherland) Monastic Experience in Twelfth-Century Germany: The Chronicle of Petershausen in Translation, Manchester University Press, 2020.
(ed., with Isabelle Cochelin) The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West: Origins to the Eleventh Century (Volume 1). Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Reviews (of both volumes)

(ed., with Isabelle Cochelin) The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West: The High and Late Middle Ages (Volume 2). Cambridge University Press, 2020.
The Trauma of Monastic Reform: Community and Conflict in Twelfth-Century Germany, Cambridge University Press, 2017.


(ed., with Lisa Bitel and Constance Berman) June L. Mecham, Sacred Communities, Shared Devotions: Gender, Medieval Culture, and Monastiscism in Late Medieval Germany, Brepols, 2014.


(ed.) Manuscripts and Monastic Culture: Reform and Renewal in Twelfth-Century Germany, Brepols, 2007.


Women as Scribes: Book Production and Monastic Reform in Twelfth-Century Bavaria, Cambridge University Press, 2004.




"Living and Working in a Twelfth-Century Woman's Monastic Community," in The Cambridge Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Jennifer Bain, Cambridge University Press, 2020, forthcoming.

"Who were the Scribes?" in Oxford Handbook of Latin Paleography, ed. Frank T. Coulson, Oxford University Press, 2020, forthcoming.

"Placet nobis electio: The Election and Investiture of the Abbess at Fourteenth-Century Nivelles," in The Liber ordinarius of Nivelles (Houghton Library, MS Lat 422) Liturgy as Interdisciplinary Intersection, eds. Jeffrey Hamburger and Eva Schlotheuber, Mohr Siebeck, 2020, forthcoming.

(with Andra Juganaru) "The Double Monastery as a Historiographical Problem," in Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West, eds. Alison I. Beach and Isabelle Cochelin, Cambridge University Press, 2020, pp. 561-578.

"Medieval Women's Early Involvement in Manuscript Production Suggested by Lapis Lazuli Identification in Dental Calculus," (with A. Radini, M. Tromp, E. Tong, C. Speller, M. McCormick, J.V. Dudgeon, M. Collins, F. Rühili, R. Kröger, and C. Warinner), Science Advances 5(1), January 2019.

"In diu desideratum mansiunculam. Der Weg zum Inklusentum in den Heiligenviten von Verena und Wiborada" in Konstanz und Wandel. Religiöse Lebensformen im europäischen Mittelalter, eds. Gordon Blennemann, Christine Kleinjung and Thomas Kohl, Didymos-Verlag, 2017.

"Shaping Liturgy, Shaping History: a Cantor-Historian from Twelfth-Century Petershausen," in Medieval Cantors and Their Craft: Music, Liturgy and the Shaping of History, 800-1500, eds. Margot Fassler, Katie Bugyis, and Andrew Kraebel, Boydell and Brewer for the York Medieval Press, 2017.

"'Mathild de Niphin' and the Female Scribes of Twelfth-Century Zwiefalten," in Nuns' Literacies in Medieval Europe: The Hull Dialogue, eds. Virginia Blanton, Veronica O'Mara, and Patricia Stoop, Brepols Publishers, 2013, pp. 33-50.

"Keeping the Bishop at Bay in the Twelfth-Century Chronicle of Petershausen," in Canon Law, Religion, and Politics, eds. Uta-Renate Blumenthal, Anders Winroth, and Peter Landau, Catholic University Press, 2012, pp. 185-198.

"The Dream-Vision of Bernhard of Petershausen: an Image in a Reformed Landscape," in Looking Beyond: Visions, Dreams, and Insights in Medieval Art and History, ed. Colum Hourihane, Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 75-83.

"Gottesdienst und Leben nach der Regel," in Cultus Cultura cultivare: Die Kulturlandschaft Disibodenberg und das Wirken der Hildegard von Bingen. ed. Falko Daim, Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, 2009.

"The Multiform Grace of the Holy Spirit: Salvation History and the Book of Ruth at Twelfth-Century Admont," in Manuscripts and Monastic Culture: Reform and Renewal in Twelfth-Century Germany, ed. Alison I. Beach, Brepols Publishers, 2007, pp. 125-137.

"Listening for the Voices of Admont’s Twelfth-Century Women" in Voices in Dialogue: New Problems in Women’s Cultural History, eds. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Linda Olson, Notre Dame University Press, 2003, pp. 187-198.

"Voices from a Distant Land: Fragments of a Twelfth-Century Nuns’ Letter Collection" Speculum 77(1):34-54, January 2001.

"Claustration and Collaboration between the Sexes in the Twelfth-Century Scriptorium," in Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society, eds. Sharon Farmer and Barbara H.Rosenwein (Cornell University Press 2000), pp. 57-75.


Popular Writing

"Anonymous was a Woman: Illuminating the Writing and Art of Religious Women in the Middle Ages" (with Christina Warinner), In Situ: News and Events of the Harvard Standing Committee on Archeology, Spring 2020.

"Nuns were secluded to avoid scandals in early Christian monastic communities (with Maria Chiara Giorda), posted at The Conversation, 21 March 2019.


Book Reviews

Fiona Griffiths, Nuns' Priests' Tales: Men and Salvation in Medieval Womens Monastic Life (2018), in Church History (forthcoming).

Steven Vanderputten, Dark Age Nunneries: The Ambiguous Identity of Female Monasticism, 800-1050 (2018), in The American Historical Review (forthcoming).

Kathleen Thompson, The Monks of Tiron: a Monastic Community and Religious Reform in the Twelfth Century (2014) in Speculum 91(1):261-263 (January 2016).

Fiona Griffiths and Julie Hotchin, ed. Partners in Spirit: Women, Men, and Religious Life in Germany, 1100-1500 (2014) in The American Historical Review 120(4):1539-1540 (October 2015).

Katherine Sykes, Inventing Sempringham: Gilbert of Sempringham and the Origins of the Role of the Master (2011) in Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies 2:189-190 (2013).

Gert Melville and Anna Müller, eds. Female 'vita religiosa' between Late Antiquity and the Hight Middle Ages: Structures, Developments and Spatial Contexts (2011), in Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies 2:186-187 (2013) .

Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen and her Gospel Homilies: Speaking New Mysteries (2009) in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 63(1):141-143 (January 2012).

Erika Lauren Lindgren, Sensual Encounters: Monastic Women and Spirituality in Medieval Germany (2009) in Francia-Recensio 2010(4).

Cynthia J. Cyrus, The Scribes for Women's Convents in Late Medieval Germany (2009), in Manuscripta 56(1):140-143 (2012).

Heinzer, Felix, Klosterreform und mittelalterliche Buchkultur im deutschen Südwesten (2008), in Medium Aevum 78(2):324 (2009).

Malcolm Parkes, Their Hands before our Eyes: a Closer Look at Scribes (2008), The Medieval Review (2009).

Hartmut Hoffmann, Schreibschulen des 10. und des 11. Jahrhunderts in Südwesten Deutschen Reichs (2004), in Speculum 82(1):197-198 (January 2007).

Anne Winston-Allen, Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Middle Ages (2004), in The American Catholic Historical Review 91(1):116-117 (January 2006).

Constance H. Berman (trans.), Women and Monasticism in Medieval Europe:  Sisters and Patrons of the Cistercian Reform (2002), in Speculum 79(4):1034-1035 (October 2004).

Constant Mews (ed.), Listen, Daughter:  The Speculum Virginum and the Formation of Religious Women in the Middle Ages (2001), in Speculum 79(2):526-529 (April 2004).


Entries in Encylopedias

"Scribes, Compilers, and Illuminators," in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: an Encyclopedia, Margaret C. Schaus, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2006).

15 Entries on "Roman Catholicism" in The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, Barbara A. Chernow and George A. Vallasi, eds. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).