The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Jessica Barr


Jessica Barr, Associate Professor, UMass Amherst

(413) 545-5618

406 Herter Hall

Jessica Barr's research interests include medieval visionary and dream vision literature, hagiography, and the role of reading in medieval devotional activity, as well as feminist approaches to medieval literature. Geographically, her focus tends to be on France, Germany, Belgium, and Britain; temporally, it lies in the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries. Currently, she is exploring attitudes towards death and dying in the writings of medieval Christian mystics. Her most recent book, Intimate Reading: Textual Encounters in Medieval Women’s Visions and Vitae (University of Michigan Press, 2020), explores how medieval women mystical writers sought to transform the book into a point of encounter between the reader and God. She is co-editor of the Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures and an associate editor of Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she was Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Humanities Division at Eureka College.

Frequently taught courses

  • Comp-Lit 122: Spiritual Autobiography (Gen. Ed. AL, DG)
  • Comp-Lit 340: Mystical Literature (Gen. Ed. AL, DG)
  • Comp-Lit 345: Legends of King Arthur (Gen. Ed. AL)
  • Comp-Lit 360: Dreams, Visions, and the Supernatural
  • Comp-Lit 592: Medieval Women Writers (blended graduate/undergraduate seminar)
  • Comp-Lit 697D: Writing Death in the Middle Ages (graduate seminar)


B.A. Oberlin College, 1997; M.A. Brown University, 2003; Ph.D. Brown University, 2007.


  • Middle English

  • French (including Old French)
  • Latin
  • Reading knowledge of German (including Middle High German)


  • Intimate Reading: Textual Encounters in Medieval Women's Visions and Vitae (University of Michigan Press, 2020)
  • Willing to Know God: Dreamers and Visionaries in the Later Middle Ages (Ohio State University Press, 2010)
  • "Rhetorics of Wonder in Three Lives by Goswin of Bossut," Cistercian Studies Quarterly 55.2 (2020): 177-99
  • "The Idea of the Wilderness: Gender and Resistance in Le Roman de Silence," Arthuriana 30.1 (2020): 3-25
  • "Read It and Weep: Somatic Reading and Middle English Devotional Literature," in Vernacular Aesthetics in the Later Middle Ages: Politics, Performativity and Reception from Literature to Music, ed. Katharine W. Jager (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. 271-97
  • "Imagined Bodies: Intimate Reading and Divine Union in Gertrude of Helfta's Legatus," Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 43.2 (2017): 186-208
  • "Visionary 'Staycations': Meeting God at Home in Medieval Women's Vision Literature," Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 52.2 (2016): 70-101
  • "Modeling Holiness: Self-Fashioning and Sanctity in Late-Medieval English Mystical Literature," in Sanctity and Literature: Interfaces of the Text and the Holy in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Anke Bernau and Eva van Contzen (University of Manchester Press, 2015), pp. 80-95
  • "Reading Wounds: Embodied Mysticism in a Fourteenth-Century Codex," Magistra 19.1 (2013): 27-39
  • "The Secret Chamber of Her Mind: Interpreting Inner Experience in the Vita of Beatrice of Nazareth," Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 23.3 (2011): 219-41
  • "Creative Imagination and Didactic Intent in Medieval Visions of the Otherworld: A Response to Fritz Kemmler," Connotations: A Journal of Literary Debate 20.1 (2010-11): 1-11
  • "The Meaning of the Word: Language and Divine Understanding in Marguerite d'Oingt," Mystics Quarterly 33.1-2 (2007): 27-52