William Purkis

Colleges, School and Institutes


I developed an enthusiasm for the Middle Ages as an undergraduate student at Lancaster University, where I completed a BA (Hons.) in History in 1999 and an MA in Historical Research in 2000. In October 2001 I began doctoral research at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I worked under the supervision of Jonathan Riley-Smith. Upon completion of my PhD in September 2005, I taught for two years at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Queen Mary, University of London. I was appointed to a lectureship in medieval history at Birmingham in 2007, promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2012, and to Reader in 2016.

Research interests

I am currently working on the following research projects:

Bearers of the Cross: Material Religion in the Crusading World, 1095–c.1300

I have been awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellows grant for this project, which will run from 2015 until 2017. The project is studying the lived, material religion of crusaders through a wide-ranging analysis of the texts, art, architecture and material culture associated with crusader belief. It explores the devotional worlds that those who ‘took the cross’ inhabited, examining the ritual practices crusaders observed, the religious objects and images they treasured, and the sacred spaces they shaped and were shaped by. The principal output of the project will be a monograph, to be published by Yale University Press. The project also involves collaboration with a post-doctoral research assistant and a partnership with the Museum of the Order of St John (MOSJ) - ‘a hidden jewel in the City of London’. With a direct connection to a religious order founded in Jerusalem in the early twelfth century, MOSJ has an important but little-known collection of crusader material culture. The project team are studying and raising awareness of this collection through the development of an open access database for use by scholars, MOSJ staff, volunteers and visitors, heritage professionals and a wider public. As part of the project there will also be a series of public lectures (2016–17), a conference on medieval material religion (June 2016), and a workshop on best practice in collaborations between academics and heritage professionals (December 2017). 

In my past research I have worked on monastic influences on the religious ideas and devotional practices of the eleventh- and twelfth-century laity, with a focus on the spiritual ideals associated with crusading and pilgrimage in the Iberian peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean. In my first book, Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c.1095-c.1187, I placed the origins and evolution of crusading ideology within a broader context of ideas more normally associated with monastic reform; in particular, I considered how ideas of the imitation of Christ and the pursuit of an apostolic life influenced early crusader piety. I have also worked on the relationship between ideas of crusading and reconquest in eleventh- and twelfth-century Iberia and assessed the impact of crusading ideas on peninsular perceptions of the past. My most recent publications have examined the relationship between the Cistercian Order and the crusading movement, with a specific focus on the way that the Cistercians integrated their involvement in crusading into the Order’s sense of institutional memory and its traditions of storytelling.

I have also worked in collaboration with Dr Thomas Asbridge and Dr Nicholas Morton on the construction of an on-line historiographical database of scholars working in the field of crusader studies. The project’s website contains profiles of a range of individuals who have made significant contributions to the history of the crusades and the Latin East from the early nineteenth century to the present day

Willingness to take PhD students


PhD projects

I am currently supervising the following postgraduate research students and topics:

Frances Durkin, ‘Crusade Preachers: Identities and Impact, 1095–c.1215’
Georgina Fitzgibbon, ‘Comparisons, Connections and Contexts: Cistercian Monasticism and the Cult of Saints’ Relics, c.1100-c.1250’ (AHRC funded, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow)
Moayad Hanoush, ‘Devotional Practice in the “Counter-Crusades”’ (co-supervised with Dr Arezou Azad)
John Seasholtz, ‘The Economic Impact of the Camino de Santiago on Local Communities in Medieval Spain’
Ian Styler, 'An Analysis of the Longevity, Influence and Success (or Otherwise) of the Shrine of St Æthelthryth at Ely' (funded by the College of Arts and Law, co-supervised with Dr Simon Yarrow)

Recently completed postgraduate research students:

Michael Alley, 'Was the Norman Conquest of Sicily, 1060–91, a Proto-Crusade?' - MRes Medieval History (2016)
Beth Spacey, 'Miracles and Marvels in Latin Narrative Histories of the Crusades, 1095–1204'
Ian Styler, ‘Establishing and Analysing the Sphere of Influence of Saints Oswald and Wulfstan of Worcester, c.950 to c.1400’ - MPhil(B) Medieval History (2014)
I would be pleased to discuss the possibility of supervising dissertations on any aspect of the religious cultures of the central Middle Ages (particularly the history of crusading, pilgrimage and monasticism) and/or the social and cultural history of Iberia or the Latin East.