Karen Smyth
  • 0.31 Registry And Council House

Accepting PhD Students

If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile


Karen is Associate Professor of Medieval and Early Modern Literature. Her current work is on the 15th to 17th century Paston Letters, with a focus on the Paston women, wellbeing narratives, medievalism and critical heritage studies. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has served on a range of funding boards and heritage bodies. Formerly she was a Lecturer in Old and Middle English at the University of Nottingham, the Bloomfield Visiting Fellow at the University of Harvard, USA and held a Medieval Academy of America grant at SUNY, Binghamton, USA. Karen completed her BA(hons), PhD and PGCHET at the Queen’s University of Belfast.

External Activities

  • The 'Walking Plus' SIG Director for the Norfolk Green Care Network, 2021-22
  • Advisory Content Panel Member for the Museums and Heritage Annual Show, London, 2018-21
  • Member of the AHRC Peer Review College, 2017-20
  • Public Ambassador for the NCCPE, 2013-15
  • Advisor for HEFCE’s ‘Involving Disabled People in Higher Education’ 2010-14
  • Peer reviewer for The Chaucer Review; The Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, and Heritage Studies.

Key Research Interests and Expertise

In her study of the Paston Letters, Karen's focus is on the untold stories from across the three hundred years of the archive. Another layer of this research is her investigations into how various demographics in today's society connect with and mediate the Paston letters, legends and landmarks, which is opening dialogues with Medical Humanities, heritage studies, creative practitioners and Medievalism.  Her current research focus is on how to democratise pre-modern storytelling and the wellbeing narratives involved in early archive research.

Impact legacies are arising in the form of 'Paston Footprints', a major cultural, health and creative partnership programme with over 60 organisations (so far!), of which she is Co-Director. To date, this work has been funded by the NLHF, ESRC, Arts Council, Historic England and UEA. Winner of the Innovation and Impact 2022 award for Social and Cultural impact, see: Heritage Walks | Paston Footprints and This Is Paston: Welcome to the World of the Pastons

This interest in cross-cultural archive interactions has developed from her publications on heritage, health and place with the social geographer, Andrew Power, in her AHRC ‘Preserving Place’ project on mapping community archival practices. Research into the wellbeing effects of community heritage was inspired by her experience working with UEA’s landscape historians on the ‘All Our Stories’ AHRC Connected Communities project, having spent the previous decade in multiple community co-production projects (on figures such as John Lydgate, Julian of Norwich and William Cunningham). Karen was profiled in RCUK's Concordat for Public Engagment with Research.

In addition, in her monograph Imaginings of Time in Lydgate and Hoccleve’s Verse, in a co-edited interdisciplinary volume with Isabelle Cochelin, Medieval Lifecycles, and in numerous articles on Chaucer and fifteenth-century authors, she has examined time as a cultural construct inherently linked to issues of authorship, authority and artistic eloquence.

Key Responsibilities

  • LDC Library Liaison, 2019 - 
  • Eastern Arc Digital Humanities UEA Lead, 2015-18
  • HUM Research Ethics Committee, 2016-17
  • University Data Management Committee, 2014-16
  • LDC Public Engagement Director, 2014-15
  • Medieval & Early Modern seminar series organiser, 2012-14
  • CHASE (PhD consortium) Medieval & Early Modern UEA lead, 2012-14
  • Q300 (BA English Literature) Course Director, 2008-12
  • Erasmus Co-ordinator, 2012
  • LDC Deputy Plagiarism Officer, 2011
  • Q200 (Comparative Literature) Course Director, 2009
  • LDC Disability Officer, 2008-10

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities