D. Vance Smith

Office Phone
37 McCosh Hall
Office Hours

Wednesdays from 3:00pm - 4:20pm, and by appointment


Ph.D. University of Virginia. D. Vance Smith is a medievalist who grew up in Africa, learning isiNdebele along with English as a member of the Khumalo clan of the amaNdebele.  Attending an all-African high school in Kenya, he also spoke Kiswahili and early Sheng (the Kenyan street vernacular). Before graduate school, he wrote two ethnographies on groups of people living in what is now the South Sudan. What he thought of as biographical contradictions—becoming a medievalist of Western Europe despite little direct exposure to Europe except as a postcolonial subject in a Kenyan government school—have become the subject of a full-scale project on Africa and the Middle Ages.

D. Vance Smith has been a Fulbright Scholar (at Magdalen College, Oxford and King’s College, London), an NEH Fellow at the National Humanities Center, a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, and a Guggenheim Fellow. His forthcoming book Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England (University of Chicago Press) is the third book in a series examining the medieval limit experience. The first, The Book of the Incipit, concerns beginnings in medieval and modern philosophy and literature, with Piers Plowman as the central exhibit. The second book, Arts of Possession, meditates on dwelling in medieval romance and economic theory and practice.

The author of two ethnographies on the South Sudan, he works primarily at the nexus of anthropology and philosophy in medieval literature, and teaches and works extensively in philosophy and critical theory. He has written articles on Piers Plowman that examine grammatical theory, nationalism, negation, and the figure of Study, as well as essays on Chaucer on tragedy and Middle English literature. His articles also cover topics like textual editing and manuscript transmission; book history; the masculine body in Middle English writing; women’s account books; medieval institutions and literature; medieval literary and philosophical form; the genesis of philosophy out of fallacy. He has edited a special issue of New Literary History on medieval cultural studies (with Michael Uebel), The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory (with Andrew Cole),  Medieval Literature: Criticism and Debates (with Holly Crocker), and has written a number of prefaces and afterwords for essay collections and journals. Current projects include a study of negation in mysticism from Gregory of Nyssa to Julian Norwich, Love Without Object, and Modernity’s African Unconscious, which he will be working on during 2019-2020 as an Old Dominion Professor.