My 2020 book, The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Woodbridge, UK: D.S. Brewer / Boydell & Brewer), has won the 2021 Frank D. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Book Prize from the American Society of Church History. The prize is awarded annually for outstanding scholarship in the history of Christianity by a first-time author.
The award committee's laudatio in full:
In The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation, Laura Saetveit Miles examines the complex and dynamic relationship between understandings of the biblical story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38) and a common medieval image associated with that story – Mary reading a book at the time of Gabriel’s visit – as key elements in a study of reading and devotion in medieval England. Miles’s book continues to pull at threads surrounding this seemingly simple image, with remarkable results. In some cases, she shows how male authors and artists used imitatio Mariae to encourage (or discourage) women’s agency in reading and interpreting the Bible, or in engaging in contemplative devotion. But there existed a wide variety of understandings of what Mary was reading. Some thought she was reading – and singing – the Psalms in an act of solitary worship. Others believed that she was reading a passage from the Book of Isaiah that foretold her role as the mother of Jesus. By then re-reading well-known visionary accounts of medieval women within the context of this complex interpretive tradition, Miles demands a re-thinking of these visions’ meanings. This intensive linguistic and imagological interpretation also bring new insights to previous treatments of the Annunciation as presented in texts and manuscript illuminations meant for laypeople as well as for religious, and in the rituals and images at the famed Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This ground-breaking study in textual and iconographic interpretation interweaves many forms of analysis around one tightly defined set of ideas, giving new insights into late medieval female spirituality that will inform all subsequent studies on this topic.
In total, the monograph has now been reviewed in Speculum, Journal of the Early Book Society, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Medieval Feminist Forum, The Medieval Review, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, and CHOICE. Select quotes from various reviews can be found under Publications.