Dr Cynthia Ann Johnston

Contact details

Dr Cynthia Ann Johnston
BS, MA, MPhil, (English) New York University, MSt (Medieval Studies),with distinction, University of Oxford, PhD University of London (2015)
Lecturer in History of the Book, MA History of the Book Course Tutor
Institute of English Studies
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
English Literature, History of the book, Manuscript studies, Medieval History
England, Europe, United Kingdom
Spoken Written
Latin - Intermediate
French - Good
Spanish - Good
Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
15-Aug-2016 ‘In the custom of this country’: The Migration of Decorative Style in Thirteenth-century Reading Abbey Manuscripts

Journal articles

 Reading Medieval Studies (2016)

01-Jan-2015 Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West

Edited Book

 Exhibition catalogue for 'Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West' at 2 Temple Place, London, from January-April 2015

01-Jun-2014 A Model Community? An Investigation into the use of models in the work of William de Brailes


 Chapter in The Use of Models in Medieval Book Painting, ed. Monika E. Muller (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), pp. 89-109

01-Nov-2013 Blackburn's Worthy Citizen: The Philanthropic Legacy of R.E. Hart

Edited Book

 Exhibition catalogue (IES Publications) for AHRC funded exhibition in Senate House Library of 10 manuscripts from the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Lancashire in November 2013.

01-Jan-2009 'For What Purpose Do They Spend? Some Preliminary Thoughts on Penwork Produced by William de Brailes and his Collaborators

Journal articles

This article was published in Cambridge University's online medievalist journal, Marginalia, in June of 2009. I propose that the penflourishing techniques used by William de Brailes and his collaborators found its genesis in book making ateliers of early thirteenth-century Paris.

Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
Sep-2014 The Development of Penflourishing in Manuscripts Produced in England between 1180 and 1280


The development of penflourishing in manuscripts produced in the thirteenth century is a significant factor in the design and aesthetic of the central and late medieval book. The rise of commercial production, undertaken by lay professionals in urban centres, is associated with the emergence of penflourished decoration to books in a broad range of genres, sometimes as a cheaper alternative to painted embellishment, but sometimes also as an aesthetic choice by the patron. This dissertation examines the development of penflourishing in English manuscripts from c. 1180-c. 1280. Firstly the historiography of art-historical criticism on the subject of penflourishing is examined. Both the specific components of the flourishes and consideration of their heuristic function are discussed. A consolidation of diverse vocabulary from European critics is proposed. Discussion of the development of penflourishing in English manuscripts in the twelfth century follows and it is proposed that the techniques that will be developed in thirteenthcentury flourishing are already present within the design vocabulary of the decorated twelfth-century letter. The influence of Italian flourishing technique, developed in tandem with the production of books associated with the study of law at Bologna and other northern Italian centres, is identified with regard to specific components. This process of identification makes it possible to recognize Italian technique in the context of books produced in both Paris and Oxford. The circle of Oxford’s most prolific illuminator, William de Brailes, is investigated to evaluate the influence of Italian penflourishing techniques. The use of these techniques, and others, notably the use of filigree puzzle initials, is examined with regard to the type of book produced and the implied financial expenditure by the patron. Finally the use of flourishing in the work of two contemporaneous circles, those of the Sarum Master and William of Devon, are analysed and the role of penflourishing in the de Brailes corpus is compared. It is concluded that Italian penflourishing technique had a significant impact on the development of penflourished embellishment in England in the thirteenth century, and that de Brailes’ use of this type of flourishing was an early and influential part of the development of this style.

Nov-2016 ‘In the custom of this country’: The Migration of Decorative Style in Thirteenth-century Reading Abbey Manuscripts


This paper discusses the emergence of a specific decorative technique, developed by scribes producing legal textbooks in late twelfth-century Bologna. The migration of this marginal, penwork technique is traced from Bologna to Paris and Oxford, and identified in surviving manuscripts known to have been in the possession of Reading Abbey in the thirteenth-century.

Publications available on SAS-space

Publications available in Senate House Libraries

Research Projects & Supervisions

Research projects:

Academic Partnership Between The Blackburn Musuem and Art Gallery and IES (2015-17)

This project, funded for two years by the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, brings the academic expertise of the book historians as IES to the R.E. Hart collection of Manuscripts and Rare Books bequeathed to the Museum by Hart upon his death in 1946. My role is to resource world authorities on the various types of manuscripts an books within the Hart collection , and to arrange for these scholars to visit the museum and work on the collection. They are also required to give a public talk for the museum on their research findings, and to allow the museum to publish their papers on the museum website. Visiting scholars thus far have included: Professor Nigel Morgan,emeritus, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, and John Goldfinch of the British Library. Drs. Clair Bolton and Richard Lawrence will be visiting the museum in October and November of this year. The research generated by the Partnership will also support the Museum's bid for National Designation for the Hart Collection in January of 2016. I am assisting the museum in the development of this bid.

Research in Translation, AHRC funded training scheme with the Museum School of Leicester University (2015)

 I participated in this year long AHRC funded project run by the Musuem School at Leicester University to train academics to engage with the public via exhibitions. The project culminated with a display of projects produced by the 12 ECRs who worked on the project. My interactive display featured my research on penwork in 12th and 13th century manuscripts. The exhibition of 'Research in Translation' is on display at the Musuem School at Leicester University through February 2016.

UCL Public Engagement Train and Engage (2015-16)

 My project, a podcast for the Blackburn Musuem, was chosen for development by this research group. The project will run through June of 2016. 

Available for doctoral supervision: Yes

Relevant Events

Related events:

Date Details
07-Mar-2015 • ‘Dissemination and Production: The Progress of Information’, 3rd-4th July 2015, IES, SAS, University of London

05-Feb-2015 "Robert Elms" BBC London Radio

 Interview with Robert Elms about Cotton to Gold exhibition.  c. 500,000 listeners to Robert's 1:30pm slot

28-Jan-2015 Front row: Internet Vice, Dara, Teen Film Tropes, Cotton to Gold"

 Lead interview for BBC Radio 4's Frontrow programme with Samira Ahmed

01-Jan-2015 • ‘Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial North West' exhibition with Dr Jack Hartnell of the Courtauld Institute, 2 Temple Place, London, January-April, 2015.

 Collections of eleven Edwardian industrialists from Pennine Lancashire including R.E. Hart’s collection of manuscripts, incunables, early printed books, early writing material, first editions and nineteenth-century illustrated books, Hart’s collection of coins, including the only complete collection of Roman Imperial coins outside the British Museum. Other collections include Europe’s largest collection of Tiffany glass, Russian icons, Japanese prints, ivories, preserved beetles and taxidermied birds, as well as ten undisplayed Turner watercolours, early Millais prints and Landseer lithographs. 

23-Nov-2013 • ‘Blackburn’s Worthy Citizen: The Philanthropic Legacy of R.E. Hart’, IES, SAS, University of London, 23rd November 2013, AHRC-funded project

01-Nov-2013 • ‘Blackburn’s Worthy Citizen: The Philanthropic Legacy of R.E. Hart’, Senate House Library, November, 2013 (Manuscripts and Incunables from Blackburn Museum)

23-Nov-2011 The Future Perfect of the Book: A One -Day Colloquium sponsored by the Book History Research Network

This colloquium drew together speakers from Europe and the United States to address the question of not only the future of the book in the age of digital media, but also the future perfect of the book. We queried whether similar transitional periods, from scroll to codex, from manuscript to printed book, and from printing on the handpress to machine and offset printing had witnessed familiar anxieties in the transition from one culture of production to another. Speakers also addressed the future of the book with regard to the practice of reading via digital mediums, the positive and perilous conditions of digital academic publications, and the future of bookshops themselves in sociological terms.

Knowledge transfer activities:

"Rags and bones. A mummy unearthed when cotton was king» Maev Kennedy

 The Guardian

2 February 2015

"Colour of money" Caroline Bugler

  Country Life

4 February 2015

"Get a foot in the door" Sara O’Reilly

 Time Out London

13 February 2015


Two page spread/ review of exhibition

"Cotton to Gold" Kate West

 Barbican Life

March 2015

Review of Cotton to Gold

«Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary collections of the industrial North West» Marian Maitland

 Kensington Chelsea & Westminster Today

March 2015


Review of Cotton to Gold

Tendencias del Mercado del Arte

 Review of Cotton to Gold

March 2015



"World of treasures from the North" Laura Gascoigne

 The Oldie

March 2015


Review of Cotton to Gold

"World of treasures from the North" Laura Gascoigne

 The Oldie

March 2015


Review of Cotton to Gold

"World of treasures from the North" Laura Gascoigne

 The Oldie

March 2015


Review of Cotton to Gold

"Culture Navigator»

 Japan Journal

5 February 2015

"‘I would prefer that my bankers did not know just how much I am spending on books…’: The Collections of R.E. Hart’

 for the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress,


• ‘In the Custom of this Country; The Transmigration of Bolognese Decorative Style in Thirteenth-century Oxford and Reading Abbey Manuscripts’,

 for Reading, Scholarship and the Art of the Book at Reading Abbey Conference, 17th April, 2015. Proceedings to be published in 2016.

• ‘‘Because it was just his life’: The Collections of R.E. Hart’ for 2 Temple Place, London

 Presented as part of public engagement programme for 2 Temple Place

"Capital set to be dazzled by treasures of north"

 Lancashire Telegraph

3 January 2015, by be dazzled by treasures of north"

Jon Robinson


Preview of Cotton to Gold Exhibition

"Cotton to Gold" Jackie Wullschlager

 Financial Times

31 January 2015/ 1 February 2015

"Cotton to Gold" David Gleeson

 World of Interiors

February 2015


Review of Cotton to Gold exhibition

"Heading south: treasures of the cotton barons"

 London Evening Standard

6 January 2015, by Louise Jury


Preview of Cotton to Gold exhibition

"The Medici of Victorian England"

 The Independent

18 January 2015 by Claudia Pritchard


Preview of Cotton to Gold exhibition

"Community conscious? ‘Cotton to Gold’ explores industry and philanthropy" Wessie du Toit

 Apollo Magazine

30 January 2015

Consultancy & Media
Available for consultancy:
Media experience:
Back to top