Martha Rust works in the literary-historical period of the Middle Ages, focusing on late- medieval manuscript culture: that network of beliefs and practices-- devotional, pedagogical, economic, technological, agricultural, among others--that constituted the milieu of medieval book production and use. The broader interests she brings to her study of this field include the phenomenology of reading, picture theory, extended mind theory, and the history of writing. Her first book, Imaginary Worlds in Medieval Books: Exploring the Manuscript Matrix, demonstrates the interpretive power of conceptualizing the medieval manuscript as a virtual realm, one that is called forth by a reader’s engagement with a book’s play of picture and text. In her current book project, Lists and the Poetics of Reckoning in Middle English Culture, Rust seeks to develop a theory of a written list as a device that functions within three signifying domains: the domains of words, of pictures, and of things. In the interest of promoting the study of lists from any period, Rust recruited two fellow list scholars to join her in creating the blog Listology: exploring lists in all their possibilities.
Rust’s teaching is inspired by her fascination not only with medieval manuscript culture but also with its contemporary “new media” and “post-modern” analogues. Thus in addition to conventional essay writing, her classes often entail the use of collaborative writing environments such as social annotation and blogs as well as experimentation with a variety of “marginal” genres that characterize medieval pages and web “pages” alike as collage, including the note, anecdote, proverb, commentary, and fragmentary or even found text.