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He was a Lecturer, then College Lecturer, at the Department of Medieval History, University College Dublin from 1970 to 1978. He was a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in early medieval history at the Department of History, University of York, 1978 to 1995, as well as Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York from 1990 to 1995.
He was Professor of Medieval History at the University of Reading from 1995 to 2004 and was a Director of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, 1999–2001.
He has researched Late Roman and early medieval history; the history of the barbarians, particularly of the Franks; the writings of Gregory of Tours (whom he has also translated); and the history of science fiction, fantasy, and utopian literature. He was Professor of Medieval History, in the School of History, University College Dublin, from 2004 until his retirement in 2012.
He is also a noted academic writer on science fiction and fantasy, and was the editor of Foundation – The International Review of Science Fiction from 1986 to 2001. He won the Eaton Award for best critical work on science fiction for Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (1994). The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2003; ISBN 0-521-81626-2), which he edited with Farah Mendlesohn, won the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Related Book. A companion volume, The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, also edited with Mendlesohn (Cambridge University Press, 2012; ISBN 9780521429597), collects chapters by Brian Attebery, Gregory Frost, Alexander C. Irvine, Paul Kincaid, Adam Roberts, Gary K. Wolfe, and others. (This second volume earned a protest, for its lack of coverage of epic fantasy, by fantasy author Steven Erikson in the May, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.)
James is a regular attendee at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, held each spring in Florida.
James married his fellow academic, Farah Mendlesohn in 2001.
- Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. Edited by James. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. (ISBN 0-198-22543-1)
- The Origins of France: From Clovis to the Capetians, 500–1000. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982. ISBN 0-312-58862-3.
- The Franks. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1988. ISBN 0-631-14872-8.
- The Profession of Science Fiction: SF Writers on their Craft and Ideas. Edited by Maxim Jakubowski and James; foreword by Arthur C. Clarke. Insights series. Macmillan UK, 1992. ISBN 0-333-52482-9. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. (ISBN 0-312-08047-6.[a]
- Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-192-19263-9)
- The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Edited by James and Farah Mendlesohn. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-81626-2.
- Britain in the First Millennium. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-340-58688-5.
- Europe's Barbarians, AD 200–600. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. ISBN 0-582-77296-6.
- A Short History of Fantasy. Farah Mendlesohn and James. London: Middlesex University Press, 2009. ISBN 1-904-75068-0.
- The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. Edited by James and Farah Mendlesohn. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012. ISBN 0-521-42959-5.
- ISFDB catalogues a series, The Profession of Science Fiction, comprising 65 articles published from 1972 to 2007 in Foundation, the review James edited 1986 to 2001. Numbers 1 to 42 were published by 1990, number 43 in 1992. The articles are classified as essays (58, perhaps all by different writers), short fiction (one dated 1987), and interviews (six, all after 1992). ISFDB does not catalogue the contents of the 1992 book.
- "James, Edward". Revised 23 October 2014. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (sf-encyclopedia.com). Retrieved 2015-03-26. Entry by 'JC/DRL', John Clute and David Langford.
- "James, Edward" in "Notes on Advisers and Contributors", St. James Guide To Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle, St. James Press, 1996, ISBN 1-55862-205-5, (pp. 709–11).
- Hugo Awards Site:Hugo History:2005 Hugo Awards
- "Bibliography: The Profession of Science Fiction" (1992 book). ISFDB. Retrieved 2015-03-26.
- "The Profession of Science Fiction – Series Bibliography". ISFDB. Retrieved 2015-03-26. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.