Publication Prizes

Traditionally, three publication prizes are announced at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, which takes place on the campus of Western Michigan University. In 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of the congress, the awards are announced here.

La corónica book award

Photographic portrait of Heather Bamford.

Heather Bamford

The winner of the 2020 "La corónica" Book Award is Heather Bamford for her book "Cultures of the Fragment: Uses of the Iberian Manuscript, 1100-1600" (University of Toronto Press, 2018)

Image of the Cover of "Cultures of the Fragment."Heather Bamford's "Cultures of the Fragment" explores why Iberian manuscripts became fragments in the Middle Ages and how those fragments were used (or not), as well as how they are archived and examined by scholars today. The jurors noted that in this study Bamford points to new ways of looking at medieval manuscripts and new ways of examining intercultural and multi-confessional relations. The subject matter—the material fragment and theoretical fragmentariness—is a fascinating and productive category of analysis for scholars of medieval literary and cultural tradition/s. 

The "La corónica" Book Award is an annual international prize for the best monograph published on medieval Hispanic languages, literatures, and cultures. A session of the 2021 International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 13-16) will focus on Bamford’s book.

Otto Gründer Book Prize

Photographic portrait of Geraldine Heng.

Geraldine Heng

The winner of the 2020 Otto Gründler Book Prize is Geraldine Heng for her book "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages" (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Image of the cover of "The Invention of Race."Geraldine Heng has written a book intended to be controversial. "Race," like "feudalism," is a modern construct, not a medieval one, but in this book she argues that to avoid the term would be to absolve the medieval period of the racism she finds there. Race for her is anything that seeks to divide humans into different categories, whether different languages, different religions, different ancestry, or different skin color, always to the detriment of "the other." She confronts this aspect of medieval society with erudition and passion.

In the modern world, race typically refers to skin color, yet the most systematic medieval efforts to demarcate and exclude particular groups (or races) were based on religious difference. Although writing medieval history, Dr. Heng constantly has modern concerns and prejudices in mind. Medieval people in her treatment cannot be taken as “the other” who engaged in atrocious acts that we modern people would never contemplate. Her purpose, in which she thoroughly succeeds, is to make readers rethink a number of issues they had taken for granted and to consider ideas they will realize they probably should have thought of by themselves—but had not. Most notably, she argues that the creation of national identity had to include a deliberate exclusion of certain racially-defined groups.

The book is based on extensive research, with the size of its topic reflected in its chronological and geographic spread. England and France provide the majority of the examples, but the book also includes the Mediterranean with North Africa, the Muslim Middle East and, in its opening pages, a vignette of colonial-era Singapore. The groups covered include Jews, Muslims, the Mongols and the Romani. Topics range from the Crusades to travelers' tales to accounts of miscegenation to state formation to Arthurian literature to the legend of Prester John.

Although the principal focus is the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, the analysis also dips back into the eleventh century with Viking encounters with Vinlanders, and analogies from more recent periods are a continuing motif. The sources include a rich variety of late medieval literary texts as well as historical chronicles, saints' lives, letters, laws and the pronouncements of kings. The material is thickly packed, yet the prose is always clear and readable. Modernists who wished to add a pre-modern dimension to their analysis would be well advised to read this.

This work is a preeminent example of the current trend in medieval studies to address a topic or question that had never been properly addressed, even though it was always there in plain sight. Some will be inspired by this book's approach to the medieval past, whereas others may find it disturbing. Yet no one will be able to be indifferent. Everyone who addresses similar topics in the foreseeable future will have to cite this book.

The Otto Gründer Book Prize is awarded annually to the author of a monograph in any area of medieval studies that is judged by the selection committee to be an outstanding contribution to its field.

The Prize, instituted by Dr. Diether H. Haenicke, then president of Western Michigan University, honored and now memorializes Gründler for his distinguished service to the University and his lifelong dedication to the international community of medievalists. The first award was made in 1997.

Past winners of the Gründler prize.

Paul E. Szarmach Prize

Portrait of James Chetwood.

James Chetwood

The winner of the 2020 Szarmach prize is James Chetwood for his article "Re-evaluating English Personal Naming on the Eve of the Conquest," published in "Early Medieval Europe" 26, no. 4 (2018).

Image of the cover of Early Medieval Europe.Chetwood returns to Cecily Clark's argument for a fundamental change in naming patterns in England, which highlighted a move from the Germanic tradition of compound names to indivisible forms, effectively decreasing the stock of possible names, argued to be a result of the Norman Conquest. While the heartland of the work presented here is onomastics and philology, focused on three distinct bodies of evidence, there is a strongly interdisciplinary dimension to the piece, which integrates social history also. A cross-cultural element comes into play as well, since the argumentation necessitates discussion of continental naming-patterns, to provide a context for what was happening in England. Placing England in that wider context enables Chetwood to unseat the notion that Norman invasion is what displaced Old English dithematic names and to suggest that it was instead part of a Europe-wide phenomenon, connected to fundamental changes in society with the growth of nucleated settlement.

The Paul E. Szarmach Prize is awarded annually to the author of a first article on a topic in the culture and history of early medieval England published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that is judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality.

The Prize, instituted by the International Advisory Board of the Richard Rawlinson Center in 2017, honors Szarmach for his role in the early development of the center, both as director of WMU’s Medieval Institute and on the center’s board.

Past winners of the Szarmach prize

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