WMU News

Grundler Prize goes to Irish author

May 18, 2004

KALAMAZOO--The breathtaking impact of an order of Benedictine monks and nuns on medieval Ireland is the topic of a book recently honored with Western Michigan University's Otto Grundler Prize.

"The Impact of the Cistercians on the Landscape of Ireland," by Dr. Geraldine Carville, received the annual award at the 2004 International Congress on Medieval Studies, hosted by WMU's Medieval Institute May 6-9. The event drew an estimated 3,000 participants for what is considered the world's largest gathering of professors, publishers, scholars and others interested in the Middle Ages.

The Otto Grundler Prize, which includes a $2,500 award, is named for the former director of the Medieval Institute. First awarded in 1997, it recognizes a book or monograph on a medieval subject chosen by a selection committee as an outstanding contribution to the field. Authors from any country are eligible for the prize, and nominations are accepted from readers or publishers. The prize is generally awarded two years after the winning book is published.

During her research on the Cistercians in Ireland, Carville found a wealth of literature about the group's architecture, but very little information about the economic, social, cultural and political contributions made by the monastic group from 1142 to 1541. Her book examines 33 abbeys and 138 granges, exploring the diverse ways "the Cistercians impacted on the landscape and their enormously influential role in the progressive development of Ireland." The book details how the Cistercians created an extensive commercial enterprise of rearing sheep and cattle, improved and expanded agriculture, and erected some of the greatest buildings of their time--buildings memorialized with ruins that still dot the Irish countryside.

"The selection committee praised both the scholarly achievement and yet the general accessibility of this well-produced book," says Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute and secretary to the Grundler Prize Committee. "Dr. Carville furthermore demonstrates how the informed sensitivity of historical geography can illuminate a subject and a region."

Carville is a historical geographer who specializes in the estates held by the Cistercians in Medieval Ireland. Believed by many to be the foremost living scholar in that area, she has been a pioneer in applying geographical methods to historical sites. Her scholarly books and articles on the pre-Patrician, Celtic and medieval eras have been published worldwide. In 1989, Carville received the Bene Merenti medal and diploma from Pope John Paul II for her work on the Cistercians in medieval Ireland.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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