WMU News

Two scholars share WMU medieval studies book prize

May 12, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- A book on a 15th century Italian artist and another on medieval women brewers in England earned two scholars a share of a major international prize for medieval studies offered by Western Michigan University.

The 1998 Otto Grundler Prize was awarded to Dr. Diane Cole Ahl, professor of art at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn., and to Dr. Judith M. Bennett, the Francis Stuart Chapin Jr. Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The two will share the $2,500 prize awarded during the 33rd International Congress on Medieval Studies May 7-10 at WMU.

The prize, the largest in the field of medieval studies, is named for the former director of WMU's Medieval Institute, which each year acts as host to the world's largest gathering of medieval scholars. Nearly 2,700 persons from 50 states and more than 25 nations attended this year's event.

Art historian Ahl was selected for the prize for her 1996 book, "Benozzo Gozzoli," published by Yale University Press. The book is the first comprehensive study this century of the work of the Italian artist who is known for his illustrations of 15th century life in Florence. During his 60-year career, Gozzoli worked for popes and Medici princes as well as villagers and parish priests. He is best known for such works as the fresco, "Journey of the Magi," which is part of Florence's Pallazzo Medici.

The book, which Grundler Prize judges called "a definitive study," contains more than 300 photographs and includes new information brought to light by recent cleaning of Gozzoli's frescos. It also delves into Gozzoli's working procedures and techniques and examines how sacred art was created, commissioned and experienced during the Renaissance.

Bennett was selected for her 1996 book, "Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600." The book, published by Oxford University Press, focuses on how women, who brewed almost all of medieval England's ale, disappeared from the trade by 1600 as men took over the increasingly lucrative profession.

The book, which has attracted attention in the British and American press, is the result of Bennett's in-depth research into ancient court and manorial records in England to trace why women disappeared from the brewing trade they once dominated. It is a book that "was crying to be written," according to one judge on the Grundler Prize selection committee.

The volumes by Ahl and Bennett were among some two dozen books and monographs nominated for this year's prize, according to Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of WMU's Medieval Institute. The level of competition, he says, made it extremely difficult for the judging committee to arrive at a final four and impossible to narrow the selection to a single winner.

"That two different books in two very different fields were selected to share the prize this year is a function of the level of the competition and of the committee's commitment to select a book that could have wide appeal and still satisfy the demands and scrutiny of specialists in a given field," Szarmach says.

The Grundler Prize was established by Dr. Diether H. Haenicke, president of WMU, to honor Grundler for his distinguished service to the University and his life-long dedication to the international community of medievalists. It was first announced when Grundler retired in 1995 after serving 34 years as a WMU faculty member and 19 years as director of both the Medieval Institute and the annual congress.

The prize is intended to recognize a book or monograph on a medieval subject judged by the selection committee to be an outstanding contribution to the field. Authors from any country are eligible for the prize. Books of any language may be submitted during the year after the book's publication date for a prize given the following spring. The 1999 prize will be awarded for a book published in 1997. Nominations are accepted from readers or publishers.

The 1998 prize marks only the second award year for the annual prize. The first Grundler prize was awarded in 1997 for a book on Christian mysticism by Dartmouth College religion scholar Dr. Amy Hollywood.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland; cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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