U medievalists honor center director

Kelly Seibert

Barbara Hanawalt sat among colleagues and students, surrounded by flowers and artwork on Friday night at the Weisman Art Museum. Her colleagues at the Medieval Studies Center honored her this past weekend at a farewell celebration.
The event recognized Hanawalt’s six-year directorship of the University’s Center For Medieval Studies, during which time she helped catapult the program into national and international prominence.
The center, which was founded in 1988 and is located in Wilson Library, was established through a common interest of scholars at the University in medieval studies.
“Perhaps more than the modern world, the medieval world considered itself as a unit,” Hanawalt said. “So what that means is that when two or three medievals gather, they tend to form a center.”
Originally, the center was only a place for graduate students to work, but now it offers a medieval studies minor program for undergraduates as well.
Susan Noakes, a professor of French and Italian who served on the center’s executive committee with Hanawalt, said her colleague has taken every opportunity to build the center’s reputation throughout the Big Ten and the world.
“The Medieval Studies Center has been really the only place that I can call an intellectual home where there really is an intellectual community,” Noakes said. “I think that has a lot to do with Barbara. She will always be a part of this center.”
During her tenure, Hanawalt has attracted many people to study under her at the University, including David Perry, a medieval history graduate student from Wesleyan University.
Perry said he decided to attend the University after reading Hanawalt’s articles and books.
“(Barbara) is one of the few people with the history department who attracts people from all over the country to come to the U,” Perry said. “She has a tremendous knowledge of what the field is and of writing and how a graduate student progresses.”
Her accomplishments are evidenced by the size of her farewell dinner, said Oliver Nicholson, an associate professor of classical and near eastern studies, and next year’s interim director for the center. He said that prior to Friday night’s dinner, all the center’s gatherings had been held at locations such as the Campus Club. The center’s growth was illustrated by the switch from the normal meal — sandwiches — to the full-course meal on Friday.
Hanawalt, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, wants to see that community continue to grow after she steps down from her position.
“I would like to see us have more outreach to undergraduates and more of an outreach to the community,” Hanawalt said. “I’m very committed to making sure that there is another generation of medievalists.”
While Hanawalt leaves that responsibility to her successor, she will continue teaching at the University as a professor of history, after taking a year off to work at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.
As a symbol of her work at the center, students and faculty at the celebration presented Hanawalt with a framed text in Latin from the Bible.
Hanawalt had a surprise for her colleagues as well: She dedicated the book she is currently working on to them because, she said, they are the biggest influence on her writing.