Patrick J. Geary Appointed to Faculty at Institute for Advanced Study

Patrick J. Geary

Patrick J. Geary, a leading historian of the Middle Ages whose research has opened new ways to understand, interpret and define the medieval past, has been appointed to the Faculty of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, effective January 1, 2012. He succeeds Professor Emerita Caroline Walker Bynum, who has served on the Faculty of the School since 2003.


A Member in the School in 1990–91, Geary comes to the Institute from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he has been Distinguished Professor of History since 2004. Geary’s scholarship extends over a vast range of topics, both chronologically and conceptually, and his work has pushed the boundaries of the field in significant and influential ways.

Peter Goddard, Director of the Institute, said of the appointment, “We are delighted that Patrick Geary will be joining our Faculty. He will continue in the Institute’s long and distinguished tradition of medieval scholarship, and the exceptional range, depth and innovative nature of his research will contribute greatly to the work of our School of Historical Studies.”

“The School of Historical Studies is thrilled by the addition of Patrick Geary to its Faculty,” said Nicola Di Cosmo, Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies in the School. “He will bring to the School the rigor, creativity and intellectual incisiveness that have characterized his work for decades and gained him a stellar international reputation. With Geary, a scholar at the pinnacle of his field, medieval studies at the Institute will continue to thrive.”

Geary’s own reaction to the appointment was to say, “I am enormously honored to be given the opportunity to continue my research in this unique institution in the community of its extraordinary Faculty and Members selected from the leading scholars and scientists in the world.”

Geary’s first book, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages (1978), examines monastic narratives about stolen relics in order to explore the function of saints and relics in medieval communities. Geary’s research untangles the reasons and the social and religious contexts of the thefts of relics, and the book is still widely utilized and regarded even as the study of medieval relics has expanded over the past three decades. Geary’s work on the early Middle Ages, Aristocracy in Provence: The Rhone Basin at the Dawn of the Carolingian Age (1985) explores the world of the French aristocracy through the lens of the testament of a regional aristocrat dating to 739. He uses this detailed and rare source to illuminate the economy, society and governance of the lower Rhone valley. This book has not only made an important medieval source known to the wider public through meticulous editing and translating, it has advanced our understanding on landholding, kinship and ethnicity among eighth-century Franks. In Phantoms of Remembrance (1994), Geary studied the preservation and destruction of memory and the writing and revision of local histories among monastic communities. This book has had significant impact on the field of medieval studies, as it presented a series of brilliant analyses of the intersection of oral and written traditions, memory and forgetting, both as deliberate processes and as the inevitable results of changes in record-keeping across generations.

Geary’s Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World (1986) illuminates the processes of transformation of the Franks in the post-Roman period and builds a vision of that world that challenges the later national myths embedded in the historical narratives of France and Germany. In the aftermath of the Yugoslavian civil war, Geary wrote The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (2002), subsequently translated into eleven languages, for “nonacademics who wonder about the relationship between past and present.” Geary’s main argument, presented in a sweeping study that takes the reader from Herodotus to the Zulu, is that ethnic nationalism has always been rooted in myth rather than history. In addition to his many books, Geary’s preeminence in the field rests also on a series of seminal articles, many of which remain standard literature, still unsurpassed after several decades. This is the case, for instance, of “Ethnic Identity as a Situational Construct in the Early Middle Ages” (1983) and “Vivre en Conflit dans une France sans État: Typologie des Mécanismes de Règlement des Conflits (1050–1200)” (1985). Currently, Geary is leading a major project that studies the migration of European societies north and south of the Alps through the analysis of ancient DNA in Longobard cemeteries in Hungary and in Italy. He also directs the St. Gall Plan Project, an Internet-based initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that provides tools for the study of Carolingian monasticism.

From 1968 to 1969, Geary studied at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie of the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. In 1970, he received an A.B. in philosophy from Spring Hill College in Alabama. He earned his M.Phil. in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1974, both in medieval studies, from Yale University. He was named Assistant Professor at Princeton University beginning in 1974, and in 1980, he joined the faculty the University of Florida as Associate Professor and was named Professor in 1986. Geary moved to the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1993, when he became Director of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He held that position until 1998, and from 1996 to 1998 he was also the Director of the UCLA Humanities Consortium. Geary was Professor of History at UCLA from 1993 to 2004, at which time he was named Distinguished Professor of History. From 1998 to 2000, he was also Professor of History and Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

In addition to national recognition, Geary’s international reputation is attested by multiple overseas fellowships and honors. He was a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institut für Geschichte in Göttingen in 1990 and a Fellow at the Hungarian Institute for Advanced Study in 2009. Geary served as President of the Medieval Academy of America from 2008–09 and is currently a Fellow. He is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and is a Membre Associé Étranger of the Société Nationale des Antiquaires. He was named the first Lester K. Little Resident at the American Academy in Rome in 2006. In 2011 he was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Anneliese Maier Research Prize. He is Editor-in-Chief of the International Encyclopedia for the Middle Ages—Online, coeditor of the Oxford University Press series Oxford Studies in Medieval European History, and serves on the editorial advisory boards of several publications, including Mumlus: Rivista di Didattica della Storia and Sredniye Veka. He is also a member of the editorial board of History and Memory.

Medieval Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study

Medieval history in the School of Historical Studies has a distinguished record, which began with the appointment of Ernst Kantorowicz in 1951 on the basis of his studies on Frederick II. While at the Institute, he wrote his most important book, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (1957), whose influence reached far beyond the field of medieval studies and is still regarded as a classic of historical scholarship. A few years after Kantorowicz’s retirement, the School appointed Kenneth Setton, who specialized in the history of the Crusades, and then Giles Constable (Professor 1985–2003, Emeritus 2003–present), who has made fundamental contributions in the area of intellectual and religious history, concentrating especially in the central and late Middle Ages. Among Constable’s works written while at the Institute are Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought (1995) and The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (1996). The high standards and international reputation of medieval studies at the Institute was further enhanced with the appointment of Caroline Walker Bynum (Professor 2003–11, Emerita 2011–present). Bynum has pioneered the study of medieval women, introducing the category of gender in the study of religiosity, intellectual history and spirituality, including in her internationally acclaimed book Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (1987). Among her more recent books, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (2007) is an example of the deep and innovative scholarship that places Bynum at the forefront of medieval studies.

About the Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute for Advanced Study is one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute exists to encourage and support curiosity-driven research in the sciences and humanities—the original, often speculative thinking that produces advances in knowledge that change the way we understand the world. Work at the Institute takes place in four Schools: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Social Science. It provides for the mentoring of scholars by a permanent Faculty of approximately 30, and it ensures the freedom to undertake research that will make significant contributions in any of the broad range of fields in the sciences and humanities studied at the Institute.

The Institute, founded in 1930, is a private, independent academic institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. Its more than 6,000 former Members hold positions of intellectual and scientific leadership throughout the academic world. Thirty-three Nobel Laureates and 40 out of 56 Fields Medalists, as well as many winners of the Wolf or MacArthur prizes, have been affiliated with the Institute.