Medieval Studies


Suzanne Conklin Akbari Medieval Studies

Professors Emeriti
Patrick J. Geary Medieval History
Caroline Walker Bynum Medieval European History
Giles Constable Medieval History

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. The high standards and international reputation of medieval studies at the Institute was further enhanced with the appointment of Caroline Walker Bynum (Professor 2003-2011, 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). Her successor, Patrick Geary (Professor 2011-2019, Emeritus 2019-present) brought new methodological depth to the post, with research activity in the fields of historical ethnicity, nationalism, genetic history and Carolingian monastic culture. Like Bynum (1997-98), Geary served as President of the Medieval Academy of America (2008-09).

The current professor’s interests include literary history, visual culture, and intellectual history, especially history of science, philosophy, and theology. Akbari has written books on optics and allegory (Seeing Through the Veil) and European views of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East), and edited collections on travel literature (Marco Polo), Mediterranean Studies (A Sea of Languages), and somatic histories (The Ends of the Body). Akbari has also carried out research on premodern conceptions of nationalism and collective identity, including ethnicity and racialization. She is finishing up a monograph titled Small Change: Metaphor and Metamorphosis in Chaucer and Christine de Pizan, and working on another project on premodern ideas of periodization as seen in universal histories, maps, and diagrams (The Shape of Time).

The School encourages applications from qualified scholars from anywhere in the world: it aspires to both depth and diversity in bringing together every year a group of distinguished scholars in the broad area of medieval historical studies.

Upcoming events of interest to Medievalists:

September 29, 12:30-1:30 pm, The Index of Medieval Art, Princeton University, Welcome Back and Info Session. An opportunity to meet and greet the staff and learn more about the Index database, and see how it can support your research.  

October 19, 12:00 noon: Medieval Studies, Princeton University, Racialization in Late Antique Italy and Italian Historiography, Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (City University of New York). First seminar of the lecture series on “Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Middle Ages and Medieval Studies”.  

November 17, 12:00-1:30 pmIAS Ethiopian Studies Series*The Beta Israel and Ethiopian Christian Views of Jews and Judaism. Panelists: Steven Kaplan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Sophia Dege-Müller (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), Marcia Kupfer (Washington, DC), and Aaron Butts (Catholic University of America / Institute for Advanced Study). Moderator: Samantha L. Kelly (Rutgers University / Institute for Advanced Study). * Conveners for this series are: Suzanne Akbari (IAS), Aaron Butts (CUA / IAS), Samantha L. Kelly (Rutgers U / IAS), Sabine Schmidtke (IAS). Recorded video now available here.

December 4, 12:00-1:30 pm: IAS Digital Scholarship Conversations - The Book and the Silk Roads: Corralling Data in the Digital Workspace. Speakers: Suzanne Akbari, Professor of Medieval Studies, IAS • Rachel Di Cresce, Project Librarian, The Book and the Silk Roads • Jessica Lockhart, Director of Research, The Book and the Silk Roads • J. D. Sargan, Leverhulme Research Fellow, Old Books, New Science Lab

“The Book and the Silk Roads” project seeks to build and support a growing international network of scholars, curators, conservators, and scientists exploring significant developments in writing technologies within a range of contexts, focusing particularly on examples of convergent evolution and interchange across the pre-modern world, from East Asia to Mesoamerica. In our presentation we will address how we have handled the technical challenge underlying this research agenda: how to bring different sets of heterogeneous data together in a user-friendly way, while making use of standardized data sharing frameworks to ensure it is open and reusable both across and outside of our tools. For the recording of this event click here.

February 19 and March 19, 2021IAS Ethiopian Studies Series

The Turn to the Medieval in Ethiopian Studies – The Turn to Ethiopia in Medieval Studies I and II

We are eager to think together about the rich and often challenging complexities that have arisen as a result of the intersection of Medieval Studies and Ethiopian Studies over the past several years. These fields developed along very different lines, but have begun to mutually enrich – and interrogate – one another. In terms of regional networks, the two fields overlap in their concern with political, commercial, and cultural connections in the eastern Mediterranean: while Ethiopia represents for Medieval Studies an outgrowth of Mediterranean Studies, extending investigation for such exchanges down the Red Sea, Europe similarly represents for Ethiopian Studies a secondary ring of this zone of contact. Each offers the other a rich comparative (and sometimes connected) context for the study of Christian culture, including monasticism, hagiography, manuscript studies, and art and architecture, and both have investigated interconfessional relations in ways that might be mutually illuminating. Finally, together they contribute to an exploration of what ‘medieval Africa’ might entail, and allow us to explore the potentialities of more integrated, even global approaches to the premodern world. Yet the enrichment that this intersection of fields provides may also be problematic, as the distinctive chronologies, nomenclatures, and scholarly traditions of Medieval Studies and Ethiopian Studies meet. As research on premodern Ethiopia has greatly expanded in recent decades, and as Medieval Studies manifests increasing interest in Ethiopia, these paired webinars seek to explore what is gained and what is lost by more intensive conversation between them.

February 19, 2021, 12:00-1:30 pm EST: The Turn to the Medieval in Ethiopian Studies – The Turn to Ethiopia in Medieval Studies I.  Register in advance for this meeting here.

Andrea Achi (Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum)
Marie-Laure Derat (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)
Kristen Windmuller-Luna (Cleveland Museum of Art)
Felege-Selam Yirga (The University of Tennessee Knoxville)

March 19, 2021, 12:00-1:30 pm EST: The Turn to the Medieval in Ethiopian Studies – The Turn to Ethiopia in Medieval Studies II. Register in advance for this meeting here.

Alessandro Bausi (Universität Hamburg)
Verena B. Krebs (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Eyob Derillo (The British Library)
Samantha L. Kelly (Rutgers and IAS)



Q&A with Cord Whitaker: On the value of the Middle Ages to the work of racial justice

Member Columba Stewart acts to save manuscripts from ISIS


Past Members, Visitors, and Research Assistants