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2009 Jacques Barzun Prize

2009 award presented in November 2010

Daniel Hobbins

The American Philosophical Society awarded the Jacques Barzun Prize for the best book in cultural history published in 2009 to Professor Daniel Hobbins in recognition of his book Authorship and Publicity Before Print: Jean Gerson and the Transformation of Late Medieval Learning. The award was presented by Mary Patterson McPherson, Executive Officer of the Society.

Daniel Hobbins earned his Ph.D. in 2002 from the University on Notre Dame. He researches and teaches the history of medieval Europe from 500-1500 at the Ohio State University, where he is an associate professor.  His specific interests include the cultural and intellectual history of northwestern Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with special emphasis on universities, written culture, the Hundred Years' War, Joan of Arc, and, as evidenced by this latest work, Jean Gerson.

Dr. Hobbins' book takes a look at one of the most powerful theologians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: Jean Gerson.  Gerson, who lived from 1363 to 1429, was an impressive player in Western Europe during a time of war, plague, and schism.  His life and work, as seen through a theological lens, have not harmonized with the modern understanding of this era, leaving a puzzle for historians.  Dr. Hobbins attempts to fill this gap in knowledge by arguing for a new understanding of Gerson as a scholar taking advantage of this period of rapid expansion in written culture.  More broadly, Dr. Hobbins casts Gerson as a mirror of the complex cultural and intellectual shifts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  Gerson contrasts with earlier theologians due to his more humanist approach to reading and authorship; indeed, his attempts to reach a broader public with publications in both Latin and French garnered him an international audience.  However, the book avoids painting a triumphalist picture of this transitional period, not dissimilar to our own.  Instead, Dr. Hobbins portrays Gerson as the embodiment of a period of creative and dynamic growth which necessitated and eventually produced new technologies of the written word.

The Barzun Prize selection committee consisted of Donald R. Kelley (chair), James Westfall Thompson Professor of History Emeritus, Rutgers University; Glen W. Bowersock, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study; and Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Professor of English, Princeton University.