Yale Professor Wins Prize for Work on Middle Ages

Yale professor of history Paul H. Freedman has been awarded the 2001 Otto Grundler Prize for his book "Images of the Medieval Peasant."

Yale professor of history Paul H. Freedman has been awarded the 2001 Otto Grundler Prize for his book “Images of the Medieval Peasant.”

Published by Stanford University Press in 1999, the book provides insights about how peasants in the Middle Ages were regarded by their contemporaries.

A majority of the population in medieval Europe, the peasant class held a paradoxical and ill-defined position in society, according to Freedman. Of the three major hierarchical social divisions-agriculture, church and knighthood-peasants occupied the lowest rung and were viewed by those above them variously with contempt, tolerance and reverence. The crucial leavening, which raised the peasant from a figure of ridicule and disdain to a model of virtuous industry, was Christianity, Freedman argues.

“They constituted an overwhelming majority of the European population; as their superiors acknowledged, they were necessary to feed the rest of society; and they were Christians,” he writes. “In other respects, peasants could be regarded as meritorious by virtue of their simple life, productive work, and unjust suffering at the hands of the exploitative social superiors….”

The $2,500 Otto Grundler Prize for scholarship was awarded to Freedman earlier in May at the 36th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

“What Freedman does… is show that the role of Christianity was crucial to the development of respect for people who were not aristocratic or clerical,” said Clifford Davidson, an English professor at WMU, in presenting the award.

Freedman is the author and editor of many publications on medieval Europe, particularly Catalonia.

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345