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Middle English Studies: Professor David Lawton awarded Sir Israel Gollancz Prize

30 November 2022 Life Members

Congratulations to Professor David Lawton, a Life Member of Clare Hall, who has been awarded the 2022 Sir Israel Gollancz Prize for his lifetime contributions to Middle English Studies and field-defining research.

The Sir Israel Gollancz Prize is awarded annually for work connected with Anglo-Saxon, early English language and literature, English philology, or the history of English language.

David Lawton is Professor of English at Durham University and Emeritus Professor at Washington University in St Louis, USA. He has also held academic posts at York and the University of Sydney, as well as chairs in Tasmania and at the University of East Anglia, and was Leverhulme Professor of English at Oxford in 2009-10.

On receiving the prize, Professor Lawton commented:

I am grateful to the British Academy and deeply honoured to receive this prize in the name of Israel Gollancz, with whose work I have been familiar since my first steps as a researcher. It is honestly heartening to be cited for my interventions in the field; these always feel risky, particularly for relatively junior scholars (as I was in the 1980s, when I made the first such interventions), and it’s important, I think, to encourage bravery in challenging received ideas […] The list of winners of the Sir Israel Gollancz Prize since it was first awarded in 1925 reads like a bibliography of important scholarship in the field. It’s humbling to receive it, though I feel rather like an individual bee being given undue credit for the output of an entire hive – but what matters, really, is the fact of the Sir Israel Gollancz Prize itself, which is hugely important to my field, and affirms the value and continued relevance of medieval literary studies in the modern academy.’

A graduate of Oxford and the Centre for Medieval Studies at York, Professor Lawton has published extensively on Middle English alliterative poetry, editing Joseph of Arimathea (1983) and, with Ralph Hanna, The Siege of Jerusalem (Early English Text Society, 2003), and on Chaucer, publishing Chaucer’s Narrators in 1985 and his edition of Chaucer’s complete works for Norton in 2019. He has published books on the Bible in English and on blasphemy, and is an authority on Middle English biblical translation.

Professor Lawton is the longest-serving Executive Director of the New Chaucer Society (2002-12) and was founding co-editor of the annual New Medieval Literatures (1998-2018). His most recent monograph is Voice in Later Medieval English Literature: Public Interiorities (Oxford University Press, 2017), described by one reviewer as ‘necessary reading for those interested in the literature, culture and history of the European Middle Ages’.

A volume of essays in his honour, Medieval Literary Voices, edited by his former advisees Sif Rikhardsdottir and Louise D’Arcens, was published in July 2022, and includes a chapter on his scholarly career by John M. Ganim. Among his major interventions are his essay Dullness and the Fifteenth Century (1988, investigating the guise of dullness adopted by fifteenth-century poets), the first major essay reading Piers Plowman through the lens of literary theory (1987), and articles on the unity and diversity of Middle English alliterative poetry (1983, 1989) and on the Croxton Play of the Sacrament (2003). In his articles on world maps and travel narratives (2000) and on medieval anxieties about Ottoman expansion and modern Turkish literature (2003, 2007), he anticipated the current global turn in medieval studies, in which his current work is grounded.