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The Legacy of Sir Richard W. Southern

The Legacy of Sir Richard W. Southern

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Published by Stacy
A research paper on the famous Oxford medievalist, Sir Richard Southern.
A research paper on the famous Oxford medievalist, Sir Richard Southern.

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Published by: Stacy on Feb 04, 2013
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08/11/2013

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AMERICAN PUBLIC UNIVERISTY
RESEARCH PAPER The Legacy of Sir Richard W. Southern
STACY MITCHHistory DepartmentHistoriography, RC 57517 August 2008
 
The gritty industrial towns of North England are not known for producing refinedacademics. But Newcastle-upon-Tyne can boast of not only a notable academic but a Knightwho quietly, yet boldly, revolutionized medieval studies. This favorite son, Sir Richard W.Southern, was born to a lower-middle class family early in the year 1912.
1
The second-born of atimber merchant, he attended the local grammar schools and showed promise. In 1929, he benefited from the Balliol College reforms of the late 1800s that aimed at recruiting theacademically gifted.
2
He graduated first class, earned a research fellowship, and soon thereafter  began a long and illustrious career as tutor, professor, and president within the Oxford collegesystem. Other than the five years he spent serving as an army commander during World War II,Southern’s life and career revolved around the Oxford establishment.So what distinguishes Southern from the many other talented scholars who have gracedthe halls of Oxford? This is the question the present essay intends to answer. Specifically, itseeks to demonstrate the legacy of Sir Richard Southern as a proponent of humanistic historicalmethods which have resulted in substantial contributions to medieval studies.
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Furthermore,these methods continue slowly to transform historiography. R.W. Southern is not only rightly
1
1. Alexander Murray, “Richard William Southern: 1912-2001,”
 Proceedings of the British Academy
120 (2003): 413.
2
2. William Palmer, “Sir Richard Southern Looks Back: A Portrait of the Medievalist as a Young Man.”
Virginia Quarterly Review
3
3. The term ‘humanist’ is to be understood as Southern defined it: a respect for human potential andaspiring to reach it. It should not be interpreted as a literary form of humanism or a romantic view of humanity.
2
 
remembered as one of the world’s best medievalists, but as an historian whose methods andcontributions continue to influence the way history is done.R. W. Southern first earned the right to be heard as a world class historian with the publication of his best-selling
The Making of the Middle Ages
in 1953. This work catapultedSouthern’s career and placed him in a league with the likes of Frederick D. Maitland and MarcBloch.
4
 According to Norman Cantor, a significant medievalist in his own right and a former student of Southern, “[
The Making of the Middle Ages
] is arguably, even more than MarcBloch’s
 Feudal Society
and Ernst Robert Curtius’s
 European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages
, the single most widely read and influential book written on the Middle Ages in thetwentieth century.”
5
Cantor is not alone in his praise for Southern or his work. His claims aresubstantiated by the frequent inclusion of 
The Making of the Middle Ages
on university requiredreading lists along with its status as a best-seller that has enjoyed 30 continuous printings.
6
 Curiously, Southern’s inaugural work 
 
was initially received with mixed reviews. It is inthe early criticism of Southern’s work that his status as a historiographical innovator is first brought to our attention. Sydney Painter, who reviewed
The Making of the Middle Ages
for the
 American Historical Review
shortly after its publication, claimed that the title of the book was“misleading.”
7
He went on to say, “Instead of being a broad, general account of the developmentof medieval ideas and institutions, it is a series of essays on certain phases of the subject.”
8
4
4. “The best book on Medieval history by an Englishman since Maitland.” Norman Cantor,
 Inventing the Middle Ages
(New York: Quill, 1991): 348
5
5. Ibid., 338.
6
6. Palmer, “Sir Richard Southern Looks Back: A Portrait of the Medievalist as a Young Man.”
7
7. Sidney Painter, review of 
The Making of the Middle Ages
, by Richard W. Southern.
The American Historical Review
59, no. 2 (January 1954): 356.
8
8. Ibid.
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