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Hanawalt, Barbara A. (1941–) - History of Medieval England

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Barbara Ann Hanawalt was born on March 4, 1941, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the daughter of Nelson G. and Pearl Basset Hanawalt. Her parents, of Pennsylvania Dutch/German and English ancestry, raised Barbara in Highland Park, where she attended public elementary and high schools. Her father was a professor of psychology at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and her mother was an elementary school teacher and then a full-time homemaker. Barbara’s early influences were many. Her parents encouraged her to read and read books aloud to her that were beyond her reading abilities. She remembers them reading Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. One of her uncles, a humorist and specialist on Chaucer and Shakespeare, also encouraged her to read and learn. Her childhood summers, in the Pennsylvania village where her father grew up and on the eastern Pennsylvania farms where her mother’s sisters lived, taught her a great deal about village social dynamics and agricultural practices. Hanawalt is sure that her later writings on crime and conflict in English communities and on peasantry were influenced greatly by these childhood adventures. Her family also went on camping trips throughout the United States and Canada, and Barbara found the history of places and of people, particularly Native Americans, very interesting.

Because Hanawalt had “grown up in the academic life and liked it,” had long enjoyed history, and had truly inspirational college teachers, she was motivated to become a historian. She completed a bachelor’s degree from Douglass College in 1963, a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1964, and a Ph.D., also from the University of Michigan, in 1970. She did not find her first full-time teaching position for four years, however, partly because she was told by many schools that they did not hire women. Hanawalt remembers her struggles and has longed worked to pave the way for women following her. “Having faced discrimination during my entire career from graduate school through my professional life,” she states, “I have devoted a good amount of my energies toward protecting women’s careers on the campuses at which I have taught.”

Hanawalt resisted discrimination and got teaching positions at San Fernando Valley Community College, the University of Southern California, the University of Oregon, and Indiana University, where she achieved the rank of full professor before leaving for the University of Minnesota, where she now serves as director of the Center for Medieval Studies. Of her many impressive achievements, Hanawalt says that one of the things she is most proud of is the success of the Center for Medieval Studies. “I have blended the interests of medievalists on campus towards an intersection of history and literature that has led to a series of publications and the training of graduate students.” In fact, mentoring graduate students and junior faculty is a significant part of her service to the university.

Hanawalt has been the recipient of many fellowships and distinctions, including being named fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Wissen-schaftskollege zu Berlin, receiving several National Endowment for the Humanities grants, a British Academy grant, and a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies at Princeton University. Her three books, Crime and Conflict in English Communities, 1300–1348, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England , and Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History , have gained her an international reputation. Her five edited collections and her twenty-five scholarly articles also demonstrate the breadth of her scholarship, from the study of adolescence in Europe to criminal activity among the nobility of fourteenth-century England.

Hanawalt’s professional service includes acting as associate editor of American Historical Review and of Signs , and work on the editorial board of the Journal of Women’s History . She served both as president and vice-president of the Social Science History Association and has held council member positions in the Medieval Academy of America and the American Historical Association. Hanawalt has served on external review committees for several universities and for the National Humanities Center. She has also served on the program committees for conferences sponsored by the Social Science History Association, the Midwest British Studies Association, and the Medieval Academy of America.

Divorced from her first husband, Barbara Hanawalt is married to Ronald Giere, professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota. She has a dog and a cat and enjoys gourmet cooking, eating and entertaining, travel in Europe, and gardening.

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