Robin Fleming, one of America’s leading early medieval historians, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called ‘Genius Grant’.
The MacArthur Fellows Program bills itself as “an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.” The award comes with a monetary prize of $625,000 paid over five years.
In giving the award to Fleming, the MacArthur Foundation explains that she “is a historian enriching our knowledge of life in Britain in the tumultuous centuries during and after the fall of the Roman Empire through an artful blending of archaeological and textual sources. In scholarship encompassing the end of the Roman occupation, the appearance of Germanic settlements, the conversion to Christianity, and the viking raids on Britain, Fleming supplements the fragmentary and elite-focused written record with comprehensive consideration of material evidence unearthed by archaeologists.”
In an interview with Medievalists.net, Fleming says that she was truly surprised to get the call from the MacArthur Foundation. “When I hung up the phone, I was worried I had made the whole thing up in my head,” she laughed.
The award will allow Fleming to devote more time to writing and research. At the end of the year she plans to step down from her position as Chair of the Department of History at Boston College, although she will continue to do some teaching at the university. Drawing upon her previous work with historians, archaeologists and other specialists, Fleming says “I want to do genuinely collaborative collaborative projects across different fields.”
Fleming is one of 24 people who were awarded a MacArthur Fellowship this year. “This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity,” said Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program. “They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage. Their stories should inspire each of us to consider our own potential to contribute our talents for the betterment of humankind.”
Just a handful of medievalists have won this award since it was inaugurated in 1981, including Jay Rubenstien and Caroline Walker Bynum. David Quigley, dean of Boston College’s College of Arts and Sciences, praises Fleming, saying, “Many of us across campus continue to marvel at the ways in which she manages to balance her remarkable scholarship, her extraordinary teaching and her passionate commitment to training the next generation of medievalists. Her most recent book, Britain after Rome, is a beautiful work of historical imagination, one that forces the reader to grapple with the hard realities of our distant past.”
Her graduate students were also delighted at the announcement. Carolyn Twomey, one of the PhD students under Fleming, says “she works so hard, not only in her own work, but helping us in our careers.”
One of the biggest problems for Fleming was that she had to keep quiet about the award for three weeks – she could not even tell her department colleagues or students that she had won the Fellowship, even when a film crew came to the campus in preparation for the announcement. Here is the video they filmed: