Nov. 19-Dec. 2, 1999
Guide cites U.Va., Casteen for leadership and character development efforts
Midelfort wins Phi Beta Kappa book award
History will judge Clinton harshly, Woodward tells Miller Center crowd

Cancer Center fosters world-class research and clinical care

Slingluff team developing melanoma vaccine
The Academical Village in the Internet Age
What's in the water in Charlottesville?
Internet, the media and politics
In Memoriam
Thanksgiving staples: warm food, warmer memories
Hot Links - Plymouth Colony Archive Project
Conference maps spread of nuclear weapons technology
Artisans Bazaar set for Dec. 3-5
Hans Strauss, Madwoman: Margreth
Hans Strauss, Madwoman: Margreth, Hanns Eyseleis' daughter. 1520. Used on the cover of U.Va. historian H. C. Erik Midelfort's A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany.

Midelfort wins Phi Beta Kappa book award

By Robert Brickhouse

History professor H. C. Erik Midelfort has been named winner of the 1999 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, one of three prestigious national Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards for outstanding nonfiction, for his book, A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany.

The three Phi Beta Kappa book awards, which carry prizes of $2,500 from the nation's oldest scholarly honorary society, have been given annually since the 1950s for outstanding books in the humanities and social and natural sciences.

Midelfort's study of how Renaissance Germans understood madness, published recently by Stanford University Press, won in the category of outstanding studies of the intellectual and cultural condition of mankind. A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany, based on years of scholarship, has been praised for shedding light not only on the entire history of its era but on the nature of insanity and culture in general. The honor society's announcement, calling the book a "wonderfully rich and gripping work," noted that "Midelfort's achievement entails not only outstanding historical scholarship, but a command of theology, medicine and law and the ability to work and think in five different languages."

In the history of medicine, the late 16th century is regarded as the age of melancholy. For jurists, at the time, it wasn't clear whether the customary insanity defense included melancholy persons being responsible for their actions, and physicians were called upon for their advice. Renaissance physicians sought to find ancient Greek concepts to describe mental illness, but for many religious Germans, sin -- especially demonic possession -- was seen as a form of madness encroaching upon the world.

The book also compares the thought of Martin Luther and the medical-religious reformer Paracelsus, who both believed that madness was basically a category of human experience.

Midelfort, the C. Julian Bishko Professor of History, who has taught at U.Va. since 1970 and is principal of Brown College, is also the author of Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany and other studies of madness and the occult in the Renaissance.

"Madness was usually a human catastrophe," Midelfort says, "but Renaissance culture also gave an exalted interpretation to three specific notions or images of madness: folly, demonic possession and melancholia. Humanists, theologians and physicians could interpret these three as if each form of madness incorporated a laudable polar opposite, a form of the irrational that was not harmful but rather offered, so it seemed, access to deeper sources of insight and wisdom than the humdrum workings of consensus, convention and reason."

Other 1999 award winners were James Olney of Louisiana State University for Memory and Narrative: The Weave of Life Writing, for outstanding literary scholarship; and The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene of Columbia University for the literature of science.

The Phi Beta Kappa book award winners, selected by panels of scholars in various fields from more than 100 entries submitted by publishers throughout the country, will be honored Dec. 10 at a dinner in Washington.


© Copyright 1999 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page