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Winner of Van Courtlandt Elliott Prize

The Van Courtlandt Elliott Prize 

The 2016 Van Courtlandt Elliott Prize is awarded to David Shyovitz (Northwestern University) for his article, “Christian and Jews in the Twelfth-Century Werewolf Renaissance,”Journal of the History of Ideas 75/4 (2014), 521-43.

Committee members: Tim William Machan (Univ. of Notre Dame) (Chair), David Hult (UC Berkeley), and Caroline Walker Bynum (Institute for Advanced Study).

The Van Courtlandt Elliott Prize recognizes a first article in the field of medieval studies judged to be of outstanding quality. It is awarded this year to David Shyovitz’s thorough and thoughtful essay, “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth-Century Werewolf Renaissance,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75/4 (2014), 521-43. Acknowledging that scholars today reject the paradigm of the Middle Ages as progressing steadily towards modern cultural practices, the essay, at its broadest level, echoes many cultural and intellectual historians in its emphasis on medieval alterity. The principal focus of Shyovitz’s article is the sudden appearance of corporeal metamorphosis, more specifically figures of lycanthropy, in Jewish theological writings of the late twelfth- and early thirteenth century and their relation to a similar interest in contemporary Christian writings, both theological and literary. How, Shyovitz asks, “did those who were considered by many to be monsters themselves conceive of monstrosity?” He provides a brief, albeit rich, account of figures of corporeal metamorphosis in the Hebrew commentaries of a group known as the “Pietists” working in medieval Germany, and then juxtaposes it with the much more well-studied western European tradition of the werewolf in a Christian context.  After cogently synthesizing the work of a number of specialists in this field, historians and literary scholars, Shyovitz sketches an intriguing portrait of cultural interchange between Jews and Christians in the early thirteenth century, even providing clever hypotheses regarding how these encounters between specific individuals might have taken place. And in the process he finds in “late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century northern Europe, both Christians and Jews overcame the hesitancies of their predecessors and wholeheartedly embraced human-animal transformation in their explorations of the mechanics of the Incarnation and the Eucharist (in the case of Christians), and the meaning and potentialities of the human body (in the case of Jews).” For the elegance of its prose, its synthesis of a range of primary and secondary sources, and the significant breadth of its claims, David Shyovitz’s essay is an outstanding model of how much can be accomplished in a scholar’s first medieval article.

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