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Winner of the Haskins Medal

The Haskins Medal

The 2017 Haskins Medal is awarded to Joel Kaye,  A History of Balance, 1250 – 1375.  The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and Its Impact on Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Committee members: Annemarie Weyl Carr, (Chair); Richard W. Kaeuper; Jocelyn Wogen Brown.

Joel Kaye’s A History of Balance, 1250 – 1375 is the recipient of the 2017 Haskins Medal for distinguished publication in the field of medieval studies.  Beautifully written and compellingly original, Kaye's book addresses a terrain deeply familiar to medievalists-the French and Italian university intelligentsia of 1280-1360, but does so with transformative freshness.  His theme is balance: he argues the emergence of a new "sense" of balance across the spectrum of intellectual disciplines.  More a tacit model than a formulated idea, balance entailed not static equalization, but dynamic equilibrium, self-generated by the interaction of multiple moving parts, and non-hierarchical in order.  Locating its origin above all in university scholars' exposure to the behavior of market forces on the one hand and the premise of systemic balance in Galen on the other, Kaye traces its manifestation in eight coupled chapters, first in economic theory, next in the medical realm with Galen's understanding of the body as a self-equalizing system, then from the medical body to the body politic, with its fractious civic order arising from the competitive interaction of shifting classes, competences, and communal needs, and finally to the model's application in a series of deeply insightful speculations on the workings of nature and the cosmos within the realm of scholastic natural philosophy.   After following the emergence of the new model of balance over the period 1280-1370, Kaye then points to evidence of the model’s dissolution within university culture after the 1370's, and he speculates on its possible causes and effects.  Kaye's complex intellectual bridgework between an impressive number of fields elicits, in Laura Smoller's words, a "feeling of intellectual wonder not unlike that of a child holding up a kaleidoscope, as the 'pieces' of medieval thought fall into a new and beautiful array."  Equilibrium's character as a model rather than a formulated idea-something sensed more than spoken-leads Kaye to modes of inquiry as innovative as the content he garners, balancing ideation with environment, reception with verbal transmission.  A History of Balance opens a profusion of fresh perspectives and an even wider array of fresh questions.  And given our fraught contemporary world, his theme of balance may prove as timely as he makes it fresh.

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