Alastair J. Minnis
Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English
Alastair J. Minnis, B.A., Ph.D. Queen’s University of Belfast, faculty member at Yale since 2006, following previous appointments at Queen’s, Bristol, York , and Ohio State: You are a literary critic—your first publications were on Edna O’Brien, Louis MacNeice, and other contemporary poets and fiction writers—as well as a famed medievalist and historian of ideas, a writer of wit, deftness, and subtlety, whose books and essays have enriched beyond measure our understanding of late medieval intellectual culture. In volume after hefty volume, in works such as Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity (1982), Medieval Theory of Authorship (1984, 1988, 2009), The Medieval Boethius (1987), Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism (1988, 1991), Magister Amoris: The ‘Roman de la Rose’ and Vernacular Hermeneutics (2001), Fallible Authors (2008), Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature (2009), The Cambridge Introduction to Chaucer (2014), and From Eden to Eternity (2016)—the last four written at Yale—you have encouraged your contemporaries to pause, observe, and share the wonders and mysteries of late medieval thought, never neglecting to note the various roles that human agents (authors, compilers, scribes, and commentators) played in the making of texts. Your generous efforts have demonstrated how university theological faculties and vernacular poets wrestled with, parodied, and delighted in similar sets of ideas and issues.
The same generosity has led you to edit numerous books of collected essays to honor your colleagues, to contribute articles to dozens of such volumes, and to take up major administrative roles in your various postings, from your leadership of the English department at York and its Centre for Medieval Studies to directing Yale’s own Medieval Studies Program. You have led the profession in countless acts of service, as president of the New Chaucer Society, as vice-president of the John Gower Society, as editor or editorial board member of numerous top journals and book series, and as the long-time general editor of the Cambridge University Press series Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. You have been elected a Fellow of the English Association (UK), a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy. You are an intrepid traveler and have been invited to speak in many corners of the world including Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Finland, Japan, Taiwan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and Jerusalem.
In almost fifty years of teaching, you have advised or co-advised scores of dissertations, spent innumerable hours helping students revise and restructure their chapters (including in this, your first retirement year), and served your colleagues as a model of generous academic citizenship. You are a master at making students feel as though what they have to say is original and important and you have inspired countless Yale undergraduate and graduate students with your deep learning, humor, and caring. Your many acts of kindness offer a vision of how selfless and supportive scholarship can be. Your fame, of course, extends far beyond the classroom. Not long ago, at a conference in Kalamazoo, you and your old friend Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) were chatting at a bar when three young people slowly and hesitantly, eyes wide in astonishment, approached the two of you. Terry sighed, used to this; they came closer: “Are you?” one stuttered … “might you be … Alastair Minnis?” Your devoted Yale colleagues count themselves fortunate that you are indeed he.