Congratulations to Dr. John Osborne, Professor Emeritus at Carleton University who was awarded the 2021 Margaret Wade Labarge Prize from the Canadian Society of Medievalists for his monograph, Rome in the Eighth Century: A History in Art (Cambridge University Press, 2020)! This prize is awarded annually for the best book on medieval studies authored in Canada or by a Canadian scholar.
Citation: In an incisive and synthetic study, John Osborne invites readers to reconsider the history of Rome in the eighth century, arguing that what has long been considered a fallow period was in fact a dynamic, vibrant one, and arguably one of the most consequential in all of Roman history. To do so, he has developed an innovative, interdisciplinary methodology that, inter alia, confirms further the autonomy of material culture as historical evidence. Using art, artifact, and archaeology as historical documents, Osborne constructs a portrait of a city that was in the process of renegotiating its identity in a cultural borderland between the Greek East and the Latin West, a city becoming “Roman” again, but a different kind of “Roman” than before. For example, Osborne offers a particularly insightful assessment of the ruling elite, characterizing them not as a Greek elite replaced by Romans, but as the existing elite reinventing themselves as distinctly Roman. He also uses art and architecture to chronicle the process of Rome becoming a “city of the Church,” situated consciously as the centre of Christendom. Like the tesserae of the mosaics he describes, Osborne’s individual analyses are beautiful on their own, but taken together, they offer a broad and nuanced view of Rome and its place in the global medieval worldview. Throughout, this study also encourages readers to ask broad, complex questions about what “Rome” and “Roman” really meant in the Middle Ages. Finally, we would like to recognize that this book, in its conception and execution, reflects the interdisciplinary ethos that has come to define Canadian medieval studies.