Initiated in 2003, the Bishko Prize honors Professor Charles Julian Bishko, the distinguished historian of medieval Iberia who taught for 39 years at the University of Virginia. The biennial prize recognizes the best peer-reviewed article or book chapter on medieval Iberian history published by a North American scholar. Submissions will only be accepted from those who are active members at the time of submission.
Submissions will be solicited in the fall of even-numbered years.
2021 Bishko Awards: Jessica Boon and Dana Wessell Lightfoot & Alexandra Guerson
For this cycle the committee felt that there were two submissions equally deserving of the award.
Jessica Boon, “The Body-and-Soul in Pain: Medico-Theological Debates in Late Medieval Castilian Passion Treatises.” Viator 50.1 (2019): 249-87. DOI 10.1484/J.VIATOR.5.121363. (actual publication date Sept 2020)
This incredibly erudite article is an outstanding example of the ways interdisciplinary approaches to historical questions can expand our understanding of certain phenomena. Boon explores late medieval and early modern medical understanding of passio by addressing the ways in which medical writers wrote about Christ’s passion, or suffering. Boon focuses on the last quarter of the fifteenth century through first quarter of the sixteenth, tracing a shift in Castilian religious life, one that resulted in an increasing focus on the passion and on devotion to reenacting Christ’s passion. The question of the passion points to the obvious Christological question that late medieval writers wrestled with, concerning Jesus’ divine and human nature, and what this implied for whether he could suffer pain. Boon’s article traces the representation of Christ’s passion as a vehicle that provided the medical profession with an increased understanding of (and vocabulary for) pain, both physical and mental. Boon’s piece draws on medieval natural philosophy, the work of scholastic theologians, medical writers, and artistic representations of Christ’s passion, bridging medical history and art history in truly impressive ways. Moreover, Boon’s article is superbly contextualized: this study is not merely an examination of abstract ideas; rather, Boon ties these shifts in Castilian thinking about Christ’s passion directly to the emergence of the popular processional traditions that emerged in Seville during Semana Santa in the 1520s, as well as to the increasing emphasis on orthodoxy that took root post-1478 with the foundation of the Inquisition. The range of disciplines with which this article engages is impressive, and the author uses this interdisciplinary approach to reach significant conclusions that re-shape our understanding of Castilian religious life at a pivotal and perplexing moment in the kingdom’s history.
Dana Wessell Lightfoot & Alexandra Guerson, “A Tale of Two Tolranas: Jewish women’s agency and conversion in late medieval Girona,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 12.3 (2020): 344-364.
As an example of applying a micro-historical approach to study two women who enter the historical record roughly thirty years apart, this superb article examines larger structural questions about the lives of Jewish women. Lightfoot and Guerson’s article contextualizes the experiences of two women named Tolrana through an impressive array of notarial acts and royal letters collected over years of archival work. The first of these women lived through the pogroms that spread across Castile and Aragon in the summer of 1391; when her husband converted to Christianity, she refused to do the same and claimed that she would no longer live as husband and wife with her newly-converted husband. The second Tolrana, an orphan and a minor under the guardianship of Jewish relatives, pled to King Alfons of Aragon to be allowed to convert to Christianity and to be placed under the guardianship of her converso uncle. Lightfoot and Guerson’s article presents these two women’s stories to highlight Jewish women’s agency in these pivotal moments of Catalan-Aragonese history so fraught with questions of religious identity and conversion. The authors’ methodological approach is sophisticated, presenting a nuanced understanding of how we think about and analyze agency (p. 3). Beyond this, another of the article’s real strengths is the way it moves between the particular and the general. The focus here, of course, is on the lives of the two Tolranas, but Lightfoot and Guerson use the circumstances of these two women’s lives to develop a fuller portrait of Jewish and Christian norms surrounding marriage, of the possibility for agency, and of decisions surrounding conversion in two particularly perilous moments. Through this micro-history, the authors reward the readers with an extremely granular and contextual analysis of the events of 1391 and of the events surrounding 1419, including papal politics, the reunification of the papacy, the Disputation of Tortosa, etc. This is crucial in reaching a fuller understanding of the religious history of the Iberian Peninsula during these decades when inter-confessional dynamics were in a state of dramatic flux.
The 2020 winner of the Bishko prize was Pamela A. Patton, “Demons and Diversity in León,” Medieval Encounters 25, no. 1-2 (2019): 150-179.