Richard William Southern 1912–2001

Alexander Murray

in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 120, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, II

Published by British Academy

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780197263020
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734199 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Richard William Southern 1912–2001

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  • Theory, Methods, and Historiography


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People with a logical turn of mind say that the history of the world can be summarised in a sentence. A précis of mediaval historian Richard William Southern's work made in that spirit would identify two characteristics, one housed inside the other, and both quite apart from the question of its quality as a work of art. The first is his sympathy for a particular kind of medieval churchman, a kind who combined deep thought about faith with practical action. This characteristic fits inside another, touching Southern's historical vision as a whole. Its genesis is traceable to those few seconds in his teens when he ‘quarrelled’ with his father about the Renaissance. The intuition that moved him to do so became a historical fides quaerens intellectum. Reflection on Southern's life work leaves us with an example of the service an historian can perform for his contemporary world, as a truer self-perception seeps into the common consciousness by way of a lifetime of teaching and writing, spreading out through the world (all Southern's books were translated into one or more foreign language).

Keywords: medieval historian; medieval history; Renaissance; art; medieval churchman

Chapter.  13523 words. 

Subjects: Theory, Methods, and Historiography

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