H. C. Erik Midelfort

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H.C. (Hans Christian) Erik Midelfort (born 1942), is C. Julian Bishko Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He is a specialist of the German Reformation and the history of Christianity in Early Modern Europe (c. 1400-1800).

He was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and attended Yale University where he received a B.A. in History in 1964. He remained there for graduate studies in History under the supervision of Jaroslav Pelikan and other noted scholars such as Hajo Holborn, J. H. Hexter, and Edmund S. Morgan. In 1970, he graduated from Yale, and his first book (Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations) won the Gustav O. Arlt Award in the Humanities in 1973 from the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States.

From 1968 to 1970, he taught at Stanford University, and throughout his career, he has been a visiting scholar at Bern, Stuttgart, Harvard, and Oxford, where he was a visiting scholar at Wolfson College and a visiting fellow at All Souls College. From 1970 to 2009 he was a member of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.

In addition to his early work on witchcraft, Midelfort is perhaps best known for his award-winning studies on madness. In 1994, he published Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany and in 1999, A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany. For both books, he won the Roland Bainton Prize for the best book of the year in History and Theology from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. He is one of only two scholars to win the award twice. For the latter study, Midelfort also received from the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award from Phi Beta Kappa. More recently, Midelfort was selected as the lecturer-in-residence for the Terry Lectures at Yale University, during which he presented his latest book-length work, Exorcism and Enlightenment: Johann Joseph Gassner and the Demons of 18th-Century Germany (2005).

Because of his extensive work in translation of secondary sources, Midelfort is also well known for strengthening connections between his German and American colleagues. Among the seminal works that he has translated on the German Reformation are Peter Blickle’s The Revolution of 1525 (co-translator with Thomas Brady) and Bernd Moeller’s Imperial Cities and the Reformation, Three Essays (co-translator with Mark U. Edwards).

He has been awarded grants from numerous organizations, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 2004, he was the recipient of a Festschrift, or commemorative volume, presented by his German colleagues: Wider alle Hexerei und Teufelswerk: Die europäische Hexenverfolgung und ihre Auswirkungen auf Südwestdeutschland, eds. Sönke Lorenz and Jürgen Michael Schmidt. In 2008, he received another festschrift, Ideas and Cultural Margins in Early Modern Germany, eds. Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer and Robin Barnes.

Midelfort delivered his final undergraduate lecture on April 28, 2008 on the topic of magic and modernity. He retired from active teaching in May 2008.

Midelfort is the recipient of Spring 2011 Ellen Maria Gorrissen Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin.

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