Brigida Pacchiani Ardenghi Professor, Department of History
Dean of International Studies 2001-2005
Director, Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) 1999-2005, 2007-2008
Director, SATA Rome 2005; Director, SATA Cairo, 1998
Joined Connecticut College: 1985
B.A., Michigan State University; M.A., University of Washington; Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley
Medieval European history
Death and dying
Sickness and healing
Ritual, canon law, and codicology
Contact Fred Paxton
Professor Paxton sees himself as both a humanist and a social scientist. His courses attempt to open students to the complexity of experience in the European Middle Ages by showing how the choices and values forged during that time underlie some of the inherited feel of contemporary Western culture.
He also teaches courses on European history from 200 A.D. to the present and early Islamic history from Muhammad to the Mongols. Topics of his advanced courses have included "Death, Dying and the Dead from Antiquity to the Enlightenment" and "Health and Mortality in Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval West." He has most recently taught "New Approaches to World History" and led a team-taught course on history and science from the Big Bang to the present.
Paxton is the author of Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval Europe (Cornell University, 1990), which appeared in a paperback edition in 1996. His work on this book spurred his interest in sickness and healing in early medieval Europe. His subsequent research has been facilitated by grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, and the Camargo Foundation. In 1998-99 he was a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies, in Princeton, New Jersey.
From 1994-2002, Paxton was a visiting professor with the Chalice of Repose Project in Missoula, Montana. His master's thesis, A Medieval Latin Death Ritual: The Monastic Customaries of Bernard and Ulrich of Cluny (University of Washington, 1980), along with an essay "Liturgy and Anthropology," were published for students in the Project by St. Dunstan's Press (1993). According to the founder of music-thanatology, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, Paxton's work has placed this recent addition to palliative care of the dying in a historical context.
Paxton served as chair of the history department from 1996-1998 and 2010-2011, and has served as director of the medieval studies program .
He spent the 2006-2007 academic year as a Fellow of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. While there, he completed Anchoress and Abbess in ninth-century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirg of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Gandersheim (The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2009) and a draft of The Death Ritual at Cluny in the Central Middle Ages, to be published by Brepols in Belgium in 2012. This book is a reconstruction of the Latin ritual from an early twelfth-century manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, with facing-page English and French translations, a historical introduction and commentary. It will also contain music for some of the chants.
He is currently conducting research on the Middle Ages in the American Southwest.
Visit the history department and classics department websites for requirements for the major in history and in classical and medieval studies.
"The European Middle Ages have a special place in a liberal arts curriculum. After all, that is when schools dedicated to teaching the liberal arts first appeared. But the Middle Ages are with us as well in other ways - in our laws and language, values and prejudices, social relations and attitudes toward others. To study them is to be an archaeologist of Western Civilization. And we cannot understand the global present without some understanding of the Western past."
- Fred Paxton