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In Memoriam: Morton Wilfred Bloomfield (1913-87)


A Remembrance by George H. Brown, Stanford University

During this year that has seen the deaths of a number of distinguished medievalists, one of the greatest losses has been that of the wise and kind Morton Bloomfield. He was an academic and spiritual guide to many of us, and an esteemed humanist to many more.

A native of Quebec, Bloomfield had a B.A. and M.A. from McGill (1935), and after a year of graduate work at University College, London, he went to Wisconsin, where he received his Ph.D. (1938), taking a position at the University of Akron in 1939 and American citizenship in 1943. Although in recent years Bloomfield served as a regular visiting professor at Stanford (1981-85) and did visiting stints at Washington University, New York University, Brandeis, and elsewhere, he is associated mainly with two institutions, Ohio State, where he rose through the ranks from assistant to full professor (1946-61), and Harvard, where, after serving as professor of medieval literature and then chairman of the department of English (1968-72), he was the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of English in 1972 until his official retirement in 1983 (actually, he never did retire, either as a teacher or scholar).

A scanning of the more than 210 items in his bibliography reveals how wide ranging was his interest and expertise. His articles on Old English literature and his numerous reviews of Old English studies could alone establish his reputation as an Anglo-Saxonist. But his importance to Anglo-Saxon studies and students extends far beyond his writings. At both Ohio State and Harvard he assisted younger colleagues and he befriended and directed scores of young medievalists. He was on the editorial boards of numerous journals that publish Old English materials, and on the executive committee of the MLA. His services to the profession were immense. One of his greatest accomplishments for our world of learning was the major role he played in establishing the National Humanities Center at the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Because he recognized the urgent need for such a center, Bloomfield even did a task quite uncongenial to his nature, fund-raising. The Center has been a blessing for humanists.

The honors which he attained he accepted with appreciation. He was a recipient of ACLS and Guggenheim fellowships (twice), a fellow for the Center of Advanced Studies at Stanford and of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. He received the Haskins medal of the Medieval Academy in 1965, and was a fellow and president of the Academy (1973-74); he was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was its vice-president (1972). He received honorary doctorates from Western Michigan University (1982), SUNY-Binghamton (1986), and Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv (1986). But amidst all the honors, he was unaffected, always congenial, a humble man in search of truth, a philosopher who loved the medieval literature that delights and edifies us.

OEN 20.2 (1987): 15.