Spring 2000: Samuel G. Armistead

Spring 2000
ACMRS Distinguished Lecture in Medieval Studies

ACMRS was honored to welcome acclaimed scholar Samuel G. Armistead, Professor of Spanish at the University of California, Davis, and Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, as the ACMRS Distinguished Lecturer in Medieval Studies during the Spring 2000 semester. Professor Armistead presented a free public lecture titled "From Epic to Ballad in the Hispanic Tradition: Some Recent Discoveries" at Arizona State University on Thursday, March 23, 2000, at 7:30 p.m.

Professor Armistead has dedicated his life to the study of Hispanic traditional poetry, in the scholarly tradition of Ramon Menedez Pidal, Milman Parry, and Albert B. Lord. His extensive field work on Hispanic oral literature has taken him to many different corners of the world, where Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities exist: from such obvious sources as Spain, Portugal, and Latin America to more unexpected places such as Morocco, Israel, and Louisiana. These investigations are reflected in twenty-five book-length publications and over four hundred articles. Professor Armistead has lectured on Hispanic ballads and on medieval Spanish epics, chronicles, and lyric poetry at major institutions of higher learning in Europe and America.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Samuel G. Armistead received his B.A. in Spanish from Princeton University in 1950, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Princeton was also home to his M.A. and Ph.D. work, as he went on to specialize in Medieval Spanish Literature and Romance Philology.

Between 1956 and 1967, he taught at UCLA, earning tenure and entering into an extended and productive scholarly cooperation with Professors Joseph H. Silverman and Israel J. Katz. After a one-year appointment as professor at Purdue University, he joined the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, as full professor, and remained there until 1982, when the joys of the peaceful and bicycle-populated Davis campus lured him to the West Coast.

Professor Armistead's contribution to Hispanic letters is difficult to encapsulate succinctly. He is a world-renowned expert on the Romancero or Spanish traditional balladry, one of the essential foundations of the Spanish poetic tradition. He has worked not only on ballads, but also on medieval Hispanic historiography, on the primitive lyric traditions and, notably, on the problem of the origins of medieval Spanish epic poetry. He has spoken with a clear and authoritative voice with respects to the numerous polemics that surround the genesis of Spanish epic poetry. His work methodically and meticulously explicates the relationships between Hispanic balladry and pan-European balladry, working directly with sources in French, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Modern Greek, and various other languages. In addition, Professor Armistead is an accomplished dialectologist, having done extensive research and fieldwork on the dialects of the Canary Islands and their counterparts and Isleño immigrant populations still surviving in Louisiana.

Presently, Professor Armistead is endeavoring to complete a sixteen-volume study of the Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, started in the 1950's. Volumes I, II, and III of this project have already been published with the University of California Press; volumes IV and V will be published in the near future; volumes VI and VII have already been written and are currently being keyed in; and volume VIII is nearing completion. Professor Armistead is undaunted and confident about finishing this mammoth undertaking, which truly could only be accomplished by someone who has dedicated an entire scholarly life to its successful completion. His life's work constitutes an admirable obsession to document Sephardic poetic voices from the past and the present, an oral tradition now slowly being assimilated into modern society and destined inevitably to disappear. Professor Armistead has, then, assured that the Sephardic cultural contribution to Hispanic letters will remain forever with us for study and edification of future generations.

Professor Armistead has received numerous grants, awards, and fellowships, from the American Philosophical Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Lucious N. Littauer Foundation, the NEH Fellowships Program, and the Spanish Ministry of Culture, to name only a few. He was elected to the Medieval Academy of America in 1973 and to the American Folklore Society in 1991. In 1994, Professor Armistead was awarded the National Jewish Book Award in Folklore and Anthropology and he was named Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) at Georgetown University in 1990. In 1995, he was elected Honorary Member of the Associación Hispánica de Literatura Medieval, a privilege few U.S. academics have attained. That same year he also received a medal from Tel Aviv University in recognition of his substantial Sephardic research and Bar-Ilan University with a similar honor in 1997. In 1998 he was elected a corresponding member of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. In 1999 he was elected Premio Internacional Elio Antonio de Nebrija by the University of Salamanca.