Audrey Walton has won a Polanyi Prize for 2019. These prestigious prizes recognize the innovative and ground-breaking work of five university researchers in Ontario and are awarded in honour of Ontario’s Nobel Prize winner John C. Polanyi, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research in chemical kinetics.
Professor Walton’s research examines the rise of vernacular literature in early medieval Europe and explains how the stages of this rise—transitioning from literature in Latin to literature written in local languages—unfolded in the British Isles.
She shows that even as early English speakers recognized the influence of Latin texts, they also promoted the production and preservation of literature in local languages. Owing to this emphasis on multilingualism in early medieval England, vernacular literature developed rapidly during the sixth through the twelfth centuries. Early formations of English vernacular literature in turn gave critical impetus to the spread of vernacular literature occurring throughout Europe.
Professor Walton’s work examines the poetry of the two earliest named poets in English literature, Caedmon and Cynewulf, alongside writings by monk and historian the Venerable Bede (known as the father of English history). She situates this work—alongside the work of many anonymous poets and historians—in the context of a long and dynamic tradition of early medieval English and Latin writing.
The project, under development as a book, shows how this formative period in English literature influenced the trajectory of later literary traditions. This work retraces and explores the varied networks, diverse points of contact, and paths of information that enabled literary conversation across national borders.