John Eldevik

The Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., awarded Associate Professor of History John Eldevik a one-semester membership in the School of Historical Studies for the spring 2018 term. During his residency at the IAS, Eldevik will use his residency to work on a book project, under contract with the ARC-Humanities Press, on the medieval legend of Prester John.

Eldevik’s study will explore the origins and transmission of the forged “Letter of Prester John” in dozens of medieval manuscripts with the aim of understanding its reception and the changing significance of the text for medieval audiences over time. 

In the fanciful text, a Christian emperor of India named John writes to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenos describing the riches, marvels and great religious piety of his realm. The widely-copied text influenced European views of Asia and Africa for several centuries, inspiring hope that some kind of Christian empire lay yet undiscovered beyond the lands of Islam. 

The IAS is one of the world’s premier scholarly institutions dedicated to pure theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. Though not affiliated with nearby Princeton University, the IAS maintains close collaborative ties with many of Princeton’s faculty. Institute members also have access to Princeton’s library and other university resources.

The IAS has a permanent faculty supplemented by numerous visiting members from around the world who are allowed to freely research and collaborate during their term of residency. Famous IAS faculty have included physicist Albert Einstein, anthropologist Clifford Geertz and historian Joan Wallach Scott. 

Eldevik was also recently awarded a research grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). This summer he will spend a month at the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) in Munich where he will conduct research for his book.

The MGH is Germany’s oldest and most prestigious academic center for medieval historical studies. Eldevik will use its location adjacent to the Bavarian State Library to study original manuscripts containing the “Letter of Prester John.”

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