Orange Alert

SU honors memory of historian James Powell with daylong colloquium Sept. 28

Program includes remarks by former colleagues, students

Sept. 18, 2012, by Rob Enslin

James Powell
James Powell
Syracuse Symposium, whose theme this fall is “Memory-Media-Archive,” continues with a daylong colloquium in memory of James M. Powell, professor emeritus of medieval history at Syracuse University. The program, “Religious Tolerance-Religious Violence-Medieval Memories," is Friday, Sept. 28, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons of Bird Library. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact The SU Humanities Center at 315-443-5708, or visit

The colloquium is organized and presented by The SU Humanities Center for The College of Arts and Sciences and campus community. It is sponsored by the departments of history and political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; the Department of Religion and the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Working Group, both in The College of Arts and Sciences; and SUNY Empire State College.  

“Jim Powell was a widely respected scholar of medieval church history, especially concerning the Crusades,” says Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities and founding director of The SU Humanities Center. “He also was a lover of books and libraries, as evidenced by his work with the Leopold van Ranke library, which was originally housed in the Tolley Building, where The SU Humanities Center is today. His legacy looms large on campus.”

Powell succumbed after a courageous battle for life, following a car accident in January 2011.

The colloquium features remarks by former students and colleagues of Powell’s, most of them prominent medievalists. They include the following (in alphabetical order):

• Giles Constable, medieval history professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study;

• William LaMoy, librarian in the Special Collections Research Center at SU; 

• Ahmed Abdel Meguid, assistant professor of religion at SU;

• Ken Pennington, the Kelly-Quinn Professor of Ecclesiastical and Legal History at The Catholic University of America;

• Jay Rubenstein, professor of history at The University of Tennessee;

• Mary Skinner, part-time mentor at SUNY Empire State College; and

• Brian Tierney, professor of medieval studies at Cornell University.

“The presentations will cover a variety of topics and will appeal to scholars and laypeople alike,” says Albrecht Diem, associate professor of history at SU, who is co-organizing the event with Mary Skinner. “Each lecture, in some way, exemplifies the creative and intellectual spirit of Jim Powell.”

Powell taught medieval history at SU from 1965 to 1997, when he retired and became an emeritus professor. During the Seventies, he directed the Syracuse University in Florence program, as well as chaired the history department. Prior to SU, he held faculty positions at Kent State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A prolific scholar, Powell is remembered for his award-winning book “Anatomy of a Crusade, 1213-1221” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986); the essay collection “The Crusades, the Kingdom of Sicily, and the Mediterranean” (Ashgate Publishing, 2007); and various studies and translations concerning Pope Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, and Albertanus of Brescia.

In 1977, Powell was awarded a federal grant to catalog the library of Ranke, which came to SU after the historian’s death in 1888. His efforts culminated with an international conference on campus, more than a decade later. Powell also helped edit the proceedings of the conference and published them in “Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline” (SU Press, 1989).

“Powell did much to publicize the rich resources of the Ranke library,” writes Pennington. “With this grant, the library was properly catalogued under his direction, and descriptions of Ranke’s manuscripts were finally analyzed and published by Edward Muir [a former SU historian who is now on the faculty of Northwestern University].”

Launched in 2001, Syracuse Symposium has become a fall tradition at SU, drawing thousands of people to free lectures, panel discussions, performances and exhibitions built on annual themes. Past symposia include “Identity,” “Conflict: Peace and War,” “Migration,” “Justice” and “Light.”

The SU Humanities Center, founded in 2008, fosters public engagement in the humanities, and is home to the Central New York Humanities Corridor; the Watson Visiting Collaborator and Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professorship programs; the HC Mini-Seminar and Syracuse Symposium Seminar series; and other research initiatives, annual fellowships and public programming.

Media Contact

Rob Enslin