Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History 2010 awarded to Rosamond McKitterick

27 January 2011

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2010 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History (USD 150,000) to Professor Rosamond McKitterick of Cambridge University in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

She is receiving the prize because she has fundamentally changed how we view the Carolingians and the interplay of politics, religion and scholarship in their time.

Research: Literacy among the Carolingians

Historians long assumed that - following a lengthy period in which very few northern Europeans could read or write and ideas were transmitted orally - literacy began to revive once again in the eleventh century. Rosamond McKitterick upended this image completely with research that was initially considered highly controversial. Her method combines meticulous analysis of original manuscripts - not only the text itself, but also how it was created and to which other texts it refers - and a wide-ranging view of history. Based on this method, she has argued that literacy in fact revived some three centuries earlier than assumed, during Charlemagne's reign.

McKitterick has presented plausible evidence showing that many children went to school in Carolingian times and that literacy had infiltrated far down the social pyramid. Princes issued written orders, noblemen gifted libraries to monasteries, and former slaves were given a written document as evidence that they were freemen. Contrary to earlier notions, it appears that the written word was crucially important in both ecclesiastical and secular society as far back as the eighth century.

In her later work, McKitterick fleshed out this new image of the Carolingians. Drawing on meagre source material, she has managed to sketch a surprisingly complete picture of Charlemagne and his empire, of how people then regarded their own past, and of how politics, religion and scholarship were interrelated.


Rosamond Deborah McKitterick was born Rosamond Pierce in Chesterfield, UK, in 1949. She spent part of her youth in Australia and completed an honours degree at the University of Western Australia in Perth. She then returned to the UK, where she received the degrees of M.A., Ph.D., and Litt.D. from the University of Cambridge. After a year in Munich, she became a lecturer and then received a Chair in Medieval History at Cambridge University. She is also Professorial Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, and a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Rosamond McKitterick is regarded as a brilliant but also accessible researcher and teacher. Young medievalists flock to work with her and, after obtaining their degrees, many of them find academic posts all around the world. This has given rise to a McKitterick school in historical research, an approach that, far from being uniform, manifests itself in publications exploring a variety of different subjects and methods. Alongside her own impressive list of publications, these works attest to the inspiring example set by this original historian, who is now at the height of her career.

Key publications

  • McKitterick R.D. 1983. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians. Longman Publishing Group, London
  • McKitterick R.D. 1989. The Carolingians and the Written Word. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • McKitterick R.D. 2004. History and Memory in the Carolingian World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • McKitterick R.D. 2006. Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame
  • McKitterick R.D. 2008. Charlemagne: the Formation of a European Identity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge


The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History was established in 1990. It was initially intended for European history alone, but in 2006 eligibility was extended to all areas of the discipline. Previous laureates include Jonathan Israel, Peter Gay, Heiko Oberman, Jacques le Goff and en Joel Mokyr. The jury was chaired by Douwe Yntema.


The Heineken Prizes will be presented on Thursday 23 September 2010 during an extraordinary meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.