History professor Paul Freedman will replace incoming Graduate School Dean Jon Butler as the chairman of Yale’s History Department, University President Richard Levin announced in a letter faculty members received Monday.

Freedman, the director of the Medieval Studies Program, will head Yale’s largest department for a three-year term beginning July 1. In his letter, Levin praised Freedman’s service to the University and commended Butler for his six-year tenure, during which he made nearly two dozen faculty appointments.

“I am most grateful to Professor Freedman for taking on this important responsibility,” Levin wrote. “I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Jon Butler for his devoted leadership. He has been an extraordinary chair, and I am grateful for his dedication to the department and to Yale.”

Freedman, who was unavailable for comment Monday, joined the Yale faculty in 1997, after he taught for eight years at Vanderbilt University, where he was awarded the Jeffrey Nordhaus Teaching Prize.

“When Paul Freedman came to Yale from Vanderbilt, he established himself right away as a great citizen as well as a great scholar,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said. “History had a fabulous chair in Jon Butler, and I think the department will continue to thrive under [Freedman].”

Butler said Freedman is well equipped to lead the department.

“He’s going to be a terrific chair,” Butler said. “He knows Yale, he’s a superb historian, he’s thoughtful, he’s considerate, and he’s judicious.”

As a specialist in medieval Catalonia and Middle Age peasants, Freedman will be able to balance the wide-ranging areas of study within the History Department, professors said.

“What’s interesting is that Paul Freedman is a medievalist, which is one of the smaller fields supported by the department,” history and classics professor John Matthews said. “It all adds to the collaboration we can achieve in the History Department. I think one has to be pleased to have such a person chairing such a large department.”

History professor Valerie Hansen, who currently serves as the department’s director of graduate studies and is teaching a graduate seminar with Freedman on trade and travel in the Middle Ages, said faculty members are “delighted” with Freedman’s appointment.

“Everybody likes him,” said Hansen. “He’s hilarious and he’s a very delightful scholar.”

Matthews credited Butler for his ability to harmonize the different sectors of the History Department, such as ancient, medieval, European, American, and international studies.

“I didn’t know how he managed it,” Matthews said. “There is a tremendous range of interests to keep in balance and Jon Butler has done an excellent job at it.”

In 1978, Freedman earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where his doctoral work focused on Spanish bishops and canons during the Middle Ages.

His 1999 book “Images of the Medieval Peasant” won him the 2002 Medieval Academy of America’s Haskins Medal and the 2001 Otto Grundler Prize from the International Congress of Medieval Studies.

Freedman is currently writing a book on spices in medieval Europe and why they were so highly valued.

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