Professor Sharon Gerstel of the UCLA Department of Art History has won the 2016 Runciman Book Prize for “Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium” (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
The annual award is given by the Anglo-Hellenic League in London to recognize the best book focused on Greek or Hellenic culture. Gerstel received the award, which included a prize of £9,000, during a ceremony on June 14 at the organization’s Hellenic Centre. The award, which is named in honor of the life and legacy of Sir Steven Runciman, a leading scholar of Byzantine art, is sponsored by the Bank of Greece.
"The product of over 20 years of painstaking fieldwork in Greece, Sharon Gerstel’s 'Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium' seeks to reconstruct the lives of the rural poor in Greece from a wide range of sources: from the material remains of settlements, from ethnographic research, from illustrated manuscripts – but especially perhaps from the wall paintings of countless small churches used continuously over the intervening centuries, but many now in a state of disrepair," said Professor Thomas Harrison of the School of Classics, University of St. Andrews and chair of the award judging panel, during the award presentation.
"Professor Gerstel’s book covers all aspects of rural life," he continued, "from physical labour to witchcraft or the role of gossip (one of the main sins in representations of the Last Judgement). What distinguishes her book, however, is her attempt – as she puts it in her opening – to view the Greek landscape ‘from the heart.’ This is an ambition that is amply fulfilled: Every page is imbued with a sense of duty to preserve the memory of the rural life that she describes, and to honor those individuals who guided her in her fieldwork. A delightful aspect of her book is the presence of so many people in her photographs …. She manages, in essence, to summon up a whole world – real and imaginary – of past experience.”