The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship is vital because it enables some of the best scholars in the field of Medieval Studies to:
  1. Complete a research project that significantly enhances understanding of the medieval past, a time during which many of the social and cultural institutions so important to our heritage came into existence.
  2. Earn promotion so that they can achieve academic leadership and develop new research and teaching projects.

An Alarming Truth

Here are the facts. A 2009 report on "The Status of Women in the Profession" from the Modern Language Association says that although more women than men earn doctorates, "men continue to occupy tenure-track positions at a rate disproportionate to their actual numbers among new Ph.D.s." Although men and women are hired in nearly equal numbers at the entry level of university teaching, the number of women who advance to tenure is much lower than the number of men who achieve it. In the five to fifteen years after receiving their doctorates, more than 50 percent of men have achieved tenure. Barely 40% of women have gained tenure, with 35% of women Ph.D.s remaining at the lowest rung of the academic ladder as instructors. If these women achieve tenure, they are promoted to the rank of full professor in much lower proportion than men. Many of them spend their whole academic lives teaching, conducting research, serving their institution and profession, but never achieving promotions or positions of institutional leadership.

Why Medieval Studies Matter

In this time of geo-political unrest, we have powerful lessons to learn from events of the Middle Ages. In North America alone, there are more than 90 academic programs and institutes devoted to interdisciplinary Medieval Studies.

Now, more than ever, we need to understand the past in order to sustain our future. It is an ill-conceived perception that the Middle Ages, 500 to 1500 A.D., were the "dark ages" filled with barbarity, ignorance, disease, and violence. On the contrary, many of the cultural and social institutions that are central to the founding ideals of our United States took shape during that period.

Consider the Magna Carta, drafted in 1215 as the seed of constitutional law as we know it today. Recall the sweeping educational initiatives of Alfred the Great of England and Charlemagne of Europe, who collected and copied some of the most important texts then in existence, including works on philosophy, religion, history, medicine, literature, science, mathematics, and architecture. These texts laid the foundation for many successive periods of cultural renovation, such as the triumphant flowering of the twelfth century. Culturally, the late medieval period included the rise of the university system of education and an explosion of artistic expression and architectural innovation, particularly in the construction of cathedrals and castles. It is in this period as well that we see the revival of urban life and the development of a middle class.

Radical innovations in ship construction and way-finding devices made long distance travel increasingly easy, thus establishing trade routes that still exist today. The Middle Ages also marked the first sustained contact between the Western world and the Middle East. The Crusades, along with happier, more mutually beneficial cultural and economic interactions between the West and East, inform our world even now. As an academic field, Medieval Studies is truly interdisciplinary and international, encompassing more than a dozen languages and countries and including disciplines that range from medieval archaeology to paleoclimatology and other emerging disciplines.

We have more to learn about medieval culture as we build bridges of understanding to the present. More research by qualified scholars is needed so that important aspects of the Middle Ages may be presented to students in clear and engaging fashion. The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship provides funding for medieval women scholars to do just that. With your support, the work of Medieval Studies scholars will help bring fresh life to this critical period in Western history and keep it alive for generations of students to come.

About Time and Money

Here is a way to understand the career disparity. First, it takes an average of ten years to earn a Ph.D. in a medieval subject. Scholars lucky enough to get a teaching position at the rank of assistant professor are usually around ages 32 or 33. Within the next six years they must prove themselves worthy of receiving tenure and advancing to the rank of associate professor. This "proof" is usually in the form of a significant scholarly contribution, most often a book. For many women, this is the same time when they are starting families. So there is a disastrous convergence of multiple demands: completing a significant research project and publishing, teaching classes, accommodating time-consuming committee appointments, and beginning a family. Women who successfully advance beyond the tenure process are often abandoned there, without the mentoring and support (especially from senior women scholars who are in short supply) that enables a new level of intellectual growth to propel them into higher positions. All major professional associations in the humanities that have studied this problem recognize the need for innovative support for such women scholars. This fellowship provides such support on three fronts.

Funding: By providing scholars with financial support, currently for Summer leave, The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship allows promising faculty the time to think and write that will help them gain promotion on a faster track than they would take if they had to continue teaching while fulfilling their other obligations at work and home. Upon promotion, such scholars will more likely have the visibility to effect positive change in their home institutions and in academe worldwide.

Mentoring: Each recipient of the Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship recommends or is assigned a senior mentor who will help advise, support , and guide the recipient during the fellowship period. This has been the most innovative area of the fellowship.

Donor Support: The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship represents a dual opportunity for its donors:

  • To pay tribute to the life and work of a beloved and respected teacher/scholar.
  • To support, for years to come, women scholars who need time to complete promotion requirements and whose continued presence in the classroom will make a significant impact on their students. When women have achieved parity with men on these levels, the fund would also support male scholars.

With your generous support, Bonnie Wheeler's legacy will live on for generations of students and scholars in Medieval Studies.


Be a Donor to the Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship
The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship is a nationally focused private fund created by fellow medievalists and admirers of Dr. Wheeler and administered by the non-profit The Dallas Foundation.
As men and women are still not represented in equal numbers in the upper ranks of academia, more women scholars are needed in the top tier of scholars.
This Fellowship supports women scholars from around the nation as they complete major research projects that will satisfy professional promotion requirements—and that will help them break through the “glass ceiling.” Your gift will enable future scholars to benefit from the enormous generosity set in motion through Dr. Wheeler's distinguished career.