Provost Presides over Launch of Oxford Handbook

It might be easy to forget that Ralph Hexter, immersed of late in his role as UC Davis’s provost and executive vice chancellor, is also a scholar.  The UC Davis community will have a welcome reminder of Hexter’s academic work on Tuesday afternoon when he and co-editor David Townsend, Professor of Medieval Studies and English at the University of Toronto, sign copies of their new book The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature.

A collection of 28 essays from senior and rising international scholars that represents the current thinking in the study of Latin language and literature in the Middle Ages, the Handbook seeks to “shed new light on broader questions of literary history, cultural interaction, world literature, and language in history and society,” according to its publisher Oxford University Press.

“Medieval Latin has often been viewed as the stepchild of Latin Studies. There tends to be a privileging of the classical era and style,” Hexter noted. “Even many Latinists have little idea of this millennium of Latin literature. Any work on these texts is in a sense recuperative.”

When Hexter approached his co-editor about the project, Townsend said it quickly became clear that neither of them was interested in producing a summary volume of the field. What that meant was including essays that posed questions, often “vexed and difficult ones,” rather than providing “settled answers.”

“We wanted to open up conversations between medieval Latinists and a wider scholarly community,” Townsend explained. “We wanted to advocate for more engagement between proponents of current interpretive theory and scholars committed to and adept in more traditional philological disciplines.”

As an introduction to the book signing and reception, Townsend will deliver a talk, beginning at 5 p.m. in Voorhies 126, which addresses the issue of gender in these texts. Entitled “Thinking through Irony, Cruising the Margins: Why Gender Matters in Medieval Latin Literature,” the talk and reception are sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Classics Program, and the Department of English.

As a scholar in classics and comparative literature, Hexter has continued throughout his administrative career to teach, lecture, and publish on the interpretation and meaning of classical Greek and Roman literature from antiquity through the Middle Ages to modern times. It’s no small feat, considering his position as the No. 2 person in the UC Davis administration.

After years of climbing the ranks of university administration, Hexter remains passionate about his academic work and admits there are “four to five projects” he still wants to get out. “It’s my identity,” he said, referring to his role as a scholar. “I believe there’s value in every one of these projects and the contributions they will make to multiple fields.”

He next plans to finish an edition with translation and commentary of two fifteenth-century Latin plays, “long in the making,” he reports.

However, Hexter admits he could not remain even this productive without the collaboration of a postdoc, who serves as his editorial assistant. In addition, he has been careful to pick projects that can be interrupted rather than a monograph that would demand sustained attention. “Editorial duties are easier to intercalate with my responsibilities as an administrator,” said Hexter.

And, for Hexter, those responsibilities are considerable. As the campus’s chief academic and operating officer, Hexter directs and collaborates with the campus’s six vice chancellors, 14 deans, the University Librarian and other campus leaders. Since his arrival on campus in January 2011, Hexter also has played a key managerial role in the conception, design, and implementation of major campus initiatives in support of UC Davis’s mission and its Vision of Excellence. Hexter also serves as the University’s Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and is the Chancellor’s principal liaison to the Academic Senate.