Norman Hinton died this past week, and that death has sent amazing ripples through the world of academics and literary scholars. No one, yet has posted his official obituary, and I am certainly unqualified to do so. But I do feel called upon to note a phenomenon occurring on the internet.
Let's start with a short internet biography, which, from the tongue-in-cheek tone of it, was almost certainly written by the man himself:
Hinton is an Emeritus Professor of English from the University of
Illinois-Springfield. He received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees
from the University of Tulsa and his Ph.D. from the University of
Wisconsin, where his dissertation, on the Troy Story in medieval
England, was supervised by Helen C. White.
Hinton has taught at Wisconsin, Princeton, St. Louis University, and the
above-mentioned University of Illinois-Springfield. He has taught
Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and many other pieces
of Middle English and Old English literature in a variety of classes as
well as a number of classics of medieval literature (e.g. the Nibelungellied, the Song of Roland, the Poem of My Cid,
etc.), and History of the English Language. He has also taught Popular
Fiction, SF, Mysteries, Modern British Literature, and various other
classes as the needs of a small department required.
Hinton has published in scholarly journals and given papers at meetings
on a wide range of topics, and is very active on the Internet in several
discussion groups. He is married and has 5 children, none of whom
As soon as Norm's daughter Sue posted the announcement of his death, tributes began to show up on Twitter, on Facebook, in private messages that began "Have you heard . . . ."
Some people knew him only on Facebook. They remark on his thoughtful answers to people with questions, as well as his ability to speak a hard truth if he though it was necessary.
Some knew him from Mediev-l, the discussion list I wrote about only a couple of weeks ago. He was an early and frequent participant. Many of his list friends have acknowledged his breadth of knowledge and the generosity with which he shared that knowledge.
Some knew him only from Kalamazoo. I have seen comments from all over the world, from people who remember having an interesting, or helpful, or amusing conversation with the man in person during the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo.
And some of us knew him from ORB, the Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. As I mentioned in that earlier blog, Norm was one of the original Five, who sat down on a Saturday afternoon in Valley II to come up with a plan to create a website to serve the needs of medieval scholars. Norman Hinton did not "need" such a site, (he was way beyond the rest of us in terms of general knowledge), but he understood its value, and he stood behind me for years, helping to guide my work as I served as ORB's first editor.
I, like so many of the people on the internet this week, stand forever in his debt. My career rose as I stood on this fine man's shoulders. He was truly one of our giants.