Medieval history professor wrote groundbreaking book on Ireland


PROF MICHAEL RICHTER:MICHAEL RICHTER, who has died aged 68, was a former professor of medieval history at the University of Konstanz, Germany, having previously spent 15 years teaching at University College Dublin.

He is best known for his groundbreaking book, Medieval Ireland: the enduring tradition(1988). Whereas Irish history had traditionally been depicted either in isolation or in the manner by which it was influenced by outside forces, especially England, Richter adopted a different approach.

First, his study encompassed a longer time span than previous works and paid more attention to the early medieval period. Secondly, he placed less emphasis on political and military history than on general social and cultural aspects. As a result, his interpretation of medieval Ireland is one in which social and cultural norms dating from pre-historic times in Ireland are seen to survive right through to the Middle Ages.

Born in Waldenburg, southern Germany, in 1943, Richter studied history and English at Marburg, Berlin and London. In 1968 he completed his doctorate at the Free University of Berlin with a thesis later revised and published as Giraldus Cambrensis: the growth of the Welsh nation(1972).

Between 1968 and 1970 he was senior research fellow at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. It was during his stay in Aberystwyth that he came to Dublin in 1969 to attend a conference and met UCD professor of medieval history Fr FX Martin, with whom he shared an interest in Giraldus Cambrensis.

From 1970 to 1972, as a fellow of the German Research Foundation he did research on medieval manuscripts in the libraries of London, Canterbury and the Vatican.

In 1972 he was invited to teach medieval history at UCD for a year, to replace a staff member on sabbatical leave.

He continued in temporary appointments at UCD until 1977 when he secured a permanent position as a college lecturer. He left UCD in 1987 to take a full professorship in medieval history at the University of Konstanz. He continued to collaborate with Prof Próinséas Ní Chatháin of UCD in organising a series of international conferences on Ireland and Europe in the Middle Ages.

A man of boundless energy and enthusiasm, Richter enjoyed running, cycling and swimming. He liked meeting people and was a good conversationalist. An adventurous cook, baker and winemaker, he was a generous and entertaining host.

Music was a great passion, Bach his favourite composer, and he played the viola with chamber music groups in Dublin and Konstanz. He also was a member of the Gaudete Singers. He made many friends in Ireland, and was actively involved in the Dublin Medieval Society.

A memorial service will be held at St Finian’s Church, 23 Adelaide Road, Dublin 2, on Tuesday, August 30th, at 7.30pm.

Michael Richter: born March 30th, 1943; died May 23rd, 2011