Robert T. Farrell: 1939-2003

By Brady, Niall; Schryver, James | Antiquity, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Robert T. Farrell: 1939-2003


Brady, Niall, Schryver, James, Antiquity


Robert T. Farrell, FSA, Professor of Archaeology, English and Medieval Studies at Cornell University, USA passed away unexpectedly at his home on July 31, 2003, aged 64.

Born in the Bronx, New York, he graduated from Fordham University in 1960 (BA) and 1967 (PhD), at which point he joined the faculty of the English Department at Cornell, where he pursued his primary interest in Anglo-Saxon and Nordic literature. His published record includes Beowulf, Swedes, and Gears (1972), Daniel and Azarias (ed. 1974), Bede and Anglo-Saxon England(BAR 1978) and The Vikings (1982). These works and his numerous papers reflect the interdisciplinary approach that Farrell helped to establish and cultivate within Cornell, as part of the wider development of Medieval Studies since the 1960s. Above all, Bob pursued the illumination of text by understanding material culture, and his relentless energy in this regard was perhaps first catalysed by his delight in joining Rosemary Cramp's excavation team at Wearmouth and Jarrow. Many medieval archaeologists will recall the always pleasant experience of the sessions he organised at the International Congress of Medievalists in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Farrell played a pioneering role in bringing together philologists, historians, art historians, and archaeologists from around the world, the fruits of which emerged in the American Early Medieval Studies series, which he founded and co-edited, along with his annual summaries of archaeological fieldwork included in the Old English Newsletter. Farrell also made fundamental contributions to the nascent sub-discipline of Underwater Archaeology, both in England (The Penlee wreck) and in America (Shoals Nautical Archaeology Project), and more recently in Ireland (The Crannog Archaeology Project). Indeed, his passion to understand the past led him to dive deeply and endure the cold too long, conditions that unhappily contributed to a chronic back problem in later life.

In the 1970s Bob designed a writing programme at Cornell that became the basis for The Freshman Writing Program, which still flourishes, and is regarded as one of Cornell's great undergraduate teaching successes. His early awareness of the need to support student literacy combined with his astute insight into how universities functioned; Farrell was able to ensure that the Writing Program was a venue where students at all levels benefited. …

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