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In Memoriam: Hoyt Duggan

Hoyt Duggan, known as Dug to all his friends, passed away on April 8, 2019, a few days after his 81st birthday, following a long illness. He will be remembered most particularly for establishing and directing the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive. He was an early enthusiast for electronic texts, and at the 1991 Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo he assembled a small team and set it to work on an edition of the eccentric text of Langland’s poem in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 201. Despite numerous technological problems and editorial issues, the edition was published on CD-ROM in 1999, the first of a series of editions of the B Version.1 He generously credited the editorial work to the whole team, though it was mainly his own and that of Robert Adams. For this and future editions Gail Duggan headed a team of transcribers, and more editors were drawn into the net by Dug’s enthusiasm and with his constant support and advice. When in 2012 the time came for him to pass on the directorship, he made sure that the project, now publishing on the internet, was in safe hands and had a secure future.2

He and I had been brought together by a mutual interest in the marvellous alliterative poem The Wars of Alexander, on which we corresponded for some years before we actually met. We spent a decade editing the poem, the work slowed partly by the tardiness of transatlantic snail-mail, and partly by each of us enthusiastically retreating to entrenched positions which we defended passionately; but in the end, as we explained in the introduction to the edition, we agreed on almost all decisions, and recorded those differences which remained unresolved.3 It was a fascinating journey for both of us. In order to determine what metrical constraints governed the composition of alliterative verse, Dug constructed a corpus of nearly 13,000 lines of alliterative verse which he parsed and analysed metrically, and then used the computer to sort into syntactic and rhythmic patterns. The result was a series of ground- breaking studies on alliterative metre, beginning with ‘The Shape of the B-Verse in Middle English Alliterative Poetry’.4 A couple of studies focused on the metre of Piers Plowman, in which Dug argued that Langland’s practice was, surprisingly, as rule-governed as that of other alliterative poets. His later work on the Archive convinced him that he had been wrong, and he wrote a powerful article admitting his change of mind and the consequences of that for an editor of the poem.5 It demonstrated an intellectual honesty which was entirely characteristic of him. He was a profoundly serious scholar and at the same time a witty and generous friend.

Thorlac Turville-Petre

In addition to his considerable scholarly output, Dug was a dedicated and beloved teacher and mentor. He taught in the English Department at the University of Virginia from 1968 until his retirement in 2007. During this time, the department’s reputation grew to international prominence, with medieval literature acknowledged as one of several areas of particular strength. Dug’s high standards for himself and his students and his emphasis on mentoring and professionalization were instrumental in building the strong reputation in early British literature that the department still enjoys. Today Dug’s former students may be found on the faculties of numerous universities throughout the U.S. He is remembered as a selfless and tireless advocate, a friend and teacher always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that his students were able to succeed. In 2013, as a mark of their affection and their admiration, Dug’s friends and ex-students contributed to a festschrift in his honour: Yee? Baw For Bokes, ed. Michael Calabrese and Stephen H. A. Shepherd (Los Angeles CA).

I first met Dug as an undergraduate student in one of his medieval literature seminars. I remember well a response I received that semester to an email, addressed “Dear Professor Duggan,” to request a meeting. The reply came back quickly: “Dear Tim, My friends call me Dug. How about lunch?” At the time I knew that I admired the person who stood in front of the class, the scholar who had such an easy command of such difficult texts. And I knew that he was a model for a life that I was interested in leading. But I had no idea just how much of a model and mentor this man would become. That brief email exchange meant something to me then as it does now – it felt like my entrée into the world of scholarship, and indeed in many ways that is what it turned out to be. And in so many ways it encapsulates what Dug was about: It was warm and welcoming. It showed no interest in hierarchies or formalities, but showed instead interest in a person and his ideas. And it is a good example of why Dug built such close and productive relationships with so many students over his decades of teaching.

Timothy Stinson

  1. The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, Vol. 1: Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 201 (F), ed. Robert Adams, Hoyt N. Duggan, Eric Eliason, Ralph Hanna, John Price-Wilkin, and Thorlac Turville-Petre (Ann Arbor MI, 1999). 

  2. The PPEA website is

  3. Hoyt N. Duggan and Thorlac Turville-Petre, The Wars of Alexander, EETS SS 10 (Oxford, 1989), p. li. 

  4. Speculum 61 (1986), 564-92. 

  5. ‘Notes on the Metre of Piers Plowman: Twenty Years On’, in Approaches to the Metres of Alliterative Verse, ed. Judith Jefferson and Ad Putter, Leeds Texts and Monographs, ns 17 (Leeds, 2009), pp. 159-86. 

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Piers Plowman Electronic Archive

The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, a collaborative open-access project, presents the rich textual tradition of Piers Plowman, a fourteenth-century allegorical dream vision attributed to William Langland. Three distinct versions of the poem (A, B, and C) survive in more than fifty unique manuscripts, none in Langland's own hand. The digital format of this project enables instructors, students, and researchers to explore late medieval and manuscript culture through the many variations of Piers Plowman.

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