University of California, Los Angeles

From the 2021 Award for Scholarly Distinction citation in the 2022 Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony booklet

Teofilo Ruiz is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at UCLA, where he held positions  in  both the Department of History and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Ruiz’s career trajectory has been nothing short of extraordinary. He grew up in Cuba, where, as a teenager, he supported the Cuban Revolution. After witnessing atrocities committed by the revolutionary government, Ruiz protested and  was jailed. He left for Miami in 1961 and eventually moved to New York, where he supported himself driving taxis. He went to night school at the tuition- free City College of New York, where he nurtured an interest in medieval history. He eventually went on for an MA at NYU and the PhD at Princeton, completing his PhD in 1974. Ruiz spent his entire 46-year career teaching in public universities: Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY (197498) and UCLA (19982020).

Ruiz is the author of 16 books on medieval and early modern Spain, including Crisis and Continuity: Land and Town in Late Medieval Castile (1994), winner of the AHA’s Premio del Rey. Ruiz’s research interests stretch across a range of innovative topics, including terror, festivals, food, clothing, and poverty. Though he has made groundbreaking contributions to traditional questions of kingship and Christian/Muslim relations in Castile, his research has never lost focus on common folk and the marginalized—women, criminals, slaves, Roma, and Jews. Examining everyday people and everyday life, Ruiz, perhaps more than any other scholar, bridges the divide between “medieval” and “early modern” Spanish histories, concentrating on the longue durée and destabilizing the popular obsession with 1492 as a watershed moment. In addition to his many works on Spanish history, Ruiz has also made important interventions in (re)-theorizing Braudel’s Mediterranean world, especially in its orientation to new Atlantic histories. Among his many academic accolades, Ruiz is a member of the Société nationale des Antiquaires de France, the Society of Fellows of the Medieval Academy of America, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to his pathbreaking research and writing, Ruiz is a legendary teacher. Former undergraduate students hail his lectures for their breadth, passion, and wit. His ability to convey a sense of wonder about the beauty and vulgarity of history inspired thousands of students over the course of his career. In 1995, the Carnegie Foundation awarded him its national College Professor of the Year. The CUNY system celebrated this achievement by posting placards of Ruiz all over the NYC subway system, briefly making him, as one colleague wryly put it, the most recognizable medievalist on the planet. Complementing Ruiz’s “rock star” persona as a lecturer is a deep commitment to mentorship. Former graduate students and colleagues laud his conviviality, his self-sacrifice, and his efforts in building scholarly communities. For his combined contributions to scholarship and teaching, President Barack Obama awarded Ruiz the National Humanities Medal in 2012.