Medievalist Extraordinary

Remembering George Peddy Cuttino

By Irwin T. Hyatt
Professor Emeritus of History
Emory College Alumnus


George Peddy Cuttino was born in Newnan, Georgia, on (as he would insist on writing it) 9 March 1914. From that world he kept important things like the Georgia Piedmont sound of his voice, his love for hound dogs and barbecue, and probably his predilection for classifying people as "types" -- which typically means either as friends or as obstructionist dolts. The friends were very many and are always charming and brilliant; the others were graceless but happily fewer.

George's life as a scholar started at Swarthmore College in Professor Mary Albertson's honors seminar on England to 1603. He had gone to Swarthmore in 1931 to study political science, with a view to entering the foreign service. But Professor Albertson changed all that by communicating to him her love for English history and her sense of teaching it as a high calling. George graduated from Swarthmore with highest honors, and after a year of graduate study at Iowa State University he went to Oxford in 1936 as a Rhodes Scholar.

Publishing Early and Often

At Oxford, George's work with V.H. Galbraith, at the time University Reader in Diplomatic History, bore fruit in 1940 in George's first book, which established him as a rising authority in medieval English diplomatic history and administration. He became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society that same year.

George went on to publish nine books and more than a hundred articles and reviews, a consistency of scholarly effort that led to publication of at least one item every year save two, from 1939 until his retirement in 1984. In addition to the many items in his major field, he translated the ballades of François Villon, co-authored a multivolume textbook for undergraduates, and wrote two books of family history. George's most important single accomplishment, however, will no doubt remain the Gascon Register A (Series of 1318-1319). Published in three volumes in 1975-76, this work won the 1979 Haskins Medal for outstanding scholarship in medieval history.

Extensive service, numerous awards

George's service to Emory was truly remarkable for its breadth, diversity, and intensity of commitment. In his forty-four years at Emory he so immersed himself, as a colleague puts it, in "virtually the totality of college and university life," that we now can scarcely imagine George or Emory without each other. In his earliest years at Emory he was preoccupied with launching the Institute of Liberal Arts, a pioneer interdisciplinary enterprise at the graduate level. At one point (1970-73) he chaired the History Department while serving simultaneously as president of the University Senate, vice chair of the College Honors Committee and the Freshman Advisory Committee, and president of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

For labors of this sort George received every award the University bestows. Some important features of Emory life would indeed not exist had George not adopted them as personal avocations. The flourishing undergraduate honors program is one example. Another is Emory's "ceremonial tradition," which to tell the truth is almost entirely George Cuttino's invention. As chair of the old Ceremonies Committee and later as University Chief Marshal, George created a heraldic treasure: coats of arms (authorized by the College of Heralds), gonfalons, gowns and tunics, maces and batons, school ties, even ball-point pens.

Opinion, loyalty, generosity

As a faculty leader George's style was first of all to hold meetings as seldom as possible and to keep speeches brief. At the same time, he was always concerned with many issues and had strong opinions on almost all of them. Usually quite traditional in his views on academic matters, he sometimes found it difficult -- as one colleague delicately phrased it -- to "conceal his scorn for dubious enterprises others considered stylishly innovative and progressive." As a consequence, George was prone to act by executive decision when in charge, and in meetings he sometimes spoke with a colorful bluntness that exceeded his true feelings. Yet he seldom really offended anybody. His sense of humor, his lack of any meanness at all, and his complete devotion to the University contributed to this.

As a teacher George was regarded with a respect bordering on awe, for his erudition, rigorous standards, and sometimes menacing mien. At the same time, it would be difficult to name anyone who gave more of himself to his students for so many years and in so many ways. George served as faculty adviser to numerous undergraduate service organizations, honor societies, publications, and social groups. Purely as a teacher, he guided the dissertations of eleven Emory Ph.D. recipients and offered a variety of courses, from paleography to freshman seminars. His senior colloquium on English common law may not invariably have been "the most rigorous non-science course at Emory," as George was known to assert, but it was tough enough to scare off all but the very dedicated.

George really did teach people about food and music and sophisticated conversation and the value and pleasure of thinking for oneself. Most importantly he taught about adult friendship. Generous to a fault with his time and concern, he never stopped adding new Emory students to his circle, nor did I ever know him to forget an old member of the group. I never encountered a teacher anywhere who counted so many lifelong friends among his former students, or who so made himself in their eyes the very symbol of his university and profession and of many of their own happiest days.