Carol Braun Pasternack (1950-2020), Professor Emerita of English, was an internationally respected scholar of Old English literature. She received a BA in American Civilization from Brown University in 1972, an MA in English from the University of Arizona, and her PhD in English from UCLA in 1983. After teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for three years, Carol joined the UCSB English Department in 1987.
Carol’s book The Textuality of Old English Poetry (1995) argued that manuscript culture was fundamentally collaborative, fusing oral performance, scribal practices, and readers’ engagement in ways radically distinct from the model of authorship that would emerge later with print. Her deep understanding of manuscripts as a new medium, her fluency in Old and Middle English, and her interest in theories of gender and sexualities led to other field-redefining publications, including three co-edited essay collections, each of which proposed new theoretical perspectives: Vox Intertexta: Orality and Textuality in the Middle Ages (with A. N. Doane, 1991); Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages (with Sharon Farmer, 2003); and. Sex and Sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England (with Lisa M. C. Weston, 2004). Her interest in the textual production of complex and contentious representations of sexual practices, sexualities, and gender in Old English texts led to articles on masculinities, virginity and chastity, female forms of authority, pollution and purity, and models of the family. Carol’s work often highlighted the relevance of Old and Middle English literature to pressing current issues: for example, “Text, Sex, and Politics: Present and Past Reflections” tied the anti-same-sex marriage rhetoric of California’s 2008 Proposition 8 to eleventh-century texts that deployed similar tropes, linking present-day politics with a distant past.
Similarly, Carol led the department in exploring connections between the textual innovations of the Old and Middle English eras, when writing itself was the ‘new media,’ and the interfaces and forms of contemporary digital culture. For the department’s Literature & Culture of Information emphasis, Carol taught a series of comparative-media courses, including “From Scroll to Screen,” “The Voice and the Page,” and “The Material Lyric,” which featured guest experts and field trips. With a colleague from French & Italian, Carol co-created the unique course “Channel Crossings: Medieval Borders and Alliances in Britain and France,” which examined the Arthurian legends that flowed back and forth across the Channel. She also offered a year-long sequence that introduced students to Old English language and poetry and culminated in a critical engagement with Beowulf. Carol’s classes often made use of innovative pedagogies, from having students code poetry projects to pioneering the use of interactive technology in the department’s “Introduction to Literary Study.”
Carol was deeply engaged with UCSB’s interdepartmental Medieval Studies Program, which brings together faculty and graduate students from English, French, History, Religious Studies, and Music; she chaired the program for several years. Throughout her career she was a dedicated advisor for graduate students, earning the department’s Faculty Mentor award and sustaining lifelong friendships with many of her students after graduation.
Carol also committed her energy and care to the wider campus, including her decades-long involvement in planning, design, and landscape. She co-chaired the Design Review Committee and headed the search committee that led to the appointment of UCSB’s first Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services. She worked on multiple Chancellor’s Advisory Committees and taskforces over the years.
In 2010 Carol was appointed Acting Dean of Summer Sessions, becoming Dean the following year. In this position she fostered connections between summer courses and Fall/Winter/Spring curricula; managed crucial and complex systems updates; and deepened collaborations with Summer Travel programs that have enriched the intellectual experience of thousands of students. She also inaugurated UCSB’s Online Pilot Project for Summer and contributed to shaping early policy for UCSB’s online course offerings.
On Carol’s retirement in 2013, the Medieval Studies Program sponsored a celebration of her career: “Sex, Text, and Politics: A Symposium in Honor of Carol Braun Pasternack.” During the next eight years, with the determination, creativity, and open-heartedness she brought to any challenge, Carol dealt with brain cancer, but was never defined by it. She will be deeply missed by the many friends, students, and colleagues whose lives she enriched, and by her husband Kenneth Pasternack and their daughter Sofia Pasternack.
The English Department is establishing a current-use fund in Professor Pasternack’s memory called the Carol Braun Pasternack Award for Graduate Excellence. For the life of the fund, an award will be given for excellent article-length work by an English Department graduate student that resonates with Professor Pasternack’s interests in one of these areas: medieval studies; theories of gender and sexualities; media studies; the public humanities.
To make a charitable donation, please write your check to the UCSB Foundation, and include a note specifying that your gift is directed to the Department of English at UC Santa Barbara for the Pasternack Fund.