Sara M. Butler, PhD, professor and King George III Chair in British History in the College of Arts and Sciences, has earned The Ohio State University 2024 Distinguished Scholar Award. Senior leadership in the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge recently surprised Butler with the honor at a department meeting.     

“This is a real honor and it is lovely to be appreciated by the university this way,” said Butler upon learning of the award. “This was so meaningful knowing that my colleagues appreciate the work that I do.”


Butler’s research publications lie in the history of the law, including four books on social issues in Medieval England. Her current research focuses on inquests of hate and spite, that is, malicious accusations of homicide in thirteenth-century England.

“Dr. Butler’s research is focused on medieval times, but sheds light on topics often thought of as modern issues,” said Peter Mohler, executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. “She is also able to make her research accessible and relevant, evidenced by the popularity of her classes and her popular Legal History Miscellany blog.”

“Sara, congratulations on this award,” said David Horn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Your colleagues know that your work is both insightful and pioneering, but they also praise your work ethic and your kindness.  You are much deserving of this recognition.” 

“She wrote her latest book while serving as vice chair during COVID, the hardest three years in the very long history of this department. She pulled all of this great research together while taking great care of our colleagues and our students,” added history department chair, Scott Levi.  

Butler, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, joined Ohio State in 2016 and serves as director of the Center for Historical Research. Twice she has been honored for her teaching – the Ohio Academy of History Distinguished Teaching Award in 2023 and the Clio Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2019. In 2007, Butler was awarded the Sutherland prize by the American Society for Legal History. Butler is also the co-founder of Legal History Miscellany, an online blog which aims to make England’s early legal history accessible to a broader audience. Butler began her career at Loyola University New Orleans, where she founded the legal studies interdisciplinary minor program and co-founded the history pre-law major.

The Distinguished Scholar Award is among the highest annual honors awarded at Ohio State. The university-level award annually honors six faculty members who demonstrate scholarly activity, conduct research or creative works that represent exceptional achievements in their fields and garner distinction for the university. 

Award recipients are nominated by their departments and chosen by a committee of senior faculty, including past award recipients. Distinguished Scholars receive an honorarium and a research grant to be used over the next three years. 

Quotes from Butler’s nomination:   

“In my estimation, Sara is the preeminent medieval English legal historian of her generation in the U.S. academy, a distinction she has achieved through her wide-ranging and path-breaking scholarship on an array of topics, most notably marriage and divorce, the work of the coroner in the investigation of homicides, and the use of the practice called peine forte et dure to compel consent to jury trial. Far from merely echoing the themes of past generations, Sara’s work pushes the bounds of the discipline and, in doing so, ensures the continuing relevance, even urgency, of the study of the Middle Ages.” Elizabeth Papp Kamali, Harvard University.   

“Professor Butler has an engaging personality and infectious enthusiasm for her subject, which I have observed over the years during her presentations in conferences and symposia. Indeed, I have invited her to speak at several international conferences that I have organised in the UK. It is not surprising that she has been regularly invited to give papers and keynotes in the USA and at universities all around the world.” Anthony Musson, Historic Royal Palaces.   

“Scholars who do not seek to continuously learn while also building up the next generation of scholars doom their field to dusty shelves and abandoned programs. This is not a danger for medieval history so long as Sara is around,” Jordan M. Schoonover, former graduate student, Ohio State.