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McKitterick was born Rosamond Pierce in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, on 31 May 1949. From 1951 to 1956 she lived in Cambridge, England, where her father had a position at Magdalene College. In 1956 she moved with her family to Western Australia where she completed primary and secondary school and completed an honours degree at the University of Western Australia. She holds the degrees of MA, PhD, and LittD from the University of Cambridge.
McKitterick's doctoral thesis was entitled The Carolingian Renaissance: A Study in the Education of a Society. It was submitted under McKitterick's maiden name of Pierce. The thesis was approved on 24 February 1976. McKitterick's supervisor was Walter Ullmann.
In 1971 she returned to Cambridge University to pursue her career. She was a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and then became a professorial fellow of Sidney Sussex College. McKitterick has been described as a "doyenne in her field; her decades of tireless research and teaching have been poured into a steady stream of major publications on Carolingian subjects." Thomas F. X. Noble considers McKitterick to be "one of the most original and productive historians of Europe's early Middle Ages". She has supervised 42 PhD theses to completion, as of October 2015, with five more in progress. She currently sits on the Council for the British School in Rome.
McKitterick was a Balsdon Fellow at the British School in Rome, April-June 2002. Her research focus was "Charlemagne in Italy". From 2005 to 2006 she was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study.
On 15 October 2018 McKitterick delivered the James Lydon Lecture in Medieval History and Culture at Trinity College Dublin with "Rome and the Invention of the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages".
In 2018 McKitterick was honoured with a Festschrift, Writing the Early Medieval West, to mark her retirement in September 2016. The volume consists of contributions from fifteen of McKitterick's former students.
The Frankish Church and the Carolingian Reforms, 789-895 (1977)
The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (1983)
The Carolingians and the Written Word (1989)
Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th to 9th Centuries. (Collected Studies; 452.) Aldershot: Variorum, (1994)
The Frankish Kings and Culture in the Early Middle Ages (1995)
History and Memory in the Carolingian World (2004)
Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (2006)
Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (2008)
Rome and the Invention of the Papacy: The Liber Pontificalis (2020)
(ed. with Dorothy Whitelock and David Dumville) Ireland in Mediaeval Europe: Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)
(ed.) The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe (1990)
(ed. with Lida Lopes Cardozo) Lasting Letters: An Inscription for the Abbots of St Albans (Cambridge: Kindersley Cardozo 1992)
(ed.) Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (1994)
(ed.) The New Cambridge Medieval History, II: c.700-c.900 (1995)
(ed., with Roland Quinault) Edward Gibbon and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
(ed.) The Early Middle Ages, 400-1000 (2001)
(ed.) Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)
(ed.) Atlas of the Medieval World (2004)
Writing the Early Medieval West, edited by Elina Screen and Charles West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Articles and book chapters
"Knowledge of Canon Law in the Frankish Kingdoms Before 789: The Manuscript Evidence", The Journal of Theological Studies, NEW SERIES, Vol. 36, No. 1 (APRIL 1985), pp.97-117; Oxford Journals, Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, London
"The Papacy and Byzantium in the Seventh- and Early Eighth-Century Sections of the Liber Pontificalis'", Papers of the British School in Rome, 84 (2016) 241-73
"The Popes as Rulers of Rome in the Aftermath of Empire, 476-769", with Stewart J. Brown, Charlotte Methuen and Andrew Spicer, Studies In Church History, 54 (2018) 71-95
^ abcdScreen, Elina; West, Charles, eds. (3 May 2018). Writing the early Medieval West: studies in honour of Rosamond McKitterick. Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN9781107198395. OCLC1032289891.
^Goffart, Walter (2009). "Review of Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity by Rosamond McKitterick". The American Historical Review. 114 (4): 1130-1131. doi:10.1086/ahr.114.4.1130. JSTOR23883063.