Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The "Tomb" of Jesus/Arthur

A number of people have asked me to blog on James Cameron's claim to have found the tomb of Jesus (and his ancillary claim that Jesus is in the tomb, and therefore presumably is not resurrected, and therefore presumably is not the Son of God). I've endeavored in recent months, however, to keep the Wordhoard focused on medievalist stuff.

So all I will say on the topic is this: Now you all know the eyerolling exasperation medievalists feel whenever a new documentary airs claiming that we have found the "true historical King Arthur" or the "real Holy Grail" or whatever the flavor of the month is. Here is a fictionalized composite version of a conversation I've had many, many times:

Interlocutor: Did you see that show on the History Channel last night?
Me: No, I didn't.
Int: They found the grave of the real King Arthur!
Me: Oh, really?
Int: You didn't know about this?
Me: No.
Int: (shocked) Shouldn't you know, though? I mean, this is big for your field!
Me: Not really. It isn't true.
Int: How can you say it isn't true? You didn't even see the show.
Me: Because King Arthur isn't a real historical person.
Int: You mean there wasn't really a person named King Arthur?
Me: Well, there may have been someone in history named Arthur, but the person we think of is entirely legendary.
Int: (firmly) No, no, you're wrong. Arthur was real, and they just found his grave!
Me: How can you be so sure?
Int: They used all sorts of scientific evidence, like satillite imaging and carbon dating and stuff.
Me: Uh huh. Listen, all the carbon dating in the world can't make a legendary person real. It's just stuff exaggerated to make a documentary.
Int: (exasperated) Well, it was narrated by Leonard Nimoy, after all. It must be true.

At least James Cameron is making stupid claims about a historically real personage. Just wait until you see the sequel: "James Cameron Presents: The Final Resting Place of the Holy Grail, in the Tomb of Jesus, Found in the Lost City of Atlantis, Right Next Door to the Titanic." Coming to an IMAX theater near you.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Anglo-Saxon Aloud

Am I busy this week? Well, it has taken me three days to post on this topic, so you be the judge.

Michael Drout announced an exciting new project recently, Anglo-Saxon Aloud. This is semi-daily podcasts of about 50-100 lines of Old English poetry from the six-volume set called the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (those of us in the biz usually just call it the ASPR). By Drout's calculation he'll have read the entire corpus of extant Old English poetry in a year.

In its current form, I'm not sure how much value the podcasts are. After all, who wants to know what the Old English Genesis lines 103-68 sounds like? After each poem is done, though, then you'll have something quite valuable, since someone might like to hear the the whole of the OE Genesis, conveniently broken up into little chapters.

I suspect that people won't really understand the value of the project until Drout gets to volumes III and VI of the ASPR. Vol III is the Exeter Book, and Vol VI is the Minor Poems. With the exception of Beowulf (in Vol IV), these two volumes represent the bulk of the most popular poems, I think. Indeed, in coming years lazy ol' me might not re-read the Anglo-Saxon poems I assign -- I might just download 'em and listen to them as podcasts.

A cool idea whose time has come.

Friday, February 23, 2007

About: Medieval History

About: Medieval History has been kind enough to feature the Wordhoard today. I think I've mentioned in this space before that Melissa Snell's About page is probably my favorite medieval general reference page, and she was kind enough to provide me with what information she could for my article "Medievalists without Borders," which should be forthcoming in Medieval English Studies this month.

Thanks Melissa!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review of Bagby's Beowulf

I am probably the only Anglo-Saxonist in the world who has never seen Bagby perform live, so when a DVD of Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf was made commercially available, I popped it to the top of my NetFlix queue.

Bagby is a fellow who has been making a name for himself for his oral performances of Beowulf that are intended to replicate the experience of hearing the poem recited by a scop (an Anglo-Saxon oral poet). Bagby has an Anglo-Saxon-style harp that he uses to accompany the poem, and he sings it more than chants it. For a clip of one of his performances, look here (note that the DVD is of a different performance, and the sound quality is better on the DVD too).

My assumption was that this was going to be something to appeal only to scholars like me, and not the general public -- not even to smart fans of all things medieval. After viewing it, I do think that in its feature-length form (at about an hour and forty minutes, it still only takes us from the beginning through the Grendel sections) is probably too long for all but the most intrepid amatuers. Nevertheless, the performance is smashing, and absolutely captivating. For the non-scholar out there, I would recommend renting (or buying) it and watching as much as you can enjoy. That might mean watching it in 30-minute hunks, or that might mean skipping ahead in the chapters straight to the fight with Grendel -- but it's worth it.

My son (seven years old) watched about ten minutes of it. Though he can read, he couldn't read the subtitles fast enough, so I had to read them aloud as we went. He wandered off, and told me to call him back when we got to the fight with Grendel. I got so lost in it during the fight scene that I forgot to call him back, so when he came back in later, I had to go back on the DVD and re-do the scene for him. Just to clarify -- a seven-year-old boy insisted on having a translation read aloud to him of a guy sitting on a stool playing a harp in a foreign language. þæt wæs god scop!

I was a little disappointed by the subtitles. You've got two choices: English or none. I really would have liked to have had Old English subtitles available, because much of it was sung too quickly or with too much embelishment for me to follow in the original language. I could have watched with a book in my lap, but I felt that it would detract from the experience.

The DVD contains two special features, too. In one, Bagby talks about the construction and tuning of the harp, and this section is accessible to any viewer. I'm pretty musically illiterate, and I followed it. Another section, though, is a roundtable discussion by Bagby, John Miles Foley, Thomas Cable, and Mark Amodio. At first, the discussion seemed to be aimed at a general audience, with the participants explaining things that the general public wouldn't know about -- such as the 1731 fire at the Cotton Library -- but by the end they seem to have forgotten themselves, and begin making oblique references to things that non-scholars aren't going to know anything about. For example, they discuss Alfred Lord's research on oral poets at great length without ever explaining what they are talking about. It seems to me that nobody who isn't already a scholar would get that reference. Still, the roundtable is interesting; if you are a scholar, I would recommend watching the whole thing, and if you are a non-scholar, I would recommend watching until you don't understand what they are talking about any more.

News for Medievalists

Peter Konieczny has a new blog entitled "News for Medievalists," which is exactly what it sounds like: news clippings relevant to medieval issues from various press sources. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

'S up with Rate My Professors?

I had over a hundred Google hits last night from people seeking Rate My Professors. Did something happen in the news that I don't know about?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Great Moments in Textual Scholarship

Here's a little video that made its rounds on AnSaxNet today. The sequel to this, I suppose, is wherein Ivan Tribble writes to the Chronicle of Higher Education to argue that this new technology is dangerous and should be shunned by all right-thinking scribes.

Behold! Bagby's Beowulf!

Benjamin Bagby's performance of Beowulf, which is basically him performing it to an Anglo-Saxon harp, is now available for purchase for just under twenty bucks. If you want to see a clip of Bagby performing, there's one available here at his website.

Or, if you're cheap like me, you'd just get it on netflix. Mine is supposed to arrive today, so for Valentine's Day we might just be snuggled up listening to tales of troll dismemberment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why I Hate Michael Drout

I am currently being haunted by the Index That Would Not Die! I finally, after years (sic!) of chasing after people, got all the materials for the Curing Elf-shot and Other Mysterious Maladies book, and planned to get it in its more-or-less final form by the end of the week, when the Index That Would Not Die rose from its grave again, forcing me to beat it back down with a shovel while ignoring all the other projects that need to get done. Every time I think the Index is dead, it comes back again and forces me to perform hours of tedious work.

So, here I am, battling to the undeath with Index That Would Not Die, and what does the evil Michael Drout do? He posts Drout's Quick and Dirty Indexing System, and includes in the post this line: "I am getting my Wheaton Research Partners students ready to start indexing..."

You have students to do your indexing for you? I hate you, Michael Drout, oh how I loathe you!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go off and do some more index editing, followed by drinking gin in a fetal position in the corner.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Raising the Profile of Medieval Bloggers

Ms. Laing posted the following as a comment to "A Rant on Medieval Blogs and Links":
I am teaching an online freshman medieval history and literature course for Western Michigan University (yup, I have the joy of living in the heart of Kzoo's congress). I am having my student groups write essays on various pieces of medieval literature as a part of their course and we post the drafts at in order for them to get real life responses to their work. I want them to see that more people than just their professor care about the Middle Ages, but I am not getting much/any traffic to comment on their essays. I linked to your blog and a few others I found, do you have any other suggestions for a newbie?

It seems so weird to me that I've become known as a veteran in an activity I've only been doing for a year-and-a-half, but such is the cyber life. Rather than responding in the comments of that old post, I thought I'd move the conversation up here to the forefront.

Blogging, like any other form of writing, has its own conventions. These conventions are still ill-defined for blogging because of the newness of the genre, but they are there. Because of its ease, blogging has become a sort of catch-all form of quick and simple publication, but in some cases the genre acts against the purposes of the writing. I think that the specific case of Ms. Laing's class might be that the conventions of blogging don't exactly mesh with what her class is trying to do, which may be the reason she isn't getting the traffic she would like. Rather than deal with her specifics, though, I'd rather deal more generally with the issue of how we increase blog medieval blog traffic.

First of all, let's acknowledge that though there is a potential problem about profile among medieval bloggers, it could be worse. A Google search I performed on the word "medieval" today yielded not one single blog in the first 20 pages of hits (and I got sick of looking at that point), but for the most part the hits in those first twenty pages were decent sites promoting books or medieval studies programs. In trying to raise our profile, then, it should not necessarily be our goal to displace those other sites. Our goal should be to create a complimentary structure, not a competing structure.

Blogging is about conversation. In my view (and I know I have colleagues who disagree vociferously about this), blogging is about public conversation, not just scholarly conversation. I'm always glad when I get comments from other scholars, of course, but we've also got Listserv e-mail groups that perform that same function. Though the cliche of the blogosphere is as an "echo chamber," in my mind the goal is to reach beyond our little communities.

As of this writing, the Wordhoard has had just under 50,000 unique visitors. To give some absurdly exact figures, as of this moment the Unlocked Wordhoard has averaged 69.6 unique visitors per day. We have regular visitors from every continent except Antarctica (and I'm working on researching Antarctic medieval issues, such as the Frozen Knights of South Frisia). Pretty fancy, eh? Pretty successful, eh? Gosh, I must be the most influential medievalist in the whole woooooorld!

Well, not really. Let's consider the first month. That very first month I had 56 unique visitors, and I was pretty happy to get them. When measured against current events sites like Little Green Footballs and the Daily Kos, that number is so tiny as to be microscopic, but this isn't a current events site, and can never hope to get that kind of traffic. So how did I go from 56 visitors a month to more than that every day?

Currency. Not money, but the true currency of the internet: links. Links are everything. No links and you are bankrupt. Many links and you are cyber-wealthy. And like any other good capitalist, I understand that currency gets its true value from being traded.

My first big incoming link was from Poliblog. A colleague here at Troy University has a successful blog named Poliblog, and when he discovered my blog he linked here, and got me my first bump in traffic (by the way, his post on The Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging is required reading for anyone intending to blog, and it was written as a gentle rebuke to me, at that time an unrepentant sinner). The second big bump was Evangelical Outpost, where Joe Carter has linked to me a few times. Interestingly, being put on The Truth Laid Bear's Academic community, which I thought was THE BIG TIME, has yielded almost no traffic -- indeed, I can't remember the last time I got a single referral from there.

About 90% of my traffic is from Google, which often sends people to my page when they are seeking information about a midieval literary topic. Somehow I've gotten into a golden circle wherein people search for terms, are sent to me, and link to me, which in turn raises my Google profile even higher. The bumps from Poliblog and Evangelical Outpost aside (please note that neither are medieval or literary sites), I did this quite on accident, through a very simple method -- engaging in a conversation.

Aside from the very, very good advice Steven Taylor gives in his Seven Deadly Sins (pinging your blogroll, using Trackbacks, etc.), my main advice is to engage in conversation with the kind of people you want to link back to you. Be a promiscuous commentor and linker. When you go on someone's page and make an interesting comment, they'll become interested in YOU, and will more likely click that profile link back to your page. Sometimes, nothing comes of that, but sometimes they add you to their blogroll.

Commenting, though, is not enough. You need also to have extended responses on your own page. If your comments are more than a few sentences, consider writing them up as a post to your own blog and linking to the original post. Even if you have zero traffic on your blog, this can get you noticed. In my own case, I check my list of referrers every few days to see if there is anyone I should add to my blogroll. Linking to me will often get me to add you to my blogroll, with a few exceptions (such as static sites that don't update). Get into a real conversation, and people will begin to take notice of what's on your blog.

Now, back to the problem of the conventions of blogging. It strikes me that Ms. Laing's blog isn't really conducive to conversation. It has multiple posts, but these are all posted on two days. Since these are student papers, scholars aren't likely to comment much on them, because we've got our own student papers to comment on. Non-scholars are even less likely to comment. It isn't that there's anything wrong with putting papers out in the public domain to ask for comments, it is simply that a blog might not be the best forum for that. Presumably this post and the link will send a little traffic there, but in a week the link will have slipped into the archives, and then what? Somehow you've got to get those student papers in conversation with the blogosphere.

People look at the prominent medieval bloggers and think, "those guys all talk to each other because they are prominent" -- but that's backwards. We're prominent because we all talk with each other. Look at how many of the medieval bloggers are grad students or are off in academic backwaters. The difference is that we talk to one another, and so we notice one another, and trade in the currency of links.

So, medieval bloggers out there, let's raise our profile. Link like you work in a sausage plant. Praise the work of your colleagues when it is praiseworthy. Spread the word about interesting medieval events. Make off-the-cuff-but-on-topic comments. Respectfully but firmly disagree with one another. Be funny, be intimate, be academic. Remember this above all: Your field is medieval studies, which is INHERENTLY COOL! People will be interested if you start talking about it publically! Don't believe me? I've got 50,000 unique visitors who say otherwise, and would probably love to hear what you have to say too.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Middle English Compendium

For anyone doing research in Middle English, the Middle English Compendium was lauched this month, connecting the Middle English Dictionary, a Hyperbibliography, and other electronic cool stuff.

It almost makes me wish I were doing research in Middle English, just so I could use it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Love Lives of Medieval Beavers

Since it isn't updated often enough for me, I don't check "Got Medieval?" as much as it deserves. Still, with posts about the testicular hijinx of medieval vs. modern beavers, it's worth a read.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The End of Medieval Forum

Alas, Medieval Forum has now released its sixth and final issue. I salute the editors in their pioneering efforts.