Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Larry Monarch Live!

Embedded below you'll find the first of the MediEvolution videos to be hosted by YouTube. Your honest feedback would be appreciated, especially since I'm trying to decide whether YouTube is a viable host for MediEvolution videos. Feel free to be critical -- this is my least favorite of the MediEvolution videos, so I've got plenty of criticisms of my own.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I've started posting grades for my classes, though probably won't be done grading until the end of the week. Let the whining begin! Here's a Miscellany to help me maintain sanity:
OK, that's it for now. Back to the grading dungeon, from which no professor returns unscathed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

K'zoo Blogger Meet-Up

I remember that someone was organizing this year's K'zoo blogger meet-up, and I remember that I committed to going ... but who was that organizing it, when, and where? Grading broke my brain.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Let's see how many of these links I can get up before I have to return to my grading or drop the kids off.
Feh ... there are a small handful of links I didn't get to. I've got to drop the kiddies off at school.

*Wait ... did I just grade a blog post like it's a sophomore research paper? Argh! I need help, people!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Templar Tattoo

Some time ago I had a conversation with a student who told me that she was at a theme park where a man was giving henna tattoos. She asked him for a medieval-themed design, and he told her that he wasn't allowed to give any designs except for the approved ones in his book. He then slipped her a business card, and whispered that he did custom work under the table.
I thought this story of a black market in medieval tattoos was fascinating, particularly the idea of treating the body as a text (though that seems more like fodder for the In the Middle folks), so I posted a bleg asking for images of tattoos. I received none.

Until this weekend, that is. Now Shaun from near York, England, has sent me an image of his Templar. He's also planning to have a huge Templar battle scene across his back, which he estimates will take 40 hours to do.

Shaun, if you're interested, I invite you to comment on your choice. Why this knight? How long did it take? Etc?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pirates all up in everything

I just got back from the Georgia Renaissance Festival, which was, after reflecting on it for a moment, probably not worth the long drive. The Ren Fest was fun, and was made even better by the fine company we kept, but it was a long drive to spend the day mostly among pirates.

The first time I went to a Ren Faire, there were no pirates -- they hadn't become trendy. Last year, the ubiquity of pirate stuff was a little annoying, but I have nothing particularly against pirates, so I tended to ignore it.

This year, however, the pirate stuff seems to be pushing the medieval stuff out of the Faire. For example, last year our kids bought Robin Hood-style hats. This year, no such hats were available. I looked around for a T-shaped tunic for myself (I had even saved up a bunch of money for it), but this year no shop carried them at all. I don't mean they didn't have one I liked, or one in my size, or whatever. They just plumb didn't have medieval clothing anymore.

There are still some medieval things -- for example, they still have jousting, and swords and fairy-related items are still available -- but I would say that the Faire is now dominated by pirates. Nothing wrong with pirates, but not my scene.

After a year to think about it, I might change my mind, but for the moment, I think I won't be returning to a Ren Faire until this pirate trend gives its dying whimper.

Hmmmm ... I wonder what the SCA is doing this summer?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Mom Pillages Better than Your Mom!

Yesterday I got back the results from a mitochondrial DNA test we did for one of my classes.* For those out there who don't know about all this DNA stuff, your mtDNA basically just comes down your maternal line, so you can use it to trace your ancestory back through the ages, though only down the maternal line.

How did mine work out? Basically, the closest matches for me come out of Iceland, closely followed by England and Norway. In other words, vikings!

Tomorrow I plan to begin a reign of terror, sacking churches, pillaging villages, drinking mead, fighting trolls, and raping maidens. If anyone tries to stop me, I'll sue you for being culturally insensitive ... plus, I'll put an axe through your head.

To recap, my maternal ancestors may have looked like this:

... but I prefer to think they looked like this:

*Yes, if you took classes from me, you'd do cool stuff like have your mtDNA tested. Yes, that means that your current school is boring and stupid. Tranfer to Troy and enroll in my classes immediately!

YouTube Advice Bleg

OK, I need some advice from all you YouTube users out there.

After more than a year of trying to get streaming video to work properly, I'm officially surrendering to YouTube. I'm going to post one of those now-legendary MediEvolution videos, just to see how it works out. I'll be posting my least-favorite* first, so that if the whole thing turns out to be a big mistake, I'll be able to cut my losses.

The clip is itself called "Larry Monarch Live," and is a Larry King spoof that obliquely critiques M. Knight Shyamalan's Lady in the Water as Arthuriana. My question is this -- should I categorize it as "comedy" or as "educational?" My impulse is to call it "educational," because that's the ultimate sneaky goal of MediEvolution, but most of the stuff in that category tends to be lectures. What do you folks think?

*It's my least favorite because it's already dated, and something about it just doesn't quite work. No insult is intended to those who wrote/acted/produced the episode.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Here are just a few of the things that might deserve your attention:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing about not writing

I was going to blog today about this David Brooks piece and the article he's writing about, but then something odd happened. I've been lazy about working on my paper for Kalamazoo, so I decided to start writing it...

... then I found an odd file on my drive. I opened it, and found that my paper is 90% written. Now, it's my writing (or at least the writing of someone really, really good at replicating my style and reading my inner thoughts), but I have no recollection of writing it. None whatsoever.

Uh oh. This is a sign. Either the shoemaker's elves have come to my house and are doing my work for me in the night, or I'm writing too much. So, I'm going to take a break from writing today.

Of course, it occurs to me that I've just written a post about not writing. I'm a sick, sick man.

So, here's some non-writing: For some reason, people have been blogging about Loreena McKennitt a lot over the last couple of days, and Lady of Shalott has been running through my mind. Perhaps this will cure me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

LOL Manuscripts

I hate LOLCats with a passion I should rightfully reserve only for sin ... though I'm still not sure LOLCats aren't a sin.

Nevertheless, I know have a new favorite website: LOL Manuscripts!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I've got about a bazillion things to do before the end of the semester, several of which depend on receiving other people's e-mails. So, in anticipation of having it all dumped on me at once, here's a rare Sunday edition of the Morning Medieval Miscellany, just so I can ignore such things for the next few days.
  • Decorabilia responds to my previous post on the medieval/modern mix in Brit Lit surveys.
  • Heavenfield's Person of the Week is St. Magnus of Orkney, who was executed by a cook. The post does not mention the tools of execution, but I like to think it was a poorly-prepared meal.
  • Medieval Material Culture has an update with several new posts of newspaper articles, as does News for Medievalists.
  • Quid Plura has a post on pilgrimage.
  • Derek Olsen has a post On Early Medieval Catechetical Narratives.
  • Michael Drout tells us that the Paris Psalter is ready on Anglo-Saxon Aloud.
  • The Medieval Term of the Week is hoardings ... but not the same meaning as that in the title of this blog. Of course, it would be cool to imagine that it was the same meaning, because then "wordhoard" would mean something like "Words expressed to enable medievalists to fire on men attacking the base of the culture." Yeah, that would be cool.

Friday, April 18, 2008

There's always room for Jello and medieval

Prof. de Breeze over at Caught in the Snide asks how much medieval is too much in a British survey. My answer is this: Don't be a Newbie Nokes.

When I was such a freshly-minted PhD that you could still smell the wrapper on me, I gave little attention to the medieval lit in my British survey classes. My reasoning as Newbie Nokes ran something like this: I really want to teach the medieval, so if I'm teaching a lot of medieval, it's because I want to, not because the survey needs it. I have a responsibility to the students to avoid self-interest and to cover the other material as well as possible. The anthology was broken up into three sections, with the first (medieval) being by-far the shortest, so I spent the least amount of time on the medieval lit, thus avoiding the guilt of assigning readings that I wanted rather than what's best for the student.

Dumb. But fortunately, I had a (non-medieval) colleague kind enough to tell me what an idiot I was being. He saw my syllabus, and asked why there was so little medieval. I piously gave him the above justification, to which he responded by looking at me like I'm mentally defective. His answer ran something like this:

"So, you're going to deny the students your expertise in your specialty?

I don't remember my answer; it probably involved a lot of stammering. Suffice it to say that I reinvented my syllabus the next semester.

How much, though, is too much? At what point are you no longer teaching a British Lit survey, and are instead teaching a crypto-medieval course? It takes a lot more than you might think. Consider this side rant from de Breeze:
NOTE: someday I'll post a rant about the way this sequence is broken up. Let's see, there's approximately 1400 years of British literary history. Obviously we should spend one semester on the first 1200 and the second semester on the last 200. Seriously, WTF?

Whoa, whoa. De Breeze has closed that off in brackets as a little aside, but that's precisely the main point! Look at the Norton Anthology of English Literature, for example. The three volumes run at something like 6000 pages, less than 500 of which are medieval. Now, I'm sure M.H. Abrams is a really nice guy with a really low golf score, but he ain't the boss of me, and he sure ain't the boss of you. WE, the collective we of English professors, determine the field, not Abrams or whoever. If Abrams thinks that the English medieval literary tradition is represented by Beowulf, excerpts from the Canterbury Tales, and a few odds-and-ends, then perhaps we should esteem him accordingly.

Here's the balance I've struck. In Brit Lit I, I spend the 1/3 of the semester on Old English, 1/3 on Middle, and 1/3 on Early Modern. In other words, my students are 2/3 of the way through the semester before they get out of that first teeny volume. I would argue, however, that it's perfectly justifiable, if one wanted to do it as a true survey, to take all of Brit Lit I as medieval, because even that gives modern all of Brit Lit II, when it is only 1/3 of the period supposedly being surveyed.

Nor are our modernist colleagues offering us anything close to the same courtesy. Spend about ten minutes looking at the online syllabi of non-medievalists teaching the Brit Lit surveys, and you'll find that the norm is to teach zero medieval texts, though a good number will teach one and only one (generally Beowulf or CT). Quietly take a peek at the syllabi of your colleagues in your own department, and you'll likely find the same thing.*

The only way to change these survey courses so that they actually survey the first millennium of English literature is to teach them that way. No amount of cajoling your colleagues will help. Even if they editors of the Norton & Longman Anthologies read this post, it's doubtful they'll lose any sleep.** To change this, we have to offer a proper view of what the English literary canon is -- mostly stuff written in the Middle Ages.

So, my answer to Prof. de Breeze's question, "How much medieval is too much?" I respond, "Much more than you would think."

*Make it really quiet though. No need to cheese people off.
** It's amazing how smug a certain type of scholar is when it comes to his ignorance of medieval literature. If a medieval literature professor were familiar with only one or two modern texts, we'd rightfully consider him incompetent. Am I saying that modernists who aren't familiar with medieval texts are incompetent? You bet I am.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What is this "Kalamazoo" of which you speak?

Reading around the medieval blog-o-web-net-sphere-thingy, I realized that for all the non-academic medievalists out there, all these references to "Kalamazoo" are a bit mysterious. Let me demystify a bit.

Every year, the International Congress on Medieval Studies is hosted by Western Michigan University, which happens to be in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's the Big Show for scholars of medieval topics, usually hosting in excess of 3000 scholars from around the world. This year's program, for example, shows in excess of 600 sessions. Assuming an average of three papers per session (which is the norm), that means around 900 papers will be delivered. Look at this list of sessions, and you'll see the papers are on every conceivable topic.

The "International Congress on Medieval Studies" is a mouthful, so we usually just refer to it as "The Congress," or "Kalamazoo," or "K'zoo," or even "The 'Zoo." When you read someone's post talking about "Kazoo," they aren't talking about the musical instrument -- it's the conference.

No, it isn't like a Ren Faire or SCA meeting. No one is in costume (the monks and nuns you see really are monks and nuns), and there's no jousting, etc. Still, it's the most fun big conference in any field I know of. For more information on the fun, see "The Knights of the Faculty Lounge." Also, don't forget to listen to the audio report of the dance!

Morning Medieval Miscellany

As part of my pledge to do the MMM even when there are only a few items, I offer you:
  • Got Medieval has some comments on the new Lego Castle Giant Chess Set. WARNING: If your child is into both medievalism and chess, he'll likely get beat up a lot at school. Start taking him to martial arts classes immediately!
  • Until Scribal Terror's post on him, I had no idea the Pied Piper of Hamelin was really a medieval story. It always seemed to me more like an Early Modern story about medieval characters. The Lueneburg manuscript might be very late medieval, but it does qualify as medieval -- if for no other reason than that it's a manuscript! Here are a few more versions of the story, as well as a little more information.
By the way, Kalamazoo is coming up soon, and lots of medieval blogs are commenting on it. I think I'll post a brief post 'splaining what this mysterious "Kalamazoo" is.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Some upcoming stuff: I'll be a guest on the next Chivalry Today show, I'll be visiting the Atlanta-area Renaissance Faire in a couple of weeks (as a patron), and I'll be at Kalamazoo for the International Medieval Congress. On to the Miscellany!
Also, one last thing about the Anglo-Saxon song in the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica: Does anyone out there know who composed it? And if so, how can I get their job?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Making the Cut

I haven't blogged for the last couple of days (even when Battlestar Galactica had some Old English) because I've been doing some mostly-invisible housekeeping to the blog.

One visible thing, though, is the blogroll. I think I've added all the new blogs that have popped up and have deleted defunct blogs, but if yours is missing and shouldn't be, please send me an e-mail and I'll correct it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

It's been so long since I did a Morning Medieval Miscellany that I'm losing track of stuff. I've got to start doing the MMM even when I've only got two or three things to mention. Anyway, this Miscellany has a bunch of new blogs, spin-off pages, etc., so prepare to update your blogrolls!
Feh ... I don't have time to finish this Miscellany. Hope that gives everyone their medieval fix for the day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why I Blog

Blogito, ergo sum.

OK, not really. One of the reasons I had blog posts about blogging is that meta-blogging leads to an over-inflated sense of one's self importance, something that I'm already far too inclined toward. Still, I was tagged on one of these memes (so long ago that I cannot even remember who the tagger was), and I'm so guilty of neglecting memes that I vowed to actually respond to this one. I hope all will be tolerant of the self-importance this sort of post exudes.

The reason I began blogging isn't exactly the same as the reason I continue to blog. As with all things, it has changed over time. I began blogging because a colleague wanted to blog, but didn't want to start doing it alone. I had a pretty negative attitude toward blogging, and was pretty much concluding that blogs were the medium of political crackpots, or academic preachers-to-the-choir.

My colleague, though, made an impassioned plea for the public intellectual. He argued that every scholar has a responsibility to reach out beyond the classroom, and that a truly healthy intellectual environment doesn't cede the responsibility of the public intellectual to a few publicity-mongers. I found his position so persuasive that I adopted it as my own, and still continue to hold it to this day.

Alas, my colleague changed his mind. We each created different blogs, but after a short time he became disillusioned with his blog and eventually abandoned it, while I kept plugging along. In the early days, in keeping with my new philosophy regarding public intellectuals, I blogged on almost any intellectual issue of the day. The Wordhoard tended to focus on literary stuff, but I had all sorts of other content too.

My original goal was to have 50 hits per month, which I made in my first month of blogging. That might not seem like much -- after all, I've cracked 100,000 hits -- but I still think that's a good minimum. People worry too much about their traffic, but my attitude is this: Fifty people is a good-sized class. If you're hitting 50 people per month, you're essentially "teaching" another class in the public. Those of you out there with light traffic shouldn't feel like you're somehow deficient. I've got a lot more respect for the smart niche blog with low traffic than the blog-whore who's just out for a few more hits.

As the number of posts grew and the number of hits increased, though, I began to feel unhappy with the content of the blog. Too often I felt like I was inhabiting the persona of someone I call "Professor Awesome, PhD." Professor Awesome (PhD) is so brilliant, so dazzling, and so self-confident that he feels comfortable pronouncing on any subject regardless of how ill-equipped he is to make a judgment -- in other words, he's a pompous, arrogant jerk. I can't stand Professor Awesome, PhD, and he is me.

To reduce the Professor Awesome factor, I began limiting my blogging to medieval and literary topics, and eventually only to medieval topics. Prof. Awesome (PhD, mind you) still occasionally decides to take control of my keyboard, but for the most part limiting my topics to things of which I have at least a basic understanding prevents me from exceeding a certain level of stupidity.

I assumed that as I limited my topics, my traffic would fall off -- but the funny thing was, it actually increased. I started looking into it, checking links and comments leading back to this page, and I was surprised to find that there was a nascent medieval blog community (though folks like the Digital Medievalist had been blogging for years), and that I had somehow wandered right into the middle of its town square.

After all this evolution, why do I blog now? As I watched this nascent community form, I noticed that the popular (amateur) medievalists and the scholarly medievalists had very little traffic between them. The scholarly medievalists weren't really functioning as public intellectuals; they tended to use their blogs as ad hoc insta-publishing of their ideas for other scholars to see. The popular medievalists, on the other hand, weren't interested in reading a bunch of posts that they couldn't understand. The situation reminds me of a passage from "The Voice of Saruman" chapter in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:
So great was the power that Saruman exerted in this last effort [negotiating with Gandalf] that none that stood within hearing were unmoved. But now the spell was wholly different. They heard the gentle remonstrance of a kindly king with an erring but much-loved minister. But they were shut out, listening at a door to words not meant for them: ill-mannered children or stupid servants overhearing the elusive discourse of their elders, and wondering how it would affect their lot. Of loftier mould these two were made: reverend and wise. It was inevitable that they should make alliance. Gandalf would ascend into the tower, to discuss deep things beyond their comprehension in the high chambers of Orthanc. The door would be closed, and they would be left outside, dismissed to await allotted work or punishment. Even in the mind of Theoden the thought took shape, like a shadow of doubt: 'He will betray us; he will go -- we shall be lost.'

Then Gandalf laughed. The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke.

This blog today is my attempt to make Gandalf laugh again, to dismiss the fantasy that medieval scholars are so lofty, reverend and wise that we should have no intercourse with popular medievalists. Scholars might fear (and with reason, I'm sorry to say) that public intellectualism could be interpreted as a sign of unseriousness, and that blogging anything without occasionally tossing in medieval arcana (the dropped name of a theorist, the untranslated passage of Latin, the impossibly obscure reference) will be seen by their colleagues as reason to doubt their scholarly writing.

Popular medievalists, too, need to understand that their energy and enthusiam drives this community. No doubt popular medievalists know less than someone who devotes his career to the study of his field, but that doesn't mean they should be shut out of the conversation. Popular medievalists have something to contribute too, even if it is just an unashamed sense of excitement about medievalism.

So that's what I hope the Wordhoard is today, and why I blog. Maybe in a few more years, I'll have a different motivation. For the moment, however, the Wordhoard is open to all comers, popular and scholarly. The comments will continue to be displayed on the front page (instead of "below the fold," as it were) as part of my commitment to maintaining a happy public space for all sorts of medievalists to mingle. I'll still work to publicize other new medieval blogs and send traffic to individual medieval posts through the Morning Medieval Miscellany, and treat other bloggers as fellow-travelers rather than rivals.

As far as I'm concerned, you're welcome in our community.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Old English Flashcards

There have been pre-made Old English flashcards available on the internet, and I wasn't informed? I demand an investigation!

Flashcards 1
Flashcards 2

I think I'll make my student assistant print and cut all those for me, just to complete my cycle of laziness. I think that's about 3000 words, so surely there are some words in there I don't have off the top of my head.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Review of Wealtheow

With the exception of John Gardner's Grendel, I now have a new favorite re-telling of the Beowulf story. Ashley Crownover's Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf avoids the pitfalls of the women's-retelling subgenre, and enriches the Beowulf mythos in ways that writers have failed to do since Gardner.

I was prepared to hate this book. The problem of great writers like John Gardner is that they make it seem so easy. Here, the writer thinks, I'll just take this great story, slap a new point-of-view on it, and I'll be edgy and praised for my social commentary. Uh, no, it's not that easy. Gardner fills his story with philosophical richness that cannot be conveyed merely by changing perspectives. So many "re-tellings of" are a medium in search of a message -- such as Michael Cricton's Eaters of the Dead (aka The Thirteenth Warrior) which has its genesis in the challenge of making Beowulf non-fantastical.

That was, however, only a minor reason. For a debut novel, I could forgive an amateurish "re-telling of" approach. My major concern was over the treatment of Wealtheow. I teach Beowulf at least once per semester; this semester, for example, I've taught it three times. Students' view of Wealtheow is uniform: she's a pathetic little meadhall wife, bringing brewskis when her husband's carousing friends when they pop in unannounced. They dismiss her with the same smug condescension this culture dismisses June Cleaver. The only admirable woman in this perspective is Grendel's Mother, who has been libeled by centuries of evil Christian scribes.

Crownover, however, recognizes what nearly every student fails to see -- that Wealtheow in the meadhall isn't the serving wench, she is wielding power in ways men are not permitted. The role of the Peaceweaver is depicted as it most likely was, an active role of diplomacy and power, not merely a passive role of submission and sexual servitude, wherein the daughter of a king is reduced to a broodmare.

By teasing out the power of Wealtheow, Crownover manages to make a book about the women of Beowulf without falling into cliche. The men are not diminished, nor are they transformed into villains. Instead of cutting the men down to size, Crownover elevates Wealtheow and the women to the level the original audience probably understood them to be at.

Nor does Crownover shy away from exploring the evil of Grendel's Mother. Too many "women's re-tellings" are afraid to depict women in shadow. Through Grendel's Mother, we see ways in which women like Wealtheow and those around her, with good intentions, could slide into evil. Crownover sees these two females (one hesitates to say "women") as two paths open to leaders and mothers.

Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf is surprisingly good for a debut novel. I recommend it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Lemme see how much of the medievalism I can clear out of the pipes before I head off to teach Milton. If I have time later today, I might post my review of Ashley Crownover's Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf. Short verion -- I liked it.
Now, off to explain the Felix Culpa to sophomores...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Aborted Medievalist Prank

Just as I was leaving my office for a meeting, the phone rang. On the other end was a fellow "from Florida" who claimed to have been referred to me as a medieval resource (he never mentioned who referred him; it was all very vague).

He then proceeded with a rambling question about the use of a medieval term in various texts, giants, and the Templars. Hmmmm ... off the wall questions from random people on April 1st? What could this possibly mean?

Unfortunately, I was late for picking up a student for the meeting, so I didn't have time to play. I quickly got him off the phone (answering "well, I don't really know anything about that") until he finally gave up.

I feel a little disappointed. I wanted to see where the prank was going to go, I just didn't have time to play! At one point, referring to the medieval giant figures, he said something intriguing along the lines of: "and of course we all know where that must have come from." Oooooh, I saw a Chariots of the Gods-esque theory coming, about how aliens or nephalim or time travelers or some such people created the figures -- but alas, I had no time to explore it.

So, to whomever was the creator of the aborted medievalist prank today, I offer my apologies. I really, really wanted to play, but the timing was bad.

Whan that Aprill with his fooles soote...

The Museum of Hoaxes has a section on Medieval Pranks and Tricks, and although some of them are more early modern than medieval, it's nice to find someone has researched this.

According to their page:

The notebook of Thomas Betson*, a fifteenth-century monk at Syon Abbey in Middlesex, records his joke of hiding a beetle inside a hollowed-out apple. When the apple began to mysteriously rock back and forth people believed it to be possessed. Other manuscripts include instructions for more mischievous tricks, such as how to make beds itchy and meat appear wormy.

The Secretum Philosophorum, which was a kind of fourteenth-century guide to trickery, offered a recipe for magically transforming water into wine. The trick was to secretly drop pieces of bread into the water, after first soaking the bread pieces in dark wine and then drying them in the sun.

*Thomas Betson is the author of A Ryght Profytable Treatyse Compendiously Drawen Out Of Many and Dyvers Wrytynges Of Holy Men, as well as the lesser-known A Ryght Profytable Treatyse on Wrytynges Usyng "Y" as Theyr Mayn Vowyl.