Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Larry Monarch Live!
Morning Medieval Miscellany
- Homilaria has a post on early medieval scripture interpretation, and one on both the benefits and dangers of Helmut Gneuss's liturgy typology. Yes, Helmut Gneuss has one of the coolest names ever.
- The Medieval Club of New York has an event on Friday: "Out of Darkness, or Why and How the Fifteenth-Century Middle English Doctrine of the Heart Matters" by Denis Renevey.
- Jeff Sypeck considers the pejorative use of the word "medieval" by comparing Chaucer with Oscar Micheaux.
- Eileen Joy resurrects an old discussion in anticipation of the series of pieces about to come out in the Heroic Age ... reminding me that I have to try to get the proofs back to The Swain today, or tomorrow at the latest.
- Heavenfield, reminded of the topic by Joy's post, writes about ethnogenesis.
- Heroic Dreams has a preview of upcoming fantasy and medieval movies. Here, There Be Dragons was one I hadn't heard about. I can't say I'm beside myself with excitement about any of these.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
K'zoo Blogger Meet-Up
Morning Medieval Miscellany
- Got Medieval gives us "Conjoined Twin Guinevere" and announces a new feature called "Mmm ... Marginalia."
- The Weird Medieval Animal this week is the bat. He is accompanied by a small bear of the Franciscan Order.
- JJ Cohen calls for a nomadic, unsettled medieval studies. He doesn't seem to come to use the term "peripatetic" until the end -- dangit, JJ, that should be your central metaphor!*
- Medieval Material Culture has a bunch of new links, but my favorite is about a 9-year-old boy who found a hoard of medieval coins. I hope for his sake the Swedes know the phrase, "finders keepers, losers weepers!"
- Highly Eccentric is are among the medievalists giving dating advice from medieval historians for Nerve. I was planning to post my own responses to those questions, but I've got too much grading, dangit. Also, she has a whole bunch of interesting little posts over at The Naked Philologist.
- Steve Muhlberger returns to an earlier post on Saladin and the Arab view of the Crusades. Civ IV graphics ensue.
- News for Medievalists has a bunch of new posts, including one on an Academy of Historical Fencing which, alas, is much too far away for me to enroll.
- Podictionary has a post about the link between St. Francis and cappuccino. No, really!
*Wait ... did I just grade a blog post like it's a sophomore research paper? Argh! I need help, people!
Monday, April 28, 2008
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
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!
... but I prefer to think they looked like this:
YouTube Advice Bleg
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
- Got Medieval has a post on medieval depictions of midgets, dwarves, and babies.
- Heavenfield's Person of the Week is St. Egbert of Iona, and Michelle also has a post on verse hagiography.
- The Weird Medieval Animal this week is the ant-lion.
- Heroic Dreams offers the Top Five Fantasy Series of All Time. Go there and argue with him.
- Loreena McKennitt pops up over at In the Middle. Why have all the planets come into alignment to make her suddenly ubiquitous?
- Looking at urine might be useful.
- Matthew Gabriele gives CNN a well-deserved rant about their use of "medieval" to describe a shrimp factory. We all remember how Alcuin wrote that sermon condemning the conditions in medieval shrimp factories, don't we?
- Some chick over at The Naked Philologist posts about the word "bird."
- Mary Kate Hurley responds to the David Brooks article about medieval astronomy/astrology.
- Jeff Sypeck does too.
- Michael Drout has a close encounter with a crossbow.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Writing about not writing
... 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
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Morning Medieval Miscellany
- 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
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?
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
- 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.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Morning Medieval Miscellany
- Jonathan Jarrett has a post on a study comparing scribal error to genetic mutation.
- The Medieval Term of the Week is villein.
- Jeff Sypeck reminds us of of some of the less-glorious pop culture moments for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
- Moyen Age has images from the Mouse Guard series.
- Medieval Material Culture has a post that might explain why my mother's favorite term for a shady character is a "hood."
- Heroic Dreams points us to a new fantasy website, The Fantasy Guide, and also discusses the archetypal struggle between knights and dragons.
- Jennifer Lynn Jordan presents a new This Week in Medieval History, and the Weird Medieval Animal of the week is the unicorn.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Making the Cut
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
- A Corner of Tenth Century Europe points us to the new blog, "What Would Wulfstan Do?," with the all-time greatest ULR, blogolupi.
- Over at Got Medieval dogs and cats are living together in a state of sin.
- Haligweorc is setting up a new blog that will focus more on medieval stuff, Homilaria.
- Heavenfield has posts on Henegst & Horsa, and Cadwaladr and Cynan, and also points us to Lindisfarne's Long Century.
- The Weird Medieval Animal for this week is the parandrus.
- Heroic Dreams discusses the future Elfstones of Shannara movie.
- Modern Medieval and In the Middle both review Ashley Crownover's Wealtheow -- both positive reviews, but neither as positive as mine.
- News for Medievalists had a big update with new posts! I'm so far behind, I still haven't read them all.
- Mary Kate Hurley has a post on how blogging has made her a more humane academic ... suggesting that she was inhumane before! Well, not really, but I like to imagine she was committing the academic equivalent of war crimes, such as intentionally misconjugating verbs, and spreading false information that Augustine of Canterbury and Augustine of Hippo were actually the same person. Oh, the inhumanity!
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Why I Blog
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
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
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
- Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a fresh blog post.
- Got Medieval has a fun little medieval fact or fiction quiz.
- The Weird Medieval Animal this week is the owl.
- Podictionary has a post on the word vellum. Also, Charles Hodgson is hitting the big time -- on Thursdays he'll be carried on the Oxford University Press blog.
- Quid Plura? tells us that NBC is working on a series called "Merlin," and he reminds us of the '80s series Mr. Merlin. Sometimes the mind blocks out painful memories.
- The Heroic Age has a CFP for the Monsters and the Monstrous:Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil conference at Oxford this September.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Aborted Medievalist Prank
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...
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.