Saturday, May 31, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Things have been crazy around the Nokes household of late; we're opening a second location for our store. Between entreprenuership and scholarship, free time has been limited. Hopefully we'll open the new location Tuesday, so maybe by the end of the week I'll be blogging more substantial stuff again.

But in the absence of my own substance, here's your Morning Medieval Miscellany:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

It's the first day of summer break for my kids, which means doing my own work will be a struggle. Still, I labor on! Here are the medieval offerings of the day:

*Which is my polite way of saying it was nearly unlistenable, but I'm sure there are folks would could endure and even enjoy that type of thing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"A Dark Age for Medievalists" Round-Up

For commentary on Charlotte Allen's "A Dark Age for Medievalists" piece, we have:
By the way, in doing a Google search for "A Dark Age for Medievalists" to make sure I wasn't missing anyone, I discovered that the Unlocked Wordhoard is above The Weekly Standard in profile. Perhaps I'll see if Fred Barnes wants to interview for a position here.

My New Garb

I saved up my pennies, and finally had enough squirreled away to buy the Historic Enterprises Anglo-Saxon set.

Here's me with the whole set on. Fat guys like me need to wear the large tunic, which is also for tall guys, so it's pretty long on me. The trousers are rolled up about a foot! I had to re-take this image inside, because the shadows and light on the exterior picture weren't very good. That hat is a viking-style hat; I needed a hat for my bald head.
And here is me with just the tunic, trousers, and winingas. I'll probably wear this to anything outdoors I do in Alabama, since it's too blasted hot for all the wool of the full outfit. That's Harry in the corner.
I'll be wearing this to school on October 23rd for the Cotton Library party I throw in my Old English class.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RIP: Robert Lynn Asprin

Robert Lynn Asprin died unexpectedly a few days ago. What few details I could find are here.

A little Asprin-esque tidbit -- In one of my high school yearbook pictures, I am holding a copy of Myth Adventures. I wanted to have a prop to make my picture stand out, so I decided to go with a book. My father had a hardback copy of Myth Adventures (the first four books bound together), and it looked like a deep, important tome because the dust jacket with all the colorful Phil Foglio illustrations was lost.

Nothing says geek like getting your picture taken wearing an academic letter sweater while holding a fantasy book.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

A few links for you. I'll have a round-up of Charlotte Allen "Dark of of Medievalism" commentary later.
*I know that doesn't make sense to some of you. Go here and read section IX, "The Angles," and enjoy Gregory the Great's little puns. Go ahead -- it's short, and totally worth your time.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

A few medieval items for your consideration:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Dark Age for Medievalists

Here's an article by someone who doesn't think too much of the direction of much medieval studies, with lots of members of the medieval blog-o-net-sphere-thingy featured prominently in the rogues' gallery.

My own session gets a mention, "One session was entirely devoted to medieval blogs, including a paper comparing the works of Geoffrey Chaucer to the blog 'Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.'" Unfortunately, the writer clearly did not attend the session, because if she had, she would have A). known that the Chaucer paper wasn't given, and B). been so overwhelmed by the power of my paper that all thought of other sessions would have been washed from her mind.

Seriously, though, Allen has a mishmash of complaints of varying degrees of validity. [Warning: Academia talk to follow. Non-scholars may want to nap rather than read the rest of this post] Regular readers of the Wordhoard know that I share her concerns about certain types of cultural studies, since they apply a cultural Marxist paradigm to a pre-capitalist world. Nor am I a big fan of scholars who do "transgressive" work just because it's "transgressive" -- first of all, since it'll get you tenure, it isn't all that transgressive,* and second, it's stupid to do anything just because it's transgressive.

Her complaints about medieval history getting crowded out by literature may be valid, though honestly there's so much historicism, I'm not sure how you could tell. It seems to me that straight history and straight lit are hard to find because of all the crossover -- and in any case, Kalamazoo is exactly the kind of conference at which you do crossover work because you can rely on scholars of all disciplines to be there.

And what of her depiction of the dance? It's right on the money, but what of it? Yes, it's silly; yes, it's frivolous; yes, it's undignified -- but did anyone ever claim otherwise? After a few days of really dense scholarship, cheap white wine, and plotting new scholarly projects with your colleagues, the dance is a wonderful tonic before boarding your plane and returning to a campus where you languish in obscurity.

Allen, though, has smooshed a lot of different complaints together. Overall, she seems not to like postmodernism -- which is fine by me, because I live in this postmodern world with an ethic provided to me by TS Eliot (and a little help from Boethius). It is wrong to assume, though, that a scholar who does work on postmodern topics necessarily does not do "traditional" medieval studies. For starters, you can't even take your first baby steps in most medieval scholarship without having some sort of arcane knowledge of dead languages or medieval economic structures or Church politics or whatnot. Doing bridge work between medieval and non-medieval topics does not betray medieval scholarship any more than Allen's popular articles betray her own research. Are we to assume that because she writes on political topics, or because she attended the Congress and did not present a paper, that she does not actually do any real research on medieval and Byzantine history? Of course not.

Is this a dark age for medievalists? As I've argued before, if we don't do a better job at bridging the gap between the academic and popular, it will be one. Kalamazoo, however, is one of the places where the light of medievalism still shines bright. If you go to K'zoo looking for absurdities, you will surely find them among the 3k medievalists there, but if you go, like most of us, seeking out solid scholarship on important issues, you'll find even more of that.

*True transgression would be to do scholarship supportive of the Bush Administration, as that kind of thing could get you fired despite tenure. Unless you're taking actual, real risks, don't believe your friends when they say how "courageous" you are. You ain't, bub.

Review of Prince Caspian

I saw Prince Caspian a week ago, and couldn't work up the energy to review it. Tonight someone called me* to ask for the review, so here it is, a week late and a dollar short.

Though I'll no doubt get hate mail for saying so, Prince Caspian is by far the weakest of the Narnia series. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is not a very good book at all. I remember thinking that it was boring when I read it as a child, and a few weeks ago, reading it to my son I was struck by its weakness again. This time, though, as an adult with a little training in understanding literature, I can see why.

The structure of the book is confused. C.S. Lewis seems to be trying to be Homer, starting the story out in media res, but it doesn't work. For the first two chapters (of a book with only fifteen), the children are just trying to figure out where they are -- but the mystery doesn't work, since A.) we know we're reading a book in the Narnia series, so naturally they're in Narnia, B.) the book is subtitled The Return to Narnia, so duh, and C.) why wouldn't the kids assume they are in Narnia anyway? Just how many magical worlds do they expect to wander into?

Then, Chapter 3 just introduces Trumpkin, who spends Chapters 4-7 telling them of Caspian's "adventures" in flashback (though I note that his adventures aren't very adventurous) -- so basically, everything is introduction and flashback for the first half of the book. Then, Chapters 8-11 they are travelling to see Caspian, with the allegorical crisis of faith happening in this section. They don't even meet Caspian until the very end of Chapter 12, followed by two chapters of action, and one chapter of deouement.

So here I am, trying to keep an 8-year-old boy interested in a book that has almost no real action whatsoever until it is nearly over, and all I could think was, I wonder if the movie is going to be as boring as the book? Spoilers below, so consider yourselves warned.

The Disney version takes great liberties with Lewis's novel, and in this case that's a very good thing. First of all, we start off very early learning what's going on in Narnia, and Susan's horn is blown much earlier, so the children start their journey to Caspian on the same day his own adventures start. The crisis-of-faith in the journey is truncated (a bit too much for my taste), and the children meet up with Caspian pretty quickly.

Of the three big changes, two of them are for Peter and Susan, which is just as well since they will only appear in bit roles in the remaining books (both in The Horse and His Boy, and Peter in The Last Battle).** Peter, we learn, is having trouble adjusting to no longer being a king when he returns to our world, so he and Caspian clash over authority when he arrives in Narnia. Susan becomes a love interest for Caspian, which is just as well since the very beautiful Anna Popplewell is getting a little old to play such a young girl. Since the actress is about 20,*** the minimalist romantic subplot seemed like a natural outgrowth for the character -- and it offers glimmers of what happens to her between Prince Caspian and The Last Battle.

The big change is the addition of a scene in which the heroes launch a failed assault the castle of Miraz. The scene works, I think, because it allows some other themes to be developed. In the book, Caspian's big defeat is handled in a single paragraph, so the temptation that Nikabrik felt to summon the White Witch seems disconnected from events. By having all the children together to suffer the defeat, the temptation to turn to evil, to take shortcuts, to convince oneself that the ends justify the means -- that temptation seems much more understandable.

Even then, some things seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor that needed to be in the film. For example, Peter learns his lesson in humility a bit too suddenly -- that transformation required its own scene. Also, Peter is tempted by the White Witch. Now, changing it so that Caspian was tempted worked for me, but I couldn't believe that Peter who had first-hand knowledge of the Witch's evil would have ever been tempted. Better to have left him out of the scene altogether.

Still, despite my complaints, by re-working the structure Disney improved on the book. The film keeps the Christian themes, but has a pacing that children can tolerate. My son really loved the film, especially, he said, "the fighting," and my daughter thought "It was good, but it had too much fighting." If your kids want to see minotaurs charge into battle, they'll like this one.

*Have I turned into the medieval Roger Ebert? Maybe I can get the Chicago Sun-Times to pay me for these reviews!
** I notice that IMDb has the actors credited for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, suggesting, I suppose, that they will have tiny roles in the film version before the other three children go to Narnia.
*** William Mosely, who plays Peter, is about 21; Skandar Keynes, who plays Edmund, is about 17, and Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy, is about 13 -- but those three seem to be about the right ages for their characters. Keynes, though, is maturing fast, and I'm thinking he might have trouble pulling off such a young character in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Beowulf: PotG update

Word just came down yesterday that the Beowulf: Prince of the Geats premier in Norway will be delayed until September. No word yet on the North American release date.

Unferth: Beowulf, what are you looking at?
Beowulf: That blogroll over there. I'll just
have to surf that until September.

Larry Swain Kicks Butt

I've stopped linking to posts about Kalamazoo -- I mean, come on, guys, no time like the present -- but Larry Swain's "One Last Kalamazoo Post" this year is a butt-kicking pep talk about medievalism that had me cheering out loud here at my desk.

Read it. Now. Go us!!!

Bayeux Rhythms

Here's a delightful web comic called Bayeux Rhythms -- it's sure to find much linkage from the medieval blogosphere in the future.

h/t Medieval Cripples

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Unlike sane people, I'll be spending this 3-day weekend working. Feh.

Ah, well. For those of you who, like me, are spending your days in front of a computer rather than on the beach, here are a few medieval offerings:
  • Treading Water has a CfP for "Getting Medieval on Television." I should submit something, but with all my other projects I had better not.
  • The Naked Philologist has thoughts on the development of a chivalric class.
  • Cinerati tells us that Highlander is being re-made. I feel sick to my stomach at the notion. When I was in high school, I was on the fencing team and we did the stunts for the school's production of Camelot (a musical so bad that I was bored BEING in it). We used real swords, though we blunted the edges, so our sword fights had real clanging and sparks flying, etc. We used to watch Highlander before every performance, which is why our fight scenes kicked butt. Now they plan to ruin that sepia-toned testosterone-drenched memory. Wonderful.
  • Henchminion reminds us of an early engineering prank.
  • We get TWO weird medieval animals: Otters and unicorns.
  • For some reason, Today in Medieval History wouldn't work for me, but my computer was acting wiggy last night, so it might work for you.
  • Heroic Dreams reminds us that the new Conan game comes out tomorrow.
  • Karl Steel has a post about a miracle that is like an abortion, but not an abortion.
  • Steve Muhlberger has some summer reading suggestions.
  • Medieval Material Culture has several new posts.
  • Medieval Cripples has been posting a lot too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

If it seems that I don't have much original posting here lately, that's because I'm working on my tenure & promotion package, a process designed to systematically lower the IQ of applicants. Hopefully I'll get less dumbified* as I finish the package.

*"Dumbified" is like "stupified," only dumber.
** The article reads, "Having failed to find any parallels so far, Jacqui has decided the pits might be connected with the Cornish St Bridget or St Bride, the patron saint of brides, who has the swan as her symbol. “My own theory (and it is only a theory),” she says, “is that maybe if you got married and did not get pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St Bride of a feather pit. If you finally got pregnant, you had to go back to the pit and take out the contents and burn them and set the spirit of the swan free. If you never got pregnant then the pit remained untouched.” I can think of a few medieval English fertility rituals from the Lacnunga and Bald's Leechbook manuscripts, but none involving fertility and birds.

Huh? Medieval Facebook What Now?

Several folks have linked to the story "Social Networking Gets Medieval," but I have to confess, even after reading the article and the comments of Matthew Gabriele and Jonathan Jarrett (found on Gabriele's site), I still can't figure out what they've done or why it's considered important.

Or maybe I can figure out what they've done, but it seems so unimportant that I'm convincing myself I don't understand it. After all, the article itself says that "the network doesn’t yet say much about medieval life" -- maybe the idea is that study of social networks might someday say something about medieval life?

Any help here?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chivalry Today Appearance

For those who are interested, I'm a guest on the latest episode of Chivalry Today. If you aren't a subscriber like me, you can listen to the show here.

My segment is about my paper "A Chainsaw-Wielding Yankee in King Arthur’s Demonic Court." The following segment is a really cool one about the American Sword of Chivalry Tournament, with all sorts of neat pictures and video.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I saw Prince Caspian Friday with the kids, but haven't had the energy to review it yet. I'm not sure why -- for some reason, I just don't want to write a review; there's something about the genre that tires me. Also, I ordered my Anglo-Saxon outfit last night (complete with a Viking hat for my bald head), and I'll model it when it arrives for the blog-o-web-net-sphere-thingy if I can find a working digital camera, as mine has been broken for months.

Some medieval offerings for you:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

BBC's Medieval Season

For those in the UK, BBC is having a Medieval Season. Unfortunately, you can't watch any of the clips unless you are in the UK. Fortunatley, someone posted the rather trippy trailer on YouTube, embedded below.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Now, with all that Kalamazoo stuff out of the way, here's some other medieval stuff you might have missed.
  • Jonathan Jarrett reviews a book on Vikings with a long French title that I'm too lazy to type in here, and discusses a seminar entitled "Kings, Lords, Charters and the Political Culture of Twelfth-Century Wales."
  • They've found a buried medieval ship in Barcelona. It's right next to the train station, so I suppose if the trains don't run on time, you can always go by sea. h/t Cronaca.
  • Got Medieval has manuscript images of the dance of Salome. You should head over there, as this is one of the few opportunities you'll have to view work-safe nudity on your company computer.
  • The Weird Medieval Animal this week is the echeneis.
  • Today in Medieval History is about a building, rather than a person: The Lincoln Cathedral. By the way, I recently learned that a non-medieval friend of mine has developed a secret crush on Jennifer Lynn Jordan from watching her on TiMH. He seemed a little disappointed that I didn't get to meet her at Kalamazoo (as she wasn't there, I think). If we're both there next year, I must get a picture of me dancing with her, just to torture him.
  • Over at Heroic Dreams, Will Kalif has a homemade paper RPG called "Storm the Castle" that's available for free (!) download, along with a YouTube video explaining how to play. I haven't looked at it yet, but I might try it out this weekend.
  • There's a new medieval monsters blog, Mearcstapa. For those who don't know, "mearcstapa" is a title given for Grendel in Beowulf (line 103). "Mearc" means something like "mark" or "boundary," and "stapa" means something roughly like "stepper," so this is one of those challenging but fun words to translate where a good translater shows his ability. Some translations: Mitchell & Robinson "prowler on the outskirts," Ringler "a demon who prowled the dark borderlands," Raffel "who haunted the moors," Tuso "rover of the borders," Anderson "wrathful rover of borders and moors," Liuzza "mighty stalker of the marches," and Heaney "haunting the marshes." h/t In the Middle.
  • Medieval Material Culture has a bunch of new posts...
  • ... and so does News for Medievalists. Also, through NfM, I came across the newish blog, CyberMedievalist.
With Mearcstapa and Cybermedievalist joining us, don't forget to adjust your blogrolls/RSS feeds accordingly!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

K'zoo 2008 Round-Up

Here are some of the offerings from other medieval bloggers about the 2008 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.
I've probably missed a lot, but I'm hoping links from other round-ups will fill in the blanks. Now, back to assembling my tenure & promotion file!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blogging K'zoo 2008 (Part III)

In case you are wondering whether or not today was eventful, I'm blogging this at 2AM -- the first free moment I've had!

I spent a lot of time today around closeted bloggers, so I'll be a bit vague on some points. Suffice it to say that I went to several very good sessions, and my own session went fairly well, despite my accidental double entendre involving Peter Abelard. MacAllister Stone has posted her paper online, and the Digital Medievalist, Lisa Spangenberg, live blogged it.

Other things to note:
  • Everyone loves Jonathan Jarrett's page.
  • N.E. Brigand of TORn is trying to get the signatures of as many contributors to the Tolkien Encyclopedia as possible. He already has an impressive start. If you are a contributor and haven't signed his copy, why not find some way to hook up with him?
  • People get really angry if you don't attend their sessions, regardless of whether or not they have ever attended yours.
  • I accidentally blew off a guy named Rob who really wanted to talk to me. I didn't mean too, but just as we started talking, K.A. Laity showed up and she and I talked shop for about 10 minutes until he left.
  • The spirit of Prof. Awesome, PhD lives on.
  • The restaurant Bravo has really good gnocchi.
  • I think Troy is going to get a really great visiting professor for the 2009-2010 year. If we can work out the details, that is.
  • I usually over-commit at K'zoo, but this time I only committed to doing a paper in Korea in the fall, and a paper at PCA in New Orleans. I will not be going to SEMA this year (too busy).
  • In one of the most interesting projects I've heard about in a while, Phil Phillips taught The Consolation of Philosophy to inmates in the state prison. Bob Bjork and I twisted his arm to write about that experience, and I think he will.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Blogging K'zoo 2008 (Part II)

OK, the afternoon was much better. This time, I actually got to a session, "Death and Desire in Middle English." The three papers were all good and interesting, but I'm afraid I got Wilkie Collins in trouble by asking him a question about the Hebraic influence of Job and the Hellenic influence of Boethius on The Pearl. His answer greatly displeased someone there, and some hard-toned words were exchanged.* Wilkie Collins, by the way, was right.

After that, I went to a wine-swilling session, and I was accosted by at least a half dozen people (and no, I'm not exaggerating about the number) who demanded to know why I didn't come to their session. Yes, I should have come to your session, I should have been at all of your sessions, but without some rip in space/time, that wasn't possible. I went to the session I went to because a.) I was interested in the subject matter, b.) I knew a lot of people I like would be at the session, c.) I was personally invited by phone 15 minutes beforehand, and d.) It happened to be in the same room as my session tomorrow, and so I wanted to see the size and layout.

Please note that none of the above reasons involve "because I wanted to offend my friends and colleagues in other sessions!" Besides, you know full well that all I would do is make smart-alecky comments and bad puns while you were speaking ... or perhaps that's why you wanted me to come in the first place?

So, what about tomorrow? I've got an actual choice in my 10AM session, but the rest of the day is booked solid. And for all you people who were outraged that I didn't attend your session, let's see if you show up at mine, 3:30 in Bernhard 213!

Anyway, after the wine-swilling, I spent the evening chatting with bloggy-type medievalists. Though I mention them a lot here, I'm actually splitting my time among three groups:
  1. Arthurians
  2. Bloggers
  3. International Medievalists
Today was mostly Arthurian. I'll probably try to head out to the coffee shop tomorrow morning to see if there's another impromptu blogger meet-up, followed by a day of sessions with bloggy-types, followed by a late dinner with the international folks. I'll then head off to the dance to see if I can meet all those people I somehow missed -- and you people know who you are!

By the way, for those who are obsessive internet checkers, I'm still on CST in my head, so it's only 8:30 to me. I just came back to my room to do some last-minute paper-checking and whatnot. Feel free to call me on my cell phone if you still want to get together for drinks tonight. Don't worry, you won't wake me up; I'll just turn off my phone when I want to go to sleep.

* Confession: I tried to sound contrite about causing the above strife, but honestly it was the best part of the session. A little fireworks is always fun, as long as it doesn't spill over too much. Also, I cracked up a woman in the audience when one of the scholars was introduced as being "in his last year of graduate school," I whispered "That's what he thinks." If you gather from all this that I'm a little scoundrel causing trouble in the sessions I attend -- well, I'm not sure I can contradict that.

Blogging K'zoo 2008 (Part I)

Here's the schedule of my day so far:

3AM -- Alarm goes off, giving me enough time to get to the bloggers' breakfast. I stand up, and find I have a terrible charlie horse, probably the result of sitting in airplane chairs and sleeping on my parents' sofa. I stretch for about 10 minutes, and realize the charlie horse isn't going away, so I lay back down and try to relax.
4AM -- Leg still hurts, but I decide to grin and bear it. Just as I roll out of bed, I hear the shower start, and realize my sister is in there. I lay back down and wait, eventually falling asleep.
6AM -- I wake up, feeling better, though obviously late. I shower and drive to K'zoo.
10AM -- I arrive in K'zoo (it's only a 2 hour drive, but I cross a time zone). As I'm walking to registration, I see three other medieval bloggers (I can't remember who is anonymous and who isn't, so I'll not name any here). We make plans to meet later. I run into Phil Phillips, and do the same thing. I then register, get my room, and take my bags to my room. This takes a full hour because I keep forgetting to take things to the car. The good news is that all that walking up and down hills has made my leg feel better.
11AM -- I finally make it to a session. Unfortunately, I'm so late that I only hear the last 1 1/2 papers.
Noon -- I'm introduced to a grad student from my old department that I haven't met before. We have lunch together, and gossip about what has changed since I was there.
1:30 -- I go off to a session. On the way there, I see the session presider walking the other way. He tells me the session was cancelled. Dang. I'm about to go find a new session, when I realize two people have been trying to contact me on my cell phone all day. I go back to my room to return calls and plan my assault for this afternoon, and realize that I've got at least 3 sessions at each time that I don't want to miss. Dang again. Also, lots of sessions are at the same time as my own. Triple dang.
2:45 -- I realize my first day is half over, and I've still not attended a single total session. I've let my desire to go to so many sessions transform into not going to any session. I decide to blog about this out of frustration.

So, to recap, the score so far is Socializing 3, Sessions 0.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm not leaving for Kalamazoo until tomorrow, and I'll be spending a night in Indiana. I'll be available at K'zoo all day Friday and Saturday, and perhaps a little bit Sunday as well. If I can steal our laptop, I'll try to blog the Medieval Congress.

Until there, here are two things to tide you over: Matthew Gabriele's address to the University of Delaware's Undergraduate Research Symposium, and Michael Drout on the relationship between fantasy and science fiction (below).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Scraping the Palimpsest

After spending a week doing nothing but grading, I'm now faced with doing the final prep on my K'zoo paper (which, upon further reflection, is too textish, and not suitable for oral delivery in its current form).

I tried doing a Morning Medieval Miscellany, but literally hundreds of posts had filled up my reader. I spent an hour yesterday deleting ones unsuitable for the MMM, and then another 90 minutes today, at which point I had around 70 posts left.

Blogs are a bit like palimpsests, with each subsequent posting painted over the previous one. Of those remaining posts, I found that making sense out of them all wasn't easy, since many relied on being part of some conversation earlier in the week.

So I'm scraping the palimpsest -- I deleted the lot of them. I offer the day a fresh, unmarked internet (virtual vellum, if you will) to write upon. I've had to sacrifice planned posts about Jennifer Lynn Jordan's appearance on Chivalry Today, on Guillermo del Toro and The Hobbit, on how I'm tricking my son into learning Old English (I might return to that one later), on medieval homilies (with some help from Derek the Ænglican), on the distinction between faux medieval worlds and fantasy worlds -- heck, I've even sacrificed a post on how Barak Obama's campaign keeps calling me asking me to commit a little vote fraud (one thing I don't miss about living near Chicago).

Worthy as those posts might have been, it feels good to start fresh.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dr. Dress-Up

Stephanie Trigg over at Humanities Researcher has an interesting post on medieval frocks in the modern world:
I'm developing a sub-theme in my lectures on medievalism this semester: viz. "it's all about the frocks". And it's true: medievalism is often associated with dressing up. It's one of the first questions I'm often asked, when I reveal my profession as medieval scholar: do my students and I dress up in medieval garb? I guess it would be the most obvious way of invoking a pre-modern subjecthood; and the distinction between studying medieval culture, studying medievalism and performing medievalism is easy to blur. But I'm not, myself, a re-enacting kind of medievalist [....]

But it did occur to me the other day, mid-lecture, that the distinction between those who re-create the medieval and those who study those acts of re-creation might not be watertight. Do I fall prey to a false distinction when I carefully distinguish myself from the medievalism that is about re-creating the medieval? Most academics will naturally deny they are driven by wish-fulfilment fantasies in their work, but can we ever accurately diagnose our own interests?

This is a problem I've been wrestling with myself lately. Over the last couple I've really turned my research toward the study of popular medievalism.* Starting with Dragon*Con last year, I realized it was hard for me to blend in; when everyone else is dressed like a hobbit, slacks and a t-shirt stick out as odd. Fortunately, I had some Goliard Society t-shirts from Kalamazoo, so I was able to blend in a little through the use of Old English text.

After that, it was an SCA event, for which I had nothing, but my local shire provided me with loaner clothes, but that was obviously a short-term solution. The next time I went to a Ren Faire, I bought a cheapo all-around shirt that I could wear along with sweatpants and sandals to have a close approximation of what people would imagine medieval peasants would wear. I wore that get-up at our Sword & Shield Saturday event, and I wore it for fun when we went to the Ren Faire this year.

Trigg is right, though, about the way we academics carefully distinguish ourselves from the re-enacting type of popular medievalism. We're afraid to be seen as fanboys, low and unserious. We're scholars, darn it, keepers of arcane knowledge! This ain't make-believe!

That's my stupid pride talking. If we intend (as I do) to promote medieval studies, we need to be willing to meet popular medievalists on their own terms, not just on ours. My cheapo shirt-and-sweats garb was still an attempt to set myself off. Here, I was indicating, I'll gain entrance into your company by meeting the standards of dress ... but I'll meet them in as minimal a way as possible. Do not think for one moment that I'm really one of you. I am a real scholar! Foolish and arrogant.

So I've decided to invest in a nice workable Anglo-Saxon set of clothing. For me, this isn't just a novelty, it's a commitment to myself to be more commited to advancing medieval studies outside my "comfort zone."** In medieval lit courses in the fall, I like to have a class party on October 23rd to celebrate the anniversary of the Cotton Library fire of 1731.*** This year, I hope to have saved up my pennies and bought a nice set of medieval clothing to wear to that party.

No, I'm not suggesting abandoning traditional scholarship. Medieval America is, in its emergent nascent form, more aimed at scholars than a popular audience. I'm still working on getting Curing Elf-shot and Other Mysterious Maladies: New Scholarship on Old English Charms into print (though the unprofessional behavior of certain un-named publishers seems to be interminably delaying that). I've got ideas for articles on all sorts of dense, scholarly subjects that I might work on if the right venue comes along. Most days in class, I'll be in my tweed jacket, as usual, talking about grammar paradigms or the elements of medieval romance or whatever. I'll not take any pre-modern garb to K'zoo.

What I'm changing isn't really my clothes -- it's my attitude. Even with all my interaction with popular medievalists, I'm still guilty of keeping them at arms-length. No more. If my CV and degrees aren't enough to establish my bono fides as a scholar, no change of clothing is going to do it for me.

*Indeed, the book I'm working on now, tentatively-entitled Medieval America, is on this subject. Perhaps I should use scorn quotes for "working on," though, since my tenure & promotion package is due in the fall, and I'm reliably informed by others who've gone through the process that all my research time this summer will be taken up preparing that package. /sigh.
**I hate that term. It pains me to use it.
***Er, to celebrate the saving of books from the fire, not the burning of books.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hrægelðegn Wanted

I emerge briefly from the dungeon of grading for this bleg: Does anyone know a good tailor (hrægelðegn) of Anglo-Saxon style clothing? I've saved up my pennies, and would like to buy some for myself, but eBay isn't being very helpful.