Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Refurbishing the Wordhoard

With the help of my lovely and talented minion Nina, I've added a Twitter feed to the right that will cycle through the hashmark for #medieval. For the time being, I've also added #staffshoard (the official hashmark for the Staffordshire Hoard) to help us all keep up with the breaking news.

By the way, we've made a few other changes to the site. Let us know what you think!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard Blog Round-Up

If, like me, you get frustrated by traditional media accounts of the Staffordshire Hoard, here is a round-up of blog posts, many (most? all?) of them by experts in medieval studies. I've omitted postings that are just, "have you heard?" and have instead focused on links pages and those with commentary.

Here are some with commentary:

Here are basically links pages:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard Video Round-Up

Are you, like me, tired of only seeing still photos of the Staffordshire Hoard? Check out these videos on YouTube.


ITN News:

Another ITN News:

And still another ITN News:

Official Staffordshire Hoard Site

There's now an official Staffordshire Hoard website. They're also using the Twitter hashtag #staffshoard for archiving comments.

The site gets into some of the issues of value of the hoard that the international media elided in their "Metal Detectorist Finds Treasure" storyline. In response to the question, "How much is the Hoard worth," they respond sensibly:
Artistically and historically is impossible to price.
However a Treasure Valuation Committee consisting of independent experts, will recommend a valuation to the Secretary of State. The Committee will commission valuations from leading auction houses and experts in the antiquities trade.
This will be a very difficult task given the unprecedented nature of the Hoard.
The Hoard contains approximately 5kg of gold and 1.3kg of silver, giving it a 'scrap' value of over £100,000 (by contrast the Sutton Hoo find contained 1.6kg of precious metals).

Though I confess to finding a few things annoying here*, by-and-large the Portable Antiquities Scheme seems to have done a good job at using the latest social networking technologies to get the information out there quickly. In very short order they've used Flickr, Twitter, etc., and given the rest of the scholarly community a chance to get at least a preliminary glimpse.

Terry Herbert doesn't hurt the cause, either. You can imagine a situation in which the person discovering the Hoard would be a bit embarrassing, but he's quite articulate, and (so far, at least) doesn't appear to have let all this go to his head. At the end of one interview (embedded below), he says, "Stuff like this is still in the ground ... is there anything better than this to be found?" In those two sentences alone, he's managed to do more for the popular perception of medieval studies (and, I suppose, metal detectors) than I'll probably be able to accomplish in my entire career.

*Such as the line, "It will redefine the Dark Ages." Dark Ages? Did this quote come from a time-traveling scholar from 1909?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Huge Anglo-Saxon (non-word) Hoard!

Everybody's talking about the huge hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in Staffordshire. I was holding off to post a links page, but so many are talking about it, I might not be able to handle the wealth of chatter.

This BBC report is unintentionally hilarious:
Experts say the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date to the 7th Century, is unparalleled in size and worth "a seven figure sum".

Worth a seven figure sum, eh? How about "priceless," instead? It's rather like saying a lost child was found wandering the streets and "experts say his organs might fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the open market."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

This Wednesday morning:
Finally, below is a VOA report on Pennsic, h/t A Commonplace Book. News for Medievalists has that and more video reports as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

For your Tuesday morning:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

The last few Miscellanies have not gone out because of student supplicants begging for mercy. Let's see how far I get today:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Becoming a Medievalist

I received the following e-mail this morning [with redactions lest the person not want to be indentified]:
Ever since I read the letters of J.R.R. Tolkien in jr. high I have had the desire to be a Medievalist at the University level. In January I will be starting my first semester at college. My question is what kinds of classes should I take in order to provide a good base to work towards becoming a medievalist? Of course I will need to take courses in English literature, but other than that I am not so sure. At the moment I am thinking of taking an introductory course in Latin. Any suggestions would be more than welcome.

I was thinking about transforming into Professor Awesome, PhD and offering up little nuggets of wisdom about not neglecting Western Civ, philosophy, and perhaps considering German (especially if he's interested in the philology side), but I'm wondering what the Wordhoarders would suggest, particularly thought how have pursued the academic track.

So, ymbsittendra, what would you all suggest?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Me and K'zoo 2010

A few people have asked me privately, and it's true -- I may not be going to K'zoo in 2010. There are a variety of personal forces causing me to drift in that direction, but perhaps the most important professional reason is that for the first time in forever I have no particular piece of research I want to present. I've got research, I'm just not jonesing to take it to K'zoo.

I'm not saying I won't go for sure, but I haven't sent in any paper proposals to sessions, so it's looking unlikely. Don't worry; I've not entered into a post-tenure sloth period.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

For your Tuesday:

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Oldie But a Goodie

This collection of accidentally-funny statements by students pops up every so often. I've heard people say that they think it's all made up, but none of those people work in academe. I'm confident it's all absolutely true.

My personal favorite: "Victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks." I'm feeling lazy ... insert your own juvenile joke below.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

An extremely truncated Miscellany this morning. I was having serious problems with my RSS Reader, and so I cleared everything out of it -- which means if you posted anything of import over the last week, I've probably not read it. If you want to direct my attention to something you've written, please feel free to drop me an e-mail. So, all we have for now:
That's it! It would be wonderful if someone were to swing by my house and cook me up some of that chicken.

Web for Medieval Source-Based Textual Scholarship

An e-mail about all the new resources at the Web for Medieval Source-Based Textual Scholarship page came across MEDTEXTL, and I went and looked at the page again. It's sweeeeeeet. Even if you're not a scholar, you'll want to go to the page and look at all the links to actual manuscript images.

Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?

This is only barely medievalist, but Season 3 of "The Guild" is cracking me up so much I felt like posting it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review of Dante's Inferno (2007)

The film Dante's Inferno (2007) is a very interesting project. Shot with little paper puppets and placed in a more modern, gritty urban landscape, the film manages to capture some of what Dante was doing in his original. Though it takes a while to catch its rhythm, the film eventually develops as a dark comedy with wry social commentary, and the occasional history lesson to offer context to some of Dante's original denizens of Hell.

At first I found the paper puppets a little off-putting (and a friend of mine found it unwatchable because of them), but eventually I came to appreciate the medium, and even enjoy a few of the little tricks they would do that emphasized the silly 2-D puppets shot on 3-D miniature sets (such as having a reaction painted on the reverse side of the puppet, and simply turning the puppet around to change how it looks). It also allows it to continue to be a dark comedy. If the Inferno were to be shot as an ultra-modern CGI FX fest, it would run the risk of either being unbearably gory or having to pull too many punches. The puppets allowed a dark depiction of Hell that's not going to put you in therapy. To get a sense of the look of the film, watch the embedded trailer below.

The structure was a little awkward. The film rushes through the first 6 levels of Hell in the first half hour, then meanders about the last 3 levels for an hour. As a result, the first third of the movie isn't nearly as funny and insightful as the last two-thirds, and I'd have wished for a more evenly paced journey.

I found some of the political cheap shots off-putting, and there's a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. The underlying political idea (though it is inconsistent) seems to be that Republicans are politically evil, and Democrats are personally evil. At first it seemed to me that rather than scoring cheap and vapid political points, it would have been better to assign one party to be the Guelphs and one the Ghibellines to bring it in line with the poem. Upon further consideration, though, I wonder if it isn't appropriate to have these political cheap shots, since it strikes me as likely that Dante's audience might have felt that he was being unfair, but we are simply too far removed from the situation to have that sense.

One last potential problem with the contemporary references is that they might be too contemporary. I suspect if I asked my students who Lee Atwater and F. Lee Bailey are, they would neither know nor care. Atwater particularly has been dead nearly 20 years now, and the O.J. Simpson trial (how most people would know Bailey) was even longer ago. Doing rear-guard action on such minor culture war battles all these decades later only makes the film feel dated in a way that historical references of greater magnitude (like Pope John XII or John Wilkes Booth) do not.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

It'll take me a long time to clear out this backlog, so let's get started!
Well, there's much more, but Google Reader just started acting up, so more later.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dragon*Con 2009 Post-Mortem, Me as Professor Awesome

Dragon*Con this year was unfortunately short for me. I arrived much later than expected Friday night (around 11PM), and then had to leave shortly after lunch on Sunday. Even though it was short, it was still a good time, and we got to do some medieval literary geekery.

Let's start with the medieval lit geekery. The other scholar in my session didn't make it, so I was the star of a one-man show. The session was well-attended; I counted just as I started, and there were forty people at that point, and more than a dozen people came as the session went on, filling the room completely. Prof. Matt Brown did an excellent job of promoting the academic track at the convention. The Q&A session went on for about 45 minutes, which is unbelievably amazing for the session on a Saturday night when the drinking has begun.

The star of this year's Dragon*Con was, without a doubt, Adam Savage of Mythbusters. He was going around in a costume that obscured his face, and so was offering hints through Twitter as to who he was. Everywhere I went, I heard the same conversation: "Do you think that guy over there is Adam? What about that guy over there? Oooh, that guy has a lot of silver buttons ... wasn't that a clue?" Great PR!

On the (sort of) medievalist side, Felicia Day of The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was the woman everyone wanted to see. For the moment, she's the queen of fandom geekery. Myself, I wouldn't consider The Guild medievalist, but there's an argument to be made for it. Steve from Blue's Clues told one of my minions she looked like Felicia Day, and I have a good friend who's in love with her (Felicia Day, not my minion), so I got an extra dose of the lovely and funny Ms. Day.

I was happy to see Dragon*Con was a lot more family-friendly this year. In past years, I've seen a lot of topless women in public area. This year I saw only one topless woman. I didn't see any concerted effort to keep the Con cleaner, but it was. Perhaps next year I'll take my kids.

One other thing about the Con is that I'm giving up correcting people about Professor Awesome, Ph.D. I invented Prof. Awesome to be an evil alter-ego, the kind of professor whose favorite subjects upon which to pontificate are those he knows nothing about. In Professor Awesome, PhD I've been able to poke fun of the excesses of my profession.

Before Dragon*Con, though, I started to get e-mails and Facebook messages addressing me as "Professor Awesome, PhD."* When I correct people, they seem to get confused and not understand how Prof. Awesome, PhD could both be me and not be me. So, I give up. I'll be Professor Awesome, PhD, and just find some other way to poke fun at my profession.

Finally, I met lots of interesting people at the Con, and regret not being able to stay longer. One of the more interesting people I met was Allegra Torres who is working her way through college as -- get this -- a chainmail model. Yes, an English major chainmail model. Sorry guys, she's already got a boyfriend.

Allegra Torres. Image is a bit blurry, but you get the idea.

*Interestingly enough, the only person to ask for my autograph at the Con did not come to my session, and when I asked if he wanted me to sign it with my real name or as "Prof. Awesome, PhD," he didn't seem to have heard of my alter-ego. One lovely young woman asked for a copy of my paper, which is a much more academic thing to do. I don't mind signing autographs; it just seems weird for a professor.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Back from Dragon*Con

Caring for my elderly dog brought me back from Dragon*Con early -- I'll probably be able to post a report on it tomorrow. A little preview of what's to come:
  • I give up. I've fully embraced the idea of being Professor Awesome, Ph.D.
  • "Chainmail Model" is an actual job description.
  • I'm now searching for a +5 Helm of Sexterity.
  • Meat. I like meat.
  • One game of Munchkin can lead to immediate addiction.
  • It's official -- everyone hates Twilight. Everyone. If you like it, you are not a part of everyone. You're essentially a non-entity. So there.
  • Even an übergeek like me finds children endlessly quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail obnoxious.
  • I now sympathize with The Monarch having to deal with minion incompetence.
  • The only thing that can draw a crowd at Dragon*Con during the drinking hour on a weekend is the promise of hot girl-on-bear action.
  • Waxing: Felicia Day, Adam Savage, Steampunk, Anthony Daniels
  • Waning: Leia steel bikinis, Boba Fett, public nudity

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dragon*Con 2009

I'll be at Dragon*Con this year, though I've been getting so many messages referring to me as my evil alter-ego (Professor Awesome, PhD), that it might be more appropriate to say that Professor Awesome, PhD will be at Dragon*Con this year presenting under my name.

My session:
D*C Comics and Popular Arts Conference Session #2: The Historical Roots of SF & Fantasy Sat 08:30 pm Location: Greenbriar - Hyatt (80 min)

Scholarly presentations on the historical roots of SF and fantasy. Richard Scott Nokes (Troy University) explores the medieval roots of human hybrids---characters such as elves, trolls, and cyborgs that play an important role in SF and fantasy---challenging the notion that such characters arise from distinctively contemporary hopes and anxieties bout the posthuman. Luis Arata (Quinnipiac University) discusses Somnium, a SF/fantasy novel by 17th Century astronomer Johannes Kepler, in which Kepler develops and defends in narrative form elements of Copernican physics that he would later discover through formal mathematics.

I've been telling folks it's an 8:30 AM session, but now I see it's 8:30 PM! Huzzah!

If you'd like to meet me and can't make it to my session, I'll try to keep things updated on my Twitter feed. I won't have a laptop during the conference, so e-mailing me is probably not a good way to contact me.

Also, for those who have asked, I will sign autographs (but I won't have an "autograph signing session" -- what am I, William Shatner?), and no, I don't charge for autographs -- but you have to promise not to forge my signature and steal my identity.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Žižek on Medieval Torture

Via First Things, I found this little quote from an NYT opinion piece entitled "Knight of the Living Dead":
Are we aware that the last time such things [public discussion of torture] were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity?

Of course, Žižek has never been one to let the facts get in the way, but come on -- even he should know torture is as much (and perhaps even moreso) a modern phenomenon as a medieval one. I guess in this case it's because the modern torture has mostly been carried out by those Žižek likes.


This is interesting -- Wikipedia has a page entitled "List of Artistic Depictions of Grendel." Yet Professor Awesome, PhD still has no Wikipedia entry.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Uncomfortable Medieval Plot Summaries

I can't properly attribute this because of the semi-anonymous nature of the place I got it from but here are "Uncomfortable Plot Summaries." Those of medievalist relevance:
  • BEOWULF: Colonists hire assassin to drive natives from land.
  • CONAN THE BARBARIAN: Petty thief murders religious leader.
  • LABYRINTH: Girl is negligent baby-sitter. [and I would also add is the jailbait love interest of David Bowie]
  • LORD OF THE RINGS: Midget destroys stolen property.
  • MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL: British comedy troupe inadvertently creates language lab for nerds.
  • ROBIN HOOD: Disgruntled veteran protests taxes. [Actually, I'm very comfortable with this plot summary]
  • SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS: Layabout stepdaughter shacks up with seven miners.

On the non-medieval front, this reminds me of that horrible film, The American President, in which the President sleeps with a lobbyist and changes policy in exchange for her affections -- and we're supposed to applaud him for it. A film that could only be loved by an audience that is both politically and ethically ignorant.