Tuesday, December 22, 2009

University in Ruins?

Over the summer, one of the books I read but hadn't been able to blog about yet was Bill Readings University in Ruins, a book often recommended by Eileen Joy--which is why I picked it up and gave it a read.

Readings, writing c. 1995 to have the book published after his untimely death in 1996, offers a critique of the modern American university. By American I mean specifically AMERICAN rather than US, since Readings was a Canadian. The central focus of the book argues that the modern university is no longer a conduit of culture, making new and good citizens for the nation-state, or inculcating a knowledge of a particular culture. Rather the university has become a multinational corporation. It is dominated by the "consumerist ideology"--the students as consumer, education as product, the professorate as profession measurable in student reviews or number of grants or some other measure completely divorced from the traditional reasons that the university existed. At the time the book was written the buzz word was an empty and meaningless "Excellence". I remember that well: everywhere and every place was talking about excellence but never defining just what excellence in education meant. Is an excellent educator on the university level a popular one? One who brings in grants and money to the institution? How does one measure effectiveness? Number of graduate students?

The first nine chapters of the book detail the rise of the corporate university, a process that has gained significant ground in the years since Readings' book was published. He also devotes a very informative and important chapter on the development of Cultural Studies, and how "Cultural Studies" have essentially taken over much of the Humanities. He indicts Cultural Studies as being at odds with the very things that many Cultural Studies scholars claim and works against the ideals of those who do Cultural Studies.

Readings suggests a "pragmatic" approach, one that eschews disciplinary walls, where the university does not depend on a "mission" or centralized purpose. He uses Cultural Studies as a model, in spite of his criticisms of it, to suggest a "Humanities" department that is interdisciplinary and porous. He also takes Gerald Graff's argument to teach the conflicts, to teach dissensus, as a grounding for this new approach.

There is some things to criticize here. There are multiple models of the modern university, even multiple "corporate" models, each different model invoked according to the immediate need of the administration. Sometimes administrators even eschew the corporate models altogether and talk in terms of collegiality, family, and other models. So Readings in some ways does not go far enough down this road in discussing the corporatization. And even in that corporatizing he doesn't discuss the notion of education as commodity, of student as both consumer and object (by which I mean we assembly our students whose heads are stuffed with the product and then usher them out into the lot for sale, measuring their success by test scores etc, outcomes based education). And he does altruistically assume that administrators are somehow going to become convinced of the disciplineless university.

Related to that last statement is a simple fact of human nature: were we successful in convincing administrator's of this model, the unfortunate thing is that within a decade this model and practice would become calcified as well and become a model and practice that would be in need of reformation and addressing. Ok, perhaps I'm cynical in my old age. But my observation is that when any institution, corporate or otherwise, takes a practice or model and puts it into practice, it does so in such a way as to guarantee that in the near future the status quo will be sustained, and the window dressing is all that will have changed.

Don't get me wrong. I rather like Readings idea of a "humanities" dept in which I am not restricted by disciplinary lines from teaching a theme through several centuries and tracing it in literature, history, the arts, philosophy, etc and working with classicists, modernists, etc. It is what I admire about the Babel project, what I admire about the Kalamazoo Congress, what I admire about the blogosphere where I can read and collaborate far outside my training. I just don't see such a model ever succeeding for long and becoming institutionalized on a large scale.

This doesn't mean that I advocate we give up and do nothing. The best to change things is just doing it: that is, those of us lucky enough to be in institutions should just go ahead and do our utmost to think, teach, research, and collaborate interdisciplinarily. And even those of us outside institutions can further that ideal in our own work and collaborations. Eventually, it will be a fait accompli regardless of what the institution says or what pigeon holes the institution must put on its books for the accountants and so on. And so it goes.....but let's face facts: the institution must create compartments to do accounting, and since they often have to report to higher ups, such as the state in the case of a state institution, such walls are always going to exist. I've advocated before about using marketing methods to advertise medieval studies and about working across lines and even interests in order to show the academy that our field matters. I think Readings would agree.

A few quotes I found very interesting:

"Excellence [in discussing the use of the term "excellence" in higher ed's corporate culture of the 90s] draws only one boundary: the boundary that protects the unrestricted power of the bureaucracy. And if a particular department's kind of excellece fails to conform, then that department can be eliminated without apparent risk to the system. This has been, for example, the fate of many classics departments. It is beginning to happen to philosophy....the fact that the study of classics traditionally presupposes a subject of culture: the subject that links the Greeks to nineteenth century Germany, and legitimates the nation state as the modern, rational, reconstruction of the transparent communicational community of the ancient polis." (p. 33)

"The corollary of this is that we must analyze the University as a bureaucratic system rather than as the ideological apparatus that the left has traditionally considered it." (p. 41)

"What I am calling for, then, is not a generalized interdiscinplinary space but a certain rhythm of disciplinary attachment and detachment, which is designed so as not to let the question of disciplinarity disappear, sink into routine. Rather, disciplinary structures would be forced to answer to the name of Thought, to imagine what kinds of thinking they make possible, and what kinds of thinking they exclude." (p. 176)

"Only by being constrained periodically to reinvent themselves can such groupings remain attentive to the terms of their production and reproduction." (p. 178)

Fourteen years later, there is still much to think about in this book. Thanks for the recommendation, Eileen, and I encourage anyone in academia who has not read the book to do so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm back.......Blue Latitudes

Well, the semester is over, I have a few weeks to do other projects, apply for jobs, and consider the future. In the meantime, I thought that it might also be nice to catch up on some of the blogging projects I wanted to share, some extending back several months now. A few I'm not even sure what I was thinking at the time now! So we'll see if those make it into print.

A book I've mentioned here before, or at least alluded to, is a good place to begin. And guess what? It isn't even Medieval related. Now how do you like that? Back a few years ago, my favorite spouse read a book that she just *loved* and kept trying to get me to read in my copious amounts of spare time. It finally became the book to read when all was said and done and everything turned in. And so finally last May
after the diss was turned in, the semester of new preps as an adjunct was done, I finally picked up Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz.

The premise is that Horwitz, then living in Australia, his wife's native land, is interested in Capt. James Cook, European explorer and traveler of the late 18th century. So Horwitz conceives of the idea of following in Cook's footsteps, at least to a limited degree, and he enlists the aid of his friend Roger, a Yorkshire transplant to Australia.

Horwitz weaves biography, travelogue, history, and a bit of anthropology into a narrative that relates his adventures retracing Cook's footsteps. The book bounces back and forth between the past and the present, cites Cook's log books and other primary texts from the voyages, as well as relating his own experiences of meeting and interviewing people (mainly in the Pacific) about their opinions of Cook. Hailed by some as the greatest explorer in history and national hero to reviled as the first conquistador who brought to the Pacific all the ills that continue to plague the indigenous peoples there, the reactions to Cook and his legacy are legion. Some seek to revive his reputation, others would prefer to consign him to the rubbish heap.

A slight medieval connection beyond those already made in previous posts, is the rather fascinating, almost hagiographical zeal, with which Horwitz seeks to find some actual, real, physical connection with the explorer. Yes, a good part of the book is spent seeking real artifacts from the Explorer himself. And shockingly for being so recent, the search is all but vain: his ships are long gone, his homes torn down or destroyed and new buildings established in their stead. Yet, in each locale of focus (Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Alaska, Hawaii, Yorkshire), the search for some connection to the explorer occupies some time and attention. Even an attempt to find Cook's remains, possibly laid to rest among the Hawaiian kings in their pre-Christian site, is attempted though weather and terrain thwart the effort. But this minor part of the book really does resound with me as a kind of search for some connection to the saints: bones, remains, artifacts, to connect to the person and the past.

Horwitz is an entertaining writer and this book is well researched. The book clocks in at 450 pages or so, and only drags in a couple of spots. It is an engaging and interesting narrative and hits on several important issues. Well worth picking up.

Friday, October 30, 2009

And just for the sake of.....

From the folks at io9 the sci-fi blog comes this comment on the future of the professorate: http://io9.com/5391566/the-internets-already-killed-the-mainstream-media-and-its-academics-turn-next. Prescient perhaps, but much has already been discussed here, at Modern Medieval, In the Middle, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed...etc. Interesting though that some of the things we've all been batting around are making it out to others.

Interesting Article of General Interest

As usual this time of year, I'm overwhelmed with things to do, so posting and even thinking about stuff and things has just not happened. But I thought I'd share a link to an article from Inside Higher Ed Favorite Spouse printed for me and I read on the train. It's very interesting and articulates much of my own feelings about the move to for-profit education and learning as a commodity and the student as consumer. Here it is: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/10/30/katopes

Monday, October 12, 2009

Publishing, Peer Review, And Professional Matters

Believe it or not, I began the following on 8/15, when I was in danger of becoming caught up on posts in queue. For what it's worh, here it is.

Several items over the last year have come across the proverbial desktop(s) concerning publishing and the needs and concerns of academic publishing especially as related to online publishing. One in particular came up a few months ago as Matt Gabriele posted some thoughts on the question at Modern Medieval. Shortly after that, I was catching up on some journal reading and was looking at PMLA 23.3 May 2008.

In that issue is a short article by Kathleen Fitzpatrick entitled "Obsolescence" in the "Changing Profession" section (pp. 718-722). Fitzpatrick makes some comments in this piece that I'm not sure about. She says in part "...the current system of peer review is part of what's broken, part of what's made a vibrant mode of scholarly communication undead." She attacks whatever the current system of peer review as "gatekeeping" of a type that prevents intellectual exchange and has to do with the "economics of print."

But is it? As the editor on an online journal, my second, I have to say that peer review has nothing to do with the economics of print. Nothing at all. Peer review doesn't prevent publication: since ancient times in order to publish, one needed simple access to the tools of literacy: paper, papyrus, parchment and pen and ink. In the age of print, one simply needed Kinko's and a typrewriter. And if peer reviewers prevented publication, the simple solution was to go to a vanity press and have it printed and published. Peer review might prevent publication in a particular journal or at a particular publishers, but has never prevented publication per se.

And of course peer review is performed by humans, so is subject to all the things that humans are subject too: pettiness, political maneuvering, mistakes, stupidity as well as moments of keen insight, publishing an excellent work. And everything in between on the spectrum. And nothing is going to change that: we're humans, and getting rid of peer review isn't going to change anything.

In the Internet age anyone can put up anything. So why have peer review? The same reasons as always: at least to make the effort that whatever bears the stamp of The Heroic Age or Blackwell or what have you may be trusted. Sure, mistakes are made. Sometimes the venerable Oxford Book of... for example isn't quite up to par or there's an article that seeps through into say JEGP or Notes and Queries that isn't earth shatteringly original. And of course there's the famous "theory" case where a chap made up the whole article packed with jargon and got it published in a high end literary theory journal. Peer review sometimes fails because we humans fail.

But it also often succeeds. Not everything should be published, regardless of the author's own passion and love for his/her work. And the author is often not the best person to make such a determination, nor would someone who for one reason or another have a vested interest (friendship, partnership, dislike, departmental pride, etc). Like democracy, peer review is the worst system in the world until we compare it to any other system.

Further, just putting it on the Internet is fine, no harm in that, and might even be good. The advantage of a journal or other organ practicing peer review however is that if one is looking for information, one simply isn't at the mercy of the search terms in the search engine that may or may not yield someone's self published web page on an issue. Like vanity publishing, there some good material and bad material there, but the trick is finding the good that is there if outside the normal channels.

Perhaps I've misunderstood the issue. But I don't think so. It just seems to me that criticisms of peer editing are unfounded. Yes there are certainly problems with the system. But the system is us. So like anything we create and do there are abysmal failures and soaring successes and everything in between. And this like many issues should be constantly revisited, self awareness and autopolicing are desireable activities. But abolishing peer editing and just letting anything out there both misunderstands publishing and peer editing as well as does a disservice to academia as a whole. Them's my thoughts...yours?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Looney Kalamazoo Part the First

Over on the Facebook group wall for International Congress on Medieval Studies, Eve Salisbury wrote and queried:
Yesterday at a meeting of MI faculty, the director told us that some people out there think the Congress has deteriorated in quality; some even call it (according to the report) "looney." Of course, I think that's a characterization worth developing, but I'm wondering what the members of this blog think. What are the concerns out there? How would you like to see the Congress in the future? What would you change? not change? Is the ZOO still worth visiting?

Several people, including myself have weighed in and given some perspective, but while there is some frustration with some things, overall folks are positive. Kalamazoo the Conference has been as instrumental on my own development as a scholar as any of the programs I studied at, so I thought I would say some things here and tag some others in the blogosphere for their input as well.

To a degree, I think this is somewhat related to things expressed last summer over the Allen Furor. Both in Allen's article as well as in fora such as Mediev-L, a largely historical list, some frustration was expressed by historians, economic historians, and others in related fields about Kalamazoo. Not surprisingly, the comments of the current director of the Medieval Institute, an economic historian, mirror those comments from a year and more ago. I believe, however, that it is a very distorted view of what happens at Kalamazoo.

Perhaps the most bandied about issue was the anti-theory feeling among those outside literary studies. Over the last 15 years that I've been watching or been a part of the Congress, there has certainly been an increase in theory oriented sessions. For those outside the field of literary studies, such sessions and the tools the participant use and the questions they ask are as if we're inviting the Galgameks from the next galaxy over to participate in sessions on the European Middle Ages. I too was once of that opinion: when I started my own studies, utilizing the historical-critical and philological models of Biblical studies and Classics I had been taught as an undergrad, a session on feces in literature or comparing Beowulf to Superman was a strange and useless beast indeed. What did Derrida, Lacan, etc really have to do with studies of the ancient or medieval world? Half the time, when those authors talked about those periods at all, they got the basic facts wrong!

All that to say that I know where these critics of Kalamazoo sessions are coming from: I was one, I voiced some of those same concerns and for many of the same reasons. I know better now. And yes, it is a different way of looking at things, and a different set of questions, and like many literary studies, isn't grounded in "hard" evidence of material goods. And it is that strangeness I think that gives pause. To illustrate, from the Allen Furor, the difference in approach between a reader who is discussing social value of shit and shit workers as contextualized in a particular literary work in contrast to the economic historian who is noting and saying the former is wrong or at least hasn't thought about the economic value of poop by the same people. The economic historian isn't interested in fecal humor, or in feelings, thoughts, or revulsion in a story. Rather, the economic historian is interested in the economic value of the commodity and can point to indicators that help establish that value. The former can only point to a story, and use tools to tease the social attitudes out of the story, attitudes that may in fact be at odds with the findings of the economic historian.

Now I know this is an oversimplification of the camps....but the essence I think is there: on the one hand we have the scholar who uses "hard" evidence: artifacts, manuscripts, manuscript contents and texts and on the other we have the scholar who applies modern perspectives to medieval texts or deals in more nebulous ideas not always having a grounding in real life. And not understanding each other and the different approaches tends to divide, separate and make us into "us vs. them" camps. So I think that a lot of the commentary behind the director's "report" rests with some being frustrated by the growth in theory oriented literary studies...and part of why I think that is that when we went through the Allen furor, there were those who expressed exactly that sentiment about K'zoo in those anti-theory terms.

As always, Jeffrey Cohen had a very good insight that he posted on the Facebook group wall: we always look for and like the "ubi sunt": where now the great papers of yesteryear? the great conference of times past? where now the great scholars who read those papers and made the conference so great? We now are not as they were....well, you can fill in the rest.

But you see, for those who feel that way, and those that have expressed such feelings are now fairly established in their fields, they have failed to realize an essential fact. The giants of yesteryear have either left us and we stand on their shoulders, or have since become colleagues and collaborators because we've caught up with them: we are now the giants that younger scholars and students look up to. Ok, maybe not me, but many of those who take the "long view" and express the ubi sunt opinion of Congress now fit this bill. One doesn't learn as much at Congress because one has mastered one's field; one doesn't hear much newly broken ground because one is already intimate with the field and if not borken the ground has been over the surface and considered looking there. The ubi sunt often goes with familiarity of the present breeding contempt for the present. I really think that on the part of some, that this is exactly what has happened.

Others have expressed some frustration over undergrad papers, that can't be at all good for the quality of the conference can it? No, as a general rule an undergrad paper isn't going to be in the same ball park as a grad paper or a senior scholar's paper or a true giant's paper....and no one would claim otherwise. But let's face some facts: the number of undergrads participating as paper readers is VERY LOW. I don't have stats, but of the 650 sessions, there are usually just 2 or 3 sessions designated for undergrads, and depending on the session, there are probably less than 20 undergrad papers in the entire Congress at the most. So of the 2000 or so papers read every year, we're talking .01% of the total by undergrads. Really? People are seriously going to say that the quality of the largest medieval studies conference in the world has declined because of .01% of the 2000 papers read every year? Seriously? Seems to me that to have any real impact on the quality of the conference those papers would have to be attended and have an influence. But other than the organizer, presider, and participants and their advisers and a couple friends, those sessions aren't attended, and have no impact beyond the immediate room.

But why have undergrads in the conference at all? One reason: outreach. I've preached this before here, but unless we as medievalists are willing to do some outreach to other areas in teh academy and to cultivate even undergrads and make inroads into pop culture, we will certainly die. Cultivating interest among a few undergrads is a sure way to ensure survival. So yes, I'm all for a few undergrad sessions, it can only help out the field in the long run by cultivating the giants of tomorrow.

Well, we can set aside the presence of a few undergrads as a concern. But what about all those dashedly modern sessions: Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton....etc. Surely these affect the quality of a "medieval" conference. But no...these have actually been around since the beginning of the Congress. Otto Grundler, who started the thing, called friends and colleagues in other fields in the early days, before it was an annual conference, to make the thing actually go with decent numbers to justify the thing. It is in fact to these long time friends of the Congress that such a conference exists for us to attend year by year and complain about the wine, food, paper quality etc....And while there are sometimes more sessions devoted to these subjects than to undergrad papers, nonetheless there are great papers here and again the numbers are so small that one can not point here to any perceived decline in quality, utility, or magnificence of the Kalamazoo Conference. Further, anyone who has taught so-called "early modern" history, language, or literature knows that the line between Shakespeare etc and a 15th century writer is negligible and arbitrary.

So what next? Well we could look at the popular culture sessions. There are without a doubt more of those now than there were even ten years ago, much less twenty years ago. And let's face it, pop culture studies isn't as rigorous as traditional medieval studies, right? Well, not so much....but let's look at this another way for a moment. There's a delightful little conference and journal, Studies in Medievalism, that includes among those who belong, who read, who publish the top names in the fields that make up Medieval Studies: Tom Shippey, M. J. Toswell, Jan Ziolkowski, and I might mention that the current head of the Medieval Academy has spoken as keynote speaker at the conference. So doing "medievalism"...the study of the medieval in pop culture...can't be all bad....and let's not overlook the Popular Culture conference that has a medieval component. There's a lot of good scholars, top names, who participate.

Is there any justification at all, other than "that's not what I do or am interested in" not to have many medievalism/pop culture sessions at Kalamazoo? Not a single one I can think of. You see, as far as I'm concerned not only is medievalism a fascinating study in itself whether we're talking Matthew Parker or Shakespeare or T. S. Eliot or Tolkien or Harry Potter or Zemekis, but a necessary one. If we do not include the present in our studies in the past, we will become irrelevant and lose our place in the academy...a process already underway in some quarters. Only by showing the folk with the purse strings that we're important enough to keep around will we be kept around, and since we can't bring in that many grants etc, being relevant to our students, the larger culture, and our local academic communities is our only option: and reading papers at popular culture sessions is one way to do that. So, there's both quality and necessity in such sessions.

One final point on this issue: if people, medievalists, were not interested in popular culture as whole and medievalisms these sessions wouldn't be proposed, wouldn't have readers, and wouldn't be attended. But all three are happening and happening in greater numbers at Kalamazoo with each passing year bearing very loud testimony that many a medievalist is interested! Not all are, and that's fine, but let's not devolve to calling it less scholarly, less worthy, of less quality simply because the topic is not of interest.

There is one real problem with Kalamazoo: the attitude that "its just Kalamazoo" and so therefore one needn't have a done paper or a good paper....but that attitude doesn't last. You see, anyone who is a graduate student with this attitude will quickly learn within a year or two that it does matter: one develops a reputation rather quickly and it doesn't take too many bombs before your first impression is made on your older colleagues and you will fight like the dickens to change that. Oh, a student with this persistent attitude may keep it through grad school and may land a TT job and even earn tenure reading bad papers at some medieval conference. But make no mistake: I've known several who seem oblivious to the fact that they've earned a reputation for shoddiness. I don't do all this work so I can have such a reputation. I doubt most others do either...always exceptions of course. Point is, that yes, more graduate students participate now than in the 70s, 80s, etc. and some of these grads and young scholars have an attitude that their session is unlikely to be attended, so what does it matter if they are still writing on the train/plane or even while at the conference? What does it matter if its not a good paper? Its a line on the CV, that's good, and no one will care. Well, word does get around, and it does matter.....let me tell you all a story in the best medieval homiletic tradition.

I've never had the attitude that it doesn't matter. But I have been guilty of reading a bad paper at K'zoo. At the time I proposed the paper, I had already read the obscure text I was working on, and knew where I was going. But in the intervening months I just had no time to work on it...after all there was always time until Kalamazoo, right? Until of course the beginning of May came and I hadn't written much. "But I should be alright" I reasoned. After all, my session won't be of interest to many, its after lunch and people will be late, and I'm the first paper. So I relaxed: even though my paper was incomplete and not very good, I should get through without much embarrassment. To my horror and surprise four of the biggest names working in the field to which my obscure text was related. They sat in the front row. They watched me crash and burn. And crash and burn I did. The lesson: NEVER EVER take for granted that no one will take in your bad work at a conference and that word doesn't get around. I've had to work triply hard to get those four scholars to even look at anything else I've done because of that, which makes doing work in that obscure, subfield extremely difficult. It matters. Bad papers at Kalamazoo can and do affect your future reputation. So let that be a lesson to you.

Back to the question: do these grad students affect the overall quality of Kalamazoo? No. Again the numbers of grad students with that attitude pales in comparison to the number of scholars and grad students without it who read solid papers, even good and great papers, at the conference. Besides, the Kalamazoo conference is a great place for professionalizing these graduate students...in short the future of the profession rests on conferences like this rather than on grad student conferences like Vagantes (sorry, I just don't think specifically grad student conferences are helpful in the long run; perhaps in the short run, but I've a longer view perhaps being ancient and all).

Well, that's probably enough to answer the majority of objections. Eve did ask some specific questions and in Part the Second I'll address my take on those questions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Embarrassing Compliment and a New Bleg

Well, trying to complete two papers and prepare for the job market, so posting, answering emails and the like have taken a back seat. But I had an winsome embarrassment recently I thought I'd post.

I have a friend earning her PhD at a foreign uni thousands of miles away. I do not know her adviser or this adviser's work. But my friend is doing a chapter on Aelfric....and adviser suggested that she look up this Larry Swain fellow who has done some work on Aelfric recently.....which cracked my friend up...I mean, she was in my wedding! It made me laugh too, but nervously. How did someone whom I do not know in a country I've never visited hear about work I've not published? Sadly, I doubt that my dissertation on Aelfric will stand scrutiny from real scholars; I'd like to think I can do much better in future (I suppose most of us had or have that feeling). At the same time that I want to run and hide my diss from public view, I'm also a bit chuffed that a scholar in a foreign country whom I do not otherwise know has heard of me....like celebrity, any press is good press?

On the bleg side of things, I'm compiling a list of important manuscripts and inscriptions from the early medieval period, 400-1100. What do you folks think are the most important items in that category?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Things Keeping Me Busy

Hello. Its been a bit since I've updated. I do have a few things in the drafts, but life has been interrupted by the need to complete a long overdue paper for a collection and write a second for another collection due VERY VERY SOON plus some other projects hanging out there--not to mention Heroic Age 13, papers coming for HA 14 and 15, Congress 2010 abstract, Years Work in Old English Studies reading and writing, and the beginning of the school year. I thought I'd share abstracts on a few of the things I've been working on, in no particular order of importance or due date.


The Wundenlocc Maid and the Head in the Bag

The Old English poem Judith has been debated in the last quarter century as to what it might mean and how it should be read. Many have read the poem, particularly the decapitation scene, as a statement about gender, or women in society, or as sexual. Others have read the poem as a Christian allegory based on popular exegesis of the biblical Judith. Others have puzzled about the fusion of the heroic and Christian in the poem. By examining some of the vocabulary, some analogues, and the poet's word-play in the decapitation scene, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the Judith poem belongs in the heroic genre and does not support a gendered, sexual, allegorical reading.


Whose Text for Whom?


The purpose of this paper is to explore the scribes and audiences of the Aelfric of Eynsham's Letter to Sigeweard. From the date of Aelfric's original letter, circa 1005, through to the early 17th century, there is evidence of scribal activity and of the many different types of audiences of this letter. This paper explores the scribes and their practices in the manuscript copies and editions from the 11th to the 17th centuries, attempts to determine where possible the purposes for preservation of the letter, and seeks to observe any and all evidence of the intended audiences of each stage of preservation and use of the letter.

(This is a reshaping of large parts of chapter 3 with some sections of chapter 2 from the ol' diss).

Cynewulf's Catalog of Charismata in Christ II

I don't think the editors of the volume read this blog, but I'm working on the gifts Christ gives in Christ II...I have a great deal of information that hasn't been adduced before, but I'm still working on just where this puppy is going other than giving gobs of info.

Texts of Terror: Vita S. Edmundi and Judith as Responses to the 10th Century Vikings


The late tenth century saw the production of the majority of the literature that survives from the period, or the copying of older literature into the current manuscript contexts. The period also witnessed the return of the Vikings in force beginning in 980 and almost constantly from 992 onwards until 1016 and the reign of Knut. There are several saints’ tales and scriptural translations that survive from this period that include a beheading as a central moment in the narrative. Two of those stories are the Vita S. Edmundi, the story of the East Anglian king who lost his head willingly to the Vikings in a Christ-like self-sacrifice, and the poetic adaptation of the biblical book Judith into an old English heroic poem, a story of the beleaguered people of God attacked by a heathen foe delivered in the poem by the agent of God, Judith who beheads the leader of the enemy.

These two stories have very different presentations of how the English should respond to the Viking incursions. The Vita, its Latin form written by Abbo of Fleury while he was in England at the behest of St. Dunstan, suggests a holy acquiescence and acceptance of the events, emphasizing the saint’s holiness and prayerfulness through his passion.

The Judith poem presents a much different approach. The poem departs from the Biblical source in significant ways, including deemphasizing Judith’s sexuality, and increasing the black and white tension between a fully evil Holofernes and a holy Judith. The latter takes advantage of the sins of the former and kills him; the poet takes the opportunity to introduce into his poem a long battle scene that is not in his source with the result that the heathen enemy is routed.

Ælfric of Eynsham included a translation of the Vita in his Lives of Saints in the 990s, and also had paraphrased the biblical book in a sermon to a group of nuns c. 1002-05, remarking that Judith was an example of holiness. However, circa 1005-06 Ælfric also wrote to a local nobleman that Judith also was an example for Anglo-Saxons to fight against the heathen foe.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Ælfric knew the poem. But even if he did not, his comment demonstrates that there was current an understanding of Judith that is presented in the poem: armed resistance to the heathen enemy by God’s people.

Thus, in the Benedictine Reform movement of the late tenth century, there exists two very different approaches advocated as responses to the Vikings. One of those is compliance and acceptance perhaps even of death based in a local saint’s tradition. The other is based in a poetic treatment of the Biblical text and the poem, like Beowulf whose manuscript the Judith poem shares, that advocates resistance to unbelieving monsters. It is this tension that this paper explores.

Redeeming the British: The British Other in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale

In this tale, Chaucer relates a version of the story of Constance, daughter of the Roman Emperor, married off to the Sultan of Syria who is martyred, cast on the ocean and is brought to Northumbria where she eventually marries King Alla and has a son, only to once again be cast upon the ocean to fall into a pagan land and eventually find safety and be reunited with Alla her now Christian husband.

In contrast to his sources, and his friend John Gower and his version of the tale, Chaucer makes several references to the British and British Christians in his vision of early Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. The purpose of this paper is to explore why Chaucer does this and to argue that there's politics afoot in his redemption of the British Christians from the negative portrayal he knows from Bede and Gildas.

(First, a nod to Karl Steele who pointed this out on ITM months ago and on which I have written a little in recent months, though my posts have so far been in reaction Jeffery Cohen's response to my initial responses to Karl.)

I've been working on a post regarding some elements of peer review and academic publishing, but I've not the time to really work on it for a week or two, so this will have to do.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bede's Brits: Part the Second

Well, another post that took about two weeks. Last week was not my most productive I have to say, but I'm back in the saddle so to speak and so offer this meditation...probably cutting off my nose to spite my face by doing so.

Way back when there was a discussion about The Man of Law's Tale on In the Middle that generated a bit of discussion. One of the things that I suggested in the comments garnered a response from J. J. Cohen that I wrote about before. In his response Cohen also cited his own Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity and I wanted to return to the issue after some 3 months now and respond to a few of the statements in the quote.

Let me say at the outset of these comments again that I agree with Cohen in many respects. Bede does have a point of view and he isn't reporting straight, unbiased history. So I like the direction overall. I think some things need a bit of reconsideration though.

Jeffrey says: By the time Bede set pen to vellum the inhabitants of Britain had long spoken a variety of languages in an abundance of dialects. No doubt rapidly changing patois enabled trade and other less ephemeral forms of exchange. Many islanders would have been multilingual, indeed multiracial. The peoples of Britain were for much of this period more alike than different: possessing cultures and speaking tongues that lacked internal uniformity; prone to forming princely, kingly, and familial factions of variable scope and duration; mixing pastoral and pillage economies with less mobile religious and agrarian pursuits; willing to ally themselves militarily and matrimonially with those outside their linguistic and cultural circles. The British archipelago was, in short, as unsettled as it was compound, a dynamic expanse engendering what contemporary theorists of the postcolonial label creolization, métissage, doubleness, mestizaje, hybridity. No surprise, then, that "Anglo-Saxon England" is famous for its syncretism, its ability to embrace diverse and even contradictory traditions simultaneously.

Yet Bede stresses throughout his Ecclesiastical History the separateness and the supersession of insular peoples, a point emphasized even in his opening observation that Britain was "formerly known as Albion" (1.1; by whom he never says).


This is an interesting take. But source critic that I am, I can't quite let it alone. He doesn't say who called the island Albion because he doesn't know. The source for the statement is Pliny in his Natural History, and Pliny is getting from geography writers earlier than he going back I'm told to about the sixth century BCE. I've not done a detailed study on the name/word Albion, but from what I understand and know, the whole, entire tradition of the island of Great Britain being called "Albion" stems entirely from Greco-Roman tradition: writer after writer repeating what authorities in old books told them all the way down to Bede.

So far as I know there is no evidence that the indigenous peoples of Great Britain ever called the island Albion, or its Celtic equivalent, much less evidence that they were yet doing so 13 centuries after it was first reported in Greek tradition. I may of course be wrong on that, so I'm sure someone will correct me.

So Bede doesn't say who calls it Albion because he doesn't know, he's simply invoking auctoritas, but it is Greco-Roman auctoritas. His source doesn't know who calls it Albion either, btw.

He therefore acknowledges hybridity only obliquely.

True, but that's expected. Was hybridity ever openly acknowledged and received? Even now, in many places in the world, hybridity is grounds for discrimination, hatred, being an outcast....while we can not excuse Bede and his world for much the same, neither can we condemn for what our world still does. I don't think Jeffrey would disagree with this.

But Bede does acknowledge hybridity of many types. A perusal of his works reveals a synthesis of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Roman, and to a lesser degree Hebrew. His is a hybrid culture. In the HE for example he not only tells us about the background of Wessex, with its former name the Gewisse, a Celtic name, but tells us of Caedmon the cowherd, a Celtic name, serving in a royal double monastery of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom with a Celtic name, who becomes the teacher of his teachers with his poetry: the Celt (ok, possibly. A Celtic name does not a Celt make.), the lower class, the illiterate, the songless becomes a great singer, the lower class becomes the highest class, the man with the Celtic name wins great honor among Anglo-Saxons. Bede's treatment of Cuthbert is truly hybrid presenting a saint who combines what we now know are "Celtic" or at least Irish practices with "Roman" practices modeled on the best of the saints from Ireland and Gaul and Britain. The list could go on, but Bede preserves for us images of a hybrid culture.

No, he doesn't explicitly say that his culture is a hybrid, including genetic, cultural, and linguistic Brittonic elements. But then the question is whether he could, was he even aware of the various roots of his culture? But he does preserve for us that hybridity, and often praises elements of it from all sources.

Another example of apparent unawareness of roots of the hybridity that we moderns see in Northumbrian culture stems from the Life of Wilfrid. Wilfrid is famous for his stands against "Irish heresy" on the Easter and tonsure questions. Bede is one source for this, the life of Wilfrid another, and there are other mentions in later literature. Throughout the life, Wilfrid is presented as a heresy fighter pointing out more than once that he it was who rooted out the Irish heresy. Yet Wilfrid is very much the Irish churchmen. I use the term loosely there, Wilfrid was very probably connected to the royal house and so at least saw himself and was seen as an Angle. But Wilfrid's sphere of influence, his itinerancy, all look like Irish bishops/abbots, esp. Columba. Episodes in his life look very much like episodes in the lives of Columba and Bridget. Within his sphere there were hermits, a Celtic practice of Christianity seen elsewhere in Northumbria, and other trappings of "Celtic" Christianity. Wilfrid himself then, and his familia, the most anti-Celtic, anti-Irish of the bunch it would seem nonetheless has a hybrid culture, but seems completely unaware of it.

Jeffrey continues:
Bishop Aidan oversees monasteries that conjoin his native country to the Picts and the Angles. He lives on an island, Iona, which straddles the space between Britain and Ireland. His monastic community (if Adomnán of Iona is to be believed) amalgamates the Irish, Picts, English, and Britons. Through Aidan's friendship with Oswald, English Britain is transformed by Irish learning into a composite space (3.3).

Right, and in this paragraph talking about various levels of hybridity, we have to remember that it is Bede who preserves this for us. He is concerned to address two issues: paganism which is bad, so a kind of hybridity that on the surface he rejects, and his indictment of British Christianity, though he doesn't seem to have a particular problem with British culture. Re: paganism while Bede rejects that, undoubtedly Bede is somewhat aware of "pagan" elements that survive in his culture. Caedmon's hymns for example are born out of a pagan, or at least pre-Christian custom that Bede approves of since it can be utilized in Christian efforts. He preserves the letter of Gregory the Great who advocates the "baptism" of pagan religious sites (and even practices) into service of Christianity etc...so even Bede's "indictment" of paganism becomes a bit problematic if seen as simple "rejection" of paganism. It isn't that simple under the surface.

Now to the paragraph I cited, this one of those places where Bede comes closest to acknowledging hybridity under the umbrella of a single church. He willingly defends the Irish against the more severe charges and acknowledges the Northumbrian church's debt to the Irish, as well as the kings with Irish connections. He acknowledges the familia of Lindisfarne as being Irish, Angle and having influence among the Picts and so on. And though Bede doesn't mention the British here, Admonan does as Jeffrey points out. So especially for Northumbria, Bede is perfectly willing to trumpet certain kinds of hybridity and even proclaim them as the apex, the achievement of the English church: it is after all the Northumbrian hybrid Christian community that spread Christianity to some other corners of the island and even began successful missions to the continent in Bede's tale. And this church eventually brought their old teachers the Irish into the fully orthodox fold and sent back the oldest and most beautiful Vulgate, so well done in fact that for centuries after its origins were forgotten people thought it was a Roman production.

Jeffrey continues:
Despite these multicultural vectors, however, most interminglings unfold only to be condemned. Rædwald's East Anglia is the location of the famous Sutton Hoo burial, an archeological discovery that – like the corpus of Old English poetry itself – suggests that the Rædwald's syncretism is far more indicative of the practice of Christianity in England than Bede's absolutist vision of pagan/Christian separation. Because Rædwald stations Christ alongside native gods and privileges neither, because his desire is to combine rather than to sort, the monarch must in Bede's account be deplored.

I disagree. Most interminglings are accepted as a matter of course or praised. Certainly there are those Bede rejects, but most of the hybrid elements of multiple cultures in Bede's works are woven into the tapestry of the so-called Northumbrian Renaissance. Raedwald's unusual action is a case in point. Becoming Christian or not becoming Christian was a matter of political allegiance as much as religious allegiance. And that fact is attested beyond Bede and his accounts. But if a king in the Germanic world became Christian (and we see this in Ireland too), then everyone in his kingdom became Christian if they had allegiance to him. Thus, when hedging their bets on this Christian thing, these kings often sent their elder sons and heirs who were to remain pagan into exile, who thus could bring back the old religion should the new one not work out. But then the king would be a Christian and the rest of the kingdom with him, at least in name. Thus, Raedwald's decision to maintain a temple with both an altar to Christ and to the native, Anglo-Saxon gods was an unusual step rather than how Christianity was normally practiced. And the criticism then goes far beyond simply a Christian monk excoriating a king for not fully converting to the Christian faith. But the criticism is also cultural, not simply one of "Christian" or not. Naturally Bede doesn't winnow these separate elements, for him they are all one just as he doesn't winnow hybrid elements and label them: for him they are all his culture. But it is doubtful that Raedwald's solution was a typical one in Anglo-Saxon England, and certainly not one that either his son or his stepson embraced. Nor is Raedwald "combining": he isn't being syncretistic. He is doing both, but each has its own separate sphere and locale of worship. So he does sort, just according to Bede he sorts wrong.

The next remark, The Mercians are allowed their alliance with the Britons only because they are pagans, and therefore as detestable as the confederates they treat as equals I think misses something. The Britons in this case, under Caedwalla, rebel against their "rightful" Lord, Edwin and to add to their rebellion ally themselves with Edwin's enemy Penda, who had already attacked Northumbria more than once. In anyone's book that's deplorable, unless of course you're one of those who is rebelling and you win. In American mytho-history there is Benedict Arnold: he betrays his cause and abets the enemy; such a act on his part has given American English a whole new logism for being a traitor: to be a Benedict Arnold. In ancient Jewish history, nationalistic Jews have a big problem with Josephus, who sold out to the Romans. And the list could be expanded exponentially. The point is that Bede can not simply be reduced to lumping Caedwalla and his Britons in with Penda in a big "not our kind of Christian" lump, that simply isn't what Bede is saying. Caedwalla gets mixed reviews in Bede. A little later after Edwin's death, Bede says that Caedwalla executed just judgment against Osric and Eanfrith, though with unrighteous violence. Osric and Eanfrith Bede characterizes as apostates, Caedwalla as a tyrant. And there is nothing to think Caedwalla wasn't once he got hold of Northumbria: Northumbria had after all subjugated him and his people, and tried to retake him, and then Osric attacked him and besieged in one of his cities. Christian or not, Northumbria as a kingdom had not been his friend or a firm supporter. Bede, being Northumbrian and possibly related to the royal house, can hardly be expected to be on Caedwalla's side, though he preserves for us how and why Caedwalla would have been a tyrant during the year or so he ruled Northumbria. Its an interesting conjunction that while Bede criticizes and promotes his own point of view, he yet lets us read under the surface to see more than he immediately tells us.

I think Jeffrey a little unfair when he comments Oswald is allowed his Irish tongue and his subjects their Irish instruction because this source of Christianity does not come from a people, like the Britons, vying against Bede's Angles for possession of the island. There is simply no evidence of such "instruction" coming from the British, and given the last post on this linked above, there isn't any reason to think that there was any such instruction that simply isn't in Bede. Instructive and parallel to this is Patrick's criticism of Coroticus in his letter for being a "Christian" king capturing fellow Christians and there is no evidence that the British Christians under Coroticus attempted to evangelize the Irish much less the Anglo-Saxons.

Onto Britain's primal and enduring heterogeneity Bede projects a reductive separateness. Well, yes, but its not along the lines that one might think. For too long in Bedan studies it has been assumed that what we're dealing with is an ethnic divide. Or even a linguistic or religious one. While there are religious divisions that separate, there are also divisions that are overcome. The divisions that divide are along political lines rather than ethnic, genetic, or even cultural. There are those kingdoms that are Christian under kings and recognize Rome, and there is everyone else. Bede records battles between the "good guys" without comment or censure, while some battles, such as those spoken of above, are outlined in terms that let us know what Bede thinks. And those lines are generally based on Bede's view of proper authority: rightful kings and in religion, Rome and its representatives.

Finally Jeffrey says, his is a long way of saying that Karl identifies in his post a preoccupation that unites Chaucer to Bede. Both authors lived with a past as well as a present where cultural borders were indistinct. Both nonetheless refused to see this messiness, describing instead an island where boundaries and segregations held impossibly firm.

Hmmm....I disagree. Leaving Chaucer aside for another post, Bede unites that "messiness" into a homogeneous, albeit messy, whole based on those elements of recognition of proper king and recognition of Christianity in Roman form and Rome's representatives. Bede isn't particularly preoccupied in putting down Brits or in competing with Brits for control of the island. He is interested in uniting the island under the banner of orthodox Roman Christianity.

On the other hand, one could argue that Bede and his use of certain sources is imposing on the English and Brits alike a foreign "power": Romanitas. It is after all chiefly Roman authors Bede relies on, and esp. Roman Christian authors. Gildas is one exception, but he too is believed to have written his sermon about the time he took a trip to Rome. It is this new element to the "hybridity" that Bede wants all English (and that means for Bede everyone in an English kingdom, not necessarily concerned with ethnicity, genetics, race, or language) to adopt an identity: Roman Christian in England, and if not, then he certainly leans toward describing them in monstrous terms. I think that could make an interesting chapter in a book: race doesn't matter, culture doesn't matter, but a particular kind of religious alignment does.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ah, the rejection......musings and mutterings on the field

So this past week I've received news from 2 places that I will not be working at those places. Well, more than 2, but those 2 are academic jobs I wanted, rather than mundane jobs I need. And yes, the distinction is a purposeful one and I mean it.

Both were very gracious in their rejections of my candidacy. One I was close. I was their second choice and I was told in the end what made the difference is that the candidate who was awarded the position had a teaching award from prestigious university whereas I just have good recommendations and good student reviews. The other I was not even a serious contender for. But the letter writer compared the current situation with his/her own job search 20 years ago and advised those of us receiving the letter to soldier on (my words), the field needed us (author's words).

I tend to agree. The field does need us. Humanities generally, but especially Classics and now Medieval Studies are beleaguered. Classics departments are disappearing and have been for some time. And we all know that lines for Medievalists have been disappearing too: no, not just in the recent economic downturn. Where 25 years ago a department may have 2 or even 3 medievalists, it now has one if any. My own former department, as I've remarked before, is getting rid of medieval studies, leaving the surveys to the Renaissance people who give you Beowulf and Chaucer and that's the extent of medieval literature.

This makes it hard to find a job in one's field. Duh. And oddly, it happens at a time when popular culture interest in things Classical and Medieval is thriving! History Channel, The Learning Channel (TLC), Syfy, Comedy Central, movies, plays, novels and popular history on these subjects garner a great deal of interest not to mention Ren faires and reenactments. Ok, so yes, I've commented on this before both here and over at Modern Medieval, so no need to rehash it.

But I bring it up here again. The field does need us. We do great work. We love to teach. We don't mind the service requirements and sometimes find ourselves enjoying them. The field needs our perspective, our fresh and eager perspectives, and our energy and excitement and ideas. Sadly, the field won't be getting what it needs. The field isn't big enough and is shrinking. There isn't room for everyone, not even in subfields, who wants to practice their field. That leaves the field as a whole more anemic. And it leaves the jobless mouldering in adjunctville, a level of hell that is reserved for those who don't deserve it their only sin being not being the lucky one who got the job. Being an adjunct slowly and ever so surely for most erodes all those qualities that they could have offered the field leaving them only the ability to teach introductory courses and the disapproval of their colleagues. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article, one full-timer mused that adjuncts should *NOT* be hired to TT slots when a fresh graduate student just coming out fits the bill. The reason you might ask? Because according to this out of touch full-timers, adjuncts don't teach full time. No, adjuncts don't teach full time--they just typically teach twice to three times as many courses in a given academic year than their full time counterparts, for 1/3 of the pay, no benefits, and not knowing semester to semester if they have a job. It means that other than freeing up full timers to conduct their research, adjuncts don't get to contribute to the field much. They have no time: travelling and teaching 4-8 courses per semester at several institutions leaves little time to make contributions.

This leaves the path of the independent scholar. But such a person to be successful as an independent scholar frankly needs some level of financial security. This means that the scholar's spouse earns a tidy packet so that the scholar may be underemployed and be able to pursue scholarship; or the scholar has to have wealth in the family or perviously earned wealth; or to be able to work in an environment such as an academic institution or parts of the govt that allow for both some level of financial security and access to the materials with which to carry on scholarship. Still, the lion's share of the scholar's time in the latter situation is spent on the duties of the job, not on scholarship, and so time must be stolen from other areas of life. Speaking as one who tried to do this for some years, it is difficult at best to accomplish anything meaningful and productive in a timely fashion. Not impossible, but one must be driven to it.

So let's get down to brass tacks. I appreciate being let down easy. It is so much better than the cold, personality deprived, letter that just says "So Sorry, best of luck!" or worse, no communication at all. But in the end, its still a rejection, meaning those of us receiving that letter continue to face the realities of wanting, even needing, to contribute to the field we love, but the field we love, while acknowledging its need of us with one hand, shoves us out of the room with the other. In the end, it means that both parties, the field as a whole, and the rejected, will have significant unfilled needs, leaving both much worse off.

I don't know what the answers are. The author of the letter I mentioned I think was trying to address the problem, encouraging us to keep the faith, so to speak. Saying that we should keep going, a spot will open up, the field will welcome us, the field needed us. I hope that the author is right; I didn't get that job, but maybe there's another ahead that I will. Not only do I need the field, but I'm needed. Though in the end, all there is is hope that it will get better. So thanks for the oddest and kindest rejection letter I've ever received. I hope you're right, Author, I hope you're right. For all of us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know IV.a Bibliography

To follow up my post about Codex Boernerianus and its fascinating contents, I offer the following bibliography, hopefully it will help.

On the manuscript itself:

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has images of the manuscript from a facsimile made I believe in 1909.

The SLUB Dresden Digitale Bibliothek has some new images of it.

The rather excellent Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism has a description and brief discussion.

The 1909 facsimile is: # Alexander Reichardt, Der Codex Boernerianus. Der Briefe des Apostels Paulus, Verlag von Karl W. Hiersemann, Leipzig 1909.

Then check:

Philip W. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981.

David Trobisch apparently has a project going on with respect to the mss.


Turning now to the Irish poem I mentioned and away from NT textual criticism, there isn't much, but here's what I've found:

Whitley Stoke's 1872 Goidelica is online at Google Books

This text whose accuracy I can not verify gives a somewhat different translation to the poem.

Irish writers John Millington Synge and Yeats apparently wrote poems inspired by this one and both are talked about a little in Declan Kiberd, The Irish Writer and the World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 74-77

That's about it, surprisingly. The poem, or a translation thereof, appears in a lot of places, online, in books, in journal articles, but as far as critical work on it, that doesn't seem to exist.

Even less is made of the commentary on Matthew which other than mentions in description of the manuscript's contents, I've found nothing in print. I was informed when I asked if anyone knew of any work on the text that a student in Germany was working on it. I emailed the student and asked if he intended to publish, or would like an opportunity to publish anything on the text in Heroic Age, etc, but I never received a response after his initial email.

So there it is. I hope that's somewhat helpful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just some Stuff

I mentioned a week or so ago the passing of Martin Hengel. Here is a moving tribute to him.

And Gospel.Net, not a site I'd really known before, has translations and images of a lot of extra canonical gospels. In some cases, they simply have links to other sites; in other cases they have English translations, and in a few cases they have links to images of the papyri/manuscripts! So if you're interested in the production, texts, and understanding of non-canonical gospels as I am, this is a good site to visit.

I have also to report that another of my intellectual influences has recently passed away. Graham N. Stanton reportedly passed away this past week. He personally was very helpful and encouraging when I was considering the start of the E-Matthew site.

Finally, for today, I've been doing some reading prepatory to writing abstracts for the Archeology section of OEN. I've been reading a part of the report on Flixborough which has been fascinating and way over my head. (I'll post more about this when I write it up for OEN) [and I hope to get one of the team to talk about it in HA] *BUT* that said, I reading a section that talks about the remains of animals almost certainly used as food. Among these are interestingly dolphin and whale. Now, I couldn't help but think of my Within poem, wherein the whale that has swallowed the eponymous hero washes ashore near Rochester and the people come out to fillet some whale steaks and whale kabobs. Anyway, Flixborough is on the Humber estuary, so not far from the coast, but not on the coast. And the remains of the dolphins and whale show that only partial animals were sent to the town, only those parts richest in meat and oil. This means that someone else was harvesting the beasties and butchering them elsewhere and then shipping them to Flixborough and probably other places. Now that's interesting! Wonder how it was done! More interestingly, I wonder if I can find medieval recipes for dolphins and whales.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

DiGlossia in Anglo-Saxon England

As regular passers-by know, I'm interested somewhat avidly in the Adventus period. One of the issues of that period has been what happened to the Celtic speakers so that few Celtic words became part of Old English. The old model of course was that the English came in and pushed the Celts west to Wales and Cornwall, north into Scotland, and off the island to Brittany. That view has been undergoing something of a revision in recent years, sped by the genetic studies of earlier this millenium, but still there is a lack of clarity on the issue of language borrowing and contact. I've written about some of this previously here and here.

So, I finally got around to doing some reading. Believe it or not, I have made inroads into the pile of books and articles that have stacked up since coming to Chicago to finish the ol' PhD and dissertation and all that. An article that was on that pile and is now in the "file" pile is "Diglossia in Anglo-Saxon England, or What Was Spoken Old English like?" by Hildegard Tristram in Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 40 (2004): 87-110. The article essentially argues that the differences between Middle English and Old English are due to the main population of Anglo-Saxon England being "between two languages" to steal a book title (just not the two languages of the that book).

1) Written Old English was likely kept relatively unchanged over the long period of 550 years of the period by deliberate efforts. Dialectal variations are remarkably few; there is very little grammatical change in the structure of the language. It isn't until the reign of Henry I that evidence of such change begins to appear.

2) The earliest Middle English texts show great typological change, grammatically and phonologically. "With apparent suddenness appeared the drift away from syntheticity to analycity."

The paper addresses the over all explanation of this sudden and accelerated movement in the 12th century. Tristram proposes four possible scenarios to explain this.

A) Punctuated Equilibrium Model proposed by Robert M. W. Dixon The Rise and Fall of Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997. Just like in evolution, this model says that the rate of change in the evolution of languages. A language may change slowly over time and then be subject to radical typological changes caused by a number of factors. There are a number of unanswered problems with this view.

B) A traditional explanation that says that the reduction of unstressed vowels was caused by strong stress accents on the first syllable in Old English words. This led over time to the loss of inflectional endings. (In contrast Tristram notes that German with the same type of stress pattern did not undergo the same type of erosion of the inflectional endings, and notes the same pattern in Old Norse, and even in modern Icelandic.)

C) This explanation says that many endings in OE were simply redundant, and so lost any meaning, and were discarded. Tristram again points to other languages in the Germanic group where the same conditions apply, but the same results did not occur.

D) Language contact with Old Norse caused the change, creating a "creole" situation as the languages were fused. However, Tristram rightly notes, ON and OE were close enough that with minimal effort the two linguistic groups could understand each other. Far more interesting to me and in my mind far more important is that the earliest Northumbrian poems we have from the eighth century already shows signs of "inflectional attrition." (I love that term!)

Tristram naturally has a different explanation. First to be noted is that the areas that deviated the most from what had become in 10th, 11th, 12th centuries "Standard Written Old English" in terms of the inflectional endings were Northumbria and the South and South West(though the degree of deviation is much different in each area). These are areas btw in which the Celtic peoples seemed to have maintained a longer period of influence culturally and linguistically. It is in the SW for example that the "periphrastic-Do" construction arose and periphrastic verbal aspect.

Tristram bases her conclusions on a number of factors, most importantly the recent genetic results showing that in large areas of England the British population remained unchanged except for their political affiliation to Anglo-Saxon overlords rather than the Romans. These Brits depending on where they lived in the island spoke British Latin and Brittonic or solely Brittonic at the time of the Adventus Saxonum. The areas where Brittonic was strongest and British Latin least strong are those areas in which we see the earliest and most sweeping change in Old English, including loss of inflectional morphology. Under the Anglo-Saxons, they likely maintained their native language, in some areas 7-8 generations before making a complete shift to only Old English.

This resulted in Brittonicisms entering Old English, but becoming exhibited in the written language in the early Middle English period. In the North: invariable case and gender inflection of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives just like in Brittonic; invariable article, and fixed word order both features of Brittonic. In the SW early Middle English, there is the previously mentioned rise of periphrastic aspect like Middle Welsh and the periphrastic DO in a variety of uses all matched in Middle Welsh. There are other features that appear later in Middle English that are shared with Brittonic or Middle Welsh. Tristram points to one example of this: clefting. She notes that clefting appears in OE in the late West Saxon Gospels, but only more commonly in ME in the 13th century. It already appears in Old Irish and Old Welsh.

Finally, Tristram outlines "levels" of Old English: the written language which was somewhat artificial, the language of the elites, the ruling class, and the "low" level, the language of the common person in Anglo-Saxon England. Middle English's differences from Old English are to be explained largely by the third level coming into the foreground after the removal of the Anglo-Saxon elite, post-11th century invasions. Thus, the elite control of the written language was lost, and the elites were gone to be replaced by a new elite, but this elite spoke and then wrote the language that had been that of the "common man" in Anglo-Saxon England.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus: Late Antiquitism?

As most are aware by now, Codex Sinaiticus is online now. Since it's been in the news frequently the last couple of weeks, enough to crash the servers once news was released, there have been many reports on it in the media. Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, and far more interesting and important to me, of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) has collated various incorrect statements by the media about the manuscript on his blog. And he corrects them; it does make for interesting reading.

Wallace does make one, well mistake isn't the right word, but nor is oversight or exaggeration. Well, gentle readers, you decide what it is. But Wallace states toward the beginning of his post that "Sinaiticus contains the oldest complete New Testament in the world; the next oldest is half a millennium younger." Well, not quite.....

Even if we emphasize, as I have above, the word complete...meaning there are no missing pieces as in Codex Vaticanus or Alexandrinus etc... there is a manuscript containing the whole New Testament that is vitally important and that is younger than Sinaiticus, but is not 500 years younger. Sinaiticus is dated to the "fourth century", sometimes to the middle part of that century, c. 350. The manuscript of which I speak came into being no later than 716. Codex Amiatinus from Wearmouth-Jarrow is complete, important even for helping to establish the Greek text of the autograph of NT documents (even if not as important as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in that regard), and is 300-350 years younger than Sinaiticus, produced on the other side of the Roman Empire from Amiatinus.

The problem is that Amiatinus is a Latin manuscript. While yet important and consulted in NT criticism, other language versions by and large do take a back seat to Greek copies in NT textual criticism. Still, it would have been more accurate for Wallace to say that Sinaiticus is oldest complete copy of the NT in Greek and the next oldest in Greek is half a millenium younger. But such is predominance of Greek in the field that such specification among the experts is unnecessary. And that's fine, though interesting, and I thought I'd take opportunity to raise the Medievalist flag once more, and draw attention to Amiatinus and Bede and Monkwearmouth-Jarrow.

Speaking of which, we use the term Medievalist to describe, well, medievalists, and Medievalism to talk about the use and application of things medieval in modern media of all kinds. So what do we call Late Antiquity scholars and the use and application of thing Late Antique in modern media of all kinds? For the former, I originally thought of Late Antiquarians, but for the associations of "antiquarian." So how about Late Antiquitian? And for the -ism, Late Antiquitism(s)? Since the field now properly comes out and stands between Classical, Classicism, Classicizing etc, and (early)Medieval, Medievalism, Medievalizing (ok, I haven't actually seen that last one) I thought the field might need its own set of descriptor terms. Wonder if they'll catch on?

Friday, July 10, 2009

First the Bad News, then some Good News

I'm a bit late on some of this, but here goes:

First, I found out this week that I am but a second choice for a position I had applied for and some one else will be filling the bill. Congratulations to that person whomever he or she may be.

Second, Martin Hengel died last week, Thursday I think, after a bout with cancer at age 82. Hengel was instrumental in Second Temple Judaism, Christian Origins, and early Rabbinics. He reopened the door to consideration of the shape of late Second Temple Judaism(s) as the mileau of the early Christian movement in his magisterial Judaism and Hellenism, the translation of his 1973 Judentum und Hellenismus. In that work, Hengel set the groundwork that has now become the shape of the field. Before his work, it was customary to talk about "Hellenistic Judaism" in the Diaspora, particularly at Alexandria, and "Palestinian Judaism" as differing approaches to being Jewish in the Greco-Roman world. Palestinian Judaism was largely seen as more consertive, Semitic, Temple oriented etc while Hellenistic Judaism was seen as more liberal, taking part in the larger Hellenistic culture, and concerned with merging the Torah and Greek philosophy as in the works of Philo. Hengel's work showed that it was not a question of "Hellenism vs. Resistance to Hellenism" in late Judaism, but rather "how Hellenistic was X", that is, all Second Temple Jews of whatever group in the Roman Empire were to some degree Hellenistic, even the Sadducees who oversaw the Temple and some of the early Rabbis in Palestine. Likewise, one finds conservative "Semitizing" elements in Diaspora Judaism as well. So he argued that a simple dichotomy of Diaspora vs. Palestine, Hellenistic vs. Semitizing was not a valid approach.

I read that book first in 1986, and read it through twice and have read in it many times. Masterful. If only I had the gifts to create such a work. Hengel wrote other influential works, or at least ones that questioned current assumptions such as his Acts and Earliest Christian History that to some degree bucked the trend to reading Acts purely as fiction, The Zealots is a very good book, and there are others spanning the field. It is sad to see him go.

Carin Ruff blogging at Ruff Notes notes the passing of Virginia Brown of PIMS. She too apparently has had a bout of cancer. I never knew her personally, but I do know that when I wanted to go to Toronto that she was one whom various contacts said I should get to know and be sure to take her palaeography class. Generations of PIMS and U Toronto students have done so, and her impact can be seen in their work, though she doesn't seem to have published extensively herself. She translated Boccacio's "Famous Women" and was apparently working on some Caesar Bellum Civile. Nonetheless, my condolences to all who knew her.


Update and Clarification: Carin Ruff dropped this comment in, where else, the comments and I thought it best to have it here so that others will see it:


Thanks for the link about VB. To clarify: the focus of Prof. Brown's life's work was manuscripts in Beneventan script, and her extensive publications were mainly notices of new manuscript discoveries, many published over the years in Mediaeval Studies and collected in Terra Sancti Benedicti: Studies in the Palaeography, History and Liturgy of Medieval Southern Italy. VB was one of E.A. Lowe's last assistants on CLA. It's an interesting metacomment on the intersection of our interdisciplinary profession with disciplinary databases that the products of such a monumental life's work can lie all but hidden even from other medievalists. (I mean this not as a criticism of you, but a rumination on the balkanization of our field.)


Like Intel, our Medieval Rock Stars aren't like other rock stars (Michael Jackson), but no less rock stars for all that.

But now the good news:

Friend and co-blogger (though he owns it) at Modern Medieval Matthew Gabriele appears twice, count it, twice in the latest issue of Speculum! His review of Rosamund McKitterick's Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity appears on pg. 753 and Matt's own book The Legend of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages: Power, Faith, and Crusade made it into the Brief Notices section. Congratulations Matt!

PostMedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies now has a website as well as a cover design. Kudos to Eileen Joy and all involved.


If you've been just wondering what to do over the weekend, let me suggest some Altoid catapults and binder clip trebuchets. Lifehacker saves the day AGAIN!

And utterly unrelated to anything medieval or scholarly, but Eureka returns this evening with a new season AND I've hooked the Spouse so I don't have to wrestle with her for the remote.

Also, test your knowledge of current events at McSweeney's Star Wars or Iran quiz.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know IV: Codex Boernerianus

Returning to the series at last, I'd like to introduce you to Codex Boernerianus. Now the two of you reading this might be thinking, "Hey, that's not "literature", its a manuscript. Swain, you ruminate you, you're stretching the meaning of literature here." And you wouldn't be wrong to say so. But this codex is of interest for several literary reasons.

Boernerianus is a ninth century diglot (well, as we'll see a diglot plus) manuscript probably from St. Gall. For the most part, its contents are the Letters of Paul from the New Testament, though there are lacunae, present in the manuscript's exemplar. The Greek text of the NT is the main text with the Latin text written interlinearly, and is much smaller in size. The Greek text is fairly unique in many ways and belongs to the "Western" text type. Other interesting features are the attempts at word and clause separation,clauses often marked at the beginning with a simple punctus. The Latin text has multiple Insular features, though quite cramped in the interlinear space. Boernerianus is connected to the gospel manuscript Codex Sangallensis, also a Greek/Latin diglot and to another codex containing the letters of Paul, Codex Augiensis.

Anyway, my purpose here isn't to talk about the New Testament text. There are two quite different pieces of literature that interest me. The first is that in the back of this manuscript is a brief commentary on the gospel of Matthew that to date NO ONE has published anything on. I was alerted by email a while back that there is a student in Europe working on it, but I emailed back to inquire if said student wished to do something about the text for Heroic Age or if he would at least alert me when his work was finished. I was met with silence. So should it ever happen that I find myself in a stable job in academia and some time on my hands, I fully intend on offering a diplomatic edition and translation of it. Unless someone publishes one first.

The second literary work I wish to talk about has had some work done on it and some may even recognize the piece from anthologies and such. On folio 23 verso an Old Irish poem is written in the bottom margin. The letter forms bear some similarity to the Latin letter forms suggesting that the scribe is responsible for both. However, I have read that the scribe both was and was not an Irish or native Irish speaker. I haven't reviewed the evidence in detail myself, though so far as I know Old Irish was not a taught language on the continent in the ninth century, and one wonders why a scribe at St. Gall's would write this poem with its message in Old Irish if that were not his native tongue. For a future post, I hope to talk about the provenance of several Old Irish pieces in Latin manuscripts and by then I hope to know more about the details of the debate as to whether this scribe was a native Old Irish speaker. At any rate, here's an English translation of the poem:

To come to Rome, to come to Rome,
Much of trouble, little of profit,
The thing thou seekest here,
If thou bring not with thee, thou
findest not.

Great folly, great madness,
Great ruin of sense, great insanity,
Since thou has set out for death,
That thou shouldest be in disobedience
to the Son of Mary.

Taken from: B. M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981, p. 104. He's getting it from somewhere else too, but I've forgotten where and can't find my copy at the moment to check.

Folio 23 verso contains I Corinthians 2:9-3:3. The verse *MIGHT* be connected loosely to the passage in that the passage speaks of having received the "spirit of Christ" rather than the spirit of the world. But there is nothing explicit to tie them together. One might speculate that the poet had but recently returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and was disappointed by what he found there. I know only the barest outlines of what was going on at Rome during the ninth century, but considering how much difficulty the popes were having with the senatorial families and Byzantine politics and Frankish politics etc, that might give a monk in search of spiritual things pause. I think others probably can fill in that picture better than I at the moment, but I'll see what I can dig up for a follow-up post on the piece.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

headwords bleg

I'm hoping to enlist your help. I'm generating headwords for an upcoming encyclopedia from Brill on NW Europe in the period 400-1100. I'll likely be posting other groups of headwords and asking for input and even a reader or two (dozen?)to contribute articles. Anyway, the headwords may be found here: headwords for Languages and Linguistics and related matters; just send comments to larsprec@gmail.com.

A brief word about format: its a spreadsheet in Open Office at the moment saved as an html file. Perfectly readable, but not as smooth as I would like it to be.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Connections: Early Medieval and Enlightenment Edition

I've been reading a book about Capt. Cook that I referred to in an earlier post and when I finish the book, I will post here a bit more. Ok, so I've also just finished The University in Ruins which will earn a post over at Modern Medieval, but I digress. Anyway, I like Bede. I like thinking about Bede, and early Anglo-Saxon England, writing about Bede and early Anglo-Saxon England, talking about Bede and Early Anglo-Saxon England.....

So I was a bit surprised to learn that Capt. James Cook (not Kirk who was from Iowa) was not only a Yorkshireman, but spent some time working in Whitby and it is from that town that he first took ship and the fledgling steps on his way to becoming the Captain Cook of well deserved fame. The author refers to the "7th century ruins of an abbey" on an outcrop of hill overlooking the town (ahem: Hild's place). He also attended services as part of a Cook celebration at a Norman era church, St. Mary's that has furnishings and additions that date from many subsequent eras. Being largely a fishing and shipping town, the church has pews made from lumber salvaged from ships and other such features.

I personally have little direct "Cook" connection. I've been to the Bering Sea where he sailed on his third voyage searching for the NW Passage. I've been to Cook's Inlet in AK, and to Vancouver Island, though admittedly I never made it to Nootka Sound...I was too preoccupied then with other beauties on the island and the wonderful city of Victoria (or at least it was 25 years ago). I have more connection in that sense with one of Cook's men, George Vancouver, having sailed and/or driven over much of the territory Vancouver explored after Cook's death.

Nonetheless, the personal connection of having been where Cook went myself as a deckhand, my interest in Whitby, Bede, and Hild, only to find another connection in that way to Cook who lived in the town early in his career. My one and only trip into Yorkshire so far only took me to York, but not to Whitby. So I guess I'm just going to have to go again.

Another item of interest to me in connection to Whitby is that apparently Bram Stoker used the town as a model for the seaside town in Dracula. I had no idea. I have to say that I've never been into vampires and the like, but the of a medievalist I become the more I've come to appreciate Stoker's work in Dracula as a medievalism. Anyway, it was another medievalesque connection that piqued my interest.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hrolf Kraki: Impressions

I mentioned awhile back reading Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide and made some comments on its contents and usefulness. I read somewhere in the long ago, in the before time, either by or about C. S. Lewis that for every modern book one reads, one should read an old work. Especially in my reading for my chosen profession, I try to keep this as a rule of thumb: for every scholarly tome I read, I also read a text in primary literature and a journal issue of some journal to which I subscribe or would like to subscribe. So, after reading ONIL mentioned above, I picked up a saga I've read bits in, even translated some from the selection in Gordon's Old Norse I've mentioned previously: The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. I had on hand, on the altar to Penguin, a copy of Penguin Classics' translation and introduction by Jesse Byock, whose web site I only discovered just now while creating this post. I'll have to have a close look at that and I'll enter comments about it then. But anyway, to the saga.....

Written in the 14th century, like so much else in Old Norse, the saga is one of the "tales of ancient times" or fornaldar . The scene is largely the Danish kingdom of the Scyldinga (Skjoldung in ON), and relates the rise of Rolf, the gathering of his heroes, and their final fall.

Its a great story full of all sorts of goodies: heroes, incest, evil lords and husbands, witches and dangerous Finns, a dragon, shape-shifting, magic, revenge, trickery.....all the stuff of a corker! Spoiler alert! If you haven't read it and don't want to know what happens, stop reading here.




There are connections to England: some of the early part of the story takes place in Northumbria. And of course there are connections to Old English literature, specifically Widsith and Beowulf.

Rather than review the story or stories or even the scholarship, I thought I'd just jot down some of my impressions and points that I'd like to teach someday. The thing that I think struck me most was the finale. Seriously, the last battle scene in which all the heroes die is poignant. It brought a brief choke to my throat.

I also liked the beginning which is much different in character, but that is the section that explicitly mentions England and has the story well connected in Northumbria, which since I like studying Northumbria, and am fascinated with the Adventus period, suits me just fine!

There is plenty to entertain the folklorist and keep him busy. Totemism, magic of various kinds and from various sources, men given mammalian forms and abilities, magical objects etc.

The role of women is interesting here as well: nefarious magic all stems from a female person. The little "good" magic comes from men.

There's a dragon!

Beware men who throw bones at you at dinner! Gives whole new meaning to the barbecues of summer!

There is much to keep the Anglo-Saxonist busy: connections galore to Beowulf and Widsith including same setting, same characters or names in some cases, similar difficulties facing the heros, similar name meanings, and so on. There's even a burning hall!

There is also plenty to keep the Tolkienista busy: incestuous relationships originally unknown to the partners and later revealed, rings, dragons, burning halls, unlikely heroes, a final battle scene complete with a bear, of sorts. Most of all though there is a sublime beauty to some of the tragic scenes that I can only imagine is what Tolkien and Lewis meant when they referred to the beauty of northern myth. There were several places where I was honestly moved.

As mentioned above, I translated a short portion in Gordon, but I think someday I'd like to return to this saga and read the whole in Old Norse. I know even with just going through the English translation, there is much to think on and consider and this will be a text that I return to again and again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Connections: Early Modern Edition

So....this might be a long shot. But I was reading my daily dose of the Bestaria Latina Blog and noted that one of today's proverbs is: Induis me leonis exuvium...you dress me in a lion's skin....

This is from Erasmus' Adagia and he there gives it two interpretations, one from myth, the other on fable. In mythology, Hercules is depicted draped in a lion's skin: the first task of Hercules' 12 was to kill the Nemean lion that had been terrorizing, well, Nemea. Hence the skin....imitated later by Alexander the Great, who stressed Herculean connections among others. But later, Hercules becomes reinterpreted as a type of Christ, and so there come to be Christological associations (sorry, an old Dante paper coming in there, but I digress.) Erasmus doesn't really go into that aspect though....

From fable, Erasmus notes Aesop's fable about the ass dressed as a lion. The donkeys note that they are whipped and treated badly by humans, but that humans fear lions. So they decide that they will go and put on lion's skins, and when people see them, they run away. Alas, the donkeys bray, the people realize when they see their feet that they have donkeys in lions' skins and not lions, and the lot of the donkeys is as bad if not worse than previously.

So....now we come to C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. The last book, The Last Battle opens with Shift the ape convincing Puzzle the Donkey that he should wear a lion's skin, improve his and everyone else's lot, and imitate the Narnian Christ figure Aslan. Puzzle, simple though he is, goes along at first and by the time his misgivings come to the fore, it is too late.

I'm sure that others have been here before me, I'm a bit slow like ol' puzzle (hence the name of the blog). Now we have here I think the sources for this part of Lewis' tale. Lewis was familiar with Aesop, Dante, and Erasmus (he quotes them all often enough in his non-fiction that there is no doubt on the question). And Puzzle, like Hercules, is a type of Christ: the falsehood comes in when the type is passed off as the real thing. And of course we have donkeys in lion's skin, just as the fable. And we have both together in the same context just as in Erasmus.

A nice set of connections: a chance reading of a blog entry on a daily Latin fable, brings me to Erasmus who brought me to Greek myth, Christian typology and my beloved Dante (oh, yes, I love my Dante!), and Erasmus, and finally, Lewis. Well done, Jack, well done.