Saturday, January 30, 2010

Palaeography at King's College

Many will already know this, but just in case there are some who don't yet. The endowed chair in Palaeography at King's College, London is in danger of being fact the current chair holder David Ganz has already been informed he will be without a position at the beginning of the term in Sept. This chair dedicated to palaeography is Britain's only such chair; in fact I know of no other such chair or position in the world solely dedicated to palaeography and related issues. The hue and cry has gone up and should. Scholars the world over, even those not directly involved in early medieval palaeography ought to be dismayed at this development--especially as it comes on the heals of a job announcement for 3 people to work on "text-related" humanities computing initiatives at KCL. Ok, granted those 3 positions are one year contracts, but nonetheless...nor am I against the growth of humanities computing...quite the opposite: I'm all for it. I'm just noting that it is odd to be announcing cuts, I believe I saw something about 21 faculty positions, while announcing new vacancies elsewhere--especially where those cuts are getting rid of an endowed chair that is at least unique in Britain, in the field of medieval studies, and even the world.

Many are trying to save the chair by writing emails and letters and I hope that we all can agree to do this. People on Facebook are facilitating a letter writer campaign. Addresses are:

The Principal
King’s College

copied to: Professor Jan Palmowski
Head of the School of Arts and Humanities
King’s College

The Facebook page is here:

Please write and/or share this information with others via any means possible.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shaking My Speare: My Take on Shakespeare I

Ok, it's a silly title I know. I'm doing my first all Shakespeare course. I've done various Shakespeare plays and sonnets in Brit Lit surveys and other courses organized around a theme. I usually take a theme in general lit classes and do a diachronic set of readings from the ancient to the modern and so some Shakespeare often fit in there.

But this is my first Shakespeare course, and as long as I'm a contingent employee, the closest I'll come to teaching anything medieval for the foreseeable future. So I thought I'd try and blog what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, what I think about it and what is working and what isn't. All comments are welcome.\

It is a 200 level course at a community college. And as usual I have a range of students; on one extreme is the Ren faire/Elizabethan enthusiast who knows quite a lot, the theater person who has performed but never studied the works of the Bard, down to the other extreme of the inner city kids who are taking it because it fulfills they're Humanities credit, it fits their schedule, and have maybe encountered some Shakespeare in high school.

I've set the usual sort of thing in terms of assignments: mostly on a daily basis reading, approx an act per 1 1/2 hour class. 2 exams, 2 papers, 2 related group projects, participation and discussion round out the grading requirements.

Our first class last week, I "lectured" if you can call what I do lecturing, giving a historical background to the Elizabethan period, and the major intellectual ideas. I then paired the 25 students up and gave them a sonnet or short passage--time to get the feet wet with some Shakespeare text. The assignment was to imitate those Geico insurance commercials from a while back: the ones where you have the real person telling their story, and the "famous" actor or person to help tell their story. The task for the class then is for one group member to present the text as is, and the other to "interpret" in some way. They could play it straight, make it funny, sing it...the only requirement is to capture the meaning of the passage. I generally chose well-known passages and sonnets that we likely will not do in the course.

We will finish those presentations in our third meeting tomorrow and then leap into our first play Henry V. I plan to spend some time on the Chorus' prologue, a too oft overlooked passage in my view, and examine the use of the chorus, the invocation of the muse, the interweaving of classical and biblical references, the propaganda aspects, and then to show Olivier, Branagh, and Plummer versions of the prologue to show some differences. This all may spill over into Thursday's class, but we'll see.

I'm looking forward to this class. It's the only lit class I've done in a year for one thing, and unlike last year's Fiction course, fun in its own right, this Shakespeare one is at least close to my field. So that's kind of exciting if you ask me.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Medieval Middle Earth

It is no secret that Tolkien's Middle Earth in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings contain many a borrowing from medieval literature and even history. Tolkien is both medievalist an medievalismist, purveyor, if you will, of things medieval in a later guise. Due to a discussion elsewhere, I was reminded of something I do in my one and only Tolkien class. Or I did.

I have a lecture and slide show on Tolkien's medievalism after the class has read LoTR and is moving on to read some of the influences on Tolkien like Beowulf and SGGK. In this lecture, I point to Tolkien's languages and how they parallel the situation in Medieval Europe. In Western Europe, every court eventually spoke a vernacular. But of those, there was Latin that the learned learned and used for all manner of thing. Higher up the chain were Greek and Hebrew.

At least among humans and hobbits in Middle Earth, the situation is much the same. Most peoples of ME speak Westron or their own vernacular. Among those are the learned who study and learn "Elvish" or Sindarin. Among those, a few will learn Quenya. And like Greek influencing Latin, so Quenya influenced Sindarin.

There was more and a nice comparative chart, now lost due to computer failure and I foolishly didn't have it all backed up. Ah well...someday I may have opportunity to teach this again and redevelop the chart.

Anyway, I'm sure that others have pointed this feature out before, but it is still one that makes me smile and fly my nerd flags at full mast.