Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A very cool post at Babelstone re: the first appearance of Ogham in a manuscript....

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PEAA Awards Additional

Its been suggested that I add a new category to the voting: Best Podcast on Medieval Subject. Consider it added.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

PEAA Awards

Just a reminder to send in your nominations for the PEAA awards, I'll announce the winning nominations after the 1st of the year, hopefully very soon after the beginning of the year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

PEAA Additional Categories

Let me add some categories, though I won't post these to the other blogs:

Best Journal Article of the Year

Best New Medieval Book of the Year

Best New Medieval Web Project of the Year

Best Use of Electronic Media of the Year

Best Medieval Movie/TV Show of the Year

Best Medievalism Web Site of the Year

Best Medievalism Book/Movie/TV of the Year

First Annunal Unofficial PEAA Awards

Announcing the first annual Praemium Ephemeridis Aetheriae Auctoribus awards (Award for Authors of Ethereal Diaries). Ok, I'm not that caffeined (rhymes with fiend) yet, so if you have a better name or acronym, write in. Anyway, here's the deal. Nominate the best medieval blog *entry* of the year that is not one written by you. So: medieval, an entry, written by someone other than the person nominating. Here are some categories I've thought of:

Award for Best Blog Entry of the Year

Award for Blog Entry that Fueled Research

Award for Blog That Best Serves the Medieval Community

Recognition for Best Electronic Article on a Medieval Topic

Award for Best Entry Making Fun of Ourselves

Write suggestions and nominations to larsprec AT gmail dot com

I'll collate and between the 25th and the 1st announce things that are gaining votes and announce those whom we wish to recognize after the first of the year.

The prize contains nothing other than the approbation of fellow medievalists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why I'm a Medievalist Meme Ruminated: Warning Terribly Autobiographical and Rambling!

Being on the job market has reminded me of "meme" not long ago that addressed why one becomes a medievalist. I started this journey a long, long time ago, well, a long time ago to me. While I've defended successfully, I'm still finishing the editing, so it'll be January before I have a piece of paper in hand. That's ten years after I walked in Paul Szarmach's office in the middle of snow storm to have our first face to face, a little over 12 years since I began to apply to graduate schools, and about 14 years since I had a sit down with myself and said I "gotta finally do this thing" and began researching what it would take to get me there and started buying books and reading. For me that's ahead of the story.

So how did I become a medievalist? I'd like to be able to list all these grand scholarly things that sound impressive....but I can't. I became a medievalist more or less through the back door and well, out of love.

My family has no tradition of higher education. My father's father, whom I never met, apparently went to college in Minnesota for awhile. I have notebooks that my father gave me where Granddad did his botany homework, drawing plants and making notes of their physical descriptions and properties. But when he went West to the then "wilds" of Montana, working to take the railroad across the state, he apparently left family and education behind. I know few details, as my Dad's family is dominated by my grandmother: anytime I ask my father or his siblings about Granddad, the focus quickly turns to Grandma. Anyway, point is, Granddad had a college education at the turn of the last century: and that's it. None of my father's siblings went to college, my father didn't even finish high school and later earned his degree.

My mother's side is new American. Both my mothers parents came to the US just a hair before the first world war, one in 1910 and the other in 1914. Both were of good, German, peasent stock, and when they married in 1915, they set up farming in North Dakota. Needless to say, they didn't go to college either, and neither did any of their children.

Well, that reading thing....reading was the one thing that I was good at all the way through school. So I read. All the time. English classes introduced me to adapted versions of the Aeneid and the Odyssey and Shakespeare and of all the stuff we read, I found that that was the literature I loved best. So when I went to library and slowly but surely my reading evolved into three areas of interest: current politics, history, esp. pre-modern, and classical and medieval literature. Now when my poor high school councilor was dubious about me making it in college he stirred my inner Beowulf. I was ok: areas I was good in I excelled, areas I wasn't, I bombed. Hence PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores were mixed and my grades were B average. Rather than rip his arm off, though, I worked like a dog. Since my councilor wasn't really going to help me much get into anything except the local college, which I didn't want to do, and my parents had no clue, and there was no internet to use, I started researching colleges at the public library. I had no idea what I was doing. Quite by chance, someone asked me about Seattle Pacific Univ and if I thought that would be a good school. I looked it up, applied, and got in.

Now, a major....given my interests at the time, I thought that I'd become a Relgion-Philosophy major. I spent the summer before and after my freshman year on fishing boats. The great thing about gill netting is that you have periods of intense activity, followed by a few hours of inactivity. So I'd sit on deck and read. I even had a library card for the Juneau Public Library--yes, I've seen Sarah Palin's house--well the governor's mansion which I walked by on my way to the library when we came into town after the weekly fishing period was done. Go to the laundromat, buy a shower while the clothes are in the washer, head up the hill past the mansion and over to the library was my weekly routine, return and set about swabbing decks, repairing and cleaning nets, and joy of joys....occasionally scrubbing the bottom of the boat....a most unpleasant of jobs. Give me shoveling manure any day of the week (yes, done that too). Anyway, I read on deck. I read all of Shakespeare, tried to read the Fairie Queene, read Augustine's Confessions and City of God, read all of C. S. Lewis and read Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, read Milton, read Chaucer, read the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Bible.....When I got to college however I found out that reading some Augustine and Aquinas wasn't the same as being a philosophy major. So I switched to Religion-Greek and Linguistics. there's something. I'd already had some German and Latin in high school. Now I added Greek and Hebrew and during a History of English course, discovered Old English and Beowulf...and I was in love! I think of it this way now: Greek is a great intellectual challenge that I love working in. Latin is like my lifeblood, I love working in Latin....but for those moments of linguistic FLOW, moments at which I completely lose myself and its all about the task in hand....those moments belong to working in Old English and Old Norse. I'm not sure yet where Old Irish and Hebrew fit on that scale, but I enjoy those too.

So, my career as a medievalist was sealed: I kept reading these texts, I loved learning and working in these languages. I can't point to some grand intellectual thing, but I can point all the way back to elementary school for the initial elements that led me to become a medievalist. It took me 14 years with stops and starts to get from college graduation to graduate school in medieval studies. But I did it for the simple reason that I love it: I love the stories, I love the manuscripts, I love the languages. Its my personal love affair with this material. And should it happen, heaven forfend, that I not be in academia, I love this material enough to grab that proverbial, figurative arm and rip it off: i. e. I'll still be working in it because I love the material.

So that's why I'm a medievalist. Nothing grand. Just a love affair that's been growing stronger for forty years now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


A few months ago, I read Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner and had intended to mention it here, but had forgotten. Now we've moved and the book is packed away in the 2 dozen book boxes we didn't have room for when we went from 2 bedrooms to 1 (meaning I lost my office at the same time I was losing my school office). And to boot, I'm out of town....and get to catch up on blog posts! Yay!, I'm no expert on the history of potables and comestibles....far from such a state. Its something I want to look into and I've collected a few volumes to read up on when I suddenly have free time. I took History of the World in Six Glasses with me on a trip to Merry Olde Angleterre a few years back since there's about 8 hours of free time each way. (I actually had about 12 on the way there, but that's a different story and watched 6 movies while reading said book.) So to the book....

It isn't a scholarly tome. Its non-fiction, seems fairly well researched, but aimed at educated, interested, intelligent non-professional sorts of folk. I enjoyed it immensely, and at the back of the book the author includes a Narrative sort of "Works Cited". So it isn't footnotes, and it isn't just bibliography, but gives the reader good sources, both primary and secondary, to run to for further information.

The book was brought back to mind as I was deciding what of my spice store I was packing to bring with to T-giving holiday here in the USA. I do the cooking in my house, the price of marrying a much younger woman I suppose. But especially now that my wife's mother has passed, I do the cooking for her family too. Ok, those of you who have seen me in the flesh have probably realized that I look the way I do because I'm actually quite good at that cooking thing. So anyway...back to the book again....

Its a wide ranging study. It begins with the early modern period and talks about the beginnings of the modern spice trade as the Western powers go out in search of spices etc in the Far East. But then after the introduction we go backwards in time. But Turner, the author, does not tell simply a chronological tale.

I learned a great deal. There was material about ancient uses of spices, a find in Iran of a village from about 6000 BCE in which a spice from the Far East was found, and still rather fresh. Loads of good tidbits about the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. But he doesn't neglect the medieval either. There was stuff from Bede and Aldhelm and Aelfric, and Christian comments about the wrongs of spicy foods and rents paid in pepper in the late middle ages. He illuminated the familiar too by looking at the land of Cockayne and its appearance in various sorts of medieval literature, and spice and its smell as signs of heaven. In the late medieval period, there were even spice mongers in lower class neighborhoods in larger cities, much less the personal spice expert to the nobles, who sometimes was at odds with the cook in the castle!

Turner details the double-mindedness of the Church: spices signified heaven, or the stink of hell depending on the need of the preacher. He also talks a bit about the uses of spices in medieval medicine which was interesting, even invoking an Anglo-Saxon charm as I recall. Fortunately he also debunks the common false preconceptions of the medieval period. For example, the wide spread use of spice to disguise rotten food (uh, no). He talks about spice as a status symbol in the medieval period, and the medieval diet. He even talks a little about spices as aphrodisiacs (though how our forebears thought that applying pepper to the male genitalia would Viagra-like aid in sexual performance is beyond me.)

In all, the thesis of the book is simply that spice and spices were catalysts for history: art, intellectual, and caused humans to act to get them. He proves that thesis I think.

This was a pretty easy read, geared as I said to a popular, educated, and intelligent audience though not necessarily the specialist. I learned a lot, even about things medieval, and looked at things I did know through a new lens that expanded my view of things, and eventually my teaching. I'd recommend this book.