Saturday, 30 May 2009


Okay so I took an online version of the Meyers-Briggs test here, and I learned something interesting. The people at human metrics have a Time Machine. I know this because I have been informed that I have the same personality type as not only Nathan, prophet of Isreal, but also Geoffrey Chaucer. Well, either that or Nathan, prophet of Isreal has a blog.

Friday, 29 May 2009

What Ought to be Buried (or, "Vellum Waxes Philosophical")

Vaulting's latest post ended on a note I'd like to follow from:

"But if we leave everything buried that ought to be buried, what will we put in our history books?"

The question I'd like to raise is, perhaps, one that seems obvious to many of you. Ought anything from history to remain buired? Is there any instance, any part of history that could be better left unsaid?

When it comes to the long-dead stages of history, those where all people involved (and, indeed, all the children of the children (of the children?) of those involved) have passed on, it's easy to say that yes, we ought to know about it. It hurts no-one as the dead have little care for their reputations (that is, unless you believe in the afterlife posited by Dante, where posthumous reputation remains important).

The same is true for any atrocities we know about today. It's easy to say about the holocaust that it's better that we know -- it helps us never to repeat such a horrrific and awful event in our history.

But there are still events where it remains a queston. When it comes to atrocities we don't know about, and when it comes to social issues that could negatively affect the private lives of living people, we ought to at least have the debate.

For the first, imagine that your society was a peacful one. Imagine that mutual respect was universal and poverty scarce. Now imagine that you discover that one, two hundred years earlier, your predecessors created this society by means of a near genocide, the revelation of which could cause violence today. Is that something one would really want to know? When the damage has been done, and the risk of a repeat occurence is low, is it always best to spread the truth?

I'm copping out of that one. I'm not a philosopher, and I can't begin to assess the rights and wrongs. I just thought it was worth the consideration.

The second hits a little closer to home. Imagine that someone's grandfather was a famous person -- an artist, a writer, whatever -- that your contryfolk loved, looked up to, used as a role model for good citizenship. Now imagine that you discover something controversial about that person. Imagine that despite all the good they did, they were a terrible racist, or a terrible sexist, or another as-yet-unnamed kind of bigot. Is it imperative that the world know? What if that controversial aspect is something else, something no fault of their own, something not regarded poorly today because it is actually something bad, but because of our own bigotry? Where, as historians, do we draw the line as to what "truth" to reveal to the world?

I don't know. For me, it would rely on my own conscience at the time. I hope it would rest on anyone's. As much as we think, as historians, that our work is unlikely to affect anyone alive today, I suggest that we must always consider if and how our findings will change the world we live in, here and now. Most of the time, I hope that will result in a more considerate way of releasing possibly sensistive information, rather than resulting in the witholding of said information. If nothing else, it must be said that truth generally finds its own way out, and so repressing it tends to be a pointless venture: when all is said and done, perhaps the best we could do would be to conrol the rate at which the evils of the world escape Pandora's box. If you have any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them.

Okay, I'm done.



Thursday, 28 May 2009

Public vs Private in art history

Many thanks to Vellum for carrying the blog while I was otherwise occupied. However, now the questions of a PhD program in the fall and worthwhile employment have been resolved (no to the former, emphatic yes to the latter), and I hope to be a tad more reliable now.

No promises.

Today's musings pertain to the boundaries of history/art history. My new job is at a small museum where I am responsible for taking visitors through the exhibit and discussing the artists, their techniques, etc. The environment is very much to my taste, being more concerned with the conditions which produce art and less with the composition, color, and "quality" of the art. Thus, I have spent the last week cramming facts and biographical details (as this museum is not medieval, and, in fact, is just about as far from medieval as you can get). Which has led to an interesting problem which I haven't ever considered.

As a medievalist, I deal with long dead issues. Most scandals and questionable dealings are dealt with from a purely academic perspective. Everyone involved has been dead for centuries, and it's generally quite difficult to find descendants to be offended on behalf of their predecessors.

Not so with history from the turn of the last century. One of my only instructions regarding the nature of my tours of the museum was to not mention a very well-known love affair between a certain prominent artist and one of his models. My response was to stare blankly at the board member, who didn't seem to think this was an odd request. "She was a local girl, and her family still lives here. Some of them come in from time to time," he explained. Well, yes, but that's no excuse to whitewash the artist's entire history. For said model was the artist's model in just about every painting he did for 20 years. And he lived with her for nearly 50 years. And it's quite likely that his relationship with her was the influence for most of his work, and the major decisions he made regarding his work.

And I'm not allowed to talk about it?

Fortunately, I'm in such a position that no one is really able to tell me what to say or not to say. So I will certainly be discussing this artist's life and the people in it. Simply because the truth might be uncomfortable for a few people doesn't give me the right to gloss over it or whitewash it for something prettier. However, I readily admit to understanding where the concern is coming from.

Said prominent artist lived long enough that there are still plenty of people about who knew him, and the woman was alive practically into my lifetime. These are still people remembered as individuals, rather than as historical figures. His children have all passed on, but there's still plenty of family about. They, understandably, want to protect and defend their predecessor's (or grandfather's) memory. Not to mention his cashbox. But I have to tell you:

If hearing stories about Grandpa and wandering down memory lane involves going to a museum, you've lost the right to decide what's public knowledge and what's private.

To be honest, this particular battle was fought and lost some time ago. A book was published on this relationship two decades ago, and the many accusations of slander have long since passed. This is established history now, and to not discuss it at a museum partially devoted to the artist.... well, it's just silly, isn't it?

But it does raise the question of where the line between public history and private falls. Despite his fame, this artist never wanted to be a public figure, and his model certainly didn't - not for having an affair with a married man. It's tempting to then say that he's allowed his privacy, even after his death. However, his art is significant, and an important part of art history; so too are his experiences which resulted in this art. That's ultimately what art history comes down to - and even history. Without understanding the experiences, the art is practically meaningless.

The artist's son was quite open about his life and his father, so much so that when he insisted that something not be mentioned in a book on his father, it wasn't mentioned. Again, I understand his desire to keep what had been family secrets private, but all it served to do was cover up the truth. Were it not for a particularly nosy and observant historian, none of this would have ever seen the light of day. Which is probably where a handful of people prefer it had been left. But if we leave everything buried that ought to be buried, what will we put in our history books?


Monday, 18 May 2009

New Acquisitions

My copy of ASPR 1, the Junius Manuscript, just arrived today in the mail :) (ahem: *squee!*)

It's in remarkably sturdy condition for a book published over 70 years ago.

Other new acquisitions I've yet to blog about include a Colunga and Turrado Vulgate Bible, a book on Hildegard, a book on celibacy, three PIMS Latin texts (two are still in the mail) and three books of varying quality on Old English poetry and literature.

I'll post about them as I read them, promise.



"Medieval" Twins Born

I believe I'm right in my belief that in the middle ages there was a superstition that a woman who gave birth to twins must have done so by having intercourse with two different men. "Hogwash!" you may say, or perhaps "Those crazy medieval people, they should've known better, how ignorant!" Well, as it turns out, perhaps not so ignorant as we might think. In what fixed news is calling a "miracle of science," a woman in Dallas has given birth to a pair of twins who have different fathers. Not only that, she did so not by artificial insemination, as the term "miracle of science" might imply, but rather, by having "an affair that resulted in two babies." I kid you not.

Scientists have a fancy name for this: heteropaternal superfecundation. I think in English that translates roughly as "different fathers, super productive" -- I think she should get herself a coat of arms and use that as the motto. Maybe have a picture of some rabbits on there for effect.

Can you tell I'm having a slow day?



Sunday, 17 May 2009

Q: Who Holds the Reins in U.S. Education?

A: Something called the "College Board," apparently.

Just read a very interesting (and troubling) article here about the changes being made to the AP Latin curriculum by a standardized testing organization with far too much power.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have nothing but the greatest disdain for standardized testing, and view it as a criminally obtuse means of attempting to gauge a student's comprehension of a given subject matter. When the test writers get to start determining what the students learn, there's something gravely wrong.

Don't even get me started on the SATs and the GREs.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Two Bits of Medieval News

Just a quick post.

First, Medievalnews (brought to you by points out that "Stained glass conservators are a dying breed", to which I feel the need to respond for my former institution: The Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of the History of Art at the University of York together offer an MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management which I would do in a heartbeat if I had the funds. And where better to learn to preserve stained glass than in York?

Second, they also note that efforts are at long last underway to preserve Lindisfarne -- one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. Just don't get stuck on the causeway at incoming tide.

Oh, and over at In The Middle they're looking for your help to decide on what to do with the cover of their new journal, postmedieval. I like the blue one best, but I'd rather have it in a wine or burgundy rather than blue. But what do I know? ^___^



Monday, 11 May 2009

Kalamazoo Days Three and Four

Though I attended some wonderful sessions, the highlight of the day had to be the second paper delivered by the Societas Fontibus Historiae Medii Aevi Inveniendis, vulgo dicta, “The Pseudo Society.”

In a paper entitled "Medieval Mortality: A Radical Reconsideration," Prof. A. Mark Smith of the University of Missouri-Columbia, argued against the obviously fallacious statement that "death, in the middle ages, took a heavy toll." Making use of only the finest of statistical analyses, Smith displayed an incredibly logical and articulate argument, such that by the end of the paper there was not a person in attendance who was unaware of the undeniable fact that death did not, in fact, take a heavy toll in the middle ages. Then he surprised us all and linked higher modern death rates to wage-earning potential, summing up with the well-known phrase: "stipendia enim ... mors".

The dance, on the other hand, was a little weak. The drinks were too pricey ($6 for a bottle of anything better than a Michelob?) and the best song to dance to was either Time Warp or Love Shack, which I think is pretty telling. Where were the academics behaving badly? Where were the tenured professors getting on down with their bad selves? I had heard rumours, but I saw nothing more than mediocre dancing to mediocre songs, and I was gravely disappointed.

Next year I'm bringing a flask of absinthe and hijacking the DJ's playlist.

I'm also thinking of volunteering a paper for the Pseudo Society. I'll let you know if that goes anywhere.

Day four was filled with buying books for wonderfully low prices. I got a set of OUP Anglo-Saxon Lit. books that normally retail for over $50 for $12, and Vaulting spent just over $50 on over $150 worth of beautiful books on gothic and romanesque art. Thank you Powell Bookstores!

I've also ordered some books online, so by the time I finally arrive home, there should be a nice Vulgate Bible waiting for me, along with a good condition ASPR Junius 11 and a philosophical treatise titled F*ck It. ^___^

Only 14 hours of driving left until we get home.

All in all, K'zoo was a wonderful experience. I hope to do it again next year. And the next. And probably after that too. I made new friends, saw old ones, and learned a great deal along the way. First Kalamazoo for the win.



Sunday, 10 May 2009

Kalamazoo Day Two

[yes, again, two days late. Day three will probably get posted tomorrow, but there's a lot of driving to be done in the next 24 hours so... we'll see.]

Day two was a day of meeting people. It began with a blogger meet-up, which was probably the high point of the day. I met Richard Nokes (Unlocked Wordhord), Carl Pyrdum (Got Medieval), Matthew Gabriele (Modern Medieval), Another Damned Medievalist (Blogenspiel), The Rebel Lettriste (The Rebel Letter), Steve Muhlberger (Muhlberger's Early History), Dr. Virago (Quod She), Notorious PhD (The Adventures of Notorious PhD, Girl Scholar), Peter Konieczny (, Medieval Woman (Purring Prophecy) and so many more. It was great to meet everyone -- and a little weird when people actually knew who Vaulting and I were. I'm going to have to check that hit meter again.

The middle of the day I spent hastily preparing to give a paper, which, all-in-all, went well. All I can say is that people clapped politely, and no-one asked the killer question: "so, what exactly are you trying to argue here?"

In the evening Vaulting and I hit the classiest joints in town (pita pit, the grotto at capone's) for dinner with a friend and then bounced back and forth between the Early Medieval Europe and ICMA receptions, where the old adage "meeting people is easy" became true, if with the caveat "once you've had a few." I inadvertently introduced myself to a certain rather important medieval persona from the Met, geeked out about Doctor Who with some Bryn Mawr alums, and talked Zappa for half an hour with a wonderful gentleman from Denver. Oh and I met a woman who is going to sing her thesis, while accompanying herself with a harp.

Kalamazoo: a strange, but wonderful, place.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Kalamazoo Day One

[Nota Bene: all posts will be a day or two late, as I have practically no wireless signal in my lovely.. er.. spartan... room.]

First and foremost, I'd like to say this: where the heck is everyone?

I've been to three sessions, and although they may not have been the most popular sessions (Platinum Latin Three? Platinum Latin Whee!) I'd still expect the presenters to show up. And yet no. Of the three sessions I attended today, only one had all members present.

What. The. Heck.
Some people are blaming Pig Flu. Having killed almost as many people in total as die each day in the US from car crashes, I have to say this is the daftest pandemic I've seen yet. The other excuse I've heard is the economy, which I'll admit, does suck. I've heard stories of funding being not only cancelled, but asked to be returned. Now I was going to rant about my own financial situation here, the fact that being unemployed for months hasn't stopped me from attending and so on, but I was forgetting that some people have to cross an ocean to get here. And while that's a pricier option than the long-haul car ride, which anyone in North America could have done, until cars can cross the Atlantic unaided, I suppose my criticisms of overseas travellers' cancellations will have to be put on hold.

My second issue is with old profs and new tech. In a session with four presenters, how many times should a tech expert really have to be called in? You know, I'm a pretty forgiving guy, but I'm pretty certain the answer should still not be FOUR. Also, no matter how poorly you understand technology, I'm pretty sure it's generally understood that standing between your slide show and the audience is a no-no. Well I was sure, until today.

My third issue (in one day, I know. I blame my lack of sleep.) is with copyright. I attended a session where a presenter was afraid to show images of Junius 11 on the projector. She cited copyright as her reasoning. Now the copyright notice on this page, for these images (1234) says that it's okay for academic purposes to show these in a slide show. But to be frank, even if it didn't say that, it would still be safe to assume that fair use applies. My fear is that the RIAA and the MPAA have put so much fear of IP abuses into the Jungian collective subconscious that we're not even aware of what our rights are anymore. Check what the intellectual property rights and fair use policies are in your country. If they're not what you're hoping for, do something.

That's all for day one. Blogger meetup tomorrow.



Thursday, 7 May 2009


Hello all!

Sorry about the delay, but things have been hectic leading up to K'zoo. I will now officially be co-presenting with Prof. Laurence Erussard at the 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies, on Friday (tomorrow) at 3:30pm, in session 327: "Body and Spirit in Old English Literature". Session 327, in Valley I, 102.

Vaulting and I will also be attending the York meet-up in Fetzer 1045 tonight, and the blogger meet-up tomorrow morning! Hope to see you all there!

Further bulletins as events warrant. ;)