>On feeling like a n00b

>In just over a week I’ll be leaving for London and I’m still not sure what the hell I’m doing in terms of the archives I’ll be working in there.

It doesn’t help that one archivist still hasn’t written me back to give me permission and set up an appointment for me, nor that another one, at a similar privately held archive, pretty much told me I probably won’t find anything and I’m wasting my time. OK, fine, but at least I’m doing the scholarly version of due diligence. Of course, he was right, in part because I didn’t discover an edited version of just about all of their medieval documents until long after I’d made non-refundable housing and air travel arrangements. D’oh! In my defense, it’s really recent and didn’t show up in the bibliographies of even more recent secondary works related to the subject. I found it in a rather serendipitous way while looking for something else.

So I may go bust in both of the above archives, but there’s still a lot of stuff I can work on at various libraries and public archives. And that work might lead me to archival resources or microfilms or out of print edited versions of documents and information I’d have a harder time getting here in the US. I keep reading the information leaflets of some of these places and thinking, “Hm, yes, that might be useful. I’ll see where that leads me.” And doing that will be a lot easier and more efficient if I can just walk over to their shelves or call up one of their microfilms instead of using interlibrary loan, etc. So the trip won’t be a total bust. Of course, I’ll be spending about $5000 dollars for this “efficient” use of my time, so I feel a little bit like I’ve done some bad planning.

But still, I do have to go to Oxford for 3-4 days to see the manuscript that this whole project revolves around, so I would have had to fly to the UK regardless. And *that* I have arranged with the manuscripts librarian. *That* I know how to do, since it involves a literary manuscript, where I’m not a total n00b, and where, apparently, I have mad skilz enough to get people to respond to my e-mails. It’s even an extra-special, heavily guarded, you-can’t-see-this-unless-you-prove-you’re-worthy kind of manuscript, and I didn’t even have to flirt with anyone* to get permission to see it, so ha! I can do some scholarly things right! (*That’s a joke. That’s not my usual MO.)

So, meantime, why not blow a bunch more money being all scholarly in central London and meeting up with bloggers, getting a little urban fix for a month, seeing some theater — some of which I can justify as work related (I teach Shakespeare!) — and taking some side trips which I can also justify as work related (pictures of Canterbury and the site of the Battle of Hastings for the classroom!)? Why not?

And on top of all this I’ll get to see my friend E’s new baby (not work related, obviously).

But still, I feel a bit like a scholarly flibberty-gibbet. Granted, a lot of this is new stuff to me — manuscript scholarship, working with civic and archival documents (oh god, please let it mostly be English — I can do French and Latin, but the script is so much easier for me to read when it’s English) — and I’m largely teaching it all to myself (or re-teaching, in the case of my paleography skills), so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I so hate looking like an ass, *especially* in front of English people, and *especially-especially* in front of Londoners. (Don’t ask me why — I really don’t know.)

BUT, the good news is I’m feeling more confident about my latent paleography skills. I’m reviewing that Oxford manuscript now, looking for where the interesting (to me) marginalia is (using the PDF I made of the microfilm) and I’m working in tandem with a printed edition of part of the MS that reproduces the marginalia, as well. Anyway, I was just now looking at a MS page and then looking at the printed edition when I said to the long-dead editor, out loud, “Are you a retard? That’s clearly an ‘l’ — not an ‘i.’ Duh.” Te-hee!

Oy, but in general, I have to say that being a medievalist seems always to make me feel like I need to go back and do graduate school all over again, as if I’m just now ready for it. And as a side note, there need to be grants and awards for young profs just to get the skills they need to do the research that grants usually cover. For instance, I have only two languages — French and Latin — but I’d like to do German and Italian. And I sometimes fantasize about making myself into an Anglo-Saxonist, but where would I get the Scandinavian language training? And my paleography skills are limited to late medieval and early modern books and documents, and mostly to English (damn those Latin abbreviations!). But that’s a post for another day.

The point of *this* post is I hope all the librarians and archivists who encounter me while I’m working in London are kind and patient. My mantra is going to be “this is a new area for me,” and hopefully they’ll understand!

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10 thoughts on “>On feeling like a n00b

  1. >Confession/reassurance: You can be an Anglo-Saxonist without ON. (I wish I had all the northern and Celtic languages, but I don’t, and I’ve managed to pass myself of as an ASist for years.) Also, the earlier hands are way easier. We love converts πŸ™‚

  2. >OK, see, I wasn’t even sure if there was just ON at that point, or if the modern Scandinavian languages had started to break out, or whatever. That’s how *lame* an Anglo-Saxonist I’d make! πŸ™‚

  3. >I still dream of learning Greek and Middle English, so I sympathize with your language frustrations. And for the archival n00biness, I’m also always there, each time I visit a new (to me!) site or delve into a heretofore untouched (by me!) collection.

  4. >This seems like one of those annoyingly medievalist things to say, but I don’t think Old Norse (specifically Old Icelandic) is really all that tough once you’ve done OE.And speaking of annoyingly medievalist … isn’t it amazing how much pressure we put on ourselves to have a thorough program of research before we arrive at the archive? It’s not like we’re allowed to just show up and browse. Whatever happened to serendipity among the manuscripts?I say that as someone who plans library trips like surgical strikes, and has them disrupted by that serendipity each time … and yet still agonizes about getting done what I need to get done in the time I’ll be there.I think I’m saying: don’t worry, be archival. Or the archive is what happens while you’re busy doing other things.

  5. >You all are making me feel much better! Thanks! I love me the intertubes!Except, there’s one nagging issue now: is Old Norse older than Old Icelandic, or what is their relationship? I’ve never quite gotten that straight. And can modern Icelanders *really* read Old Icelandic as easily as they read modern Icelandic, the way the websites for their medieval courses proclaim?[When it comes to things Old Norse, I really *am* a n00b.]BUT — JJC, since I found modern Danish pretty easy to read and decode given what OE I have, I’m sure you’re right about learning ON/OI.

  6. >As someone who had to do it… ON has basically 90% mutually understandable vocab as modern Icelandic. The only difference is occasional orthographic spelling things that are pretty easy to figure out. As for those pesky modern Icelanders, yes, they can read the Old stuff on sight. In fact, I feel that most of the time ON material is easier to read than modern Icelandic stuff. Consider the vocabulary of most of the sagas, I mean other than six gazillion words that describe “killing” and lots of genealogy, the complexity of the vocab generally doesn’t get as bad as most modern Icelandic novels. You may get into an argument with a bunch of scholars on pronunciation (i.e. reconstructed or just use the modern pronunciation), but otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward as a language. It’s much easier to understand grammatically if you’ve had Latin and German (all those cases). It’s definitely easier than any version of older Irish or even Welsh, mostly because you can find the words in the dictionary and by god, the stem changes are regular. Unfortunately, the Icelandic establishment just don’t really think foreigners can ever really learn their language. Thus, the most horrible second-language books and tools I hae ever seen. I mean really, my beginning Icelandic grammar book was written in scholarly Icelandic so difficult, that even my Icelandic flatmates had difficulty explaining what the hell it was trying to say. Otherwise, the major differences are pronunciation related. The prose in Old Norse is generally pretty straightforward to read and translate. The more difficult stuff is the crazy skaldic verse. Why they came up with poetry that is basically like a word puzzle is beyond me. Icelandic is also the most difficult Scandinavian language to learn. Though I think Danish pronunciation is the most frustrating. But if you do get a feel for the Icelandic/Old Norse, let me tell you, deciphering Old English poetry on the prosody level is incredibly easy. You can hear where the heavy and light syllables are without a hitch. All I know is that during the prosody class of our mutual great philologist, dissecting the poetic lines of Beowulf was incredibly fun and really straightforward for me. As for learning the language, I know they have summer intesive classes in Reykjavik. You might see if there is any funding attached to it. You’d probably like it there… it’s the most provincial cosmpolitan city I have ever lived in. The nightlife is really amazing, the shopping is great, and if you are there in the summer, the sun never goes down. As for archiving in England, I agree you should browse. I always do when I’m doing work. Once I’ve gotten the ones I have to see out of the way, I tend to ask for things I’ve always wanted to see, or things tangentially related to what I’m working on. You’ll be surprised at what you find. Enjoy.

  7. >Oops, I forgot to clarify… Old Norse is exactly the same as Old Icelandic. It just depends on who you talk to (i.e. Icelandic scholars who believe it’s a nationalist statement or non-Icelandic scholars who want to colonize it for the rest of northern Europe… by the way it’s the same people who argue about reconstructed vs. modern Icelandic pronunciation). As for relative similarities and differences between OE and ON/OI… having done some Old English doesn’t mean that it will help your ON much. But strangely, having done some ON, your early Middle English and even your later middle English from the North and West of England can be helped tremendously. Thing of all those weird Norse-sounding terms in the York cycle. Oh yes, if you ever getting into ON scholarship, it’s incredibly nationalistic and territorial. So just about everyone has their nationalist agendas (especially the Icelanders) except for the ones doing it out far away from Scandinavia/Europe (namely in the Americas and Australasia).

  8. >Old Norse is exactly the same as Old Icelandic. It just depends on who you talk toOK, that explains a *lot* of my confusion. Thanks General!And hey — you commented on a non-doggy post! πŸ™‚

  9. >A friend of mine a long time ago planned a trip to Cherbourg to see the manuscript they’d decided to centre an undergraduate dissertation on–and arrived to find the MS had been moved to Paris five years before. So I say to you, beat that πŸ™‚

  10. >I once went to the Bodleian to look at one of about a dozen chronicle mss. I needed to see for my diss. The young librarian (he looked young to me and I was only 26) said, when he saw my request slip, “You do realize that this is the oldest non-Biblical ms. in the British Isles?” I said something mild, like “I’m not surprised.” I kinda wanted to say, “That’s why I’m here!” But then, I’d already run into a German archivist who wanted me to use their microfilm copy rather than look at the ms. itself.It’s not exactly war to the knife between scholars and archivists/librarians, but there’s a definite tension. “Look at our materials? You might breathe on them or something!”

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