Happy New Year!

2013 wasn’t a bad year or a particularly notable year, though Bullock and I did celebrate 10 years together, and I was named Humanities Institute director. Otherwise, it was a kind of normal year, I guess. We didn’t quite end the year in a particularly good way, though — Bullock had a root canal and Pippi had to be taken to the vet for a foot injury, both on the last days of the year. My two gingers are recovering now.

Professionally, 2013 was solid. The anthology that I co-edited technically came out in 2012, but Spring 2013 was the first semester it was used in classes, and it did pretty well for such a specialized volume. So that’s cool. And I taught our gen-ed poetry class three times in a row (well, two consecutively) to reasonable success. Since this was the first time I’d taken on this particular class, that was good. (But I’d forgotten how much non-majors balk at having to learn technical terms. Seriously, guys, when in Rome!) Oh, and I *finally* finished the Article That Wouldn’t Die (or whatever I called it last) and submitted it to Dream Journal. This is the first time I’ve blindly submitted an article since my very first article submission — everything in between has grown out of something else (like a conference) or been invited in some way (but often still peer reviewed). Scary! Fingers crossed!

2014, however, is already shaping up to be a little more eventful, at least professionally. Here’s what I have planned so far, a list of bullet points I offer in lieu of resolutions.

  • A presentation later this month at a selective, by-application workshop for manuscript scholars that I *hope* will jump start where I need to go next on my in-progress not-quite-a-book-yet research.
  • A trip to Hong Kong for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes annual conference. I’m looking forward especially to the workshops for directors and for the public humanities, and to being in Hong Kong! I last visted HK in the early 90s, but got sick on the way from Guilin to HK and spent the whole three days of our visit in the hotel room. So I added three extra days in the city — one before and two after — to just be a tourist. The conference and thus the hotels are in Sha Tin, which is outside of the city center in the New Territories (where the university hosting the conference is), but I’m actually kind of looking forward to getting around on public transportation and off the beaten track a bit.
  • A trip to Iceland for the New Chaucer Society. I’ve never been to Iceland, so I’m especially psyched to visit a new country. NCS has arranged a lot of excursions of the kind I might have taken anyway, so I’m only adding on two extra days for being a tourist on my own, especially since, holy crap, hotels in Iceland are freakin’ expensive in high season! Strangely, Hong Kong is cheaper. Even at the non-conference rate, I’ll get to stay in a *swank* high-end hotel with a Tolo Harbor view in Hong Kong for about the same as I’m paying for a two-star, bare basics Reykjavik hotel at the conference rate! (Yes, yes, I realize that the Yuan is artificially controlled and that the hotels in Chinese cities like Hong Kong are probably also partly subsidized to encourage tourist and business travel. But still, it kind of surprised me.) Bullock was going to go to Iceland with me, but when we realized that the two of us could take a non-work-related trip somewhere else less expensive for the cost of taking him to Iceland with me, we decided I’d go solo.
  • And I’m excited about what I’m doing/presenting at NCS, too. My anthology co-editor and I arranged a seminar (something relatively new for NCS — I’m interested in seeing how it goes) on a text near and dear to us both. And I’m presenting on a teaching panel about something I’m doing in my medieval lit class this spring, which brings me to…
  • My awesome medieval lit class this spring! I haven’t been this psyched for a class since I did that awesome ASNaC class in 2011. (That’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, btw.) It really deserves its own post. Maybe the next one. Anyway, this time I’m focusing on manuscript collections and anthologies from the Exeter Book to the Morte Darthur (which I’m reading, somewhat atypically, as a collection of sorts), with a bunch of miscellanies in between (Harley 978, with Marie de France’s Lais and Fables — collections in a collection! — and “Sumer is icumen in”; Laud Misc. 108 with Havelok and Horn and saint’s lives; the Auchinleck MS; and so on). I’ve arranged the syllabus by MS collections and paper assignments are all going to be about how we read such collections (e.g., read a work not assigned for class from one of our collections and write about how it fits the whole or works in tension with it). There will be lots of digital resources, too, to give students a sense of the material book. And I think I finally figured out how to give the grad students in a “slash” course a more graduate student worthy experience — they’re going to present their research projects in the two-hour time slot reserved for the final and the undergrads will be their audience and interlocutors (something I can totally repeat in future classes).
  • And the Humanities Institute will be up and running soon! Our first event is the first of our Humanities Happy Hours. I’m still trying to get a big speaker for a major event — important people are bad at answering emails! — but I’m actually more excited for the Triple-H (as I call it) series, which will showcase *our* humanities scholars in a public-friendly way.
  • I’m also going to write and submit my first big organizational (as opposed to individual) grant for our HI. I’m going to start with a regional one and then if that’s a success, maybe aim higher next year. I’m kind of looking forward to this. Yes, I know I’m weird.
  • I’m also writing a short essay on “managing down time” for a collection of essays that Greg Semenza is co-editing as a companion to Graduate Study for the 21st Century. So, um, first I must manage my down time! 🙂  (Seriously, no big plans for the personal life — just the usual making time to relax and exercise and all that. And maybe get back to teaching myself Italian, which I started last summer and then dropped.)

So what are your plans for 2014, professional or personal, or both?

A tale from the British Library

Reading The Book Archeologist‘s latest post, I was reminded of a moment I had in the British Library this summer that I found strangely wonderful.  (Also, reading that post made me want to go back to school and go to the University of Texas iSchool for Archives and Preservation!  How cool do those classes sound?!)  Anyway, the picture at the top of her post shows a document or book tied up in library string and is captioned “Learning to tie library knots.”  It reminded me of all the 19th century and early 20th century editions of medieval poetry that I was using this summer at the British Library, many of which were falling apart from years of use and from the generally fragile nature of books with highly acidic paper. When they weren’t in acid-free cases, they were tied with string.

Apparently, there is a right way and a wrong way to tie this string. (There are probably many right ways, I’m sure, as well as many more wrong ways.)  I found this out when I went to collect a book and the staff member who retrieved it for me tsk-tsked whoever had previously tied the string on the book and the fact that they had used whatever “bits and bobs” of extra string had been lying around (I do think there were about three different strings knotted together). While I waited, he then cut new string and tied the book up properly before giving it to me. I suppose other people might have gotten impatient (why not wait until I’d returned the book, after all?), but I was fascinated with the whole process, which he also narrated in mumbling monologue that was more talking to himself than to me, but which provided an amusing narrative of gentle chiding of unseen co-workers throughout (with a little of the process thrown in).

I watched as first he ‘measured’ the string against the width, length, and depth of the book, multiplying by how many times it had to go around the book, and adding just enough extra at the end for tying a small bow.  Then, after cutting the string, he wrapped it lengthwise around the book, twisting the two ends around each other where they met and turning them perpendicular to begin wrapping them around the width.  Then, very gently, he turned the book over. His gentleness suggested someone who was holding a baby bird more than a book — so much so, that I wouldn’t have been surprised had he started cooing soothing words to the battered book. Then, having turned the book over, he threaded one end of the string under the lengthwise string already wrapped around the book. As he did, he said something like “and under,” to reinforce one of the things that had been wrong with the previous tie. Given his other muttering — not to mention the under-the-breath nature of it all — I don’t think this was particularly intended as a lesson for me, but I was learning nevertheless.  Anyway, he then tied a neat little knot (or maybe it was a bow) with the two width-wise ends, just to one side of the lengthwise string. (Some librarians, I know, wrap the bow around the string perpendicular to it — he did not.) Having finished the task, he said “There — all sorted!” and turned his eyes up at me for the first time in minutes, handed me the book, and said, “There you are.” I don’t know what was so hypnotic to me about watching this, but I really was in a kind of relaxed but focused state, watching with as much intensity as he gave this otherwise simple task.  And I felt his little moment of triumph at the end, too, and shared it with him.

I think the fact that I waited so patiently through all of this — and smiled when he said “all sorted!” and handed it to me — may have surprised him, because he seemed delighted by my response and grinned back. I can imagine that in the general reading rooms (and even in the more specialized ones like manuscripts and rare books) they get a lot of impatient, the-customer-is-always-right types. But I know it’s all about the books. Or at least I didn’t mind those few moments in which a book’s preservation came first. And anyway, I learned the proper BL way to tie library knots!

>Go, Speed Researcher, Go!

>12 manuscripts in 3 days.

Granted, I wasn’t reading or transcribing large chunks of any of them — this nascent project is all about bits and pieces added in margins, on blank pages, and on flyleaves. But still, 12 manuscripts in 3 days is pretty good, especially considering it wasn’t 4/4/4, but 5/1/6.

And I’m really proud of the fact that I managed the BL MS request system perfectly: I ordered three MSS in advance by e-mail for the first day, and another three on Monday afternoon for Wednesday, and whenever I was down to 2, I put in additional orders, so I was never sitting around waiting for one.

And can I just say one of the gentlemen working the request desk has a prodigious and impressive memory. When I came in on Wednesday after not having been there since Monday, he simply handed me my pre-ordered manuscripts with asking for my name or my reader card. Wow!

But now, having spent the last three days squinting at mostly 15th and 16th century amateur handwriting, I’m ready to go home. Of course, if this nascent project turns into something bigger — just what, I’m not yet sure — I’ll have many hours of such squinting in my future. Maybe then I should slow the pace down just a wee bit. Because if I spent four weeks here, for instance, and saw an average of 4 manuscripts a day, that’s 80 freakin’ manuscripts, and only if I take Saturdays off. The mere thought makes my head explode.

>Castles and manuscripts and semi-automatic weapons, oh my!

>I made it to Windsor today to look at an eight-line poem written in the fifteenth century in a blank space in an earlier manuscript. And though a small bit of text, it was a fruitful trip in many ways. Yay for successful fact-finding missions, however marginal they may at first glance seem. But my, what a process to get there! For eight lines!

To get where I was going at Windsor Castle, I didn’t have to go through the usual tourist entrance, but instead was told to enter through the Henry VIII gate and ask the policeman there to direct me to the pass office. Easier said than done. I will spare you the detailed story about how just getting to Windsor was an adventure because I stupidly took the wrong Tube line and so missed the 08:23 train from Waterloo and got to Windsor a half hour later than intended (it involved the Northern Line — I now loathe the Northern Line, for it is wicked), and skip to arriving at the Henry VIII gate to be faced with a kevlar-armored police commando holding a semi-automatic weapon across his chest. It’s bad enough to enter through the Henry VIII gate — will I be divorced? beheaded? or will I survive? — but *you* try explaining to a heavily armed policeman that you’re here to look at a medieval manuscript. It’s rather intimidating!

Actually, he was very nice, as was his less armed partner, and they both directed me to a yet kindlier policeman inside a vestibule, who seemed to be the Copper with the Answers. It was a bit like a set of nesting dolls — you had to get past the big imposing one, then the medium sized one, to get to the adorable one at the center. And the ones on guard in the afternoon were equally friendly: when I “surrendered” my pass, one made sure I wouldn’t be coming back, and when I said yes, he said, “Well, our loss then!”

And once I was directed to the pass office and came back with my pass and showed my passport for ID (which the man with the gun had trouble with because apparently US ones have the picture in a different end than UK ones — “trust you lot to be different,” he said in a jovial way), everything went smoothly until I was confronted with a chain across the stairs leading to the archives. What with the heavily armed policemen around — not to mention all the ceremonial swords on all the traditional guards — and, I’m sure, CCTV covering every nook and cranny, I didn’t really like the thought of ducking under it. So I went back to the kindliest of the three bears, er, policemen, the one with the Answers, and asked him, “Yo, dude, what up with the chain?” OK, not in so many words. Kindly police officer that he was, he left his post and walked back with me to figure out what was going on, and undid it for me, telling me it was just to keep the general public out. Awesome — I’m not the general public! (Do you now have “Tenderness” [Link = YouTube clip] going through your head? Yeah, me too.) Later, when I was exiting that part of the castle, yet another chain was up across another space, but that time, knowing that I was not the mere general public, I very cavalierly undid the chain myself and walked out, as curious tourists wondered who I must be. OK, maybe they didn’t care, but I thought I was pretty special.

It’s not like I saw anything fabulous that tourists couldn’t see from other vantage points, but I was in a part of the castle that’s its own little world, separate from the tourists and State Rooms and changing of the guard and all that royal ceremony hoo-ha. In the Horseshoe Cloister, which I passed through to get to the Vicar’s Undercroft, it seems there are living quarters, presumably for residential castle staff. I took a picture of the unusually curved building (hence the name “Horseshoe Cloister”), but as you may recall, I can’t upload my pictures at the moment. It’s a half-circle building in the style now called “Tudor” (only here it was obviously the real thing) — brick on the bottom, beam and plaster on the top — and has a continuous covered walk around its length over the entrances to all the residences (hence “cloister”). I know it was residential for two reasons: there were signs that said “Residents Only on Grass”; and as I left I caught a glimpse of the inside of one of them. They reminded me of the “rooms” (that is, apartments) that some Oxbridge dons have “in college.” And beyond the Horseshoe Cloister, near the Vicar’s residence and on the back side of St. George’s Chapel, a whole little village seemed to open up. As I was leaving, a man and woman with a baby carriage were entering, presumably to go home.

In other words, I was in a living modern-medieval castle, bustling with life and activity on a grand scale, and not just because of the mad swarms of tourists. I know the traditional guards have horses somewhere, but here there were cars parked in reserved spaces in the Horseshoe Cloister and in the next court yard. The castle was guarded by modern versions of knights and infantry – some with swords, some with guns. The tourists were the courtiers and visiting statesmen, while the residents and staff and various and sundry went about their daily business, and I and the other “clerks” were busy doing things with manuscripts, and, in this case, microfiche, photocopies, Word texts, and PDFs, too. Meanwhile, the royal household was a presence without actually necessarily being present.

Plus ca change…

Post script: given all the fire power and other security (I had to apply for my pass in advance, presumably so they could look me up on watch lists and also see if I had a record), I was pretty surprised that there was no bag check. Nope, not one bit. In the *archives* I had to leave my bag in a vestibule inside their locked door (entrance by buzzer only), but no where outside of the archives was my bag a problem. After the archives, I even wandered around the tourist parts of the castle for awhile. (No one asked to see my entrance ticket — there was 12 quid wasted on the discount ticket I bought with my train fare. D’oh!) I went in and around St. George’s Chapel with my bag strapped to my back, and wandered around the middle and lower wards with it as well. Very strange.

>My job is cool

>I mentioned in an earlier post that while I’m doing my scant three days of research in London this summer, I’m going to add in a trip out to Windsor to look at a manuscript there. I am now totally psyched to do this.

First of all, with a little research detective work I was finally able to track down more about the manuscript and it’s chock-a-block full of the sub-genre I’m looking at (not just the one piece I knew about), so even if it doesn’t quite have the provenance I think I’m concentrating on, it’s an interesting manuscript and so I’m still going to go see it, and look at the bits that haven’t been edited. At this point I’m not sure where this project is going, but now that I’m tenured and feel less pressure to produce a certain outcome, I feel the leisure to follow leads and tangents and hope that they’ll end in serendipitous discoveries.

But what’s really cool about this is that I’m going to be spending the day with a manuscript in a freakin’ castle, which also still happens to be an active royal residence. How awesomely cool is that? I mentioned before that I have to pay for entrance to the castle, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case anymore. But I did have to fill out a day pass application form in advance so that they can do a security check on me (because it’s a royal residence and all), and on the day of my visit, my pass will be waiting for me with a police officer. OK, I know it’s not top level intelligence classification, but I still feel kind of wickedly special. And did I mention it’s a castle? And the archives are in a part of the castle called the “Vicar’s Undercroft.” And the archivists all have very English names of the Rupert Giles type. And work in a castle. In a castle!

So next time some random person asks me what I do for a living, I’m going to say I read medieval manuscripts in castles. And if they want to think I slay vampires, too, that’s cool with me.

>Another med-ren manuscript web resource

>Many of you probably already know about this, but I was just cleaning out my file of stuff from 2007’s Kalamazoo conference (yeah, OK, I’ve been a little disorganized this year), and I ran across a flyer for The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Digital Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. The home page is here.

I don’t know their collection well, but the highlights page is mostly religious and very high-end courtly works, all with illuminations, of course. (That’s a topic for a post in and of itself — the digital bias towards pretty pictures.) But what I found immediately useful was the one-page “Manuscript Basics” introduction — good for giving students a quickie overview of how a manuscript was made (although, again, with an emphasis on religious texts).

Just thought I’d pass on the info.

>Manuscripts and the classroom *again*

>(Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t be posting again until tonight. I changed my mind.)

A few weeks ago I introduced my graduate students to our rare books and manuscripts holdings and talked about why looking at a text in its original contexts might matter — whether than means a medieval manuscript, a 19th century periodical, a first printing of a book that was later revised, or what have you.

And today I found a cool little example that I wish I’d had then. But I’ll use it in future classes. The best part of this example is that it’s only one little word, and yet it reveals so much about manuscript studies, reception studies, and medieval and early modern studies more largely. In a 15th century text (I won’t specify which one here) that features Christ speaking about his crucifixion, most modern editions feature a line in which Christ says of certain people that they had pity of his “payns” (i.e., “pains”). But a look at the manuscript facsimile shows that the word was originally “penaunce,” which has been crossed out by a later hand, with “payns” entered above it. And there in that little one-word change, you see a post-Reformation reader adapting a pre-Reformation text for his purposes, getting rid of the medieval/Catholic concept of “penance,” especially in the sense of the ‘satisfaction’ element of the sacrament, and replacing it with a generalized suffering. None of the student-used editions of this text show that this substitution has been made, and even in the scholarly edition, it’s buried in the textual notes. It’s much more obvious and noteworthy in the manuscript facsimile. What a quick and easy way to show the value of manuscript studies! This one little change speaks to major historical and religious changes in the 16th century and also the practice of adapting or rewriting and reusing old texts for new purposes, which in turn speaks to the continuities of late medieval and early modern culture. Awesome!

>I can’t read!!!!

>You have to imagine the post’s title in the voice of a distraught dog (if dogs could talk). It’s a reference to a dog treat commercial from about 5 years ago where the dog gets all excited when his human comes home from the store with bacon-flavored treats. He runs around the house, trailing her, while a voice-over cries in excitement, “Is that bacon?! Do you have bacon?! Is there bacon in there?! It sure smells like bacon!!” And then when the bag comes down to his eye-level, he cries in utter despair, “But I can’t read!!” Totally hilarious. At least to me.

Anywho, I chose this lament as the post’s title because today I spent my first day having to deal with 15th century documents in Latin. Oy. So far I’ve been ridiculously lucky in that everything that I’ve encountered up to this point was in English. But starting today, my luck ran out. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, you’re a medievalist. *And* you went to Catholic schools. Don’t you know Latin?” Yes, I do. But not fluently. I need a grammar and a dictionary by my side. And that’s when I’m reading it in modern, printed texts. These texts, you see, are manuscripts, written in a 15th century version of the “Secretary” hand, which, if you ask me, is the Worst. Hand. Ever. (Though I’ll take the 15th century version over the crazy mad loops of the 16th century version.) Here’s an image for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, but let me tell you, it looks all nice and neat and easy here and that’s *not* what happens when it’s in a civic record! And when 15th century (or any medieval century) people write in Latin, they don’t write everything out. They abbreviate every damn word, leaving off endings and sometime middles. And to top everything off, my paleography skills are rusty. Though they’ve gotten better over this trip, it still sometimes takes me a long time to decode what a particular scribble is supposed to say. When it’s in English, it’s a bit like playing Hangman — get enough letters and the rest falls in place. When it’s in Latin, and abbreviated, and your Latin is hella rusty, well, you suddenly feel pretty damn illiterate. Hence the title of this post. (Hm, maybe I should go buy this. Cute.)

Oh, and I’m reading from microfilms, which also makes it a little difficult, though these are pretty damn good ones, at least. And on the upside, I can make copies of and print out the relevant pages and work out the words I’m missing now when I get home to my dictionaries and grammars. Plus, what I’m looking for are records about a particular person — who once owed a manuscript I’m writing about — and so it makes it an easier task to go through the records looking for his name. I don’t actually have to read the pages I’m looking at unless they’re about him. But, oh, god, it’s incredibly boring. Imagine paging through hundreds of pages of strings of digits looking for repetitions of a particular string and you’ll get the idea.

I think, by the way, this is one reason why I like good police procedurals. I empathize with the characters when they have to pour through some civic records office looking for some suspect’s adoption records or whatever because all they have is part of a name and a general time span, or something like that. I feel their pain.

So why am I doing this? I’m not entirely sure! Seriously, I don’t know what I’ll find and if I can use it, but I figure the more information I have about the owner of this manuscript, the more I can say about how the fifteenth century additions to it in the margins and flyleaves reorient the book as whole toward this owner’s social world. But man, getting back to the literary texts in the manuscript itself is going to be such a treat!

>This job is painful

>I nearly cried out “Fuck! Ow!” in Private Archives #2* today when I smashed my pinky finger. I smashed it good and hard, because it *still* hurts a little to type with it, and it was awhile before I could calm down and get back to skimming archival material for the couple of names I’m there to try and find. (*No, I haven’t mentioned Private Archives #1, but I will in another post.)

And how exactly did I smash the said finger? (FYI, I love saying “the said x” — it’s all over these documents.) I’m not sure. I think I just smacked it against the box that the big fat, heavy manuscript came in. Or perhaps I caught it between the big fat heavy manuscript and the box, since I was lifting the manuscript at the time. Whatever I did, it hurt like hell.

Yeah, they really shouldn’t let klutzes into archives. This is the first time I hurt myself, but the other day, at Fancy University Manuscript Room, while looking at one of their “select” manuscripts, I decided I needed to smell it. I have no idea why. I’m weird. But when I bent down to do so, I nearly got lipstick on it!

In unrelated news, in my first week here I discovered a bookstore near me that sells really cheap, but not used, paperbacks. I keep buying Ed McBain police procedurals for £1.99. And can I just tell you: I *love* Ed McBain. Love, love, LOVE him. I don’t know why I hadn’t read him before, given my affection for more contemporary hard boiled detective fiction and police procedurals, but I hadn’t. And it somehow seems weirdly wonderful to discover such an American hard boiled writer in England, birthplace of the “golden age” of the ‘softer’ variety of mysteries (Agatha Christie, et al.).

>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!