Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Note Taking???

Jonathan Jarrett posted recently about his methods of note taking: Curt Emanuel followed up with his own method of note taking here. Both posts have comments from other readers which are insightful and helpful. I thought that perhaps I might frighten the two of you who read this with my own "method" of note taking and keeping track of things.

I do take notes. Sort of. I am very visual oriented. If I read it, generally I remember it, though not always where I read it. So I do jot notes on papers I hear, but not many, hoping that if I like the paper, it will appear in print. If I really like what I hear, I'll ask for a copy, though I confess that many are unwilling to share.

Now before going on about note taking, let me say two things about hearing conference papers and two tools that I wish were more widely used in our field.

The first is something that the Society of Biblical Literature does. SBL holds a large conference, a little bigger than K'zoo, each year. Papers are longer than our standard 20 minutes, but other than that there is a great deal of commonality between the two. Each year, the SBL used to publish SBL Proceedings, or something like that that consisted of papers read at the conference (this was back when I was an active member more than 20 years ago now. I can no longer find any such thing on their website, so Stephen or some other SBLer can give me some info, perhaps). Session organizers, I believe, nominate papers from their sessions for inclusion in the published SBL proceedings, authors would polish said papers, and in they would go into a fairly thick but enormously useful and interesting collection of the best of the conference.

I've tried to do something similar on a much smaller scale. At various times in the past, I have written organizers and authors of various sessions at Leeds and Kalamazoo and suggested doing a special section in The Heroic Age that would essentially be a session or two sessions of papers as read at the conference with the addition of footnotes. We'd actually put these up as PDFs for download, and so begin a process of perhaps having an Late Antique-Early Medieval would involve little editing on HA's part, authors would retain copy right and so could continue to work on their contribution and publish a version elsewhere with only a nod in our direction, and of course would be free other than the cost of hosting, give CV lines, and make scholarship more widely available online. Combine this effort with the new discussions on more open peer editing recently practiced at The Shakespeare Quarterly and subsequent discussions, and in my view we'd have a winner publication. Minimal work by editors, authors, and minimal costs with the benefit of a wider dissemination of good scholarship that benefits interested readers, scholars, authors, and conference organizers alike seems a good initiative to get behind and encourage.

Alas, I've never been able to drum up interest. Usually my proposal is met with silence. I am thinking that I may just simply go ahead and institute a practice next year in the session I'm involved in K'zoo and just do it....though I have been reluctant since *I* am involved that that taint the effort. Anyway....there it is. It is a tool that would make some note taking unnecessary.

A second tool that I wish were more widely used and done in the field is the marvelous practices of the Old English Newsletter. Two issues of the four that OEN publishes each year (ok, now the only 2 issues actually printed in traditional format)are the annual bibliography in Anglo-Saxon Studies and the Annotated Bibl. Also published each year are abstracts from conferences on papers dealing with Anglo-Saxon studies. Once again the online environment and HA provide an opportunity to create useful tools for the field as well.

First, the bibliography would be extremely useful. Copied in part from OEN and from TOCS-IN for classics, an online bibliography for the field of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Studies (excluding Anglo-Saxon England) would be very helpful in a lot of ways. The biggest thing needed is PEOPLE. While eventually and over time one hopes to build the database backwards, what would be useful is just simply starting with this year (or whatever year) as Year One. Many hands make quick work. So one person is in charge of Merovingian studies, and under that person several colleagues contribute a little. One or two people Irish studies and so on. It would be pretty easy to build a database/wiki if people would be willing simply to input what they read in their own field.

Second, the summary of what is published. We all read journal articles. Not necessarily when they first appear, but we do read them and get to the lastest Peritia, Scholastica, Medium Aevum etc. Simply write a summary, the same summary perhaps that you would do for your own notes and filing system or Library Thing or whatever you use to keep track. Very helpful, and collecting such notes together in one place gives one a good overview of what is going on in the field, even fields outside one's own.

Third, related to the conference proceedings would be the conference abstract of papers in the field for conferences. Most conferences require a submitted abstract, so simply submit the abstract to the abstract wiki after you send the paper in. Organizers of sessions have abstracts, simply submit them to the wiki.....quick work, many hands, one useful tool.

Ok, that covers that....I dream big. I think these would be very useful and for the most part would simply be gathering together work we already do for ourselves.

Back to the main subject method of note taking. I don't have a method. I take notes...I write in margins of books and articles, I highlight, I have know those blank books they have at book stores, and I jot ideas, articles, info, etc in there. But I also have electronic notes and files. I have a database of materials I have that is not complete in any way, shape or form, but during breaks (like I have those!!!) I do input material. So my note taking is as eclectic as I am: pen and paper, marginalia and other types of glossing, electronic, once in a while I even write up summaries of material.

One thing about databases, notes, and the like: leave room for serendipity!!! Seriously, some of my best finds of information have been the result of accident while browsing something else.

Ok, enough. I will be moving soon, so I am not certain whether there will be posting for awhile. Not that I'm frequent in the first place. But there it is.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tolkien's Macbeth Update

Thanks to Troels and Jonathan who commented on my Tolkien's Macbeth post and gave me a good bit of info on an issue I hadn't actually looked into.

As a bit of an update, researching something else entirely, I was poking about the Rigsthula and came across a description of the great king who heals and sooths minds. Sounds familiar, eh?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Ok, yes, a totally lame title for the post.....but there ya go. This post is actually about something else though: Stephanie Trigg's questions. Stephanie, whom I don't know personally, apparently has organized some "blogging" stuff for the New Chaucer Society meeting this year and posted questions on her blog, forwarded to ITM. For a number of reasons, I thought I'd take some time and address the questions she asks here, because for the most part they are good ones to ask. It also allows me to be more expansive than I could be in the comments section of her blog. So here goes....

1) what would you say were the distinctive features, if any, of blogs by medievalists?

I'm not sure I can class them altogether as a group. There are funny blogs, personal blogs, professional blogs, and of the latter blogs that deal in some way with everything in the field. There are blogs that post the news, assume an author long dead's voice, and so on. I'm not sure I can say anything about medieval blogs as a whole....there are some blogs out there that are distinctive by medievalists.

Medievalists are people. As such, I'm not sure I can say that medievalists as a class are sufficiently distinguishable from other kinds of bloggers other than by content of their blogs.

2. does blogging build new communities?

Oh, absolutely. Speaking for myself of course, there are a large number of people whose writing I would not read or know had I not encountered their blogs, or their comments on someone else's blog and followed the links to their blogs.

But community of any kind involves reaching out. The electronic medium of the Web makes responding to someone posting a blog post much easier and quicker than responding to a published article. But if the experience of blogging and reading blogs is passive...that is, I write, maybe some people read, but there is no follow up discussion or spawning of other blog posts...then there can really be no community in any meaningful sense. There are readers, much like say a Will Wheaton has readers the majority of whom will never leave a note or send him an email much like a traditional columnist or journalist for a newspaper or magazine. So community, even "blogging community" takes effort.

To that end, others have certainly taken this in hand with "blogger meet-ups" at major conferences, conference sessions based on blogs and blog posts, exchange of emails and so on. I myself have included various bloggers in the work of The Heroic Age as readers, authors, and editors simply because of their blogs. And many are now "friends" on Facebook so that the "blogging community" in medieval studies has now branched into email listservs, scholarly publication, social networking sites, and even into traditional print venues.

Certainly one can question how permanent the community is, and rightly so, but in my view it is no less permanent than the community one sees at a conference year after year, and the blogging community is usually more in touch with one another.

One of the advantages in this regard that blogging has over email lists and similar venues too (I've just mentioned an advantage over the yearly conference) is that one can give more free rein to one's thoughts and treat it like an essay. Or not. But even at the height of the e-list, serious exchange was limited by the attention span of the reader who typically did not want to read an entire disquisition. Such exchanges were few. On the other hand, one knows exactly what one is getting into when reading a blog post, or can simply save the post until another time: a response is not expected or required though always appreciated. So a blog holds a transitional, perhaps even liminal space between personal and professional communication, between email and article or paper, between formal and informal. It has a number of advantages in that space.

Now what was the question? Oh yes, building communities. Yes, no question about it. A different kind of community than an e-list, a different kind of community than conference colleagues even when there is overlap in those communities. But a community nonetheless for all that.

3. Does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?

Now that is a good question. Two questions really, so I'll answer as two. First, I haven't noticed any affect on reading as reading. I do know that because of a blog post I have been pointed to primary and secondary literature that I would not otherwise have encountered or known about. I also know that because I read medieval blogs by bloggers who work in fields different than my own, that I have had my horizons enlarged as a result. So it affects the WHAT I read more than the HOW I read criticism and history.

It has affected the way I write in a few ways. First, I often try out fledgling ideas on my blog as a kind of first pass to see if they'll fly. Likewise, rather than just reading a book or article and putting it down for possibly consultation at a later date, I now quite often attempt to interact at least in some way with the book or article by blogging. This in turn I hope makes me a better writer, but also internalizes what I read more effectively (which I suppose ought to be said under the reading bit above). So blogging has affected my writing by adding another pre-writing layer.

4. Does knowing the "real" identity of the Chaucer blogger affect your sense of (a) his blog or (b) Chaucer?

No and No.

5. Have you read Brantley Bryant's book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? Medieval Studies and New Media?

No I haven't, though I am a regular reader of the blog and have been for some time.
In my view, the book and the blog (hey, that could be a good title for something...) are better classified as Medievalism and New Media than Medieval Studies, but no sense in quibbling.

6. Has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?

Only in one sense: blogging is so far anyway not considered by the academy and tenure committees and so on as academic work even when enlisted in the aid of students, teaching, service, or even research. It should be. It must be. But I'm not holding my breath.

7. Has blogging had any affect on the kind of work you do in medieval studies?

Yes. I now have a couple papers in progress that are a direct result of someone else's post or comments on a post somewhere in the blogosphere. Further, other work in progress has been helped along by posting about it. So the short answer is yes.

I've declined to answer the last question, "if you could ask Chaucer a question about his blog, what would it be?" I don't really have any questions of either the "character" Chaucer of the blog, nor the creative mind behind it other than "when's the next post coming?"