Since my appointment as a College Research Associate at Clare, they haven’t been entirely clear what to do with me. It doesn’t cost them anything except food to do nothing, of course, but I think they intended me to teach for them. However, it seems that none of their students are doing the early Middle Ages this year, so there’ve been none needing my special care. Instead, they asked me to do a class for the Historical Argument and Practice paper focussing on material culture as evidence for historians, and I agreed to put one on in the Fitzwilliam Museum where I work so that the lucky students could handle some coins. It went well, I think, but it does seem to be all there is available.
At the point when I realised this, I wondered about turning the class into a Powerpoint presentation (I didn’t use one for real, relying on a few OHPs and the actual objects) and putting it up here. Well, I’ve now done this. Click the image below for a download, MS Powerpoint 2000 format: if there’s interest in any other format I’ll make it available.
I have to admit, this has been a wearing enterprise. It’s the first time I’ve tried to, well, remove myself from teaching materials so that they stand by themselves and I’m not sure I’ve necessarily done it perfectly; in fact I’d welcome feedback. What I’ve done is try and keep the slides fairly clear and basic (though they still have much more text on than I’d ever use in a teaching presentation, because there is no voice to explain what they’re about—maybe next time I should record myself explaining them as an embedded file?) and I’ve put what would be either the teacher’s notes or what Pratchett and Gaiman would call ‘precepts for the wise’ in the slide notes, so the presentation can be used to teach with and the teacher give extra details from those notes about the objects.
I don’t know whether anyone out there will find this useful—I only know a bit, though I’ve learnt it from some good people—but I was a bit reluctant to let it go for just one class, when there’s so little support for teaching in this frame in the courses I’m aware of. If I have a message here it’s that any source can be read, and also misread, but that the language can be interesting to acquire. As said above, I’m licensing this through Creative Commons, which allows you to redistribute and adapt this work but only with credit to me. That usually seems fair enough to me. However, this work contains other materials which are under restrictive copyright, and marked as such in the notes, and you would need to seek permission before using those in your own work. The full license is below.
Material Culture for Historians by Jonathan Jarrett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Dear Jonathan Jarrett,
I’m an ABD working on fashion in the late Middle Ages, and I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now. I particularly liked your ‘protochronism’ post; good point and great word!
Your PowerPoint presentation is a really interesting idea, and a great start. From my point of view, it is particularly praiseworthy that you included textiles, which are such an important part of material culture and yet are often overlooked.
But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?) your textile references are sadly off the mark. (The Bayeux Tapestry is not woven but embroidered, and the idea of a woman with spinning wheel wearing clothes she *knitted* is both post-medieval and unlikely, I’m afraid.)
I’m sorry to carp, particularly at someone who actually wants to include textiles in a serious consideration of material culture, but I thought it might be helpful. Please let me know if you want more input about this.
Great idea to use this in a presentation. Good layout of figures and so on. However, I wouldn’t say this format is likely to take off as a blog item without a fair bit of re-thinking. I submit the thoughts below for your consideration, and please take them in the spirit of constructive collaboration that they are intended:
Coming as I do from the sciences, where these things are standard, I have to say you are quite right to be concerned about the amount of text. There’s way too much. I see your concern about it being let loose online without your voice behind it, but basically if this was to be shown to an audience they would fall asleep. As it is currently constructed you would effectively be reading your script from it, and rather than process and think, the audience would simply read along with you which is a sure-fire way to make them nod off.
Essentially, powerpoint supplements speech, rather than substituting for it. Use it to illustrate the ideas you are talking about with pictures; give the original language where you are reading out the English; and so on. For text-based slides, the key is hierarchical dot points and summaries: 1-2 central ideas per slide, with max 3 ‘sub-ideas’ each. If you start going over this, or the font is decreasing below about 26 once you build in the pictures, it’s too cluttered, and you need more slides to tell the story. Don’t be afraid to use multiple slides for ‘thematic heading’! Also, the ideas themselves should truly be points, rather than sentences. If the slide starts filling up like a justified page, it will simply swim in front of the eyes, and the brain will loose focus too. Notes on provenance etc, for figures can – and probably should – be given in small fonts under each relevant figure, and leave the main ‘dot point’ space for the key features you want to emphasise. One of the reasons I see historians struggle to use powerpoint effectively is the need to separate content somewhat from the way you express your ideas, which isn’t how history (or humanities generally) tend to operate: the emphasis is normally on your own interpretive overlay, rather than the data per se. Conversely, with powerpoint you have to cut loose from the ‘possibly’s, ‘yet’s, ‘as we can see’s and so on that you would use to inflect a spoken lecture or composed article (or blog) with your own personal style, and let the argument come through as a structure.
So having said all that, I applaud your efforts to introduce this medium, because I think it has great potential to augment presentations and convey a memorable message to an audience in a more powerful way than many static formats. However, I don’t think powerpoint can effectively stand alone – certainly not without heavy reliance on accompanying notes. I’ll send you a sample (offline) that I constructed for a conference last year by way of illustrating what I’ve said, and I think you’ll see that without the ‘script’ (which as you rightly say – you could include in the notes if you were designing it for teachers) it doesn’t mean much! Powerpoint is basically a dramatic tool, not a substitute for speech, so if you are trying to find a way to put fully formed ideas online, with illustrations, this is probably not it.
Thankyou for comments, people. Laurel, if you can suggest better phrasing of the same ideas I’d be very happy to substitute it, as you have correctly discerned (and indeed I’ve admitted in the past) textiles in the Middle Ages are not my strong suit. If I’m going to keep mentioning them I ought to do some more reading I guess.
Kathleen, your points are all very fair, and thankyou also for the e-mail, though it seems that your mail server stripped the attachment on outgoing; I’ll mail you back with the error message. I did speak to a friend who works in learning technology before finishing this and he said much what you say, but I’m not sure that I was trying to do here what Powerpoint would usually be for (where I am slightly better clued up—you can judge from this example, which I’m currently doing the reverse with, that is dissolving it back into a paper) so much as put the content in a downloadable interactive container to be read at the user’s own speed. I may just be sleepy today but having phrased it like that I don’t see why I shouldn’t really have just done it as a web-page… All the same, I wasn’t anticipating that anyone actually stick this up unaltered in front of a class! I was thinking of people reading it on their own machines.
Ah, yes. Well that’s a horse of a different colour. But I would say the web page is still the superior vehicle if that’s the intention.
Sorry about the attachment – I think it may have been declared oversized…
I think you’re right, on both counts. My friend mentioned above thought I should have a text for printout and accompanying Powerpoint but I don’t really like that in the individual user context, it’s just two things to take in by eye that distract from each other. On the whole I think for this to work at all it needs my recorded voice. I don’t like my recorded voice much, but I guess no-one does their own.
The spinning wheel part of this is an easy fix: your example is better stated without specifics as to tools. The notional woman has spun the thread, woven the cloth, and made the garments out of wool, perhaps from her own sheep, and flax, perhaps from her own garden. This has the advantage, by the way, of being true at all times in the Middle Ages (and often earlier or later as well) rather than being time-bound like the warp-weighted (early) vs. the horizontal pedal-operated loom (beginning roughly mid-eleventh century), or the spinning wheel (not much used at home until at least the fourteenth century) vs. spindle and distaff.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a little more complicated, and thus perhaps a perfect object of study in a way. It is not a tapestry at all, but an embroidery. This implies a number of things. To begin with one must suppose the existence of a linen industry sufficient to have woven the linen ground upon which the embroidery is based. I don’t know it well enough to know if it is one long piece or several sewn together (which would be my assumption), but it is certainly a large quantity, which would have to be relatively homogeneous. It would also have to quite regular in the weaving in order to support the embroidery properly, which also implies some kind of production-based industry. (My personal belief is that the linen industry in England was almost entirely a home-based putting-out operation–thus implying largely female labor–up until the fourteenth century, and later in most areas outside of London. Female and domestic obviously does not imply lack of skill, as this tapestry demonstrates.)
There was definitely an English embroidery industry, which certainly existed in Anglo-Saxon times, though its greatest fame came later. Presumably the Bayeux Tapestry was a product of one of the embroidery workshops which were known to exist: at least one authority believes that it was commissioned for secular use by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (William the Conqueror’s half-brother), designed by a monk from Canterbury, and created in an embroidery workshop near Canterbury. (Kay Staniland, *Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers”, Univ of Toronto Press, 1991, p. 57)
Writing about the Bayeux Tapestry is a bit of an industry in itself: WorldCat lists 552 books, not counting the visual sources. The most likely to be helpful to you, if you want to read more, is *King Harold II and the Bayeux Tapestry”, edited by Gale Owen-Crocker (Boydell, 2005), which contains what look like a number of useful essays, including “The Bayeux Tapestry and Eleventh-Century Material Culture,” by Michael Lewis.
This is probably more than you wanted to know :)
No, this is great, thankyou. I note merely that that Owen-Crocker volume got a stinking review in Early Medieval Europe, but then they weren’t looking at it for my purposes, whereas it looks like Michael Lewis was! Meanwhile, I will safe that slide of the presentation at my next opportunity. Right now struggling with a job application and a paper deadline however…