Tag Archives: KCL

Conferring in Naples, III: a full day’s talking

So, term started, and there was a short hiatus, for most of which this post was in draft. But, it’s actually a little hard to work out how to address the papers given at the Digital Diplomatics 2011 conference briefly. I don’t want to go on at the length of the previous post, and ordinarily therefore I’d start by listing the programme, but since it, the abstracts and indeed the slideshows from the papers are all already online, it seems as if you’d already have gone there if you wanted. Still, I can’t think of another structure, and maybe the few things I want to say will spark your interest, so I’m going to use my usual one anyway, but with a cut at the halfway mark because, well, this goes on a bit.

Systems

  • Jeroen Deploige & Guy de Tré, “When Were Medieval Benefactors Generous? Time Modelling in the Development of the Database Diplomatica Belgica
  • Žarko Vujošević, “The Medieval Serbian Chancery: challenge of digital diplomatics”
  • Richard Higgins, “Cataloguing medieval charters: a repository perspective”
  • This first session had been supposed to feature Christian Emil Ore, but he had now been moved to a slot later in the program, and Mr Vujošević moved up to compensate because of a later speaker not being available as planned. The organiser were keen on keeping papers together that could talk to each other. Dr Higgins’s was however, I think, always going to be an outlier: hailing from Durham University Library, which has a charter or two, although his primary concern was as most others’ getting stuff on the web so it could be used, he was trying to do so as part of a much larger project of which very little else was charters, and much of what he said of trying to find data schemes that would do it all struck close to my old experiences. It helped explain to the more hardcore audience, I think, why libraries so rarely seem to do things with charters the way that digital diplomatists might wish. The paper by Deploige and de Tré, meanwhile showed the kind of thing that we should be able to do with large-scale diplomatic corpora—things like, for example, did people give more to the Church when they were rich and there was peace, or when the Black Death was right around the corner?—but was actually more about quite how difficult it is to digitise medieval dates into something computers can actually compare. They had the compromise of a reference date, computer-readable and therefore unhistorically precise for the most part, and a text field always displayed with it showing the range of possible dates, but this is a kludge, I know because I do it myself, it leads to sorting of documents that may be completely awry, and they had a range of improvements they were hoping to try. And Mr Vujošević, meanwhile, spoke almost as a voice in the wilderness, because although Serbian medieval charters are plentiful they are very variably edited, if at all, and much of his work had turned into battles to simply get the texts out of archives and into a single uniformly-featured database. All the speakers were therefore giving work-in-progress reports on fairly intractable technical and archival problems, but I’m not sure this was the theme the organisers had expected to emerge.

Coffee, however, restored our spirits, and I was able to swap stories as well as some useful software tips with Dr Higgins, so the sessions resumed in good order.

  • Pierluigi Feliciati, “Descrizione digitale e digitalizzazione di pergamene e sigilli nel contesto di un sistema informativo archivistico nazionale: l’esperienza del SIAS”
  • Francesca Capochiani, Chiara Leoni & Roberto Rosselli Del Turco, “Open Source Tools for Online Publication of Charters”
  • François Bougard, Antonella Ghignoli & Wolfgang Huschner, “Il progetto ‘Italia Regia’ & il suo sistema informatico”
  • The latter two of these papers were given in Italian, or so my notes suggest, whereas the first one, with an Italian title, was presented in English! Figure that one out. Anyway, I don’t speak Italian, and though I was surprised by how much I could muddle out of it by reading the English abstracts at the same time as they spoke, nonetheless I didn’t get much. I will just note that the second paper was actually presented by all three authors, in segments, whereas the last was presented by Ghignoli alone, a pity as I’d like to have met M. Bougard, he does things that interest me. The first paper, although I did understand it, was essentially a verbal poster for this SIAS program, which is slowly chomping through Italy’s national archives and cataloguing them all. Since some 20-25% apparently don’t have indices for their charters at all, some exciting stuff will doubtless come out of this but that wasn’t what the paper was about. The second paper I could follow more or less because it was essentially a how-to guide on publishing such material, a presentation that may have missed its audience here. The third was where my language really just wasn’t up to it and I don’t know if what was being said was a demonstration of a remarkable project or just another one, but the project is a digital database with images of all Italian royal charters, seventh to twentieth centuries, and if you wonder as do I about what the later end of that might even be I guess we can go look

By now we were running some way behind, and there was a brief attempt to cancel the next coffee break, which had already been over-run. This was largely ignored—punctuation for the day, as I had that morning been told—but with some grumbling things were got going with some time clawed back, and we continued.

  • Camille Desenclos & Vincent Jolivet, “Diple, propositions pour la convergence de schémas XML/TEI dédiés à l’édition de sources diplomatiques”
  • Daniel Piñol Alabart, “Proyecto ARQUIBANC. Digitalización de archivos privados catalanes: una herramienta para la investigación”
  • The former of these papers was notable for containing more acronyms and programming languages I think than any other at the conference, but this was partly because it was trying to explain the sheer variety of data schemas in use for charter material out there. By the end of this conference I think it was fairly clear to us all how this was happening: either new researchers don’t realise that there’s a toolset and a set of standards available to them and build their own, or, much more frequently it seemed (but then the former sort largely wouldn’t know about the conference, either…) they are aware of the tools but find them inadequate for their precise enquiry or sample and so modify them for their own purposes. The presenters argued that the widespread use of the TEI standard (explained last post but one) was making this easier for people to do, but that it also made it easier to link things back up again. The other paper, meanwhile, gave me great glee because it had my sort of material in it, documents in happily-familiar scripts and layouts, but what it also alerted me to was that for the period from when records begin in Catalonia to now, as a whole, a full 70% of surviving documentary material (of all kinds) is in private hands. Getting people to let the state digitise it, the point of the ARQUIBANC project, thus presents a number of problems, starting with arrant distrust and moving onto uncatalogued archives and getting scanners into somebody’s attic. Where this has been done, medieval material does come out, as indeed I knew from reading of the Catalunya Carolíngia for Osona and Manresa, where four of the tenth-century documents were revealed precisely by going and knocking on the doors of really old manors, but the size of the project as compared to the resources makes their considerable successes seem puny.

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) núm 20

Not this document! But documents like it! Hurray!

You will also imagine that I had much to ask Senyor Piñol, in shaky Catalan, afterwards on the subject of private archives, and he was helpful, but before very long we were being shuffled off to lunch, where I ate more pizza margarita than even I would have thought plausible in excellent company and felt pretty good about both these things on returning for the poster session and the last six papers. Continue reading

Leeds 2011 report 3: Catalans, coins, churches and computers

[Edit: hideously mixed-up footnotes now all match up and exist and so on.]

Looking back at it, it does seem rather as if the 2011 International Medieval Congress was fairly intense for your humble blogger. Having been called to the warpath the previous day and then entirely surrounded by people with Livejournals, the third day of the conference, Wednesday 13th July, also provoked me in various directions. I’ll try not to relive too much of the drama, not least because I intend a separate post for one of the episodes, but this is roughly how the day went.

1014. Concepts and Levels of Wealth and Poverty in Medieval Catalonia

It is unusual for Catalan scholars to turn up in England, where Spain is usually represented only by Castilians, and I had read work by two of the speakers in this session and also its organiser, so I was determined to show my face. In fact the group had already discovered my book and thus my existence, so it was all quite well-timed and it seemed like a jolly happy meeting. There were also of course some papers and those went like this:

  • Pere Benito Monclús, “Famines and Poverty in XIIth-XIIIth-century Catalonia”, looking closely at who spent their wealth on feeding the poor in time of famine when the usual Church safety net was stretched too far, concluding that it was the public power last of all.
  • Francesc Rodríguez Bernal, “Rich Nobility and Poor Nobility in Medieval Catalonia, 10th-12th Centuries”, stressing how little we have actually found out about quite a chunk of the medieval Catalan nobility, and how varied it is; this was not really news to me as such, but it was actually really nice to hear someone talking about my research area as if it mattered all the same.
  • Sandrine Victor, “Salaries and Standards of Living in Catalonia according to the example of Girona at the 15th century”, was doing careful quantitative studies of the demographic distribution of wealth, and had a lot to say about labourers and their accommodation (almost always rented, unlike their masters’ owned houses) in the late medieval city.

The last of these papers was perhaps the only one that was presenting new work as such, work in progress even, whereas Senyors Benito and Rodríguez had both elected to give papers that were kind of introductions to their topic for specialists from other fields. There were quite a lot of these papers at Leeds this year, it seemed to me, and though I would rather see more developed or developing work, I understood why they did; they wouldn’t have known there would be anyone who knew the area there and I’m hardly a whole audience anyway. It was impressive how many languages the questions were in, though: English, French, Castilian and Catalan (one question in German, too, that had to be translated), and the conversation afterwards was, well, extremely informative. But we’ll get to that next post.

1121. Making the World Go Round: coinage, currency, credit, recycling, and finance in medieval Europe, II

I got into this session late somehow, probably because of hunting really bad coffee with Catalans and then realising I needed to be across the campus next, but what I caught was interesting.

  • Gareth Williams, “Was the Last Anglo-Saxon King of England a Queen? A Possible Posthumous Coinage in the Name of Harold II”
  • What was going on here, as far as I could divine after my late entry, was that there seems to have been a very short-lived issue of coins in the name of King Harold II from the royal nunnery of Wilton, almost all known from one hoard that also contains 1067-68 coins of William the Conqueror. Gareth suggested that the responsible party might be Queen Edith, Edward the Confessor’s widow, Harold’s brother, who owned the nunnery, and who didn’t submit to William straight away; that seems to make sense of what we’d otherwise have to assume was counterfeiting so that was pretty cool.1

  • Tom J. T. Williams, “Coins in Context: minting in the borough of Wallingford”
  • This was an interesting combination with the archaeological attention that Neil Christie had given Wallingford the previous day, though possibly only really interesting to numismatists; it did however include the fact that we can use Domesday Book to plot where one of Wallingford’s moneyers, Swærtlinc, actually lived in 1086, and he’d struck for Harold II as well so some English at least did come through, even if at a low level.2 One of the questions raised (by Morn Capper) was whether moneyers were too important to remove or too humble, and we still don’t know, but Mr Williams is I believe aiming to try and answer this for the later period as Rory Naismith tried to answer it for the earlier one, so we shall see I guess!3

  • Henry Fairbairn, “The Value and Metrology of Salt in the late 11th Century”
  • As you know I think the salt trade’s important—I must have read something once4—but I don’t really know how important so this was worth hearing. The units involved in salt-measuring are a bit obscure but by working up from tolls, we came out with figures of approximately 150 g of salt per penny in a world where a pig is 8 pence and a sheep 2 and a half. That makes salt less of a bulk product and more of a luxury than one might have thought and it must have been hard to get very much of it if you were a peasant. So that’s not nothing.

1202. ‘Reading’ the Romanesque Façade

I had wanted to go to this session partly just to see beautiful things and get my Team Romanesque badge metaphorically stamped, but also because Micky Abel whom I met a long time back was supposed to be presenting. In fact, though, she was unable to be there and then I got distracted by books, and so I missed much of the first paper. I have hardly any notes, but it was gorgeous to look at, because it was about the Conques tympanum and we know how that goes, right?

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques, from Wikimedia Commons

  • Kirk Ambrose, “Attunement to the Damned at Conques”, thus argued that the passivity of the victims on the Hell side of the tympanum was actually supposed to frighten the viewer, and
  • Amanda Dotseth, “Framing Humility at San Quirce de Burgos”, took us through a complex system of sculptural ornament that seems to have been dismantled and put back in a different order at some point in its history, but which also may have encoded the monks of the relevant church into the artwork
San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

1301. Digital Anglo-Saxons: charters, people, and script

This was essentially a session advertising the work of the Department of Digital Humanities of King’s College London, still the Centre for Computing in the Humanities when the conference program was printed. The DDH is one of KCL’s expansion zones, and there’s a lot to advertise, so it was something of a shame that Paul Spence, one of the speakers, had been unable to show, not least because that was the charters one. Instead, however, his paper was kind of combined with one of the others. Thus, we got:

  • John Bradley, “Anglo-Saxon People: PASE II – doing prosopography in the digital age”
  • This put the expanded version of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, which now (as you may recall) contains all the people in Domesday Book too, into a wider context and emphasised how they had gone for a structure dictated by information, not by sources or persons, which he called a `factoid’ model. This seems like a really useful way to think about treating this kind of data, actually, and I was impressed with the flexibility it seems to have permitted them. Of course, I’d never then actually attempted to make serious use of PASE and having done so for this post now I’m slightly less sure how much use it is to me…5

  • Peter Stokes, “Computing for Anglo-Saxon Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic”
  • Dr Stokes’s paper was about ASCluster, the umbrella project that tries to manage all the data that the DDH handle in their various Anglo-Saxonist endeavours together. Since they don’t all focus on the same sorts of data, trying to create a way of making them all connect is actually really tricky. You would think that pulling a personal name out of their charters database and also PASE and getting all the information together should be simple enough but the databases weren’t designed together and they aren’t searched in the same way, and so on. I could feel his pain; I remember these kinds of dilemma all too well. By the sound of it they have some challenges still to defeat, though the ability and lateral thinking on the team demonstrated by these two presentations would encourage one to think that they will in fact defeat them.

You can tell perhaps that I had mixed feelings about the efforts here. This is not just that I doubt that the money they’re likely to sink into this integration of their projects is going to see a return in terms of use; it’s already possible to search these things separately and compare the results oneself, after all. That isn’t actually their problem: they made a case for doing it, got the support and are setting about it, fine. Lack of use is a problem that a lot of this sort of project is suffering and we will hear more about this in future reports. No, my cynicism came from a much simpler source, which is that I had never at this point nor at many points subsequently managed to get their exciting-looking database of the Anglo-Saxon charters, ASChart, the one that I do have a use for, to work. Once I knew of it, I quickly found that the site would never load, from wherever I tried it, home, office, JANET or commercial internet, never. And I tried it many times, in the months after this session, every time I happened to have reason to check on this post whence I’d linked it in fact; nada. They must have known it didn’t work, because it can’t have been serving any pages, and yet it kept being advertised as a completed project, while actually the only recourse was Sean Miller’s scratch pro bono equivalent. This kind of thing annoys me. The result of an unsuccessful attempt to replicate an already-existing resource should not be that your team gets showered with more money and converted into a full department, especially in a time and at an institution where huge cuts had only a little while before been projected across the whole of the humanities. I don’t want them all fired, of course, quod absit but I would like the system to reward and therefore encourage fulfilment of the things that the money was awarded for. But no-one in power checks up and so there’s no consequence, bar slight embarrassment, if those things don’t work, and the system doesn’t actually incentivise them to improve the situation.

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

I was all set up for this rant when I got round to writing this post, therefore, and so it comes as something of an anti-climax to have to say, er, now that I check, it seems to be fixed. But it does, so I do. If the DDH team are reading, therefore, I’d better say thankyou for putting the effort, the bigger server or whatever in that has made this resource finally available, not least because as far as I can see there was little that required you to do so. So, it’s up, and even if the charters after 900, i. e. most of them, are not yet there and the links through to PASE crash in a sea of Tomcat errors, nonetheless it is better—in fact the Tomcat errors have gone away even while I’ve had this post in draft and those links now work!—and I suppose therefore that we may hope for better still. There are now diplomatic indices, linked from marked-up XML texts, which bodes extremely well for the future when the whole corpus is loaded and is something that I would love, especially just now, to have for the Catalan material (albeit that there is something like six times as much of that and no-one has databased any of it except Joan Vilaseca). This also means that when they get the post-900 material up, the whole thing will actually deliver something that Sean’s site doesn’t already do, though his free-text search is still unique and could be used for some of the same things. Well, anyway, we have two online Anglo-Saxon charter databases now, and yes, I have said before that I wish funding bodies would JFGI when they get an application for such a project, in case it already exists, but these two both have their points and I am running out of reasons to be cross with the DDH so perhaps I’ll try and stop?

ASCharters site screen capture

ASCharters site screen capture

Anyway. That was the last session of the day, and then there was dinner and then finally the dance, which was absolutely tremendous fun even if I did miss `Blue Monday’ but about which little can usefully be said here that hasn’t been said already. So with that I’ll wrap this up and move on to the more Catalano-centric post promised at the beginning there.


1. We know an unusual amount about Edith, which is coordinated and analysed in Pauline Stafford’s Queen Emma and Queen Edith: queenship and women’s power in eleventh-century England (Cambridge 1997).

2. I’m not quite sure I’ve got this right, because try as I might I can’t get him out of PASE—ironically given the above!—but he comes out of a search of the Fitzwilliam’s Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds no problem, and PASE have that data (I know, I gave it them) so he ought to show up. In fact only three people from Wallingford come out of PASE Domesday at all. I must not be using it right. That can’t be broken as well, surely?6 And even EMC doesn’t show any coins for him from Harold’s reign. I can only guess that the British Museum collections must have some unpublished examples; this could certainly be true.

3. Now available in the shiny new R. Naismith, Money and power in Anglo-Saxon England: the southern English kingdoms, 757-865, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th series 80 (Cambridge 2011).

4. In fact, what I must have read is John Maddicott’s “Trade, Industry and the Wealth of King Alfred” in Past and Present No. 123 (Oxford 1989), pp. 3-51 (to which cf. the following debate, Ross Balzaretti, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. No. 135 (Oxford 1992), pp. 142-150, Janet Nelson, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. pp. 151-163 and John Maddicott, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred: a reply”, ibid. pp. 164-188), since that’s what I have notes on, but what I probably should have read is Maddicott’s “London and Droitwich, c. 650-750: trade, industry and the rise of Mercia” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 34 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 7-58.

5. See n. 2 above.

6. Afterthought: PASE’s About page says it excludes `incomers’, and this is a Norse name.7 Can that be what’s happened here, that the Danish-named moneyer isn’t being included as English? Because, er, that seems analytically questionable to me…

7. Also, if the DDH team are reading, the About PASE link from the Domesday search interface page goes to the Reference page, not the About page as it does from other screens.

This is not a terribly good day for medieval studies

Redacted

There was a post here, to which some people had already responded, about the results of the consultation process over cutbacks in the Arts and Humanities at King’s College London, discussed here before. I’ve since been informed that my information was incomplete and I’ve thought it best to take the post down. As Bede had it, “quid de his scribi debeat, quemve habiturum sint finem singula, necdum sciri valeat” (HEGA V.23), a maxim that I ought to hold to more often. My apologies to the commentators.

This blog has teetered too close to gossip and unpleasantness at several points this last few weeks. I ought to know better than to put content up that I can’t safely footnote. I am going to aim for more strictly academic content from here on and leave that stuff to other places.

The KCL situation

Several people have asked me to write something about the situation at King’s College London. And indeed, it may seem strange that I haven’t so far joined in what has become one of the most widespread campaigns I have seen in my short span as a medievalist blogger. The cause of this alarm and outrage is that KCL is proposing to axe, among other staff to whom we’ll come in a moment, the English-speaking world’s only Chair of Palæography, that is, the study of ancient writing, the discipline which underlies any work done with manuscripts from a time before typescript (and after, where Gothic Black Letter is concerned, I might add). It is pretty important. Without training in palæography the original sources of this period basically become inaccessible, and work on OCR of such texts and so on has only increased this importance in recent years. And the incumbent Professor, David Ganz, has been a stalwart in the rôle as it was envisioned, giving advice to all and sundry (including me), whether they were at KCL or not, involving himself in new media projects and digital technology and also, publishing like a mad thing. By any normal UK academic assessment, based on research output and even this new and nebulous quality ‘impact’, David should be a shoo-in. But KCL are not assessing on this basis: they are severely short of income, and are assessing on the basis of the revenue the post brings in, in terms of research students, grants and class sizes. And in those terms, David’s post is one of many under serious threat.

King's College London from within

King's College London from within

The first thing that has spelled me from writing, apart from incredible busyness, is that I didn’t think I had anything to add to the immense coverage already out there. (I’ve tried to collect this at the end: so far I know of seventeen posts but I expect there are more.) There is a Facebook group; there is an online petition. Many letters have been written (and I made sure mine was in the post before publishing this). What am I going to add to all that? Secondly, it’s a bit awkward, because not only is David a friend and confidant (to whom indeed I currently owe a pint), there are other people I know well under threat in this situation, and it may be that not all of them can be saved. It’s also awkward because I used to work, briefly, at KCL’s Department of History, who were really nice to me, and so if I critique their decisions I am turning ungratefully on a former employer. (In what follows I am clinging to the idea that though the Department of History hired me, the decisions at issue here have all been taken at a much higher level. I hope History Department members and indeed future employers will bear that in mind if they read this.)

But the situation is very bad, and I can maybe reach places that don’t usually hear about such things, at least, such things in the medieval sphere, but where, alas, matters like this are sadly familiar. I’m not going to try and explain how important palæography is: others have done that already and better than I will, not least Mary Beard who commands a far wider audience. The subject is, after all, important enough that it is taught in many other places and although I respect his work immensely and have been keen to enlist his help when I have needed it, I was never a student of Professor Ganz’s. This is, in part, the problem he faces: the way he has filled this post very much fits the original vision in which it was created, as a help to the classicists, medievalists and even early modernists worldwide. His own students are a tiny fraction of his impact, but they are the only fraction that KCL now wishes to measure. It’s only KCL’s changing the rules like this that could ever have led to the suggestion that his post is of marginal importance. So, what’s behind the KCL rule change is what I’m talking about here.

A C7th list of rents from St Martin de Tours, Schoyen Collection, MS 570

Here, by way of illustration, is a manuscript that you probably can't read without help

The huge effort on the Internet is already reaching the stage of self-congratulation, which is dangerous: we haven’t achieved anything yet. More cynical voices are arguing that Facebook is all very well, and as David himself has observed it would be rather nice if the newest technology of communication came to the rescue of one of the oldest, but really what the people in charge will be watching is old-fashioned letters. One of the first things I wanted to find out, indeed, was who the people in charge were, to ask how come palæography had been selected first, what the timetable was for the other posts under threat and who’d decided who went first, who chooses who stays and whether (call me a cynic) there are any administrative job cuts planned. I rang the Head of Division in KCL Human Resources who deals with Humanities repeatedly over three working days, but never got through to more than her answering machine. However, the pressure of questions that I assume KCL have also been receiving from others has paid off in some way, because they have put the original internal document about the process online, and in order to make sure it stays that way I have grabbed a copy and it is up here. And from this we get some of the answers and realise that, oh lor’, it’s far worse than we thought. Continue reading

Whether to blog about teaching

Graph of the Blogosphere

One of the big things I get from being part of the medieval academic blogospheric conspiracy effort is a shedload of perspectives and wisdom on teaching. A lot of the people in my blogroll are engaged, one way or another, with communicating stuff about the Middle Ages to the young, or at least, the novitiate. Those who blog anonymously or pseudonymously have the most freedom to talk about this, and if I tried to list the times I’ve read something at Blogenspiel, The Rebel Letter, Not of General Interest, Quills or The Adventures of Notorious, Ph. D., to name but a few, and thought, “ah, I’ve met that” or “I’m sure to meet that before long” and been educated by their responses, or at least recognised the particular brick wall against which their heads have been banging, I… well, it would be a long list. The process of evaluation and design of outcomes that these people put themselves through has taught me, who have just done less of this than have they, a lot.

Now that I’m teaching again, I’d like to give something back, but not being anonymous, the issues are very different, even supposing that I have anything to say. The last teaching gig I had, one of my students had found this blog within a week, and my teaching group was so small then that there was really no way that, if I’d said anything more specific than “I need to re-write that lecture if I ever give it again”, it would have been possible to obscure what ‘teaching moment’ had inspired me. That seemed like something to avoid, not least because it was unfair on the students to expose them like that but also because it might potentially be actionable. After all, the law on blogs is pretty darn rubbish as yet. Similarly, if I’d said something that could be read as a comment on an institution where I was readily locatable, given the number of my colleagues who know this is here, it would probably not have made any friends unless I’d only said nice things.1 Some people manage this, Richard Nokes and Michael Drout most obviously successfully pull off the double of being both positive and also informative about their classroom practice and results, but I’m not at their level. For all these reasons, student confidentiality, institutional codes of practice written or tacit, correct self-promotion and my own sense of how much I have to learn at this game even now (do we ever stop, after all?) I shall not be blogging about teaching here.

Except. This paragraph is my only exception. The week of writing, this passage from Notker the Stammerer’s Gesta Karoli was in the assigned reading for the seminars, among a lot of other stuff, but there:

This incident led to another much greater and more important. For, when your imperial majesty’s most holy grandfather departed from life, certain … mighty men, I say, despised the most worthy children of Charles, and each tried to seize for himself the command in the kingdom and themselves to wear the crown.2

Now, these kids all have History A-Levels, or at least responded yes to my initial check that they did. It seems that a full quarter of the marks at A-Level (which is England’s final school qualification for those of or around 18 years of age) in History, at least in the first board I searched up, still go for commentary on actual source extracts, and so it should. In other words, they ought to have done this before. So, I feel quite strongly that the question, “So, who is Notker writing this for?” should not have drawn an utter blank from the entirety of both my seminars at this point. Even if they can’t work out who exactly the “imperial majesty” in question is, I would submit that those words are a clue. But no dice. I’m not entirely sure what to do about this, which seems to me like a failure of reading comprehension. I don’t have much latitude to change materials or class titles, so there’s only so remedial I can get and I don’t even think that’s really the right approach, but I should certainly be doing more than nagging them to read more closely and providing examples or testing their reading each week. But one way or another I intend that by the end of the semester they will be reading things for details as well as for overall sense. And any advice that the sages of the Interwebs have here will be gratefully appreciated.


1. I will however risk saying here that if anyone reading is in the UK and does a bit of carpentry or braziery on the side, you should consider getting in touch with KCL’s History Department and offering to make them some new map-mounts. The maps they have and can’t use are miles better than anything anyone will ever be able to put through a data projector and it’s a shame. I bodged up ways of using them while I was there, stringing them from screen housings and so on, but it would be better to be able to have both map and screen at once and I think they might be sympathetic to some suitably pragmatic offer to that end.

2. It’s from cap. 12, one of four paragraphs of Notker they had to lose it in.