Tag Archives: life

You know you’re a medievalist when…

… you find that you’re referencing Patrick Geary* when trying to comfort another medievalist after a messy break-up. <sigh>

Sorry, there will be more substantive content soon. This last week has mostly been interviews and spare time has been hard to find.

* The cognitive psychology bit in Phantoms of Remembrance about how human memory constantly over-writes the previous stored version of a memory with the recalled one, since you ask.

Being in Oxford

I said to several people in Cambridge that I wasn’t really escaping, since I was only going to Oxford. This was both true and not true. The two places are 81 miles apart, I was told yesterday by a medievalist who’d worked this out while planning to walk between them overnight; yet it is really quite awkward to travel between them without a car, so they are cut off slightly from each other.

There are lots of other differences I’m noticing, some of which have no business on a public blog and some of which just aren’t very interesting unless you live here. One of the ways in which the two universities are the same is that it is very hard sometimes to get the people you need to cooperate in contact with each other. It is as if by arriving here I have formed a new medieval-style body corporate of which I am the head, but of which the left and right hands firmly and correctly believe that they are nothing to do with each other. In this institutional gap has fallen much of the online access I expected immediately to have, which is why entries have been thin and few just lately. This is now almost fixed, I have set my first round of essays, met most of the people I need to work with, braved the Senior Common Room (and been welcomed very warmly there), probably even made new friends though it’s hard to tell as yet, and unpacked almost all the books. I am still not online from home, but in other respects the new situation is lovely and I am feeling extremely lucky and over-privileged. (Going to tea in All Soul’s has however shown me that there is much higher one could climb in terms of privilege. When did you last see both India and China tea served together, with bread-and-butter and cake? Even I don’t do this.1) I have to write quite a lot in the next little while, however, so I don’t know what content I shall have for here. I have plenty of old charter stories to draw on at least, and they may be a good excuse to try and work out using the Bodleian, which otherwise I will likely find ways to avoid, so I shall try one of them next. For the moment, however, here are some Bullets of Being in Oxford.

  • I have had to relearn Macs since that’s what was immediately available for me as an office computer. It’s a MacBook, and I cannot find a key on it that will type a hash. How can I do my footnotes, dammit?
  • There are as many bikes here as in Cambridge but in Oxford they are much more endangered by the traffic, and outside the immediate town centre the roads are a patchwork of repairs and potholes, very dangerous to cycle on.
  • On the other hand, the buses are so good that it’s tempting to leave the bike at home. In Cambridge, the buses are a ridiculous and useless waste of public and private money condemned to inefficacy from the start by the tiny city’s tiny roads, on almost all of which in the centre two buses cannot pass. Oxford’s buses are about half as expensive as Cambridge’s, four times as fast as Cambridge’s, twice as frequent as Cambridge’s and just actually work. I have never lived somewhere where the bus was actually a viable way of getting round, and now I do. It’s weird.
  • I used to complain bitterly also of Cambridge’s shops, piled high with expensive stuff no-one wanted; Oxford’s shops are however frequently mostly bare of shelves. The usual shops are hard to find. The phone book lists a number of supermarkets that are simply not physically there. Leaf tea is weirdly hard to buy here, especially if you eschew Twining’s, as anyone who prefers flavour to oil should.2 I did today find the city centre Sainsbury’s but it really wasn’t easy. I am probably missing something important here but it is using a lot of my time trying to find it.
  • The History faculty here is much larger than the Cambridge one, but because Cambridge has the Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, there are actually fewer Anglo-Saxonists noticeable in Oxford. It must be said that Cambridge ASNCs are notoriously social so they may just show up disproportionately anyway.
  • Seminars! There are loads! I will never manage to report on them all, and given that those presenting here will be close colleagues for some years it may be wiser of me not to…
  • Two people already have recognised me from the blog, and one said that he’d seen me cycling and thought, “Aha, he’s arrived then” and then remembered he actually didn’t know me at all. Apparently I am still an Internet celebrity, and it’s still weird, but I’d never before thought that it might also be weird for other people to see me wandering the streets, swearing under my breath like a street crazy, in fruitless search of Kenyan Broken Orange Pekoe. (None of this is a joke, sadly.)
  • The number of people who have freely offered help is far too many to count and I owe them all thanks, though a special mention to one on the outside, Elina Screen, for various documents and advices, is definitely deserved; thankyou Elina, should you ever read this.
  • Again, this may be the change of job, but, my good and propitious deity-of-your-choice, there is SO MUCH FREE FOOD available to me. Enough to make me feel quite guilty in fact (though also, you know, full).
  • I worked out, in an SMS exchange with T’anta Wawa, that one of the reasons I am feeling guilty about this post, apart from that lots of others didn’t get it of course, is that as well as teaching I am now also being paid to research. My income has been supposed to allow me to research for, I think, two years of my 13-year postgraduate career. For the last five years I’ve had a nine-to-five job that my research had to fit round. Being able to read on work time, which is more or less whenever I set it, is freaky.
  • That said, also writing. By the time you read this, I will since I arrived here have submitted a final version of one paper and started writing another. At one of the inductions I’ve been to someone said that they were keenly aware that there were several really important new books they should have read but haven’t because they weren’t quite relevant to their current papers. I’ve been working in that frame for years and it had not yet struck me that I might have the opportunity to abandon it; and already it seems I probably haven’t, at least until Christmas. A good Spanish friend of mine observed to me apropos an editor we were both arguing with, “never believe an Englishman when he tells you something will be finished by Christmas”. This may well invalidate the previous hope. However, it may be a good sign that so far, at least, even an it be dysfunctional, I am more busy with research than with teaching.
  • The book is now down to the absolute final stages but still doesn’t yet exist; I now await proofs of the index…
  • Lastly, some links of relevance:

  • Obviously the place is full of students, but so far there is one particular one I have not come across. Probably best not to be teaching other blogger’s sons anyway, right?
  • Secondly, in Cambridge, at least around where I worked, there was an awful lot of interest in Vikings. In Oxford, however, we kill Vikings! So there.

1. Mind you, I looked in the silver teapots and was rather surprised to find they were using teabags. Oxford college’s secret shame revealed!

2. Which would explain the situation at All Soul’s, I suppose.

Little comfort for you front-line medievalists, but it helps me

This is the trivial entry I just promised Another Damned Medievalist. Because of ADM’s Monday teaching load, she wished me to stop saying interesting things that day, so instead I shall briefly let you know something that she certainly doesn’t want to hear, because I’m nice like that :-)

The leave year in my place of work starts on 1 October, but I went part-time mid-way through October last year, and thereafter there had been confusion about exactly how much pro rata holiday time I was allowed. What with that and various deadlines I hadn’t taken all the leave I could have, in fact nothing like. When we finally did all the maths, I had 15½ days of leave owing which the Museum would like me to have used by December 31st. I work four days a week, so this was tantamount to ordering me to take a month off before Christmas.

So I’ve basically been on holiday and will be so until the Haskins Society Conference and probably quite a lot thereafter too, which will let me get not just that paper properly written I hope but also some others that have been hanging fire for too long, to say nothing of the book. I probably won’t be taking much actual holiday, but that’s how you know I’m an academic really, isn’t it? And you know, I was working all summer, though my institution is not stingy with holiday I’m not shockingly privileged, I have earned this. But you people with actual academic jobs, of course, won’t be feeling my good fortune until term’s over. Sorry about that…

By way of marking this transition, let me join in a tiny WordPress meme that seems to be afoot, and join Meli of Northern Lights and the Naked Philologist of, well, herself, in posting a picture of my work set-up. Firstly the place where they pay me:

The main documentation station in Coins & Medals

The main documentation station in Coins & Medals

Observe the poster for the first exhibition I made a poster for, one of our trusty and much-battered Epson 1200 scanners brutalised to run upside-down on a light-box you can’t get any more (we had to make one in-house for the second documentation station), and a tray full of Alexander the Great tetradrachms, which in turn tells you roughly when this was taken… But it still looks like that.

And now I can take refuge here:

The Tenth Medieval blog post production station, at a secret location in Cambridge

The Tenth Medieval blog post production station, at a secret location in Cambridge

Here note instead the speaker at left (if you’re right next to them you don’t need them on very loud), the open WordPress window on the computer, the trusty and more importantly free LaserJet 4 under the desk partly obscuring a hideous mare’s nest of cables, and the huge pile of books I should be reading, none open of course at time of this photograph, worryingly symptomatic. Don’t note that fact, or the ‘creatively sorted’ piles of stuff that need dealing with at desk right. But it all suffices. Note especially, if you don’t mind, the figurine at desk centre, which in better light looks like this:

Someone I still care about a great deal got me this rather beautiful creature, and though she’s always mopily crouched like this and nothing I do seems to cheer her, nonetheless I do kind of love her. In a long series of desk set-ups I’ve had in Cambridge, none of which have been meant to be more than temporary even if I’ve had them for years, she’s helped make them home rather than work.

This month I have partly been reading…

While I tinker with horrible legacy Word files listing people who turn up in various Catalan charters on the one hand, do my actual job by way of finishing images of unofficial 18th-century token coins on the other, and assimilate various other things that we’re not talking about here any more, I also find time for a bit of reading. I have to, because over the last year and a bit, I have amassed a ridiculous to-read pile. It started with my starting to clear house and thus becoming a member of various give-away groups on the Internets—and some of them were giving away books. It continued with my finally redeeming the prize I won from Blackwells for my EME paper (which they would give me only in the form of their books, but that’s OK, they have a few.) Then I went to Leeds, and for the first time did so with a salary, and the bookfairs of the International Medieval Congress are dangerous to a young man in such a condition, who must inevitably be in want of a library. And finally I was allowed to take home quite a lot from the shelves of the about-to-be-vacated office of the person at KCL whose courses I was teaching last year, I mean, really quite a lot. My to-read pile is now arguably larger than my entire other book holdings, and I have a teaching library of some standard, most of which I haven’t actually read…

Now because as we know Life Gets in the Way, even before all that lot arrived I had books in the pile from 2006. That was clearly getting silly, and so I pulled open a hole in my schedule and found more idle reading time. The main rule is `no notes, just read’, because I’d almost forgotten how to read for fun. So even though a lot of the pile is academic, I’m trying to read it for leisure. And recently that has led me to the following two books, Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World: an epic history from Homer to Hadrian (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2005) and Pierre Bauduin (ed.), Les fondations scandinaves en Occident et les débuts du duché de Normandie : Colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle (25-29 septembre 2002) (Caen: CRAHM 2005). The latter I’m still getting through, though interesting stuff already, but the former I can speak on now.

Cover of Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World

The Fox book was deliberately aimed at the popular market, I’m sure, and I’m not sure I’d like to meet the author given what he seems to think that market wants, but there is no question that as a work of narrative history it’s a tour de force. (Even Peter Heather thinks so, if you don’t believe me.) The conceit of the book, which is that it’s a history to explain Hadrian’s world to him, gets a little annoying, but nonetheless in six hundred pages you get from pre-Classical Greece to late Classical Rome and finish with some sense of how it ties together. (Not that history does always do that, of course, but moving on.) The front cover, as has been mentioned, manages to call this epic three times, once in the title and twice in the review quotes, but really it’s not, it’s better done than that. We have relatively little narrative detail for Ancient Greece, and rather more for Middle Rome; correspondingly, the Greek sections of the book have more chapters about society and lifestyle (always including sex; classicists are allowed to do this, medievalists not, as we have observed) and the Roman ones fewer. The pace therefore varies rather, and sometimes, as with Alexander the Great most of all, it is too short: the boy emperor is dealt with in about twenty pages and leaves very little explained (though now we know more anyway). Fox clearly also thought this was unjust as I see he has now published a full-length work on Alexander alone, so I admire his restraint.

Only one thing irks me about the book, really, aside from the author’s delight in smut, which is at least being true to his sources. That thing is one that the ‘epic’ review quote denies, by saying that Fox tells the story “without moralising”. Yeah right. We are repeatedly told how great Athenian democracy was, slavery not withstanding, and contemporary moral perspectives are given on most of the lead characters. Fox likes rogues, dislikes prudes and those who disdain others for failings they possess, and tells us his views quite forthrightly. One can only assume that the quoted reviewer missed this simply because he agreed. Fox doesn’t do this by way of approval or censure, mind, just pointing out the difference, but I still notice it every time. It shouldn’t hinder you from reading an excellent book, though you will find it hard to follow up the references (these are sparing but effective) as he uses some system of short titles for the primary sources that isn’t expanded anywhere! argh. It is not perhaps an introduction for scholars; but for what happened in what order and who such and such a person was, and where in the story they all fit, not at all bad, not at all bad.

Life Gets in the Way II

I’m back, but even after the advertised lull I have little to say here right now. I’m reading some interesting stuff, and I could talk about that some; I have another post I mean to write reacting again to an interview in Pallares-Burke’s The New History; and I was planning to revive the blog’s oldest purpose and advertise what I’m doing in a kind of ‘my projects right now are…’ round-up, though that was supposed to come with a web-page revamp that shows no signs of imminence. At least some of these will actually happen, but I’m afraid that the past week has served a quantity of personal life disaster up, of the order of ‘drink a lot of gin and brood on the point of it all until blessed sleep descends’, and I’m just really not feeling the enthusiasm necessary to try and enthuse you in turn. Ironically, in this time Clio has been pretty good to me and several things look like making print at once in a rush at the end of the year, but, as I say, not feeling it right now. I do apologise for this melancholia; as I am burying myself in work by way of distraction, I imagine I’ll have something to spark some writing for you fairly soon.

In the meantime, have fun with the changing sidebar and if you have any relevant questions (about my subject, that is; personal life will never be exposed in more detail than this on this blog) feel free to demand answers as that will at least get me writing here…

Metablog III: apologia pro suo absentia


It has been rather a while since I posted here, and this is for a lot of reasons, all doubtless insufficient to satisfy the small shedload of people who seem to have been sent here by various carnivals and so on. At least you had some popular posts to see while you were here.

No, it’s been busy. I’ve been abroad for work, and snowed under at home, and also I’m afraid just a bit disheartened. Not about academia, or you Internet, you know I love you but about the other aspects of life. I’ll not go into tedious details but mustering motivation for non-core tasks has been harder than usual. And I’ve got about half a ton of stuff to write and until this weekend have had no concentrated time at a computer. And by something non-denominational, you’ve all written rather a lot and linked to rather more… So the blogosphere is now littered with new comments by me on weeks-old posts and all is in that respect, if not as it should be, at least as it normally is.

But I also have two posts ready to roll here and I think six more I’d like to write, and while that means this place becomes part of the writing load, some of them will be helpful to me, some of them hopefully interesting to you, and all of them relatively easily achieved which means much for the motivation process, so you should stand by, because après celui-ci le déluge, I’m tellin’ you. Thankyou for your indulgence meanwhile.

By way of whetting your interests, I have two IHR seminars, one departmental one and that one-day symposium I was presenting at to review, some further musings on medieval property including a suggestion of some collaborative work in the blogosphere man! and a few snippets about the medieval history of the places I have been lately which will include eye-candy borrowed from Wikipedia, as well as some reporting on various exciting pieces of news on the web that you may not have seen yet. Stay tuned.