I owe you a post from last week, but I am still on holiday just now, and I didn’t think when packing to bring the notes that would source the next real post (or even a record of what it is, though I think it’s about Chris Wickham redefining what we should mean by feudalism).1 The next thing that I have written up would probably be a professional liability to publish, so I won’t; but I should put something up.2 So what should it be?
Well, here’s an idea I won’t use. Years ago, the erstwhile blogger Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval invented a sort of blog post called a Google Penance, in which one atoned for occasions when people found your blog via search terms that made clear they were really very much looking for something else, by posting something at least slightly related.3 The challenge, of course, was to keep it clean, and that wasn’t always easy. I’ve just checked my stats, and find that I’m in the middle of such a bad search moment; the hits on my recent post ‘Name in Print XXX: the other parcel from China‘ have lately gone through the roof. On due inspection this seems to be because it’s been circulating via social networks in Pakistan, as well as to other places from there, and that the reason for that is that something or someone was searchng for ‘China XXX’ or variants thereof and that is what started coming back. A hidden danger of Roman numerals for you all to consider! But other than suggesting some reading about Chinese knowledge of Roman science, I can’t think of anything safe to say that would answer that search query in some respect, so let’s move on.4
Then I thought, hey, if I can’t write a proper post from the point in 2019 when the blog’s backlogged to, maybe I have an image I downloaded then which is worth a post. Over lockdown I sorted out my image files, so this was an easy question to answer: I basically wasn’t downloading academic images in early 2019, and the only ones I did already went into a post here, the above being one of them. This is, I suppose, a picture of people in China, which is at least part of what my websearchers were after, so maybe it is the required penance, but it’s not really a post.
So instead here’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for literally years. I only realised a few months ago that I’d accidentally deleted the stub I’d left to remind myself to do so. Since then I’ve been trying to remember, and this seems like the occasion. Shortly before I started this blog, as part of the same attempt to give myself an academic presence quicker than publication could, I put up a personal website. Some of you may have looked at it; it’s usually no more than a few months out of date. Now, one of its sections is a list of academic works I have notes on. I suppose that I thought it might be useful for people assembling bibliographies, but mainly of course it was supposed to demonstrate that I was doing the academic study thing and knew some stuff. And I have maintained it, in my normal obsessive-compulsive fashion, because it became part of my note-taking routine: copy up useful references, index item in my bibliography file, add it to website, and now make entry in Zotero. But in the sixteen years I’ve had that site up, no-one has ever been in contact with me about those notes pages, and I don’t have access to logs at that level so contact is the only way I could know if anyone was using them. And they are work to maintain, which quite possibly I have never really needed to do. So I just thought I’d ask you, my captive audience: have you ever used those pages, are they, you know, any use to you or anyone? Would you miss them if they, you know, went away? Just asking…
1. If I’m right, it’s a report on an early presentation of what became Chris Wickham, “How did the Feudal Economy Work? the Economic Logic of Medieval Societies” in Past & Present no. 251 (Oxford 2021), pp. 3–40, which is a game-changing piece of thinking.
2. It arose when a then-promising undergraduate asked me about academic careers, and I gave them the usual warning speech and then said, out of some sense that the case required it, that I would log my next week’s work for them so that they could see what the job involved. Having done so, in a period of quite bad industrial relations, I decided I couldn’t let the student have it, in case someone publicised it and I got into trouble. Industrial relations are now arguably worse, and I think there are better things I can do with such a log than stick it here. Plus which, it’s probably not actually very interesting reading!
3. Carl’s now-inaccessible blog was proudly but not unjustly described by him at a conference years back as ‘kind of a big deal’, and although it was easier then to be one he was leading the pack. Some reflection in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Blogging the Middle Ages”, in Brantley L. Bryant, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog (New York City NY 2010), pp. 29–42, which was actually also my first print citation…
4. If you do want this, try Matthew P. Canepa, “Distant Displays of Power: Understanding Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Elites of Rome, Sasanian Iran and Sui–Tang China”, ed. by Canepa in Ars Orientalis Vol. 38, Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia (Washington DC 2010), pp. 121–154, and Krisztina Hoppál, “The Roman Empire According to the Ancient Chinese Sources” in Acta Antiqua no. 51 (Budapest 2011), pp. 263–306, DOI: 10.1556/AAnt.51.2011.3-4.5.