nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
I'm fascinated by the personal documents that survive from earlier historical periods, particularly the ones for which reconstructing daily life is a matter of digging up trash heaps and attempting to relate what one finds there to the scanty documentation available. An afternoon spent perusing the Vindolanda tablets, for instance -- a cache of wooden tablets unearthed north of Hadrian's Wall at a fortress staffed by Roman auxiliaries during the first and second centuries of the common era -- is a joy to me: they include everything from business correspondence to birthday party invitations (Tablet 291, if you want to have a look). It's like eavesdropping on your ancestors. (Or somebody's ancestors, anyway.)

So running across a link to "The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child" over at Making Light brightened my morning considerably. Young Onfim liked to doodle on birchbark and, by a happy combination of environmental circumstances, his doodles survive. Talk about the chance preservation of ephemera -- this is wonderful stuff, the refrigerator art of the Middle Ages, as Teresa Nielsen Hayden puts it. Go and have a look ...
nebroadwe: (Books)
It's a bad month when I dump not one, but two books within the first chapter for annoying me. First out of the queue was Perpetua of Carthage: Portrait of a Third-Century Martyr by William Farina. I did hesitate when I read his bio and discovered he was the president of "a national real estate consulting firm" who'd previously written about Shakespeare and the American Civil War. Then I told myself not to be a snob: independent scholars exist. Unfortunately, Farina's idea of contextualizing Perpetua was to compare her to C.S. Lewis because they were both converts -- never mind the enormous temporal, geopolitical, sociological and even religious gaps between the two. No, thanks; I like my history historical.

Then I tried Larissa Taylor's Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc. Here I hesitated on general principles: it's really hard to write a biography of Joan that prescinds (wonderful word; thank you, John P. Meier!) from faith claims about her while dealing seriously with her self-presentation as someone called by God. (Do Florence Nightingale biographies have this problem? Must investigate ...) Still, I was willing to give Taylor a shot. She did have some interesting things to say initially on the subject of Joan's responses to hostile questioning about her voices and the possibility that such questioning had Joan both discovering new contexts for her experiences and/or responding sarcastically and enigmatically about them to an audience that had already made up its mind about her. On the other hand, Taylor seemed a little too eager to naturalize any hint of the supernatural in Joan's career, to reduce Joan's motivations to having her own will. That's fine, but "her own will" was presented by Joan and received by those with whom she came in contact in ways determined by their apprehension of the supernatural. The historian need not believe what they believed, but she should do a better job of analyzing and representing it than Taylor seemed willing (heh) to do. I gave up when she claimed that Joan left Domremy on her quest because her parents were too controlling (they tried to arrange a marriage for her and she demurred -- without any of the usual accompanying saintly Sturm und Drang, either) and she wanted to live out a prophecy. Good-bye.

I'm going to read some nice, purely political biographies now -- Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Argh.
nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
An off-LJ friend recently reminded me of an incident from my days as a professional medievalist-wannabee, when Usenet was still a going concern and I lurked on the fringes of soc.history.medieval. The group was witty, collegial and learned, so of course it attracted a resident troll, who took up station under its bridge and emerged regularly to make faces and scream oddly capitalized, faux-Latinate abuse at persons whom he took in dislike. This led, on one occasion, to a long, acrimonious and needlessly tendentious argument about the development of draught harness for horses from late antiquity into the Middle Ages. That argument is best forgotten, trust me -- except for the contributions of the late Ellen Pinegar, who conducted the now-famous Cat Hitched to Vacuum Cleaner experiment in order to bring a little evidence-based rigor to what had become a war of assertion. Read more... )
nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
Even more pictures of the Staffordshire hoard, available here. This stuff will be keeping graduate students busy for years. (I'm still waiting for the Staffordshire wyrm to wake up and notice it's all gone, though. I mean, what better way for Queen Elizabeth II to end her reign than with a dragon fight?)
nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
Congratulations, Team Phoenix! I love it when a plan comes together ... especially when it's a plan that produces actual pictures of the Martian landscape, as opposed to artists' renderings. (Nothing against artists, here -- just the ZOWIE! factor of actually being there.) Here's to a successful exploration of the Ice Plains of the Red Planet. (Eat your heart out, Edgar B.)

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nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014

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