Monday miscellany

While the official Oxford observance of Guy Fawkes day occurred on Saturday, there have been intermittent fireworks blowing off after 6:30pm, every night, since the 3rd. This tends to go on, in salvos, until about 11.

I loathe mid-fifteenth century legal secretaries and their cramped hands, and overuse of Latin brevigraphs. How am I supposed to find all the lovely elite violence, aspirational behaviour, and self-justifications in KB27, if they are going to write this way?

My College has enabled one of my least endearing habits (comparing publication credits) by listing all the work of graduate students for the 2011-12 academic year in their annual newsletter. It will come as no surprise that the scientists get the most credit, although quantity can be misleading. One student appears as a co-author on no less than 12 separate papers. Most of them appear to deal with one particular study that the team worked on and several others are clearly very short research notes of one or two page’s length. The medical sciences are notorious for stretching one study out over multiple publications by cutting it up into little isolated bits. They also include book reviews and other non-peer review publications without much differentiation. I’m not complaining, I’m just indulging my vague need to quantify my own success relative to others. Constantly. Needlessly.

Thanks to Abebooks and the fine people at Antiqvariat Bücheretage Hagena & Schulte, Bonn, I am the proud owner of a pristine, unread copy of G Lester’s edition of Oxford MS Bodl. Douce 291, the earliest Middle English translation of Vegetius.1 Thanks also to my long suffering partner Z, who makes these purchases possible.

I am growing more aware, each day, that the benefit of an original research topic is, in itself, its greatest challenge. If no one is working in your area, you need to work that much harder to find secondary and primary sources that help answer your questions. This isn’t news to me, but I’m seeing this in practice on a scale I did not really anticipate. At least I get three years to sort that out, not a couple months like I would with an article or something like that. I am fond of using a line from Michael Taussig, an anthropologist, who said that often “the shortest way between two points” in this case, the Medieval and Early Modern conceptions of violence “is the long way around, tracing the edges sideways like the crab scuttling.”2

And scuttle I shall.


1 Geoffrey Lester, ed. The Earliest English Translation of Vegetius’ De Re Militari, Middle English Texts 21 (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1988). The binding and production values means that this book is not likely to age well. It has a limp cloth cover over a perfect-bound text block, circa 1988. Most institutional buyers would have sent the thing off the their own binder but my copy is as crisp and clean as the day it was printed. There isn’t even any spine fading.

2 The quote appears in Valentine Groebner, Defaced: The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages (New York: Zone Books, 2004), 35.

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