Think like a Professor! — or, how to defeat syllabus boredom


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"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

It’s the beginning of the semester for most university professors. Do you dread having to stand in front of your students reading from your course outline? Do you feel it’s a futile gesture, knowing that many of them will forget or ignore the information in the syllabus? In order to defeat the boredom of the syllabus run-through, I’ve devised an exercise called “Think Like a Professor!” that I’ve been using with my first-year classes for several years now. It gets students reading, analyzing, and applying information from the very first day of the course while giving you insight into their attitudes and values. It enables students to become more aware of how their actions are perceived by faculty and to understand the reasons for various course policies. And it should model for students the kind of collaborative and respectful interactions that you are aiming for in your course.

My discussion of this exercise was published in the 2010 Atlantic Universities’ Teaching Showcase Proceedings. I reprint the first 3 paragraphs here; if you want to read the rest of the essay, follow this link and scroll to page 55 in the pdf.


Anna Smol, “Think Like a Professor!: Student and Faculty Perceptions of Course Policies.” Atlantic Universities Teaching Showcase Proceedings 2010. Vol. XIV. Ed. Shannon Murray. 55-59.

It’s the first day of class, and we all know the drill. The course outlines, with requirements, expectations, and policies detailing how your course will be run, must be handed out. You need to get your students to read what must look to them like the fine print of a long contract – one of several outlines they’ll be collecting in the first couple of days. Especially for first-year students just out of high school, course outlines may present a confusing array of do’s and don’ts: all assignments must use APA, or was that MLA? No late papers will be accepted, but sometimes late papers will have points deducted. You must have a note for absences, but some profs don’t take attendance. You have to write all the assignments to pass, but didn’t someone say that you could do extra assignments for additional credit?

For the course instructor, the necessity of going over the course outline can deflate the liveliest of introductory classes. You may find yourself standing in front of the class on the first day, plodding through each requirement and every policy statement, declaiming against errors and misdemeanours while your students’ eyes glaze over. Or, you can hand out the course outlines and tell your students to read through them on their own – in theory, not an unreasonable expectation; in practice, one that seldom works.

To enliven these introductory classes – both for my sake and my students’ – I present an exercise that pulls students out of their passive role as receptacles of course information, puts them in my place, and asks them to apply my course policies in various scenarios – in other words, to “Think Like a Professor!” Their task is to imagine that they are the professor of our course and have written the course outline, including all of its policies, expectations, and requirements, and that they will now be faced with various situations, all based on actual events, in which they will have to apply the rules of the course. The exercise serves many purposes: to introduce students to each other; to start developing constructive, collaborative discussions among students; to encourage them to read a text closely; to direct them to a knowledge of the rules and regulations of the course, and to gain some understanding of academic life. The benefits of the assignment are reciprocal: as the instructor, you gain insight into some of the beliefs and practices of your students. Sometimes, you may realize that you have to explain issues or revise requirements that you thought were clear and complete; at other times, your students can advise you on ways to deal with difficult problems. You may be asking your students to “think like a professor,” but this exercise also gives you access to
thinking like a student.


To read  more about this exercise and the issues that it raises, please follow this link and scroll to page 55.

If you have any other suggestions for overcoming syllabus boredom, please add them to the comments!

Beyond the research essay: women’s lit & archival research in an undergraduate course


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Anna Smol:

I’m planning to post — at irregular intervals — some of the ideas I’ve had about university teaching and to showcase some of the projects that my students have done. I’ve been teaching undergraduate courses for a long time, and I think that one of my main goals from the very beginning has been to convince students that the intellectual life is worth living, and that it can be lived both within the classroom and beyond its walls. I’m not after some sort of practical demonstration that the study of English literature is “relevant” — that old buzzword– although I think it does have many practical applications. What I’m after is the demonstration that thinking about literature is part of what thoughtful people do even if they aren’t English professors, and they do it because it helps to explain our world, to connect us with the past, and to introduce us to different lives and cultures.

I usually try to build in certain features into my assignments:
–the assignment has to be read by or exhibited to or performed for an audience other that just myself, preferably even beyond the students in the class;
–students should be challenged to think about how to communicate their subject in new and creative ways, often using a variety of skills and talents. The conventional research paper is still a staple of my course requirements, but it’s not the only way that my students practice their writing and research skills.

My first piece in this series is a description of a second-year undergraduate project in a women’s literature course, which was originally posted on the Mount Saint Vincent University English Department blog.

Originally posted on MSVU English Department Blog:

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department by Anna Smol

Peterson Protest Buttons postersIf you’ve walked along the fifth floor of Seton or through the tunnel linking Evaristus and Rosaria, you might have noticed a series of posters called “Pieces of Activist History: Betty Peterson Protest Buttons.” Produced by students in English 2242 (Themes in Women’s Writing), these posters are the result of a collaborative process in which students in this Winter 2014 course learned something about a remarkable Nova Scotian activist while practising their research and communication skills.

Betty Peterson, from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada site

Betty Peterson (photo from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada website)

Frankly, I did not know what to expect when I assigned this group project. The theme of our course was “protest and polemics” and some of the reading material, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, focused our attention on Second Wave feminism. I knew that the Mount Library had received a donation of protest buttons from Betty Peterson…

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Talking about medievalisms


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While my focus here is often on Tolkien, I’ve collected some calls for papers on medievalism generally (although I do include below one conference on Tolkien specifically). The proliferation of conferences and sessions on medievalism – that is, “the reception of the Middle Ages in postmedieval times” — is a healthy indicator of the academic acceptance of medievalism studies, something that earlier scholars such as Leslie Workman, founder of Studies in Medievalism and the International Conference on Medievalism had to fight for at times in the 1970s and 80s. Today medievalism continues to be an evolving multidisciplinary study open to many different approaches. If you follow the links and read the calls for papers, you’ll get a good sense of how diverse and far-ranging topics in medievalism studies can be — and you’ll see that there’s plenty of talking about medievalisms these days.

The Middle Ages in the Modern World (MAMO). June 29-July 2, 2015 at the University of Lincoln, UK.  Individual paper proposals should be submitted by September 15, 2014 and panel proposals by August 31, 2014. This is the second conference in a planned series of biennial meetings. According to the MAMO Facebook page, plans are in the works to hold a 2017 conference in Manchester and a 2019 meeting in Rome. You can follow conference news on Twitter:  @TheMAMOConf.

Medievalisms on the Move. 29th International Conference on Medievalism. October 24-25, 2014 at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, US. The conference aims  “to investigate the manifold transformations that happen when recreations, reinventions, and redefinitions of the ‘medieval’ move from one cultural space and time to another.” The deadline for proposals has passed, but if you’re interested in attending, a program should be posted soon.

I listed the following two sessions in my previous post on K’zoo 2015 Tolkien and medievalism sessions, but the CFPs for both of these give further details if you follow the links:

Studies in Medievalism: Kalamazoo 2015 Call for Papers. May 14-17, 2015. International Conference on Medieval Studies. Kalamazoo, Michigan, US. Further details on the three sessions sponsored by the International Society for the Study of Medievalism:  Metaphysical Medievalisms, Political Medievalisms, and Critical Mediations.  Proposals should be sent before September 15, 2014.

MEMO: Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization: Kalamazoo 2015 Call for Papers. May 14-17, 2015. International Conference on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, US. Further details on two sessions: Playing Medieval: A Festive Video Game Workshop and Poster Session and on a paper session, The Neomedieval Image. Proposals should be sent by September 15, 2014.

And finally, here is the most recent call for papers I’ve received for an event at The Ohio State University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, focusing on Tolkien. Of course, almost any conference on Tolkien qualifies as a study in medievalism since a sense of medieval languages, genres, histories pervades his work. And any conference on medievalisms, such as the ones listed above, could potentially include work on Tolkien too.

There and Back Again: Tolkien in 2015 at The Ohio State University February 20-21, 2015.  Second annual conference on Popular Culture and the Deep Past, with a focus on Tolkien and especially The Hobbit for 2015. This will be an academic conference that is “nested in a broader ‘carnival’ of popular and traditional cultural events and activities.” Proposals for both academic and non-academic presentations are requested by October 1, 2014.


Tolkien and medievalism sessions, K’zoo 2015


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The International Congress on Medieval Studies has released a preview of the sessions that have been approved for the 2015 conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can find the full information for each call for papers on the Congress sessions page. While there are hundreds of sessions on medieval topics, I have listed the ones that deal with Tolkien specifically and with medievalisms more generally. The deadline for submissions is in September, but many sessions are filled well before that date, so if you’re interested in submitting a proposal, the sooner the better.

First, the sessions specifically dealing with Tolkien:

  • The Tolkien at Kalamazoo group, organized by Brad Eden, has had three sessions approved:
    1. Tolkien’s Beowulf
    2. Tolkien and Medieval Victorianism
    3. Tolkien as Linguist and Medievalist
  • Brad is also the organizer of a readers’ theater performance of Tolkien’s Beowulf and “Sellic Spell” and  the continuing series of “Maidens of Middle-earth: Turin’s Women.”
  • “Tolkien as Translator and Translated” is a special session organized by Judy Ann Ford.
  • Doug Anderson is the organizer of a roundtable discussion on “Christopher Tolkien as Medieval Scholar.”

Other sessions that deal with medievalisms:

  • The Tales after Tolkien Society is organizing two sessions:
    1.  From Frodo to Fidelma: Medievalisms in Popular Genres (A Roundtable)
    2.  Martin and More: Genre Medievalisms.
  • postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies is offering “Quantum Medievalisms” (A Roundtable).
  • Alexandra Garner is organizing a special session: “Modernizing the Medieval for a New Generation: Medievalism in Young Adult and Children’s Literature.”
  • C. S. Lewis Society, Purdue University and the Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends, Taylor University has two sessions:
    1. Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: Sources, Influences, Revisions, Scholarship
    2. Phantom Limb: The Presence of the Problem of Pain in the Works of C. S. Lewis
  • a special session / poetry reading, “Medieval Poetry / Modern Poets” organized by Gerard P. NeCastro.
  • And finally, although this special session has nothing to do with Tolkien, I wanted to mention the workshop that will be conducted by well-known Tolkienist and astronomy professor Kristine Larsen: “A hands-on introduction to astrolabes.”

Borders without boundaries: a weekend with the Canadian Society of Medievalists



Anna Smol:

I’m reblogging Hana Videen’s impressions of the unique experience that is the Canadian Society of Medievalists‘ meeting, part of the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Canada. Hana also live-tweeted many of the sessions at the conference under her twitter handle, @beoshewulf. Thanks to Hana for her reporting!

Originally posted on beoshewulf:


Last month I attended the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Medievalists, held this year at Brock University in St Catherines, Ontario.

I’ve been to the International Medieval Congress in Leeds a number of years now, and I’ve followed the proceedings of the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo on Twitter.  Each of these conferences consists of over 500 sessions on medieval topics over a period of three to four days.  Leeds has an attendance of over 1,800, Kalamazoo of more than 3,000, and all the conference attendees are there for papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances related to medieval studies.  (When I tell non-medievalists about this, they are shocked that there are that many of us and that such an event could exist!)  The experience is thrilling and inspiring for someone who repeatedly gets the response ‘What is that?’ —or worse, ‘Why?’— when revealing my…

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Canadian Society of Medievalists / la Société canadienne des médiévistes 2014



Canadian Society of Medievalists logoOn Saturday May 24, the annual conference of the Canadian Society of Medievalists / la Société canadienne des médiévistes begins at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario (in the Niagara region) and runs to Monday, May 26. This is a multidisciplinary conference with participants this year coming from across Canada as well as from the US, the UK, and France. Compared to Kalamazoo or Leeds, this is a very small conference, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know many medievalists and to let them become familiar with your work. It also provides representation for Canadian medievalists in dealing with national and international granting agencies and other groups. The CSM/SCM meeting is always part of the much larger Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences — a unique annual event in which over 70 scholarly associations meet throughout a week or so at a different university every year, giving all participants an opportunity to attend not only their own associations’ sessions but also other associations’ panels and the general events sponsored by the Congress. For more about the Congress, check out their website, which includes the programs of all the participating associations. To join CSM/SCM, go to the society website — the fees are extremely reasonable and include a subscription to the journal Florilegium. I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend this year’s meeting, but I highly recommend it!

2014 Program  (please use the on-site CSM/SCM program for final details)

Saturday May 24 / Le samedi le 24 mai

0930  Welcome/Mots de bienvenue–International Centre 113
0935-1030  Plenary Session/Séance plénière–International Centre 113
Elizabeth Edwards (King’s College, Halifax):  Mourning becomes the Duchess: Chaucer, Text, Tomb

1100-1230 concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. Saints–International Centre 113
Chair/présidente: Rosemary Hale (Brock University)
1. Diane Auslander (Lehman College, City University of New York): From Darerca to Modwenna: Rewriting female asceticism in the lives of an Irish saint
2. Svitlana Kobets (University of Toronto): Holy Foolishness and its Hellenistic Models: Serapion the Holy Fool or Serapion the Cynic?
3. Donna Trembinski (St Francis Xavier University): Illness and Authority: The Case of Francis of Assisi
B. Theological perspectives–International Centre 114
Chair/président: David Watt (University of Manitoba)
1. Fortunato Trione (University of Guelph): Amor che nella mente mi ragiona (Love, that speaks to me within my mind): Dante between monastic and scholastic theology
2. Marc B. Cels (Athabasca University): Spiritual homicide in the preachers’ mental calendar of the late Middle Ages

1400-1530  concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. Responding to Chaucer–International Centre 113
Chair/président:  David Watt (University of Manitoba)
1. James Weldon (Wilfrid Laurier University): Shields vs. Arrows: Defence and Offence in the Naples Clerk’s Tale
2.  Lynn Arner (Brock University): Chaucer and Film Culture in Pre-WWII America
B. Études médiévales et nouvelles technologies I--International Centre 114
Chair/président: John Osborne (Carleton University)
1. Jean-Luc Bonnaud (Université de Moncton): L’Europe angevine. Conception et élaboration d’une base de données sur les officiers
2. Robert Marcoux (Université Laval): L’art médiéval est-il quantifiable? L’exemple des tombeaux de la collection Gaignières
3. Loula Abd-elrazak (University of Waterloo): Entre ruptures et continuités. La base de données des manuscrits des miracles de Nostre-Dame de Gautier de Coinci

1545-1715  Études médiévales et nouvelles technologies II–International Centre 114
Chair/président:  John Osborne (Carleton University)
1. Chris Nighman (Wilfrid Laurier University): New Directions for Online Critical Editions of Medieval Latin Texts
2. Anna Thirion (Centre d’études médiévales, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier): De la numérisation à la reconstitution 3D : L’ancienne tribune abbatiale de Cuxa (seconde moitié du XIIe siècle, Pyrénées-Orientales, France)
3. Debra Lacoste (University of Waterloo): Old, New, and Newer Chant Databases: The CANTUS Database and CANTUS Index

Sunday May 25 / Le dimanche le 25 mai

0930-1100  concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. Readership–International Centre 113
Chair/présidente:  Rosemary Hale (Brock University)
1. David Watt (University of Manitoba): The “Romayn deedis” in Thomas Hoccleve’s Series
2. Krista Murchison (University of Ottawa): “Regarde de plus haut”: Exemplary Religious Figures and the Late Medieval Readers of the Ancrene Wisse
3. Brandon Alakas (Royal Military College): Scrupulosity and Heresy: William Bonde’s Warnings to Devout Female Readers in the Directory of Conscience (1527)
B. Outlaws and Borderlands--International Centre 114
Chair/président:  Marc B. Cels (Athabasca University)
1. Megan Arnott (Western Michigan University): The Outlaw Sagas: Power and Danger in the Liminal Spaces
2. Renee Ward (Wilfrid Laurier University): Reading Second Skins: The “capull hyde” in Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne
3. Rasa Mazeika (University of Toronto): A “middle ground” on the borders of Christendom? Permeable boundaries between Christian and pagan enemies in the Baltic Crusades

1130-1230  plenary session/séance plénière–International Centre 113
Malcolm Thurlby (York University): Interpreting the Romanesque fabric of Durham cathedral, 1093-1133

1400-1530  concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
 A. Gender–International Centre 113
Chair/président:  David Watt (University of Manitoba)
1. David J. Hay (University of Lethbridge): Women and the Twelfth-Century Renaissance of Military Thought
2. Rob Phillipson (University of Regina): New Medieval Historiography and the Boundaries of Gender: Re-examining the ‘Amoral’ Behaviour of Queen Isabella
3. Rebecca Caissie (Acadia University): Sir Perceval of Galles: Two Courts, the Circle of Equality and the Adventure of Self Shared by a Mother and Son “here”
B. The Early Middle Ages and its legacy/Le haut Moyen Age et son heritage–International Centre 114
Chair/présidente: Candice Bogdanski (York University)
1. Olivier Reguin (UQÀM): Planifier l’idéal monastique: métrologie du plan de Saint-Gall
2.  Ronnie Lvovski (York University): The Carolingian Connection: Asturias in the Broader European Context
3. Ainoa Castro Correa (PIMS, Toronto): The Visigothic script within the cultural context of Galicia in the 12th century

1545-1645  concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. Romance–International Centre 113
Chair/présidente: Siobhain Bly Calkin (Carleton University)
1. Drew Maxwell (University of Edinburgh): “Now may ye se a remembraunce that I love you, for ye shall never se thys shylde but ye shall thynke one me”: The use of mnemonic devices within Middle English Arthurian Romance texts
2. Joanne Findon (Trent University): Desire and the Otherworld in Sir Degaré
B. Beowulf–International Centre 114
Chair/président:  John Osborne (Carleton University)
1. Brett Roscoe (The King’s University College, Edmonton): Gazing at Monstrous Wisdom in Beowulf
2. Hana Videen (King’s College, University of London): Borders without Boundaries in Translation: What it means to be stained in Beowulf

1700   President’s Reception/Réception du président
1930  Banquet   (Syndicate restaurant) reservation required/sur réservation seulement
Monday May 26 / Le lundi le 26 mai

9:00-10:30 concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. The Long Eighth Century I: papers in commemoration of the 1200th anniversary of the death of Charlemagne [a joint double session sponsored by the Canadian Historical Association and the Canadian Society of Medievalists]–Glenridge Building 162
Chair/président:  John Osborne (Carleton University)
1. Eduardo Fabbro (University of Toronto): The Lombard kingdom that was: Charlemagne and the re-invention of the Lombard tradition
2. Nicholas Everett (University of Toronto): Paulinus of Aquileia, Charlemagne, and Carolingian reform in Italy.
3. John Osborne (Carleton University): Hair as a signifier of identity in eighth-century Italy
B. Supernatural Agency: Relics and Magic–Glenridge Building 201
Chair/présidente:  Candice Bogdanski (York University)
1. Siobhain Bly Calkin (Carleton University): What Makes a Relic a Relic? The Lance of Antioch and The Challenges of Narrating Thingly Agency
2. David Porreca (University of Waterloo): Lapides rari et pretiosi: The Use of Gems in the Spells of the Picatrix
3. Kathryn Walton (York University): The Pearly Gates of Cotton Nero A.x: Magical Borders and Christian Boundaries in Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

1045-1215  concurrent sessions/séances parallèles
A. The Long Eighth Century II-
-Glenridge Building 162
Chair/président:  John Osborne (Carleton University)
1. Christopher Landon (University of Toronto): Charlemagne and the Saxons: Imperial Self-Representation in the Late Eighth Century
2. Laura Carlson (Queen’s University): Imperial Rhetoric: Intellectual & Spiritual Warfare in the Carolingian Empire
3. Meredith Bacola (independent scholar): The Arrows of Psalmody: the social relevance of the ‘miles Christi’ around the time of Charlemagne
B. La littérature française–Glenridge Building 201
Chair/president:  Siobhain Bly Calkin (Carleton University)
1. Kristin Bourassa (University of York): Writing to Power: littérature engagée and the Crisis of Kingship under Charles VI of France (r. 1380-1422)
2. Vanina Kopp (PIMS, Toronto): Debates Without Boundaries. The Performance of Poetic Competitions at the French Court in the Late Middle Ages
3. Émilie Pilon-David (Western University): «Il me fault mettre en memoire»: l’acte d’écriture dans les farces françaises des XVe et XVIe siècles

1230  ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING/ASSEMBLÉ GÉNÉRALE ANNUELLE–Glenridge Building 162 [lunch provided by the CSM/Le déjeuner sera offert par la SCM]

1430  visit to/visite à Brock University Special Collections
Five years ago, Brock’s medieval and renaissance collection was nonexistent. Through some kind donations and a few cases of serendipity, we now have eight items in our collection including a letter from a Scottish king, three music manuscripts, a Bible leaf from 1150, and our famous Clopton Charter.  Come see our collection and hear how this all developed.  //  Il y a cinq ans, Brock n`avait aucune collection prémoderne.  Mais, grâce à des donations généreuses et à la chance, nous avons maintenant huit manuscrits, parmi lesquels une lettre écrite par un roi écossais, trois manuscrits de musique, une feuille d`une Bible datée vers l`an 1150, et la fameuse ‘Charte de Clopton’.  Vous êtes invités à venir voir notre collection et apprendre son histoire.

Kalamazoo blogs and videos


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Kalamazoo campus swan pondIf you regret not being able to go to the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan (or you just didn’t get to all the sessions you wanted, or you want to review the ones that you did attend), I’ve collected some blog posts and videos that might give you a taste of the kinds of topics that were discussed. This conference is huge, with over 500 sessions in all fields of medieval studies, so my list is not representative, but the following links will lead you to a few summaries of presentations and in some cases, even entire conference papers.

I’ll start with the Tolkien at Kalamazoo sessions. Although I sometimes write up summaries of Tolkien conference sessions for this blog, this year Andrew Higgins has done the work with an excellent “Kalamazoo 2014 Round-Up” for the Tolkien Society.

Kisha Tracy also commented on the Fall of Arthur session, as well as other Thursday presentations on the Mass Medieval blog.

Kalamazoo 2014Moving away from the Tolkien sessions, you can sample some of the following:

  •  Anticipations of the conference experience: “Kalamazoo Rendezvous” by Kisha Tracy on Mass Medieval.
  • J.P. Sexton and Kisha Tracy on Mass Medieval describe their experiences in various sessions on each day of the conference, including topics such as disability studies, Celtic studies, the Anglo-Scandinavian world, teaching history of the English language, and more. Days 1-2; Thursday; Friday and another Friday report; and Saturday.

Kalamazoo spring 2014The Babel Working Group sponsored a session on punctuation, and some of the presentations are available in their entirety:

  • Jonathan Hsy:  “&.”  Guest post on Mass Medieval.
  • Josh Eyler:  “, (A Breath).” Guest post on Mass Medieval.

Kzoo also published a few Kalamazoo features. First, two presentations on video:

And two reports:

And finally, a video with John France, Elizabeth Koza and Danielle Trynoski discussing personal highlights of the conference in “The Medievalverse Roundtable from Kalamazoo.”

Added May 22:

  • Heather Rose Jones has posted a series in which she was “Live-blogging Kalamazoo” including sessions on Dress and Textiles, Latin Homoerotics, Medieval Magic, Warrior Women in Medieval Eurasia, Merlin’s Colleagues, and more.

Added May 23:

  • Yvonne Seale’s summaries of various sessions including Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age, Colette of Corbie, Advances in Medieval Archaeology, Beyond Medieval Women and Power, The Afterlives of Medieval Women, and the plenary on The Libel of the Lamb, on her blog, Furta Sacra.

Added May 25:  Megan Arnott’s recap of various Anglo-Saxon and Norse sessions and one on Harry Potter on her blog, The Modern Historian, the Canadian Medievalist, and other such Oxymorons

Added May 27:  not exactly a blog post but a webpage for Kristine Larsen’s Intro. to the Astrolabe workshop (see below):  Using Astrolabes: Resources for Medievalists and the Astronomers Who Love Them.  The page includes a link to the workshop handout and promises more how-to guides and sample problems over the summer.

Added May 28:

  • Rick Godden has added the text of his talk for the Disability Studies and Digital Humanities roundtable in “Humanities Accessed” as well as the conclusion to his paper “Prosthetic Neighbors: Enabling Community in the Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle.” in Kalamazoo paper, in closing” on his blog, Parasynchronies.

Added May 29:  Jonathan Hsy’s look back on twitter use at Kzoo 2014, focusing on the usefulness and transformative value of twitter for medievalists (and all academics):  “#medievaltwitter revisited: #kzoo2014 (BuzzFeed-style wrap-up)” on In the Middle.

Added June 4:

  • Laura Saetveit Miles has posted her talk, “Once and Future Feminism” on In the Middle. Her talk was part of the “Writing the Middle Ages for Multiple Audiences” panel. (See the link above for David Perry’s paper from that session).

Added June 6:

Added June 10:  A brief summary of the session on “Gower and Science at ICMS 2014″ on The Gower Project blog.

Any other links that can be added to this list?

Intro to the astrolabe, Kzoo 2014

Intro to the astrolabe, with astronomer Kristine Larsen teaching a packed audience.

Kzoo astrolabe

Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part two


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Popular Culture Association logoIn my previous post, I wrote about one of the roundtable discussions in the Tolkien Studies special area introduced this year at the national Popular Culture / American Culture Association conference, which was held in Chicago in April. Today I have a summary of another roundtable discussion, this one on doing research in the Tolkien archives at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Because I was one of the panellists, I didn’t take as copious notes as I might have done as an audience member, but at least I can give you a taste of the discussion. My part will look disproportionately longer than the others, but that’s because I have notes on my own presentation!

The Tolkien Collection in the Marquette University Archives

It is not unusual to be met with surprise if you happen to mention that there’s a Tolkien archive – in Milwaukee. Many people assume that all of Tolkien’s manuscripts would be held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. And while the Bodleian has a rich collection of Tolkien papers – such as his lecture notes, drafts of some of his fiction, translations and glossaries for his teaching – the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University is where you will find his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit manuscripts, as well as Farmer Giles of Ham and the original Mr. Bliss.

Chicago buildingOur roundtable started off with William (Bill) Fliss, the Archivist in the Department of Special Collections, describing the history and scope of this collection, starting with William Ready, the head librarian in the 1950s who was the first to inquire if Tolkien would sell his literary papers, which is probably one of the reasons why they ended up at Marquette. Bill also pointed out that the collection extends beyond these manuscripts to secondary sources, including materials donated by Tolkien collectors. To get a full sense of these diverse materials, take a look at the online descriptive inventory. Another interesting development is that it is now possible to record various Tolkien-related websites so that they too will become part of the historical record.

Amy Amendt-Raduege spoke next about her experiences as a Marquette grad student —  the first in the history of the English Department there to complete a PhD on Tolkien – and the many happy hours she spent in the archives. Amy pointed out that the archives are a lovely place to work (and they are: large tables, a wall of windows, and a place of quiet concentration with librarians bringing riches to your desk). She commented on how it was fun to see other people there occasionally working on other aspects of Tolkien’s fiction, creating a sense of a scholarly community. She advised researchers to ask the librarians for help when needed, as they are the most valuable resource in the archives. She also described the thrill of looking at the manuscripts themselves – something that all the panellists agreed with. You can read Tolkien’s drafts of Lord of the Rings in The History of Middle-earth, but only in looking at the manuscripts will you see, for example, the other side of the page, with Tolkien’s comments on exams, or his doodles, or other notes that give you a sense of what he was doing at the time. And of course, there is the challenge of reading his handwriting when he was especially inspired.

While Amy spoke about reading the manuscripts, I pointed to various topics that could be pursued in a study of pre-internet Tolkien fandom using the vast array of periodicals, fan materials, and adaptations collected in the secondary sources. There is great potential there for fan studies, film studies, and reception studies by examining how, through the years, fans have expressed their ideas and opinions in numerous zines on topics such as the following:

  • fans’ perceptions of what it means to be a fan;
  • the beginnings of organized Tolkien fandom in science fiction fandom and the perceived relationships between these two fan communities;
  • the perceived relationship between fans engaging in activities for fun and those developing more serious academic interests as time goes on;
  • the prevalence of fan works – fiction, art, poetry, songs, plays – from the earliest days of fan publications, without derogatory comments on fanfic such as you might find today;
  • the way in which women were writing Lord of the Rings fiction from female points of view;
  • the various ways in which the collection supports film studies – for example, tracking fan reactions to the Ralph Bakshi film, or reading the Ackerman screen treatment (with Tolkien’s comments in the margins), or imagining John Boorman’s screenplay (if only it had been filmed!), or reading fans’ anticipations of what a live-action film by some guy named Peter Jackson might be like.
  • and finally, looking at the ways in which fans perceived the Lord of the Rings “cult” in the 1960s and 70s when Tolkien fandom was highly visible. Essays on the subject extend from early days in the 60s to retrospectives in the 1980s. An interesting range of opinions can be found, from conservative to liberal, as these zine article titles might suggest:  “Hippie Hobbits”; “Hippies or Hobbits?”; “Hippies versus Hobbits”; “Hippies relating to hobbits”; “On Behalf of the Half Hippy” and “Those hippity hobbits.”  (Clearly, the alliteration was too much to resist).

These suggestions by no means exhaust the possibilities of the secondary materials in the Marquette collection, but I hope they make clear that the history of organized Tolkien fandom is to be found in the archive in Milwaukee. I should add that I was commenting on North American and British sources, but other materials from around the world can also be found in the collection.

Chicago buildingOur final panellist was Richard West. He spoke of his long experiences and happy memories of discovering and using the Tolkien Collection over the years. He reiterated what Amy had said earlier: that there is nothing like looking at the actual manuscripts. Richard told the story of seeing Mr. Bliss and thinking that it was a lovely book that should be published, and of course it eventually was. He also spoke about how being able to consult manuscripts can complete the printed record: for example, in the published edition of Tolkien’s famous Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, Carpenter omits a small section, but it can be read in the original document in the collection.

I think the theme of our roundtable could be summed up simply by saying that the Marquette Tolkien Collection is an invaluable resource that all Tolkien researchers should know about.

If you’ve used the collection, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences in the comments. If you were at our roundtable and have other notes to add, please feel free.

Areas of interest for future conferences

As I mentioned in my previous post, you can keep in touch by joining the Tolkien Studies at PCA open Facebook group. There you will find a report by organizer Robin Reid on the success of this trial run of the Tolkien Studies area. After a business meeting on the final day of the conference, participants identified a few areas of interest for future meetings that emphasized the multidisciplinary nature of Tolkien studies, including discussions of publishing opportunities and the state of Tolkien scholarship; teaching Tolkien; Tolkien linguistics; critical race studies; gender and queer studies; Tolkien in a modern context, including his knowledge of science and his relation to the genres of science fiction and fantasy; and creative presentations.

The next national PCA/ACA conference will be held in New Orleans in 2015.

Chicago night scene

Tolkien Studies at PCA 2014, part one


Popular Culture Association logoA couple of weeks ago, I attended my first Popular Culture / American Culture Association national conference, held in Chicago April 16-19. It was also the first year in which the PCA was undertaking a trial run of Tolkien Studies as a special topic. After next year, the organization will decide whether Tolkien Studies should become a permanent subject area in the conference. Judging by the full day of Tolkien sessions and the full audiences throughout the day, the prospects must be good for Tolkien Studies to become a permanent part of the PCA annual event in the US. What is especially promising is that there seems to be no limit on the number of sessions in any area, unlike this year’s cutbacks at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, which would not allow more than four sessions for sponsoring groups, effectively cutting the Tolkien panels in half.  The idea for the Tolkien Studies area and the organization of the successful program are all due to the energy and enthusiasm of Robin Reid (U. of Texas A&M, Commerce), who was in effect the organizer and co-ordinator of the event.

ChicagoWith stacks of ungraded papers and exams sitting on my desk, I won’t have time to outline each presentation that I heard – and I heard them all! — starting at 8 a.m. and going through seven sessions until 8:15 p.m., when a viewing of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey closed off the day. It was challenging to find meals, to line up for the washroom, to check in for the next day’s flights home, or simply to stretch one’s legs with only 15 to 20 minute breaks, but each session was as interesting and rewarding as the next. I heard many good presentations and came away with some new ideas to mull over.

In my limited time what I can manage, though, is to describe two of the roundtables, which both dealt directly with researching and publishing on Tolkien — one that I participated in on using the Marquette University Tolkien archives (to be posted in a couple of days, I hope) and one on the state of Tolkien studies scholarship (following).

Roundtable on the State of Tolkien Studies Scholarship

Robin Reid brought together an impressive panel for this discussion. While all of the following presenters have written on Tolkien, here are their credentials as editors and conference organizers (as far as I know; please excuse if I’ve missed something important):

Brad Eden’s Journal of Tolkien Research is the latest development in the field. Hosted by Valparaiso University, JTR will be entirely open access, publishing articles as they are accepted; at the end of the year, they will be bundled together and given a volume and issue number. Janet Brennan Croft informed us that she has hopes that in the near future Mythlore will become available online with a one-year embargo, an increasingly common move for scholarly periodicals that have to balance accessibility with sales. Several of the speakers who are librarians advocated that scholars keep the rights to their research whenever possible; they recommended speaking to your university librarian before signing away any copyrights and to ask about the “SPARC Addendum” which as far as I can tell is relevant in the US and in Canada (Canadian information here).

Chicago 2Some discussion also took place about the scope of various Tolkien journals. David Bratman talked about how his Tolkien Studies co-editors are always grappling with the question of how far afield from Tolkien’s writings can they go; for instance, should they publish articles about Tolkien’s influence on other fantasy writers? Janet Brennan Croft pointed out that even though Mythlore focuses on Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams, around 50% of the journal content is on Tolkien. Brad Eden aims for JTR to be interdisciplinary in its coverage, and in addition to articles on Tolkien’s works, it will accept articles on adaptations, gaming, fan productions, and audience reception.

After discussing periodicals, the conversation turned to potential book publishers. Janet Brennan Croft pointed out that submissions can be made to the Mythopoeic Press. Other editors on the panel spoke about publishing with McFarland and found the company efficient and clear in its directions. (I did add a comment to this discussion, though: while I know that McFarland has published many good books, I would caution young academics who are looking for promotion. McFarland does not use external peer reviewers, and for some university promotion and tenure committees, external peer review is essential.)

The panellists emphasized the need to do sufficient research before submitting any scholarly work for publication. As David Bratman pointed out, we have “The Year’s Work,” now written by Merlin DeTardo and published in Tolkien Studies. Janet Brennan Croft presented the idea that essay anthologies could include older, “classic” articles along with new ones. Scholars can also check out the Mythlore Index for the first 102 issues; subsequent issues are indexed on the website. For reviews of older sources, recommendations were also made to look at “Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a look back at Tolkien criticism since 1982″ published in Envoi 9 by Michael Drout and Hilary Wynne and Richard West’s Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist, published by Kent State UP.

Chicago 3Finally, the panel was asked what areas of scholarship they thought could use development in Tolkien studies. And of course, various answers were given: Tolkien’s style (Robin Reid); Tolkien’s relation to the modernist canon (David Bratman); bodies in Tolkien’s work and the application of contemporary theories to Tolkien’s work (Chris Vaccaro); Tolkien as a theorist (Janet Brennan Croft); Tolkien and multimodal texts (Janice Bogstad). Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.

If I’ve missed any important points from this informative panel, please let me know. I’ll post a summary of the roundtable on using the Marquette Tolkien archive in a couple of days (hopefully). In the meantime, if anyone is interested in staying informed about the conference, there’s a Facebook group, Tolkien at Popular Culture/American Culture Association, which is open to interested members.

Dictionnaire Tolkien review in Medievally Speaking


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Dictionnaire TolkienA little over a month ago, I published a review of Dictionnaire Tolkien in Medievally Speaking, an open access review publication associated with the International Society for the Study of Medievalism. This book challenged me to think about the reception of Tolkien in languages other than English; specifically in this case, in French. It hadn’t occurred to me before to wonder about which of Tolkien’s works had been translated and when, but the various entries in the Dictionnaire, edited by the prominent Tolkien scholar Vincent Ferré, filled in the picture for me; here are a few facts from my review:

The Hobbit, published in English in 1937, was translated into French in 1969. The Lord of the Rings, published in English in 1954-55, was first translated into French in the year of Tolkien’s death (1972-73) but the Appendices, which contain a wealth of background information, were only translated in 1986.  Various translations of Tolkien’s other works have followed, such as Tolkien’s letters in 2005 and in 2006 the important essays in Les Monstres et les critiques et autres essais (The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays). Most recently, the lag time between first publication and translation has narrowed considerably with Les Enfants de Húrin (The Children of Húrin) in 2008 and La Légende de Sigurd et Gudrún (The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún) in 2010, both appearing in French only one year after their first English publication. The most recent posthumous publication, La Chute d’Arthur (The Fall of Arthur) appeared in translation only a few months after the English version in 2013.Certain texts, however, are still unavailable in French, such as the last seven volumes of The History of Middle-earth, a twelve-volume series published in 1983-96 by Tolkien’s son Christopher, who compiled this record of his father’s early stories, manuscript drafts, and previously unpublished essays.

Translating any piece of Tolkien’s fiction would be challenging enough; can you imagine translating the drafts of his stories as well as Christopher Tolkien’s commentaries in The History of Middle-earth?

Most of us are aware that Tolkien’s fiction is read in many languages around the world. What I would love to know more about is how Tolkien’s work is perceived in other cultures. Do translators try to create an understanding of a geographically and historically remote English and northern European culture that is foreign to, say, a Vietnamese reader? Or do they try to translate Tolkien’s concepts into more familiar ideas in their target culture? Does the Tolkien Estate have any guidelines for translators? Certainly, we know that in his lifetime JRRT was very concerned about nomenclature in translations. And if there are to be a number of Tolkien’s texts translated into one language, who oversees the consistency in translation choices?

If anyone has any recommendations for readings on these issues, please let me know!

And one last note: in my review, I mentioned that an online bibliography listed in the Dictionnaire was unavailable when I tried to access it.  Since then, the Dictionnaire editor, Vincent Ferré, has supplied the missing link for a bibliograpy on feminist readings of Tolkien:  (The bibliography consists of English sources).


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