Musical Scholarship and the Future of Academic Publishing

This guest post was written by Richard Lewis (Goldsmiths) of the AHRC Transforming Musicology project. It outlines a workshop on ‘Musical Scholarship and the Future of Academic Publishing’, sponsored by The Academic Book of the Future project, and held at Goldsmiths, University of London on Monday 11th April 2016. This post first appeared on the Transforming Musicology project website, and is reproduced here with kind permission from Richard.

A couple of months ago Marilyn Deegan, who is emeritus professor at King’s College London, approached Tim Crawford asking him to put together a workshop as part of their Academic Book of the Future project (2014-2016, PI: Samantha Rayner). The project is a partnership between King’s and the UCL Centre for Publishing, and is funded by the British Library and the AHRC. The project has included a lot of work with practising scholars but Marilyn was keen to engage the musical community so we accepted her invitation.

The workshop was held at Goldsmiths on Monday 11 April and attracted just under 40 delegates. The programme comprised six invited presentations and a roundtable discussion with a mixture of scholars, musicians, and library professionals. This post is a report on the proceedings of the day.

The day began with an introduction to The Academic Book of the Future project from Rebecca Lyons (UCL) who is the research associate on the project. Bex described the background of the project and some of its activities so far, including the inaugural Academic Book Week in November 2015. She described how much of their early work has been involved with forming a community coalition by consulting with publishers, academics, and other stakeholders in the academic book, and attempting to address fundamental questions around the nature of academic publishing. Bex outlined some of their future plans, which include an online modular publication, called a BOOC, which will gather together content from a variety of sources including audio, essays, blog posts, and Storifies.

Mark Everist‘s (Southampton) presentation was pitched as a warning against the apparent benefits of Open Access publishing. Mark spoke from three different perspectives: as president of the RMA, as head of a research-intensive music department, and as a publishing academic. He argued through some of the hypothetical implications to the RMA of going fully Open Access. The RMA runs three publications: the Journal of the RMA, the RMA Research Chronicle, and a monograph series and publishes with Routledge. Mark described some of the benefits of digital documents over paper, including convenience of access and searchability. But he argued that online publication of scholarship does not involve any less work than paper publication: authoring and review is carried out by academics as part of their contractual responsibilities, but copy editing (including fact checking and typesetting), maintenance and sustainability, and promotion and marketing are carried out by professional publishers and these cost money. Mark argued that if scholarship were to go online and be Open Access, none of these processes could be avoided and so the costs would still need to be covered. Mark summarised by arguing that the biggest question around going Open Access is: who takes the risk? Currently it’s a commercial publisher, but if the RMA were to move completely to Open Access it would have to absorb that risk itself.

Following his presentation, Mark answered questions on alternative business models for publishing including that of the Open Library of Humanities which is funded by the Mellon Foundation and by library subscriptions. Another question concerned the practice in science publishing of requiring authors to produce so-called camera-ready copy using a template. Mark responded that science articles are normally short and so proof-reading and fact-checking is much more tractable for authors or reviewers, whereas humanities articles tend to be much longer so these copy editing tasks are better handled by specialist professionals. Mark also noted that he believes, because of the relative ease of science publication, the drive for Open Access is coming from the sciences.

Tim Crawford and I gave a presentation of our work on the plans for the final publication of the Transforming Musicology project. We described our original plan to publish a book which collects together the work of the project and which has a significant online component, but said that now we are intending instead to produce a fully-online publication with a possible future print version. We described how our work so far on the project has successfully led to the creation of a number of Linked Data resources which will feed directly into the publication. We reported that we now have a good idea of the expected content of the publication. Now we are in the position where we need to make plans about the required information architecture for the publication. It needs an authoring and editing strategy which will result in high quality hypertext. We are looking for a publication platform that is based on sound Web architecture principles. We hope to be able to include features such as embedded – but also interactive – music notation examples; Tim gave a demonstration of some of the work we have done on providing such features for lute tablature. We described our intention to curate dynamic reading paths through the publication’s content. While we are expecting authors to produce essentially prose chapters, we intend to edit them into re-combinable chunks, each bearing semantics describing how it may be related to other content chunks from the publication. As editors, we will then define a number of reading paths that address the needs and interests of different audiences, such as:

  • A research findings report on Transforming Musicology
  • A handbook on digital musicology methods
  • Readings paths on particular digital methods (MIR, Linked Data)
  • A reviews and comments reading path
  • Authorial/editorial reading path (i.e. conventional book)

We described our intention to make use of the affordances of the Web to help widen access to our research, in particular by allowing commenting, custom citation, and reader contributions (especially contributing to our data sets such as leitmotive identification or optical music recognition correction). Similarly, we outlined our intentions to use the publication as an access point for researchers who may want to make use of our data sets in their own research.

John Baily (Goldsmiths) began his presentation by mentioning his recently published book, War, Exile, and the Music of Afghanistan (Ashgate), which includes a DVD of films which John described as integral to the text, going on to argue for the complementary properties of text, sound, and video. He gave an account of his extensive use of film-making technology over the course of his career as an ethnographer and observational film-maker, arguing that technological developments have had a significant impact on the practice of ethnography. Following John’s presentation there was some discussion on the relation of the DVD to the text of his book and whether a digital publication may have provided richer opportunities for integrating the two. John partly answered this by demonstrating his online Afghan rubab tutor which mixes text, music notation, and three-camera videos.

Laurent Pugin (RISM) spoke about the initial meeting of a new NEH-funded project, Music Scholarship Online (MuSO). The project may become part of ARC (which backs other online projects including NINES and 18thconnect) and make use of the Collex (COLLections and EXhibits) Semantic Web archive management system. Laurent described several other tools published by ARC including TypeWright for correcting optical recognition output and BigDIVA for making visualisations from large data sets. Laurent argued that it’s not yet clear how MuSO may fit into the Collex system as that system’s affordances for text and metadata may not serve musical content so well. He gave the example of Collex’s full-text search system arguing that it wouldn’t be applicable for searching in music notation collections. Similarly, he argued that the FRBR concepts used in Collex are not necessarily suitable for music sources. Laurent went on to describe RISM’s intention to work with the other so-called “R projects”: RILM, RIdIM, and RIPM to build bibliographic research tools for music scholars. He demonstrated how the traditional RISM and RILM referencing schemes may be updated for online usage. For RISM, this is now largely completed in the shape of their Linked Data interface. Laurent reported that RISM and RILM are in active negotiation over improving their inter-resource hyperlinking.

Yun Fan/樊昀 (RILM) reported on some early-stage work at RILM in producing a Semantic Web ontology for musical concepts to help them develop their database of music literature. As motivation for their work Yun gave the example of being able to answer a natural language query about music: who composed the music for Star Wars? And showed how the search engine Google is already able to deal with this. She argued that Google is effectively using something like an ontology to help make this query possible. She began by describing some of the key properties of Semantic Web ontologies and the benefits they can bring. She mentioned Yves Raimond’s Music Ontology arguing that it was too focused on recorded music production to be suitable for RILM’s needs. She described how their increasing internationalisation is requiring that they update their indexing and cross-search to allow them to relate concepts in different languages. They are hoping that developing an ontology will assist in this aim. Yun gave some examples of RILM’s existing hierarchical subject headings, demonstrating how they are very biased towards European art music. She spoke about some of the difficulties in formalising musical concepts, giving the example of an encyclopedia definition of gospel music which is richly detailed and argued that it is difficult to pick out the precise concepts embedded in such prose knowledge. Following her presentation, there was discussion about the importance of re-use in ontology design: where suitable concepts already exist in other ontologies it’s best practice to point to them rather than replace them. There was also discussion about how RILM, which is a closed access resource, will actually make its ontology public.

Zoltán Kőmíves‘s (Tido Music) presentation was centred around Tido Music’s vision for the future of music publishing. He argued that print music publishing is not going to provide value in the long term and outlined their goals to create enriched and connected musical objects, musical objects as “living creatures”. He showed some examples of the iOS software they are developing for displaying musical scores in a dynamic and responsive way and for integrating extra-musical content into scores. Zoltán argued that academic and what he called “trade” publication needs are quite different (although individuals can be and often are members of both audiences). He gave the example of “preserving uncertainty”, describing how academic audiences often want to know about the uncertainties in musical sources, whereas trade audiences (especially performers) instead want to be presented with a single editorial selection in such cases. As illustrations of this he showed the Online Chopin Variorum Edition and the Lost Voices project. Following his presentation, Zoltán answered questions on the future publication strategy of Tido explaining that their next publications will be piano works for beginners. Discussion also covered the current restriction of Tido’s software to iOS and how this is not good for long-term sustainability.

Following the presentations there was a round table discussion chaired by Simon McVeigh (Goldsmiths). The speakers were joined by: Paul Cassidy, Sarah Westwood, and James Bulley (all PhD students in Music), Jonathan Clinch (Research Associate at Cambridge), and Richard Chesser (head of music at the British Library).

Following introductions, Richard Chesser began the discussion, arguing that everything that had been presented during the day was vital to the work of the British Library. He mentioned that digital publications already come under the rules of legal deposit and questioned how the restrictions of legal deposit will interact with the rights afforded to users of resources that are also open access. He also argued that legal deposit may help to address some of the sustainability issues of digital resources.

Mark Everist next raised a topic that had been introduced earlier – prestige and open access publication, suggesting it’s going to be somewhat of an obstacle or milestone. He argued that most academics know the value of a particular journal or publisher and will want to profit from that as much as possible and that therefore open access publications need to retain the brand of the publisher. Tim Crawford mentioned that prestige and quality are not necessarily correlated with impact, pointing out that it’s possible to perform well under various publication metrics – especially on the Web – without necessarily producing high quality work. Mark argued that impact factors are currently more significant in the sciences than they are in the humanities but that a move to online publication may alter this.

Laurent Pugin described the patchy uptake of digital techniques in publishing and libraries. He noted how libraries are now often digitising books that were actually digitally printed and argued that it would be better for libraries to be allowed to archive the original digital versions. Richard Chesser mentioned that under legal deposit legislation libraries are entitled to the best version available.

A question from the audience was asked about how people make use of Tido’s scores, particularly whether they know of performers playing from tablet computers, and whether their software is useful for ensemble performance. Zoltán Kőmíves argued that print music publications may still have their place in performance situations but also mentioned possible future display technologies that may be more suitable for performance. Tim Crawford and Jonathan Clinch discussed potential problems such as computers crashing or malfunctioning during a performance, or systems where the conductor gets to dictate the page turns. Zoltán argues that a potentially useful feature would be to allow annotations to be shared between performers.

Another question from the audience addressed the topic of reading habits and what reading of the future may be like. One member of the audience responded that Amazon have done some research based on the data they can retrieve from Kindle devices about how people read their eBooks, including where they start and stop. Amazon’s findings include that non-academics read books more closely.

From the day’s discussions it seems that there is a strong drive for increasing open access, but there are numerous serious issues that need to be resolved before it can become more widespread. It also seems that digital publication (whether open or closed) is not likely to replace print entirely in the near future, especially for music publication, but innovations will continue to push the boundaries.

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The academic book in Chile: present and future contexts

Today’s guest blog post considers the academic book from a Chilean perspective. The author Manuel Loyola is academic and scientific editor at the Universidad de Santiago de Chile and director of Ariadna Editions (open access) http://ariadnaediciones.cl/, as well as editor of the peer-reviewed journal Izquierdas: http://www.izquierdas.cl/.

Manuel Loyola

According to ISBN records, the academic book in Chile has had little relevance during the last decade with regard to titles published every year. In fact, the books published by all the universities of the country (of which there are 57 in total) represent 11% of the roughly 5500 books published here each year. In addition to university publications, there are also many small and medium publishing houses focused on academic content, which may increase the figure for academic books from 11% to around 20%.

Behind these numbers, the Chilean academic book is subject to different and usually problematic realities. For example, we are not talking about a relatively homogeneous production in terms of national geography: the capital, Santiago, is responsible for more than 60% of the output. Additionally, within this geographical area there are just a few higher education institutions that concentrate most of the production, especially the University of Chile, Pontifical Catholic University, and the University of Santiago – all in Santiago.

The distribution and use of academic books also presents some interesting considerations. They have a low circulation – usually they do not have their own distribution channels because there is not a proper business model defined according to formative and educational goals. Often academic books depend on the mechanisms and strategies of private firms that are usually not interested in these kinds of books. These issues hinder the already precarious life of academic publishing, combining with a lack of collaboration and common strategies.

Why is the Chilean academic book (published by universities in particular) in this situation? I believe that the answer is in the lack of effective and coherent publishing policies. The university authorities as well as those from other scientific entities of the country know little or nothing about publishing activity. Maybe this would not be a problem if these authorities promoted the development and growth of this area. But unfortunately this is not the case. Academic publishing work is in the hands of people with good intentions, but who may be inexperienced. This causes frustrations.

However, the goal of this post is not to suggest a dramatic and pessimistic forecast. Despite what I have previously stated, our field offers many possibilities to improve and develop a better performance of the local academic book. In the short run, we must take advantage of the importance of the state in the provision of human and financial resources focused on academic production. Related to that is the increasing support for open access publishing, providing easier access to research. Additionally, there have been advancements in scientific publishing and enhanced discussions for those working in this field, establishing relationships with foreign academic and publishing organisations, and with the scientific community. Finally, the continued development of academic journals offers hope for a favourable change with books too, showing the potential for improvement.

 

 

 

Manuel Loyola, PhD

Scientific editor

Universidad de Santiago de Chile

 

Away with the monotonous monograph

I was fortunate to attend a terrific session at this year’s London Book Fair, organised by the brilliant project, The Academic Book of the Future. It was about the appeal of the crossover book: the holy grail of scholarly publishing that, like base metal turned into gold, somehow goes mass market and sells by the million.

But it got me thinking. The thrust of the discussion seemed to be about the challenge of commissioning: how to find the perfect topical book that goes viral. That’s great, but lots of authors research in areas that don’t tick those boxes, and precious few are in a position to abandon their research area just to work on something more media-friendly. I wonder if a different kind of crossover book lies just a little more within the grasp of the author.

Here’s the thing. Publishers define the success of a crossover book – no, in fact, they define a crossover book per se – by commercial return. A book has become a crossover book if it crosses the revenue divide between short-run university library market and Waterstones-at-Christmas mass market.

But I wonder if that distinction misses the point. Academic success isn’t measured by sales, but by that frightening concept, ‘impact’. You need to advance the conversation, cross disciplines, move on the lumbering caravan of debate, change the world. No pressure then.

I can’t helping thinking that a crossover book is more than just a bestseller (although let’s not pretend we don’t all want one or two of those). Surely the challenge lies less with our material and more with the way we communicate. I don’t buy this idea that only a handful of subjects are of wider interest. Readers are intelligent. They don’t need a Leverhulme Fellowship to follow your ideas… but they might need one to follow your writing style. I believe that if you can communicate better, you can cross over.

A monotonous book, written with heavy prose and a healthy dose of navel-gazing, a book that doesn’t give a damn about its audience and simply says ‘my ideas are good enough; I don’t need to explain them to you’, isn’t just failing to cross over. It’s failing full stop. In fact, some of the definitions of an academic book flying around at London Book Fair are enough to make us all pack up and go home: ‘when the author doesn’t care if the book is read or not’; ‘heavy, thick, annoying, dull, expensive’; ‘monotonous’.

But…

If you can write beautifully, clearly, passionately; if by your very words you can spin a story and engage an audience; if the prose is not scabrous but seductive (well, OK: let’s stick with ‘relatively jargon-free’); if you can make people sit up and say ‘my word, the Battle of Bramham Moor was about real people with real lives doing real things, not just three men and a horse having a barney in the fog’; well, then you’ve written a crossover book and hang the sales. Because you’ve reached out beyond your peer group. That may not be how publishers define crossover, but it surely improves the image of traditional academic writing.

So let’s write with a wider audience in mind. Not because it’s easy. But because the buck stops with us, the authors. Because revelling in obscurity is downright silly. And because it’s our research. Ours. Let’s write it as gloriously as we know how.

 

Martyn Lawrence

@martynlawrence

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/martynlawrence

Martyn Lawrence is Publisher at Emerald Group Publishing, with almost ten years experience of journals and serials acquisition. He holds a PhD from the University of York, and sits on taskforces that monitor open access, bibliometrics and the wider impact of scholarly research. A frequent contributor to international publishing workshops, he is a member of the ALPSP Government Affairs committee and incoming Publishing Manager at the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

Notes on the Future of the Academic Book in Africa

This guest blog post is by Dr Ola Uduku (University of Edinburgh) and is associated with The Academic Book in the South, a two-day conference held at the British Library on 7-8 March 2016. Organised by the British Library in collaboration with Professor Marilyn Deegan (KCL and The Academic Book of the Future project) and Dr Caroline Davis (Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, Oxford Brookes University), you can read more about the conference here: http://www.bl.uk/events/the-academic-book-in-the-south#sthash.ne453DAQ.dpuf and view the Storify of conference tweets here: https://storify.com/AcBookFuture/the-academic-book-in-the-south 

Academic books in Africa, despite being produced and available for at least half a century, are now a rare sight to behold in the continent’s academic institutions. Locally-authored academic books are even harder to find. As a frequent traveller to West Africa over the past five years, and a writer on school design in Africa’s schools, higher institutions and libraries, I have both encountered and studied many of the buildings that hold these repositories of knowledge. Beginning with this educational infrastructure, this post will explore the spaces which books and readers inhabit and then consider what books are being written and published, and what kind of future both academic publishing and the physical book might have in Africa.

KNUST Library. Credit: Dr Ola Uduku

KNUST Library. Credit: Dr Ola Uduku

For the purposes of this discussion I am restricting my investigation of the academic book to undergraduate textbooks. These are perhaps the most basic form of the definition: more high level academic texts in this context would be even rarer to find in tertiary institutions. In both Ghanaian universities I visited recently, undergraduate courses in the humanities still had academic textbooks on their curriculum reading lists. At this level, the texts are a mix of locally- and internationally-published books, with a predominance of the latter. No journal articles were available to view on public open access, making them extremely difficult to obtain, although with the open access computer lab at KNUST (the Kwami Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana) journal articles were available digitally.

Credit: Dr Ola Uduku

Credit: Dr Ola Uduku

Temples of Knowledge

Despite being a few hundred miles south of Timbuktu, libraries and universities in this area of Africa can hardly live up to their scholarly description. In my experience of libraries in Ghana and Nigeria, it seems that the buildings themselves are still important components of university campuses, but their physical book stocks and use are less certain.

Uduku2

Empty shelves. Credit: Dr Ola Uduku

On a recent visit to libraries at the KNUST and Legon Universities in Ghana I was able to make certain first-hand observations. The libraries seemed reasonably well-maintained, furnished, and staffed, making these historic ‘modernist’-designed structures appear to be viable places to study and borrow books. However the reality is somewhat different: library stacks are sparsely stocked, holding some editions of historic text books, but rarely any up-to-date journals or printed matter. Unsurprisingly there are few students using the library reading spaces for study – proportionally it seems there are often more staff than users of these libraries.

The only exceptions to this depressing state of affairs are the ‘IT’ and ‘open access’ computer suites, which provide banks of desktop computers in air-cooled spaces, allowing students access to digital resources online. At KNUST, this was the most student-populated space in the entire library – one floor up a further computer suite was being fitted out during my visit. For Ghana’s historic ‘premier’ universities then this was the state of affairs: poorly resourced physical book and journal stock, with emerging digital resources being available via centralised library desktop computer facilities.

Credit: Dr Ola Uduku.

Computer areas at KNUST Library. Credit: Dr Ola Uduku.

The Challenges Faced

Discussing my own observations with academics in Ghana, a number of key issues surfaced.

Firstly the generic problem of all academics: the time to write.

Most academic departments were overstretched and understaffed, and lecturers therefore did not have the time to do more than fulfil the teaching required of them. Some schools, such as the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana, did have a sabbatical system in place, but this seems to be an exception to the general state of affairs.

Secondly, undeniably many academics in Africa lack the training or support to write academically. Whilst the African Studies Association UK (ASAUK) has hosted a number of successful writing workshops, mainly targeted at emerging and young staff, these have tended to be ‘one off’ events, driven by UK researcher interests. The example of the Wits Writing Centre at the University of the Witswatersrand would perhaps be a more appropriate way to address this. By having the Writing Centre on campus, always available to staff and students, this both foregrounds the importance of writing and gives access to writing support to all staff and students at the university.

Finally, as with the UK, in most African universities, for career advancement and promotion academic books are less critical than the refereed academic paper. In Africa, publishing itself takes significantly more time to achieve with the vagaries of production, editing, and printing in the African setting. There are of course publishing houses in Africa, but their focus is not on academic book publishing.

The Future of Academic Books in Africa

So what might the future look like for academic publishing in Africa? A piece I worked on last year considering specifically the issues related to the future 21st-century classroom for primary and secondary education has some relevance to the tertiary sector also. If we start from the premise that academic material for student study will need to be provided, and the current system of distribution, via the academic textbook, either individually purchased or available for loan via university library outlets, is flawed and no longer works, then we need to explore what the future learning landscape might be.

In my work on schools the idea of the ICT-linked classroom came to the fore, which posits a situation where students from higher primary level learn through networked cheap personal ‘tablet’ readers to which material is downloaded in ‘packets’ (Uduku, 2015). ‘Packets’ are small units of material, such as chapters or homework/task exercises, which can be downloaded by students using today’s cut-price mobile devices. This is predicated on the further spread of wireless hotspots to more inaccessible areas through the use of GPS satellite technology, already in use by health and aid organisations in remote regions of the world.

Taking this idea to tertiary education, the concept translates to publishing also becoming increasingly digital, with materials being produced in smaller ‘packets’, likely to be chapters or sections, which student mobile devices would be able to deal with. Thus, instead of publishing a 7-chapter ‘e-book’ on anthropology, this would be distributed as seven separate chapters, downloadable, either for purchase as digital mini e-books or for borrowing sequentially, using a university server.

The facilities needed for this would change the face of library facilities – the book stacks would disappear, with only a limited reserve section left, whilst there would be significantly less investment in computer hardware and more in ethernet and wifi infrastructure needed to support better, high speed access and download rates. The library spaces thus would not disappear, but be used more as areas of access to high speed broadband and wifi connections that students and staff could use for free to link their own devices to the the internet to download material for study and reading, at differential pricing: free for loan periods, or at a discounted price by chapter.

In the West this would be termed a ‘BYOD: bring your own device’ policy, which gives the responsibility of the hardware required for online access to the students and users of the material. In my recent experience in Ghana, most tertiary level students had both computers and also smartphones, so this policy could easily be implemented, although clearly it would take longer to institute in poorer countries.

Enhancing and increasing African academic authorship is likely to take a longer sustained programme of local and international support. The need for sabbatical time off is crucial for all academics, arguably more so in Africa and other emerging economies where staff are overburdened with teaching. As not all staff are going to be lucky enough to receive scholarships or collaborative grants, the need to work on developing local writing centres and support programmes for writing in critical. As mentioned above, there are existing models such as the ‘Wits Writing centre’ that could be instituted in universities, or perhaps at regional level.

This would mean that there would be less dependence on programmes from abroad or occasional workshops, and could result in the development of an African academic writers network, likely to be in association with African publishers. Thus an academic ‘hub for writing and publishing’ at larger universities or at regional level would be a possible way forward, to be refined to best suit the needs of regional or large universities. Again such ‘hubs’ would by definition not be insular but hopefully prove to be forums, both physical and ‘in the ether’ for international collaborations also to take place. It seems to me that the ubiquitous nature of the Ethernet and high speed networks, combined with ‘Moore’s law’ bringing down the cost of personal mobile devices, could be a positive force for African book publishing to make the move from physical to digital and enjoy a 21st century renaissance .

 

References:

 

  1. Uduku, O. (2015) Designing Schools for Quality: An International Case study-based review, International Journal of Educational Development, vol. 44 September 2015. 56 – 64.
  2. Uduku, O. (2015) Chapter 15: Spaces for 21stCentury Learning. In Routledge Handbook of International Education and Development. Eds. McGrath and Gu Q. Routledge. pp. 196 – 209

Quadrivium XI: Identity, Use, and Creation of Academic ‘Books’ for Medievalists

Continuing the Project’s emphasis on working with specialist academic disciplines, on 25-26 February 2016 the Project consulted with medievalist Early Career Researchers, sponsoring this year’s Quadrivium, with the theme: ‘The Academic Book of the Future: Identity, Use, and Creation of Academic “Books” for Medievalists.’ QuadriviumThis scholarly group has a very specialist set of research requirements – often studying content that can only be found in ancient manuscripts, or in archaic languages such as Latin or Old English. This specialism raises specific issues around the academic book, which the Project is keen to investigate. Quadrivium is an annual research, careers, and skills training event for postgraduates and ECRs of medieval and early modern textual studies. The two-day event took place at De Montfort University, Leicester.

 

Dr Takako Kato, organiser of this year’s Quadrivium, began by asking the following questions:

When you finish your PhD, will you want to write an academic book?

If so, what sort of academic book would you want to create?

The resulting discussion revealed the complexity inherent in these seemingly simple questions.

What is an academic book?

The first response was: what IS an academic book? The ECRs set about trying to define it what an academic book is, so that they could decide whether or not they would like to write one. Upon discussion, the following were agreed as some (although not all) of the indicators of an academic book:

Audience and authors – who reads academic books, and who writes them?

  • Academics
  • Researchers of all kinds
  • ‘Mad people who do this for pleasure’
  • ‘My grandparents read academic books’
  • Policy-makers, government departments
  • The queen?
  • Written for academics, by academics
  • Books for students by academics
  • BUT – academic books not just for people in the ‘ivory tower’ – Vera Wang was apparently reading an academic book when inspired to create some of her famous designs
  • Assume a certain level of knowledge and interest

Function and tone:

  • Transmission of knowledge
  • Must be part of a conversation – unlike books for general reading, which may not refer to previous scholarship
  • Didactic/instructional
  • Heavily researched
  • Specific academic ‘tone’
  • Peer review – must be vetted by others in the field

For medievalists academic books may also include the actual manuscripts, as well as their critical editions

The important question was also raised: What IS an academic? This was highlighted as requiring definition too, but was outside of the scope of this conversation.

How do you feel about making an academic book?

The ECRs stated their awareness that the monograph still commands huge respect, and is also expected in terms of research output and evaluation purposes, such as the REF. However, it was suggested by some that in the future it would be good to have the option of the academic book in other forms, such as a portfolio of work.

Dr Ryan Perry (Uni. of Kent) suggested that research output could take the form of a collection of case studies, without the enforced requirement to be synthesised into a central thesis.

How do medieval scholars use academic books?

This suggestion connected to notions of reading methods. Prof. Andrew Prescott (Uni. of Glasgow) for instance, stated that he usually reads monographs from cover to cover, whereas Dr Perry tends to dip in and out of them, using the index to navigate to required material: ‘There’s something beautiful about a well-constructed monograph, but I most often enter them from the index, rather than reading them from cover to cover.

Prof. Prescott replied, ‘That would worry me – because it’s very easy to miss connections… Perhaps it’s a disciplinary thing – in history so many things are interconnected, it’s not just discrete blocks of information.’

Quadrivium

Credit: Hollie Morgan/Quadrivium

The ECRs engaged in this debate, with some suggesting that entering into an academic book via the index can be problematic – headwords can be quite arbitrary, and indices can be put together hastily, or inconsistently. One ECR claimed: ‘Reading a long book from start to finish is important for concentration, and for the practice of our discipline. If we carry on with this bite-sized attitude, only entering into the book in chunks from the index, we will lose a lot of the capacity of our discipline.’ Another suggested that this attitude might be ‘ableist’, as not everyone can undertake research in that way. She went on: ‘I don’t always have time to read around a topic in an academic book, especially depending on the language – if it’s an academic book in antiquated language, I am not encouraged to read further, especially as I am dyslexic.’

This, the group concluded, is why readable/searchable digital academic books are so important – offering the choice of deep reading from start to finish, as well as meaningful possibilities to search effectively; to dip in and out as required, depending on the scholar’s requirements and preferred reading style.

What do (medieval) scholars want from academic books?

The group listed their basic requirements as:

  • Information
  • If a physical book, then a free digital copy should be made available, too
  • Useful publishing apparatus: functional contents pages, introductions, prefaces, chapter titles, page numbers, index
  • Bibliography and further reading
  • Should look good on the shelf – aesthetic appeal
  • An order and structure that makes content and knowledge easily accessible
  • Linearity of argument – should be easy to follow

With the following requests for books specifically for medievalists:

  • Translations of primary sources
  • Videos and enriched content – such an animated marginalia!
  • Access to things that are lost or endangered – for instance digitised versions of rare or delicate manuscripts

What can technology do to help make academic books more accessible for medievalists?

The medievalist ECRs were asked to consider ways in which technology does, or should, make their research life easier. Having an electronic copy of an academic book or a digitised manuscript allows for a more global scholarship on that material, eliminating the requirement of being in the physical vicinity of that book. However, the pitfalls of digital versions include the possibility of being locked behind a paywall if your institution does not subscribe or if you are an independent scholar. It also excludes scholars with technological impairments – such as those living in areas without consistent Internet connections. It also means that undigitised books or manuscripts may be neglected, with a glut of scholarship being written on manuscripts that are available online.

The group emphasised the following technological features for enhancing general accessibility to academic books:

  • Catering for different types of learners – e.g. providing content that is useful to those with auditory or visual learning styles, or as already discussed, for those readers with varying abilities or impairments, or for deep readers as well as those who like to dip in and out of content
  • Discoverability: finding books easily enables scholars to read them, rather than waste time hunting one book down

Medievalists have specialist requirements, so further suggestions specific to this group of researchers included:

  • Clarify specialist content – e.g. recordings of pronunciations of difficult/specialist/dead words
  • A database of ALL medieval manuscripts – and digitised versions, if possible

After this group discussion, Michael Pidd (Sheffield), Dr Ryan Perry (Kent), and Dr Hollie Morgan (Lincoln) presented their own experiences and thoughts around the academic book using case studies of innovative research and outputs that they have produced, as well as other ongoing work – followed by a fantastic plenary talk by Professor Andrew Prescott, and a second day of workshops and discussions. This part of Quadrivium will be discussed in a separate blog post.

 

A Storify of the discussion, and the rest of the two-day event, is available here: https://storify.com/Codicologist/quadrivium-xi

Huge thanks to Dr Takako Kato for organising this fantastic event, and to all of the speakers and participants for attending and contributing.

International Arthurian Society: Books, Libraries, and Learned Societies

Last year, the Project consulted with several specialist academic groups, including Miltonists, Eighteenth-century studies scholars, and the British Branch of the International Arthurian Society (IASBB). A competition was launched with the Arthurians to write and submit a blog post on a topic related to reading influences or practices – including favoured locations and ways to read, academically; iconic texts; or the place that belonging to a learned society has in their research life. Full details of the competition can be found here. The entries were judged by Professor P.J.C. Field (Bangor) and Sue Hodges, Bangor University’s Director of Libraries and Archives. The winning entry was judged to be that written by Anastasija Ropa, who completed her BA and MA at the University of Latvia, and her PhD at Bangor University. An edited version of Anastaija’s winning entry was published on this blog last week. Today’s blog post publishes all of the runner-up entries. The Project would like to extend its congratulations to Anastasija and all the competition entrants for their stimulating and honest posts. The runners up were:


 

Lonely library or collaborative centre? – Zoe Enstone

Dr Zoe Enstone’s PhD explored the origin and development of Morgan le Fay in the Arthurian texts, and she is currently researching the use of the image of luxuria in the romances. Zoe is an Arts, Humanities and Academic Skills Tutor for the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.

My university recently opened a new library. It’s light and modern and well-suited to the way that my students work, with a focus on collaboration, group work and technology in the shared study spaces, group rooms and computer clusters (as well as plug sockets EVERYWHERE for all their gadgets). But as much as I appreciate the adaptability of the new space, this library is not where I work best. This isn’t because I’m a medievalist and I can’t understand all this ‘new-fangled’ gadgetry; we’re sometimes perceived as being unable to progress beyond the quill pen, but I actually think that we’re quite technologically attuned (as the wonderful array of manuscript digitisation projects and other resources will attest). Although I understand and appreciate all this new architecture and the range of technology, for my own research I prefer to work in the old library.

I think that part of my preference lies in the very heart of my ideas about academic research and teaching in the arts and humanities; that sense of looking back to the past to inform the work that we do in the present. I love the idea that generations of scholars have shared this space and these objects – the possibility that fifty years ago, someone might have been sitting in the same seat, reading the same book as me for the first time and thinking the same thing (or the complete opposite – what’s academia without a bit of debate?).

As wonderful as group study in the shiny new library might be, nothing seems quite as closely shared as the realisation that you have somehow connected with someone from the past’s ideas and that in the future you could be sharing those ideas with a student or colleague. For me, the first academic book that ‘spoke’ to me in this way was a particularly dusty copy of Sir Orfeo to which a number of previous students had ‘contributed’ their own reactions and interpretations through a range of scrawling comments in the margins – there was one particular comment that reflected my own reaction to an aspect of the text and I felt a wonderful sense of being part of an academic community that extended beyond my own immediate cohort. I have this same sense of recognition sometimes with manuscript marginalia – even if I don’t agree with their comments, a sense of having shared an experience of a text is fascinating and motivational in equal measures.

For as much as academia is portrayed as a solitary activity (no ‘welcome’ mats in our ivory towers, apparently), it is, in fact, an intensely collaborative affair – it is merely that our collaboration is often with those who are not immediately at hand or who are long dead. I don’t intend to suggest that academics are covert mediums, communicating through Ouija Boards, merely that the ideas that we read, discuss, debate, and share are often hundreds of years old and are preserved in these precious artefacts that we have hoarded into collections in libraries. The physical presence of these books reminds me of the long and often complicated route that these ideas have traversed to make it through to the present day.

And that sense of history and our involvement in it inspires me to study; to create new ideas to add to the collection or to inspire someone else to make their contribution through sharing these precious resources. I can only hope that, one day, the academics of the future have a workspace and resources that are equally inspiring- perhaps one day the new library will be imbued with the same sense of history and tradition that I find in my beloved older library. But for now, for me, my desk in the corner, surrounded by the ideas of others, is where I find my inspiration and collaboration.


 

The International Arthurian Society: an academic family – Natalie Goodison

In 2011 Natalie completed her masters in Medieval Studies at Edinburgh University with a thesis focusing on the French and English Breton Lay. In the autumn of 2011, she commenced her PhD at Durham University under the supervision of Corinne Saunders, on supernatural transformation in medieval romance.

That day I was just dropping off a form to the English department.

‘Ah Natalie, do you have a moment to complete your annual review?’, a commanding voice asked behind me.

I spun around to see Professor Elizabeth Archibald was speaking to me from inside her office. Review, what review? Oh, my annual review. Oh my days, what had I put on that form? Did I say anything horrible? I try never to say horrible things, only to think them, and certainly not to write them. No, I doubt I would have put anything awful on that form, but Lord Almighty, what did I say?

‘I think so.’

‘Are you busy just now? It will only take a moment.’

She ordered her thoughts so logically. How could I not have a moment?

‘Yes, of course. Although, I don’t remember what I put on my review.’

I shuffled into Elizabeth’s office, thinking how woefully unprepared I was. It was a meeting with Elizabeth Archibald! She’d only just come to Durham as new Principal of Cuths – a proficient academic, and roaring public speaker. She once gave a lecture on Secular verses Sacred Love and I still have the chart of when it’s okay to have sex in the Middle Ages affixed to my office desk. (The answer? Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; and don’t enjoy it.) This was my first full year at Durham University, the beautiful Durham with its castle and cathedral and river and archives and colleges and evensong. I was meant to be completing research towards a PhD. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was actually doing.

We work through the questionnaire.

‘What training needs do you have? Some languages? French and German?’ Elizabeth jots those down.

‘And what is the outline so far of your thesis?’

Good Lord. I’d spent the last year compiling a database of supernatural moments in saints’ lives. I could tell you some pretty racy stories about baby Jesus in the ‘Life of St Anne’, but chapter outlines? I blustered through the general direction I thought I should take.

‘What is your goal in the next two months? How about you complete a chapter? Which one?’

I cannot for the life of me remember what I said, but I must have answered something because she wrote that down too and added, ‘Right. The next time I see you I hope it will be progressing well.’

I replied with a guttural, ‘I hope so.’

‘Now, Natalie, have you yet joined the IAS?’

The IAS? The IAS. The…

I must have demonstrated my bewilderment on my face—a fault of mine since childhood. By all means, invite me to play poker with you. You will surely win.

‘The International Arthurian Society, Natalie’, she supplied.

Riiiiiiight. They had their international conference in Bristol just a few summers ago. I was waste deep in a Master’s thesis at Edinburgh then and didn’t dare take any time for such frivolity. Least of all to say I knew no one. I still wasn’t sure what it actually was. Earlier that summer I had been to a medieval day at the Arthurian Centre in Cornwall and it was, by far, one of the oddest experiences of my life. Everyone was dressed up in pseudo-medieval clothing. We watched men joust, and before they had even struck blows, one knight’s lance had already broken. Drinks were sold out of cow horns that still retained bovine sediment, which swirled unwelcome amid one’s ale. Those I spoke with seemed deeply put out that modernity existed, and there was an air of cultish fanaticism that put my boyfriend completely off anything to do with the Middle Ages. For the next two years, all I heard was how weird medievalists were, and please, would I not turn out like them. So maybe the IAS was something like that?

‘You must join, immediately. It’s great fun. Here, I’ll propose you.’

Why didn’t this sound like fun? And what did she mean by ‘propose’? I had been dating the same guy for four years and he’d never uttered the word propose. Here Elizabeth brings it up in the first ten minutes of conversation. This was certainly sounding more like a cult.

‘And I’m sure that Corinne will be very happy to second you.’

There was a moment of silence while I contemplated how to phrase a response without sounding like a total idiot.

‘Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.’

‘Right. We meet in Bangor this year. I’ll expect to see you there.’

I barely registered her final words, and when I do recall them, it is of one as in a dream. I felt like I had just walked down a very blustery alley, and for some reason felt bruised. There were many things I should have taken away from that conversation, but the only thing I certainly did was Google, ‘IAS’. With some probing (having avoided International Accounting Standards), I found the website, a very swish logo of a knight on a horse, and downloaded the application form.

The requirements said that one must be proposed and seconded. I sat for a very long time on my bed, laptop on knees, whiskey in hand, debating whether or not I wanted to join. The truth was I was absolutely terrified. The only people I vaguely knew in this society were erudite academics. I did not know another soul. My supervisor’s other students were much older than I was, and who knew if they’d be going? For permission to join, they required that I bandy around academics’ names on a silly proposal form. What if I needed to use those names again for something truly important? What if I had wasted them now on something ridiculous? Who did I even need to send this to? The secretary, who, at the time, was Professor Jane Taylor. It seemed everyone in this society was a tenured high-and-mighty. I certainly would not fit in. To stall for time, I flipped through the website pages. There was a photo. A photo of Professor Peter Field. Now, that was very exciting! Peter Field! He used to teach at Bangor! Peter was my first link with my love of Arthurian things. He was a friend of Professor Edward Donald (Don) Kennedy at UNC who had written my references to get into Durham and Edinburgh. In my final semester as an undergraduate, I was determined to take a course on Arthurian Literature. The Dean even had to grant me special permission to extend my course load. Don Kennedy’s class enchanted me. I remember holding Peter’s edition of Malory’s final two books in my hands; I remember my excitement as I read of Guinevere and the poisoned apple; I remembered my unexpectedly emotional response. That was why I was in Durham continuing to read medieval things. I took a sip of whiskey, and pressed the ‘send’ button to Jane. Cult or not, I was in.

You can imagine my surprise to receive a letter from Jane saying that my application was impressive (what did that mean?); my relief, several months later, to see the Call For Papers go out (‘Oh, it’s just a conference. There will be no animal sacrifices.’); my trepidation as I booked and boarded my train for Wales; and my delight at finding a few friendly faces I knew in the crowd. As I hesitantly queued up for the registry, I overheard an expressive voice say, ‘Oh, Elizabeth, we don’t NEED name badges. They’re so embarrassing. Besides, we already all know each other.’ This lady had clearly lost the argument by the time I had reached the top of the queue, because she was now sporting a name badge that read, ‘Sam’ (Dr Samantha Rayner). She seemed like she knew what was going on. I didn’t want to disagree with ‘Sam’, but I was thankful for the name badges.

As I took my seat, I quietly observed others interacting as I pretended to peruse the conference pack. They certainly laughed a lot. And they seemed to like each other. I was jolted out of my observations on this breed of people, when my eye caught something in the packet: Elizabeth Archibald was the President of the IAS! That’s why my application was impressive. Why hadn’t she told me she was President? And why wasn’t it on their stupid website? My thoughts were cut short as the first session began.

The coffee breaks were socially uncomfortable as coffee breaks generally are: they involve people. But, strangely, that didn’t keep people from speaking to me, and, as we bumped our elbows over sugar, ask me what area of research I worked on. I remember talking to a very tall lady (Gillian Rogers), and when I told her I was currently working on aspects of the supernatural in some late Middle English Gawain romances, she spilled her tea all over saucer in excitement. Walking back from a manuscript exhibition, Jane Bliss (I knew this was she thanks to those wonderful name badges) asked me what I was working on, and when Prof. Jane Taylor (in the flesh!) overheard, said she’d send me a reference of two white bears in French literature. I thought it was more likely that Arthur would return before I’d receive that reference, but at her request, I gave her my email. You can imagine my shock, though perhaps seasoned members will be unsurprised, when I received an email a few weeks later with the subject line: ‘Two White Bears’.

Younger scholars attended too. There was a person named ‘Bex’ (Rebecca Lyons) who seemed to be everywhere and knew everyone. She had a contagious laugh, but I was shy of making her acquaintance. There was a PhD student at St Andrews who grew up next to my home state. Another PhD student was looking at faeries—an interest we both shared. Others, like me, had travelled from Durham and Sunderland. Some weren’t medievalists, but modern Arthurian scholars. I remember a paper on Michael Morpurgo’s misogyny that thoroughly frightened me from ever reading that children’s author. (Thanks, Adele.)

I was soon becoming overwhelmed. One lady was looking for book reviewers; another offered to advise PhD students on publication strategies. I met Prof. Peter Field, in a spotlight as his newly edited Malory volumes were finally complete. I asked him when the set were to be released, and looking back, I’m still not sure how to process his response. He said, ‘Far be it from me to compare myself with that certain condition of women, but I feel as though I’ve had twins, and the second one simply won’t come out!’ I was nearing the brink of needing a drink when Elizabeth gave a speech. In it, she said how excited she was for Peter’s new volume and confessed that even now, reading Malory made her cry. While I have a very good imagination, the thought of Elizabeth Archibald crying seemed impossible, and at that very moment, distressing. I felt like I was the one on the verge of tears. I couldn’t quite express it. Here I was, a lowly small PhD student, and I had suddenly encountered a new world. Renowned scholars rubbed elbows with lowly grad students and seemed genuinely interested in their research. The lowly grad students teased the renowned academics like they were old friends. It was a room full of book lovers; of, on probability, introverts; of people who grew excited and emotional over the same things I did. They were even just as socially awkward as I was! Yet how very welcoming they were. I suspected that even if they disagreed with someone’s scholarship they would phrase their contention genially. Perhaps the disagreement was where the fun lay. I realised, in fact, that this was a room full of people like me.

As this realisation ran through my head, we exited en masse to the bar. It was a brisk starless evening. I was oddly content. Though I couldn’t keep out the thought that maybe I had got it wrong. Maybe after all this was a cult.

I blinked. Without realizing it, I had reached the head of the bar queue and I was completely unprepared for my order. Elizabeth must have recognized that familiar, bewildered, expression on my face.

‘Right, Natalie. What will it be? G&T? Drinks on me.’

I gratefully accepted. As I sipped my drink, I considered that this definitely was not like the experience at the Arthurian Centre in Delabole. Well, if it wasn’t a cult, then it had to be a family. I was in.


 

The books I consider to be the most iconic scholarly Arthurian texts – Victoria Shirley
 

Victoria is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate working on the reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the construction of ‘British’ history in England, Scotland, and Wales (1270-1530). She is interested in Arthurian literature, medievalism, medieval historical writing, nationalism and nation studies, and origin myths.

Faral and Griscom: two iconic editions of the Historia regum Britanniae

In 1929, two editions of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae appeared in print. The first edition was by Edmond Faral, and it appeared in his three-volume work, La Légende arthurienne: études et documents. The second, by Acton Griscom, was entitled The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, with contributions to the Study of its place in early British History. Both editions are iconic Arthurian texts as they were the first critical editions of the Historia regum Britanniae. This short post begins with a brief overview of these two editions, and then examines their reception among medieval scholars during the twentieth century.

The texts

Faral and Griscom adopted two very different editorial approaches. Faral aimed to produce a critical edition of the Historia that was based on ten manuscripts, with the most important manuscripts being Cambridge, Trinity College, MS. 0.2.21 (1125), Bern, Burgerbiliothek, MS. 568, Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijkuniversiteit, MS. B.P.L.20, and Paris, Biliotheque nationale, MS. Lat. 6233. The text of the Historia was printed in the third volume of Faral’s study, alongside Nennius’s Historia Britonnum, the Annales Cambriae, and Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini. Faral’s study focused exclusively on these Latin texts: he intended to demonstrate how educated writers influenced the formation of Arthurian romance, with a particular focus on the literary traditions that informed the work of Chrétien de Troyes.

In comparison, Griscom’s text of the Historia was a diplomatic edition of a single manuscript. The main manuscript, Cambridge, University Library, MS. Ii.1.14, was collated with Bern, Burgerbibliothethek, MS. 465 and Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS. Porkington 17. These manuscripts provided the Latin text for the edition, which was printed alongside an English translation of Jesus College, Oxford, LXI, a fifteenth-century version of the Welsh Brut y Brenhinedd, by Robert Ellis Jones. Through this combination of Latin and Welsh materials, Griscom attempted to show the relationship between the Historia and the corpus of Welsh chronicles, and he argued that the manuscripts of the Welsh Brut provided the ‘best hope’ of discovering the main source the legendary ‘British’ book that Geoffrey used as his main source.[1] Griscom’s edition also included a list of one hundred and ninety manuscripts, from forty-nine different libraries and private collections, in eleven different countries.

Critical reception

Faral and Griscom’s editions fared very differently with reviewers. Albert C. Baugh praised Faral’s edition for its ‘eminently readable’ style, but he was particularly critical of the methodology of the edition, and he suggested that the source-by-source analysis could have benefitted from ‘greater economy’.[2] Furthermore, Baugh questioned Faral’s lack of engagement with current scholarship on the chronicle materials, and he also noted that Faral held a particular skepticism for Celticist scholarship.[3] The most scathing review of Faral’s edition came from Roger Sherman Loomis, who often criticized scholars who did not consider the impact of Celtic literature on the production of Arthurian texts.[4] Loomis accused Faral of deliberately obscuring the evidence for the Celtic origins of Arthurian romance, and he even suggested that Farl was ignorant of the entire tradition, stating that ‘what he does not know he cannot recognize’.[5] Loomis ends his review with a particularly cutting remark:

It is to be hoped for the sake of scholarship and his own high reputation that M. Faral will realize these grave limitations, and that, when he continues his work, it will reveal a knowledge of Celtic literature and an understanding of how it would be affected by a long period of oral transmission.[6]

Loomis’ review demonstrates the divisions between scholars about the origins of the Arthurian legend in the early twentieth century, and his comments about Faral’s edition clearly reveals some of the limitations of viewing Geoffrey’s Historia in a wholly Latinate context.

Griscom’s edition elicited very different responses from reviewers. E. G. Withycombe referred to the edition as a ‘monument of industry’,[7] and insisted that Griscom ‘deserves the gratitude of scholars for at last providing what appears to be a sound text’.[8] Similarly, Arthur C. L. Brown praised Griscom’s edition for its ‘faithful transcription’ of the Cambridge Manuscript.[9] Nevertheless, both reviewers did raise some concerns about the edition. Withycombe argued that Griscom was unsuccessful in demonstrating how the Welsh Bruts could be used as evidence to establish the ancient ‘British’ sources of the Historia. Meanwhile, Brown raised some doubt over Griscom’s choice of manuscripts: in order for the edition to have a greater impact on scholarship, he suggested that an ‘ancient and more inaccessible’[10] version of the Welsh Brut could have been used, especially as Jesus College, Oxford MS LXI, had already been translated. Brown, however, recommended Griscom’s edition over Faral’s, claiming that ‘Mr Griscom’s edition is the one which will be used by scholars who are investigating the origins of Arthurian romance’.[11] Furthermore, the critical value of Griscom’s edition was later affirmed by J. S. P. Tatlock, who used it in his magisterial Legendary History of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Brianniae and its Early Verncular Versions (1950).

Critical legacy

In recent years, the editions of the Historia by Faral and Griscom have been criticized for not meeting the needs of modern scholarship. Both editions have been superseded by Neil Wright and Julia Crick’s work on Historia regum Britanniae, and the five volume series published by D. S Brewer includes an edition of Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568; and edition of the First Variant; a catalogue of the manuscripts of the Historia; a study of the dissemination and reception of the Historia; and an edition and translation of the Gesta Regum Britanniae. In his introduction to the Bern MS, Wright offers an assessment of the two editions. Despite the inaccuracies of Faral’s text, Wright praises his editorial approach, especially his attempt to collate the manuscripts. In comparison, Griscom’s edition receives much more criticism as the Cambridge MS he based his edition was actually corrupt in many places. Wright ultimately concludes that Faral’s edition is ‘more helpful to the reader than Griscom’s eccentric work’.[12]

Nevertheless, Griscom’s edition has not been entirely discredited. Siân Echard writes that

while Faral produced a reading edition for those who wanted to get the gist of Geoffrey on their way to Chrétien and others, Griscom makes an attempt at a truly scholarly edition.[13]

The best features of Griscom’s edition are its editorial paratexts. His introduction shows a comprehensive understanding of the manuscripts of the Historia, and he was convinced that Geoffrey’s work appeared in ‘various editions’ or recensions. The framework for his edition was also encouraged further scholarship, and he remarks that ‘I shall be content if I have succeeded in throwing open doors through which others may advance and carry forward the work of disentangling the historical from the imaginative elements in Geoffrey’s work’.[14] The authority of Geoffrey’s ‘British’ book – which for Griscom was a tangible reality – has been the subject of much Galfridian scholarship.[15] Moreover, Griscom’s catalogue of manuscripts of the Historia and the Brut y Brenhinedd enabled further study of the Latin and Welsh manuscript traditions throughout the twentieth century. Griscom must surely be commended for initiating these critical advances.

Summary

Faral and Griscom’s editions of the Historia regum Britanniae are iconic scholarly texts for two very different reasons. Faral’s edition and provided a sound text of the Historia for a generation of scholars. Griscom’s edition, however, has a greater intellectual longevity. The issue that Griscom raised about the Welsh origins of the Historia has now become a question about Geoffrey’s political allegiances, and his ideological use of ‘British’ historical sources is still open for debate.

 

[1] Acton Griscom, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth with contributions to the study of its place in early British History (London and New York: Longman, 1929), pp. 3-216 (p. 7).

[2] Albert C. Baugh, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Philology, 29.3 (Feb, 1932) : 357-365 (365).

[3] Baugh, ‘Edmond Faral’, 365.

[4] Other subjects of Loomis’ critical ridicule included J. D. Bruce, J. S. P Tatlock, and Gordon Hall Gerould.

[5] Roger Sherman Loomis, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 175-179 (179).

[6] Loomis, ‘Edmond Faral’, 179.

[7] E. G. Withycombe, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Antiquity 5.19 (Sept, 1931): 383-384 (383).

[8] Withycombe, ‘Acton Griscom’, 383.

[9] Arthur C. L. Brown, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 182-183.

[10] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[11] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[12] Neil Wright, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. Neil Wright (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1984), I, ix-lix (xlix).

[13] Siân Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature, in A History of Arthurian Scholarship, ed. Norris J. Lacy (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), pp. 62-76 (p. 65).

[14] Griscom, ‘Introduction’, p. 9.

[15] See Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature’, pp. 62-76.


Anastastija has won a week as Visiting Fellow at the new collection of Arthurian books housed in Bangor University Library, consisting of a week’s accommodation at the Management Centre in Bangor, and a £100 contribution from the IASBB towards travel costs to get there. As the winner, Anastasija has also agreed to write a report on your time in Bangor once the Visiting Fellowship is complete. The Project would like to extend its special thanks to the Management Centre in Bangor for their generous provision of a week’s accommodation, and to the IASBB for providing up to £100 in travel expenses for the winner. They would also like to thank Professor Raluca Radulescu, who has kindly agreed to meet with the Fellow to discuss research and use of the collection.

Why We Like Reading an Old Story in an Old Book

Last year, the Project consulted with several specialist academic groups, including Miltonists, Eighteenth-century studies, and the British Branch of the International Arthurian Society (IASBB). A competition was launched with the IASBB to write and submit a blog post on a topic related to reading influences or practices – including favoured locations and ways to read, academically; iconic texts; or the place that a learned society like the IASBB has in their research life. Full details of the competition can be found here. The entries were judged by Professor P.J.C. Field (Bangor) and Sue Hodges, Bangor University’s Director of Libraries and Archives. The winning entry was judged to be that written by Anastasija Ropa, who completed her BA and MA at the University of Latvia, and her PhD at Bangor University. Anastasija has won a week as Visiting Fellow at the new collection of Arthurian books housed in Bangor University Library, consisting of a week’s accommodation at the Management Centre in Bangor, and a £100 contribution from the IASBB towards travel costs to get there. As the winner, Anastasija has also agreed to write a report on her time in Bangor once the Visiting Fellowship is complete.

ias-logo-home-enAn edited version of Anastaija’s winning entry is reproduced in this blog post in full, and the Project would like to extend its congratulations to Anastasija and all the competition entrants for their stimulating, thought-provoking, and honest posts.

 

Some books are boring, some are entertaining and some change your life. Which is going to be the book to change the lives of the next generation of Arthurian scholars? Is it Malory; is it Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; or Chretien de Troyes? Or something completely different? I would say these books have their potential, and are likely to remain significant for generations of students and scholars – especially given the brilliant new critical editions that facilitate their access and study. Yet I have a feeling there is something to be said for the less common candidates in the less glossy modern editions, for a number of reasons. Firstly, new critical editions are expensive and hard to come by, especially outside the UK and US. Students in smaller universities around the world will continue to read the older editions of the romances. When I was a student, my own library had only one edition of Malory – Vinaver’s, and no edition of Chretien’s romances or Sir Gawain.

However, the expensiveness of new editions is not the whole argument. Shall I confess my love of old books, including old scholarly books, to a community of progressive academics versed in the most recent trends in humanities studies? Yes, I shall – knowing that I am not alone. At the heart of it, much as we find the latest editions valuable and indispensible in our daily we work, we look at the old editions with affection, loving them as we love the stories told by our seniors.

I will tell you two stories of how I fell in love with Arthurian studies.

Imagine a cold winter day, a scratched wooden desk and a hard chair in the old building of the Latvian National Library. The building itself has a medieval feeling to it. The windows must date from the nineteenth century, and drafts of freezing air pass in and out freely through cracks as wide as your index finger.

Did it feel like this to be in a monastic scriptorium? I wondered – a second-year English undergraduate, remembering the opening scenes of Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King (1995). Before me, the 2nd corrected edition (1971) of Malory’s works by Eugene Vinaver, which certainly seemed like a substantial volume to read in situ in the current weather conditions. I opened the blue covers, the yellowish leaves rustling under my fingers as if they belonged to a different age and a different world.

I do not remember how far I got with my reading or how much I understood. The only thing I remember is the romantic charm of the cold outside, and the yellowish leaves and the perplexing spelling and layout of the text. I was there, because, one year ago, in my first study year, we had to choose the theme of our first term paper. But this is another story.

An undergraduate student anxious to get everything right knocks on the door of the most respectable professor in the department. The student has to choose the topic for her first term paper, which should, preferably, be in one way or another related to her eventual BA paper. A serious undertaking for the first term, requiring courage, daring, and ingenuity. After scrutinising the list of offered topics, the student decides to suggest her own:

‘I would like to write my first term paper with you, and I would like to suggest my own topic.’

‘Yes, of course. What is your topic?’

‘King Arthur and the Knights of the round Table.’

‘It is a very broad topic. Could you be more specific?’

I do not want to be more specific. But, to show my respect, I decide to compromise.

‘The Grail Quest Legend?’

‘Still too broad. Maybe you could choose one character or one aspect of the Grail quest?’

I really want to avoid limiting myself to one character or one aspect. There is perplexed silence on my part. But, genuinely respecting the professor whom I address, I make one desperate effort:

‘The Grail Quest in Celtic Literature.’

‘It is still too broad, but you can narrow it down while working on your paper.’

This is how my career in Arthurian studies began.

Indeed, the Grail quest in Celtic literature is not only too broad a topic; it is something of a non-topic! There is no Grail in Celtic literature before the French Vulgate romances were translated into Welsh. But, oblivious of the difficulties waylaying my newly selected path of studies, I rushed to the Faculty Library, to the British Council Library and to the National Library in quest of all texts Celtic.

There was a manageable amount of medieval Celtic texts containing cauldrons and cups and other Grail-like objects. Yet the text I remember best was in the Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, and it was the story of Culhwch and Olwen. As you may remember, it is the story of a young lad who tricked and blackmailed King Arthur and his warriors into looking for the lad’s future bride, whom no one had ever seen. Given the number of beautiful and noble ladies at Arthur’s court, Culhwch’s choice to seek Olwen may seem somewhat illogical, but this is how medieval romance works.

The most memorable part of the story is, of course, the list of characters present at Arthur’s court, most of whom we never see again in this or any other Mabinogion story. Names, some with descriptions and short stories attached: boozers, eaters, grotesquely ugly or impossibly heroic people. The list is nearly impossible to get through in one go, but not without its rewards. Somewhere towards the middle one stops trying to understand who all these people are and why they should be mentioned there, and begins to wonder if it is possible to find out more about these people and their achievements.

There was a certain attraction to Lady Guest’s translation: flowing and elegant language, absence of distraction in the form of footnotes. The latter was also its limitation: once you have read the story, and wanted to find out more, the only place was the preface to the edition, which did not tell much about the amazing list of characters. I do not think that more would have been available in an editorial note, but this silence was vexing, and made me want to read more. In fact, every piece of medieval Celtic literature I could lay my hands on in quest of the elusive members of Arthur’s court.

So, what is the bottom line of it all? That all students should read old books in uncomfortable surroundings before becoming real Arthurians? Maybe not. Maybe the real trick is to have a good edition, which either gives you the text as it is or gives you a readable translation of it, free of excessive notes. Ideally, the notes telling you everything about the text and a little more would be handily available, at the end of your volume or in a separate one, to satisfy the curiosity excited by the text itself. This description reminds of Professor Peter Field’s new edition of Malory: an ideal edition of the romance of all time, but, alas, this edition is unlikely to enter any of the local libraries in the near future. So, I turn back to my 1971 edition by Vinaver.

 

The Project would like to extend its special thanks to the Management Centre in Bangor for their generous provision of a week’s accommodation, and to the IASBB for providing up to £100 in travel expenses for the winner. They would also like to thank Professor Raluca Radulescu, who has kindly agreed to meet with the Fellow to discuss research and use of the collection.