Reasoning Without Words: Envisioning the Multimodal Thesis and its Challenges

This guest post is by Katrina Foxton, a third year PhD student at the University of York, Department of Archaeology. She’s writing her thesis about a historic building in York, which is being adapted into a mixed-use community venue. Her analysis will involve a dynamic Prezi map which illustrates the ongoing work undertaken by herself and volunteers. Her work (a mixture of text, image and hyperlinking) is multimodal. Below, she gives her thoughts on the position of multimodal research after a meeting organised by the British Library.

National Library in Vienna

Figure 1. Art, text, sculpture all hold sway in the library of humankind –National Library in Vienna, image by author.

In April 2016, my MA supervisor, Dr Sara Perry, invited me to a meeting with the British Library to explore how PhD theses could manifest as knowledge that is not necessarily written. We were to discuss how multimodal (mixed media) methods can develop an argument within PhD research and the subsequent difficulties in submitting non-textual work. This Multimodal Thesis meeting was organised and hosted by the British Library’s EThOS team (who hold over 400,000 theses in their digital repository). It was also attended by a group of archaeological students, Dr Debbie Maxwell, TFTV lecturer, from the University of York and researchers from The Academic book of the Future project. Amongst us were representatives from Internet Archaeology, Judith Winters, and Director of Publications at the American Numismatic Society, Andrew Reinhard. There was an international presence from the States, Canada and New Zealand (and some of us had to be skyped in!)

As we discussed the potential of multimodal work, some exciting examples came to the fore (including a thesis which had been submitted to the British Library with a cassette tape, years after the emergence of later technologies such as CDROM and USB). The variety of multimodal work is the result of different technologies and material forms—and a good definition can be found here at the MODE website, Institute of Education. Multimodal work also often has connections to participatory work. Here are some examples:

It should be noted that in this discussion our group was not representative for the whole of academia – there was a high percentage of archaeologists in the room. But as archaeologists, we felt confident talking about different modes of knowing because within practice we are caught between ways of ‘looking’ at material remains and translating (interpreting) an understanding of them into writing or drawing. Archaeologists also make use of such technologies as 3D models, digital photographs, and virtual realities. We are also extremely reflective on how these impact knowledge gain (for further reading into this area, see below).

Beyond archaeology however, the point about the multimodal work is that researchers across the academy gain valuable insight if they experiment and know through different modes. This gain is often achieved through praxis or ‘practice-based’ research, a methodology which advocates knowledge-gain through multimodal techniques, often adopted within in arts research. An extensive report on practice-based research by Candy (2006) gives the rudiments of this approach. At the meeting, we were keen to hear about this kind of research and how submission issues were handled across different social disciplines, because there are definite challenges at university, departmental and library levels in accepting any non-textual work. In particular, the following challenges or questions came to the fore.

Handling, storing, and accessing non-text-based research outputs

Firstly, we discussed how, at the library level, there are the practicalities of handling, storing and providing access to thesis research outputs which are not text based. Traditional book formats sit nicely on shelves, are catalogued, and findable through search indexes. The digital equivalent – PDFs – are also pretty easy to describe, index, store, and access; after all, they are really just books dressed up as digital files – same structure, pagination, chapters, start and finish. When it comes to massive data files, or computer games or apps, then not only are these hard to organise along traditional library lines but options for accessing them are equally tricky. PhD researchers often seek to enable non-researchers and research participants to access research for a guaranteed amount of time (often ten years): is this at risk with multimodal PhD research? Whose role is it to ensure long-term preservation, readability, access to the underlying read software, and version updates? Another interesting question is whether university libraries – the natural home for their PhDs – are technically capable of taking on this role in any case? And, as Dr Perry has raised, in the interests of longer term future-proofing, a limitation may be placed on the objectives and the scope of the argument that an aspiring researcher wishes to lay out.

Embracing multimodal research outputs in academia

National Library, Vienna

Figure 2. “a book is not an image of the world” (Deleuze and Guttari 2003, 11). Imagine a library where some of the books were filled with puzzles, photographic essays holographric performances, music and film pieces…? Books in National Library, Vienna, image by author

Secondly, we discussed whether there may be some wariness on the part of academic committees, heads of research, and even PhD supervisors, to embrace the world of multimodal research outputs. As a result, the libraries are left grappling with the problems without the direction and support that those at a higher-level in the university could be providing. It’s widely agreed that there is still a need for at least part of the ‘thesis’ to be a written, critical analysis of the research. But does it make sense, for example, for a student to describe the way a ‘mobile app’ works by using written words rather than allow the student to submit the app itself as part of the PhD thesis, simply because the rules say the thesis must be a bound volume? Arguably, a vital moment of reckoning lies in the moment an examiner ‘opens’ a thesis, with their expectations of what they are to examine and corresponding skills to do so. Therefore, in the aspiration towards creating new knowledge, the PhD examination process must also drive the communication of excellent research (and certainly towards the innovative and the original!). At this time then, how can examiners – and others involved in the flow of new knowledge – be involved and embrace new technologies to ensure the research is communicated and built on by others?

There are a lot of questions here. This is the beginning of an ongoing investigation and, to build momentum, the value of the multi-modal thesis must be demonstrated across a wider sphere.

 

Digital Conversation event: British Library, 29 September 2016

To this end, I’m drawing attention to a British Library “Digital Conversation” event on 29 September. A panel of PhD students (past and present) will describe their own text and non-text thesis outputs, and discuss ways to open up access to and acceptance of multi-modal, non-text research outputs. You are all invited to join us and support what is essentially a call of action towards reconfiguring the PhD thesis at a quintessential level.

Please book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/digital-conversations-british-library-ethos-multimedia-phd-theses-tickets-27326014846. to claim your free ticket.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Followin Katrina on Twitter: @kfoxton9


Further reading materials

Archaeology in relation to visual-knowledge

Hodder, I and Hutson, S. (2003) Reading the Past: Current approaches to interpretation in     archaeology. (3rd Ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Morgan, C. L. (2009) ‘(Re)Building Catalhoyuk: Changing virtual reality in archaeology’,      Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, 5: 468-87.

Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmore, T., and Witmore, C. (2012) Archaeology: The Discipline of           Things. Berkely: University of California Press.

Shanks, M. and Tilley, C. (1987) Re-Constructing Archaeology: theory and practice,             Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shanks, M. and Webmoor, T. (2013) ‘A political economy of visual media in archaeology’, in           Bonde, S. & Houston, S. (eds.) Re-presenting the Past: archaeology through image     and text, Providence: Brown University, 85‐108.

Advertisements

Creative writing theses: guidelines on discoverability and open access

On 5th May 2016, the Project attended a meeting at the British Library to discuss the issue of discoverability of creative writing theses. The meeting was organised by Dr Susan L. Greenberg (Senior Lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of English and Creative Writing). She acted on behalf of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) whose remit includes supporting the work of creative writing academics in the UK. The meeting brought together leading academics in the field of creative writing, as well as library staff from the British Library and university libraries. Discussions expanded well beyond the initial topic of discoverability, touching upon a wide range of issues. This blog post is a summary of the discussions that took place, and includes some important advice for those submitting creative writing PhD theses.

Discoverability

The initial topic of conversation was discoverability. A core concern is that it is difficult for researchers to find creative writing theses, particularly without an author name, and it is also difficult to advise students on how to find them. Dr Greenberg outlined this in an earlier blog post, but the conversation at the British Library meeting extended the scope of debate. The following issues may hamper the discoverability of creative writing theses:

  • The title of the thesis is often metaphorical, and may not be explicit.
  • Often there are no abstracts.
  • Accompanying metadata is often unclear, or even missing altogether.
  • The thesis can be in two parts – creative work and critical analysis – but this is not always the case. How are the different parts catalogued and searched for?
  • At an institutional level, the forms that must be filled in by PhD students are designed for other disciplines, and may not contain the fields required to make creative writing theses discoverable.
  • Creative theses that incorporate a media element cannot currently be deposited in EThOS.
  • International barriers exist: for example, a UK researcher faces difficulties finding and accessing theses from Australia.
  • There is a lack of consensus across institutions about terminology: creative writing PhDs are catalogued and described on EThOS in different ways, for instance:
    • PhD in Creative Writing
    • PhD in English Literature
    • PhD in English with Creative Writing
    • PhD in Critical and Creative Writing

EThOS does not have an option to catalogue a thesis under ‘creative writing’, so it must be included in the abstract/keywords if it is to appear.

In the meeting it became clear that there are numerous reasons for the difficulties outlined above, including a lack of clarity about who is responsible for training students in the use of electronic repositories. Should this be the role of specialist subject supervisors, graduate schools, or research training departments? As increasing technical demands are made on researchers, it is an issue that must be resolved.

Although the day was ostensibly about discoverability, it soon emerged that there were several other interconnected issues around creative writing theses in current and emerging academic and publishing contexts, which are described in the rest of this post.

Open Access mandates and institutional repositories

The major issues seemed to hinge on Open Access. UK university institutions now mandate their researchers to deposit their work in Open Access repositories, which has specific implications for creative writing researchers, as outlined below.

Intellectual Property

When EThOS was established, research by Charles Oppenheim on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concluded that publishing theses in repositories posed a very low risk to the rights of authors. But this is not the case for creative writing theses. While academic publishers are by and large prepared to publish a thesis available on a repository as long as it has been substantially revised, trade publishers may refuse publication of a creative writing theses in a similar position. Greenberg summarised the issue: ‘Having a pre-existing version anywhere, on any conditions, seems to be anathema.’

Version control

Creative writing theses that are later developed by publishers may be amended, ranging from the correction of minor typos to the incorporation of major plot changes. As one writer-academic stated at the meeting: ‘I’d much rather people accessed the revised, published version than the legally available version in a repository.’

Piracy

There is a major issue with piracy; one academic reported the example of a novel that became available as a free Torrent download within weeks of publication.

Embargoes

Researchers have the option to place their thesis under embargo for a fixed period – usually three to five years. This action can help with some of the issues discussed above, but prompts questions of its own. The first concerns knowledge: do all PhD students know that this option is open to them? If not, whose responsibility is it to make them aware? The second is the fixed-term nature of the embargo: can “never” be an option? And whose responsibility is it to renew embargoes once they expire, the library or the author? Libraries will probably not have current contact details for authors after 5 years, and the authors may forget.

From the non-author point of view, embargoes can have an adverse effect on the dissemination of research, impacting for example on individual scholars who would like to access the thesis to inform their own work. How is this overcome?

Policies on embargoes currently operate on a university-by-university level: perhaps national guidance on policy for creative writing theses is required.

Ethics

Creative writing theses that involve nonfiction accounts of living subjects raise specific issues. One participant described the case of a PhD supervisee writing a memoir which included anecdotes gathered from family funerals and other events. In the social sciences, the default assumption is that all identities are anonymised before thesis submission, but in the case of creative nonfiction (as with journalism) full anonymity is not always possible or desirable. This can create difficulties with ethics committees, because the projects do not fit into standard models built with other disciplines in mind. A different form and different process is required, but how will this be brought about?

Clearly, there are many complex issues and questions to be addressed:

  • Who should be the gatekeepers for creative writing theses: libraries and institutional repositories, or the authors?
  • How should this gatekeeping be managed so that creative writing theses are available for research, but not so publicly available that they hinder trade publication?
  • How are creative writing PhD students being trained in writing abstracts and metadata; using repositories; copyright? Who should deliver and teach this training?

All of the issues boil down to the fact that creative writing is a very distinct discipline with unique requirements. As Greenberg stated: ‘Creative writing as a relatively new discipline has had to constantly negotiate its way through the academic system in order to be recognised.’ These issues are highlighted anew by the mandate to move towards Open Access. Creative writing academics present at the meeting agree that now is the time to address them.

Practical Guidance for Creative Writing PhD Theses

One immediate practical outcome of the meeting is the launch of a new one-page document, backed by NAWE and the British Library, which gives staff and students advice on how to submit the electronic copy of their PhD thesis. The document has a Creative Commons license, allowing universities and other organisations to share it freely. You can download the document using the link below and share it freely.

NAWE-BL-General-Guidelines (pdf)

The Project would like to extend its thanks to all attendees of the meeting, in particular Dr Susan Greenberg for organising it, and Dr Ros Barber for creating the initial draft of the guidelines document.

Life and times of an independent researcher: Publish or be damned?

This guest post is written by Catherine White, an independent researcher currently writing a biography on May Morris – the daughter of William Morris, Pre-Raphaelite, Socialist, and leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Catherine met the Project’s Research Associate, Rebecca Lyons, at the recent two-day conference on May Morris, co-organised by the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre, The William Morris Society, and the William Morris Gallery. Catherine’s experience of writing a distinctly interdisciplinary crossover book (i.e. one with appeal to both academia and the general public, and which crosses several areas of interest) and searching for a publisher whilst both an independent researcher and a new mother touches upon several key areas of the Project. Here she openly shares that experience.

May Morris

Image of May Morris from the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress.

In 2011, I saw a reference to May Morris. I had studied the Pre-Raphaelites and their circle for my Art History degree but had never come across her before. I subsequently found out she was a designer, embroiderer, jewellery-maker, writer, Socialist, part of the Arts & Crafts movement, and the daughter of William Morris. I was hooked. There has never been a sole biography of May, and so I decided that I would write one. Just after this, by sheer coincidence, I was introduced to a lady whose great aunt had worked for May Morris. She has generously allowed me to research her family archive, which contains an unpublished memoir and letters – and the rest is (art) history.

At the time I had a young daughter at home, and I took the chance to read as much as I could, whenever I could, to prepare for writing the book. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, any second-hand book I wanted to order could be delivered to my door. For those that were outrageously priced, I discovered that I could order in books from the British Library to my local library. Once my daughter started preschool, I used the two mornings a week to write. It was occasionally frustrating to have to leave a section mid-sentence, but it was mainly beneficial to have thinking time between each instalment. I recently came across a book called The Ladybird book of The Mid-life Crisis (Michael Joseph 2015), which had an illustration with the text caption of ‘Gwen has a 2:1 in Ancient History. She always planned to write a series of novels about Boadicea. Gwen is covered in apple sauce and has spent the afternoon clapping.’ Luckily it proved possible to combine the two (apple sauce and the book). It doesn’t seem to have done my daughter any harm, except that she has grown up sure that May Morris must be part of our family somehow.

In 2013, I approached my first publisher. Whilst knowing this would not be easy, I was fairly hopeful that the book was an attractive proposition because it was intended for a general rather than a specific audience. Although it is footnoted, and has unpublished information of interest to the academic community, May’s life has an appeal for a much wider audience, including those interested in the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts & Crafts Movement, or social and political history, including the changing role of women – plus did I mention that May had a significant liaison with George Bernard Shaw? Yet this concept has actually brought its own challenges because it does not fit in a traditional publishing box. Publishers have expressed an interest in the proposal, but so far say that it doesn’t quite fit with their catalogue. It appears that academic publishers are more interested in a sole subject book, but this is not a purely academic book. I want this book to be accessible because it has such a great story to tell. An academic price tag of perhaps £50 or more would take it out of the reach of my core audience; those having heard of May Morris, or visiting an historic house associated with her, are unlikely to make such a purchase on a whim. General interest publishers could make this book affordable, but seem more wary of investing in a book on the single subject of May.

My other problem is that this book has to be illustrated. May Morris was responsible for making exquisite textiles and jewellery, and these have to be included, and in colour – which doubles the cost of production. This cost also means that self-publishing isn’t viable, nor was the offer from a publisher (my favourite rejection to date) who said they would publish it if I found £10,000 or a gallery willing to purchase 1000 copies of my book!

So where does this leave me? I am continuing to write the book, of course, and continuing to submit it to publishers. Finding a publisher has never been easy, and even May Morris despaired of finding one for her final book, which was eventually produced in 1936, just two years before her death. Overall, so far, I do not feel my book has suffered from not having a confirmed publisher; it has meant it could evolve at its own pace without the pressure of a deadline. There is a tipping point on the horizon though, which is a major May Morris exhibition planned by the William Morris Gallery in the autumn of 2017. Confirming a publisher now would enable me to prioritise my writing and aim for completion in time for the exhibition, but without one, I need to continue to combine writing with other work. But watch this (hopefully book-shaped) space!

#AcBookWeek: Book sprints and collaborative ways of working

This guest post has been written by Dr Spencer Jordan (Assistant Professor in Creative Writing, University of Nottingham). Dr Jordan led a book sprint with ten students at the University of Nottingham during Academic Book Week (9-16 November 2015), which involved writing a book in just three days. The challenge was a huge success, and this post outlines the event itself, as well as some of the lessons learned, which have broader implications for thinking about the way we work as academics.
University of Nottingham book sprint
Could you write, edit and publish a book in three days? That was the challenge I set ten first-year School of English students at the University of Nottingham who applied to my open invitation. The challenge used the methodology of ‘book sprinting’, where a book is produced collaboratively over a very short period of time, normally between three or five days. In part the challenge was a practical examination of academic publishing, as part of Academic Book Week. But it was also a fantastic way for English students to immerse themselves in the real-life practicalities of book publishing.The event took place between the 9th and 11th November 2015. I acted as the facilitator but essentially everything was done by the students. It was decided early on that the book would be a student’s guide to starting university, a sort of rough guide to student life that would complement the existing, more official, documentation supplied by the University and UCAS. Interestingly, it was decided to include factual as well as creative responses, including poems and short stories as well as photographs taken by the students.

As you can imagine the three days involved lots of writing. Everything was done using Google Documents, so that all copy could be instantly shared and collaboratively edited from any networked computer. This saved an enormous amount of time and meant that the students could continue working well into the night, if they wanted to (which some did). By the end of day two we had over 25,000 words, as well as a variety of photographs, poems, and stories. Day three was where the students brought all this together into the final format of the document, placing case studies, student profiles and photographs alongside each section. A front cover was completed, with a name – ‘An Insider’s Guide to Starting University’ – aimed at students going through the very experiences that they had gone through themselves just months before. Harriet Williams was one of the students involved. Her interest in publishing and a desire to understand more about the process led her to volunteer. She said: “Taking part in the Book Sprint was the one of the best opportunities I could have had in my first year here at Nottingham. It was a brilliant way to meet like-minded people in order to write something meaningful and useful.”

The legacy of the book sprint isn’t just the book. It’s also the video that Eve Wood and Simon Barnett took over the three days and then edited. I think the video shows that the book sprint really did make an important contribution to The Academic Book of the Future. The students worked collaboratively, mainly online, using cloud computing. This allowed them to work 24/7, very often in different places. The students were able to make collaborative decisions, either face to face, or virtually. This meant that they were able to maximise their time, making as much use of the three days as possible. Sometimes as academics, particularly in the Arts and Humanities, we forget about collaboration. In my own work, collaboration has been laborious and difficult. And yet the benefits of collaborative working, particularly interdisciplinary work, can add a new dimension to our research. This synthesis comes not only through a shared academic interest but also through a willingness to engage with what might be called a collaborative methodology. I think the students have shown us the way here through the three-day Book Sprint, and I personally want to thank them.

The full video of the book sprint can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUABtFOnx74&feature=youtu.be

The Academic Book of the Future project would like to thank Dr Jordan, all of the students who took part in the book sprint, and Neil Smyth, for organising this wonderful activity for Academic Book Week.

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.

#AcBookWeek: Ecologies of Publishing Futures

On the 23rd November 2015 The Royal College of Art hosted a symposium to discuss the Ecologies of Publishing Futures. The symposium asked ‘How do designers engage in new ecologies and what is the future of publishing?’ Academics, designers, storytellers, publishers, and students spoke about this from international perspectives and debated over the book and its lifecycle, as well as the role of writing, designing, and the processes of mediating, distributing, and reading.

Amongst the speakers was Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow and an AHRC Digital Transformation theme Leadership Fellow. He spoke from the perspective of a medievalist who has spent great deal of time studying manuscripts and records (writing his PhD thesis on the record of the Peasant’s Revolt 1381). Throughout his research, Prescott stated he was struck by the need to understand the wealth of information as physical artefacts, as well as just reading them as manuscripts. This work inspired him to continue on as a curator at the British Library, where he was part of a digitisation project which used special lighting techniques to discover the hidden letters underneath the repaired manuscript of Beowulf – burnt in a fire in 1731 and repaired in the nineteenth century. (Note: The Beowulf manuscript has been in The British Library’s possession since 1973 and a digitised version is now available to browse on their website, along with some additional information, here:http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beowulf)

Prescott spoke about how this work and his time at the British Library made him conscious of the hugely varied material forms of textuality. Historical documents can range from clay tablets to sound files and moving images, and, he argued, digital technology can help convey the wide-ranging nature of historical textuality. Digital technology also allows closer contact between libraries, archives, and museums. According to Prescott the important thing to take away from this is that dialogue with artists and designers is essential in articulating fresh perspectives on engagement with historical material. An example he cited was an art project by Fabio Antinori called Data Flags, which was exhibited at the V&A last year. He used conductive ink, which is often thought of as an analogue art form but can turn paper into circuits. Through other examples Prescott suggested that the textuality of art is always changing and shifting with the times and proved that the boundary between primary object, publication and interpretation is starting to be fundamentally restated. Prescott summed up his talk by ending on a somewhat cynical note: while all the possibilities he mentioned are there, people are bit taking advantage of them. His view is that the scholarly environment for an undergraduate today is less media-rich than it was forty years ago. Textbooks during his time as an undergraduate explored the potential of new printing methods, none of which have been followed through on.

Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Penguin Random House, had been given a brief to provide a provocation for the event on the state of digital publishing, so what he provided was a ‘where-we-are-now’ overview to provoke discussion and invite debate. He acknowledged the changes digital publishing is making to the publishing industry and talked about it from the perspective of someone who is in the midst of the shifting landscape.

Using an analogy of William Golding’s The Inheritors Franklin compared the plot of that novel, the collision of Neanderthal men and women with Homo sapiens, the people who would inherit the earth from them with the current state of the publishing industry. The analogy here being the moment of transition between print and digital, a short and historical moment of co-existence. And Franklin suggests that they can thrive with each other instead of being viewed as competitors. He recognises the urgency and potentially demoralising nature of change, but adds that it can also be exciting, depending on your viewpoint. As a digital publisher at Penguin Random House he motivates his team to explore the bleeding edges of this publishing transformation.

During this year Franklin stated he has seen some interesting and willful misinterpretations of what is happening in publishing. The fact of the matter is that 25%+ of publishers’ revenues are coming in via digital and that is not going to reverse. The “takeover” however, has not happened as quickly as people thought it would and Franklin states this is a testament to the formidable power of the printed book. Franklin is adamant that the word processor has not stopped writers continuing and developing the novel form so why should the innovation stop there? Franklin urges publishers to continue to be innovative with change and see what can come from it.

Professor Teal Triggs of the RCA stated that by talking about “ecologies” of the publishing industry, we can strive to understand the process of the lifecycle better and whether proposed models are going to be relevant. It’s important to look at the entire lifecycle, not just the editorial or author aspects but the design and distribution as well. Creative people think differently and their design thinking process can be a catalyst for forwar- thinking throughout the whole industry.

 

See Dan’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/@PRHDigital/an-earthquake-in-the-petrified-forest-86f6ffa5c85d#.jpyxy6pmq

See Andrews’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/digital-riffs/are-we-doomed-to-a-word-of-pdfs-11f57edaf926#.9r1w3lyh2

See twitter hashtag #bookfutures for more information about the symposium and other related events.