Musings of a domesticated scholar

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Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Map, v 2.0

I recently had the pleasure of presenting my mapping project at SHARP‘s Digital Projects Showcase. I’m in the middle of writing a reflection/call-to-arms on my experience there, but wanted to share my materials sooner. So here they are: images from my handouts and the newest version of the map.


A group of annalistic texts begun in the 9th century and, in one case, extending until the 12th.

It includes a variety of events: birth of Christ; natural and supernatural phenomena; royal births, coronations, deaths, and burials; consecrations; invasions; laws; property endowments; international and inter-family drama; the building (and burning) of towns.

A: the earliest surviving manuscript of the Chronicle; end date 1001; significant interest in Winchester

B: irregular annal numbers; end date 977; updated regnal list from A

C: “chronicle of chronicles” because of its sources; ends in the middle of 1066

D: integrates/conflates sources incorporated by C as one chunk; ends 1079; northern interest

E: longest chronicle version; end date 1154; begins in Old English and ends in Middle English

F: Bilingual

G: Copy of A


In content alone, the Chronicle is an important part of early English history and literature (listory? histerature?) And unlike its contemporary chronicles on the European continent, it is uniquely vernacular. Some versions contain important regnal lists; some include poetry; they all tell a different story of England, documenting in varied narratives of the arrival of Brutus, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, missionaries, and bishops. Version D has the longest treatment of a woman in it, describing (and perhaps defending?) Margaret of Scotland’s marriage. The same version (D) actually ends mid-word in the annal entry for 1079; version C ends halfway through the entry for 1066—on the Stamford Bridge—and before the Battle of Hastings.

Although annals seem to be primarily focused on time, these are actually just as preoccupied by space. Indeed, location is so important to these texts that until recently, most were referred to as the chronicle of a place name: Winchester Chronicle, Abingdon Chronicle, Worcester Chronicle, and Peterborough Chronicle.  But these names didn’t only show the onomastic interest of the chronicles’ contents; they more accurately reflect the scholarly effort to trace their transmission history—multi-layered narrative.


There are plenty of issues surrounding the cartography of complex texts. Here are some that I dealt with in Google Earth: 
1) The map of Anglo-Saxon “England” changes over the course of these texts:

 2) The transmission histories are complicated, at best:
3) There are practical issues of data selection and entry when not all annals have traceable place-names:


But Google Maps Engine has just come out, and that’s allowed me to sort and change displays. 

It sorts data by date and label by event (or vice versa):
It layers multiple versions (10th century A and E shown here, labels hidden):
It allows me to build a database within the mapping program itself:
Still, there are some kinks to work out before I move forward. Consider, for example, what happens when I try to map regions like Wessex and Mercia:
It’s not a pretty sight! Nevertheless, I’ve gotten great help from the UNC librarians and fellow SHARPists. More on both very, very soon.

Til then, 
Map on!

A manifesto

I’ve recently contributed to HASTAC’S Future of Higher Education Forum, “inspired by a recent workshop called Rethinking Humanities Graduate Education, which was organized by the Scholarly Communication Institute (SCI) and the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI)” (

We were asked, 

“If you could change one component about your own academic program, what would it be, and why?”  

You can bet your next holiday Starbucks drink that I was (and have been for some time) quite ready to answer. 

via Debra Rae Cohen

Here’s a brief run-down of my experiences, disappointments, and minor miracles over the past few years. At the end you’ll find my mini-manifesto on graduate education. 

What do you think? What would you change? I open these questions to those within and outside of academia because I think it’s an important question to raise about one’s professional development track, no matter what the profession is. 

Answer: coursework/exams

 had a great two years in my master’s program, but found my PhD program difficult from the very start. I’ve spent the past two and a half years taking courses of no interest to me or relation to what I’d like to study. Perhaps I should have spent that time trying to publish something that didn’t matter to my future work, but frankly I was so disheartened that I spent most of my energy just convincing myself to stay in the program. With little faculty support and a massive, hard-to-navigate administration (who three years later still has my last name wrong), I passed these years in social and academic isolation. 

If the emotional toll that this system has on us is extraordinary, the anxiety is made even more accute by the exam process.
I don’t mind that PhD exams exist, of course. But I do mind that I’m responsible for the equivalent of 2 years of coursework in material that I’ve had to read on my own, outside of my classes. If courses don’t matter to my exams,  I shouldn’t have had to take them– or not four semesters’ worth, anyway. And now that I’m interested in pursuing digital humanities, I feel that I’ve run out of time to commit to classes on programming or other interdiciplinary integrations to my field.
The members of my exam committee have been extraordinarilly understanding about my situation, and I’m quite grateful for their support. Still, in a conversation about funding by, support in, and general funcitonality of higher education, my case illustrates the too-frequently ignored example of an outdated system that costs the university money and the students time– time that is especially precious to those who want to have families, and whose biological clock seems occasionally at odds with our professional plans.
I am not as productive (and by that I mean as published) as those who had the luxury of faculty support during their coursework years. Indeed, of the three medievalists in my cohort, I’m the only one who made it through to the exam stage. And now that I’m here, and now that I have a bit of support, I wonder if it will all be worth it in the end, given what so many people in the third year of their PhDs have already accomplished.
This is not a situation unique to my program or even my school. There needs to be a re-evaluation of what’s expected from PhDs and a re-assesment of how programs can position us to be successful– within and outside of our programs.
I call for a radical streamlining that promotes faculty-student interaction and mentorship, interdisciplinary graduate courses, and a plan of study tailored to students’ scholarly interests and professional goals. Such a system would be inherently and necessarily transparent; it would reduce administrative red tape and demystify the process of applying for fellowships or assistantships. This new system would require and reward mentorship by making it easier for students to participate in professors’ research or teaching. By inspiring and fostering collaboration, this system would make candidates and professors more productive and more valuable. 
Most importantly, a new system would help students spend less but better time in their programs. 

Until next time, stay radical, readers.

Map recap/update

It occurs to me that some of you might not know about the mapping project. Those of you who do might want more information on my sources and my progress. Here is an update on what the project is, how it’s going, and why I think it’s important.

Last spring I was inspired by Martin Foys’s project to assemble a digital map of all versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Most editions of the Chronicle are collations: that is, they take some annals from each and present them as one text. I find this misleading, at the very best.

Nine manuscripts or fragments exist:
 A-Prime The Parker Chronicle (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173)
A Cottonian Fragment (British Museum, Cotton MS. Otho B xi, 2)
B The Abingdon Chronicle I (British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius A vi.)
C The Abingdon Chronicle II (British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius B i.)
D The Worcester Chronicle (British Museum, Cotton MS.Tiberius B iv.)
E The Laud (or “Peterborough”) Chronicle (Bodleian, MS.Laud 636)
F The Bilingual Canterbury Epitome (British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A viii.)
H Cottonian Fragment (British Museum, Cotton MS. Domitian A ix.)
I An Easter Table Chronicle (British Museum, Cotton MS.Caligula A xv.)

I  began my project by mapping the invasion sites–inherently geographical entries– of manuscript E:

Ninth century invasion sites, Peterborough

Clicking on a location exhibits the place name, date, facsimile, transcription, and translation of the annal:

Annals mentioning Thanet

This project is part of a larger effort to create a searchable map of the Peterborough Chronicle and, eventually, to incorporate optional layers for the other Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as well. I began working with a programmer to create a database that will sort the sites by place, event, and date range. A complete database will make the map  an interactive site unto itself, reinvigorating the scholarly discussions of empire, borderlands, nation-building, warfare, changes in the English language and paleography, pre-printing book creation and dissemination, and sociological issues embedded in the texts’ chronological structures.

This summer I began my second pre-database stage: comparative mapping. This map  charts sites from 10th c annals exclusive to any version of the Chronicle, displaying the regional and temporal privileging of each. Again, this is part of a larger endeavor to incorporate all mentioned places in each variant into a searchable, layered map/website.

HOLLER. 10th century locations exclusive to each version.

One can easily spot emerging patterns, which is encouraging because the versions’ relationships with one another are notoriously difficult to trace.

Theoretically this is a project of both abstraction and production: in limiting the contexts and locations within these annals, each user will be creating a new object to be interpreted—one that sheds light on relationships within and among the textual variants. The evolution of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is notoriously difficult to discern, but perhaps visualizing its texts on a map will help us see new connections among them in what Franco Moretti might call a “diagram of forces.”

Yet even at this stage, the map is more than a diagram. Google Earth visually contextualizes the Chronicle’s events; zooming the viewers to particular locations and offering related hyperlinks, the map creates living memories for sites that usually don’t have any registers for modern readers. The zoom and linking features also call attention to the multiple temporalities with which we’re working.

The Chronicle Map’s practical uses range from referential index of place-names to digital compilation of the Chronicle’s texts; from battle-field map to paleography app. And can you imagine the teaching applications?! Importantly, creating a space for non-specialists to visually explore the chronicles and their content, especially in relationship to one another, will improve their accessibility and bring the texts into medievalists’ mainstream discourse.

Chronicle map and identity crisis

Hello, readers! Wishing everyone as lovely a fall as ours here in Durham.

I thought I’d follow up with some more detail about my extracurricular meetings and their consequences. 

I’ve been lucky to attend working groups, discussions, lectures, and meetings about integrating the digital into my research (and department), but I’m not much more experienced in digital development than I was when I started the project almost a year ago. 
The advice I’ve received has been thoughtful and motivating. So now I find myself in a strange place– knowing what I need to learn, but not knowing how or when to learn it. Drupal might work (and indeed, a friend of mine is working on it). TEI could help. Omeka seems promising.
I can’t even tell if this is my fantasy or reality.
Yet here are those pesky exams, and foreign language flashcards, and my students, and our dogs. And after that will be the prospectus, and foreign language reading, and my students, and our dogs.  And then the dissertation…you see where I’m going with this. I don’t want to abandon textual study for a digital degree, so how can I justify spending all this time and on learning something that–it sounds strange to say–I shouldn’t be learning right now? 

That’s precisely what I was wondering when I attended Dyan Elliott’s “Counterfactual Twelfth Century” presentation in lieu of the “Meaning of Digital Humanities” talk today. I began tweeting (with permission) but soon found myself distracted. I was missing those great phrases, interesting linkages, and difficult names. I was trying to share but losing the presentation’s most intricate and poetic points.
To whom did I owe this reporting, anyway? Was I doing this for notes, as a listening exercise, or because it was digital and “that’s what I do”? No matter the reason for trying, I was bad at it. My tweets weren’t helpful or detailed. I was losing on both sides. I had to choose medieval or digital in yet another moment of multidisciplinary multitasking. But here’s the catch: I didn’t want to choose.
Because whether it’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicles or Semi-Saxon dream visions, this stuff is just too damn cool for people to miss.
I remembered that I want this Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Map because the texts are difficult, marginalized, and under-studied. I want to make them accessible, relatable, and fluid. I want the map to prompt new scholars with new interpretations and new interests. That’s why I was at a medieval event– that’s why I was tweeting there, too.
So I’m back to feeling good about my digital inklings. I feel justified in my interest. I won’t let difficulty (and at times, seeming impossibility) distract me from what I know– what I see– is important. 
But now I need some help. Conversation and advice, of course, but more drastically perhaps, practice and experience.
Until next time, wishing everyone strength in their convictions and help where they need.


Thanks for returning, kind readers!

I’ve been delightfully busy: conference abstracts, baby showers, cross-country birthdays, digital humanities meetings, TEI presentations, Chaucer lectures, Chronicle mapping, and perhaps most importantly, becoming a HASTAC scholar

I’m thrilled to be joining “a network of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer us for shaping how we learn, teach, communicate, create, and organize our local and global communities.”

As a scholar, I will “blog, host online forums, develop new projects and organize events…around rethinking pedagogy, learning, research & academia for the digital age.

I’ve just posted a couple of entries on their website, so I thought I ‘d try cross-posting myself, in the spirit of experimentation and sharing (it’s pasted below). 

Until soon, promising a much-sooner next time!

Pinterest. Instagram. Steampunk. Cosplay. Food trucks. Mumblecore. Anti-perfumes. World of Warcraft. Plus, typography goes shopping; Apple and value; True Blood and queer brand communities; and place-making and food ways at a Filipino restaurant near you (or not).”

What an opener, no?! Julia Lupton continues the blog post about her design and marketing courses here:
She really got me thinking about the connection between how and why I’ve been hoping to integrate new technologies into my own classroom.
I came to medieval literature through medieval architecture (thank you, Annabel Wharton), and I’ve maintained an interest in teaching my students about how we interact with texts as well as in space. In fact, I recently learned about a fascinating social sciences unit taught by some of my colleagues in first-year composition. During a few class visits to the Chapel Hill cemetery, students take notes on the gravestones, focusing on desciptive writing. They later read social science journals and ultimately write a conference paper on their own “reading” of the cemetery as cultural record. 
Professor Lupton’s courses focus on the newest technologies with which we interact;  the cemetery unit uses old stones and epitaphs as the objects of study. But is there a way to do both? If so, it seems that would involve more than just following an archaeologist on Twitter. But what would it look like for freshmen in college to conduct field research, engage in secondary readings, and join interdisciplinary (or at least multimedia) communities– all for an English class?
Like Lubpton, I “believe that courses in the writing and the humanities that engage with the designed world can matter immediately to how all of us make our livings, in the broadest possible sense.”
And at this stage, I’m wondering what I can do about it. 

Mapping Family Value(s)

Thrilling discovery! There is an open, searchable map for the Domesday Book:

Of course, this bodes well for my large-scale project, because the Domesday site also incorporates IMAGES OF THE ENTIRE TEXT– with English annotations to the side.  I’m unspeakably excited about finding this source (which is free, miraculously).

On a professional level, the Domesday Map contextualizes the smaller and larger steps of my own mapping project (in case you missed it)
On a more personal level, the site helps me imagine my family history.
My first documented ancestor is Ralph de la Pommerai, or Pomeroy.  He is recorded in the Domesday Book as lord of Berry [of] Pomeroy, whose castle is pictured right. I’ve spent countless hours wondering what life might have been like here, even in its original structure, but had very little material with which to work.

Despite having a genealogical book of my father’s family, I’ve never known as much about my 11th century ancestor as I would like (indeed, I’m sure I never will).  I could have known more though, had I bothered to look at the Domesday Book myself:

And although the wikipedia article is similarly helpful, it of course isn’t anything like the entry of Berry Pomeroy on the Domesday Map site:
It’s really fascinating for me to have Ralph Pomeroy’s holdings– human, animal, and land– seen in this way.  The Berry had 45 villagers, 17 smallholders, and 16 slaves.  Land for 25 ploughlands was worked by 4 lord’s teams and 17 men’s teams; although a seemingly large population, it paid relatively low tax.  How had Ralph managed that? What was his relationship like with William the Conqueror, who landed him in the first place?  With 560 sheep, how often did he eat mutton?

Clicking on him brought me to a map of all sites associated with his name (even if not the same person, as the disclaimer notes).  I found that his holdings extended beyond that one (now purportedly haunted) castle ruins that I’ve known about for so long. Not surprisingly, all 136 locations affiliated with Ralph Pomeroy are in Devon.

As excited as I am to find personal, familial fulfillment in this project, I’m perhaps equally enthused by its implications for mapping the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.  Who knows what someone else might find? What personal or academic impact might my project, even in its smallest version, have on someone else?

And this is exactly my purpose, as I’ve written about in earlier posts.  There is a problem with medievalists, their sources, their audiences, and accessibility.  Amazingly, this map– a form perhaps first employed to mark boundaries– is now breaking them down.

Until soon, fellow revolutionaries.
(speaking of ironic use of “revolutionaries”– has anyone read the article about the Pope’s speech in Cuba’s Revolutionary Square?)

Meet my mapping project

Old English chronicles only pretend to care about time; they’re really more invested in space. 

I’m currently trying to develop a database and platform with which I can map out the content– the actual narratives– of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. For my Duke class, I will start by mapping invasion sites in the Peterborough Chronicle, one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle(s).

Google Map and Google Earth allow people to add data to a location (see Wallace’s map).  The problem with these platforms is that there’s no way for the data to interact.  When I make a map of all the invasion sites mentioned in the Peterborough Chronicle, the information that pops up for each place will be isolated.  There isn’t  anything else for me to do with it, like search for “Danes” or “heathens” or “William.”

I’m hoping to develop a way to get the text of each entry to interact– an undertaking which has proven quite difficult to begin.  Once I have time to grow the project and incorporate all sites mentioned in the Peterborough Chronicle, having the right platform and database will allow users to search for things like invasions, fires, deaths or births of kings, miracles, and church construction.  It might also be able to limit searches based on areas or time frames.

From there, if I could get a team of scholars (and a grant) to incorporate each version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, we could see some differences among them more easiy, than say, Thorpe’s translation:

Thorough though it is, I find this very hard to follow.  Scholars of the chronicles need new ways to rethink these texts, on their own terms and in communion with each other.

Big picture, my project aims to locate the stories of these histories in a virtual space that will help readers reimagine the past.  

But here’s what else I think it could do:
bring chronicles back to the classroom
employ digital media for medieval interests other than paleography and digital collections
reinvigorate the scholarly discussion of chronicles, which confront issues of empire, borderlands, nation-building, kinghsip,warfare, changes in the English language, the study of pre-printing book creation, materiality, and paleography
help us reimagine time as space

I’m excited to attend “Cartography and Creativity in the Age of Global Empires,” hosted by Duke’s BorderWork(s) Humanities Lab.  Here’s the description:

Please join us for this inter-disciplinary workshop, which brings into conversation historians, literary critics, artists, geographers, and the digital and spatial humanities to explore the nexus of mapping, art, and global empire. Our day-long discussion will investigate the consequences of treating maps as “image texts” and also the manner in which modern mapping practices have been engaged by artists across a broad range of image media for understanding the acts of demarcation that have parceled the world into sovereign bounded communities as well as contemporary challenges to these borders, boundaries, and lines of control.

Hopefully I’ll have more to report back soon.  In the meantime (and even after), I’d love to know what you think.

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