Musings of a domesticated scholar

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The newest Viking invasion


In my search for a dissertation topic (starting point: Anglo-Saxon prose), I am increasingly interested in exchanges among Anglo-Saxons and their North Sea neighbors.

I’ve recently been reading about spaces, places, and history (see my new Reading List page), but I keep being pulled by seafaring and its cultural impact on the region. So I started a new reading list, got on Amazon, and behold, the Vikings came straight to my door:

I stand by my tweet: “when vikings show up at your doorstep, let them in!”
My new line of inquiry comes as one of many in a series of summer novelties. Two different batches of baby birds hatched in our stoop; Drew graduated from law school (summa, 1st in his class, tons of awards); I’ve engaged in some small projects around the house. 

I also spent two weeks in London with librarians. My favorite firsts include seeing Stonehenge, the Alfred Stone, Oxford University Press, Bath, cave-crepes, and a tenth-century manuscript that I HELD WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS. 

After eleven straight weekends of travel, I was finally able to start my research in earnest. Once I realized that my interests were beginning to shift, I started with Haywood’s Dark Age Naval Power and Unger’s The Ship in the Medieval Economy, 600-1600.  Chapter 3, “Anglo-Saxon Piracy and the Migrations to Britain” was the most useful of Haywood’s chapters to my research. It introduced me to the Litus Saxonicum, a series of Roman coastal defenses along both sides of the channel. 
Litus Saxonicum, Wikimedia Commons

If only I’d picked this book up a few months earlier! I’ve missed the submission deadline for BABEL‘s 2014 “On the Coast”meeting in Santa Barbara, but I’m encouraged that shoreline studies are now on the cutting-edge (HA. get it? edge?).
Aaaaanyway, after the Romans withdrew from Britain in 410, Saxon raids increased. A note on vocabulary here– at this point in the story, no one’s a Viking yet.

Britons were native to the island; Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians were invaders. 
According to Haywood, archeological evidence suggests that the Anglo-Saxon settlements came in two waves: “the first began in the early fifth century and was confined mainly to eastern Britain and was confined mainly to eastern Britain between the Humber and the Thames”and the second, spanning the middle of the fifth century and the start of the sixth,  included “Kent and the south coast” as well as “the Midlands from East Anglia” (80).

 Haywood reads in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that, “the Anglo-Saxons who came to Britain after the mid-fifth century, such as Cerdic in Wessex or Aelle in Sussex, did not arive as either pirates or federates but as seaborne conquerors” (83). If those names seem at all familiar (and you’re not a medievalist), that’s totally legit. Here’s where you’ve heard them before: Cerdic is portrayed the previously blogged-about King Arthur (left). King Aelle(a) is a character on the TOTALLY AWESOME History Channel series, Vikings (right).
Ok, so, back to the scholarship. After briefly discussing the literary accounts of the 5th century invasions (Gildas, Bede, Gallic Chronicles, Anglo-Saxon Chronicles), Haywood reminds us that the Saxon raiders did not limit themselves to Briton–they raided in Gaul as late as the seventh century (though by now they’re starting from Britain as opposed to Saxony). Next he goes through the development of shipbuilding by the Angles and Saxons, showing that “by the second half of the seventh century we can be quite certain that the sail was in everyday use by the Anglo-Saxons” (107).  Note his use of Anglo-Saxon here. By now, this can refer to Angles and Saxons living in Britain. 
You’re rightly wondering, “where the ___ are the Vikings in this damn post?” Never fear, readers–they arrive just when you don’t expect them [kidding; see below].
The beginning of the Viking Age is marked by most at 789, when Scandinavians came to Portland and were mistakenly identified as merchants by an ill-fated reeve. The reason I included all this background is because in a grossly-over-simplified version of reality, the Vikings did to the Anglo-Saxons what the Angles and Saxons had done to the Britons. Just as Angles and Saxons came to Britain in raiding parties and eventually settled, so the Vikings (mostly Norse and Danish) arrived– at first as pillagers and then, as we can see from place-names, genealogies, genetics, archaeology, history, laws, and literature, as settlers in increasingly important ports. In case you’ve fallen into the “meh, I don’t really care about that” trap, check out McGlashan’s 2003 article about the Vikings’ generous beach laws, which I found in a perfectly-timed tweet by
Despite Haywood’s detailed coverage of pre-Viking shipbuilding, Unger’s analysis of shipbuilding technology and its economic impact in his chapter on “Vikings and Byzantines: 750-1000” is surprisingly engaging (and I think better researched). Unger traces the development of vessels within the context of technological, military, and economic changes. He shows us that “[t]he development of the Viking ship was the most important change in European ship design from 750 to 1000″because it  “marked a significant improvement in the ability to move people” (Unger, 80-81). And these people, in turn, went south to Iberia and through the Mediterranean to Alexandria; east to the Black and Caspian Seas; and west to Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. The new Viking ships were stable, deep-seaworthy, and light enough to carry on small stretches of land (82). And how do we know this? Because we still have some. 
You can see a few at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, whose gift shop boasts such gems as Terry Jones’s children’s book and slides of the exhibits. SLIDES. 
“Wait, what are these?” And yes, it is THAT cold inside Norwegian museums in December

And the Viking warships weren’t their only vessels to reflect and affect social, political, and economic change. Here’s my last bit from Unger (for now):

The result of Viking voyages was to extend the realm of northern trade, to promote the full integration of Scandinavia into a northern trading network and to intensify trade within that network. The emergence of Europe about the year 1000 from the difficulties, political and economic, of the preceding 150 years was certainly a result of the end of raids by Vikings in their warships. But t was also a result of the ability of Scandinavians to turn their new type of vessel to commercial advantage. (94)
So you see, Vikings were able to conquer and settle; they drew new boundaries on land and carved new “whale-roads” at sea. Awesome, am I right?
My next book to read (and already the prologue was hard to put down) is Studies in the Medieval Atlantic, whose image I posted yesterday to facebook and Instagram. I hope to include it in a shorter post soon, but I’ll leave that for another day when I can give it the attention and space it deserves. 
Until next time, wishing everyone the blessings of newness (and no threats of invasion).

Works cited: 
Haywood, John. Dark Age Naval Power: A Reassessment of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Seafaring Activity. Routledge, 1999.
Unger, Richard W. The Ship in Medieval Economy 600-1600. London, 1980.


Happy new year to all, readers!
I’d usually try to connect my reading (Chaucer and Milton) with my trip (2 weeks in Norway), but I’m a bit short on time.
I take exams in February, so my posts between now and then will likely be about my reading material, my studying process, or absent altogether.
For now, I’ll just share some photos. I’d really like to post about museums in Norway– fingers crossed I can get some other work done first!
In the meantime, you can find more photos and comments on my twitter and intstagram accounts (@RebeccaShores)

Until soon, wishing everyone a new start if they need it and continued success if they don’t.


The Scream(!)
Reindeer at Christmas Fair

View from the Maritime Museum

Viking Ship Museum

Moved stave church at Folk Museum

Folk Museum

Folk Museum

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Akershus Fortress


Skiing in Voss:
View from Bavallstunet cabin

Same, Christmas

Wood-burning stove

Christmas Eve service (Vangskyrkja)


Hanseatic Museum (AMAZING)

Hanseatic Museum: cubbied bunkbeds (totally doing this for kids’ room one day)

Hanseatic Museum: corner desk

Bryggens Museum: site of the oldest settlements in Bergen (12th c)


View from the top of Mt Floyen

University Museum of Bergen: Blue Whale Skeleton 

University Museum of Bergen: playroom

Bergen Maritime Museum

Bergen Maritime Museum

St Olaf’s Church, Vestry

Bergen square


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. 

Oxford, pt 2: tale of the tacky umbrella and the ancient tower

I took a break during the symposium, remembering that during my three weeks’ stay several years ago, I had failed to visit St Michael at North Gate– the city church of Oxford.  It just so happened to be down Ship Street from the dorm I stayed in, so I ducked out before a keynote on Byzantine chronicles and headed…
…into the pouring rain. Not your usual drizzle. No, this was torrential.
Dashing back inside, I was totally annoyed with myself– who goes to England without an umbrella?! The desk worker lent me hers in order to buy one for myself (an offer that confused me, but whatever). With my over-priced, super tacky purchase, I headed back out.
This is not a joke.
Third time’s the charm, right? Who cares if I’m one of those tourists? *shudder*
I made it to the church and was greeted quite kindly by the man in the gift shop (where one enters, somewhat strangely). He was patient and made me feel welcome, dispelling my fears of being rushed like the annoying tourist my umbrella claimed me to be. The adjoining tower is the oldest building in Oxford and dates back to around 1050. According to the church’s website,

“All other traces of the original church have vanished, but a church there certainly was. The Domesday Book (1086) records that ‘the priests of St Michael hold two houses worth 52d’. After the tower, the earliest surviving parts of the church are the chancel, the eastern part of the south aisle (nearest the altar), and the south door, all dating from the 13th century.”
 I found the church to be small, beautiful, and mostly under restoration. I wondered what the congregation is like– are they all academics? Is any of them an academic? I saw some evidence of a children’s Bible study and tried to imagine what it would be like to grow up in this particular church. Would its history make me feel isolated or connected? Would I feel overwhelmed by its heritage? Or would it not really matter at all?

When I came back out of the church, the same man directed me to the tower, whose student entrance price is less than two pounds. He showed me a 20 pence piece he gave me in change, explaining that it would activate an “ancient clock mechanism” in the tower, which I recorded:
I regrettably did not film what’s going on below these gears: a series of weights moves up and down in a process which my engineer husband would explain quite logically, but which I must only describe as something kind of like magic. Moving farther up the “Saxon Tower” I passed the bells which, according to the website, are so heavy that ringing them would damage the structural integrity of the building.

And massive they were!
Chimed, not rung.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (and all of you should–@RebeccaShores) will recognize this, but it seemed worth including.

To my total surprise, the top of the tower is open to the public. I opened the door to the roof, careful to read the sign reminding visitors to close the door in order to keep out pigeons, and found myself in the pouring rain  again.  And then, the conundrum: do I bring that blasted umbrella?  No. I’m on top of a tower in the rain; that’s a terrible idea. And yet, the lightening rod is so much higher– it would take a true fluke to attract electricity to myself from an actual lightning rod, right? Ultimately I chose not to push my luck, and had a lovely, if rather wet, panoramic view of the town.
Descending the stairs, I looked again at the bells, at the clock mechanism, at the door that imprisoned Archbishop Cranmer. (NB: Wesley’s pulpit is also here, for any of you Methodists!) How lucky I was to have seen this on a glorified lunch break, how fortunate to have been in Oxford at all. I wondered how often I might come here if I’d attended Oxford for graduate school– would I have taken full advantage of what the town had to offer? I hadn’t the last time I was here.

I walked back out into the rain, having done what I should have years ago, hoping to have another opportunity to return.

Until next time, readers, wishing everyone dry clothes and a second chance.

A weekend in England

What a trip! I arrived at Heathrow on the morning of the 5th, making the bus just in time to drop my things at Jesus College
Room with a View
and sit down for the first panel of Oxford and Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium (OCICS).  I was only there for two nights, but the trip was well worth the travel.
About eighty scholars had gathered to share interdisciplinary, and just as importantly, global perspectives on Medieval and Renaissance chronicles. I attended first “Shaping the Past in Twelfth-Century Chronicles” and heard papers on a Danish ruler of England being depicted as a humble pilgrim instead of powerful (and foreign) king, images in John of Worcester’s Chronicle creating “a new scientific history while upholding older monastic conventions,” and William of Malmesbury’s interventions in his sources as attempts to “restore the English and their conquerors.”

Henry I’s dream, John of Worcester (wikipedia commons)

All three presenters ended up speaking about the transmission and transmutations of their texts and the texts’ sources. They all seemed to create matrices of comparison: one author changed this to that for reason a; another changed that to this for reason b, etc. They were all quite interesting but almost laden with evidentiary data, and I began to wonder how much time the authors might have saved if they had a program to help them count and track the changes they discussed. It seems like my map project really will have other applications! 

And yet, I was shocked to see no digital projects. I saw pie graphs and flow charts from historians and literary scholars alike, but none questioned the methodology of counting the words, themes, or images they were tracking. When I shared my surprise to this during breaks, the general consensus was that this was a symposium on chronicles, not digital humanities; there are separate conferences for that. 
At this point in my post I should explain what chronicles are; this is, after all, a blog for all readers. But if I learned anything from this conference, it’s that chronicles are much harder to define than I expected. Basically, they are early histories. They can be arranged thematically, around the church for example, or chronologically, like most annals. 
But history, to medievals at least, was a much broader field than it is now. 
Presentations on Matthew of Paris, a manuscript belonging to the Norwich prior Simon Bozoun, and instructors to the illustrator of Lambeth Palace Library MS 6 showed just how rich the medieval understanding of history is. Matthew Paris collected, collated, and created genealogical trees, astrological tables, computational calendars, natural science treatises, and even drew an elephant from life:
“Drawn from life” is a very, very rare notation in the Middle Ages (Parker Library)
According to Judith Collard, the images and texts of Matthew of Paris have been studied too often as distinct from one another and without the context he provided them. She convincingly argued that more scholars, like Matthew himself, especially look to the science in his manuscripts as incorporations to, not exceptions in, his works.
Sam Rostad, now a history PhD student at Notre Dame, had a great opportunity when his supervisor at Cambridge recommended he look into a manuscript belonging to the prior of 14th century Norwich. This particular book begins with Higden’s Polychronicon– a history of everything. 
From one version of Higden’s Polychronicon (British Library)
The eight works that follow range from historical prefaces to Marco Polo’s travels, from History of the East to a commentary on St Augustine.  Yet at closer inspection, this textual gathering is not a miscellany. Bringing together global and regional histories with travel narratives and commentary dedicated more to ancient cultures than to navigation or theology, Bozoun really created a historiography. 
Just as the first panel had mined specific, textual differences among chronicles and their sources, this one examined larger, thematic similarities among different genres of history. Fascinating, no?
This is perhaps a longer, or at least denser, post than usual, so I’ll cut it here. Stay tuned for my adventures in an 11th-c church and an update on Peterborough Chronicle scholarship!
Until soon, wishing everyone a week free from jet-lag.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day, readers! Hopefully most of you have been able to spend some quality time with your own maternal figures.  I just returned from Belize with my mother and mother-in-law (in addition to stepfather, father-in-law, sister, sister’s bf, and husband). I was simply thrilled to share the perfect vacation with perfectly wonderful women.

My mom, ever-adventurous, first took me buddy diving in Belize almost two decades ago.  Now certified, I find diving with her both delightful and dear– it’s an activity  she has always spoken of highly, and one I dreamt of sharing with her for most of my childhood (dream realized below).
She’s done all the great mom things– helped me through horrible times,  celebrated the better ones, never, ever, EVER given up on my potential or my happiness. But her contribution to my live is so much more than her role as mother. It is also as teacher, friend, and eager passport-stamper.
Indeed, nearly all of what she’s taught me (like how to identify marine exoskeletons, above) has revolved around adventure, travel, and natural science.  She used to point out all the constellations and tell me to scuff my feet in the shallows; she made me swear up and down that I’d never night swim in the ocean and taught me how to handle snakes; she assured me that the whole world was worth seeing and saving, and I–ever curious of her globe-trekking footsteps–have tried to follow close behind in order to do so.
My mother-in-law is simply awesome. A working mother and wife for over thirty years, she has paved another road for me to follow. Her commitment to family is inspiring and a little intimidating– could I do what she’s done and still have a perfectly level and loving head on my shoulders?  I’ve got some time to prepare myself for the adventure of working parenthood, but I’m glad to have another kind of model before me.
My stepmother, too, has been a great setter of bars.  A ridiculously talented, totally genius architect, she has literally made a mark on our world. She’s shown me how important it is to push myself professionally, even within an extraordinarily difficult field that is far from family-female-friendly.
Of course, the mothers in my life are not limited to these three wonderwomen. I am ever-grateful and humbled by the grand feats of my sisters and friends.  I feel empowered and encouraged by all of the examples you set the many roads you paved, and the constant, love you show.  
Until next time, may you find yourselves surrounded by as many good mothers as I.

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?)

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