I’ve been quiet of late, mostly because I’ve had several projects all coming to fruition more or less at the same time, followed by the end-of-term throes that I’m slogging through right now.
Managing to get it all done put me in shut-up-and-work mode for a few months.
The last of those items to manage is the first one I’ll talk about here:
The Livingston Paleography Traveling Show
As an academic I’m a medievalist: I study the culture of the Middle Ages. All aspects of medieval culture are subject to my examination — history, literature, theology, philosophy, language, etc. — for one could hardly examine any of those cultural phenomena without an awareness of the interplay among all of them.
Nevertheless, one must specialize. And to date my primary specialty has been in the editing of medieval texts: making them accessible by moving them from manuscripts onto the printed page. All of my academic books — including this next one, just finished, that I’ll discuss in a later post — have found me reading and editing manuscripts.
And to do that, folks, I have to engage in paleography: the study (and thus the ability to read) old handwriting and abbreviations.
I was incredibly fortunate during my first Master’s degree (at the Medieval Institute) to learn paleography at the feet of Tim Graham, who has since gone on to head-up the medieval programs at UNM and to write what may be the best modern introductory textbook on manuscript studies. I then honed my skills in a Master’s thesis (editing the Kingis Quair) before doing manuscript work for the Middle English Texts Series (eventually joining the Advisory Board) and publishing my own scholarly editions. Even as a graduate student I was teaching graduate courses in paleography and editing, which was pretty cool.
All of which leads me to my Spring Break. No, I wasn’t lounging about a beach somewhere. I was at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, teaching a week-long paleography workshop.
I received my undergraduate degree from Baylor in 1998, and I hadn’t been back since. So when Tom Hanks invited me to come to campus to give this workshop for the Medieval-Renaissance Research Seminar — with funding from the departments of English, History, Modern Foreign Languages, and Religion — I jumped at it.
It is a rare thing for me to get nervous, but I’ll admit to a little pre-game jitters to run a workshop for a mix of graduate students and faculty from four departments at my former undergraduate institution.
Happily, things could not have gone better.
The graduate students I met were incredible. Passionate and interested, they willingly spent two hours every evening — from 7:30 to 9:30 — learning codicology and paleography. Just wonderful. I also had the opportunity to give an hour-long public lecture — on Tolkien, of course — that seemed to be very well received.
And of course I was able to revisit many old haunts and former professors. It was remarkable that so many folks remembered me — and many with good memories even! The chance to thank those who helped me get where I am was priceless.
So it was a splendid workshop, a splendid remembrance of times past, and hopefully only the first of many more similar opportunities.