All posts by emlavallee

Palaeography Tools

Two invaluable online resources that have been lifesavers for me as I’ve started to work with unedited manuscripts:

A. Cappelli’s Dizionario de Abbreviature – The indispensable and definitive guide to Latin abbreviations, this online version of the Italian edition is much more comprehensive than the later English edition.

Enigma – In what I can only imagine was the result of an inspired friendship between a medievalist and a computer programmer, this brilliant tool allows you to enter as much of the word as you can make out, together with a host of wildcard options, and then provides you with a list of every possible option, courtesy of Whitaker’s Words. Particularly cleverly, it allows each minim (the identical vertical strokes found in ‘i’, ‘u’, ‘m’, and ‘n’) to be entered as a ‘!’, so for example,  ‘!!!!!!!ere’ spits out only three possible options (innuere, munere, numere) which you can then narrow down based on context.

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If Only They’d Thought of Me …

One of the inevitable frustrations of working with primary sources is that they don’t always say what you would like them to say. Worse, they don’t take what seem like golden opportunities to say what you’re pretty sure they were thinking, but never seem to actually articulate. It’s almost like they weren’t writing with you, a graduate student roughly 800 years in the future, explicitly in mind!

Continue reading If Only They’d Thought of Me …

Transfer of Status

It’s nearly the end of Trinity Term now, as evidenced by the wonderfully long evenings and occasional almost-summer’s day. My obsession with punting remains, but my luck seems to have deserted me and my last few forays on the river have been accompanied by decidedly less-than-magical weather. Still, I hold out hope for sunny days to come!

The main excitement of Trinity for us First Year DPhils is the Transfer of Status, the first proper milestone of our degrees. Essentially the purpose is to verify that, given six months or so of research, those research proposals which we threw together for our DPhil applications way back at the start of our master’s programme have now blossomed into something relatively coherent and feasible—and to someone other than us and our supervisors. The ‘transfer of status’ refers to our official transition, upon successful completion of the process, from Probationary Research Students (PRS) to fully-fledged DPhil Students.

Continue reading Transfer of Status

Canon and Roman Law, Oh My!

In a (not so) recent post, I was complaining about remarking on the difficulties I’ve encountered deciphering the early modern printed editions of the canon law texts I’m working with. Today I thought I’d focus on what canon law is and why I’m hoping these texts will be worth the effort.

I’ll start by giving some general background on canon law and then dive into a more detailed discussion of an example from my own research.

Continue reading Canon and Roman Law, Oh My!

Humbert de Romans

Humbert de Romans is surprisingly overlooked as a historical figure, given his influence in the early shaping of the Dominican Order in the mid-thirteenth century.

Elected as the fifth Master-General of the Dominican Order in 1254, only a few decades after the Order had been established, Humbert reorganized and thereby standardized the Dominican liturgy, had a new edition of the Order’s Constitutions prepared, drew up new Constitutions for the nuns associated with the Order, and wrote a number of influential and—for modern historians—informative works concerning the operations of the Order.

Some of his key works include:

  • De eruditione praedicatorum (On the Instruction of Preachers) – Reflecting contemporary changes in the makeup of society, Humbert writes of sermons preached ad omne genus hominum (to every type of person), taking into consideration the dominant circumstances of the audience and varying the sermon accordingly. He also discusses the value of private conversation for edification.
  • De officiis ordinis (On the Offices of the Order) – A very informative treatise on each of the various types of officials within Dominican convents, from the master-general down.
  • De dono timoris (On the Gift of Fear), a.k.a. Tractatus de habundantia exemplorum (Treatise on a Wealth of Examples) – A highly popular collection of hundreds of exempla, or illustrations, for use in sermons, around the topic of one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Humbert de Romans’ collected Latin works can be found in Opera de vita regulari, edited by J. J. Berthier (Rome, 1888). His Treatise on Preaching has been translated into English by Walter M. Conlon (London, 1955).
The most useful secondary work in English is probably Edward Tracy Brett’s Humbert of Romans: His Life and Views of Thirteenth-Century Society (Toronto, 1984), which includes a summary of each of Humbert’s works.

 

Out for a Ramble: Oxford’s Parks & Gardens

Everyone knows that Oxford is a stunningly beautiful place, especially when the sun is shining, but in addition to its picture-postcard medieval and Neoclassical buildings, it also has some wonderful green spaces perfect for a contemplative stroll of a warm afternoon. Below are some of my favourites!

Continue reading Out for a Ramble: Oxford’s Parks & Gardens

Take a foreign language, write it in an unfamiliar script, abbreviating every third word, and you have the compound puzzle that is the medieval Latin manuscript.

Preface to English translation of A. Cappelli’s The Elements of
Abbreviation in Medieval Latin Paleography (1982) 

Minding My P[er]’s & Q[uae]’s

I have spent a concerning number of hours over the past month or two puzzling over pages that look like this:

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Geoffrey of Trani, Summa super Titulos Decretalium (1491 ed.), fol. 47.

Continue reading Minding My P[er]’s & Q[uae]’s

Oxford’s Libraries

Anyone who has spent five minutes in Oxford knows about the Bodleian Library, but the university actually brims over with dozens of libraries, each with its own charms (admittedly, some more than others). The following are the libraries I tend to use most in the course of my various research tangents. (The unfortunate lack of decent interior pictures of my own is due to library regulations against wandering around like a tourist snapping shots of the ceiling.)

Continue reading Oxford’s Libraries

DPhil Year 1: Michaelmas Term

After a down-to-the-wire wait to fulfill my academic conditions, my tenure as a doctoral student in Oxford officially began in October. (Though officially, I’m actually a ‘probationary research student’ until I go through the Transfer of Status process towards the end of the year to become a fully-fledged doctoral candidate.)

Given how little course time was involved in the master’s last year, at least after the first few weeks, I assumed the doctoral programme would feel very much the same. However, I underestimated the difference between having a least one weekly seminar with required reading and embarking on a programme that essentially consists of, ‘Welcome, DPhils. There’s the library. Have fun!’ The amount of self-discipline required to drag oneself to said library is exponentially increased when the deadlines are nebulous and generally very far away.

Fortunately, I do meet with my supervisor every three or four weeks, which is helping to keep me on some kind of track. Since my research topic overlaps a number of different historical fields (England, France, political history, intellectual history, law, theology, historiography, etc.), I’ve primarily spent the last term wading into various academic conversations, seeing what’s out there and trying to fill in the blank spots in my background knowledge. Every month or so I try to summarize the main points of interest into a rough essay of a few thousand words for my supervisor, and then I move on to something else. I’m sure (I hope!) all this rooting around will be very useful later, but it can also feel a bit directionless at times.

Of course, there are also research seminars and lectures to attend, as well as language classes. (A beautiful Oxford moment was sitting with a little Latin reading group in the All Souls common room, sipping tea and translating Gerald of Wales … ) As I’ve discovered from my forays into untranslated twelfth- and thirteenth-century chronicles, my Latin is still pretty weak at the moment, but I have a feeling it’s going to be rather good by the time I’m through!


Outside of the research, it is lovely to be in Oxford for a second year. The pressure of doing everything and seeing everything has eased off, and instead I can look forward to repeating those things I most enjoyed last year. I’ve moved colleges, to St Cross, one of the graduates-only colleges (which, though a creation of the 1960s, has thoughtfully ensconced itself in Victorian neo-Gothic walls, complete with a tiny little Oxford quad). Though I’ll admit to a slight hankering after the medieval colleges, there is a benefit to the graduate colleges, particularly as they are rather better at remembering that students do still exist outside the undergraduate terms.

Oxmas has now passed (complete with the Bodleian’s Christmas tree and as many candle-lit carol services as one could possibly wish), as has Christmas. The libraries are closed from December 24 to January 2, the perfect time for entirely guilt-free relaxation (entirely different from the I-really-should-be-reading kind!)

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Magdalen’s Deer Park, outside my bedroom window!

 

 

How Medievalists are Born

[As a child] I assumed that medieval people all believed what popes told them to believe, or got burned as heretics. Some historical misconceptions are 100 per cent fantasy. Other have an infinitesimal grain of truth and blow it out of proportion. My own view of the Middle Ages hovered between these categories.

Then doubts began. Putting the medieval church in a black bin bag to throw it away could do it no harm. The people concerned were long dead and out of harm’s way. But we might do harm to ourselves, I reflected, if misconceptions about the past were to distort our views of own places in the world, and where it was going.

So I encouraged the doubts.

– Alexander Murray, introduction to Conscience & Authority in the Medieval Church

A Year in the Life of Me

For a slightly more ordered ease of access, below you can find links to all my journal posts from the past year over the course of the MSt degree.

Michaelmas (September – December 2015)

And We’re Off (-2nd Week)

Settling In (-1 Week)

“Benign Anarchy” (-1 Week)

Surviving the Beginning (0th and 1st Week)

A Change in Seasons (2nd Week)

Tempus Fugit (3rd Week)

Fog (4th Week)

Singing for My Supper (5th Week)

Essaying Essays (6th Week)

Oxmas (7th Week)

With Regrets (8th Week)


Christmas Vacation (December 2015 – January 2016)

Christmas ‘Break


Hilary (January to March 2016)

A New Beginning (1st Week)

Anatomy of a Reading List (2nd Week)

The Wonderful World of Historiography (3rd Week)

Lots of Lectures (4th Week)

Forays into Manuscripts (5th Week)

Insert Title Here (6th Week)

The Trouble with Words (7th Week)

Escape to Scotland (8th Week)


Easter Vacation (March – April 2016)

Recovering from Easter Vacation


Trinity (April – June 2016)

The Penultimate Stretch (1st Week)

Now is the Month of Maying (2nd Week)

Messing about in Boats (3rd Week)

A Glimmer of Understanding (4th Week)

More Fun on the River (5th Week)

Plenty of Trees, No Forest (6th Week)

A Mini-Holiday (7th Week)

The End’s Beginning (8th Week)

Dissertation Doldrums (9th/10th Week)


Long Vacation (June – September 2016)

Un Séjour en France

A Supervision

The Final Stretch

A Supervision, Part II

Submission Day!

Drum roll, please!

 

 

 

Drum roll, please! (Long Vac)

Last Friday, the Board of Examiners met to render judgement on our dissertations and determine our final marks for the course. And today, at long last, the marks were released.

In the old days results were apparently posted as public lists in the Exam Schools, but in recent years this practice has been scrapped in favour of more discreet methods (a decision which is apparently still being mulled over at the Other Place), and sometime this afternoon we all received an email inviting us to log in to Student Self Service to view our individual marks and final award for our degree. Already a nail-biting moment, it was even more nerve-wracking for those of us with mark-based conditions on our offers for the DPhil, which was due to start in a few weeks.

A few tense clicks later, and I found that the examiners (bless them!) had given me marks to match my highest hopes, granting me a Distinction for my degree. Quite a thrill for someone who started the year just hoping to pass!

My mother’s response when I relayed the joyous news was ‘Hooray! … What does that mean?’ Unlike the undergraduate examinations, which result in a degree class (1st class, upper 2nd [2:1], lower 2nd [2:2], 3rd), the master’s degree classifies its final award in the same way as it does the individual papers: Fail (<60), Pass (60-69), or Distinction (70+). Distinction in the degree generally requires an overall average 70 or above, plus a distinction mark in the dissertation and at least one of the essays.

Bizarrely, my highest mark was for my first essay on historiography, which was easily the paper that I submitted with the most uncertainty and trepidation!

A poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

New-dated from the terms that reappear,
More sweet-familiar grows my love to thee,
And still thou bind’st me to fresh fealty
With long-superfluous ties, for nothing here
Nor elsewhere can thy sweetness unendear.
This is my park, my pleasuance, this to me
As public is my greater privacy,
All mine, yet common to my every peer.
Those charms accepted of my inmost-thought,
The towers musical, quiet-walled grove,
The window-circles, these may all be sought
By other eyes, and other suitors move,
And all like me may boast, impeached not,
Their special-general title to thy love.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins (1865),
whilst an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford