Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Article submitted

Article submitted...

So what can I say about this article given that the review process is supposed to be a blind one? i.e. my identity is supposed to be top secret? My reviewer might be out there reading this very post? (Pshaw...very low odds of that, I think)

Well, I can say it's based on the first chapter of my thesis, which was the strongest one in my opinion. I can say it's about Middle English lyrics and (social) networks of manuscripts, which is not a revolutionary concept now, but was at least relatively new when I was first proposing it, in 2008. I can say I used the (free) software Netdraw and it's really cool. But really what I'm doing in the article is provenance stuff (which led me to my interest in William Boswell). The point about using social networks language is to show people that what they've been doing all along is a kind of network analysis. No need to be hostile to "social networks" theory... it's already embedded in what we do. (Like cat hair on our pant legs.) One reviewer really disliked that line, so I had to take it out. But everyone at the conference liked it.

I could gripe about how slow the publication process works in academia but that's not an isolated problem; it's a problem everywhere. Publication takes time. Improvement, editing, finicky details, proofreading; it all takes time. Even at Snapd where I'm freelancing now, photos take three to four weeks to come out, and that's, like, aeons given the life cycle of social media (instagram, twitter, facebook) these days. When my husband and I photograph weddings, it takes a month or two to process all those photos -- to make them look the best they can be -- and the price of "best" is time. So everyone's already posted their hearts out about the magical wedding moments, when the couple finally gets their pictures.

Let's not even get started on how I never got around to doing my own wedding album! We got married four and a half years ago. My mother is still waiting.

Well now that I've officially sworn off academia, maybe I can finally get to the wedding album, hmm?!

Sir William Boswell and the Bowswells of Durham

Sir William Boswell, seventeenth-century diplomat, was a powerful, intriguing figure. There is not much about his family or where he came from, although there is plenty of historical evidence about his political activities. But who was he? Apparently he "claimed affinity" with his wife's family, the Bosvilles of Kent. As Alan Stewart puts it in the DNB, Boswell "married his cousin Margaret Boswell or Bosvile, a relation of Sir Ralph Bosvile of Eynsford in Kent."

In this post I'll suggest that William Boswell's family was actually from Durham. He probably was not related to Margaret Bosville, although certainly their names were spelled similarly.

We can see that Boswell's family was from Durham from the will of his father, John, who died in 1595--the reference for the will is given in History of Parliament online and in the DNB article by Alan Stewart.

The will of John Bowswell, of Suffolk, is fairly detailed. In particular, it mentions that the property that John Bowswell has got from Sir Robert Gardener, in Suffolk, is bequeathed to his eldest son William Bowswell (that is, Sir William Boswell). However, later in the will, John Bowswell names his brother Thomas as the heir of all his property in Barnard Castle village in Durham. The will refers to his right to hold the land "of one John Fulthorpe esquire and his ancesters ... many yeeres beyond the meamory of man"; a few lines later John refers to his father, "deceased of the heires of the said John Ffulthorpe."

Barnard Castle in Durham has a long association with the Bowes family, and there is a village called Bowes in Barnard Castle. George Bowes notoriously executed the northern rebels and took possession of Streatlam Castle in Durham in 1569. The Fulthorpes and the Bowes certainly had their links to each other: Anne Fulthorpe’s son married Sir George Bowes’ daughter, establishing family links between Bowes and Fulthorpe several decades before John Bowswell died in 1595. Bowes sounds a lot like Bowswell. You can see where I'm going with this. Perhaps Boswell is not a corruption of Bosville after all, but instead a corruption of Bowes.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sharing datasets!

So we're coming to the end of the process of editing our special issue of Digital Philology - it will be ready to go a few weeks (as in, now, yesterday, tomorrow, as soon as possible). And finally we're investigating how we can share data online - I mean, big datasets - things that didn't fit in the issue's articles. And the answer, I think, is Figshare. This was suggested to me a while back by someone at Instructional Technologies at Yale. I didn't sign up for it because what I want to do with the lyrics database (crowdsource! public access!) is somewhat different. I don't want people just to view the finished data but actually to be able to work in the database. But certainly figshare is a way to share Excel datasets and other databases, things that are just far too large to go in a journal article. It might be a good way also for me to share screenshots and working ideas about the lyrics database - though I'm not sure what the benefits are other than blogging, so far.

Monday, December 29, 2014


I have been writing an article based on my thesis for two years now, off and on. In the article I take a little network that I’ve graphed, a simple network showing overlaps of texts between manuscripts. It’s a simple, simple idea. We’ve seen networks of manuscripts before; this is not really new, although, perhaps when I thought of it in my thesis in 2010 it was. I’ve just never seen people using social networks mapping software to actually do the mapping itself, not even in the past ten years where networks have become so fashionable even in the humanities. The networks I’ve seen have been done by hand, manually. So, the way I "do" networks is to enter an array of identifiers, an array that lists what manuscript is connected to another manuscript. I’ve done the entering to the array manually; that is, I constructed a spreadsheet based on the textual contents of manuscripts (mss from a certain time and geographic period). It’s basically a database that feeds the visual mapping. The software takes the array and graphs it.

And then in the article I wanted to add certain thoughts on networks in general. Not the kind of networks in Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory so much as the mathematical networks that geneticists and physical scientists use. I wanted to put my mapping in that context--in context with the idea that there is a network pattern that evolves on its own, so to speak, with directed networks, in and out continents, islands, and an undirected network as well. This sort of thing is seen in this figure here, which is from Barab├ísi’s book Linked.

The existence of islands and continents in the network is not something you can really prove with my data but I still think it's interesting. Anyway, I've been working on this for years on and off now. Typical academic stop and go stuff. I submitted it for review, had it rejected, stopped working on it while I finished something else, and so forth. I suppose I haven't posted about it because of this academic mindset where you can't post anything online; you have to come up with perfect finished thoughts and then publish them. Sure. I'll work on the perfection aspect. In the meantime, here's stuff.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foucaultian Things

This week I'm re-reading Allen Frantzen's Desire for Origins coupled with James Simpson's Burning to Read. Frantzen's book is necessary for me to reread every few years just because it is about identity--the identity that readers formulate when they read medieval books. And this is something I'm always wondering about: why read medieval; what is it about us that constructs our (my!) identities, scholarly and otherwise? Frantzen has an interesting section on Foucault, whose picture I reproduce here from wpclipart, because, I think, I hardly ever imagine scholars as faces (just books and book titles!) and I want to think of him as a person. And also because I need to link to this image from elsewhere!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Networks of English Fifteenth-Century Lyrics: Part One

This blog has had a strange and intermittent life, and was really out of commission from the end of 2011 until now. I'm now hoping to post more, and more often, on this blog and elsewhere, as I develop my PhD research and embark on a new project. Below are extracts from my postdoctoral proposal, "Networks of English Fifteenth-Century Lyrics: From Fragments to Genre."


22 January 2013

When I identified my corpus of English lyrics for Chapter One of my thesis, I compiled a list of over 100 manuscripts of lyrics copied between 1200 and 1400. The year 1400 was a useful limit since it was then that the production of books of all kinds increased. In the fifteenth century, innovations such as paper and the printing press dramatically alter the literary landscape. Focusing on lyric manuscripts copied before 1400 therefore allowed me to significantly reduce my corpus, a necessary move given that I wanted to limit coverage of the medieval context of English lyric to one chapter of my thesis. At the same time, however, it became evident that the field after 1400 would be a particularly fruitful area for further research. The period and literature after 1400, sometimes referred to as Late Middle English, includes far more anonymous lyrics and manuscripts.  A common phenomenon is for a short anonymous lyric to appear in one or two books prior to 1400, and for scribes to then generate 10 or 20 more variations of that lyric by 1600.

Medieval English scholars have in the past thirty years revealed much about named lyric poets writing after 1350 and into the fifteenth century—for example, John Hoccleve, John Lydgate, John the Blind Audelay, Charles d’Orleans, William Dunbar, and Robert Henryson. When scholars turn to the anonymous religious and secular poetry in this period, however, it is difficult to know where to start. Without the guiding category of the author’s name, the field is for practical purposes a chaotic mass of manuscripts. A notable attempt to make inroads in the field is Julia Boffey’s Manuscripts of English Courtly Love Lyrics in the Later Middle Ages, which investigates fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts of short amorous verse. Boffey’s book is one sign of Middle English scholars’ mounting curiosity about anonymous lyrics.  And yet for every secular lyric from the period there are perhaps two or three “religious” lyrics. About 75 percent of the lyrics written in English in the fifteenth century are thus devotional, religious, or moral lyrics. These lyrics are particularly relevant to the study of amorous verse, since the devotional lyrics share many literary techniques, refrains, and tropes with courtly lyrics.

Social network analysis has much potential to map out the myriad surfaces of the field of both religious and secular late Middle English anonymous lyrics. Networks theory and practice can offer an entry point into a field that has up to now rather intimidated Middle English scholars. My first step is therefore to add to my own list of 150 fifteenth century manuscripts containing short and anonymous English verse. Next, I will cross-reference the lyrics which occur in multiple copies in these manuscripts, and map relationships between these lyrics. Scholarly work on the textual overlap of specific manuscripts currently relies on detailed written descriptions of this overlap, rather than any visual representations. I will use NetDraw, a social networks mapping software, to provide a visual display of identifiable groups of books. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Organizing Passion

The 246 Poems of John of Grimestone’s Book, MS Edin. NLS Adv. 18.7.21

This paper was to be given at the 2012 New Chaucer Society Congress in Portland, Oregon, but sadly I was not able to attend. The proposal is given below.

My paper will close-read the material and literary forms of Friar John of Grimestone’s commonplace book and consider what John’s copying practices tell us about the collection and collocation of vernacular English poetry in the late fourteenth century. A glance inside the book reveals that John uses double- and single-column layouts, rubrication, tail-rhyme braces, marginal lists, and an index to arrange 246 English poems with Latin verses and Latin and French sermon material. These material forms prompt me to ask the following questions: how does the ordinatio of John’s book suggest a taxonomic scheme, a theory of poetry, or a theory of how poetry informs and is informed by sermons? How does John’s apparently commonplace book, compiled around 1372, compare with fourteenth-century professionally compiled manuscripts, such as Auchinleck or Harley 2253? In general, how do John’s scribal practices allow us to continue the conversation about the relationship between bookish and poetic form at the end of the fourteenth century?

It has been almost 40 years now since Edward Wilson provided a descriptive index of John’s lyrics, and 25 years since Siegfried Wenzel delineated the categories and kinds of verses John transcribes and translates, verses which embody an affective theology by addressing Christ’s passion and wordly bliss. Both Wilson’s and Wenzel’s approaches to the lyrics consider them as abstract religious and literary texts. This paper will continue the exploration of John of Grimestone’s devotional and didactic practices, while using bibliographic and formal literary methods in order to consider the functions of devotional English poetry compilation in the late fourteenth century.

Paper Panel: Reading Scribes and Scribal Readings
Organizer: Aditi Nafde