Saturday, October 27, 2012

Renaissance architecture: France 1, England 0

Désolée, mes amis Anglais, but having conducted a completely biased and unscientific survey during my recent travels, I am hereby declaring Francois 1er the winner in the 'I’ve got a better chateau than you' stakes. Seriously, look at Chambord:
I mean, no wonder Henry VIII was jealous. Okay, so he had to boot Cardinal Wolsey out before he could pinch Hampton Court but even with his subsequent renovations, at the end of the day it's still a rather grim-looking brick pile:
Sure, there is a nice view from the walled rose garden of the wacky collection of Tudor chimney pots (and that's Henry VIII's chapel on the left, where he married Anne Boleyn) ...
but they aren't a patch on the Disney-esque fantasy that is the roof of Chambord. (Though I'm sure that actually living up there amongst the chimneys and pigeon poo, as the lower-ranking courtiers were expected to do, was less romantic and a damned site smellier than Sleeping Beauty ever experienced.)

Hampton Court has also suffered a bit from later episodes of the historical version of 60 Minute Makeover. Here is the rather awkward result of William III’s (William of Orange) attempt at modernisation, c/- one Sir Christopher Wren (who really should have known better):
Yes, they have simply cut through the old Tudor building halfway down the gallery (right through the windows, in fact!) and cobbled a baroque monstrosity onto the side of it. The half-assed look to this part of the palace was actually the result of that timeless enemy of home renovation projects everywhere: the vision was bigger than the budget and the money ran out. (What would Kevin McCloud say?!)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Carolingian and Ottonian manuscripts online

A quick post and run today, as I'm just taking a short break from writing. My study has been getting a paint job over the last week, so my work has been a bit disrupted. Now I need to do some catching up! (But I'm very happy with my light, bright and funky new working environment. It's made such a difference to me wanting to sit in here for hours every day!)
Anyway, for those of you in/near Germany or with an interest in Carolingian, Ottonian and Romanesque history (or who simply love beautiful manuscripts), this exhibition should be a cracker. There is also a website where you can access digital copies of all 75 manuscripts. It's great to see more and more of this type of material being made available over the web.
Magnificent Manuscripts - Treasures of Book Illumination from 780 through 1180
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich
October 19, 2012 - January 13, 2013

Exhibition Website

With 72 extraordinary manuscripts from the collection of the Bavarian State Library, as well as three exceptional works from the Bamberg State Library, the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation presents a wide overview of the earliest and most precious examples of German book illumination.These 75 magnificent volumes represent some of the greatest cultural and artistic achievements of the Carolingian, Ottonian and Romanesque eras. Within this library’s extensive collection, the Ottonian manuscripts in particular form a unique nucleus that is unsurpassed worldwide. Owing to their extraordinary fragility, these highly valuable works can hardly ever leave the library’s vault. This exhibition of original manuscripts therefore offers a unique opportunity to discover thousand-year-old testimonies to our cultural heritage. 

For more information about the exhibition:

For those unable to attend the exhibition, digital copies of all manuscripts on display at the exhibition can be accessed online here:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Well, call me chuffed with these essays!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a stack of undergrad essays to mark is in want of a lot of red ink (with apologies to Jane Austen.) But...but...but... I've just completed marking a stack of such essays and I hereby declare myself pleasantly surprised. Sure, I had the usual quota of relatively pedestrian, 'too-much-description-not-enough-analysis', and 'wanders from the question in places' examples. But there was not a single one amongst the lot that was so full of spelling errors and crazy grammar that it was borderline unreadable (the enduring lament of teachers everywhere). Nor did I have any that didn't include any references, were based entirely on a the textbook, or (even better) where the argument was wholly constructed on the shaky edifice that is  History Channel documentaries. (Yes, I have had to have the conversation more than once that the History Channel is not an appropriate source for academic history essays. We give you a course bibliography for a reason, folks.)

I'm particularly chuffed because this was not an easy assignment and, I have to admit, I'd kind of prepared for the worst. Its for an upper level paper that requires the students to chose a group of primary sources from the course reader and write an essay that locates them in their specific cultural, social and political context. They also need to provide a critical analysis of the significance of their chosen documents, both in their contemporary medieval context and for we historians.  The sources they can pick from are organised thematically around broad topics such as lay piety, death and burial practices, guilds, regulation of prostitution etc. so there is plenty of scope for individual interpretive approaches but also, I feared, plenty of room to go wildly astray.

Grades in my department/school are scaled, although the range is fairly flexible. (For upper level papers, the number of A grades can be between 15-30% while the number of C grades is 25-50%. Anything below a C is a fail.) Normally, my grades tend to weigh towards the higher end of that range for Cs (maybe I am just a tough marker). But this time, I'm pleased to say that the majority of students fell solidly into the Bs (35 - 50%). As always, I also had a few real gems that earned As.

Incidentally, when it comes to typing up my comments for each student (I handwrite comments as I mark, but also attach a typed summary page), I always save the A essays for last because it leaves me feeling positive and happy. Anyone else do this?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Carnivalesque Ancient and Medieval now up

The latest ancient / medieval Carnivalesque is now up at Zenobia: Empress of the East. (In fact, it's been up for a week or so but I've been buried in teaching and essay marking, so not online much.) For those of you unfamiliar with the blog carnival format, each edition of Carnivalesque is hosted by a different blog and features the best of the last couple of months of posting on ancient and medieval topics. (There is also an early modern version.) It's a great way to get a taste of what's been happening in the world of ancient / medieval studies and check out some interesting new blogs.

This edition features posts on Jesus' wife, reverse circumcision, and gladiator sweat (along with lots of cool images). On the medieval side, there's Lady Godiva, Edward the Confessor's troubled childhood, and my recent musings on linguistic acrobatics in medieval texts.