Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chaucer Bobblehead

He in the waast is shape as wel as I; this were a popet in an arm tenbrace for any womman smal, and fair of face. He semeth elvyssh by his contenaunce, for unto no wight dooth he daliaunce.

Greenwood (now ABC/CLIO-Greenwood) had a batch of Chaucer bobbleheads produced to promote their All Things Chaucer. They are also the publishers of Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Second Edition and they were kind enough to send me one of their last remaining Chaucer bobbleheads.

Calooh! Callay! I gloat!

Friday, June 26, 2009

In My Parallel Universe V

A hypnotically graceful flying jellyfish and the majestic AirPenguin, also shown here.

The same company seems to have built a flying Air Ray.

I for one welcome our flying robotic penguin overlords.

The Great Vowel Shift...

..explained to you by dinosaurs. Two great ideas that go great together!

Here the shift is explained more completely by people from Harvard who are probably not dinosaurs.

Six Degrees of Roger Bacon

The trivia game for medievalists! Connect a medieval author to Roger Bacon with as few links as possible. For example, Froissart:

Roger Bacon criticized Albertus Magnus
Dante frequently mentioned Albertus Magnus and placed him in the Heaven of the Sun in the Divine Comedy
Chaucer admired, quoted and cited Dante
The opening lines of Chaucer's Book of the Duchess are a nearly exact translation of Froissart's Paradis d'Amour

Your turn!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jane Austen and the Vampires

I read that Mr. Darcy, Vampyre is just one of a queue of books lining up for release that infest the world of Jane Austen with aloof romantical vampires or possibly vampyres. This is just wrong. The world needs this sub-genre even less than it needs Father Brown and the Goblet of Fire or Aubrey and Maturin vs. the CGI Giant Squid*.

Ah, you say, but what about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Studdingsails? That's different. Some genres mash up better than others. Don't be deceived by the superficial undead similarity of zombie fiction and vampire fiction. They're as different as cozy and noir, if not more so.

The current fad for fiction featuring room-temperature vampire demon lovers that sleep in a box fills a very similar ecological niche to the horrid gothic novels Austen parodied in Northanger Abbey.
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”

Jane Austen had little patience with dark Byronic anti-heroes, even when they were only metaphorical bloodsuckers.

What might actually work would be a screenplay that updated Northanger Abbey the way Clueless updated Emma: 17 year old Kathy Morland has read too many Romantical Vampire Novels and through a series of misunderstandings wrongly concludes that various other characters are accursed, secretly undead, or both.

*At least Aubrey and Maturin would have the sense to know that you can't blow up a stockpile of gunpowder and rum by shooting a musket ball into it from a distance, and could have a prolonged discussion about swivel guns, heated shot, Admiralty regulations against the use of shot furnaces on shipboard, the possibility of improvising the armorers forge in an emergency, the desirability of doubled and dampened wadding, etc. Not to mention the tragedy of spoiling a unique and splendid specimen of Architeuthis Krakensis with a rum and gunpowder explosion that would probably just get it angry, for all love.

Well, it would have its moments, but I don't think you could sustain at over the length of a novel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Index of Medieval Youth and Education

Froissart's Youth
Russell's Book of Nurture
The Babees' Book
Training Lords' Sons
Little John de Saintre
English in the Grammar Schools 1352-1385
Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe
Accounts of Medieval Literacy and Education
Blowing Bubbles

14th Century Maps

This site has a variety of maps of Europe and Japan in the 14th century. Mostly modern, but includes links to the 14th century Catalan Atlas

Kettle Hats

Because a friend complained about the limited color and style choices for the Kettle Hat T-shirt at Commonplace Goods, I've created a new Cafepress store just for that design, Kettle Hats.

Monday, June 22, 2009

English in the Grammar Schools, 1352-1385

Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, 1352

" This impairing of the birth tongue is because of two things; one is for children in school, against the usage and manner of all other nations be compelled for to leave their own language and for to construe their lessons and their things in French, and so they have since the Normans came first into England. Also gentlemen's children be taught to speak French from the time that they be rocked in their cradle, and can speak, and play with a child's brooch; and uplandish [men] will liken themselves to gentlemen and strive with great busyness for to speak French for to be talked of."

From Trevisa’s translation of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, 1387:

" Thys manere (of translating Latin into French) was moche y- used tofore the furste moreyn, and ys sethe somdel ychaunged. For Johan Cornwal, a mayster of gramere, chayngede the lore in gramer-scole, and construccion of Freynsch into Englysch; and Richard Pencrych lurnede that manere techyng of hym, and other men of Pencrych, so that now, the yere of oure Lord a thousond three hondred foure score and fyve, of the seconde kyng Richard after the conquest nyne, in al the gramer-scoles of Engelond childern leveth Frensch and construeth and lurneth an Englysch, and habbeth thereby avanntage in on syde and desavauntage yn another. Ther avauntage ys that they lurneth ther gramer in lesse tyme than childern were i-woned to doo; desavauntage ys that now childern of gramer-scole conneth na more Frensche than can thir lift heele, and that is harme for them an they schulle passe the see and travaille in straunge landes and in many other places."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange

Elizabeth McLean of Wynnewood first became fascinated by Peter Collinson at the Barnes Foundation's arboretum school about 30 years ago. Then, she met British horticulturist Jean O'Neill, who felt similarly about the London Quaker who, with another Quaker - Philadelphia's John Bartram - so influenced the world of horticulture in the 18th century.

For 25 years, McLean and O'Neill, who died last year, collaborated on Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange. Just published by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the work is scrupulously researched and steeply priced, at $75.

Here is the rest of that interview with my mother.

Here is O'Neill's obituary.

I did the cover art.

The book is available from Amazon and the American Philosophical Society

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

BNP Wins Two Seats in the European Parliament

The Britons’ Nationalist Party won two seats in the European Parliament, possibly profiting from voter confusion with the similarly named British National Party and the similarly initialed but more moderate Barking Nutters Party.

The Britons’ Nationalist Party

The Britons’ Nationalist Party exists to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands in the North Atlantic which have been our homeland for millennia.

We use the term indigenous to describe the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe of the giant Albion, the daughters of Danaus, and the Trojan exile followers of Brute, grandson of Aeneas of Troy, who gave his name to Britain.

Immigrants who arrived in Britain no later than 1116 BC have an obvious moral right to an inviolable ethnic homeland, on the universally acknowledged basis of We Got Here First.

We will clamp down on the flood of ‘asylum seekers’, Huns, Scythians, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Normans, all of whom are either bogus or can find refuge much nearer their home countries.

To ensure that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those Huns, Scythians, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Normans who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin. Ultimately we believe they will be happier among their own kind.

The Economy and Agriculture
The BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign products from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports such as cheap foreign wine. We will ensure that our goods are, wherever possible, produced in Britain by British workers. British vineyards, freed from unfair foreign competition, will flourish. Possibly the grapes must be grown in greenhouses, but this will increase the demand for the British glass and greenhouse industry.

When this is done, unemployment in this country will be brought to an end, and secure, well-paid employment will flourish, at last getting our people back to work and ending the waste and injustice of having more than 4 million people in a hidden army of the unemployed concealed by Labour’s statistical fiddles.

Priority will be switched from quantity to quality, as we move from competing in a global economy to maximum self-sufficiency for Britain. Self-sufficiency will require us to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of olive oil, bananas and kiwi fruit. It may cost a bit more to produce these in Britain, but self-sufficiency is worth that cost.

We also call for preference in the job market to be given to native Britons rather than Huns, Scythians, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Normans.

We are against the ‘trendy’ teaching methods that have made Britain one of the most poorly educated nations in Europe. We call for the reinstatement of Geoffrey of Monmouth to the curriculum.

We will bring our troops back from Germany and withdraw from NATO, since recent political developments make both commitments obsolete.

We will close all foreign military bases on British soil, and refuse to risk British lives in meddling ‘peace-keeping’ missions in parts of the world where no British interests are at stake - a position of armed neutrality. Our armed forces will be strengthened and redeployed to their core mission: protecting Britain from predatory giants.

Law and Order
We support the re-introduction of corporal punishment for petty criminals and Vandals. And also for Huns, Scythians, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Normans. And giants.

We support the restoration of beheading for paedophiles, terrorists and murderers, as well as any giants who already have more than one head.

We will end the ‘trendy’ practice of calling our capital city London instead of the traditional and much cooler name of Troinovant

In My Parallel Universe IV

Sweden's Pirate Party won a seat in the European Parliament

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Great Enterprise

Reading of the chain of observations from Hipparchus and Ptolemy through al-Battani and Arzachel to Copernicus, I'm struck by the temporal scale of the shared undertaking. Hipparchus was working between about 147 and 127 BC. Ptolemy died around 168 AD. Al-Battani died in 929, Arzachel/Al-Zarqālī in 1087. Copernicus died in 1543.

During these long centuries the great orrery of the solar system spun against the stars according to its own laws. The equinoxes precessed at about a degree every 72 years. With the instruments available to Copernicus and his predecessors, getting a reasonably accurate value for that rate required going back to the work of observers working centuries before, a great Dead Astronomers Society sharing observations across hundreds of years.

Dead men talking: the awesome power of the written word. We take it too much for granted, so take a moment to appreciate the wonder of it.

The Medieval Sex Flowchart


Air France Flight 447

Here is an analysis of the possible fate of the flight. I am gobsmacked by our ability to monitor our atmosphere in mid-ocean and to publish this sort of work so quickly.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Obama’s Cairo Speech and Muslim Innovation

Obama said:

It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.

Micheal Ledeen complains:

He credited Muslims for inventions of others, from the magnetic compass to algebra to pens, arches, and even to printing. It’s as if there were no ancient Chinese inventions, and the Romans had to await the Prophet before they could build the Pantheon. And someone really should tell him that printing came from the Orient, was rejected in Muslim domains, and then developed in Europe. It was introduced into the Middle East in the 15th century by Jews, who were not permitted to publish in Arabic. So the first printing press in the region was brought by Jews who then published in Hebrew.

Well, no.

The key word in the first sentence was developed. Science is rarely a single invention, but a series of developments building on what went before. The algebra of al-Khwarizmi and later Muslim scholars was based on Greek and Indian sources but went beyond them. Modern algebra was further developed in Europe. The Chinese floating compass went through a great deal of development to reach its current form, some of it, like the familiar 32 point compass rose, in the Muslim world.

Printing as we know it isn’t a single technology, but a series of innovations: printing itself, paper, printing on paper, the efficient production of paper, the printing press and movable type.

Block printing on textile was present in Egypt as early as the 4th century AD. Printing on paper required paper. The original Chinese invention of paper used Mulberry fiber, with paper produced laboriously by hand and made to be written on with a brush. When Muslim nations acquired the technology they adapted it to their own needs: linen was used instead of Mulberry fiber, the surface was modified to accept the western pen rather than a brush. Above all, production was industrialized to take full advantage of water powered paper mills. The diffusion of this technology to Western Europe set the stage for both more widespread literacy and for printing on paper.

I was surprised to find that there was printing on paper in the Muslim world long before it appeared in Europe. Even more surprisingly, metal letterpress plates seem to have been used, technology unknown in China or anywhere else until much later. Early Islamic printing on paper doesn't seem to have become widespread or an influence on Western printing, but it's still a fascinating story.

The second sentence in the Obama speech above simply talks about cultural contribution rather than technological. Muslims didn’t invent the arch, but they did give us the Taj Mahal. That counts for something.

Frank J. Tipler weighs in with more stupidity.

If one reads history of science textbooks prior to about 1980, one will find very little mention of Muslim “contributions” to physics and astronomy. This is reasonable, because there weren’t any. In the past generation, however, political correctness has dictated that Muslims be given credit for discoveries they did not make.

I’m the lucky owner of a copy of the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1929. If you’ve read any of the ethnographic entries, you will understand that it is untainted by any hint of political correctness. I turned to the article on astronomy.

Hipparchus and Ptolemy get about 7 ½ column inches. Copernicus gets 6 ¾ column inches.

“Arabia”: Muslim astronomy at Cairo and points east, gets 3 ¾ column inches. Pre-Copernican medieval astronomy gets a further 2 ¾ column inches. Much of that section is devoted to Moorish Spain, to the Alfonsine Tables based to a great extent on earlier Arabic observations, and on the influence of Ibn Junis. All told, Muslim astronomy probably totals about 5 column inches.

“Not quite as important as Copernicus” as the measure of Muslim astronomy’s contributions seems a lot more than “there weren’t any”.

In their prime Muslim astronomers developed new and improved instruments and recorded many careful observations, much of which superseded and corrected the work of Ptolemy. Copernicus was explicit in relying on the work of the Muslim astronomers he knew as al-Battani and Arzachel.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts

This catalogue currently indexes 3,048 digitized medieval manuscripts.

Thanks to Marianne Hansen for pointing me to this.