It seems like every year I have to take a couple of weeks and clear my brain of Medieval Stuff. 1 I’ve been going through that phase since roughly the first of the year. The book I’m reading – and it’s a pretty good book – is something I started just after Christmas. I’ve thought of posting but A) mostly it would be “fluff” posts and B) I haven’t really felt like it. I think I’m coming out of this soporific state. Unfortunately, work is about to get cranking again but I’m hoping for a post or two before this happens.
The following is a true amateur tip; every professional I know already does something like this, whether it’s using a tool such as Endnote or Zotero, or through a system he or she has developed. I’ve accumulated a fair amount of source material, English translations of course. While I’m reading, among the notes I jot down are sources I may want to have a look at. The problem is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to recall if I already have a source or not.
This isn’t much of a problem with standalone volumes. I haven’t reached the point where I gather sources just to have them around for reference (see below for my exception, downloads). When I get them, I read them. So I know I have, for example, Paulinus of Nola’s poems, Augustine’s City of God and Gregory the Great’s Dialogues and Pastoral Care.
The problem is collections of sources. I’m a big fan of these. I think they’re a great intro to a period or subject and the ones I’ve read generally do a good job of pointing the reader (or at least me) in the direction of additional source material. There’s an excellent series, “Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures” edited by Paul Edward Dutton and published by The University of Toronto Press. I have several of these books as well as other collections. Although I’ve kept a record of what books I have on my shelves for a long time, this doesn’t tell me what sources they contain.
I also have downloaded quite a few sources. It’s very easy for me to forget I have, for example, Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies which I downloaded from The Internet Archive. I don’t read downloaded texts cover-to-cover on my computer but remembering that I have them to refer to would be nice.
So my tip is; if you believe you’ll reach the point where recalling sources will be important to you, start keeping a record of them now. I’ve just started building a spreadsheet for mine and I can tell it’s going to be a larger task than I originally thought. The first book I pulled off the shelf was The Black Death by Rosemary Horrox, Manchester University Press (1994) ISBN: 9-78019-034985. It contains excerpts from 125 different sources about the 1348-50 Plague Event. It would have been far easier if I’d recorded these as I went along rather than waiting 15 years, after I’d accumulated several hundred books. I have a start on it with my Hagiography collection but there’s a lot more to add to it. 2
This seems so basic and obvious that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done this long ago. But I haven’t and it’s becoming an issue.
1 OK – I have to tell this story. In college a Communication Arts Prof once told our class, “If you ever think of using the word “stuff” in a speech or paper, I want you to think of it as what accumulates around your belly-button when you haven’t taken a bath for several weeks.” Now I can’t recall ever neglecting my personal hygiene for quite that long of a period but the message was clear and has stayed with me for a long time – and I use “stuff” all the time (for informal communication, not professional publications). So if my use of it makes you cringe, it’s a deliberate affectation on my part, and I really can’t tell you why.
2 I had enough trouble fitting my Hagiography collection into a web page that I won’t be doing this for my source collection but once I finish it, I’ll be happy to e-mail the spreadsheet to anyone who asks.