Medieval Holiday & Bibliography Tip

15 Jan

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.


Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Amateur Tips


Tags: , ,

5 responses to “Medieval Holiday & Bibliography Tip

  1. Kristen

    January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    What! How are there only two tagged Amateur Tips? I’m definitely an amateur, just a medieval history major looking at grad school or teaching in the next few years, but my reading is so far very lackadaisical, and my note-taking sporadic. I’d love to read any more practical tips you have for doing this kind of thing in your free time and making it worth it, even without the pressure of classes or deadlines.

  2. Kristen

    January 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    (Ah, nevermind — just two in the “Category,” but more under the actual tag. Carry on!)

    • Curt Emanuel

      January 28, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      I haven’t gone through all the posts and categorized them since I’ve moved the blog. You can also look at the Amateur Tips Page.

  3. Steve Dunn

    August 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I use ‘stuff’ too! It may not be terribly selective in what it refers to but it surely covers an awful lot of ground when you either do not have the time or vocabulary to use something more specifically descriptive!

    I enjoy your blog. You are hugely knowledgeable and thank you so much for sharing your experiences, reading matter and views. I am fortunate enough to be able to work and volunteer in fields where the 13th century is very real even today. Currently I am drafting the words for a website in support of one of the four remaining 1215 Magna Carta. Not too shabby for a former HR manager! Plus developing a history in 10 objects for a medieval hospital. I know all about the feelings of inadequacy in the face of ‘experts’. The best will help you and the worst……well you know!

  4. Curt Emanuel

    August 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoy the blog. Your Magna Carta project sounds very interesting. A couple of different ways to approach it too which is always fun.

    It’s funny when I read this post now. I’ve entered over a thousand sources (not books but the sources themselves) in the intervening 20 months and I’m still on the first bookcase of 8. I have many more source collections than I thought. Or maybe it’s just that I started with the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers series.


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