Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Post About Books, Inspired by Guilt

I really have nothing medieval to say but I’m feeling very bad about not having posted anything historical in about a month.

There is a reason for this. Work’s been busy and this coming week is the penultimate one for this group I’ve been working with for the past year. It’s also the last week, but penultimate is such a cool word. Purdue also has this fun little tradition where every September 15 we’re required to report on everything we’ve done for the entire year. Of course one could keep track and input information over the previous 51 weeks but who’d want to give up the panicked adrenaline rush?

But all of this is not why I haven’t posted. The real reason is I’ve done very little Medieval reading. And while work’s been busy, there’s still been some time available. I’ve just been doing other things, which I’ll explain with a true story.

A couple of weeks ago I received an offer from an academic book publisher offering a substantial discount on some books. Those of you who know me or who have been following this blog will be unsurprised to discover that I took advantage of this opportunity. I ordered five books, saving a chunk of change (once you set aside the fact that I could have spent no money and still had plenty on hand to read), and in doing so saved over a hundred bucks on another book I found almost by accident (not the book, the offer).

This all happened while I was in the office busily entering data onto Purdue’s website. I looked through the book sale, found five I didn’t have, ordered them, and went on my way.

A day later, back home, I went to enter the books into my spreadsheet and, well, if anyone is interested in a copy of either Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on the Romans by Thomas P. Scheck or Christianity’s Quiet Success: The Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon Collection and the Power of the Church in Late Antique Gaul by Lisa Kaaren Bailey, e-mail me and we can work something out. Haven’t read either of ’em yet or this little problem wouldn’t have happened.

Now, being out $70 for buying books I already have isn’t going to cause me to miss any meals. At the same time, while I like the publishing industry, I’m not keen on making this a habit. It’s one thing to see something in a used bookstore for five bucks, wonder whether I already have it and decide to buy it. That’s only five dollars, not fifty. So I’ve spent the bulk of my spare time the last couple of weeks re-cataloging my entire collection, books in my possession as well as my wishlist, to prevent a recurrence.

While I was at it, I decided this would be the time to figure out just what sources I already have. I have a ton of these on my wishlist but haven’t cataloged (this spelling of “cataloged” just looks wrong but my dictionary likes it), for example, all of the individual sources contained in the 14 volumes of my Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series collection. No point in buying Saint Augustine: The Teacher, the Free Choice of the Will, Grace and Free Will, Russell, trans., from the Fathers of the Church series when I already have it in another form – I haven’t reached the point where I feel the need to have a specific edition of a source.

This is taking some time. I was pretty sure it would which was why I was waiting for a blizzard or something before I set to it. I think it’s gone beyond being a task or a chore and is a full-blown project. I’m at about the halfway point which means that it may be another week or two before I get back to posting substance. The plus side, from a blogging perspective, is that I have the outlines for several posts I’d like to put up. In any case, I apologize for not posting much lately and even more for the boring post – hopefully you’re reading this just before going to bed.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Books


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This is Not at All Medieval

I have previously said this website would be reserved for Medieval History, or at least stuff related to it. I’m going to break that today for one post.

My home community of Schoharie County, New York, was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene last Sunday. The Schoharie Valley was completely flooded by several feet of water as over 10 inches of rain fell in a few hours in that area and in the Northern Catskills, which is drained by the Schoharie Creek. 1

This area is prone to flooding, folks there have dealt with those in the past and when the first reports came in last weekend with items such as, “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” I initially passed those off as media hype.

They weren’t.

The Schoharie Valley before and after Irene

It was obvious from the pictures coming in on Sunday that the water was higher than it had ever been before – the homes and farms in the lower right of the pictures have not flooded in the past, as far as I know. What wasn’t obvious until I saw pictures and video the following day was the force of this flood. My memory of floods in the Schoharie valley is that while the water in the creek moves swiftly, that in the flood plain does not. It generally starts rising, moving fairly gently downstream. This time floodwaters a half mile or more from the creek were moving at 50-60 miles an hour. I’ve seen images of buildings, beyond where floodwaters usually reach, which look like someone had hit them with rockets – one side of the building is blown in, while the downstream side is blown out.

It’s hard for me to quantify the damage; I’m sure assessments are ongoing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the two largest towns in the valley, Middleburgh and Schoharie, historical towns settled in the early 1700’s, were devastated.

The main road into Middleburgh, above, and Bridge Street, a back way into Schoharie, below

In the valley I’ve been told that 75% of the homes are unlivable – I’ve been hearing that they expect them to be condemned but I hope this means you can’t live in them now but they can be repaired.

Schoharie county has an interesting geography. A good chunk of it is valley, with a low point of 520 feet (158 m) elevation. The Southern portion of the county is in the Catskills which consists of an escarpment, generally over 2000 feet (600 m) and elevations as high as over 3200 feet (980 m). All of this drains into the Schoharie Creek. Along the side roads running down from the mountains, small drainage ditches along minimally improved roads became torrents, eating away at the roads and destroying homes.

A home, or what’s left of it, along a side road

You can find additional pictures here.

This is not a wealthy place and it’s in trouble. Donations of supplies have flooded into the community, which is great, and I think everyone’s being fed. The problem is, as of yesterday (September 2) over 7,000 people out of a county of about 30,000, remained without power. I would guess that this is roughly equal to the number of people who are homeless and housed in various shelters, schools, etc. I have no doubt there will be federal assistance but federal assistance isn’t designed to return things to how they were – it’s designed to get people to where they can help themselves recover. This recovery will be slow.

USGS Water flow data for Breakabeen, located just upstream from Middleburgh. The previous record flow rate for this site was 4420 cubic feet/second in 2003. The gauge height in the same period jumped from under 5 feet to over 20.

Everyone has problems and we all have groups and causes we donate to. However if anyone would like to make a donation, the Schoharie County Community Action Program has established a flood relief fund. Include “flood fund” in the memo portion of your check made out to “SCCAP” and send to:

Schoharie County Community Action Program
795 East Main Street,Suite 5
Cobleskill, NY 12043

If you live closer to the area, this page has other ways to help. As a caution, quite often sending “stuff” is less helpful because not everyone needs everything. I believe, for example, many donation sites have stopped taking used clothing. Perishable “stuff” like soap, shampoo, hygiene items, toilet paper, etc. are usually more in need.

I was hoping to get back there this weekend and stay through next week to help but that will have to wait for a few weeks from now. Schoharie County is certainly not the only rural area impacted. Several neighboring counties were also hit pretty hard and Vermont has also suffered, badly.

There is a very significant, almost miraculous bright spot in all this. When the water began to arrive, there was an evacuation of the valley for fear of a dam upstream failing. This involved evacuation sirens and local law enforcement going door-to-door. No lives were lost in Schoharie County, though much else was.

This isn’t medieval but I felt compelled to post it. Things are not good back home. I’ll return to medieval topics before long.

1 My family lives in another area of the county and is fine – a lot of water ran down the hill but their road didn’t wash out and their power was restored relatively quickly.


Posted by on September 3, 2011 in Not Really Medieval