The rose may smell as sweet regardless, but names still matter. Image from wikimedia commons.

Some weeks ago, not for the first time, I received a compliment from a student that both gave me a little glow inside and flabbergasted me at the same time. There are clearly some things I regard as a baseline effort in the classroom that other people just don’t. Naturally, it’s gratifying when students recognize their tutor’s hard work. It’s also extremely lovely when they are appreciative enough to let one know. As I replied, it can be unexpectedly difficult to tell from the front of the classroom how things are being received by students. (Are they quiet because they’re listening and thinking hard? Or are they all secretly stifling yawns?!) Letting tutors know when they do something right is important because it helps them – at least in theory – to refine their practice.

On this occasion the student remarked that my commitment to teaching was evident in the fact that I could remember my students’ names. Names? The fact that this should be something worth complimenting a tutor on is, quite frankly, horrifying.

I know some people find names hard. I know some people have been teaching for an awfully long time, and a staggering number of names and faces have passed before them. For all I know, this student’s other tutors are all suffering clinical prosopagnosia. If that applies to you, you have my deep sympathy. But for myself, I look at it this way: you, the tutor, have to meet with these young people on a weekly basis for at least three months. You might have a number of groups, but probably no more than (in our system, at least) five groups of twenty or so. That’s one hundred people, give or take. If it’s not the first semester of first year, it’s reasonably likely that you’ve met some of them before. You also have (or at least, we have in my institution) the facility to print off a photographic roll. You have to lead these students in discussion, teach them, advise them, collect and assess their work and, determining whether they’ve taken on your advice, return it to them, and eventually sign off that you are satisfied that the final grade they receive is appropriate to their level of effort and achievement throughout semester… and you propose to do all of this without being able to identify them as individuals? I’m sorry, but words actually fail me… Read the rest of this entry »

Having come direct from reading the Guardian’s reports on Tunisia over breakfast, I am now re-reading Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy, in preparation for my paper at Leeds in a week or so’s time. The deep truths of the following paragraph struck me forcibly. I offer without further comment:

The traditional approach is to trace the background of dissidents, assuming that the formative experience takes place before the individual enters a heretical cell and that his sense of solidarity is based upon a previously developed, commonly held need. However, membership in any group proceeds in stages. The familial, institutional, intellectual, or “class” bonds of the individual before joining are only the point of departure. In many cases the process of socialization continues within the group and arises, as suggested, from patterns of interaction with the other members. This period of education helps determine later behaviour (and may, as well, influence the reinterpretation of earlier events). … Group interaction also determines doctrinal dissemination. Only rarely is an idea utilized by a small voluntary association simply because it has deep historical roots. It must also respond to a problem in the here and now: in that sense, all dissident movements, whether heretical or reformist, are contemporaneous phenomena, no matter how they historicize their origins. (pp.100-101).

If you’d been in the corridors around my office a few weeks back, you would have come across me and several of my wonderful tutors and colleagues bedecked in thirteenth century(ish) garb. This was not a closet cosplay club. This was serious pedagogy folks. In the closing week of semester, we held a ‘Medieval Expo’ of student posters, videos and podcasts aimed at educating a general audience about the middle ages, and turned it into a festival with staff and students in costume and prizes for the ‘People’s Choice’ displays.

ingeborg kathleen computer expo caulfield

Checking out some student work in character as Ingeborg of Denmark

To my mind, historical education is a serious business, but that’s no reason not to have fun as well. After all, I love what I do, so why can’t students be encouraged to have a blast while also acquiring historical knowledge and transferable skills?

Apparently not quite everyone agreed, although the students raved about it and all the teaching staff involved were excited by this innovative addition to the assessment program. The odd dissenting voice of critique seemed to suggest that in dressing up we had undermined our own and our discipline’s credibility. This not a unique view: ‘real’ historians often deride ‘amateur’ re-enactment troupes and the SCA set. This was the prevailing attitude I encountered as an undergraduate student myself. Now, I find I beg to differ. Let me tell you why.

Read the rest of this entry »

magna carta BL catalogueAs I recently tweeted to British Library curator Julian Harrison, before the year is out we will all have reached #PeakMagnaCarta. But that time is not yet upon us!

In this 800th anniversary year, I’ve already been (albeit briefly and unexpectedly) something of a radio celebrity, talking about thirteenth century England on ABC radio in three capital cities across Australia. Heady days, folks; heady days! But we’re only just beginning. There are any number of public events, lectures, exhibitions and conferences planned. I won’t be at all of them, but I admit I’m going to gorge on this unaccustomed appetite for my period and specialty while I can.

Here’s a curated selection of Magna Carta related activities for you to peruse: Read the rest of this entry »

9781445645742Darren Baker of the blog and associated newsletter ‘The Provisions‘, has a new book on Simon de Montfort, With All For All, out now* with Amberley Publishing. I posed a few questions to him in the lead up to publication, to probe how his book responds to a range of opinions about this complex character circulating in the academic world:

This is the first biography of the Earl of Leicester since J. R. Maddicott’s Simon de Montfort in 1994. What do you see as the key distinction between your characterisation of Montfort and his? Do you think interpretation has shifted in a particular direction in the last twenty years?

Maddicott gives perhaps the fullest account yet of Montfort’s life and career. He is what you might say is a biographer’s biographer, meaning his work will always be an indispensable resource for people like me. In the end, however, I feel his judgment is too harsh, that he is inclined to see him easily corrupted by his success, to be too much like his father, who incidentally I don’t think was the complete demon he is often portrayed as today. Maddicott is certainly not the first to present such a sombre view, but so thorough is his biography that it has been the prevailing opinion since it came out. I see Montfort as a much more inspiring figure, one who truly did make a lasting contribution, and at first I felt compelled to answer criticisms about him in the body of my book. I then realized that most lay readers probably couldn’t care less for any scholarly tug-of-war, they just want a great story, so I shuffled my opinions to the back of the book. Read the rest of this entry »

On 1 March, I pose a few questions to Darren Baker, author of a new biography of Simon de Montfort, With All For All, as he wraps up a week long online book tour. Watch here for updates.
With all blog tour advert

OK – odd request perhaps; or perhaps not.

I have been trying unsuccessfully to locate a 15th/16th (?) century English (?) recipe I found online a few years back. Despite my, if I say it myself, pretty amazing googling powers, I haven’t managed to find the original site, a copy of the same recipe, or my original printout (doh!). I need your help to find it, gentle reader, because that baby was a tasty thing, and I want it in my repertoire for future Med-Ren Feasts (an *awesome* annual tradition of the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at Monash).

Here’s what I can recall:

As modified for a modern shopping list according to the original site, it definitely had the following ingredients:

  • chicken
  • oranges
  • lemons
  • mace
  • white wine
  • prunes
  • currants

It may also have contained (memory is hazy…):

  • dates?
  • cinnamon?
  • onion?
  • chicken stock?

You were supposed to serve it in its broth, although I had to drain most of that off when I first made it, in order to transport it 75km by train, bus, car and foot….

This is as close as I have found recently, but it’s not the version I originally used, which included some advice about modern substitutions:

If these details ring a bell with you – please ‘elp!

I do so love getting new books! Just lashed out on these with a voucher from my kind in-laws. If you see me sitting impatiently by the post box, you know why:

de colore copeland hermeneutics

Isidore of Seville says:

The noun (nomen) is so called as if it were ‘denoter’ (notamen), because by its designation it makes things known (noscere, ppl. notus) to us. Indeed, unless you know its name (nomen), the knowledge of a thing perishes.[1]

So if naming is the creation of knowledge, what is anonymity? Is it simply not knowing? or is it un-knowing; the destruction of an idea?

[1] Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, ed. by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), (p.42) I.vii.1.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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Twitter: @KB_Neal

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