Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Things only amusing to academics

Yesterday we had to interview a grad student who is going to be part of our teaching fellows program. Rather than appointing a committee, I just grabbed the person who will be the mentor and the person who will be interim chair when I'm doing research next year.

Me: "So here you have the current Chair [me], next year's interim Chair, the person who will be the Chair the year after that [me], and the person who will be taking over Chair when I'm done. We're a veritable Bob's Discount Furniture of professors."

Well, I thought it was funny.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Complete Old English Poetic Corpus is Now Online at Anglo-Saxon Aloud

After nearly two years (just ten days short of two years), 528 posts and many hours of recording and even more hours editing, every Old English poem is now recorded and on-line at this site. The posting of "Instructions for Christians" a few minutes ago thus marks the completion of my original plan for Anglo-Saxon Aloud.

If some of the statistics are accurate, there have been nearly a quarter of a million downloads from Anglo-Saxon Aloud (I find this hard to believe, actually). The Dream of the Rood seems to have been downloaded the most, at 1,900 or so times thus far, with the Wanderer next, at 1,600.

If you have just discovered this site, I encourage you not just to click on the first recording below (which is not a very good poem, if it even is a poem), but instead to listen to some of the best Anglo-Saxon poems, including The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Dream of the Rood, selections from Beowulf, Cædmon's Hymn, and The Battle of Maldon. You can find over 100 different poems through the "category" links. If you would like to listen to the poems in both Old English and Modern English, with brief introductory discussion by me, you can buy the 2-CD set of Anglo-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits from the link. For complicated reasons, not all of Beowulf is on this site, but you can buy the entire poem in Old English as a 3-CD set at Beowulf Aloud.
I am extremely gratified by all of the feedback I have received on this project. I have learned an immense amount about Old English poetry by doing it and have also had a great deal of fun. And at the times when I wondered why I was spending yet another Thursday morning recording a week's worth of posts, or when I was editing out the ten millionth loud breath or too-long pause, knowing that people were listening to me in Russia and Taiwan and Japan and Chile and Australia and South Africa was a great motivator. I am particularly encouraged that so many people have emailed to say that they have used the site for their classes.

A word about my pronunciation. I was trained to speak Old English by John Miles Foley at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He in turn was trained by Robert Creed. Professor Foley also worked with Benjamin Bagby on his pronunciation, so a great deal of the recorded Old English in the world goes back to John and to Bob Creed. But although there are good reasons for thinking that the way we pronounce Old English is close to the original pronunciation, I do want to note that there are different "schools" and accents of Old English. I definitely slip into American pronunciation of vowels on occasion, and those taught by different teachers will pronounce Old English in subtly (and less subtly) different ways. Such is the nature of language: it always changes from speaker to speaker, from time to time. I do not know what Anglo-Saxon native speakers, presented with the poems on this site, would think. Perhaps they would think it barbarous, but I am hopeful that they would recognize at least a little of the beauty of their poetry.

In an early exercise in Bright's Old English Grammar, the text from which I learned Old English, the "Learning-Maiden" says: "ðeah þe we ne mægen hieran ussera ealdfædera stefna, þeahhwæðere magon we rædan heora word, þa þe ða boceras gewriten habbað." (Although we may not hear our ancestors' voices, we nevertheless may read their words, those that the writers have written). We can never bring back the voices of those long gone, but, through centuries of patient scholarship, effective training and new technology, we can recapture at least an idea, an echo of what those voices might have been. I hope I have accomplished that, to a very small degree, here.
I am done with the poetry, and will be taking a short break from recording, but I am not done with Anglo-Saxon Aloud. 30,000 lines of poetry took 2 years. 300,000 lines of prose would then, theoretically, take 20, and I am not making that kind of a commitment right now (and it would in any event be longer, because prose has more words per line). My next step will either be The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or Wulfstan's Sermo Lupi, but I have not decided yet. I'll also be doing some housekeeping, fixing tags, adding explanations, etc., here (so let me know if you find errors) and I hope to work with Aaron Hostetter, who has created the incredibly valuable Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry project) to link together translations with the recordings. At some point I will offer for sale (in case you don't want to spend a year downloading) the entire corpus on a jump drive, iPod shuffle, or set of DVDs or CDs, but that is in the further future.

Again, thanks very, very much for your support over the past two years. Enjoy the poetry. Learn the language. Wes þu hal

Monday, February 09, 2009

The World We Now Live In

Yesterday my son and daughter were playing at being wolves. My son was the baby wolf and my daughter was the mommy wolf, and they were crawling around the house, howling, attacking stuffed animals, etc.

Daughter: Ok, Baby. Now you go into your den and stay there and be safe until Mama catches the moose. Then you can come out and join Mama.

Son: How will I know when you've caught the moose, Mama?

Daughter: Mama will text you.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Remarkable Life

When I first came to Wheaton, I met Professor Emeritus Holcombe Austin, who was a retired Philosophy professor and also an expert on trees.  He and his wife Ethelind were fixtures on the Wheaton campus, and I remember chatting with him at lunch when I was a brand-new assistant professor.  He was a fascinating and very kind person. 

Sadly, Holcombe passed away in 2003 at the age of 97, and a few days ago Ethelind also died, either at 100 or just shy of making her century.

Below I've pasted in Ethelind's obituary from the Denver Post. What a remarkable life!


Ethelind Elbert Austin, the grandniece of Colorado territorial governor Samuel Elbert--for whom Mount Elbert is named--and the great-grandniece-in-law of territorial governor John Evans--for whom Mount Evans is named--died at her home in Aurora on January 28.

A skilled and avid horsewoman, she rode in 1917 at the age of 8 to the top of Mount Evans, long before the road to the peak was built. It was a 16-hour single-day round trip, starting by moonlight at 3 a.m. for an ascent of some 7000 feet from the family ranch in upper Bear Creek Canyon. When the ride was over, she later recalled almost falling asleep face first into her soup.

She was a raconteur of early Colorado history and in her 90's sometimes told historical anecdotes ("The Story of Deadeye Dick" was a favorite) at events in Denver at the Byers-Evans House museum, which she visited as a little girl when the family of territorial governor John Evans was still living in the house.

She was born in Des Moines, Iowa, grew up on a family farm, and by age 16 had the ambition of becoming the nation's first female competitive racing jockey, but instead she enrolled as a student in Radcliffe College, in Cambridge, MA, where she graduated with honors in Romance languages in 1930 and where she met a graduate student in philosophy from Texas named Holcombe Austin. They were married in 1933. He taught philosophy at Harvard College, Scripps College in California, and for most of his career he was professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, in Norton, MA, where she was a librarian at the college.

After retirement in 1970, they spent each summer at the family ranch in upper Bear Creek Canyon, where she rode nearly daily through age 98 and was the acknowledged local expert on the canyon's trails.

She is survived by three children. John Austin, M.D., is a professor of radiology at Columbia University in New York City, David Austin is former principal cellist of the New Haven and Hartford, CT, symphony orchestras and a businessman in Hoonah, AK, and Sue Austin Ricketts, Ph.D., is a demographer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and lives in Denver. She is survived also by 8 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.