Saturday, September 09, 2006

How This Blog is Helping My Research

Oh the wonderful self-referential world of the blog!

Yesterday I was invited to make a response to a recent interview with linguist David Crystal, in which he commented that in its diary-like liberation from the protocols of editing, copy-editing and proofreading, blogging represented a kind of release from the grip of standard English, to the effect (I've deleted the email from the laptop I'm using at home) that we had seen nothing like this since the Middle Ages.

An odd conjunction of things, then. I was invited to comment, since I am both medievalist and blogger, and my first response was to reject the notion of the diary as any kind of medieval writing. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether medieval chronicles can be seen as prefiguring the blog. Linguistically, the English ones fit Crystal's criteria: they aren't edited (except in the form of self-censorship or scribal copying), and are certainly written and mediated through a range of dialectal, regional and personal filters. The process of verifying the 'news' they report, too, is variable at best; and the chronicle accounts of 1381, for example, read uncannily like much net gossip.

In my comments, though, I stressed that academic blogs like mine offer no particular linguistic freedom. I try to be as careful here with my spelling and punctuation as I am in more formal discourse; and if anything, I'm hyper-conscious of being judged by my readers, whether students, colleagues, peers, superiors, strangers, friends, etc. But let that pass. Different blogs serve different purposes, is all.

I keep returning, though, to questions about the audience of medieval chronicles. I've never done any work on these, and presumed they were written for relatively restricted monastic audiences. But there is clearly some sense of writing into a community, and perhaps a community of strangers, linked by association and monastic networks. So perhaps it would be useful, in my research into the pre-history of mass culture, to track any changes in the idea of the audience for chronicles from the Anglo-Saxon to the fifteenth century. That's a scary thought, if it means I will have to brush up my Old English.

Still, I love the thought that writing the blog led to this question, which led to this thought, which led back to this blog...

1 comment:

medieval woman said...

Hi Stephanie, Just thought I'd chime in on your post - I think it's an interesting thing to compare medieval chronicle writing and blogs - I agree that even though some entries do read very much like, "today there was much mirth in Cambridge, blah, blah", for the most part there is a much larger structure imposed. First, because chroniclers were taking from/translating other chronicles so much. As for chronicle audience, I've published a bit on it and one thing that stands out in my research (on the Middle English prose Brut in particular) is that these had a huge and varied audience - not narrow in the slightest. In fact, there are more mss of the prose Brut extant than any other Middle English text except the Wycliffite Bible. There have actually been some interesting comparisons made between chronicles and Bible in terms of their position in medieval book collections. Often you see records of births, weddings, marriages, etc. written in the flyleaves. Most mss (even household books or anthologies) had part of some chronicle text in them.

Great post!