While I was at the 2011 South Central Modern Language Association conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas (which was great, by the way), I followed my usual practice and picked up some books to read. One of them was the Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture, edited by Andrew Galloway. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading it, usually on the subway going to and coming home from work. Most of the chapters have been interesting, and some have been useful to me as I have continued to work on my dissertation.
I am still not a fan of Margery Kempe. "This creature" doesn't do it for me.
As I was reading today, though, I encountered an error in the work, which disappoints me; Cambridge UP usually does better fact-checking. Specifically, Clare A. Simmons makes an error of fact in her chapter, "Re-creating the Middle Ages." In all fairness, the chapter has a lot of good material in it, and its treatment of much of that material is well put and interesting; I am going to have to do some more research because of her work, and I am going to put some of that work into my dissertation (which is still going, but is still going more slowly than I would like it to).
That is has good material, though, does not mean that it is exempt from fault. And I do not mean by this my rejection of her claim that "It is hard to determine the exact indebtedness of popular culture's medieval fantasy to Tolkien" (295)--even though I do object to it, since the form of fantasy literature since the publication of the Lord of the Rings is as much indebted to Tolkien as rock music after the Beatles is to them. That is a matter of difference of opinion (although I think mine more informed and accurate on the matter than hers--but I would). The real issue of fault, the factual error, is Simmons's statement regarding "Stan Lee, who also created Batman, the 'Dark Knight'" (296). Great as Stan Lee is in the eyes of True Believers such as myself, he did not give rise to the Caped Crusader. That was Bob Kane.
I understand that there is quite a bit of the nerdy fanboy in my pointing out the actual creator of a comic book character. I do not deny it. But I do not deny that a publication from a major world university, a publication that serves (at least in a preliminary way) to ground students and scholars in basic cultural understanding, has an obligation to get correct its factual claims, particularly when those claims are easily verifiable--and Bob Kane's agency in the creation of Batman is not exactly difficult to uncover. The university exists as a site of knowledge development and dissemination; it can only perform its function if it is known to produce good intellectual materials, and it cannot do so if it includes egregious errors of fact.
We are all human. We all make mistakes. But those of us who are involved in scholarship, particularly those of us who have reached the academic dream of professorship at a major institution, are supposed to know enough to check our facts before we send things out into the world.
Simmons, Clare A. "Re-creating the Middle Ages." The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture. Ed. Andrew Galloway. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print. 279-98.