Friday, May 9, 2014


I continue at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Today is my busy day at the event; I am to present a paper, to chair a panel, and to attend a business meeting. Other things might happen, as well; it will depend on how my scheduled events go.

Briefly, in other news, the third final exam for which I am responsible is being held today, and my thanks go to my colleague Dr. Jason Roberts for agreeing to oversee it in my absence. I will have some grading to do, I know, once again--but this last blast of it ought to be the last until the fall.

More to present concerns, though, is that the conference has continued to treat me well. I attended a couple of excellent sessions yesterday and met up with a friend for lunch at a wonderful Middle Eastern place I encountered last time I was at the Zoo. It was good to catch up, even though said friend and I are in fairly regular contact through social media; some things are better said in person. Said friend's paper was among those presented at the sessions I attended yesterday, as well, and it was good to hear papers approaching the kinds of materials I treat from directions entirely different from those I use to treat them. There is something to be said for the exposure to different ideas.

That idea was the examination of text through quantifiable data. Typically, those who study literature as literature avoid the use of quantitative data in their studies, being either untrained for it or operating out of a disdain that bespeaks something of the sour grapes mentality. (The dismissal of such data as "mere counting," which I have heard people do, rings of jealousy that the "mere counting" ends up being the method of data collection socially prized--insofar as any data collection is socially prized among the non-intellectual or anti-intellectual.) Yet there is much to be gained from attention to the numbers embedded in the words we read. For example, in one of the papers I had my students write during the term now ending, the students were obliged to examine a number of articles in the hopes of distilling standards of comparison from them. Several of the items examined were entirely quantitative, counting the numbers of paragraphs and sentences and words and working out the relationships among those numbers. Such concerns did interact with the representativeness of examples identified and thus with the conclusions to be drawn from those examples. One of the panels I attended worked in much the same line of inquiry, counting syllables and stresses in lines of poetry to make determinations about that poetry and to be able to draw conclusions from them. (I would have liked to have had a more solid background in numeracy than I do as I listened to the papers, actually.) And I am sure that other projects could benefit from the same methodologies; we read and write a lot of words, and there are things embedded in them that will only appear if we look at them a bit differently. Those of us who do know the pieces ought to be the ones to do it, rather than handing over "math" stuff to those who have not our vested interests in the texts.

This is the kind of thing that occurs to me at Kalamazoo. And this is why I keep coming back--or one of the reasons.

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