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Conquering Paleography with Classic Rock & Katy Perry

March 24, 2015

Okay, so I’ve been freaking out a fair bit about this paleography project. For the past couple months or so I’ve been attempting to transcribe Latin documents from digital images, very kindly provided to me from the Dublin City Archives. What happens is this: I stare and stare and stare at a text, trying to make out one single word, and failing miserably. I’ll spend hours doing this, with nothing to show for it. So I’ve begun thinking that my trip to the Dublin archives to see these documents (wills, certificates of probate, and royal decrees) in person may simply be a colossal waste of time, because the same thing will happen – I will stare and stare and stare, cry a little (okay, a LOT) and go home with nothing to show for it. And this will happen every day, for 13 days. So this has been a major stress in my life.

But I’m beginning to turn things around. Not that deciphering these texts has gotten any easier – on the contrary, the deeper I dig the more frustrated I get – but I’ve decided, upon the advice of good friends, to make the most of my trip outside the archives. I’ll still put in my time with the manuscripts of course, because I have to – the Medieval Academy and Richard III Society gave me a generous research grant to support this work, and I will not let them down – but I am also determined to fully experience all that Dublin has to offer: to eat, drink, shop, walk, live, experience some good Irish craic, explore its last surviving medieval monuments (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the Book of Kells at Trinity College), and adopt this amazing city as my own,

And the manuscripts will be a major part of all that. I’m actually thrilled, and grateful, to have the opportunity to be a “real” medieval scholar, if only for a short time, poring over mss in an archival setting and relishing “the thrill of smelling the parchment and feeling it crackle and bend under your hand” (to quote a fellow medievalist and friend). I WILL NOT let this project defeat me; I WILL come out the other side with some paleographical experience (I’m not aiming for expertise, by any means…) that I can proudly put on my CV, and the knowledge that I have accomplished something with this handful of medieval documents that few others have had the opportunity to view, let alone touch and experience and savor. And I’m going to do this all with “Eye of the Tiger” and “Roar” on repeat – the soundtrack to my research (hey, whatever gets me through this, right?)

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