Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Dream of the Rood

Lindau Gospelbook Cover

The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood is contained in the Vercelli Book, a volume of Old English prose sermons and religious verse, created probably at St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury around 970 or so. The following description, edition, and translation are from my Old and Middle English Anthology, published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2009. It's likely in the fourth edition of the Anthology that there'll be changes to the translation;  merits continuing effort.

The Dream of the Rood, or A Vision of the Cross as it is sometimes more appropriately titled, is justly one of the most critically acclaimed poems in English. It survives in the Vercelli Book, folios 104 verso to 106 recto. Parts of the text are among the oldest surviving poetic expressions in the vernacular. Carved in runes into the shaft of the early eighth-century Northumbrian Ruthwell Cross are lines of poetry that, in the tenth century, reappear in The Dream of the Rood. The lines on the Ruthwell Cross form the marginal text to elaborate carved depictions of the Tree of Life. They correspond to lines 39-42, 44-5, 48-9, 56-9, and 62-4 of the unique Vercelli Book text (for the texts arranged en-face, and a good discussion of the artistic scheme of the Ruthwell Cross, see Swanton, ed., The Dream of the Rood).

            The Dream of the Rood is riddlic (see also the Exeter Book Riddle on the Cross), penitential, eschatalogical (that is, concerned with death, judgement, and the afterlife), and evangelical. It is the first Dream-Vision poem in English. The poet speaks in the first person to relate the vision creating a sense of immediacy and urgency in the narration. The precise nature of this vision is only gradually revealed, as in a riddle. When it is made known that syllicre treow (‘a better tree’), this beam ‘wood’, refers to the Saviour’s tree, the immediacy of the text is increased by the startling poetic device of prosopopeia through which the inanimate object is brought to life and given a voice of its own. The Cross is Christ’s retainer, serving its lord as a Germanic comitatus member would serve; but it is also Christ’s bana ‘slayer’, a role that goes against all that the heroic code advocates. The reader or listener of the poem observes the Cross with the poet through a rich visual depiction: the Cross is mutable, covered in gems, then covered in blood. This duality represents the central paradox of the Cross. The audience is made to participate in the Crucifixion and its aftermath, seeing the events through the eyes of the witness Cross. In this way, the revelations bring about repentance in the audience for the sins committed that compelled Christ to become mortal and redeem mankind. Christ’s mortality, the issue of his divine humanity, was the focus of considerable theological controversy in the earlier medieval period. The poet deftly retains complete orthodoxy by inscribing the sufferings of Christ onto the Cross: the Cross speaks of its pain, its torment, not of that belonging to Christ himself. At the same time, Christ is a divine being, and an heroic Germanic lord, one who dies to save his troop. He voluntarily ascends the Cross, indeed, ‘embraces’ the instrument of his death. Neither does the Cross talk of Christ’s death: Christ rests, ‘weary after the battle’. The victory of resurrection complete, the Cross continues with its biography—its discovery by Helena, Constantine’s mother, and how it is now a symbol of Christ’s salvation and Judgement, a token of faith and, as in the case of the Ruthwell Cross, an object of devotion. This leads into the final homiletic section of the poem in which the poet himself, initially impelled to contrition, then to a revitalised faith, determines to seek the heavenly home.

            Within the structural framework of the text, phrasal parallels draw together the three central characters in the work: the poet, the Cross, and Christ. These verbal links emphasise God’s desire for mankind to be united with him and his Church and repatriated in heaven by following lifes weg (‘the way of life’, line 88b). This poem is a unique reading of the central event in salvation history—the Crucifixion—and is not confined to present or past or future; it is a timeless text that continues to move readers more than a thousand years after its creation. 


London, British Library, Arundel 60, f. 52v, s. xi


The Dream of the Rood

Hwæt, Ic swefna cyst     secgan wylle
hwæt me gemætte     to midre nihte,
syðþan reordberend     reste wunedon.

    Þuhte me þæt Ic gesawe    syllicre treow

on lyft lædan,     leohte bewunden,
bearma beorhtost.     Eall þæt beacen wæs
begoten mid golde;     gimmas stodon
fægere æt foldan sceatum,     swylce þær fife wæron
uppe on þam eaxlegespanne.     Beheoldon þær engel Dryhtnes ealle
fægere þurh forðgesceaft.     Ne wæs ðær huru fracodes gealga;
ac hine þær beheoldon    halige gastas,
men ofer moldan     ond eall þeos mære gesceaft.
Syllic wæs se sigebeam     ond Ic synnum fah,
forwunded mid wommum.     Geseah Ic wuldres treow
wædum geweorðode,     wynnum scinan,
gegyred mid golde;     gimmas hæfdon
bewrigene weorðlice     wealdes treow.
    Hwæðre, Ic þurh þæt gold     ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin,     þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.     Eall Ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed.
Forht Ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe;     geseah Ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum ond bleom:     hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange;     hwilum mid since gegyrwed.
Hwæðre, Ic þær licgende     lange hwile,
beheold hreowcearig     Hælendes treow,
oððæt Ic gehyrde     þæt hit hleoðrode;
ongan þa word sprecan     wudu selesta:
     ‘Þæt wæs geara iu,     Ic þæt gyta geman,
þæt Ic wæs aheawen     holtes on ende,
astyred of stefne minum.     Genaman me ðær strange feondas,
geworhton him þær to wæfersyne,     heton me heora wergas hebban.
Bæron me ðær beornas on eaxlum,     oððæt hie me on beorg asetton,
gefæstnodon me þær feondas genoge.     Geseah Ic þa Frean mancynnes
efstan elne mycle     þæt he me wolde on gestigan.
Þær Ic þa ne dorste     ofer Dryhtnes word
bugan oððe berstan,     þa Ic bifian geseah
eorðan sceatas.     Ealle Ic mihte
feondas gefyllan;     hwæðre Ic fæste stod.
Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð—     þæt wæs God ælmihtig–
strang ond stiðmod;     gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyhðe,     þa he wolde mancyn lysan.
Bifode Ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte;     ne dorste Ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum,     ac Ic sceolde fæste standan.
Rod wæs Ic aræred.     Ahof Ic ricne Cyning,
heofona Hlaford;     hyldan me ne dorste.
Þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum;     on me syndon þa dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas;     ne dorste Ic hira nænigum sceððan.
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere.     Eall Ic wæs mid blode bestemed
begoten of þæs guman sidan     siððan he hæfde his gast onsended.
    Feala Ic on þam beorge     gebiden hæbbe
wraðra wyrda.     Geseah Ic weruda God
þearle þenian.     Þystro hæfdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum     Wealdendes hræw,
scirne sciman.     Sceadu forð eode,
wann under wolcnum.     Weop eal gesceaft,
cwiðdon Cyninges fyll.     Crist wæs on rode.
    Hwæðere þær fuse     feorran cwoman
to þam æðelinge;     Ic þæt eall beheold.
Sare Ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed;     hnag Ic hwæðre þam secgum to handa,
eaðmod elne mycle.     Genamon hie þær ælmihtigne God,
ahofon hine of ðam hefian wite.     Forleton me þa hilderincas,
standan steame bedrifenne;     eall Ic wæs mid strælum forwundod.
Aledon hie ðær limwerigne,     gestodon him æt his lices heafdum,
beheoldon hie ðær heofenes Dryhten,     ond he hine ðær hwile reste,
meðe æfter ðam miclan gewinne.     Ongunnon him þa moldern wyrcan,
beornas on banan gesyhðe;     curfon hie ðæt of beorhtan stane,
gesetton hie ðæron sigora Wealdend.     Ongunnon him þa sorhleoð galan
earme on þa æfentide;     þa hie woldon eft siðian
meðe fram þam mæran þeodne.     Reste he ðær mæte weorode.
     Hwæðere we ðær reotende     gode hwile
stodon on staðole,      syððan stefn up gewat
hilderinca.     Hræw colode,
fæger feorgbold.     Þa us man fyllan ongan
ealle to eorðan:     þæt wæs egeslic wyrd.
Bedealf us man on deopan seaþe;     hwæðre me þær Dryhtnes þegnas,
freondas gefrunon,
gyredon me     gold ond seolfre.
    Nu þu miht gehyran,     hæleð min se leofa,
þæt Ic bealuwara weorc     gebiden hæbbe,
sarra sorga.     Is nu sæl cumen
þæt me weorðiað     wide ond side
menn ofer moldan     ond eall þeos mære gesceaft;
gebiddaþ him to þyssum beacne.     On me Bearn Godes
þrowode hwile;     forþan Ic þrymfæst nu,
hlifige under heofenum,     ond Ic hælan mæg
æghwylcne anra     þara þe him bið egesa to me.
Iu Ic wæs geworden     wita heardost,
leodum laðost,     aerþan Ic him lifes weg
rihtne gerymde,     reordberendum.
Hwæt, me þa geweorðode     wuldres Ealdor
ofer holmwudu,     heofonrices Weard,
swylce swa he his modor eac,     Marian sylfe,
ælmihtig God,     for ealle menn
geweorðode     ofer eall wifa cynn.
    Nu Ic þe hate,     hæleð min se leofa,
þæt ðu þas gesyhðe     secge mannum:
onwreoh wordum     þæt hit is wuldres beam
se ðe ælmihtig God      on þrowode
for mancynnes      manegum synnum
ond Adomes          ealdegewyrhtum.
Deað he þær byrigde;     hwæðere eft Dryhten aras
mid his miclan mihte     mannum to helpe.
He ða on heofenas astag.     Hider eft fundaþ
on þysne middangeard     mancynn secan
on domdæge     Dryhten sylfa,
ælmihtig God,     ond his englas mid,
þæt he þonne wile deman,     se ah domes geweald,
anra gehwylcum     swa he him ærur her
on þyssum lænum     life geearnaþ.
Ne mæg þær ænig      unforht wesan
for þam worde      þe se Wealdend cwyð:
frineð he for þære mænige     hwær se man sie,
se ðe for Dryhtnes naman     deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan,     swa he ær on ðam beame dyde.
Ac hie þonne forhtiað     ond fea þencaþ
hwæt hie to Criste     cweðan onginnen.
Ne þearf ðær þonne ænig     unforht wesan
þe him ær in breostum bereð     beacna selest.
Ac ðurh ða rode sceal     rice gesecan
of eorðwege     æghwylc sawl
seo þe mid Wealdende     wunian þenceð.’
     Gebæd Ic me þa to þan beame     bliðe mode,
elne mycle,     þær Ic ana wæs
mæte werede.     Wæs modsefa
afysed on forðwege;     feala ealra gebad
langunghwila.     Is me nu lifes hyht
þæt Ic þone sigebeam     secan mote
ana oftor     þonne ealle men,
well weorþian.     Me is willa to ðam
mycel on mode,     ond min mundbyrd is
geriht to þære rode.     Nah Ic ricra feala
freonda on foldan;     ac hie forð heonan
gewiton of worulde dreamum,     sohton him wuldres Cyning;
lifiaþ nu on heofonum     mid Heahfædere,
wuniaþ on wuldre.     Ond Ic wene me
daga gehwylce     hwænne me Dryhtnes rod,
þe Ic her on eorðan     ær sceawode,
on þysson lænan      life gefetige
ond me þonne gebringe     þær is blis mycel,
dream on heofonum,     þær is Dryhtnes folc
geseted to symle,     þær is singal blis;
ond he þonne asette     þær Ic syþþan mot
wunian on wuldre     well mid þam halgum
dreames brucan.     Si me Dryhten freond,
se ðe her on eorþan     ær þrowode
on þam gealgtreowe     for guman synnum.
He us onlysde     ond us lif forgeaf,
heofonlicne ham.     Hiht wæs geniwad
mid bledum on mid blisse     þam þe þær bryne þolodan.
Se Sunu wæs sigorfæst     on þam siðfate,
mihtig ond spedig,      þa he mid manigeo com,
gasta weorode,     on Godes rice,
Anwealda ælmihtig,     englum to blisse
ond eallum ðam halgum     þam þe on heofonum ær,
wunedon on wuldre,     þa heora Wealdend cwom,
ælmihtig God,     þær his eðel wæs.

The Dream of the Rood

Listen, I will tell the best of visions
that I envisioned in the middle of the night,
when voice-bearers dwelled in rest.
    It seemed to me that I saw a more wonderful tree
lifted in the air, wound round with light,
the brightest of beams. That beacon was entirely
cased in gold; beautiful gems stood
at the corners of the earth, likewise there were five
upon the cross-beam. All those fair through creation
gazed on the angel of the lord there. There was certainly no gallows of the wicked;
but the holy spirits beheld it there,
men over the earth and all this glorious creation.
Wondrous was the victory-tree, and I stained with sin,
wounded with guilt. I saw the tree of glory,
honoured with garments, shining with joys,
covered with gold; gems had
covered magnificently the tree of the forest.
    Nevertheless, I was able to perceive through that gold
the ancient hostility of wretches, so that it first began
to bleed on the right side. I was all drenched with sorrows.
I was frightened by the beautiful vision; I saw that urgent beacon
change its covering and colours: sometimes it was soaked with wetness,
stained with the coursing of blood, sometimes with treasure adorned.
Yet I lay there a long while
beheld sorrowful the tree of the Saviour,
until I heard it utter a sound;
it began to speak words, the best of wood:
     ‘That was very long ago, I remember it still,
that I was cut down from the edge of the wood,
ripped up by my roots. They seized my there, strong enemies,
made me a spectacle for themselves there, commanded me to raise up their criminals.
Men carried me there on their shoulders, until they set me on a hill,[1]
enemies enough fastened me there. I saw then the Saviour of mankind
hasten with great zeal, as if he wanted to climb up on me.
There I did not dare, against the word of the Lord,
bow or break, when I saw the
corners of the earth tremble. I might have
felled all the enemies; even so, I stood fast.
He stripped himself then, young hero– that was God almighty–
strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,
brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.
I trembled when the warrior embraced me; even then I did not dare to bow to earth,
fall to the corners of the earth, but I had to stand fast.
I was reared a cross. I raised up the powerful King,
the Lord of heaven; I did not dare to bend.
They pierced me with dark nails; on me are the wounds visible,
the open wounds of malice; I did not dare to injure any of them.
They mocked us both together. I was all drenched with blood
begotten from that man’s side after he had sent forth his spirit.
    I have experienced on that hillside many
cruelties of fate. I saw the God of hosts
violently stretched out. Darkness had
covered with clouds the Ruler’s corpse,
the gleaming light. Shadows went forth
dark under the clouds. All creation wept,
lamented the King’s fall. Christ was on the cross.
    Yet there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one; I beheld all that.
I was all drenched with sorrow; nevertheless I bowed down to the hands of the men
humble, with great eagerness. There they took almighty God,
lifted him from that oppressive torment. The warriors forsook me then
standing covered with moisture; I was all wounded with arrows.
They laid the weary-limbed one down there, they stood at the head of his body,
they beheld the Lord of heaven there, and he himself rested there a while,
weary after the great battle. They began to fashion a tomb for him,
warriors in the sight of the slayer; they carved that from bright stone,
they set the Lord of victories in there. They began to sing the sorrow-song for him,
wretched in the evening-time; then they wanted to travel again,
weary from the glorious lord. He rested there with little company.[2]
    Nevertheless, weeping, we[3] stood there a good while
in a fixed position, after the voice departed up
of the warriors. The corpse grew cold,
the fair life-dwelling. Then men began to fell us
all to the ground: that was a terrible fate.
Men buried us in a deep pit; nevertheless the Lord’s thanes,
friends[4] discovered me there,
adorned me with gold and silver.
    Now you might hear, my beloved hero,
that I have experienced the work of evil doers,
grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
that I will be honoured far and wide
by men over the earth and all this glorious creation;
they will pray to this beacon. On me the Son of God
suffered for a while; because of that I am glorious now,
towering under the heavens, and I am able to heal
each one of those who is in awe of me.
Formerly I was made the hardest of punishments,
most hateful to the people, before I opened for them,
for the voice-bearers, the true way of life.
Listen, the Lord of glory, the Guardian of the kingdom of heaven,
then honoured me over the forest trees,
just as he, almighty God, also honoured
his mother, Mary herself, for all men,
over all womankind.
    Now I urge you, my beloved man,
that you tell men about this vision:
reveal with words that it is the tree of glory
on which almighty God suffered
for mankind’s many sins
and Adam’s ancient deeds.
Death he tasted there; nevertheless, the Lord rose again
with his great might to help mankind.
He ascended into heaven. He will come again
to this earth to seek mankind
on doomsday, the Lord himself,
almighty God, and his angels with him,
so that he will then judge, he who has the power of judgement,
each one of them, for what they themselves have
earned here earlier in this transitory life.
Nor may any of them be unafraid there
because of the words which the Saviour will speak:
he will ask in front of the multitude where the person might be
who for the Lord’s name would
taste bitter death, just as he did before on that tree.
But then they will be fearful and little think
what they might begin to say to Christ. 
Then there will be no need for any of those to be very afraid
who bear before them in the breast the best of trees.
But by means of the rood each soul
who thinks to dwell with the Ruler
must seek the kingdom by the earthly way.’
    I prayed to the tree with a happy spirit then,
with great fortitude, there where I was alone
with little company. My spirit was
inspired with longing for the way forward; I experienced in all
many periods of longing. It is now my life’s hope
that I might seek the tree of victory
alone more often than all men,
to honour it well. My desire for that is
great in my mind, and my protection is
directed to the cross. I do not have many wealthy
friends on earth; but they have gone forward from here,
passed from the joys of this world, sought for themselves the King of glory;
they live now in heaven with the High Father,
they dwell in glory. And I myself hope
each day for when the Lord’s cross,
that I looked at here on earth,
will fetch me from this transitory life,
and then bring me where there is great bliss,
joy in heaven, where the Lord’s people
are set in feasting, where there is unceasing bliss;
and then will set me where I might afterwards
dwell in glory fully with the saints
to partake of joy. May the Lord be a friend to me,
he who here on earth suffered previously
on the gallows-tree for the sins of man.
He redeemed us, and gave us life,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with dignity and with joy for those who suffered burning there.
The Son was victorious in that undertaking,[5]
powerful and successful, when he came with the multitudes,
a troop of souls, into God’s kingdom,
the one Ruler almighty, to the delight of angels
and all the saints who were in heaven before,
who dwelled in glory, when their Ruler came,
almighty God, to where his native land was.

[1] The hill is Golgotha or Calvary on which Christ was crucified. See John 19.17-42 for one of the accounts of Good Friday.
[2] Litotes, meaning ‘alone’.
[3] ‘we’ are the three crosses: that of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified with him.
[4] Helena, mother of Constantine, and Cyriac discovered the Cross in the fourth century.
[5] This ‘undertaking’ refers to the Harrowing of Hell when Christ rescued the souls who had been condemned to Hell following the centuries after the Fall of Man. This apocryphal event took place in the days between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Complete Unknown: Bob Dylan and Literature in Song

Before there was Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate and songwriter for an age, there were cultures whose entire literature was composed and delivered anonymously in song. For the Anglo-Saxons, the giedd--the 'song', 'utterance', 'poem', 'riddle'--was how a story was told. Rich, melodic, alliterative verse was intoned or sung to the accompaniment of the harp or lyre, phrases and images formed out of the deep wordhoard of the poet-singer.

King David composes the psalms from the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon Vespasian Psalter

Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, tells the story of the famous seventh-century Northumbrian cowherd, Cædmon, who was asked to sing to the accompaniment of a harp at a feast. Ashamed that the couldn't join in, he left the table, and was visited that night in a dream by an angel who asked him to sing something:  "Cedmon, sing me hwæthwugu." Þa ondswarede he ond cwæð: "Ne con Ic noht singan; ond Ic for þon of þeossum gebeorscipe ut eode, ond hider gewat, for þon Ic naht singan ne cuðe." ("Cædmon, sing me something". Then Cædmon answered and said: "I can't sing at all; and because of that I came away from the beer-party, and came here, because I'm not able to sing.") Through the angel's miraculous intervention, Cædmon awoke and found himself able to sing a glorious song of the creation that brought him fame far and wide. The poem of the Creation, Cædmon's Hymn, is one of the most widely taught poems in medieval literature courses, and is considered to be the earliest surviving English poem.

Reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon lyre

In Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poems, not only are the composition and performance of poetic song shown to be coveted skills, but the very poems themselves represent the creative product of these artists. In many cultures, the most revered form of literature is balladic, melodic or harmonious songcraft, and for the Welsh, as for many others, to be able to sing is the highest form of praise: Canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos ("Sing in the day and sing in the night", the hymn Calon Lân says). And just as that most famous of Welsh bards--Dylan Thomas--honoured "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight", so we can honour his namesake, Bob Dylan, and his magnificent literary achievement through song in this long, long tradition of musical verse.

Today's headline from The Guardian

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Of Medieval Manuscripts and MOOCs by Dr Kenneth Ligda, Stanford University

I’d like to offer some reflections on the experience of developing a massive open online course on medieval manuscripts. From 2014-2015, I got the opportunity to collaborate on the Digging Deeper sequence of online courses, initiated by Professor Elaine Treharne, with a crack team from Stanford University (which funded the courses, and hosts the material) and Cambridge: Drs. Benjamin Albritton, Suzanne Paul, Orietta Da Rold, and Jonathan Quick. 

Ben Albritton gets miked up by Colin Reeves-Fortney as the team looks on

We launched Digging Deeper: Making Manuscripts in Winter 2015, and the second course, Digging Deeper: The Form and Function of Medieval Manuscripts, in Spring. I was the English Department Academic Technology Specialist at the time, and my role was essentially project management. This is a privileged position for this sort of project, because I got to work at the jointure between extremely disparate groups—academics, platform engineers, videographers—as they figured out how to collaborate in the service of a new kind of cohesive learning experience.
Digging Deeper is about how manuscripts were created, the steps in their development, their conservation; the longer I worked on it, the more I came to see MOOC production itself as a sort of echo, or descendent, of manuscript production. So, in giving an overview of this experience, I’ve tried the experiment of using the unit names of the Digging Deeper sequence, reappropriated here for their relevance to online courses.

A MOOC, like a manuscript, is produced with great toil and striving. With great expense, and effort.  As a work of devotion. I find it hard to believe that MOOCs can be produced without people like the Digging Deeper course team, who have the passion and profuse intellectual energy to power through the work—to carry the inspiration for it intact through the welter of the actual process. In many cases, and certainly in ours, MOOC instructors get no extra pay, and no allotted time, to create the project. They have to do it out of love.
And the production is, as with a de luxe manuscript, corporate: lots of people, lots of groups; work goes on at lots of different buildings. Just for fun, a list of units involved: Cambridge University Library, Stanford English Department, Stanford Digital Library Systems and Services, and Stanford Special Collections, St John’s College Cambridge, the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, the Academic Technology Specialist Program, video production, graphics post-production, the OpenEdX platform team at Stanford, the EdX platform team at Harvard/MIT. It’s complicated. But it all has to come out simple and unified.

That’s easy: Palo Alto and Cambridge. In a week dedicated to filming, we worked in Cambridge in 2014, which was the bulk of the footage; but we also shot a good deal at Stanford in libraries and studios.

Setting up at Stanford's Green Library Special Collections
I was frankly appalled the first time it was borne in upon me what was required to put a penmark upon a parchment leaf. The only similar revelation has been learning what real video requires. It has no more resemblance to shooting video of my kids on my phone than a Post-it note has to the Book of Kells. Aside from manuscript production itself, I know of no other type of media creation that requires so much—so much expertise, so much money, so much planning, so much work after you think the main work is finished; such insane attention to detail—I know of no other medium, save parchment and I guess stone, that is so unforgiving of error.
Also under “Manuscript materials” we could talk about the platform—but let’s class that under…

A major component of Digging Deeper is learning and practicing transcription. And let me tell you: learning and practicing transcription of medieval manuscripts is not something that was envisioned as a primary use-case by MOOC platform designers. Indeed, the whole MOOC world has its genealogy in STEM, and we’re still very much in the process of adapting STEM tools to humanities ends. When we first launched Digging Deeper, we had a simple textbox for transcription; no underlining, no special characters (except math characters—thank you), to do transcription. It wasn’t good enough, but we made do. But the platform team at Stanford, working with the one at MIT/Harvard, were interested in what we needed here, and custom designed a new transcription tool that includes all the medieval characters that are required, plus underlining and other special features. So, a little bit at a time, and with serious help from CS-land, the humanities MOOC is getting there.

As with medieval books, information indexing and retrieval is a major challenge. In Digging Deeper, the team shows medieval techniques of information sorting, and also takes us into the daunting world of current library cataloging. Behind the scenes, it transpired that one can recognize serious video production teams by the way they organize their files. And what has been interesting, and challenging, above all is the negotiation of cataloging systems between disparate worlds, and finding a larger system that accommodates them all. I could go on. But let me just say: do not organize a medieval manuscript project along a similar-sounding schema to that of the library that you are working at. I never again want to hear an exchange like: “Did we just film segment 2.1.5 onIi.2.11?” “No, I think this was 2.2.11 on Ii.1.5.”

The most obvious association for mise-en-page in a MOOC means riddling out how in the heck to configure these various elements—video, readings, text, assessments, discussions—onto the screen. Just like our medieval forebears (maybe because of our medieval forebears) we’re still there wrestling with fitting rectangles into rectangles. 
But mise-en-page has another, more special meaning to me in the MOOC context. We have a segment in which Dr Paul shows a lovely compendium volume, CUL Gg. 1. 1, and observes the great virtues of a volume being carefully planned beforehand. We have another in which Dr Albritton shows musical notation, and in which the layout at the bottom of a page has collapsed—it’s all crammed in, no staves, just whatever works. Planning in advance. That turns out to be important in manuscripts as in MOOCs.
Preparing the folio: folding, pricking, ruling. A lot of effort went into creating a straight, even, experience on a relatively flat page. The digital world though—with some fancy exceptions—remains an entirely flat world, and this has consequences. Showing folding: that’s tough. Getting a flat, even image of a manuscript page: that’s tougher. The page is three dimensional, and it is impossible to hide this in the precise pixel grid of the screen.
A special word on pricking and ruling, especially drypoint ruling. With good macro photography you can get great images of these, but it may take about an hour per image. It is exacting.  “I’m NOT taking any more pictures of pricking!” as our photographer said, still hangs in my mind as a key statement from the Cambridge trip. 

Cambridge University Library, Ii.2.11, eleventh-century Old English Gospels with drypoint ruling (photo: Colin Reeves-Fortney)

In Digging Deeper, East means Arabic and Chinese manuscript traditions. But to me, East means Sacramento. Cambridge is definitely the Far East. Digging Deeper was very much a worldwide effort.  There are amazing benefits to this. To name just one, our ability to respond to questions in the online forums. As Dr. Paul observed: “It's all about timings - between us we've pretty much got 24 hour coverage.” But there are also cultural conflicts. And I would just urge my fellow Americans to stick to your principles: there is no “u” in color, nor is there an “s” in digitization. 

Conserving Elaine (made-up for shooting)
Unit 9) Conservation
What happens next? There has been such a rush on to produce MOOCs in the last few years that it seems that no one has really thought through the eschatology of the thing. What comes next? It would be appalling to just dispose of the material once we’re through, or even just to push it into reruns. There are the materials of course—the videos, the online learning resources, and whatnot—those shouldn’t just be ditched. But far above that is the community—the community of scholars, librarians, researchers, novices, and like-minded souls the world over who have made these courses work. So, shifting into the next stage of the project, that community is, I think, what we want to keep together and help to grow.

The last week of our second course it on digitization. In Digging Deeper, digitization means primarily rendering digital photographs of manuscripts on the internet. But Digging Deeper is, of course, itself digitization. So throughout the process we’ve had to think very carefully about what this kind of digitization means, how it works, what its aim is. I remember clearly, in a big room at Cambridge stuffed with camera equipment and with us all swirling around, and in the middle, holding the stage silently, a large manuscript—like in the Frost poem, with the secret which sits in the middle, and knows. What is this all about? Making slick video? Designing a fun interface? 
I’ll close with the example of our section on Practical Paleography—that is, the transcription component I mentioned earlier. The exercise here is simply looking at a manuscript on the screen, then transcribing it with a pencil, then typing it onto the screen to check your transcription. I have to tell you that, not being a medievalist, I had no idea why we were doing this. Twenty years ago, OK: you needed a way to be able to draw and transfer information about the manuscript without taking the manuscript itself. But now that we can mostly capture this stuff with smart phones, and that more and more of it is online, what’s the point? I plucked up the courage at one point to ask. And the answer was interesting. It was, in essence, “If you don’t do this painstaking task, then you’ll never learn what you’re actually looking at.” 
The dystopia of digitization, I think, is lots of images being created and passed around like Bitcoins, without anyone ever really knowing what they’re worth or what they mean. The utopia, or simply the way forward, is using digitization to focus attention better, more clearly, and for more people, on that central experience: one person concentrating on one page, and working to understand what it means.