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Sometimes I despair

14 April, 2006

Sometimes I despair

OK — that’s a bit strong. I do despair, but not about this so much. But I do wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I can’t seem to write anything without returning to some of the same damned books and articles over and over. And yes, I know that KF Werner’s “Bedeutende Adelsfamilie” is seminal and all, but sometimes, I wonder where the line between relying on the seminal works and stuck in a rut is. And at what point does prosopography and reconstructing families just become useless … the point where you realize that all of these people were intermarried? Because, well, most of them were. So then the question (and this is not new — Werner talks about it, Bouchard crings it up when using Werner’s methodology, and anybody with sense considers the problem) is ‘does being related — or interrelated matter?’ That is, can we count on the importance of family ties if we don’t know how conscious people are of them? And how can we find evidence of that conscious connection? OK, the last part is not a mystery — we look at naming patterns and if people are donating lands for each other, etc., for a start.

Still, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only damned medievalist who keeps finding myself being dragged back to the same places. I really hope not. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve internalized the secondary literature? ADM asked hopefully…

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 April, 2006 10:42 pm

    You are definitely not the only medievalist to be dragged back again and again. I have the same relationship to a couple of articles by a guy who bestrides my world like a colossus. I can’t stop checking them to remind myself of whether they already say in a footnote what I’ve convinced myself is original, yet I’ve long since stopped finding anything inspirational in them.

  2. 14 April, 2006 11:02 pm

    I think some of it may be endemic to your time period? I don’t quite have the same experience, though there are a stalwart cohort of authors I’m always turning to (and by whom I’d buy anything they’d written, even laundry lists, because I’d be convinced it would be relevant somehow). But my period is much more crowded than yours, so to speak, both in terms of sources and practitioners, and so I think that may change the scene somewhat? I think of you guys as only a few steps removed from the classicists – you all draw on the same sources, in a way? Whereas there are a lot more sources to cloud things in my perdod. If that makes sense?

  3. 14 April, 2006 11:22 pm

    That makes sense to me, as another early person who suffers from similar phenomena. There’s definitely a small circle of scholars chasing a small canon of texts in circles problem.

  4. 14 April, 2006 11:35 pm

    Tiruncula, that’s exactly what it feels like! Chasing my tail!And NK, I think that makes sense … although you’d thing that with more crowding there would be less to say …

  5. 16 April, 2006 1:23 am

    I’d say, now that you know the background so well, just let the writing rip, then go back and check the older literature.

  6. 16 April, 2006 7:30 am

    Lord, Steve, it’s even worse! I was seven pages into the thing, and realized I’d gone and done exactly what I was setting out not to do — because I’m stuck in the scholarship that is, instead of what I’ve been trying to do, which is to tweak the approach and see what happens when you look at things slightly differently. So, like Steve Austin, my paper suffered a horrible accident on re-entry. Fortunately, I can rebuild it. I have the technology. And, perhaps more importantly, a new outline and a list of handouts. shhhhhk shhhhhk shhhhhhk shhhhhk shhhhhk. What? It’s 11:25 on a Saturday night and I’m performing major reconstructive, not to say bionic, surgery on my paper. I’m a little punchy. Especially since I managed to somehow dump a file I’d been working on for *ahem* several hours — without saving it. D’oh!

  7. 18 April, 2006 11:22 pm

    A little late on this… but I think every paper I’ve ever written has referenced the same handful of articles (with other pertinent ones of course…) and I, too, can’t tell if it’s a rut, necessity… or in my case… laziness!

  8. 19 April, 2006 1:51 am

    That’s good to know! And I’m just so glad to be getting it out of the way. Miaow!

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