Wednesday, November 28, 2012

End of the Semester Get Together

Greetings everyone,

As celebration of the end of semester, the MSCU will be meeting up at the Grad Lounge this Friday, November 30th, at 4:00 pm for drinks and appetizers.

Join us to take a break from essay writing and studying!

See you all Friday!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkin Carving and Game of Thrones!

The MSCU will be hosting a free pumpkin carving event to get into the Halloween spirit.
Join us this Tuesday, October 30th at 3:30 pm in David Strong Building C108.
We will provide the pumpkins but please bring your own carving tools!!!
Feel free to invite your friends, but IF possible, please RSVP to our Facebook event so we can make sure to buy enough pumpkins.
RSVP here:

Additionally, we will be finishing Season 1 of "Game of Thrones" by watching episodes 9 and 10.
If you prefer to just come for the show, we will begin screening the episodes around 5:00 in the same room as above.
Likewise, if you just want to come for pumpkin carving, leave whenever!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Today in the Middle Ages...

Via the British Museum:

Today is Saint Crispin’s Day, date of the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
‘And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.’
Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

Here is Henry V's funerary armour on display at the Shakespeare Exhibition:

This major exhibition will run until 25 November, don’t miss out:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Viking sword fighting!

Thought you all might find this as interesting as I did.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seeing the Middle Ages Everywhere Part 1

Salvete, fellow medievalists and people who appreciate the value of buttresses that fly,

"Hey, Frank, I'm flying!" "No, Bob, we've been over this, it's a metaphor. You can't just let go of the..." CRASH. Moral of the story: only penguins truly fly.

Today's post is a going to start out somewhere quite different in subject than the Middle Ages, at first glance: the website for Humans of New York. For those of you who are not familiar with it, as I was before today, Brandon, the photographer-blogger of the site, has committed to taking the photos and recording the stories of complete strangers he meets on the streets of New York. It's been getting a lot of traffic recently, especially because of a post made regarding positive body images. There's no summarizing the brilliance of it, so I'll simply provide a link. Go. Look and think.

And if you haven't already, cast your net a little wider on that website, and think about what it says about humanity, kindness, cruelty, and the society we live in. I found I was convinced, as the photographer was, that streets of New York are a window onto exclusion, marginalization, loneliness, and poverty even in plain sight, in the midst of crowds, of North America's most important city. I found the portraits almost painful to read sometimes, but there was also a happiness, joy, wit, wisdom, and courage to be found in surprising places. It left me with a renewed appreciation for the paradoxical nature of our lives today, that such happiness and sadness can exist right next to one another, at the same time.

What struck me the most was the sense of loneliness in many of the stories; not only the homeless, or the buskers, but wealthier businessmen, working people, young and old. It's a loneliness that isn't momentary; and often, it isn't visible from a casual glance. Which got me thinking: how many of the people around us, here in Victoria, feel the same way? And that, as many things often do, ended in me thinking about Medieval society, which inspired me to write this post.

"Fyrkat. A mid-20th century reconstruction of a Danish great hall and long houses in Hobro, Denmark." - source

Were people lonely in the Middle Ages? I suppose we can assume they were; but until the 11th century, even cities of over ten thousand people in Latin Christendom could be counted easily on your hands. The popular image is of halls of full of feasting, boasting warriors, welcomed by the generous king and courageous in their loyalty. When reading a text such as Beowulf, however, it's clear that this was not always the case. Even in a story which exemplifies this ideal relationship and community we can also see a response to suffering, especially loneliness. Just one example, from Liuzza's standard-at-UVic-until-last-year 2000 translation, page 86, lines 1071-1076:

"Hildeburgh, indeed, had no need to praise
the goof faith of the Jutes. Guiltless, she was
deprived of her dear ones in that shieldplay,
her sons and brothers -- sent forth to their fate,
dispatched by spears; she was a sad lady!"

Amidst the bloodshed and destruction of the conflict, it is Hildeburgh who bears the horror and loss after treachery, revenge, anger, and loyalty drive most of those close to her to their deaths. Even in its idealized heroism, Beowulf leaves behind a sense of melancholy, a doom whose only end is empty halls, greedy kings, and weeping mothers and wives. While terrible, this is not quite the loneliness that I perceive from HONY. Perhaps a closer example would that of Grendel, the creature excluded, ignored, feared, despised... cast out from society, but still linked in ancient and twisted ways with humanity. Grendel responds with jealousy and hatred; something true to all human experience, but especially among many marginalized communities throughout the world. Yet he is fundamentally an outsider to the community; many argue Beowulf's message is of unity against the dangers inside and outside the hall!

Check out this excellent painting of Beowulf's struggle by Lynd Ward, and many others like it at this website. Amazing collection of art centering on Beowulf. It's like all the awesome paintings you ever needed, all in one place.

And then all of a sudden things... change. It's shifts like this that give most of the weight of historical periodization. Agriculture changes, expands, literally makes farmland out of nothing - changes the landscape. Entire villages grow out of nowhere. In the words of Dr. Iain Higgins, we're looking at changes in 'scale'. Eventually we begin to see structures that look a little like this:

Identity changes. Community changes, social structures become more specialized. On the fringes, of course, the scale of villages, the complexity of communities and technologies remained often relatively limited. Even to the present day, communities in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland remained deeply isolated, such as that in St. Kilda:     (more info here)

And you can imagine that community was important HERE.

The Church, kingdoms, universities, towns, and guilds all begin to centralize power and undergo fundamental (or continue to undergo!) reforms. By the 13th century, the Middle Ages that we looked at in Monday's post, that of Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon Europe, have lost some features, altered some others, and gained a host of new institutions. We're in the "high" Middle Ages, the time of knights, and roses, and ladies; landholders and feudal relationships (if you're living in the Loire river valley in the 13th century, you might even be experiencing "Classical feudalism", though if Dr. Haskett ever caught me using that word outside of a jest, I'm certain he would follow through on his threat of anathema).

And even though one could argue that society is even more greatly socially stratified in the High Middle Ages than in the Early, at least some people seem to have so many more "options"; in trades, in universities, in guilds... after all, is the Renaissance not based in a flourishing of artisan culture and prestige, and Venice's early success on a highly socially mobile society? Well, more recent scholarly work paints a more complex vision of these societies; ones that on the surface seem to display social mobility and meritocracy, but that are bound by visible and invisible signs of class and place that seem alien to the smaller-scale relationships of Beowulf.

Next time this topic comes around, we'll continue to think about inclusion and exclusion in high Medieval society, but for the moment, here's a thought: if, even in the relatively larger scale, complex, and increasingly specialized society of the high Middle Ages, we discover the same senses of exclusion, isolation, and alienation inside or on the outskirts of very tight-knit and local communities, what does that imply for a city on the scale of, say, New York?

Victoria has crime rates and a homeless population well above the national average. What does that say about our communities here in B.C. in the year 2012, a thousand years after urbanization begins to gain ground again in Europe? What do works such as Beowulf or Le Morte d'Arthur tell us about how far we are today from the world they describe -- if at all?

- Josef

** Remember to come out to the MOVIE NIGHT on Tuesday from 5-7, for more game of Thrones madness! Also, if anyone is game for reviving the 2nd place CHAMPION MSCU Felicita's Trivia Night team, make your voices heard on our Facebook page!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beowulf and why YOU should write for the MSCU

Salvete, fellow Medievalists and lovers of all things that have declensions!

My name's Josef, and I'm on your MSCU exec for the 2012-2013 school year with a two-part post: first, some things to share that may satisfy the urge for cool things in between memorizing conjugation:

In the context of upcoming discussion in Dr. Iain Higgins' Medieval World class on the Germanic and Scandinavian "Warrior Worlds" of the eighth to tenth centuries, here is, in my opinion, one of the most engaging live interpretations of Beowulf to an audience. It is often easy to forget in looking at the cleanly printed text translations of the Old English on smooth white paper (or coffee-stained, dog-eared, and printed in the 50s - let's not lie to ourselves here) that we are looking at a story and getting a glimpse into a world that was entirely and immediately real for the people that lived in it. Not only that, this world was spoken, and sung, and memorized and adapted; almost like a early Medieval slam poetry session, but without time limits or hipsters. (Though enthusiastic audiences would certainly have been a must!) 

This is Benjamin Bagby on Anglo-Saxon harp:


For those of us with aging laptops that dislike Youtube and/or who are excited in a perhaps more than healthy way by hyperlinks:

Also, those of us who may appreciate cute Arthurian references will enjoy this:

And those of us who miss the hipsters not present in the Beowulf above will find solace in this LOTR parody.

Now! By way of introduction to the second half, the MSCU's job is to build the community of medieval-ist/-tending students here at UVic, build links with faculty, other departments, and cool events on campus, as well as connecting our study here at UVic with all the cool stuff happening out there! So, we want to hear from you - and it can be on this blog! If you're interested in sharing your view of the Middle Ages through Viking longships, Carolingian court politics, papal opulence, Late Antique marginalia, medieval underwear, whatever! let us know, and we'll give you a place to publish. It's a chance to share your perspective on academia with the whole wide internet! (which apparently reads our blog by the way, if Google statistics are to be trusted, so I'm not just saying that! Maybe blogger has been taking a page from Medieval war chroniclers...)

For our part, we'll do our best to keep up a steady stream of academic and healthily not-so-academic resources to make your understanding of the Middle Ages that much more bizarre!

For those of you not yet fans of our Facebook group, you can sign up here!

Remember that Game of Thrones continues on Tuesday 5-7 in CLE A311 at UVic, with episodes 5 & 6. Someone will be there a little early, so feel free to come even if you missed the last one - we can give you the run-down synopsis! What's that? Someone already has, you say?

Keep it medieval, people.

- Josef

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Game of Thrones" Episodes 3 and 4

Greetings everyone,

The MSCU will be screening episodes 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones tomorrow, October 9th.

5:00. Clearihue A311.

Snacks and beverages will be provided!

RSVP here:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Movie Night: "Game of Thrones" Episodes 1 and 2

Please join the MSCU as we watch the first two episodes of the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Tuesday, October 2. 5:00. CLE A311.
Pizza and beverages will be provided.

RSVP here:

Winter is coming....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Hello everyone!

Just letting you know that our Annual General Meeting will be this Wednesday, September 19th at 4:30 pm in Clearihue C109.

We will be electing executive positions as well as brainstorming events for the upcoming year.

Also, if you haven't done so already, please join our Facebook group here:

We hope to see you all there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Have Richard III's remains been found?

A team of historians and archaeologists may have found the remains of one of the most maligned English monarchs, Richard III. The bones which were discovered in a parking lot in Leicester are thought to be a "prime candidate" for the king. Although not a hunchback, the skeleton shows signs of a curved spine  which "would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than his left shoulder."

This story has a Canadian connection. The DNA of the skeleton will be compared to a Canadian man, Michael Ibsen, who is a direct descendent of Richard's sister, Anne of York.

Read more about the exciting story here:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New School Year

The new school year is starting soon so stay tuned for upcoming MSCU events!

In the meantime, here's an interesting story.

An English family from Plymouth, Devon recently discovered that their living room was on top of a sixteenth-century well. The well measures approximately 30 inches wide, and goes 17 feet underground.  A sword was also found within the well.

Imagine that in your living room?

Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News.

 For more info, check out the story here:

Also, please comment if you have any ideas for new events.