Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 14

Posted: Sep 02, 2016 18:09;
Last Modified: Sep 02, 2016 18:09

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Hi all!

I spent this week putting information into the newly updated database. It works much faster than it did before, and is very intuitive to use. Dan mentioned that he would like to see some screenshots, so please enjoy the following images:

Here we see the front page of the database, with two text boxes, one for the Source and one for the Reference.

Options will pop up after you begin typing which makes adding sources and references super quick.

The Location box allows you to type the page number on which you found the reference in your source material (I simply type the number without any “p.” or “pg” preceding it) and the drop down box allows you to choose whether the reference is a Text Quote, Text Mention, Scholarly Reference, or Other Reference.

Clicking on the “View Entries” link allows you to view all of the entries that you have made. They are listed from oldest to newest in one big list.

So far I have had zero problems with the database, however I have been coming across a few snags with regards to gathering references from the sources. To use this first article by Lenore Abraham as an example, it is not noted anywhere which edition of Bede’s “History of the English Church and People” that she uses, she just simply gives the title. I am not sure how to figure this out, but feel that it is important to know as the edition cited is the most important piece of information that we are attempting to gather. I am concerned that a lot of other articles might omit this information as well, but I suppose we shall see as the collection continues. I was also curious as to whether or not we count the “about the author” blurbs when adding references. The beginnings of articles will occasionally list other pieces the author has published and I am not sure whether or not to count these as references. My initial instinct was to ignore them, as they do not necessarily have anything to do with the article in question, and if they are important they will be cited again further on, however I thought I would bring it up to be sure.

I am excited to continue collecting information. I will be back in Lethbridge for school on Tuesday, so I can start requesting inter-library loans again and keep our project rolling!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 11

Posted: Aug 05, 2016 13:08;
Last Modified: Aug 05, 2016 13:08

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Hi all!

I have a very short blog post this week, as the week itself was very short. I spent the last few days collecting more sources, doing some scanning, and preparing to begin data collection.

The database should be up and running this weekend, meaning data collection can officially start next week. I will see Garret on Sunday and we will be able to do some test runs on the database to make sure it is working properly. We have been discussing its functions over video conference several times throughout the week, and it seems to be coming along very well!

Next week I will be splitting my time between continuing to collect sources and beginning data collection, a suggestion made by Dan during our last meeting. This will allow us to understand any flaws in our collection system earlier on, rather than waiting for EVERY source to be collected and scanned before we try out our system. I am optimistic that it should all go well, and will report back at the end of next week!

Until then,

Colleen

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Straw bibliography: A common error in student writing

Posted: Feb 08, 2015 17:02;
Last Modified: Feb 08, 2015 17:02

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This post describes a particular rhetorical technique that students often use in their essays that professional scholars never do: something I call the “straw bibliography.” If you learn to recognise these in your writing (and more importantly, learn how to handle them more professionally), the quality of your research will improve immensely.

Contents

What is a “straw bibliography”

“Straw bibliography” is the term I give to statements like the following, when they are unsupported by citations:

The question of the definition of medieval literature has long been a source of debate

Critics argue constantly about the role of women in literature

Ever since the Greeks, writers have debated the role of fate

I call these “straw bibliography” on analogy to “straw man” arguments: a straw man argument is an argument where you create non-existent opposing arguments that you can easily demolish in order to bolster your own case; a straw bibliography is a non-existent bibliographic claim that you make in order to bolster your own argument by suggesting it is widely studied.

Straw men arguments and straw bibliographies are both bad for the same reason: they prevent actual debate and discovery by substituting a false one instead. In a straw man argument, you create fake arguments that nobody would ever actually make in order to defeat them—ignoring actual counter arguments that it would be far more productive to engage with. In a straw man bibliography, you create a fake bibliographic record in order to support your argument—and ignore the almost certainly more interesting actual bibliography on a question that you could be dealing with.

How to avoid them

The solution to a straw bibliography is very simple: never make a bibliographic claim you cannot supply some examples for. I.e. if you say that critics have long discussed the lack of women in Huckleberry Finn, supply some examples in a citation immediately after you make the claim: since in this case I am claiming both that critics have discussed this and that they have done it for a long time, my list of references should include several works stretching back whatever you consider to represent a “a long time” (perhaps 50 years or so?).

This is in fact what professional scholars do. It is very common in professional research articles to have an early section that discusses previous bibliography on a question. Depending on the specific argument made, this will either include an actual discussion of the different views and positions or a lengthy footnote or parenthetical citation listing a number of people who have previously discussed this issue.

An example

By way of an example, here is a discussion of scholarly opinion about the errors in a famous manuscript of Bede’s Historia ecclesiatica from Notes and Queries 49.1 (2002), p. 4. The text in bold is the bibliographic claim; underlined text is the support that stops it being a straw bibliography:

IN the course of the last twenty years, a scholarly tradition has arisen concerning the remarkable accuracy with which the `St Petersburg Bede’ (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Lat.Q.v.I.18 (referred to hereafter as P))1 reproduces the text of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica. While the precise context in which this accuracy is claimed varies from scholar to scholar, its extent is described in almost identical terms in each case. As Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe puts it, `[P] is a particularly careful copy of the text. Excepting errors in the sources quoted by Bede (and thus, probably, in the originals), editors have reported only six errors in the text of Bede’s Historia, and these errors are minor.’2 Similar language is used by R.D.Fulk (`there appear to be just six errors in the text, so …the work [i.e. P] must be very close to the author’s autograph copy’)3 and M.B.Parkes (`there are only six errors in the text written by Bede himself. The high quality of the text in this copy [i.e. P] suggests that it cannot be very far removed from the author’s draft’).4

….

1 This is the manuscript formerly known as the `Leningrad Bede’. The shelf-mark was Leningrad, M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin Public Library, Lat.Q.v.I.18. The manuscript is often referred to by the siglum L in secondary discussions.

2 K.O’Brien O’Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge, 1990), 33.

3 R.D.Fulk, A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia, 1992), 427.

4 M.B.Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982 (Jarrow, 1982), 5.

The text in bold is the piece that could easily be a straw bibliography, if I didn’t have the citations to back it up; the parts that stop it being a straw bibliography are underlined.

In this particular case, since the article is actually about what “accuracy” means, I go into detail about what some of these scholars say in particular, providing a sentence or two about each with an associated footnote. But if my article had been about something else this bibliographic tradition touches on, I could have done something like the following:

IN the course of the last twenty years, a scholarly tradition has arisen concerning the remarkable accuracy with which the `St Petersburg Bede’ (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Lat.Q.v.I.18 (referred to hereafter as P))1 reproduces the text of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica.”2

….

1 This is the manuscript formerly known as the `Leningrad Bede’. The shelf-mark was Leningrad, M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin Public Library, Lat.Q.v.I.18. The manuscript is often referred to by the siglum L in secondary discussions.

2 See for example, K.O’Brien O’Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge, 1990), 33; R.D.Fulk, A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia, 1992), 427; M.B.Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982 (Jarrow, 1982), 5.

(I’m using footnotes here, because that’s what Notes and Queries, the journal where this was published, requires. But most modern journals would prefer this in parenthetical form in the main text).

Why this isn’t pedantry

At first glance, this might seem like pedantry. Does it really matter that much that I can show specific examples of people talking about problems that I’m pretty sure have been discussed a lot?

The answer is that it really does matter. Especially in the Humanities, exactly who said what and exactly what they said are very often the source of extremely interesting analysis (this is why, in contrast to many other disciplines, humanists cite page numbers). Bibliographic patterns and histories, therefore, can reveal an awful lot about how people in the past understood things and about changes in this understanding through time.

Indeed, the article I am citing here is an example of that: I discovered this problem when I was collecting citations to avoid a straw bibliographic claim in a different article that scholars “have always recognised that the St. Petersburg Bede is among the more accurate of Bede manuscripts.” What I discovered when I checked the actual references I gathered to support this was that it had nowhere near “six” errors in it (that would be impossible in such a big manuscript)… and I ended up with this article explaining why people mistakenly thought it was.

So get in the habit of always supplying some examples when you make claims about how often some work or topic has been discussed. You’ll sometimes find that it actually hasn’t been discussed as much as you think it has, or that the debate goes off in a different direction than you suspect.

In my experience, the bibliography is never as straightforward as you think it is.

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