Monday, February 27, 2012

Learning Journal 6: Lacunae--I hate them, I love them

This past week has reminded me of what I hate and love most about my research: lacunae.  A lacuna (sing=lacuna, plural=lacunae), by modern academic definition, is a gap or missing part in research.  For instance, before the latter half of the 20th century, women writers in Renaissance England was a lacuna in research about Renaissance England.  Then the feminist movement came along, and although Lady Mary Wroth still isn't as well researched as Shakespeare, there is a slew of books and articles about her and her work, and it is not a challenge at all to learn about her.

What I'm starting to discover in my own research is that it looks as if there is a big lacuna in studying medieval and Renaissance Latin epigraphs in England.  As my Medieval Latin professor, Dr. Lounsbury, said, there is a great deal of knowledge about classical Latin and even the early Church fathers, but from a period of about 500 AD to 1500 AD (and I'd argue further), there is relative silence on the subject.  This doesn't mean that medieval and Renaissance Latin epigraphs in England don't exist--any half-awake tourist can notice that some of the tombs in Westminster are not in English or French or any other living language.  It simply means that for one reason or another, Latin scholars have decided that they'd rather stick to classical Latin rather than Medieval/Renaissance Latin.  Another problem which Dr. Lounsbury discussed with me is the lax requirements (that are getting laxer) for entering today's Medieval Studies graduate programs.  Previously, it was absolutely crucial to know Latin in order to be accepted into a Medieval Studies program, so that you could be able to translate and understand primary documents in their original language.  But as enrollment in these programs decreased, many universities dropped their Latin requirement in order to make their programs more accessible to other students.  While this has increased the number of students, it also means there are fewer and fewer qualified scholars who are interested in studying Medieval Latin.

So in conclusion, if there isn't currently much secondary research on Medieval/Renaissance Latin epigraphs in England, then given the current trend, there probably won't be any more in years and decades to come.  And that's why there are so many lacunae in my research. 

This is a predicament which I often find myself in.  On one hand, it means I can write and publish something original and new, and not just another essay on Hamlet or on Queen Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen.  Research on these subjects is a dime a dozen, and the average undergraduate paper on this type of subject isn't going to make any difference in the greater academic community.  By researching something that not a lot of people know about, I can be an expert in the subject, even as an undergrad.  But on the other hand, it means that finding secondary sources is a beast.  Yes, I find a lot of sources about Medieval Latin, and quite a few on funeral monuments in Renaissance England.  But as far as connection between the two... I've only found one source which makes even as much as a passing reference to the connection.  This could mean I need to search harder, but it could also simply mean there is a lack of research on the subject.

If I weren't going on a field study, I would probably give up at this point: there simply isn't enough information for me to say anything important about the subject.  But this is why lacunae are exciting (even if they're a little scary):  I actually get to go to London and discover the answers to my questions firsthand.  Instead of relying on secondhand accounts to inform my research, I am going to engage with the original texts, the original inscriptions, and the original architecture.  Yes, it's still undergraduate research, but it's definitely the next level.

Annotated Source #6

Gordon, Arthur E. Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983. Print.

To be honest, I hope I don't have to use this source a great deal, simply because it's about ancient Latin epigraphy, and I'd like to be looking at more Medieval and Renaissance Latin epigraphy.  However, it's a good basic text and an introduction to some of what I'll be looking at.  Furthermore, it's in-depth discussion of famous Latin epigraphers will probably help a great deal when I'm searching for allusions to ancient Roman writers in Renaissance epigraphs and inscriptions.  But at least for now, I hope further searching will turn up a book which focuses more on the later period I'll be studying.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Learning Journal 5: Trying not to get Bogged Down in Sources

I am the kind of person who can read/research just about anything.  I say that my passion is sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British literature, but I often think that this is only because my favorite professor focuses on this period of literature, and so I just like it because she has made it especially interesting to me.  I'm sure if I had first met a professor whose passion was transcendental American literature, that genre of literature would have been my passion instead.  As tasteless as that may be.

Or maybe if my theatre professors had impressed me (needless to say, they didn't) I would still be a theatre major.  The point is, I enjoy many different things.  I don't force myself to enjoy these things, rather, I just have an appreciation for multiple discplines and multiple points of view within those disciplines.  I love learning new things, so it's hard to find something that I don't like, at least in some degree.

This is usually a strength.  It keeps me from being absolutely bored in my GE classes, and it helps me connect with people who have different attitudes and mindsets.  However, when it comes to research, it turns into a monster.  Last Friday, when we discussed resources and how to map them, I saw the monster rearing its ugly head.  It was frustrating--I thought I'd already solved this problem in my countless other research projects!--but here it was again: I had too few sources directly related to my project, and too many sources tangentially or otherwise marginally related to my project.

Let me explain.  On the map I drew on Friday, I realized I can quite simply divide my project question,

Do Latin epitaphs from 1500-1666 on English tombs/monuments in London churches show any relation to/ development of the Renaissance idea of the body as architecture? If so, how?

into a few parts: human proportions in architecture, Medieval/Renaissance Latin, classical ideas of architecture, Renaissance ideas of architecture, architecture of tombs/monuments, and Christian conceptions of the body during/after death.  But even though it's helpful to divide your project into different aspects for organizational purposes, I find it makes it more difficult for me to keep my focus.  For instance, I found a really thorough, lengthy article about the "shroud monument" and its popularity in tomb architecture during the seventeenth century.  The article is all about the architecture of tombs/monuments (which is one of the aspects of my research question), so it seems to be an excellent source, right?  But here's the difficulty: it's only about the architecture of tombs and monuments, and it doesn't relate to anything else in my project question.  Furthermore, it's so specialized, there are only a few paragraphs here and there that are useful to my project.

There are hundreds of sources like this one--they apply perfectly to one aspect of my research, but they have no relation to any other aspect of my project.  Other than maybe a few lines here and there, these sources are practically useless, and only serve to distract me from my real field study plans.  Yes, as stupid as it sounds, I really could find myself absolutely enthralled by research about the "shroud monument" and its effect on English architecture.  But at the same time, I have to pull myself away, so I can focus on what I'm researching and not just gather a lot of information about unrelated subjects.

So I think the key is finding sources which relate to at least two or more of the aspects of my project.  And what's even better are sources which relate to four or five aspects of my project (though these are quite rare).  Although this will significantly narrow the amount of sources that are actually useful, hopefully it will help me keep my project narrowed and on track.  Besides, the real research is the primary research which I will be conducting in the field.

Annotated Source #5

Westminster Abbey. Famous People and the Abbey. Westminster Abbey, 2010. Web. 13 Feb 2012.

This is an online database of all of the people buried in Westminster Abbey, including their epitaph and a short biography.  This is immensely helpful to my research, considering it will allow me to do a survey of primary sources before I get to the field.  After a thorough investigation of this source, I should have a much better idea of the typical Latin epitaph during this time period, including any challenges I may face in translation, research, or analysis.  Problem: the database is organized alphabetically, not chronologically, so I get to sort through all of it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Learning Journal 4: Looking for Flaws

Last class period, we discussed our projects in depth and asked each other questions about how we were to go about successfully completing our projects.  Ashley grilled us and asked a lot of intense questions, which was a little terrifying but mostly helpful.  One of the issues that kept coming up when we discussed my project question was whether or not there even were references to the body as architecture in English epitaphs from 1500-1666.  This still remains a worry to me, especially since with working on my thesis, I haven't had much time to do any extensive research on epitaphs, and so I haven't been able to test the waters and see what kinds of references are being made to the body as architecture... if there are any references being made at all.
In addition, my attempt to look at the manifestations of the body as architecture in Renaissance epitaphs may be a bit of reading history backwards: just because modern historians have noticed this trend doesn't mean that the Englishmen and women of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries actually made a conscious effort to refer to the body as architecture.  (However, now that I've had time to reread this post, I think this concern isn't all that valid--there is enough of a tradition of the body as architecture in Renaissance society to assume that historians aren't reading too much into primary sources and making this up.)
Recognizing that references to the B as A (what I'm shortening "body as architecture" to) may be rather sparse and/or unrelated, I've come up with a few plans of attack which I can utilize in case my project doesn't go quite according to plan:

1) Place more emphasis on the artistic/structural analysis of the monument itself, and then analyze the epitaph for any references to the monument, e.g. "this Tomb" or "haec edificia."  This would be a bit disjointed because it would be comparing the epitaph to the monument and then to the B as A (instead of skipping the middleman and just comparing the epitaph to the B as A).  However, artistic analyses of monuments seem to be rather popular, so I would have more secondary sources to look to as an example, which would be helpful.

2) Look for biblical references to the B as A in epitaphs, e.g. "tabernacle of clay," "vessel of the Lord," etc.  This isn't ideal, simply because it takes away the dimensionality of analysis by only assessing the epitaphs from a religious viewpoint.  Furthermore, these references will probably be tropes and rather unimaginative quotations, while what I'm really looking for is creativity and originality, and therefore evidence of a developing theory instead of just quoting scripture.

3) Analyze any references to architecture at all, no matter how unrelated, sparse, or otherwise.  Who knows? I could very well find some excellent research out of some not so excellent epitaphs, especially with the help of my very capable and experienced mentors and professors.

4) If there are no references (or not enough) to the B as A, I might as well research what the epitaphs are comparing life/the body to.  Is life like a star, or like a book?  Is the body like a boat or a tree?  This has great potential to be even more interesting than my current project (depending on the creativity of the comparisons), but it wouldn't be ideal, because it would mean rewriting my project.

I suppose it may seem a little negative to already be coming up with plan B, C, D, and E when we're only one month into the prep class.  However, there is a very likely chance that my project will encounter some major setbacks in the field, and its weakest point is regarding the B as A, I think.  These plans will be helpful if I cannot find references to the B as A.  But even if I am able to find plentiful references, creating these other options is a good mental exercise, and I may use one or two of them anyway.

Annotated Source #4

Sherlock, Peter. Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing  Company, 2008. Print.

Sherlock's book discusses the monument as a culture's attempt to "convey messages" to future generations and preserve religious beliefs.  Sherlock pays special attention to how fabricating memory affected the words of the epitaph and the structure of its monument.  This source is also quite helpful because it has a number of epitaphs from churches in England, and it has an excellent review of literature in the introduction.