Friday, August 19, 2016

Qualms About Being Qualified, or What the Hell Am *I* Doing Pretending to Teach Paleography?

Today, my friends, was convocation at my college. This can only mean one thing: the semester is actually going to begin. On Monday. Will a year have left me rested and rejuvenated? Or will it have rendered me utterly unable to cope? Only time will tell.

But... other than stupidly deciding that this was the year to Revise! All! The! Courses!, I've taken on an extra quasi-prep: for my two excellent grad students (truly, they are) I am organizing a paleography workshop. Just six weeks, I told them. You should not think this will prepare you for the archives, I told them. But it might, just might, prepare them to take a real paleography course from someone who's actually qualified.

Query now: I wonder if anyone is really qualified to teach a medieval paleography course. I mean, someone whose field is Manuscript Studies, perhaps. But a working medieval historian? Most of us work with one century, at most. We tend to specialize in two or three hands at first, maybe expanding that over the course of a career. But a paleography course runs the whole gamut. Who among us is specialist in Merovingian chancery script:

...and blackletter book hands:

...and whatever the hell this is:

(Oh. Wait. That's one of mine.)

Anyway, the point is that I need to realize that most people who have ever taught paleography have been in the same situation I'm in: confident in a handful of hands, vaguely competent in a few others, and ready to admit ignorance in some places. I guess I can live with that.

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