The day I approached the historical

Approaching the Historical. A Symposium of Early Modern and Medieval Stylistics

The morning of June 14th was clear, hot, and hilly. If you’re going to break in a new pair of boots, don’t do it in Nottingham. Fortunately, I’d arrived on campus with twenty minutes to spare to consult maps and make my own approach gingerly.

‘Why are you going to that?’ Lili had asked the night before as we sat outside the Broadway Bar. ‘It’s good to get out of your bubble,’ I might have replied, quoting Charlie’s earlier evaluation on the crowded East Midlands train. I expect I actually rambled at greater length about wanting to find out about the methodologies of linguists working with Old and Middle English. I was approaching ignorant of Beowulf but interested in the approaching itself. Curiosity had deposited the Classicist on an undulating green campus and left him to shuffle along to a symposium of early modern and medieval stylistics.

If I had to select a keyword to seed liberally throughout this brief post, it would be ‘lovely’. Instead, I shall dump it inexpertly here: lovely the day, lovely the place and lovely the people! I’m a quiet man in public, as uncomfortable in large groups as I am in new boots. As it turned out, Nottingham’s School of English is full of smiling, friendly people. Jacqueline Cordell and Katrina Wilkins do a good symposium. I admit to a definite ‘uh oh’ when we got underway; up came the Old English and Ninja Schulz began her analysis of þa-clauses in the Old English poem Judith. It could have been the beginning of a long day. It wasn’t. June 14th flew along. I didn’t learn Old English despite furrowing my brow at it but I did discover other things as I sat there attentive to similarity and difference.

Thanks to Ninja’s and Jacqueline’s papers, I have a new tool to take to my texts: AntConc (‘A freeware corpus analysis toolkit for concordancing and text analysis’, added in Links). Noticing repetitions and patterns which work to reinforce readings is common during any sustained engagement with a text but Jacqueline’s corpus stylistic approach to Piers Plowman which analysed the functions of keywords (world-building and/or thematic signals) offered an empirical methodology (and the tools) to tackle ‘lexical priming’ in my own model texts. As expected there was a lot of zooming into texts throughout the day – words, groups of words, parts of words (in the case of Karen Soto’s quantitive analysis of proclitics in the Poetic Edda). There were familiar and comforting observations on the placement of caesura but applied to alliterative verse with full and internal rhyme (no dactyls and spondees here) in Inna Matyushina’s diachronic analysis of Old English metre. And despite being very slow to pick up the connections, I very much enjoyed Linden Currie’s paper on amusing and clever aural punning in the Exeter Book riddles.

There was zooming in to zoom out too in the day’s papers on quantitative approaches. I was bewildered in a good way by Andrew Wilson’s paper on ‘motifs’ using turn-taking in Shakespeare’s plays as an example. It jogged a memory of an article on word-order in Latin Epic which I’ve looked up since: Carl Conrad’s (1965) ‘Traditional Patterns of Word-Order in Latin Epic from Ennius to Vergil’. I came away with a fuzzy notion of combining the two but likely a project for further down the line being as what I found attached to Conrad’s article was even more bewildering colour-coding of my own. And one month on, I am still processing Thijs Lubbers and Bettelou Los’ impressive paper on data-driven stylometrics using part-of-speech label tagging (hard work and hard core!).

What’s good evidence of a thought-provoking symposium experience? I submit my train scribbles on Catullus 64 made on the journey back to Manchester the following morning.



Possibly discernible amidst the scrawl are ‘deictic marker’, ‘deictic centre’, ‘verbal art’, ‘metaphor’. I took Catullus along for the trip as I’d been thinking of revisiting poem 64 and writing about the ‘play’ between the poem’s narrators (at the time working title ‘transdiegetic communication acts’, currently ‘Discourse between worlds’). How did the deixis and verbal art seep in? For the latter, I have to thank Timo Lothmann’s paper on Mutual Monsters (abstract captured in the opening blog image) and for the former, Katrina Wilkins’ paper on relational deixis in Old English Esther (abstract below).


C64, a poem with an inset narrative contained within an ecphrasis, is crying out to be pushed and popped. Then, rereading Ariadne’s inner turmoil in C64 as she stood abandoned on a stormy shore brought back Timo’s dragon’s domain of fire and his clusters of conceptualisation.

Screenshot (70)

Post conference, Katrina kindly supplied me further reading on Deixis. Stockwell 2002 was not in the library but a snip on Kindle and yes, I’ve made a start…

Threads appear and connect. Timo Lothmann is based at RWTH Aachen where the ART CogLit research team (@ART_CogLit) is currently running a series of lectures on Literature, Emotions and Cognition. The lectures are livestreamed and available for download so anyone interested should follow the links and get in touch (they are also lovely people)! Peter Stockwell gave an excellent lecture there on Immersion and Emotion. Did his ‘deictic thread’ start me thinking again about Ariadne’s thread? Quite possibly. He was in any case on his home turf in Nottingham to reassure me that I needn’t jettison my structural narratology, but we’ll see what modifications I make to About and Project after I reach the end of both Cognitive Poetics and Jo Gavin’s Text World Theory which Katrina also put on my reading list.

Also not to be omitted on the very clever, encouraging (and patient) list is Katie Wales who gave the sort of paper I really enjoy, a careful reading here packed with astute analysis drawing out physical cues to guiding performance of the non-corporeal: ‘How to speak ghost in Hamlet’ (abstract also captured in opening blog image). Patient because Katie indulged my fumbling through my Argonautica text at lunch, before recommending I read/subscribe to the Journal of LTS and (I think) PALA (in any case, done and done).

My symposium ended on the bus back to Nottingham with Benedict Neurohr and an interesting chat about reader experiments and his work with eye-tracking and real readers (a method also discussed by Moniek Kuijpers in her ART CogLit paper). Then it was off to meet an old friend and head down the Angel Microbrewery.


All in all, a stimulating and sociable trip; from chatting to my fellow traveller on the train down about delayed exposition on Lemnos to bumping into a former student on arrival back at Manchester Piccadilly (and if you read this, Fred, I hope you smashed those finals!).

It is good to get out of your bubble, though maybe stick to well-worn footwear.

2 thoughts on “The day I approached the historical

  1. Dear Tim,

    Much as I enjoyed your recent post on approaching the historical, a few extra links on the page would not go amiss…

    Yours sincerely, A Concerned Reader


    1. The experienced reader, the attentive reader, the implied reader, the real reader, the contemporary reader, the modern reader, and now the concerned reader! All rabbit holes are optional and the curious reader can see where else they might lead.


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