Shall We Play a Game?

I’m returning to the subject of crime history in this fall’s teaching: a third-year course on Crime & Punishment in England, 1500-1900. I was happy with a lot of material and activities that I used last time. I was even happier that I made some good notes about what not to do when I revisited the course (so students will do three projects using records of London criminal trials and not four).

What’s got me most excited is the prospect of building a game with the class. We’re going to use Twine 2.0 to create several text-based “choose your own story” adventures using material gleaned from the Old Bailey Online.

Each student will be responsible for suggesting some cases we might use in the storylines – a great way to get them to dig around in the archive – and also locating some images to add interest to the game as we develop it (along with documentation of where they found these so we can assemble a proper set of credits in the game).

They’ll also be expected to create some narrative choices for the game stories as we develop this: for instance, letting the player choose to either apprehend a suspect when someone shouts “Stop, thief!” or ask the complainant “What’s this about?”

Right now, I’m still working my way through the screencast tutorials while I prepare a sample game to start the course and spark their interest. When it’s up and running, I’ll link it here. But for now?

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Dog Days of Summer

It’s hot and hazy: we’re into the reality of summer, finally. At least this year the blueberry crop is plentiful enough for people AND for bears. That didn’t stop a black bear from wandering through our backyard the other week and leaving visible evidence of that passage and its recent diet, mind you!

I’m vacillating in my work between preparations for the fall term of teaching and scholarly writing of my own in crime history and the family. Since one of the courses I’m teaching is on the history of crime, there’s some overlap which is welcome. Otherwise, most days my biggest excitement is walking Xena.

All in all, not too exciting right now but that’s just fine. I’m involved in planning two big events in the coming months on campus. One of these involves a visit in late September from my esteemed blog-friend, Historiann, who also has had reason to blog about bears recently. It’s a small world sometimes!

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Reading to Fuel the Fire

You know what Erasmus said? “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” Well, I bought another bunch of academic books this month. Eight in print depicted, one still on the way and one ebook awaiting me on my ereader. Oops? Eight books piled up

This fall term I’m teaching a bunch of familiar courses: Western Civilization from the Renaissance to the French Revolution, Crime and Punishment in England, 1500-1900 and then our graduate course on research methods which is going interdisciplinary across the humanities thanks to the wonders of cross-listing. With that in mind, I’m expanding my mind and my reading list particularly as it comes to the last element. In between writing up my crime history research in hopes of having another article complete this summer, I’m reading in order to lead a wide-ranging class of students on the start of their own research journeys.

However, on the heels of presenting at Congress 2017, I’m taking the rest of this week as a bit of a vacation. The scholarly reading goes on hold but it’s hard when the books are so tempting. . . .

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Rocking Cradles & Hatching Dragons

Next month sees the release of GotvsHistory Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood in print on 17 April, 2017. Edited by Brian Pavlac and published by Wiley (small world!), it’s a fun collection of pop culture linked with history. I’ve contributed a chapter on what the history of parenting can tell us about the characters and cultures of Westeros and Essos: “Rocking Cradles and Hatching Dragons: Parents in Game of Thrones” A lot of other great scholars have also contributed to this volume: I’m especially excited about Steve Muhlberger’s piece as well as the chapters by Kris Swank and Gillian Polack, all of whom were on board to contribute to the volume I’d planned to edit in 2013. Take a look: there are chapters on the Machiavellian world of Westeros and slave soldiers, along with so many other fascinating topics. I’m pleased this topic is finally getting a chance to be seen by so many, and ahead of season seven!

Here’s an excerpt from my chapter:

Rather than seeing children as expendable pawns, historical fathers and mothers were normally expected to treasure them. Consider a fifteenth‐century story about a young girl badly injured by a fallen tree. Her father rushed to her rescue, “his heart wrung with an agony of grief: yet, lifting the log with some difficulty, he raised her in his hands. Then the fountains of his eyes were loosed.” The tale concludes with the desperate parents restoring their daughter to life and health through the miraculous intervention of the deceased King Henry VI (r. 1421–1471), to whom they prayed in their distress. These medieval parents’ devastation recalls the grief and worry weighing down Ned and Catelyn Stark after Bran’s horrific fall in the first episode. While some historical parents may have felt little or no emotional bond with their offspring, the Starks’ heartfelt love for their injured son would have been widely lauded in the Middle Ages.

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Unsung Heroine

Bridget Hussey: surely you’ve heard of her? Likely not. I first stumbled upon her during my doctoral research. She married Richard Morison, a Henrician humanist pamphleteer who was a devout, nay, rabid Protestant as well as a lover of classical and Renaissance literature. At the time, I could little afford to do more than note her existence – their marriage occurred in the waning years of Henry VIII’s reign when Morison was no longer tossing off propaganda pamphlets like fast food burgers. I made a note of her will, proved many years later – in early January of 1601, which reflected her long and varied life in the half century since her first marriage.

Bridget Hussey buried three husbands in her long life: Morison, Henry Manners, the Earl of Rutland, and finally Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford. Bridget got along poorly with her Russell stepchildren, a situation which was only exacerbated by the marriage she brokered between one of her daughters and a sickly stepson. Bridget remained closely involved in the lives of her children as well as her stepchildren and their progeny, helping to groom a Manners granddaughter, Bridget, to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth.

For all of this, you don’t find a DNB entry for Bridget. There’s a fairly detailed genealogical discussion at Tudor Place that touches on her marriages and her daughters’ dynastic connections as well. The will (transcribed with Oxfordian commentary above) is an intriguing piece of elite social history – you see Bridget’s keen concern that her household and servants be well-supported after her death as well as specific provisions made for her grandchildren and stepchildren’s families.

I’ve struggled in vain to find a decent photograph of her translated altar tomb (decorated with her many armorial achievements) now extant at Chenies. Next time I’m in the UK, I’m going to see if I can get some pictures and maybe track down something of the family records further to see what else remains of the long-lived and caring countess.

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When a Picture is a Thousand Words

Or at least several hundred. My co-instructor and I wrapped up the latest offering of The History of the Western Occult, HIST 3406, with a discussion about themes, topics and ideas we’ve all been working with over the last three months. It was a lively end to a fun course that teaches a lot of valuable skills for historians all in pursuit of cool topics, obviously!

My favourite part of the wind-up is the use of word clouds (generated over at Wordle). Word Cloud of Occult History Terms It’s interesting to see what gets emphasized more, or less, in a course. I threw in all the text that had appeared on our course slides – this is the result for my half of the course which runs from antiquity into the seventeenth century. Yes, a very heavy emphasis on magic in my classes. I’m not sure if that’s a weakness or a strength?

This second word cloud comes from my co-instructor, Dr. Dave Leeson, who taught the topics from the seventeenth century to the contemporary era. Word Cloud of Occult History Terms The contrast and comparison between the two makes for some really intriguing insights both into our different ways of approaching the occult but also into the very different ways that occult history has developed since the Enlightenment era.

Hopefully they’ll also be useful tools to stimulate our students’ minds as they study for the final exam coming next week!

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Picture Me This

It’s midterm now and – eep! – my how times flies! I’m working through grading in all three of my courses, always a worrisome sign as I endeavour to stagger the workload as much as possible. But I’m making progress, so I can’t really complain too much.

What’s making it possible to work through all of this is the counter-intuitive promise I’ve made to myself of taking time off. I’m not getting the crafting time I’d hoped to eke out – I’m a bit too tired and disconnected most evenings to pull out my stitching and work on that. It’s also not super-easy on my eyes to focus on tiny stitches late at night! But I’m endeavouring to get a little fun reading in every week along with the daily dog walks and the weekly gym workouts (Zumba is our latest experiment). It’s vital to have something besides work, work, work if I’m to be usefully productive all year long.

Lately, it’s a colouring book that’s given me the most fun, even as it’s challenged my vision some evenings. Those teeny little lines! Those swirling organic shapes! Those pencils that need to be sharpened again and again! But how could I resist? Colouring Pages, Horses And the subject matter is just so “me” – I’ve always loved horses, more than is healthy. These are intricate and interesting but also well-done. So after I mark the next essay, I’ll take a break and either read, do some more colouring or maybe play a game. Maybe all three!

What helps you keep balance in your life?

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