Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Scott McLemee's Meme

I normally have very little interest in this use of "meme," but the person who tagged me, Edward Pettit of BibliothecaryBlog, had such interesting answers that I decided to play along:

1) Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?

I look up the results of my insane "Manuscripts and Sheep DNA Project," which, miraculously, a whole slew of libraries have supported. (I got the original idea from Greg Rose and have expanded it since). Libraries holding Anglo-Saxon manuscripts agreed to allow scrapings of each leaf to be taken. DNA in the scrapings was amplified using Polymerase Chain Reaction and then sequenced. Comparison of sequences showed which piece of parchment came from which sheep and, furthermore, which sheep were related to each other. Untangling the relationships became a multi-disciplinary effort that included mathematicians, biologists, paleographers, historians and literary scholars--and people who knew a lot about sheep. The entire insane project was led by an obscure professor from a small New England liberal arts college after some foundation with more money than it knew what to do with --and lots of good connections to British and Continental libraries--decided to support it. The project demonstrated new links between manuscripts and monastic centers and paid huge and controversial literary and historical dividends when it demonstrated that yes, there was a "royal writing office" (they were using sheep from the same herd for their materials), and that the Beowulf manuscript has a leaf that came from the same sheep as a leaf from the Blickling homily manuscript.
[n.b. For some reader from a foundation: this is the kind of interdisciplinary, long-shot project that could sounds like a total wash out, but if it isn't, it will pay gigantic and unexpected dividends. Swing for the fences and help me get those sheep hides sequenced! ]

(2) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference?

At my very first Kalamazoo I registered late and had to stay in French Hall, where they put the visiting athletic teams (you can imagine the condition of the rooms). At Kalamazoo, you share a bathroom with a connecting room. I did not (and still do not) know who was in that connecting room. One night, coming back from drinking at Waldo's, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and heard loud noises coming from next door. Unmistakeably, the people were spanking each other. There was counting and "may I have another" involved. They appeared to be having a great time, and I've always thought that perhaps the next day their papers had a special quality of some kind.
The next year at Kalamazoo, obviously mindful of my previous year's experience, I opened the door to the connecting bathroom, wondering what this year's sexed-up medievalist neighbors would be up to. There was a glass of water alongside the sink. In the water were a set of dentures.

(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

I've had the opportunity to meet some of my academic heroes, such as Mechthild Gretsch, Simon Keynes, Patrick Wormald, Michael Lapidge, Tom Shippey, and Joyce Hill, and none of them were intimidating (and I guess I wasn't too puppy-dog-ish). I'd be in awestruck silence in front of Ed Wilson, J. G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. Then I'd immediately corner said persons and try to get blurbs for a book...

(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?

That Rabbit Girl: Tales of an Art Librarian was a student in classes I TA'd back at Loyola Chicago. Always interesting.

Sweat Flavored Gummi a possibly insane person who puts dead squirrels in her freezer and writes hilarious blog posts about paper mache hams. Her "angry letter of the week" feature is a thing of beauty.

Elyse Sewell's LiveJournal. My wifes' and my one pop-culture pleasure is ANTM. Elyse was a contestant on the first run of the show but was too smart to win. Her journal is witty and well-written as she describes her xenophilic life as a model.

Tiruncula, Mad For Caffeine Bourgeois Nerd, and Unknown Strains are all academics who don't seem to be jerks and can write well. That's good enough (and rare enough) for me.

I'm not going to officially "tag" anyone, but if I've linked you above, consider yourself invited.


Ed said...

Thanks so much for answering.

Lisa Spangenberg said...

I can't be sure just how tongue and cheek you're being with your sheep project; Isuspect I'm about to publicly humiliate myself. I'm not sure that the mss. would actually provide appropriate genetic material for DNA extraction--generally one uses marrow in antique cases--but if the mss. would in fact provide appropriate DNA, I think you could probably get grants from both NEH and NSF. I can think of other likely sources for matching funding, and resources. There's useful overlap with humanists who are already doing cladistics research. Personally, I'd like to include cows too; Irish mss. seem to be bovine, or at least the ones I'm interested in, are bovine.

Michael said...

I'm serious about the sheep project, but I don't know if you could get enough DNA from a cured hide. A colleague in biology thinks you could, since there would be nucleated cells and the tanning process might not have degraded the DNA, but you'd have to test to find out. Unfortunately I think that the British Library would not allow anything that might damage the manuscript (people are still upset over use of reagents in the 19th century). You'd have to be able to do it with a tiny scraping. But if there's DNA there, PCR would take care of it.
Wheaton now has a DNA sequencer and the college and the biology department would support the research. I wonder if I should apply to NEH, NSF, etc... What do you think?

Frank said...

I'm honored that you think of me as an academic and "not a jerk" "who can write well." I'm not actually an academic (yet; I just graduated from college and plan to someday become a professor), but I like to think I'm a good writer and not a jack-ass.

Natalia said...

If it actually worked... that sheep project would be the coolest idea ever. If you ever do it, I want to know about it.

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Teagle Foundation. They got lots and are redirecting their giving programs. The new president is a cvlassicist (Thucydides guy) and may actually be interested...but you didn't hear it from me. :)

Lisa Spangenberg said...

OK; I think we have reached a consensus; you have to do the sheep project. I wonder if anyone's ever done DNA testing on the marrow from the many sheep in cthonic midden-shafts and bogs?

anna said...

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