Academic blog

The Livre de Fauvel BnF fr. 146 was written at a time of crisis, when it was not certain who the next ruler would be. When a glorious past seemed both so near and so far. When recent wars – and the prospect of future wars – were real. When the economy was in crisis due to mismanagement by a powerful minority seeking their own gain. When insurgents from abroad threatened the state.

The year was (probably) 1316. That year, the French monarchy, the Capetian royal family, had found themselves without direct male heirs. Again. The female line, quite apart from being, you know, women an’ all, was dogged by claims of adultery. The throne was empty, awaiting the outcome of a pregnancy. If the baby was male, he would be king, but who should be regent? And if the baby was female, or should die, who would be the next king?

Against this backdrop, a group of educated and talented artists who worked in the royal chancery with the highest affairs of state produced a lavish manuscript of story, poetry, song, artwork, and historical writing. They must have had considerable financial backing for materials, sources, and time. They had a message for the new ruler, and it was this: evil is everywhere, but do not let it win.

They sound their message in various ways around and including the central text of the tale of the horse-man Fauvel. Fauvel, half man half beast, who is faun, dun, tan – that strange reddy-brown colour that is not quite natural except in foxes. Foxes, like Reynard, the wicked deceiver who rapes, pillages, steals chickens, and continually deceives the forgiving lion Noble with his fake piety and feigned contrition. Reynard who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Fauvel – faux vel, false veil; Flattery, Avarice, Villainy, Vanity, Envy, Laziness – is no better; indeed, he has images of Reynard on the walls of his palace. Wait. A horse in a palace? Oh yes, Fauvel has been raised by Fortune and is petted and washed by nobles and churchmen alike. He has a false court of deceivers. He is served by an army of Vices. He sits astride the French throne in beastly splendour. To an accompaniment of song and glorious imagery Fauvel feasts, fornicates, and washes in the fountain of youth so that he will never die.

Scroll forward in time 700 years with the addition of fake tan. To empty promises and hollow words (Louis X, like his father Philip IV, had vowed to go on crusade in the footsteps of their saintly forebear Louis IX, but never did). To money-grabbing elites (Enguerran de Marigny had run the treasury dry). To an armed populace taking the law into their own hands (bands of unemployed soldiers were terrorising the country). To new movements in the art world that made use of new technology (ars nova techniques in music notation and performance). To people, fearing the changes around them, acting desperately to support the loudest voice, a voice which cries: it’s not you, it’s them. And I’ll give you everything you want, no matter what the cost.

It was a climate that could not afford to let Fauvel have his second coming. For if it did, society as it was known would be overturned. The apocalyptic readings in Fauvel abound. The creators of fr. 146 were playing a dangerous game. ‘It was just a joke’ would be no excuse for their biting satire. They needed protection, as well as resources. Both probably came from the elder statesman Charles de Valois, powerful kingmaker, and uncle and brother to kings. His name can be found in the purported authorial naming in the manuscript if it is considered an anagram (and there are strong reasons to do so). As it turned out, the baby was a boy, who died after only a few days. The new king, Philip V, is looked upon kindly by history. Perhaps he heeded Fauvel’s message. Alas, others did not. After Philip’s death the hundred years war kicked into full swing. The black death spread across Europe, destabilising society again. Art, music, and literature responded in new ways. Time marched on regardless.

The Fauvel manuscript is a complex network of meanings and connections, some of which are obvious, some of which take some time to reveal themselves. Some require a detailed knowledge of the messy politics of early fourteenth-century France to fully understand (if indeed we can really understand them at all). But there is one meaning for which no knowledge of Middle French, medieval Latin, or medieval music notation is required: Fauvel is a lying, dangerous monster of a man, and he is very near.

Images: Paris, BnF fr. 146, Le livre de Fauvel, fol. 11r (detail). Viewable on Public domain.

Michael Vadon, flickr site, creative commons share-alike licence

This post was inspired by writing my article ‘The Medieval (Music) Book: A Multimodal Cognitive Artefact’, forthcoming in the History of Distributed Cognition (vol. 2), University of Edinburgh Press: You may also want to read @theLitCritGuy’s post on Trump and Freud from a year ago (which I quote in my article): 

It’s a day to update profiles. I might even have to brave facebook soon. It’s a day to change email signatures. The first days in a new job.

Not just any job, either. The Dream Job. The Holy Grail and other metaphors. The full-time, permanent academic post, in the same city as my family. No more fly-commuting (bye bye SAS gold card, I’ll miss you). No more leaving the goats. No more late nights in the office so I can spend more time with them on my home weeks. Instead it’s matpakker and preschool drop-offs and regular hours. Maybe even a dog. Just like a ‘normal’ family.

It also means teaching. I’ve missed teaching, funnily enough. Oh, I haven’t missed the random midnight emails or the marking. But I’ve missed the interaction with students. I’ve missed the challenge of presenting complex material in a way that it can be learnt by not-yet-experts. This time I have the added bonus of getting to do it all in Norwegian. Ditto syllabi, exams, assessments. It’s going to be a steep learning curve, and I am not ashamed to admit I’m nervous about that. I’m also confident the students will help me. It’s OK to not be infallible. I’ve never let the fact that I can’t sing very well stop me from singing musical examples in class, thereby showing that perfection is not a requirement and encouraging timid students to join in. The same will, I hope, prove true for my language. It’s OK to make mistakes, folks, we’re all here to help each other. Plus it’s a great excuse to teach multimodally.

But for now, the tea bowls are in place, the pink crocs too. The essential task of decorating the office door is underway. People to meet, names to learn and get muddled up, equipment to get to grips with, keys to get confused over… All the fun, messy stuff that is the first few days. The new life starts here.

Official, like.

Official, like.

‘I’m not a linguist, I’m a musicologist.’

So why did you come to this conference?’

A question I heard many times this last week. The short answer: to talk about multimodality in research communication. The longer answer: to put forward the methodology of the Idélab Fellowship Project, that of researching in the middle.

‘It’s not beginnings and endings that count, but middles. Things and thoughts advance or grow out from the middle, and that’s where you have to get to work, that’s where everything enfolds’ – Deleuze, Negotiations (trans. Joughin, 1995), 161.

Researching in the middle – a phrase that can be read in a number of ways, and intentionally so. First, we stand in the middle, between the four other projects to come out of the Idélab and the ‘outside world’. Secondly, we are in the middle: our project is now in its second year of three, we are learning all the time. Thirdly, the viewpoint from the middle offers a different perspective, but one which is rarely explored: we like to publish results, results, results. Why not publish methods? Even failures? If we want to engage audiences with our work – audiences beyond the academy – then being part of things, being in the middle of things, is the attraction. Process is something many researchers publish, in one way or another, via conference papers (that well-known stalwart of conference bingo is the phrase ‘this is very much a work in progress’), blogs, twitter… We are researchers to learn, as well as to spout the fruits of our learning.

’It’s not easy to see things in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left; try it, you’ll see that everything changes.’ Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (trans. Massumi, 2004), 25.

If you want to follow a blow-by-blow account of the conference, then the storifies of the twitter tag #IPRA2015 is a good place to start (days 1-3; days 4-6 – with big thanks to Martin Siefkes aka @stilomet for making them). If you want the short version, then below are five postcards, one for each day I was able to attend, tracing the developments, inspirations, musings. They are unedited, they are brought to you from the middle.

Introductory postcard

Introductory postcard

#IPrA2015, 26th July

Monday 27th July

Tuesday 28th July

Tuesday 28th July

Wednesday 29th July

Wednesday 29th July

Thursday 30th July

Thursday 30th July

Friday 31st July

Friday 31st July

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

This is not about sympathy. It is not about sob stories. Like my last post on disability (inspired by Dorothy Kim writing for ITM), it is about counting. It is about raising awareness. To use the terminology of multimodality, it is about acknowledging the cultural practices of our times – and changing them. It is about discourse, for the current prevalent societal discourse – the sugar-coated poison which infuses popular culture with impossible ideals – does not recognise that here, now, everywhere, human beings are being abused. We probably always have been, but that doesn’t make it acceptable, anywhen.

One day I hope we will see a society where there is no such thing as ‘coming out’. A society where everyone, regardless of their position on the various spectra of gender, sexuality, disability, colour, class, can just be. And will be respected and loved for who they are. Idealist? Guilty. Inherent believer in the ultimate goodness of humanity? Ditto – despite the evidence, despite past experiences. (Could I say that even if someone had hurt my child? I would like to think that, eventually, I could. I pray I will never have to find out. And if it were your child, and you couldn’t, then I would not judge you. I would support you, give you all the time you needed, but I would not seek revenge on your behalf.)

One form of ‘coming out’ which is growing in importance is the coming out as a survivor of abuse. Putting that another way: all sorts of people in different walks of life are pointing out just how many abusers there are in the world. This, in turn, is making us count. As a woman with a happy home in one of the safest countries in the world I gaze in horror at the tales I know, the tales I have heard. Nowhere is safe. At this time of year people, particularly young people in education, are at the beginning of new journeys, new challenges. Are there predators circling, waiting to pounce on these vulnerable potential victims? Of course there are, but they are in the minority. Probably the most numerous potential abusers are themselves victims. Maybe they are also on a new journey. Many surely don’t realise how much they have to learn. It takes a brave and wise heart indeed to be able to recognise that one’s own bad experiences can generate more of the same. When your own personal boundaries have themselves been breached, how hard it may be to see that acquiescence out of fear is not the same as consent – particularly in the bold ignorance of youth. The victim of bullying is expected to resist becoming a bully when things don’t turn out like the books with happy endings promised. The child of an over-strict parent is expected to know that that is no way to treat romantic partners when they don’t submit as they do in cheesy films. The victim of assault is expected to not turn violent when they (rightly or wrongly) believe themselves threatened again. The survivor of depression and self-harm is expected to not be jealous of those who struggle to comprehend what they cannot understand.

Many years ago, a young man I used to know who had been a victim of all of the above went from friend to lover to prolonged systematic abuser of someone who had only ever wanted to help him. There, I said it. Looking back, it didn’t take my heart long to forgive him, once I had escaped to a better place. It has taken a long time for my soul to heal enough to be able to come out and be counted.

The heroes, you see, are those who break the mould. Those who channel their negative experiences into a force for change. It won’t happen the next day. It may not happen for years. But those who can suffer harm without doing harm, those who can love freely without wanting more, those who can live through incomprehensible sadness yet maintain an openness for the beauty of life; they are the survivors we should admire while we mourn, love, and respect those who, for whatever reason, could not complete the journey.

Anyone following #mybodymyhome (website here) will know that one of the world’s most talented writers, Shailja Patel (website here), has come out as having been recently sexually assaulted just days after her return to Kenya, and that campaigners all over the world have come together to support her. Anyone with a social media account, let alone half an eye on current affairs, will know that a young man miles away on the same continent is awaiting sentencing for killing someone he says he loved. One of these tales is in the full media glare. The other may not be in the spotlight, but its diffuse and disturbing light can be glimpsed virtually everywhere.

Oscar Pistorius is portrayed by said media as a villain and a victim, as a rags-to-riches playboy and a vulnerable traumatised soul, as a heroic world-class athlete and a bad liar out to save what he can of his skin. The same outlets can portray him as different versions of these extremes from one day to the next – indeed, in the same day. Due to his celebrated and celebrity status, suddenly Web 2.0 knows better than the judge what she should decide. While a detailed multimodal analysis of the media portrayals of the trial would be fascinating (anyone looking for a PhD topic in multimodalality / African studies / disability studies – if you’ve already got a supervisor in mind you can thank me in your acknowledgments), what I am focusing on here are the cultural practices involved. South Africa as a nation has been the focus of external media gaze for longer than I have been alive. First, those of us on the outside boycotted its produce. Then we watched as Mandela walked to freedom. We sang along with Jim Kerr and Simple Minds. We cheered the rise of the ANC, the elections, the presidencies, the mixed sports teams. The fractured society and rampant gun culture which simmer underneath do not fit into this fairytale. Nor does the fact that it might be OK to shoot someone if they are an intruder – because everyone knows that intruders are not human beings, are not innocent until proven guilty; more to the point, because everyone knows that any intruder is likely to be armed and will shoot to kill if not shot first.

In the same way, everybody knows that women’s bodies are public property. They sell cars and motorbikes. Open a certain UK newspaper apparently like any other and you will see full-frontal top-half female nudity (which, naturally, you won’t find on facebook, even with a baby’s head covering more than any clothing could). You won’t find women’s football reported in that newspaper, of course, or indeed in many others (Norwegian newspapers, I salute you). Women’s words are spun around their clothing and hairstyle, around someone else’s opinion of their looks. Threats can be made with impunity. Microagressions, everyday sexism, mansplaining, the works. Women are, after all, bodies with holes in. And human beings notice bodies. We are programmed to. I’m no biologist but I wouldn’t be surprised if we evolved to assess faces and bodies as part of the subconscious evolutionary drive which powers all species, not just ours. But what sets homo sapiens apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is that very ‘sapiens’ – the conscious thought. The ability to override our instincts, and to train others (and other species) to do so. We can train a dog, a horse, mebbie not a cat I grant you, but seals, bears, ferrets, ourselves. A leopard can change his shorts – if he wants to. It is a much harder task to change a society’s cultural practices.

Yet it can happen. It has to. Psychologists, sociologists, historians, and anyone who has read any Orwell knows that what stands between research and government policy to drive change is the people, the sheep. The masses are made up of individuals. Indeed, because of this linking position, there is great power in the hands of those seeking change. Campaigning works. (Eventually.) You see, cultural practices are not, thank all you consider holy, set in stone. Every single one of us can be a hero and change things for the better, whatever our status, background, or culture. Every victim you believe. Every judgment you don’t make. Every gentle gesture. Every time you double-check ‘is this OK for you?’. Every time you ask a child’s permission for a hug. Every time you use your own hurt to help someone else.

This post is dedicated to the heroes. You know who you are.

Which part of a (Norwegian) job application do I fear the most?

The cover letter? – Nah, bring it on! I’m interdisciplinary; that means I can do ANYTHING, right?

The full academic CV? – Easy! Which version would you like? I have a choice of three, at least.

The accompanying materials? – Hah, just look at all the peer-reviewed articles/compositions I have to choose from these days!

The obligatory gender declaration? – I’m pleased that Norway is (apparently) taking the trouble to count.

Do you fulfill the requirements for special consideration as an applicant with an immigrant background? – No, because coming from the EU is not classed as ‘immigrant’ in this sense (and rightly so).

Do you fulfill the requirements for special consideration as an applicant with a disability? If so, please give details below. – Uh, um, well. Er, do I have to?


No, I don’t have to; it is a choice. And do you know what? For the last three years – and sometimes before then – I have chosen not to declare, even though I could (should) have done. Even though I do require some adjustments to a work environment. Even though, clear on my face for all to see, is the very fact that I have a disability (well, either that or a pretty bold sense of style and/or a love of the colour pink which makes my five-year-old daughter’s how-many-shades-can-I-possibly-wear-today? attitude seem positively reasonable).

I suspect that many people reading this would not believe the number of times I’ve had to say, ‘actually, I don’t wear these glasses for fun.’ I may well have said it to you. You probably replied (as most do), with a surprised, ‘really? I thought they were just really cool!’ And yes, they are pretty funky. And yes, I do dress to match. And yes, I have a (public) personality that sits well (I hope!) with bright colours. And no, I was not offended by your comment. It takes more than that to offend me, I assure you. In turn, I did not wish to cause you offence with my well-rehearsed answer: sometimes delivered in a mock whisper; sometimes with a slight downward glance (or long blink), descending voice pitch, and shake of the head; sometimes with a jokey raising of the eyebrows, tilt of the head, and maybe the ghost of a wink; only occasionally with a warning tone.

'I don't wear these for fun, you know.'

‘I don’t wear these for fun, you know.’

I am spurred to write today by Dorothy Kim’s (@dorothyk98) excellent post on the (equally excellent) medievalist blog In the Middle, entitled ‘Divergent Bodies and Medieval Studies‘. I don’t know or mind whether Kim counted mine as a ‘non-normative’ body at IMC Leeds – it makes no difference whatsoever to her argument, which contains three points bordering on the genius. (I don’t remember whether or not we discussed The Glasses, but we certainly righted the world over a glass – hmm come to think of it bottle – of wine, as you do, regarding issues of diversity in academia more broadly.) My three takeaway points from Kim’s piece are these:


1. She made me realise how #Ferguson is relevant to all walks of life.

2. If anyone expresses surprise at my (or anyone’s) ability to do research then I will sock it to them – hopefully gently, firmly, and politely, but if otherwise then too bad.

3. I will tick that box on application forms from now on.


Let’s take each of those points in turn, in a little more detail.

1. Institutionalised discrimination is everywhere. It is not enough to treat everyone equally regardless of looks, background, ability, gender, mental and physical health, beliefs, and all the other things which make us unique; no, we have to be more proactive than that. We actually have to speak out, point out, and stamp out what Kim and others term the ‘microaggressions’ that take place on every level. It must start today. It must (re-)start every day. This is something concrete, real, and effective that we can all do in our workplaces, in our communities, in our centres of education, and in our families. Silence is not an option.

2. My grandmother always used to say to me, ‘if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’, because: ‘If you write something, you can erase it. But if you say something, it stays said.’ That was good advice for a loudmouthed child with a gob too often engaged before brain. But to my grandmother’s advice I will now add the following: ‘If your silence would be more hurtful to a victim of abuse than your less-than-carefully planned response, then speak up regardless.’ Silence is not an option.

3. Here’s why I stopped ticking the declaration box on application forms. In 2011 I was called to an interview for a job because my declaration meant that by law they had no choice but to interview me. What the job advertisement failed to say was that the interdisciplinary candidate they claimed to want actually had to be able to offer teaching in a certain department, one to which it was clear from my CV that I had very little to offer. That I found out at interview. An interview which was very short. An interview which cost the hiring department (in a country significantly more cash-strapped than Norway) a fair amount of money to ship me over to attend. An interview which I and one of the panel members made the best of by getting to know each other and having as in-depth a discussion about our research as we could, but which the other panel member (and department head) clearly regarded as an utter waste of time. Instead of blaming the inevitable discomfort on a poorly written job advert and a surly cash/time-strapped HoD, I blamed myself for ticking the box which forced them to call me for interview. Since then, I have not ticked the box. From now on, I will. Silence is not an option.

(As an aside: the interview I just described had a happy ending. Thanks to being called to that interview I was sent various materials beforehand, including a copy of a successful bid to a research funding body. Before I even attended the interview I had already amended the structure of that research proposal to fit one I was writing for a call for postdoctoral proposals in multimodality at the University of Agder. Of course, I was not awarded my current postdoc on the structure of my proposal alone. But I was praised for my proposal, which did everything it needed to do and more. I am always happy to send the official proposal for my postdoctoral project to anyone who may find it useful – just ask me. It is not a public or published document so I can’t just slap it on the internet, but it is by no means an official secret so I am more than happy to share it.)


So, back to Norway and its job policies (which I have already written about here). As I enter the last quarter of my postdoc I am on the job hunt again. I have already not ticked the disability declaration a few times. Why? Well, as I have said, I don’t want to relive the experience of that interview (and in Norwegian to boot). After all, there are people much less able-bodied than I am – this box is for ‘them’, not me, right? To tick it when I don’t desperately ‘need’ it would be morally wrong, because my application might be promoted in favour of that of someone else, which would be unfair.

That logic is well-meaning, but ultimately drivel and nonsense (and other words that I don’t want to use on my blog). First, by not ticking that box, I am disallowing – or, worse, distorting – the ‘counting’ which the Norwegian state is implementing, and which Kim points out is so important to do. Second, I am certainly not ashamed to be one of ‘them’, and this system is in place to help ‘us’ – that is, everyone; but by not ticking the box, I am not acting on my own beliefs. To counter workplace discrimination of all kinds we need to build diverse workplaces. The fact that I am more than happy to disclose my gender shows that I am well aware that positive discrimination works: the gender rule for potential employees of the Norwegian state is that if two (or more) candidates are deemed to be equal, then preference must be given to females. (For more experience and expertise on this than I am qualified to give, you can read Curt Rice’s website and follow @curtrice; Rice works tirelessly for gender equality in Norway and elsewhere, particularly in universities.) That brings me to the question of ‘need’, which is where the St-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus-style (or, in internet speak, #facepalm) revelation comes in: this is not about my needs, it is about society’s needs and the needs of others. To tick or not to tick is my choice, but it is a choice that is not actually about me.


Colleagues, forgive me for my silence and inertia up to now. Dorothy, thank you for your activism and for moving me to action. Curt (and others too numerous to name), thank you for all your hard work. Everyone, listen well and speak out: silence is not an option.



Here is the introductory post for my curation week @wethehumanities. Hope you can join us for a glimpse into the life of a Norwegian researcher!

We The Humanities

Week 4 four sees @wethehumanities take a Scandinavian turn with a curation from Norway.  Kate Maxwell will be taking over the account on Sunday night and early risers will get to accompany on her mammoth fortnightly commute in the small hours of Monday morning.  From the sounds of her introductory post Norway’s life-work ethic puts much of the rest of the world to shame and we suspect that we won’t be alone in googling visa applications by the end of the week.

In its fourth week of rotation-curation, @WeTheHumanities leaves the shores of the United Kingdom for the first time. So let me invite you on a journey of discovery to Norway, where I am working on a postdoctoral project on multimodality in medieval manuscripts, particularly Old and Middle French literature and music.

As a UK-passport-holder living in Norway, my adopted country sometimes seems utopic. With high social equality…

View original post 516 more words

This is a guest post written by Jessica Sage and Kristina West, the founders of We the Humanities which went live today. A fantastic initiative, and in the week commencing 17th March I will be curating the account – yay! Follow @wethehumanities on twitter to join the discussion.


After seven weeks of preparation, curator-sourcing and generous support, We the Humanities launches today.  It’s the first rotation-curation Twitter account for the humanities, featuring a new guest editor every week who’ll be tweeting about their work or research in the humanities and their other areas of interest.  Set up by Jessica Sage and Kristina West, who are both part-time PhD researchers and sessional lecturers at the University of Reading, the hope is that it will offer a central platform for discussion and news of the humanities in all its forms.

From humble beginnings (a lightbulb moment whilst wearing pyjamas on a Sunday afternoon) the account now has more than 650 followers and 21 brave tweeters who’ve put themselves forward to curate for us.  Today’s launch sees the account being taken over by Louise Jackson, the Head of Learning Enhancement at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.  Future guest editors include a senior lecturer in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, an Assistant Curator in the Sculpture department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and researchers from Norway, New Zealand, Australia and the USA.  We are also looking forward to adding participants from the business world, primary and secondary education and any other disciplines associated with or interested in the humanities.

The account’s set-up has been juggled with teaching and finishing a thesis (Jess) and teaching, PhD research and parenting (Krissie) and so it’s with relief as well as excitement that our first curation is underway.  It has been great fun getting to know some of our followers in the last few weeks – and we’ve been overwhelmed by people’s generosity in sharing the initiative, suggesting avenues of publicity and hosting us on their blogs – but this is a project that’s bigger than two individuals.  It’s this spirit of collaboration and the diversity of contributors that we hope will grow the account to reach more people, from those who’ve dedicated their working lives to the humanities to people with a mild curiosity in one particular area.

Although it’s a modest project, we hope that @wethehumanities will contribute to debates about the importance of the discipline and provide entertaining and informative perspectives on an ever-expanding variety of research, interests and hobbies.

You can follow @wethehumanities on Twitter here and you’ll find the blog here.  If you would like to curate for a week the details and sign-up form can be found here.  You can also get in touch with Jess and Krissie with any suggestions or comments that you may have by emailing them at wethehumanities AT gmail DOT com.


We the Humanities:

Jessica Sage:

Kristina West:

Louise Jackson:


For curators: