I mentioned in my last post my position as the only early medievalist in the history department of my university. As a professor this would be lonely enough, as a grad student the isolation is even more intense. I do, however, find opportunities. I am currently working on a project with one of the three (3!) early medievalists in the English department. My role is history based, contributing a short bio on Alfred the Great, but I am enjoying the interdisciplinary nature of the thing. The project focuses on the vernacular translation tradition of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. I have been reading a fair amount of scholarly studies concerned with Alfred and his translation program and I am struck by some of the current arguments. For instance, Malcolm Godden, in both a recent article in Medium Aevum as well as the introduction to volume 1 of The Old English Boethius argues an extreme view that Alfred really had nothing to do with the “Alfredian canon.” Of course, the traditional view places a certain number of works in the kings hand. A third school offers a more conservative approach- Alfred, while maybe not translating anything himself, certainly commissioned and approved the final products.
The argument is not my point. I’m not really qualified to discuss the literary merits of the evidence on any side, where thorns and ashes fly like arrows at Agincourt, but it did get me thinking. How could a historian use a debate like this and why aren’t they? What could we say about the historical Alfred if, indeed, he wasn’t involved? How would it change the history books? First, I guess, we must explore why he did not actually participate in these translations. Well, saving Wessex from the Vikings seems like a fair enough answer, but is it? Next, we could cast our academic gaze at those who used Alfred’s name to further their endeavours. Why? And from there…where? Which is kind of where I need guidance. I don’t know how it is at other institutions, I have to assume it is better, but at mine no one seems to be trying to build a bridge we can all cross. I suppose this blog is my way of trying to build that bridge. I do know that Guy Halsall had something to say about this at Leeds. If anyone has notes or an abstract of that paper, “Dialogue, Interlocution, or Just Plain Cultural History?: What (If Anything) Do We Mean by ‘Interdisciplinarity’?,” I would love to read it.