Sunday, 27 July 2008

Influence of anxiety

I am trying to write a paper for a conference in Durham next week. It's an ad hoc conference organised by someone who is generally excellent, and he e-mailed earlier this year to ask if I'd like to contribute. I think this was more because we were in correspondence about something else than because I was on his original list. I e-mailed back with a proposal which he accepted -- and then I saw the list of the other speakers, and I'm worried now that I suggested something a bit low-key. The theme is the manuscripts of Bede, and other people seem to have titles which would be chapters in some sort of definitive Handbook about the manuscripts of Bede. But I just proposed to talk about a particular manuscript which I know well.

The reason I know it well is because I did my Part II dissertation on it, a long long time ago now. I wrote a competent, perhaps over-detailed, examination of all its aspects which got rather good marks, and when I helped out at the ASNC Open Day the next year the then Prof. pointed me out to all the little sixth-formers as someone who had done publishable research for my undergraduate dissertation. Not so uncommon in ASNC; still, the joy I felt at the time! I beamed all day. (The same eminent professor is talking at this conference on simply "The Manuscripts of the Historia Ecclesiastica".) I never got round to publishing it. I have thought about it since and I think the significance of what I did is now clearer in my mind than it was then. Still it seems a little cheeky somehow to dust off and present work I did when I was 20. Furthermore someone I know who was going to be giving a paper has just e-mailed to say he's sorry we won't get a chance to catch up because he's pulled out on the grounds that he has nothing new to say on the manuscripts of the Pseudo-Bede Collectanea. Which seems to be expecting quite a demanding and knowledgeable audience.

If I were going to be talking at Kalamazoo or Leeds I would have no worries at all about the standard of what I'm doing. The point of what I'm going to say is that this particular manuscript shows clear unambiguous evidence for something happening in its production which is usually assumed not to have happened in manuscript production; perhaps we should stop assuming that. I think I will have to rely on a doing a tight well-presented paper under time. Heigh ho. Three days in Durham should be nice, at least.


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