About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Some Scholarly Pet Peeves

In some of the reading that I have been doing over the last few weeks, time and again I have run into some of those small practices that have been introduced in the name of “political correctness” that nevertheless are in fact more misleading in the context of medieval scholarship than are the more traditional (and less politically correct) practices.

For example, it seems to be the rage in the last decade or two among “scholars” to stop using that “confining” and “patriarchal” form of dating in which those years before the birth of Christ are “B.C.” and those afterwards “A.D.” (“Anno Domini,” “In the year of the Lord”). Instead, they have instituted a new nomenclature: B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”) and C.E. (“Common Era”) – never mind the fact that they still use the birth of Christ as the Wendungspunkt (turning point) from before the common era to the common era; rather than be intellectually honest about our system of dating, however, they insist on covering it up, lest we offend by our honesty.

When it comes to studying the Christian Middle Ages, however, it seems absolutely absurd to reject the traditional Christian dating system in favor of the new-fangled, “culturally neutral” option. The Middle Ages weren’t culturally neutral – everything was, in fact, dated according to “the year of the Lord”. Why, then, do we feel compelled to “correct” the very culture and people whom we study?

Likewise, I find it even more ridiculous that the author of an article I recently read on the scriptoria in a twelfth century monastery/abbey insisted that when copying the Holy Scriptures, the scribes were copying “the books of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.” Look in any Christian biblical manuscript of the twelfth century (or, for that matter, of the fifth or fifteenth centuries) and you will find that none of them contain “the Hebrew Bible” – rather, they contain the “libri testamenti novi et veteris”, the “books of the Old and New Testament”. In fact, to say that the nuns in that scriptorium were copying “the Hebrew Bible” is downright misleading, for they were copying the Latin scriptures (the Vulgate) more or less compiled by Jerome, which not only contains some books that are either different from or even absent from the Hebrew Bible, but also has the books in a different order from the Hebrew Bible.

Speaking of “the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament” might be appropriate in certain modern contexts, but it is most certainly not appropriate in the context of the twelfth century. Why, then, do scholars insist on such horribly anachronistic and misleading terms? Lest they be “politically incorrect”, I suppose.

1 comment:

A Woman of Substance said...

I am here in Germany too. I love the bells. I have the same scholarly peeves you do. Seems ironic at times what we do for "political correctness".