S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Bows in Oxford

There are several ways I could tell you about my afternoon. Here's the short and somewhat misleading version first:

Today I met the Minister for Magic.

And here's the longer and, really, more interesting version:

The Society for the History of Medieval Technology and Science (SHMTS) is Britain's counterpart to AVISTA (Association Villard D'Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Technology, Science, and Art).* The two groups operate in rather different ways. SHMTS meets four times a year, twice in Oxford and twice in London, with an emphasis on accessible talks on aspects of the field; the president specified that they were not an academic group, even if it is a subject of academic interest for many of us. AVISTA's primary modus operandi is to organize sessions at the medieval congresses at Kalamazoo and Leeds each year.** Both groups run publication series.

Today, SHMTS hosted a talk on "The Great War Bow". The event had been moved to a larger venue than the one for which it was initially scheduled, and the audience largely filled it. Two archery clubs had sent delegations as well. The talk was structured around a series of slides, beginning with the Bayeaux Tapestry's depiction of archers.*** The speaker, Robert Hardy, had been in charge of the restoration of all of the longbows dredged up with the Mary Rose in the late '70s, the first intact bows from the period. The bows resolved all sorts of contested ideas about early sixteenth century bows - they had ivory tips to reduce wear-and-tear of string on the wood. They were carved in long straight staves. Several of them, once they had been dried out over three-and-a-half years, were even usable.

What struck me in particular, beyond the appropriate and lavish use of images, beyond the interest-factor of the material he was presenting, beyond all I learned from the talk, was that the presenter was a really good, very interesting speaker. He was easy to listen to and engaging. Afterwards, I mentioned this to a fellow post-talk loiterer. "You've seen the Harry Potter movies?" he asked. I had. "He was Fudge." And, it turns out, had a long career in acting, the highlight of which, for many, was playing the older veterinarian in the t.v. series of All Creatures Great and Small. And many others.

* As my fledgeling academic career progresses, I seem to be involving myself in groups with longer and longer names. It takes me weeks to learn the names of new ones.
** I encourage all Kalamazoo medievalists to join AVISTA for a drinks reception on Saturday afternoon, a new time slot for the group.
*** Or should that be the "Bayeaux Embroidery"? The debate raged earlier this week on mediev-l.
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