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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.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
OMG. I couldn't believe that 'tapestry/embroidery' row. Pedantic much?
Mar. 11th, 2006 09:56 pm (UTC)
That's what happens when you gather together several thousand pedants on one mailing list...

I liked the final multi-lingual name comparison exercise. Thanks to that, I think this is more a case of modern language evolving away from the name's original meaning rather than the original name begin wrong per se.
Mar. 11th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
Hee. I have to admit that "Bayeux Embroidery" just sounds wrong.

I can relate, though. On the SHAKSPER list there was, not long ago, a raging and rather acrimonious argument over whether the Earl of Southampton's surname, spelled Wriothesley, was pronounced more like Risely or Rosely. It was totally nuts.

Also, that sounds like rather a fun talk. :)
Mar. 11th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
It was an excellent talk! I wish I could improvise around my material as fluidly. I'm very text-dependant when I give talks (less so when teaching, fortunately), but at least I rehearse enough that not everyone always realizes I'm mostly reading my talk.

I also finally understood a number of factors about what makes a good battlefield position a good battlefield position. He showed photos of the battlefields of Agincourt and Crécy taken from the vantage points of different sides and flanks for comparison - what kind of terrain each side would be facing.
Mar. 12th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
Is there an article that covers the same information as was in the talk, for those of us not in attendance?
Mar. 12th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC)
Robert Hardy has two books out on the subject, neither of which I've read, but which I suspect cover at least most of this information. Longbow was the earlier and his most recent - out last year - is The Great Warbow: From Hastings to the Mary Rose.
Mar. 12th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)
Good to know. Thanks.
Mar. 12th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
Oooooh.... I have a copy of "Longbow" -- I may have to get the other one.

One of the common sites at Bath Archers was Richard Head (and he was most definitely Richard), a local bowyer. One time, he came along with a bow he was making for someone and was just at the stage of starting to polish.

The bow had a draw weight of 100-120lbs. I couldn't shift the damn string more than half an inch.
Mar. 12th, 2006 12:39 am (UTC)
*nods* That is cool. One of my students asked me about that sort of thing when I taught Henry V last year and I was a bit at a loss.

Also, I think that we should all refer to it as the Bayeux Thingie from now on. It elides the problem entirely, plus "thingie" is a funny word. ;)
Mar. 11th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)
it's a fine thing to argue about, but everyone's tone was waaay off. crabby academics, man. at least it wasn't another one of those "historians vs. enthusiasts" flamewars...
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 11th, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC)
Oh boy have mediev-l covered the nature of the object's technique, how stylistically is has a great deal in common with other woven objects of the same period, the importance of precise technical terminology in a given field to the wider world, the terms used for it in numerous other languages, whether it should be a subject of concern for medievalist in general, if it's possible to wait until a general change has occurred before switching to a new term, or if it's important to be part of the push to name change for modern technical precision...

The whole debate did, however, make me more tempted to buy Martin Foys' digital edition of the object.
Mar. 12th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
My word-exchange and omission typos certainly do increase as the evening grows late... I think that was all clear enough though.
Mar. 11th, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC)
veni vidi pedanti
Mar. 11th, 2006 11:48 pm (UTC)
OMG that Robert Hardy! The sympathetic (compared to his Gestapo counterpart) Abwehrt officer in Manhunt. A rivettingly laidback but nasty Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda (not the most recent version). A brilliant Mr Brooke in Middlemarch.

No wonder he is a compelling speaker!
Mar. 12th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was going to say - that Robert Hardy?? Fancy him knowing so much about longbows! He's one of those actors that seems to have been in everything; I'm amazed that he has the time for a research and writing as well. Cool.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )