2019 Year-Ender
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Categories: Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Not an expert

2019 Year-Ender

A crowd gathered in a rainy street in the medieval centre of Innsbruck
A rainy Christmas Eve concert in Innsbruck, 2019

Books are precious things, and Doctor Manning finally has time to read them for fun again (and to really read them, not just skim them looking for facts or quotes). At the end of this year and the start of another, as I sit in rainy Innsbruck, I would like to tell my gentle readers about some of the ones I read in 2019.

I read Victoria Corva’s very relatable young adult fantasy Books and Bone (self-published, 2019) about a town cartographer trying to follow a vocation which she can’t prove is more than a myth.

Because I finally read Ewart Oakeshott’s The Sword and the Age of Chivalry (1964, lightly revised 1981, various reprints) I actually understand the Oakeshott typology which people talk about! Oakeshott’s victory was creating a typology for swords which most people can actually use (some typologies only make sense to the person who invented them, and others require having the object in hand and making very precise measurements, or constantly checking tasteless code-names against a table). This book communicates how much he loved swords, and is honest about all the things he did early in his self-taught career that he would not have done later. Ewart Oakeshott’s work lies behind all the sword-related activities which take place today, from machining replicas out of homogeneous steel sheet with computer-controlled instruments to seriously trying to reconstruct dead martial arts.

A battle scene with men in grey uniforms and helmets advancing bent forward at the waist; no enemy or projectiles are visible although one man in the background hurls himself backwards
Albin Egger-Lienz’ painting Uhniv, 1914, 1915. After some time on the Alpine Front he got a cushy job as a war artist, but somehow his take on Hapsburg propaganda motifs was not what his patrons expected.

I want to experiment with baking and cooking more dishes, so I tried some recipes from Barbara Santich’s The Original Mediterranean Cuisine: Medieval Recipes for Today (1995). The sauces with butter, basil, citrus juice and pepper (p. 53) work nicely on my favourite types of pasta even if the local grocers no longer carry verjuice!

As part of my project on the material culture of the Long Sixth Century BCE, I strolled though Gabrielle Korlin and Thomas Stöllner’s Streifzüge durch Persien: 5500 Jahre Geschichte in Ton (2008) with its charming duck-billed jugs, eared cups painted with goats in the tree of life, and ribbed bronze bowls.

And just before Christmas, Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding (2018) arrived, and it is amazing, thrilling, wonderful, and unknown: the first readable, scientific study of the community of science-fiction authors and editors in the USA in the 1940s. I hope to publish a full review of it in the coming year.

A rather male-bodied woman in a black veil and red and white striped gown open down the front, with ghostly images visible above her head
Die Irrsinnige by Otto Dix (1925), who had seen too much in the Great War and wanted to put it all down on paper or canvas … had Fritz Lang seen this when he designed the effects for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse?

This year I discovered the Lovecraftian art of Otto Dix at the Landesmuseum Ferdinandaeum and trained Fiore’s abrazare and dall’Agocchie’s way of strolling through the guards in Hyde Park (generous patron Christian Cameron is right about aesthetics and martial arts). I also took a break from a party to stare at the burned out ruins of Notre Dame de Paris from a rooftop patio, and stared into an obsidian mirror like John Dee.

Books are fragile things. So much of what we think we know about the past comes down to a single book and the choice of enough readers to copy and protect it. All it takes is a fire, a change in taste, or the rise of a new language for much that should not be forgotten to be lost. Reading Alec Nevala-Lee’s book, I understand the wisdom of the Babylonians in destroying their old letters before anyone indiscreet could read them. But we also know how to protect books and to trace things backwards to recreate some of that lost knowledge. We don’t yet know how to preserve electronic publications as well.

Colourful monsters with misshapen, oversized heads, spindly legs, and no arms or bodies
Another painting from the late period of Otto Dix (sorry for the camera and the frame not being aligned!)

This has been a very successful year for my academic writing (I published one article, sent another out for review, revised two chapters and what will become my first book, and wrote most of a third article). It has not been such a successful year for making a living or for the Internet (and a disturbing year for anyone who might be moving to another rich English-speaking country for work). Some good possibilities for postdocs and freelance writing did not work out, and the usual suspects still dominate the web, hiding and demonetarizing one set of things and proudly defending another. Its hard to simultaneously finish existing academic projects, propose new ones, and get myself back into practice as a software developer.

I don’t know how to deal with the fact that many of the audiences I want to reach just hang out on closed social media, and many people with big audiences treat things on those sites as real and quotable and things on the real Internet as worth reading but not acknowledging. I have cross-posted more things to Facebook, reddit, and forums but the ones which get the biggest reaction are cross-posted by people who have fun on those sites. Thanks to T. Greer, Michael C., Guy W., and the other people who linked to my site from theirs this year, and thanks to the readers who still have patience to check a list of different sites for solid thoughts once every week or two.

This post has taken days of writing and months of thinking to finish. There are many problems in the world that I don’t know how to solve, and many problems in my personal life where I don’t know how to overcome my quirks to take the action which seems most likely to help.

I have been trying to figure out how to turn more of my writing time towards things someone will pay me for. My search for more magazines to propose articles to was not very successful (one went out of business while the editor was trying to decide whether to publish something I had submitted; I could try The Writer’s Markets 2020 …) Five or six generous patrons have donated cash to support this site, and the most popular posts are on historical fencing or medieval material culture.

So in the last year of the decade, aside from sending the usual two or three articles to journals and publishing a book based on my PhD thesis, I will also finish a draft of one of my booklets on medieval armour and clothing and start shopping it around to publishers. I don’t think that could become a Weird Internet Career, but I think it could become a Weird Internet Side Hustle. And juggling a main job and a side hustle seems like a good career path for me.

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2 thoughts on “2019 Year-Ender

  1. Aaron Bell says:

    A great year-ender, Sean. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts, especially where books and academia are concerned.

    Would also like to wish you the very best for 2020. I trust that this is the year an educational institution will recognise you for the asset you are, will pay handsomely for the privilege of having you teach and publish further under their auspices, and that they will inform you of their interest smartly.

    Cheers to you and yours,

    1. Sean Manning says:

      You’re welcome Aaron! I would be glad to hear about the great migration from Japan to the Antipodes on your blog some time.

      The thing to do is to keep calm and keep carefully, ruthlessly allotting my time to applications, but that is hard to do when you are poor and scared.

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