2017: a year in blogging

It’s now the end of my second full year of blogging, so here is a look back at what I have been writing about in the last twelve months …

Runaway success of the year 

When I first started thinking about writing a blog, I jotted down a few ideas and created OneNote pages for them. One of these was on rainbows in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, but for one reason or another it never quite made it to the top of my list for completion and upload to the blog. So it just sat on my computer for over two years, waiting for the right time. Eventually, in November 2017, running out of posts for which I had done a reasonable amount of prior work, I finally finished it, deciding to focus on the question of how many colours medieval artists and writers chose to divide the spectrum into. 

Good crikey, everybody: this one certainly piqued your interest. My post was linked to on hacker.com, and suddenly blew up. It is still relatively rare for me to get more than 1000 hits in an entire month. That day I managed over 8000 in a single day. Also rather pleasingly, the Education blog of National Geographic made it their Read of the Week. Why on earth didn’t I post this one sooner?

London, British Library Cotton MS Claudius B. iv, fol. 16v

Personal favourite(s) of the year

My own favourite blogpost of the year, on the other hand, ended up being two separate posts from January and February, an exploration of the Old English language in the form of an ABC. I looked at the similarities and differences between Anglo-Saxon and modern English, at borrowed words and poetic vocabulary, and concepts that were specific to the culture of the time. You can read letters A to L here, and M to Y (no Z in Old English!) here. I was also very fond of June’s post about Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake, which gave me a chance to write about a few issues to do with the religious culture of late Anglo-Saxon England. 

Featured on WordPress 

The second most successful post of the year was another one which sat unused in my notes for a long time. The legend of the Seven Sleepers was originally going to feature in my post on Syria in 2016, but that one was already beginning to get over-long and required more research than I usually put in, so I decided to leave the Sleepers for a post of their own in August. I tell the story of the saints’ legend and how it is reused in high medieval culture as a charm to help with insomnia. WordPress, who have promoted my work in the past, featured this one on their blog feed, where it seems to have been quite popular.

Something different: an exhibition review

2017 saw the staging of a major exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum with the collaboration of the British Museum, on the arrival of the Vikings to Britain and Ireland, and with a special emphasis on their settlement in York. Visiting the exhibition a number of times, I tried to figure out its structure, what the narrative behind it was, concluding that it was ultimately organised around the theme of cultural synthesis and syncretism. The resulting blogpost is one that I was particularly happy with.

The Yorkshire Museum, York

Publications and other achievements
Another big cultural event in York this year was the annual Festival of Ideas, which in 2017 had the theme of ‘The Story of Things’. I made a small contribution to publicising the Anglo-Saxon strand of the festival by translating some Old English riddles to appear on promotional bookmarks. You can read my translations, and about the process of translation, here and here.

It was also this summer that a short publication of mine appeared, an encyclopaedia entry on the eighth-century Vespasian Psalter. To celebrate this, I wrote an accompanying blogpost to discuss a few things that I didn’t get a chance to look at in the entry – and to show off some of its fabulous decoration.

A focus on the image

It wasn’t just that post that dwelled on the art of manuscripts. In 2017, I generally made more of an effort to look at scripts, decoration and illumination, often comparing several manuscripts from different dates. A particular favourite of mine was a post on Psalm 51, ‘Quid gloriaris’, comparing the art of the initial letter Q in the work of different artists. 

Just for fun 

Finally, I just have to mention my late March post, which conveniently happened to be newly online for April Fools’ Day. Inspired by examples of gymnastic decoration in the margins of manuscripts somewhat later than those I usually look at, I wrote a rather fun post about the medieval practice of Pilates.

London, British Library Additional MS 62925, fol. 21v

2017 has been a wonderful year for my blog, and thank you all very much for reading. I have some exciting things coming up in 2018 – watch this space…

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