A physicist loose among the liberal arts

Month: February 2016

Another Kind of Digital Humanities

They can do amazing things with geographic information systems, these days.  My local county government lets you look up all kinds of useful geographic information on line.  This one came across the Twitter feed this morning:  look up your family name, and find out where they live on a map of the UK.  Obviously it’s intended for real people, not fictional ones, so let’s start with reality.  Here’s my maternal grandfather’s name:

He told me he was Scotch-Irish!

Tracking my British ancestry.

I see two hot-spots.  One is in Manchester, the other in Birmingham. Family lore says we’re Scottish, but family lore says lots of things and believing them is not always advisable.  (That castle in Toulouse turned out not to exist, dommage.)

Enough reality.  From what I know of Professor Tolkien’s biography, there’s an intriguing overlap here. His old stomping grounds were near Birmingham, and he wrote it into his tales. That got me to looking up hobbit names.  Surprise, it worked!  Took, Burrows, Bolger, Baggins, Underhill … Lots of them have hot-spots around Birmingham. Maybe my grandfather comes from good Hobbiton stock.  The Cottons are a bit to the north, like us.

There had always been a Baggins at Bag End.

There had always been a Baggins in the middle.

Lots of other hobbits aren’t there. Sandyman and Brandybuck can’t be found in the modern UK at all.  All the Grubbs are over in Lincolnshire, on business of their own that doesn’t concern me.  Sackvilles are in Gloucester and Leicester, which makes me wonder if I ought to be skipping the pronunciation of some letters in the middle of their name.

So, nearby hobbits have Birmingham names.  Strange half-foreign types like Bucklanders are completely fabricated.  The bad guys are from “far-away” places. All this makes perfect sense, if we imagine that JRRT was trying to create an idealized version of his childhood surroundings in the Shire.  Except for one glaring exception.

Service of the Baggins family may have involved commuting.

No Bagginses here. You’re in the wrong part of the Shire!

Samwise and his Gaffer seem to be Londoners.  In Tolkien’s day they could have taken the train (making a noise like a firework dragon) but how the family ended up with jobs in the Shire is a mystery to me.

In any case, I love maps as much as old Bilbo did.  Even if they don’t immediately open up new vistas for the digital humanities, they give me things to ponder.  It’s not impossible to imagine a study of subcreated worlds that draws on maps of this one, but I can’t see it yet.

Conference: Inklings and Science

The New York Tolkien Conference has put out a “call for programming“. Never heard that term before, but I think I get what they mean.  They’re interested in talks about the intersections between the Inklings and science.  Deadline for submission is May Day.

Time to start thinking….

The Saga of Wigend’s Chicken Run

During last fall’s fundraiser for Signum University, Dr. Prof. President Olsen committed to running from the Shire to Minas Tirith in the form of a chicken.  In Lord of the Rings Online, that is.  The Great Mythgard Chicken Run took place on January 30th.  I watched it on TV. Despite (or possibly because of) its absurdity, it was an interesting introduction for me to the LotRO world.

Of course, a chicken doesn’t stand a chance alone in the Wild.  He had companions, so the quest should not fail.  As the crowd of Mythgardians, elves, dwarves, hobbits, men, and other chickens, swarmed through a square in Edoras, temporarily quadrupling its population, I was provoked to tweet, “I would like to hear the minstrels of Rohan sing of the gang of weirdos who ran through their lands with a flock of chickens.”  Be careful what you wish for on the Internet.

Tom Hillman started it, and deserves at least half the blame.  The narrative lines are mine; the funny lines are his.

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning
with hen and hatchling strode Hampshire’s son.
‘Gainst foes and foxes, fighters protecting him,
to Minas Tirith the tourist came.
With Foghorn Leghorn, long enduring:
son, I say, son, strong in scorning.
For no lectures would he linger in Lamedon or Lebennin.
His clumsy coursing carried him forward.
Even women long-skirted outran wingéd Wigend
Politely pausing until his approach.
From Rammas Echor to the door of Rath Dinen
Into every breach he stuck his beak.
‘Til his goal achieved, glory gaining
He gracefully tumbled from the Tower of Guard.
In red day dawning crew he loudly.
Eleven herbs and spices seasoned breast and drumstick
Biscuits in bucket, slaw on the side
Sweet was the feasting, so the songs tell us.

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