Book Review: The Origins of the Irish

The Origins of the Irish, J. P. Mallory, Thames & Hudson: London, 2013, ISBN:9780500051757

To give away the game before starting, I would like to say that this book would be an excellent addition to the library of anyone who has an interest in the pre-history of Ireland. While it is not my area of expertise, it illuminated much which I had already gleaned from the writings of others; however, this was done in a highly engaging and effective way. One of the main advantages of this book is the way in which the key points are gathered at the end of each chapter which reminds the reader of all the foregoing material. This would easily make this a book which should appear in any Celtic Studies course. The additional factor which makes this book even more valuable is the easy style and humour of one who has an absolute command of the primary and secondary material. However, this is not a book without its flaws which will be discussed anon.

Open Access: Second Thoughts

I have always been a proponent of Open Access scholarship. The days where dissemination of scholarship cost a significant amount of money are over. However, I am having some second thoughts. Most of these lie in the fact that, while I like open access, I like academic freedom even more. It is this juncture that bothers me the most.

Open Access began mostly in the sciences as a reaction to the fact that science publishers were continuing to mark-up the amount it cost to purchase journals without thinking of the stagnating and declining library budgets. This has lead to a confrontation between libraries and publishers in the sciences. The outcome of this continuing debate is two forms of Open Access called “Green”, preferred by libraries and university administrators, and “Gold”, preferred by the UK government and publishers. A good discussion of the pros and cons can be found here.

My main concern comes from the fact that, whatever kind of Open Access you choose, they are backed by mandates from funders and university administrators. This is the most problematic part of Open Access from my point of view. The tradition is that scholars knew their audiences and were free to write and research for them in whatever venue they best knew. Now, however, there is a thick layer of “research managers” who are ever more insistent that they know scholarship better than those who actually do the scholarship or research. This, coupled with the statistically dubious impact factor, is now the driving narrative around Open Access.

For the Humanities, all of these debates are being foisted upon them as, in their reality, nothing much has changed. Monographs and journals are still reasonably priced. Scholarship continues just as it has for many, many years. The reality is that most readers who maybe interested in the output of Humanities scholars prefer physical books to ebooks. This means that there just is no market or interest in Open Access online monographs or books.

The point is that university administrators are now using Open Access as a tool of control over the scholastic process, which was always managed by the academics themselves. This is causing a slow moving power struggle between them with Open Access getting a bad name in the Humanities in the process. This is mainly an administrative over-reach and a dismissive attitude towards the Humanities, whether justified or not, by those in positions of influence or power. Although, I will maintain that Humanities scholars have remained myopic in the face of the rise of new communications technologies.

I guess my new stance is that Open Access is a good idea but the implementation is awful and seriously needs re-evaluation in light of the principles of Academic Freedom and a respect for those who actually engage in research and scholarship, which seems missing from the current climate of debate.

Some Diagnostic Features of Middle Irish

A friend of mine, with whom I am teaching Old Irish, asked for some diagnostic features of Middle Irish so I thought I would put it here to help them and anyone else who may want to know.

Introduction

There are many different features which mark the change from Old to Middle Irish. Much of this is discussed in much more detail in Kim McCone’s “A First Old Irish Grammar and Reader” pp. 173—217. I will give a small prĂ©cis of this here. For a more full account for verbs, see Kim McCone “The Early Irish Verb” pp. 163—240. A full analysis by Liam Breatnach is detailed in “Stair na Gaelige” pp. 221—333. The main problem with Breatnach’s analysis is that it is entirely in Modern Irish so unless you know that language first, or you enjoy typing and trust Google Translate, it will be inaccessible to you.

Citations in the Humanities

I have written a few articles and more than a few essays for school/class. I know most of the major citations styles (MHRA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Mostly, however, I use biblatex to format them all. However, I have begun to think that most of these citation styles are really just pointers to other resources or more generally they are really just URLs with a arcane special formatting rules. Many academics are obsessed with these bits of meta-data as they validate that the writer knows the rules of the road. When I read academic articles or books, I generally don’t notice or skip over citations as, while they are necessary and useful, they don’t always help with digestion of the actual argument. Although, occasionally in fields I know well, I will scan the citation to see who they are referencing just for credibility purposes.

In any case, that brings me to the format for these citations. Many of them have: the author, publisher, date, place of publication, and page number. In the “bad old days”, these were necessary to allow the reader to trace arguments and facts. Now, however, we have the greatest machine ever created to do that for us: the URL and the Internet. The first thing you may ask is: how do you cite books then? Well, you may have not noticed but the Library of Congress now has a permalink. For instance, The Road to Judgment. So, in the “Yocum Style Citation” (YSC), which I just made up, you would put “Stacey, Robin Chapman. http://lccn.loc.gov/93047677. pg. 55” in a footnote. For a journal article, the DOI, Handle, Jstor stable URL plus page number. If you don’t want to use the Library of Congress permalink for books, you can use Worldcat’s (http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/29519665) instead. Unfortunately, the British Library does not yet have permalinks for its collection. What happens if the URL is too long? DOI has a shortening service for DOIs. OpenURLs are notoriously awful for being long. I don’t have a solution to that but, given that DOIs are pretty much de facto now, it won’t matter too much. You could use a shortened url in the text and a full URL in the bibliography, which are still required under YCS but are generally the same except that you put full URLs instead of any shortened ones that are in the text.

Why do this? First, I am tired of the rather complex and arcane rules of citations in the Humanities. Every journal seems to have its own preferred style and it makes submitting to these journals difficult and if you get turned down and resubmit it else where, you have to completely change everything. Second, URLs are good enough now to cite with. The Internet is not leaving us any time soon. If you are that paranoid, just require the full citation in the bibliography.

It is high time we change to make it easier for everyone. If I want to look up a book citation, I can just go to the url and get the book from my local library or if it is a DOI, Handle, or Jstor stable URL, I can get the article right away. If I don’t have access to the internet that second, it’s not like I cannot get access later.

Teaching the arcane rules with attached URLs just does not make much sense. It duplicates information and makes it harder on the student or writer. It makes the humanities look out of touch and old. For medievalists, like myself, even the manuscripts now have URLs and can be referenced via them so instead of using some off-the-cuff MS citation method because each archive is different and each has a different way of cataloguing their collections, you can use the URL to point to the exact MS page you are talking about.

Anyway, I will probably be putting this into practice myself soon as I get the chance.

Writing State Monads in Ocaml

One of my projects for quite a while is to understand Monads. I have been working on this, off and on, for an embarrassing amount of time. Yes, I could have just learned Haskell and that would have done it but I wanted to be a pain in the arse. Also, I had a horrible experience attempting to learn Haskell a long time ago. Thus, I decided as I use Ocaml for most things then I should be able to do it. First, I read this article a few times and this which is really good and helps hugely in my understanding. Anyway, I will take a step by step approach to showing how to write a State Monad for Ocaml.