Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Post 500: I wrote a book.

This is the 500th post on How Did We Get Into This Mess? I started the blog as a place to dump essays that I couldn't sell, as I was new to freelancing in May of 2013, and caught up in the rush of public writing. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and pitched and landed about 1 in 10, leaving me with a lot of extra prose lying around. And so, I started this blog. My rate of successful pitches is more like 3 of 5 now, because I have relationships with editors and I got better at knowing what kinds of pitches find homes. And yet, the blog continues and has become its own thing. About 1000 people a day come here, a number that though small compared to commercial sites, seems preposterously grand. Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing. I will continue to do my best to say interesting things in clear ways.

Yesterday, my book came out (this is the publisher's website). Below I offer a few thoughts about connections between my scholarly work and my public writing.

Book Selfie!
Here's the blurb:

In Sacred Plunder, David Perry argues that plundered relics, and narratives about them, played a central role in shaping the memorial legacy of the Fourth Crusade and the development of Venice’s civic identity in the thirteenth century. After the Fourth Crusade ended in 1204, the disputes over the memory and meaning of the conquest began. Many crusaders faced accusations of impiety, sacrilege, violence, and theft. In their own defense, they produced hagiographical narratives about the movement of relics—a medieval genre called translatiothat restated their own versions of events and shaped the memory of the crusade. The recipients of relics commissioned these unique texts in order to exempt both the objects and the people involved with their theft from broader scrutiny or criticism. Perry further demonstrates how these narratives became a focal point for cultural transformation and an argument for the creation of the new Venetian empire as the city moved from an era of mercantile expansion to one of imperial conquest in the thirteenth century.
Some of my public writing is, of course, about medieval history. Crusades, popes, saints, medieval-like rhetoric from Sarah Palin, Christopher Columbus - these are all topics about which I've written essays that emerge directly from my expertise in medieval history. I am honored to be a public medieval historian and try to represent my profession well.

But really all my writing is based on the habits of mind I've developed as a scholar and a teacher. I gather data, I organize it, I pick it apart, I generate a thesis, and I try to explicate it as clearly as possible given the word-count restrictions and the venue. Moreover, thanks to my academic training I know what it's like to build a body of knowledge and then work it hard. I have no background in disability, media criticism, or law enforcement - but several years into these beats, I'm beginning to feel pretty grounded in all of them. Most all, just like with my medieval history, I have a sense of what I don't know. As any scholar recognizes, knowing one's limitations is critical to growth, to collaboration, to direct future studies. My reading list is immense, and that's a good thing.

There's something more direct, too. I write about memory, narrative, and language. I'm interested in what people did and do, but equally engaged with how we remember the past, how we represent ourselves and our histories in image, word, and text, and I believe such questions of representation matter. That's what my book's about - a group of stories, all of which present meaningful fictions about a recent event, and their consequences. It's also why I write about language and disability, language and gender, and related issues. The words we use to shape our reality, and the ways in our reality is revealed by the words we use, both consume my interest.

So thank you for reading. My book is now a real thing in the world. You could use it as a coaster. You could use it to squash spiders. You could even read it. And, of course, I'd be grateful if you bought it or (for academics) asked your library to do so.

Thanks, as always, for reading.