Preaching Apocrypha: Revisions

[This post is part 2 in a series of reflections about my book, Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England (order here); read part 1 here and part 3 here.]

After I finished my PhD, settled into my first job, and started revising my dissertation into a book, I pulled out all of the comments I had received from my dissertation committee members. When I did, I found the comment in the image below.

Brandon Apocalypse Hawk
“I wondered when Brandon ‘Apocalypse’ Hawk would reveal himself.” — Bob Hasenfratz

This comment is probably my favorite annotation on my dissertation. It might be the best annotation I’ve ever seen on my writing. While reading for my PhD defense, one of my committee members, Bob Hasenfratz, scrawled it on his printed copy of my dissertation, which I’ve kept over the years because of his comments.

Yet, funny enough, Bob’s comment appears at the start of a chapter that never made it into the revision of my dissertation into a book.

As much as I love the comment, this anecdote provides me with a way into talking about the revisions I undertook in transforming my PhD dissertation into a book for publication. Most of the core arguments remained the same, but many details changed. As I’ve already indicated, I took some parts out, added other parts in, edited, corrected, and revisited many of the details, and substantially revised the overall framework, especially concerning my theoretical methodology.

One of the biggest, and hardest, revisions I made was to cut my chapter on apocalyptic sermons (mainly about Vercelli 2 and 21, and part of Blickling 15). This was the first chapter I wrote for the dissertation, which came out of a paper I wrote about early Jewish apocalyptica for a Hellenistic Judaism seminar. It was also the last main chapter in the organization of my dissertation.

When I wrote that chapter on apocalyptica, as I started in on my dissertation, I struggled with balancing which ideas I needed in the chapter and which ideas framed the rest of my project. I was still trying to figure out some of my methodology and a lot of my overall arguments. It ended up being something of a hodge-podge, and even though I revised it after I had written the rest of my dissertation, it never quite fit in with the rest of the project the way I wanted it to.

So of course that chapter also didn’t fit with my conception of the revised book, and it didn’t add what I needed it to for the overall argument. The arguments I made in the chapter both were the most technical and made the least intervention in scholarship. So I ditched it. It hurt. But it made the book better.

On the other hand, I needed to add two other chapters to frame the project more satisfactorily. Chapter one (as it appears in the book; see summaries here) needed to be written wholly new. In some ways, I needed a chapter that provided something more of a bird’s-eye view than the other more focused chapters, as a way to set up the general picture of apocryphal preaching texts in Anglo-Saxon England and some of the big issues I explore in the rest of the book.

For the main question behind the first new chapter, I’m indebted to Nicola McDonald. I was fortunate to meet and get to know her while we were both fellows at the UConn Humanities Institute in the last year of my PhD (2013-14). When I presented some of my project toward the end of that year, Nicola asked me a very pointed set of questions: What parallel things were happening on the Continent in the early medieval period, and how might those inform some of the uses of apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England? In effect, she asked me to look beyond my primary scope to situate my subject in a wider medieval world (more on that in a future post).

The results of exploring answers to those questions became a wide-ranging look at Continental and Anglo-Saxon preaching collections that contain apocrypha. Because of the scope and questions I wanted to pursue, that chapter opened up ways for me to use digital tools that I had been using in other ways to visualize and conceptualize the network of texts I dealt with. It also allowed me to reconceptualize my methodological uses of media studies in connection with network theory.

An example of a visualization-in-progress of the network that I discuss in Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England (image created in Palladio): visualizing connections between Latin and Old English apocryphal texts and manuscripts from the Continent and England.

The other new chapter (chapter 5 in the book) is a revision of what had masqueraded as the “conclusion” to my dissertation. In reality, what I had written for the dissertation was an unfinished version of a chapter waiting to emerge. The revised version is a chapter that synthesizes many of the ideas and arguments that I explore across the earlier chapters of the book, focused on the case of one late Anglo-Saxon manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343. As with chapter 1, I turned to network theory, and it helped me think through texts as they sit together in this manuscript.

In addition to these new chapters, I added two other parts of the book that helped to pull together various threads I had been thinking about over the years of working on the project. The one addition was an “Excursus on Terminology.” This particular piece allowed me to explore the fraught set of terms often used to discuss medieval preaching and preaching texts, in a way that isn’t commonly acknowledged.

The other addition was a completely new conclusion. In particular, I used the conclusion to address a question that my co-advisor Clare Costley King’oo posed at my PhD defense for me to consider while revising the dissertation into a book for publication: What do apocrypha tell us about sermons? Much of my book is, of course, focused on the uses of apocrypha. But Clare had asked a question that flipped that around and pushed me to consider sermons specifically, in a more concerted way, as a reflection on the book as a whole and the running threads of media studies as a methodology.

As already indicated, in all of these revisions, I found momentum to continually revisit my methodology, especially the theoretical frameworks I drew from media studies. Like so much else that I discovered in the last year of my PhD, media studies and connections to digital humanities helped to solidify new ways of conceptualizing my project.

Rethinking my methodology allowed me to distill the substance and theoretical framework used throughout the larger project. I pursued these ideas even further as I revised from dissertation to book. Considering my methodology more deeply helped me reframe my introduction; write chapters 1 and 5 from the perspective of network theory; find new ways to articulate and think through the arguments I pose in the other chapters; and write my conclusion as a reflection on sermons as media for transmitting apocrypha.

In all of these revisions, then, the book underwent a necessary series of changes, both substantial and theoretical. Both types of revisions were necessary, and they all developed together, feeding back into each other in ways that solidified some of the core ideas and arguments.

And for those who are as amused by Bob’s comment about “Brandon ‘Apocalypse’ Hawk” as I am, don’t worry. While I cut the chapter mainly focused on apocalytpica, Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England still features quite a lot of apocalyptic literature throughout its pages.

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