Criticism, scholarship and reviews – an incidental post

For quite a while now, efforts to address issues of methodology in what is loosely termed ‘Voynich studies’ have met responses, often couched in terms of personal affront and indignation, which assert that such matters are ‘off topic’ or ‘inappropriate’ in this study or are just the sort of thing which proves that one isn’t quite nice…

.. unless  the reviews and critiques and questions about method are being directed towards some person or work in which one finds absence of due deference towards well-liked members of the online ‘Voyich community’.  Then it’s not only ok, but not rarely ‘no holds barred’.

I don’t agree with that pattern of priorities.

In the world ‘out there’ iformed reviews and critiques, like discussions of method, are a normal part of scholarship.  Jonathan Jarrett’s recent post offers a nice (in every sense) example of that fact. Since it’s not about Beinecke MS 408 but about coinage, trade and data-bases, it may illustrate some matters that are important – but largely absent from present day studies and public ‘Voynich’ arenas.  Not disputation, and not head-nodding… but the mood of enquiry.

Anyway, here’s how an advancing field of study progresses and the sort of questions raised before, during and after another stage is reached.

Let me begin by quoting a little from it

Now, wherever a database is made questions arise about methodology, because data generated by actual live humans living their real lives tends not to fit analytical categories perfectly. When I first heard of this project, one of the concerns the people I discussed it with was that, by uncritically dumping every publication they could find into a database unchecked—because how could they possibly check them all, given available time and the difficulty of identifying and recruiting suitable expertise for some of the weird bits?—the project would just multiply errors of attribution and interpretation by completely unknowable amounts…

Strike a chord?

edited– (Nov.5th., 2019) –  to remove some phrasing which I found annoyingly bad and to add the following as postscript.



PS – one thing I expect that readers will notice is the extent to which the FLAME study is animated and given its direction by questions:  questions raised by critically evaluating work being done; specific questions towards answering which the research is tailored and aimed.. or not. Questions to which a variety of individuals, working either in groups or alone, are able and willing to speak and engage with others having a different opinion and point of view.

Without such questions, research loses its sense of direction, its clarity and its reason.

Among scholars, it is not considered insulting to ask, pretty much, “If these are your answers, what were your questions?”