Prompt – Unexpected Sources

When I was conducting some research at the University of California in Santa Barbara on The Master Builder, one of Ibsen’s late plays, a computer search brought up an article by an unfamiliar author about an unfamiliar subject. The title piqued my interest – “The Poet as ‘Master Builder’” – and so I took steps to secure a copy. Mary Carruthers’ paper primarily addressed a trope in medieval culture that compared poetry to architecture; this alone hardly casts new light on Ibsen’s play, since many authors conclude that Ibsen’s architect, Halvard Solness, is a thinly disguised self-portrait of the poet himself. But Carruthers’ interest in the trope goes further than simple cultural ephemera; she notes a systematic attention to the art of memory in medieval culture, and its influence on medieval art and thought. I

I had read about ars memoria – the arts of memory – in other sources, from The Day The Universe Changed to The Aegypt Cycle by John Crowley. But I hadn’t encountered a study of its medieval form, nor had I noticed how widespread or influential medieval arts of memory might have been. I knew Ibsen’s play, more than many of his others (such as Hedda Gabler, which spends little time discussing the past), tended to revolve around memory – contradictory memories, suspect memories, invented memories, and memories literally re-forged and invented on stage during the action. The Carruthers paper didn’t provide a direct point of analysis for Ibsen, but it suggested a field of studies – a more generalized approach – in which I might examine the varying roles of memory in different theatrical works. Ultimately, this article led me to the topic of my Ph.D. disseration, The House of Memory.

What sources have you encountered off the beaten path – by accident or by chance or by a passing stranger – that have suggested new avenues for research, or unforeseen sources you hadn’t yet considered?

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One thought on “Prompt – Unexpected Sources

  1. My particular area of interest, flying effects within the theatre, is a notably hard area to research, with little information being available from years prior to 1981. I have struggled with finding information regarding this subject, and it has honestly been a very frustrating experience. That is, at least until I came across an article that I was reading for personal edification, rather than as an active part of research. This article appearing in Entertainment Design Magazine, called “How-Tos, Take Two” discusses automatic air-braking systems for the commercial vehicle; however, this four page article became a relieving and satisfying fountain of information regarding potential sources that I could use to gather information about my subject, specifically noting the work “Stage Flying: 431 B.C.to Modern Times” by John McKenvin. Though I have not been able to get my hands on this work yet, I am beyond excited to start devouring it. (Jayden Stumbaugh)

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