By Joseph Wittig
At the 33rd Congress at Kalamazoo a group of interested parties met to discuss Chaucer resources on the web. Ed Duncan of Townsend State (now retired) was running his own Chaucer site and was interested in this idea. Larry Benson and I had been collaborating on the idea of “Glossarial Databases of Middle English,” he with the fruits of his labors on the Riverside Chaucer glossary, I with my preparation of a lemmatized concordance of Piers Plowman. In the course of this we got to talking about Chaucer materials on the web, on their vastly differing qualities: ranging from the Harvard Chaucer page, coming into existence with Larry’s encouragement, of really high quality, on through a spectrum of very mixed quality offerings—e.g. several pages posted by one undergraduate apparently reporting the work of another undergraduate with no “citations” of the kind ordinarily expected of academic work. What if there could be a kind of Chaucer page which might serve as a guide to Chaucer pages in general? Could we get a group of Chaucerians together to provide a site which was a guide to other web sites devoted to, or closely related, to Chaucer studies? We were thinking mostly of undergraduate education, but not necessarily just that. We could put our heads together not just about Chaucer Pages explicitly so self-identified, but the other kind of “topics” which populate the menu bar on the MetaPage. We weren’t setting out to be “Gate Keepers” in the sense of gate closers, but rather of gate openers: pointing a sort of rationalized overview of good stuff that was out there.
Larry Benson was our God Father: his prestige helped attract others to take an interest in the project. Ed was active, interested, and very hands on with his own material already online. Alan Baragona, though not present at that first meeting, had some fine resources online at VMI (and he would become one the real stalwarts of the project: no one has been more active in adding material to and updating material on the MetaPage than he). The other names on the list were people who had contributed to conversations online, at meetings, or offered themselves as advisors or interested parties; most already had web presences of some sort or other.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had offered to provide space to host the site, and I agreed to put it up. All of those names began on the firstname.lastname@example.org list and all questions (e.g. was xxxx a site we should add, and why or why not) went out to them. For the first while many of responded actively and regularly. But as life went on, participation gradually dropped off. Bonnie Wheeler continued to keep in touch; she was most interested in the “MetaMentors,” which was here original idea; and a group of her students provided me with a withering, and very useful, critique of the look of the first version of the MetaPage I proposed. In recent years, Susan Yager has initiated and sustained interest in the MetaPage especially as a teaching resource.
Larry Benson eventually retired and withdrew. Ed Duncan, having created and put up a very nicely done version of GP, with note and glosses programmed as mouse overs. The people on the original list who kept responding to posts and questions were Alan Baragona (first and foremost), Mark Allen, and and (with an eye to the Mentors) Bonnie Wheeler. Alan was the one who arranged the transfer of Jane Zatta’s material after her untimely death. Susan Yager has been sustaining interest in the site a a possible teaching resource. As for “Who Covers What?,” this “remnant” is basically it.
The MetaPage has been largely dormant for the past few years, and obviously needs reviving, and fresh blood. I happily to pass it on to the interest and energy of Susan Yager, Vaughn Stewart, and Matt Davis, and commend the continuing contributions of Alan Baragona and Mark Allen.