Reading Beowulf at Kalamazoo 2015

Trends at Kalamazoo

Medievalists in Kalamazoo seem out of sync with the wider world. Studying medieval Google Trends uncover a wide interest in ‘early medieval history” and ‘Beowulf’. However, at the ‘zoo’, Chaucer and literature rules.

ian wood at Leeds
Ian Wood at Leeds

People going to the “zoo” in Michigan are a curious lot. When six people search in Google for Beowulf, only two search for Chaucer. Nevertheless, this year Chaucer counts for 54 papers or sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, while Beowulf only gets treated in 22.

In the same way it is obvious the 14th and 15th centuries seems to be much more interesting to medievalists in Michigan than any other period. In fact the scores are as follows: fourteenth/44, fifteenth/29, thirteenth/24, twelfth/36, eleventh/11, tenth/3, ninth/5, eighth/1 and seventh/1. In case anyone should think this has to do with the differing use of ‘centuries’ versus ‘periods’ the further back you get, it should be noted that the same picture occurs when comparing the two concepts ‘late medieval’ versus ‘early medieval’, which score respectively 33 versus 17.

Is this something new? In fact it is. Doing the same counts in some old programmes (2005, 2013), it appears that ‘early medieval’ has in fact risen from 27% to something like 50% of ‘late medieval’. Not yet on par, but it does seem to have been changing somewhat.

However, compared to the public interest in these two concepts, Kalamazoo is entirely out of sync: every time 40 people search on Google Trends for ‘early medieval’, 14 search for ‘late medieval’ (average 2004 – 2016). Of course, whether people know what they are searching for is quite another matter. And further: it is of course absolutely appropriate to be interested in anything ‘medieval’ whether or not it is trendy.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the public in general is definitely not interested in medieval poetry per se, nor literature. Every time 27 people search for ‘medieval history’, five search for ‘medieval literature’, while only one person searches for ‘medieval poetry.

It is thus obvious – as is well known among medievalists – that Kalamazoo is a meeting for literary scholars, while Leeds is perhaps where historians swarm.

However, in this connection it is interesting to note that here in 2016 one of the two plenary lectures will be given by Ian Wood, prof. emer., on ‘Religion and the End of the Roman West’. As is well-known he has a long and very productive career behind him as professor at Leeds.

Perhaps it is all changing a bit…


The counts have ben carried out by transforming programmes into word-documents, doing a word frequency counter and searching for specific words. Google Trends can be found here


Beowulf Dramatic Reading Group at Kalamazoo 2015 © Dr. Wotan’s Musings