English major’s loathe apostrophized plurals’

The button maker I bought from Dr. Don’s Buttons last year with program funding comes through for me again.

Today, I talked with a class of English majors about publishing, and Charles Dickens, and composition, Writing Spaces, and my bizarre life that weaves together all those things–oh, and geography sort of plays a part in this scenario, too.

I finished up a few buttons this morning to celebrate GIS Day tomorrow (that’s Geographic Information Systems for those in the know, or as I have taken to calling it: Geographic Information Stories).

GIS Day Button (the red square for Montgomery, AL was my idea)

I’m presenting at the GIS conference tomorrow afternoon, and I volunteered my button maker for the effort… and we needed a few more. I had planned on talking to English majors later today about how my academic and non-academic lives intertwined… thinking about that, making buttons for GIS, thinking about English, making buttons for GIS.

Aha. I needed to make buttons for the English majors. Wondrous. Another joyous occasion to share a button. I still can’t get over the button thing and really really really want to study the history of buttons and rhetoric, but when will I have time for that? There is no good time for intense study unless I just take the time, stealing from something else. There it is: I’m a time pirate, or I have to be in order to think or write or accomplish anything. (What am I stealing time from right now as I write and think? Eating. I’m starving and can’t wait to get these words out so I can go eat something.)

If I study buttons for awhile and think about their history and meaning and usage, where do I begin? For instance, would you say studying Constantinian numismatics is reaching too far back in visual rhetoric history to make a good starting place for this research? And yet, that’s where I begin to think about discs and persuasion. The below are two different coins (not the best representations, but there it is–I’m on a deadline–eating by 7 pm).

Notice anything unusual about these two coins?

Two separate coins struck at different times during Constantine's reign

Does the one on the left scream Roman Emperor and the one on the right Holy Roman Emperor? Constantine converted to Christianity in 312, then in 313 C.E., he issued the Edict of Milan promoting religious tolerance.

There’s a complexity about this time in history that’s too big to tackle here. Suffice it to say:

  • Constantine’s leadership was not always singular.
  • His conversion is reflected in his coinage.
  • He tolerated paganism and actively promoted Christianity (after he thinks he won an important battle because of it…).
  • His mother, Helena, was a Christian (she founded many churches throughout his empire–she was divorced–she never remarried).
  • She is believed to have found relics of the One True Cross.
  • She is a Catholic saint.
  • For my confirmation name in 6th grade, I chose Helena. (Fate at work here? Fate is a lovely crutch for amazing hindsight.)
  • In college, I fell a little in love with Constantine through a few history classes covering classical Roman and late antique Roman history (and into Bryzantine history thanks to Procopius–love his Secret History).
  • Encountering Constantine’s coins and thinking about what they represented was the first time I realized how visual rhetoric was so important to history and writing and, well, everything.

    Helena's own coins (struck about the mid-320s)

After that learning happened to me, I never looked at anything the same way again.

Never a church window, a coin, a piece of paper money, a movie poster, a book cover, a t-shirt, a hairstyle. It changed the course of my intellectual life in the most foundational way I could have imagined. Is this why I so love buttons and words and images in small round circles? I wonder.

Regardless of the origin of my fascination for round icons of any sort, I certainly am fascinated now. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about buttons in the last year. How do I square that with what I do as a scholar? Perhaps I don’t need to, or perhaps it will come to me when I need it, as I need it. Perhaps, this post is a start on a project to understand what writing and iconography (if that’s even the word I’d use to talk about the reverence of button collectors and makers and the like) have to do with one another.

And perhaps I hooked one English major today into thinking about rhetoric in a new way because of the button I made and shared. It ain’t coinage, but it has some value. As several folks were consulting on the wording this morning, we laughed long and hard about the whole business. That’s better than money.

Button for English majors (struck about 10 am, 15 November 2011)


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Filed under Constantinian Numismatics, Magic and Writing

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