Drout is the author of the recently published book, How Tradition Works, the fruit of 10 years' work. The McIntosh Fellowship will support his work on a sequel, From Tradition to Culture which focuses on the "Exeter Book," a tenth-century codex (manuscript volume) that is the largest single collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry still surviving today.
"My research will investigate the ways that the Exeter Book poems are shaped by tenth-century culture, particularly the 'Benedictine Reform,' in which a small group of monks with strong connections to King Edgar were able to re-shape Anglo-Saxon culture," said Drout. The award will also support Drout's teaching, notably his work with several students who will do independent studies on the Exeter Book in the fall.
In his scholarship, Drout applies 21st century "meme theory" to medieval literature. Memes are discrete units of culture, such as ideas or practices, that can be combined, recombined and transmitted to others--functioning in effect as the "genes" of a culture. The Benedictine monks who compiled the Exeter Book sought to impose a monastic idea of literary tradition on Anglo Saxon poetry; as they did, Drout argues, they also unwittingly replicated non-monastic memes, creating the basic code of what would become a much larger British culture.
"The Fellowship will also allow me to collaborate with Professor Mercedes Salvador of the University of Seville, Spain, the world's leading expert on Anglo-Saxon riddles," Drout said, noting that the final third of the Exeter Book is composed of riddles.
In 2002 Drout published an edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf and the Critics, based on an unpublished Tolkien manuscript that Drout discovered in an Oxford, England, library in 1996. The book won the Mythopoeic Society's 2003 Award in Inklings Studies.
Administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the McIntosh Fellowships were named in honor of Millicent C. McIntosh, the late president of Barnard College and a noted humanist and educator. Ten colleges were invited to participate in the 2006 Fellowship program, and six recipients were named from Wheaton, Austin College, Beloit College and Reed College.
With the impending release of a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Professor Drout is in the news. He is featured in stories published by the Boston Globe (Tolkien was a Hobbit at heart and Staying faithful to the Fellowship), Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Experts divided on trilogy's significance) and the Worcester Telegram-Gazette (Professor still making discoveries about the Lord of the Rings).
Drout has also gained a reputation as a technologist who uses the Web and Java programming to revive a "dead" language, Middle English. His software, King Alfred, helps students learn to speak and write it.
The searchable Tolkien database will allow researchers to better understand the author's work, and to gain insight on what shaped his writing. "We'll be better able to understand his patterns," notes Drout. "It will be possible to gain new insights on how his writing changed as he got older, to identify what he was reading, and to see what his influences were."
While Drout is excited about the new Tolkien trilogy about to hit the big screen, he says he is well aware of the author's fear of having his works mass-marketed. According to Drout, Tolkien was forced to sell the movie rights to his books before he died. "The result of a complicated situation," he says, "in which some things remained in his estate and some went to other interests." Tolkien's estate has worked carefully to maintain control over merchandising, notes Drout. "They were recently approached with an idea for Hobbit-foot slippers, which they turned down," he says. "A line of coffins, each containing the names of Tolkien characters was also developed for merchandising. They were also turned down."