Redpath Exhibition – A History of Things

Have you ever looked at a fork and wondered why it’s called a fork? Or perhaps you’re curious to know how the internet came about, we know we are! We can guarantee that you have little idea as to how many times the Stanley Cup has been broken. But we also know that you’d be extremely interested in knowing the answer. Well, look no further! The Humanities and Social Studies Library has just the thing for you. 

We welcome all bookworms and history buffs to a thrilling journey through time and space! We invite you to enter the world of “A History of Things,” an exciting exhibition near the Redpath-McLennan corridor that explores the evolution of everyday things that have shaped our lives and the world around us. From the humble pencil to the mighty smartphone, this exhibition takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the ages, tracing the fascinating stories behind the things we take for granted. So join us as we unravel the mysteries of our material culture, and discover how the things we use every day have transformed the world we live in. 

For a short preview, here are some of our favourite titles from this exhibition:

For the full list of titles on display, check out our bibliography here:

And if you’re still eager to learn more about ‘A History of Things’, come to visit the exhibit any day in April 2023.

If you have questions about this exhibit, please contact

ChatGPT and the Curious Case of Missing Papers

A recent innovation has the academic community abuzz with debates. If you’re on any social media or are generally not living under a rock, you have probably come across the innovation that is ChatGPT. Since its launch in November last year, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot has stirred up conversations left and right, ranging from discussions on technological utopias to those on AI ethics and the effects of such technology on employment. 

But we’re not here to ponder upon questions so profound. Rather, we are here to investigate the curious case of missing papers and the implications this case has on adapting ChatGPT in academia. And with the recent release of GPT-4 (the Large Language Model used to train the chatbot), it is easy to see how this technology could be used by students and professors alike. Before we move on to that, let’s learn more about this AI-powered bot.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that generates human-like responses based on inputs/prompts given by users. Created by OpenAI, a research and development company in AI technology, ChatGPT was estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users in January, just two months after its launch (Reuters). To learn more about the bot, check out our guide on ChatGPT. For now, let’s move on to the phenomenon that has made users weary of the chatbot. 

More on the Curious Case of Missing Papers

With the public just recently discovering the potentials of AI technology in everyday life and the constant experiments at play, the bot has inevitably left the academic world in a bit of a stir. As academics, we look at the best ways to adopt such technology into our world. Eager attempts are being made to restructure conventional evaluative methods and create policies for the informed use of AI technology (spec. ChatGPT) in academia. Criticism, though, is to be expected, especially when the AI-powered bot has listed a few of its own limitations on its interface. Modest, that one.

A screenshot of the ChatGPT interface showcases a list of potential questions you could ask the bot, the capabilities it is equipped with and the limitations that constrain its function.

Now the Curious Case of Missing Papers I speak of did not simply emerge one fine day to the public eye, nor is it restricted to just one occasion. Rather, over the past two months, as ChatGPT has seen more active users, it has simultaneously gained more weary “consumers,” mainly in the form of students (or other learners) and professors (or other evaluators). Students working on assignments and professors have written on various social media platforms (such as Twitter, Reddit and other academic forums) and created articles claiming that ChatGPT tends to produce references that do not exist in real life. They say that when asked about a particular topic (given a prompt), the bot does give a legitimate-sounding answer (a response). But then, when asked to reference the information it has produced, it tends to create nonexistent academic sources, often a mix of names within the field or a set of numbers in a link that go to articles about similar topics. Sometimes though, it cites sources which have absolutely no reliable background.

Why is the bot producing such seemingly “fake” information? Well, this phenomenon is not altogether unheard of and has been an avid topic of discussion in AI for quite some time. Some experts call the phenomenon ‘Hallucinations,’ with the word holding much the same meaning it does when it comes to human psychology. A hallucination occurs in AI when the AI model generates output that deviates from what would be considered normal or expected based on the training data it has seen. Other experts claim that it is “AI confabulation” (another term borrowed from human psychology) or “stochastic parroting” due to predictive modelling. It seems, then, that while reasons for the missing or nonexistent sources differ, the result is pretty much the same, namely, a greater risk of misunderstanding and misinformation. 

But what is the point of a source that one cannot trace back? Is it reliable when it doesn’t even exist? What is the point of research that does not contribute to one’s knowledge of the topic or the larger literature? And what are the more daunting implications we are yet to discover? While the answers to each of these questions are unique to our work and specific aims, it is undeniable that such cases create a great conundrum for users seeking more than just inspiration from the bot. 

What Can We Do Moving Forward? 

It seems then that with seemingly abundant knowledge available at a single click, the merits of the technology are evident and laudable. The impact it will have on the academic world, too, is inevitable. However, as users of novel technology, it becomes our responsibility to be wise “consumers” and make well-informed decisions. A best practice would be to learn more about the tools we use during the research process and, for as long as possible, to rely more heavily on self-conducted (but well-assisted) research. 

That was our take on ChatGPT and the Curious Case(s) of Missing Papers, do let us know what you think in the comments!

Redpath Book Display: Talkin’ Tolkien

March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day – a day significant for marking the vanquishing of the Lord of the Rings (Sauron), the destruction of the ring, and the completion of Frodo’s quest. In honour of Tolkien Reading Day, check out the March Redpath Book Display, Talkin’ Tolkien, located in the Humanities and Social Studies Library! There you’ll find curated picks about Tolkien and linguistics, mythology, religion, and more.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa, moving to Birmingham, England at 4 years old. Tolkien, a name of German origin, means either foolishly brave or stupidly clever. Tolkien’s childhood home backed onto a railway yard, where his curiosity for linguistics took root as he saw trains bound for South Wales bearing names such as “Penrhiwceiber” and “Senghenydd.” At the very start of his career, Tolkien worked for Oxford English Dictionary – contributing to the definitions for “walnut,” “walrus,” and “wampum.” Throughout most of his adult life, Tolkien taught English literature and specialized in Old and Middle English. He studied and produced publications on works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Along with C.S. Lewis, Tolkien was a part of the informal literary discussion group called the Inklings, which met at Oxford University over the course of the 1930s and 40s. He is most famous for being the author of The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion (published posthumously by his son Christopher).

One of Tolkien’s earliest ambitions was to create a body of myth and legend for England. Being a devout Roman Catholic as well as a passionate scholar of world mythologies, he uniquely married Christian theology with paganism in his legendarium. This extensive collection of writings evolved over six decades of his life and the scope of his work is truly unparalleled.

Many of the names and story elements within the legendarium were influenced by Norse, Germanic, Finnish, and Celtic mythologies. The ring in the Norse Völsunga saga and the medieval German poem the Nibelungenlied are said to have inspired Tolkien’s one ring. However, the battle between good and absolute evil and the Christ-like sacrifice of Frodo are all thematically Christian. Although Tolkien avoids any explicit reference to religion or religious practice in the legendarium, he admits that the work is fundamentally religious and Catholic, but the religiosity is absorbed into the symbolism and grander story. Perilous Realms and The Ring and the Cross explore how Tolkien reconciled these two dichotomies amongst other complexities.

Tolkien was not only a prolific author, but also a linguist, and philologist– that is, a specialist in historical texts and languages. These academic interests informed his literary output: for instance, both the story of Isildur and the idea of the ‘Ring’ exist in 13th-century German literature, and the Rohirrim language is close to both Icelandic and Old English. Tolkien was fascinated by the construction of languages. He conceived the term “glossopoeia” and developed not one, but fifteen (15!) of the languages of Middle Earth. All of these languages are articulated together historically, and in Middle-Earth canon, all descend from the language of the Valar, the Gods. Tolkien put a great deal of effort into not only building structurally and grammatically cohesive languages but also creating the internal narratives and legends associated with these languages. He coined this idea “mythopoeia” (or “myth-making”): an invented language, to live, must be created alongside its history and stories. 

An interesting tidbit here (for all the copyright enthusiasts in the room!) is that Tolkien’s languages – Quenya, Sindarin, Adûnaic – are his intellectual property, the rights of which passed to his estate. This means that Middle-Earth languages are copyrighted by the Tolkien Estate and can only be used with permission from the Tolkien Estate. There is an argument, however, that languages – once they are commonly used- cannot be copyrighted, and indeed a  legal opinion published in 1999  noted (though not in a court of law) that under US copyright, systems cannot be copyrighted, and that an alphabet is a system. That being said: there has (so far) not been any court case where the Tolkien Estate has attempted to assert their rights to Elvish use, and there is a shared agreement that scholars and enthusiasts can disseminate information about Elvish, as long as no profit is being made, on sites such as

Many younger fans may have been introduced to Middle Earth through Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – did you know that the library not only has DVD/Blu-ray copies of these, but they are also accessible (except the third Hobbit movie) through the free streaming service Criterion? Must be time for a movie marathon! If you’re interested in the reception of The Hobbit trilogy, you can check out Fans, Blockbusterisation, and the Transformation of Cinematic Desire: Global Receptions of the Hobbit Film Trilogy available by eBook through McGill Library. 

Indeed, the world’s love of Tolkien is alive and well in the 21st century – there’s a (paid) app called Walk to Mordor that allows you to track your steps as you recreate Frodo’s journey to Mordor. For further immersion, check out the fan project “Minecraft Middle Earth” which has ambitiously set out to produce a faithful reproduction of Middle Earth in the hit videogame Minecraft. That’s a lot of blocks!

The book display and this blog post was curated by the Graduate Student Reference Assistants: Jenna Coutts, Lise Bourbonniere, Marianne Lezeau and Sarah Wood-Gagnon