Finish updating assignments on Blackboard for all three survey classes (D'oh!)
clean up office
read ahead for classes for at least this week
finish the damned book review book
write the damned review
send the damned review to editor
update the bit about having finished the review to my CV
begin writing cover letters for job hunt
paint more of fence
walk the dog at least on Wednesday woohoo! RAN with the dog!!, Fridayand Again! (by 'ran', I mean that I moved in a running manner for most of the 1 1/2 mile x-country track -- baby steps, I know), Saturday and Sunday
go to the gym
grade the first week's discussion boards
finish assigning presentations to 200-level students
Aargh. It's Thursday of Opening Week, a time where those of us who were really looking forward to getting classes together and meeting new students instead get to see colleagues and catch up for about 15 minutes, only to spend most of the rest of the week listening to bullshit and having our morale surgically removed with a jagged piece of glass.
Day one: Division Meeting and potluck. Food good, division people good, weather nice. Division meeting stuff useful and over quickly -- got elected to be a division rep on the Senate Council. VP visit to meeting ok, but questions met with curt answers -- VP isn't good with changes to plan, and expected to deliver top-down message. Still, we most of us like her, since she's 'our' VP and is the only thing standing between us and utter chaos. She has our good at heart, but also has NO people skills AT ALL. President (who is under discussion by faculty for a vote of no-confidence after wangling herself and the other execs big raises --$25k for the pres alone -- for the last two years running) gives us her amazingly Bush-like, super-vague goals for the year. Senior faculty member asks why dealing with morale problems isn't on the list -- and is accused of "negative thinking." Not only that -- "you all teach so much critical thinking, all you can do is criticize." President explains that optimisim is how pres faces the world, and if others choose not to do that, that's their problem.
Day two: All campus meeting. President tells us about optimism again. "we're not going to focus on what's wrong -- that's negative. We're going to focus on what we do right." Lots of praise for the professional-technical programs. Nothing at all on academic transfer. We don't count. Course schedules not sent out to prospective students this year, because they were trying to save money. Enrollments ridiculously low. FTEs may not reach what we need for biennial funding. Oh -- new dual-enrollment program with satellite campus of Flagship U. Big thing, will attract students. Pres is pleased, because it looks good for her. Doesn't seem to realize that it means we need to keep academic transfer strong, or we lose the deal. Makes a couple of comments about a very few people being negative, then ties it in to "we are not a university. That's not our job." Yet another slap at the academic transfer people who demand that our classes must be at the same standards as 100- and 200- level classes at 4-years. Board member breaks law and tells us how to vote on an initiative, but thinks it's ok, because he claims he's speaking as a private citizen. Arrogant SOB.
Day three: No meetings in the morning -- got a bit of work done. Faculty Senate meeting to discuss vote of no confidence tabled from last year. All non-faculty persons asked to leave via a vote to go into Executive Session. VP leaves, free discussion begins, a couple of the President's cronies start taking down the names of who says what, make accusations of underhandedness, and leave. Actually (I know because I read my e-mail from my division rep and go to the two Senate meetings every year) everything being discussed, including a document produced at the request of the Faculty Senate at the Spring meeting, listing specific causes for no-confidence, with examples, has been public knowledge for at least 6 months. Suddenly, VP, who had left with other non-faculty, walks in, unannounced, and informs us that we have no procedural grounds to exclude anyone from the meeting, and parks herself. Several faculty members leave, saying they feel unsafe expressing their views. Others waiting in line to make comments suddenly are willing to waive their time to let others speak. Yours truly does speak, since ADM has little to lose -- unlikely to be fired, since it would rally people against pres and the union wouldn't like it, not on tenure-track, and none of the admin people will be writing me recommendations for the job search. Highly respected faculty member speaks, says that the job search is on, many other faculty members get really teary-eyed. Other highly respected faculty member chides VP for lack of respect in an incredibly strong, yet kind, way. Readers, I'm sparing you the really ugly stuff.
Day four: starts in an hour. gotta run. But the levels of incompetence and total bullshit allowed by the state are amazing. They make me really question wanting to teach at a community college. I love the idea of an open door, but it's increasingly clear that open door means remediation for what students didn't learn in K-12, and job training. An open door to the non-privileged person wanting to be a doctor, or lawyer, or teacher, for example, doesn't exist. We're not about education -- we're about training drones. The academic types on the staff are merely window dressing to maintain accreditation.
I was reading my newletter from the Medieval Academy and one of the articles really struck me. It struck me because i've been trying to articulate why I have serious doubts about World History as a substitute for Western Civ. The article (sorry -- I think it's only available in print) discussed an experiment in a World History course for grad students, team-taught by people who specialized in many different areas and focusing on cultural interaction. I admit that it sounded like everyone in the class found it enjoyable, and perhaps even fulfilling, but I wasn't really convinced that it had been useful.
You see, I've always found the cross-cultural studies interesting, and have always brought up the ones that really fit into the storyline, if you will, for my Western Civ. classes. The problem for me is, how much connection is a connection? Does the fact that the Europeans are getting material goods from, say, Muslim traders who may have gotten the stuff from sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia mean that there's a valid point of study in the connection between medieval Europe and Southeast Asia? I'm not so sure, if it's mediated, even if it's mediated by a somewhat 'western' culture. (I hope that last does not offend the Islamicists out there -- I mean it only in that I tend to see at least the first 500 years of Islam as being more connected to the Mediterranean west and Rome's successors -- since it is also a successor, in many ways -- more than a particularly non-western phenomenon).
Mediation aside, one of the things that I just can't get my head around is periodization. It's kind of a big thing in History; it's one of the harder things for many students to understand, in the sense that periodization traditionally relies on a bundle of factors, not least (but really, not greatest) of which is chronology. When we speak of the Middle Ages, we are talking about the West. It's the middle part -- between the ancient and the modern. Heaven knows, we medievalists have enough of a problem trying to define them chronologically, and we continue to debate the whole Early MA (or is it Late Antiquity? or is late Antiquity a period of its own, followed by the Early MA?) - high MA -- Late MA thing. But if World History is in some was a way of addressing or redressing the dominance of western culture, isn't it problematic to define the period to be studied in terms of the West?
Say we all accept that the Middle Ages were from roughly 476 (unless late Antique is sepaate) to roughly 1400 on the continent and 1500 in England. For simplicity's sake, pretend that England does't rate the exception, or we'll never move on. Is there any articular reason to think that this same period is valid for Medieval Africa? Is there such a thing as Medieval Africa? It's a pretty big place, with more than a few different peoples, religions, governmental systems, etc. Do Africanists see Africa as a single (if having manifold variations) culture in the way that Europeanists see Europe or Western Civ people see the west? I honestly don't know, but I'm not sure why they should. The same is true for Asianists: despite various clear cross-cultural influences via conquest, trade, or travel between China, Korea, and Japan or between India and Southeast Asia, or the Steppes and pretty much anywhere those Khans could get to, do area specialists see any truly valid reason for studying the World in the MA that doesn't include the MA having been defined in the traditional, West-based manner?
I mean, just thinking about Japan and China, I suppose one might say that Japan's Middle Ages could range from the 1100s (by Western reckoning) to 1868. Maybe. In which case, would we say that Japan missed out on the Early Modern period? Was Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate Medieval (there's that whole 'F'-word thing and all) or Early Modern? After all, Reformation and Counter-reformation Christianity, mostly the latter, hit Japan at about that time, and Europeans did bring in firearms, which are more Early Modern and Modern than Medieval. What about China? Are the Mongols Medieval nomadic conquering tribesmen? What about the Ming? If we measure periods by any standards other than time, the dates cannot hold across the cultures.
I don't really have anything more than questions at this point, so I'm open to suggestions. A World Middle Ages class just seems to me to be a pretty artificial and problematic construct at best, and a continuation of the imposition of Western standards on other cultures -- supposedly one of the things World history is supposed to help do away with -- at worst.
Fence and Fear. It's the end of the Summer, and I still haven't written my book review. Classes start in two weeks. I have to go out of town for most of one of them, family obligations having reared their ugly heads. So I am finally painting the fence. It's a big fence, since it encompasses fully half of our lot -- more than a quarter of an acre. It's pickets, so it's a pain in the ass. It does need doing, and I'm paying the girls across the street to help. But really, I think I'm choosing the fence over fear.
It's only in the past couple of days that I clearly realized that the fear was there. Sharon over at Early Modern Notes kindly linked to me, and we've had a nice conversation going in the comments about perceived differences in the way Medievalists approach History as compared to the way Early Modernists approach it, and why. It's something I've thought about a lot, and want to blog on -- after the review. Ralph Luker at Cliopatra then linked to the Early Modern site, and all of a sudden, it hit me: these people seem to be treating me as a colleague. Wow.
For people who know me beyond the pseudonym, this probably isn't surprising -- or at least, I hope not. People who have met me at conferences, people I know from grad school, people I teach with now, seem to accept me as one of their number. Still, I'm never sure I belong. I don't come from an academic background, and have made 'life' decisions that kept me out of the loop for several years while I finished my dissertation and then stayed in non-academic employment for a couple of years after that. Teaching as an adjunct got me back into the life, but left little time for being a scholar. Consequently, I feel like I'm always playing catch-up. And, in my less admirable, often quite lengthy moments, I seem to try to insure that I am. And so, the book review.
First, it's on a topic I'm just not very familiar with. I mentioned this when asked to do the review, but basically, of the people around to do it, I'm the least unqualified. I don't even have to read the book in the original language, but in translation, and I feel pretty confident about what I have to say on that subject. It's an interesting book, too -- so far. It contains a historiographical essay to die for, in the sense that it opens a window on over a century of German scholarship on the subject and its tendency to fit into German political ideology. Not only does this give the non-German reader some insight into a subject that really hasn't been widely available to them, i.e., the importance of national- and nationalist ideologies in framing historical questions, but I also think it opens the way for more research into my own area. That is, I think that many of the ideologies driving German historiography on the subject of the review are also pertinent when looking at the Carolingians. I even mentioned this in my dissertation, but more as something that needs further research. Yet, despite the fact that (reading what I've just written) I seem to have some cogent ideas on the review for what I've read, I'm stalling. I'm stalling because I'm afraid you'll think I'm an idiot. Unfit to join your ranks.
I feel this way at conferences, too. Every time I ask a question or make a comment, I'm sure someone mock my ignorance. It's never actually happened, mind you. Often I end up at the coffee intervals chatting with really nice people I've just met because they wanted to tell me they liked my question and discuss it further. Last conference, I discussed this whole syndrome and being on the job market with just such an acquaintance -- a Name in his field who told me I underrated myself and needed to aim higher than I was. It felt great, but the minute I begin to do anything that will open me up to my peers, I freeze. (As an aside, the rejection from the Chronicle didn't help, either). So I'm off to do the fence. And to mull over the fact that some of you seem to think I should be in the club. And then I'm going to finish the book and write the damned review. Just to find out for sure.