Saturday, December 31, 2005

Blogger Breakfast

Blogger Breakfast


Ok -- does anybody know a good place to eat in Philly at 7:30 in the morning? I've made backup plans -- reserved for 10 somewhere (you'll have to check in with me or Ralph Luker or Rebecca for details), but it would be nice to find a place that also lets us see something of Philly. So far, I think we've got around 6 people who say they're coming -- I need to know soon if the reservation needs bumping up!

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

All I wanted for Christmas

All I wanted for Christmas ...


... is a longer break! Can I just say that it is insane to have just barely two weeks between terms? And just over a week in March. When do I get to breathe? When, more importantly, do I get to research and write? OK -- so I'm teaching at a junior college. All I teach is surveys, 200-levels if I'm lucky. So why would I put myself through this? Why would anyone? Few, if any, of my colleagues do more than read. If they go to conferences, they're on assessment (which I have to admit, I kinda love when done well) and things pedagogical. Yes, folks, this is ADM's semi-annual whinge about the forced and false dichotomy between teaching and research.

This break, I needed to get a whole bunch of stuff done. Ok -- so some personal stuff happened that was more than a little distracting. My parents are divorcing (a shocker) and my grandfather died (not so much, but still ...). But with just over two weeks to put together new syllabi to reflect my How to do college manifesto, prep for an interview at the big conference (please, I need a job!), read a book and review it, get through a three volume set of sources in Latin with handy editorial comments in German, etc., and try to work on the other big conference stuff,I don't feel nearly ready. OK, well, the syllabi are mostly done. The book to be reviewed is mostly done and I may actually have the review drafted this weekend, which means it will almost be on time. I have not prepped for the interview -- in fact, I need to find my old evals to bring -- Argh! and I need to make nice CV copies for the meat market, just in case.

I know that, if I were hired tenure-track, even with a heavy teaching load like the one I have now, things would get easier. I'd have the preps down a bit more, because I wouldn't be changing texts or term lengths every bloody year. I'm really lucky where I am, because there is a lot of support for people who want to write. That's not the norm in many CCs. But sometimes I get discouraged, because the reactions among my colleagues are pretty much of two kinds -- people who think it's neat, and wish they had time to do more, but have families or have just got out of the habit, and people who look at me like I've grown horns. I'm deathly afraid that my wanting to keep up, and write at the almost the same rate that I would at a small 4-year with a heavy teaching load (which is not small potatoes, but not what one needs for tenure at a research uni or small college with delusions of grandeur) is going to make my colleagues think I shouldn't teach with them. The truth is, if all I teach are the same three courses nine times a year, I will burn out. My teaching will become stale. I will not stop caring, but I will do what I see many of my colleagues doing -- recycling pre-packaged lectures and tests, giving out scripts for the students to take film notes ... If I do not push myself, if I don't make sure I have a reason to push myself, I might become a Bad Teacher. And no, I really don't see myself writing scripts or giving worksheets. I teach college, after all. That would be like giving scan-tron exams. Anathema, I say! I must do both, or I will not do well at either!

But seriously, I do worry about maintaining a balance for myself, and keeping up the right image. My chair knows I have two interviews so far, one at a 4-year, one at a larger school. I think I could do really well at either place, and I think I have a lot to offer them. I also think I have a lot to offer at my present school, and there are lots of reasons I'd be happy if they offered me a job. I just worry about how to convince the 4-years that I'm scholarly enough, while making sure that my current colleagues don't see me as someone looking for a stop-gap. If I keep getting the kind of support I've had so far, it's a really good gig and I'd be happy taking it. But there are trade-offs. There always are. I just hope they can be minimized. And it would be a hell of a lot easier to minimize them if we had longer breaks!

Right -- back to work. Syllabi must be finished by tomorrow. Then I can go to the library!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Well, Shoot.

Well, Shoot


Christmas was a mixed bag -- mostly good, and I felt very loved, having been taken in by a friend and her family. A little bad -- announcements of a divorce in the family and an expected death which was mostly a blessing. But really, mostly good.

The return home? Not so good. I have in my e-mail two student requests for re-evaluation of grades. These are the kind of requests that kill me. I believe in the mission of community colleges to provide a truly college-level education to those for whom it might otherwise be impossible. I also really believe in federal and state financial aid packages. I am happy for every bit of tax money that goes to them. So here's the problem, oh internets -- an ethical one for which I'd appreciate your opinion. So you know, I cannot really see doing anything for these students.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that, if I don't raise these students' grades -- and by a tenth of a percentage point in each case, I think, they will lose their financial aid for the next term -- I'm not sure how this works -- it seems to me that the one grade I give must fit into an average? I should ask Financial aid and counseling, I suppose.

But -- Student One was almost always late. S/he almost never took notes in class and never (or not that I could tell) prepared for discussion. Never turned in discussion notes when I checked them. All the written assignments were pretty much a C- average. Class participation was 30% of the grade -- s/he was there almost every day, but as I said, no discussion, always late. But the student really does want to do well, and has signed up for another of my classes next term. Other faculty know this student, and there is a general feeling s/he just needs more help in how to do college.

Student Two was really good, all through class. Incredibly bright, prepared (or faked well) all of class discussion, had a grade in the low 90s. Except. The paper was plagiarised. Student asked about the zero on the paper, and I pointed out that it had something to do with uncited passages taken verbatim from a couple of web sites. Student Two did not protest my assessment or claim innocence. What s/he did do was send a note saying that we both knew the grade was not indicative of the work the student was capable of, whatever the reason for that final grade. Could I please raise the grade by that tenth of a point?

Well, shoot. It seems to me that these two students must not have done all that well in their other classes if the grades they earned from me are enough to tip the balance. And one was dishonest. I don't want to see these people lose their aid, but you know, it's never really bothered me before. And if I understand correctly the GPA thing (and since I used to worry about my own, I pretty much think I get the whole GPA thing), Student Two really must have done badly in another class (perhaps also dishonesty??) to be teetering on the edge of losing his/her funding.

Part of me wants to help -- especially Student One. But part of me also says that I didn't give them these grades; they really did earn them. And one of the lessons of college is that you have to do the work. I wonder if I'd feel better about this kind of thing if I had tenure. It seems to me that, in this case, figuring grades mathematically and sticking to those figures means that I cannot allow myself to make decisions based on my own sentiments or wonder about whether either of these students is deserving. Oh internets, shall I take refuge in the rules??

Update: Student One is safe, if s/he brings his/her grades up this term. I will be working with him/her on "how to do college." Student Two's GPA disaster has little to do with what s/he earned in my course. I'm sticking to my guns and feeling stupid for almost having fallen for the sob story. Thanks to everyone who helped out with an opinion. It's nice to have a reality check sometimes.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah

Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah


Well, folks, providing the upset stomach I woke up with goes away, I'm off to a friends' family's place for Christmas. Hope you all have a nice one!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

AHA Blogger Meet-up

AHA Blogger Meet-up


So far, the best time for many of us looks to be breakfast on Saturday. Does anyone know the area well enough to suggest a place? Also, if you are interested in coming, please comment or e-mail so that we can get reservations. I'm still trying to put together my own plans -- one invite for Saturday night and lunch on Friday are booked ... I'll probably be doing a scrounge through appropriate receptions, as well. Last year in Seattle, there was an awful lot of really good food that was up for grabs ;-) Hey -- I'm on a budget!

So -- the ungodly hour of 7:30 on Saturday, so that people going to the blogging talk can get there.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Interesting and good news

Interesting and Good News



So, the good news is I've been chosen to interview for a second position. This one a state U. I'm very excited about it. It is a teaching-heavy position, but one where I think there will be enough pressure to push myself to really excel. But now I feel constrained. So much for details. There would be more, but ...

Some of you may have noticed that I've installed sitemeter. On the one hand, it's really neat to see that I have visitors from all over the world. On the other, I'm not exactly thrilled that some of my newer visitors are coming via the Chronicle of Higher Education jobs website. Yep -- the CHE has a list of academic blogs. This is the same place that gave Ivan Tribble a whole lot of space to tell us how blogging was going to keep us from getting jobs. I don't think that's really irony, except in the Alannis way, but it's interesting in a right hand-left hand way. And now, I can also see that there are people who read my blog who log on from big universities and small. People whose identities I can guess because they are at little colleges with distinctive names I recognize from some of the same listservs that I subscribe to. I feel distinctly uncomfortable.



So if you think you know who I am, I'm going to ask you a favor. Just keep it to yourself, unless you are very positive that 'outing' me will help me to get a job. I'm happy to say I'm not embarrassed by anything I've written on my blog. I think I've written some good things that reflect my views on history and on teaching, and through my blog, I've made connections that have allowed me the chance to present, got me a position doing something that will count as service to the profession and name-recognition for wherever I'm employed, and generally kept my head in the game. I've gained colleagues in ways contingent faculty usually can't, and I'm very lucky. I hope the blog makes me look like someone you'd like as a colleague. But forgive me if I'm still a little scared.



Oh -- and if you are the person who got here by googling "Gandhi + contribution + world + history"? It sounds like you're a student. Try the library. Look up Gandhi in the catalog. Go to the bibliography in a book on Gandhi and see what other books you can find that address your question. For free, you might also search for Gandhi's impact, or civil diobedience or somesuch thing. But pretty much, you might want to start at the library and the databases there.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Two questions

Two questions



Question the first: Are there already plans for a blogger meet-up at AHA? Same rules as last year, I'm thinking -- pseudonymous types who don't wish to be outed get their privacy respected. Rebecca suggested breakfast before the Cliopatria awards. That could work, although it means being much more organized about packing. Please e-mail or put comments below if you're interested.


Question the second: There's been some roundabout talk here and there for the past year or so on either having a medieval blog or a work group blog. I honestly don't have time for the former, unless it's also the latter, but I don't know that everybody wants their works-in-progress up to review. I also want this to be a group of people who know each other, but that can be expanded on the agreement of the group. So I'm sorry if it sounds like a private club, but I think it's the only way to protect the pseudo/anonymity of the members. Again, post below or e-mail and I will set it up and send details. It will be at a site that can be locked down from public viewing.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Teaching Carnival IV

Teaching Carnival IV


... was up at New Kid's, but typepad seems to have gone wonky. You can access it here, via bloglines.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

How to do College

How to do College



technorati tag:




I wanted to jump into this conversation between Manorama, Dr. Crazy, et al. last month, but I was busy and I really wanted to finish my first term at new college before I put in my oar. One of the things I've noticed this term, one of the things I like best about new college, is the student population. It's pretty diverse in terms of race, age and background. I have a lot of very young students who dual-enrolled as high-school seniors after having been home-schooled for 10 years or so. I have other dual-enrolled students, working students, single mothers, ex-military, immigrants, refugees, returning students -- and even some traditional students. The college is in a 'burb of regional Big City. Some of my students have never been there, although it's only 15 miles away and many of them have come from farming communities 60 or 70 miles away to enroll at new college. At least half of them come from the same sort of income background that I do, far fewer from families like mine where expectations were decidedly oriented on college education in preparation for a decent income and job security.*


It struck me when reading the series of posts that for many of us, we really are teaching "us" in some fundamental ways, but not in others. As I've learned more and more about my blogging colleagues, I've learned that a lot of us come from non-traditional backgrounds. I've also seen that we sometimes lose touch with those backgrounds as we move farther into our academic lives. That's to be expected. It's a different world and we have changed to fit it. In turn, academe has changed us and our expectations. I don't mean this in a bad way, but it is true that graduate education, even when it provides us with excellent training as teachers, happens at research institutions. The majority of the students we teach as graduate students are those who were good enough to get in the door. The door is not the same one my students come through. The law mandates that our door remain open to all. But even in those other institutions -- Big State, Small Private, Ivy, whatever -- we also are not teaching "us." We professor-types were the ones who were engaged, interested, and focused on doing well. Most of our students are not planning on being academics (generally a good idea, in terms of the job market).

Because our students aren't "us" we cannot expect them to behave as we did. Because
my students have needs I never had (and some I did), I have to change the way I each in order to do my job, which I see as teaching History at the same level and with the same content and standards as when I teach at a posh private university. My students, most of whom do want to transfer to a U., need to be able to hack it when they get there.

The one thing this term has taught me, more than any other, is that, in order to do my job well, I have to teach something more than History. I have to teach "college." Hell, that's not true. I have to teach "school." I'm more sure of this today that I was yesterday. I got my evaluations. One comment I particularly loved. The student claimed that I was rare because I treated the class as college students and expected them to behave that way. The rest? Pretty typical. Complaints about the work load, praise for my being there and taking as much time as they needed to help them. Just doing my job, ma'am.

So how do we teach college? Well, here's what I've learned this term and am planning for next.

  1. The Syllabus: Not only do I need to go over the syllabus, but I need to explain its purpose. Due dates, grading policy, etc., are all there. We'll also be going over all of the assessment materials I place on Blackboard -- especially those I use for essay assignments.

  2. Reading Assignments: I need to explain the assignments and that students should take notes and re-read after we cover things in class to reinforce what we've done. Moreover, I need to explain more about the primary source readings. I have a very punitive policy on prepping readings, but low expectations of what the prep should be. Students are given a series of basic questions that they should try to answer before class -- kind of document, date, author, audience, three examples of evidence from the doc. I will occasionally ask people who have not done the prep to leave and come back prepared the next class. It is harsh and intimidating.

    I've always explained that not being prepared makes for a bad class and is disrespectful of me and, more importantly, one's classmates. This year, I've realized that I also need to say, "if the class doesn't do prep work, discussion takes too long, and I cannot spend the time I'd like helping you to tie it all together. I also need to collect these notes and mark them. It's absurd. This is college. They need it.

  3. The Library: I am used to spending one day of the term in the library, where one of my colleagues there introduces the students to the databases, the differences between scholarly and non-scholarly sources, etc. It isn't enough. I need to take them over and show them where the books are. I need to get them to work in small groups to identify how we cite things and how that citation style (Chicago, thanks!) adds to one's reading of the article or book. This has to come out of class time, because we can't coordinate work and kid schedules.

  4. Study/Attendance habits: "It's college! we don't have to come to class!" Well, no. But you won't do well in my class if you don't show up. I have to take the time to remind students to pull out pen and paper and take notes. I have to go through my own notes and add extra connections and reinforcement and circle words I once thought common, e.g., cyclical, or monarch, and make sure I stop and ask, "can anyone explain what I mean by 'monarch'? Good. Rule or government by one person. Yep, usually a king or ...? Queen? What other kinds of rule can
    you think of? Good! You should be writing these things down ...." For those of you who think I'm talking down to my students, I'm not. They don't know these things. They can't read the textbook (one of the complaints about our book was that the hard vocabulary words weren't bolded) or understand my lectures unless I do this. I think I'm going to suggest they set aside a page in their notebooks (which I will not be correcting -- this is not high school) to keep all the new terms and their definitions. The up-side to this, by the way, is that, when I give them terms in Latin, Greek, German, and French, the students are less resistant to having
    to learn them.

  5. Writing: This term, I had to spend three or four class sessions per class picking up bruised egos and helping students understand why they got abysmal grades on the midterm. By the way, the midterm carries a relatively low weight, but an F still looks like an F -- and students leave. This is bad for them and bad for me. Next term, I will be building some of that time into class. And I'll be trying to head off the worst of the problem writing, i.e., the inability to take an essay question and turn it into a defensible thesis paragraph. I will be taking class time to teach them how to take a test. I will give them an assignment, round about week three, that has them turn an essay question into an answer and outline for an essay.

    I'm beating my head against the desk as I say this, because I am trying to cover everything from the Ancient Near East to the Black Death. But it has to be done. If they can't write a sensible essay, they can't get through my class, let alone get a college degree. And I'll be pulling out the new and improved grading matrices I use for essays so that we can look at them while going over their efforts. Otherwise, I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the materials I make available don't get a glance. And I'll be taking more time with the documents and our discussion, making even more explicit the connection between how a Historian finds
    evidence in documents and how that evidence points to a question and/or answers it.

  6. I anticipate no changes in my grading. I do anticipate requiring students who get marks of 70% or lower to discuss them with me in person or via e-mail.

  7. I anticipate no changes in content, although I may divide some reading assignments between groups. I'll also be giving a few more questions out further in advance for some of the longer readings. It's a college-level class. I'm not going to lower the bar. I'm just going to make sure they get to use a springboard and have some padding there to catch them.


Damn. Sounds like a lot of work. More work than it was when I taught at Grad U or Local Private. But here's the thing. Among these students are some of the brightest people I've taught. They have asked really sophisticated questions for college freshmen and sophomores, questions that belie their lack of skills. They are articulate and they want to do well. They work insane hours, and sometimes I have to wake them up. They drag their butts to class after being up all night with sick kids (or sometimes hung over). And sometimes they complain. Well, they complain a lot. Too much reading, too much to learn ... don't I get that their lives are hard?? And, without saying too much of what I think about college funding, etc., I
remind them that they are tax payers and so are their parents, and that being aware of how education is funded is important. I tell them that a college degree is based on standards created when people got to go to college as their only 'job' and the standards haven't changed because they student profile has. I tell them the difference between a U. and a CC is that I'm here to help carry them, if they are willing to work with me. I sometimes tell them about the great market nearby that sells veg at half the price of the supermarkets because they sell the stuff that doesn't fit into the holes in the nice cardboard apple boxes. And I tell them, yep. It's hard. But I did it. How? Jaws drop as I tell them about pouring beer for drunken frat boys and carrying five classes while working 40 hours a week at $4 an hour at a movie theatre. This often floors them, because I think they think 'we' are different. Maybe because we've forgotten that we aren't teaching us??





*Single-parent, civil-service family with three kids. Here's where I mention that I'm the only person in my generation with an advanced degree. One sister has a BS, the other graduated high school, went to work for the government, and now makes about $80k a year and will be able to retire with a nice pension in 10 years. Cousins also did not go to college ...

And by the way, I just wrote almost 2000 words in a sitting. Please remind me of this when I start whingeing about not being able to write the book review I have to finish early next week and the paper I need to get hopping on!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Happy News

Happy News


Haven't been around as much lately, but since grades are now turned in, I'll be blogging something in the next day or so that I hope will be included at the next Teaching Carnival at New Kid's.

I'll also be posting my thoughts on the Narnia movie.

In other news, life goes on. This term was one of major adjustments for those of you who are keeping up. I've been really lucky in having a very good friend in Professor Kinsey and her family, who invited me for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas. Dunno about the latter, yet -- turns out that X is spending Christmas with his new gf and her family at their beach house an airplane trip away, so I need to make sure the kid has plans before I make any of my own.

I love the place I'm teaching, and will be applying for the TT job there when it's advertised. The only part that I don't like is daily classes, but they seem willing to experiment with scheduling, so that's good.

Today's big news is that I have been shortlisted for a Small Liberal Arts College in the midwest. Initial interviews to happen after the holidays. Still hoping for an interview at SLAC in the south, and still filling out apps and affirmative action forms for the rest ;-)

Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Lewis and Pullman

On Lewis and Pullman


I'm supposed to go see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tonight. I'm sure I'll blog about it (hiding the spoilers, natch!) behind a cut.


I've read the Alison Lurie and Polly Toynbee write-ups about the film in The Grauniad, and now there's this, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


But I'd like it if someone would explain to me why we are supposed to buy into the "either Christian allegory OR rousing fantasy tale for everyone" and "you can like Pullman or Lewis, but not both" dichotomies.


I loved Narnia as a child. I'm looking forward to the film. I would probably still love the books today, although in a different way, because I read more critically. There did come a time when I liked Lewis' space trilogy more. Hell, I really love Charles Williams' novels. That they are allegory neither bothers nor offends me. They are what they are.

Pullman is also allegory, to a certain extent. His Dark Materials (I'm not talking about the Sally Lockhart books, which I think are pretty great, too) is certainly didactic. I think he oversimplifies many things about religion, class, and magic to make his points in a way so unsubtle as to be borderline offensive. And I think they are great books and would give them to any child old enough to handle the scary bits. I have friends who are practising Christians who also like Pullman.

People. We can like both. Really. Just like we can enjoy both kinds of literature: science fiction and fantasy. Or both kinds of history: Ancient and Medieval. Or both kinds of music: country and western (the music of pain)...

*ducks to avoid her early modernist friends' rapid-fire projectiles*

Update: This essay by Meghan O'Rourke at Slate is a better take, I think. I'm bothered by one thing, though. She says:
Some liberals, like the popular children's author Philip Pullman, therefore dismiss him out of hand [...]

What exactly does she mean by 'liberal', I wonder? Is there any way that the adjective really fits?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cultural Fusion

Cultural Fusion


Well, despite my telling the class repeatedly that the many historians of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (or the midevil period, according to some students) consider the present usages of the words 'German,' 'tribe,' 'Barbarian,' and 'migration' to be problematic, the textbook won again. In an attempt to compromise, I say we all consider using the word 'Gerbarian.' What do you think?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

End of Term Quizzage

End of Term Quizzage







You Have a Phlegmatic Temperament



Mild mannered and laid back, you take life at a slow pace.

You are very consistent - both in emotions and actions.

You tend to absorb setbacks easily. You are cool and collected.



It is difficult to offend you. You can remain composed and unemotional.

You are a great friend and lover. You don't demand much of others.

While you are quiet, you have a subtle wit that your friends know well.



At your worst, you are lazy and unwilling to work at anything.

You often get stuck in a rut, without aspirations or dreams.

You can get too dependent on others, setting yourself up for abandonment.



I would say most of that is true. I'm not exactly lazy at my worst, but am easily distracted into working really hard at things I don't necessarily have to do, avoiding the things I don't want to do. Everything gets done, though, if I owe it to someone. Not sure about the quiet, though, except in a physical sense. Even then, people comment on my laugh (in a good way!)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Carnivalesque 11

Carnivalesque 11



I'd like to start off this carnival with a short comment on the blogging medievalists out there. This academic term seems to have taken its toll on most of the ones I know. I've had to extend my reach to find new and different medievalists blogging about things medieval, because lots of us seem to be blogging more about teaching the Middle Ages. And because it's the end of term for many of us, and I know that many readers are coming to take quick breaks between periods of frantic marking (I've got thirty 10-page papers to mark by Monday, and finals start Tuesday; a friend is in the middle of a pile of about 400 exams!), I've decided to focus on a particularly Carnivalesque Button theme -- this is an Ancient/Medieval carnival of quirks and cheer, of short reads and, well, because I am today's mistress of misrule -- the carnival of Stuff I Like! I hope you like it, too!*


I don't have HBO. And I'm also not in the UK. This means that I have not had a chance to see the HBO series, Rome. This has made it difficult for me to answer my uncle's weekly questions about the accuracy of the series. Fortunately, I'm now off the hook. Glauk├┤pidos offers commentary on the whole series, as well as her own take on its accuracy. And while she's right about it not being a documentary, and a series purely for the purpose of entertainment, Tony Keen at Memorabilia Antonina has a slightly different outlook. The series really has a few folks riled. Alterior at Fascinating History, which deals with some incredibly interesting topics, is also not impressed. I'm looking forward to the series on DVD in a slightly squeamish way. Love Ciaran Hinds, the star, but just hate it when stories that are intrinsically interesting get turned into 'tales of sex and intrigue' because people think it sells better. Really. I ask you. How is it that directors think the rise and fall of C. Julius Caesar, not to mention the entire career of Octavian, need to be padded with probably false licentious detail? The political intrigue and the personalities were not enough? Sheesh!

But if you must have sex and crime in the Ancient World, then perhaps it would be good to remember the case of Phyrne. Laura at Clews reminds us of the details.


Looking for something slightly more academic, but still a bit quirky? How about the treatment of depression in Rome? Michael at Laudator Temporis Acti gives us the beginning of an explanation and Michael at Curculio clarifies it.

Not so into bad TV or ancient shock therapy? Feeling a bit guilty that you haven't been keeping up? Well, Phil Harland at Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean brings us up to date on the Megiddo Mosaics. I've linked to my favorite post -- the one with the pictures -- but all of the posts are very interesting.

If you've been keeping up with things here at Blogenspiel, you'll know that those of us who focus on Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages are constantly concerned with the use of words like "Germans" and "Barbarians" and "Migrations." Athena at Rites of Passage goes even further back in time to really confuse the issue by updating us on Ancient DNA and the First Europeans. Turns out it's not just the "German" thing that boils medievalist blood: In Bad History Childeric expounds on misapprehensions about the Celts and Pagan Festivals. Just a quick step away from misapprehension is misappropriation. Let's all say, one more time, America is not the new Rome.


I mentioned above that many of the medievalists have been posting more about teaching medieval than about things medieval in and of themselves. Since I am the mistress of this carnival, I thought I'd add my own notes to the pile.

Normally in the first part of the survey I teach the Song of Roland as a sort of capstone. I use the Glyn Burgess translation, as it's accessible and affordable. Why Roland, when there are so many other chansons de geste? My students will have already read many documents pertaining to the problematically named Germanic peoples at Paul Halsall's Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Through those documents, they will have become somewhat familiar with inheritance; social status; justice and conflict resolution in terms of compensation and wergeld, feud, and ordeal; the importance of public ritual in non-literate societies; and any number of other things they've teased from the documents. They will also have read a series of documents on Islam and on Muslim/Christian interactions from varying viewpoints over time. Because I am cruel and the 8th Amendment does not apply in my classroom, they will have read Einhard. Finally, they will have read documents pertaining to the Crusades. In this context, Roland seems the perfect reading to leave them with. It is in some ways the medieval equivalent of the modern mass appeal historical movie. The students have a familiarity with many of the details in the story, as well as a greater temporal context for those details. They can (or should be able to) note anachronisms and the misappropriation of history for a popular audience. Whether that misappropriation is intentional is a matter for discussion, one that can often lead to a fruitful idea of what history is and how it is often a combination of traditions passed on and deliberate construction. I hope it helps them to remember there are differences between 'historical' and 'history.'

Not sure? Here's an Alternate History Fridays take on the story of William Tell -- it might be
argued that this story is neither! For yet another take on the misappropriation of history, Carl Pyrdum at Got Medieval lets us in on how to act like a knight -- not!

This is a topic that's been on literary minds lately as well. Gillian Polack offers us a couple of opinions, the first brought on by yet another discussion of the ius primae noctis, and the second on trying for the authentic in the fantasy novel. Speaking of fantasy (and since I'm the hostess, we shall speak of it), Michael Drout reminds us of Tolkein's own historical and philological roots. Still unconvinced about the crossover? That's all right, because Scott Nokes has some comments on the history of Tolkein snobbery.

It's possible that some people might not like the inclusion of Tolkein-y things in the carnival on the grounds that Philology isn't History. Well, for us Ancient/Medieval types, who have to do lots of our work in languages dead, Michael Drout again provides assistance: King Alfred's Grammar Really Works!. This might come of use to Ancarett, who's been teaching things Anglo-Saxon and Latin. Think I'm kidding about the languages? Pecia provides a wonderful look at the kinds of manuscripts medievalists get to work with. It's actually just a brilliant resource all round. And if you're a medievalist, you should be able to cope with the fact that it's in French! Speaking of French-language sites, you might also want to know that Blitztoire has moved and been re-born as Médiévizmes. French not your best language? Archaeo-News-Blog might be more to your tastes -- it's in German! OK, it's also in English.

Speaking of tastes, I thought it might be nice to leave you with a couple of posts on food, one ancient, and one medieval. First, an ancient recipe for pork with truffles from Homo Edax. Then, in what is probably the only medieval history (and not historical) post in this entire carnival, owlfish tells us about how watermills affected the use of spelt in our diets.



Think it's all over? It almost is. But since it's the holidays and all, and reindeer are pretty non-denominational, I give you Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in Latin!

Thanks for coming. Next time, it'll be longer. I promise.




*By the way, this carnival would not have been possible without the generosity of Alun at archaeoastronomy and Laura at Clews, who both sent me suggestions above and beyond the call of duty.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A question on exams

A question on exams



My friends, please note the time of this post. I have just finished posting my final exams on Blackboard. Finals aren't till next week. They are three-part exams. A take home document analysis, in-class IDs and in-class essay. I was not given document questions on exams when I was an undergraduate. We had basic questions (compare/contrast, causes/effects of X, trace the development of ...)and were expected to refer to documents we had read. I never really had to do document analysis in any depth, even in papers, till I got to grad school. Even then, not so much, except in the context of research papers. So why ask the students to do it? Because it's interesting and they should know how to read and analyze primary sources? Because it's good for them to know how professionals know what they know? I think those are good reasons. And because we work on these things in class, it makes sense to assess what they have learned.

But the other part ... I guess there were profs who gave us lists of IDs to study. Maybe. And sometimes general topic lists. But no one ever gave me the questions in advance. So I give them four questions. Then on the day of the exam, I choose two. The students write on one. But I have to consider this -- the essays aren't all that much better than when I've given the questions blind and on the day. In fact, only a couple are hugely better, and the rest not so much. This was true when I gave both essays as take-homes. The essays were a bit better organized, but not noticeably better written or proofread. So why am I staying up so late, a week before exams, to give them the exam questions in advance?

Does anyone else do this?

And, on another related note -- every time I look at exam questions I might think of pinching from old exams, I think ... hey, maybe I should remember these, and my course would be more focused. Does anyone else do this? If you do, how do you walk the line between crafting a course with several clear content goals and teaching to an exam? BTW, I'm not totally clueless, just very tired. There just aren't that many questions we ask in surveys, anyway -- just multiple creative way of asking them. So it should be easy not to "teach to the test" while still having a clear idea of course content outcomes ...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A whinge for help

A whinge for help



Please help a stressing medievalist! I'm hosting the 11th edition of Carnivalesque on ancient & medieval on 3 December 2005. No one has suggested an entry yet!!

Please help! Find good entries and send them this way!

To submit entries, either:


Email another_damned_medievalist[at]hotmail.com; or

Use this submission form


Also, Don't forget that New Kid will be hosting the next Teaching Carnival on December 15. Please send along any and all nominations of posts related to teaching, teachers, students, grading, etc. etc. etc. (and yes, you can nominate yourself!).
newkidonthehallway at yahoo dot com.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!



It's the Disco Turkey!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Teaching Carnival III

Teaching Carnival Three



Oh. My. Goodness. Teaching Carnival Three is up at Scrivener's place. It's ginormous and jam-packed with goodies. Go and read good things that will renew your love and cynicism about teaching!



History Carnival XX



And, if you have far too much time, or would rather not read about teaching, try History Carnival XX is up at Tigerlily Lounge. It's a generalist's paradise!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Coming soon to a medievalists near you

Coming soon to a medievalist's near you ...



The 11th edition of Carnivalesque will be on ancient & medieval and will be hosted here on 3 December 2005. To submit entries, either:


Email another_damned_medievalist[at]hotmail.com; or

Use this submission form

Thanks to Sharon, Chief Mistress of Carnivals, for the reminder and the code.

And because I'm going to be buried, what with trying to put this together, apply for jobs, and finish my very crazy quarter (not to mention all that other stuff I'm still working on) ... Don't expect a whole bunch o' posts between now and then!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Study Break

Study Break


I blame it on the fact that I've been paying bills ...

Gacked from Alun


Numenorean
Numenorean


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla



What Monty Python Character is ADM?

Ahhhh ... this is probably more like it ...



You are a cardinal! You love to try & get others into trouble, even if you have to make up lies...NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!
You are a cardinal! You love to try & get others
into trouble, even if you have to make up
lies...NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!


What Monty Python Sketch Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla



This break is now over. Back to the stupid Second World War.



And BTW, I know I'm late to the party on this, but I highly recommend Plans by Death Cab For Cutie. But I'm a sucker for pop with good lyrics. And I've just realized that they remind me a bit of The Lilac Time.

Friday, November 11, 2005

In Memoriam

In Memoriam Posted by Hello



Photo found at http://www.usgennet.org/usa/mo/county/stlouis/ww1-music/flandersfield.htm. They also have a music link.

Friday, November 04, 2005

a la Tiruncula

a la Tiruncula



Sorry I haven't been around much lately, but I'm slightly swamped ...

I need to:

Cross some more stuff off the list!!

  • Be stunning for an observation by my department chair today Not so much, due to the fact that I cleverly pulled my file on the Wars of Religion, leading into Henry IV and the stirrings of Absolutism, and lost the bloody thing so that I had to re-write a lecture in 20 minutes. Riffed the end, tying back what I had been talking about to the last three weeks where we talked about mercantilism, the Reformation, European Dynastic rivalries, etc. Oh, and got teased by my class on a couple of points. And made jokes back. But they answered all my questions with mostly no hints, and liked that I made the "these are the guys in The Three Musketeers" connection ...
  • finish grading some papers
  • Get caught up on reading and class prep OK, for this week at least -- It's ADM's specialty in Class One, Absolutism and woohoo -- a film -- in class two, and a film for Class three, which gives me till Wednesday to organize my thoughts!
  • keep up with a very busy discussion on the listserv, especially as it's been noted at a big history blogIt's petered out till the next one -- thank goodness not like the stuff on Mediev-L lately!
  • Read the book I'm supposed to be reviewing -- short, but in German
  • think about writing said review, which may require more reading
  • Either scan or take notes on the pertinent parts of the Codex Laureshamensis while I have it, because interlibrary loan can't renew it again
  • Find out if Regine Hennebicque is also Regine Le Jan (if anyone knows, please tell me, because otherwise I have to write a complete stranger and ask. And I have to do it in English, because my French is awful these days) Realised I don't have to know this -- I just need to cite it correctly and find out when I can. The only reason it's a problem is that the article is cited under Le Jan, but I've been obsessing about it more because it's an irritating detail in a book I find mostly good, but packed with careless errors
  • Read unpleasantly long article by Regine Hennebicque
  • review what I've got on the Kazoo paper and start piecing it together
  • apply for about 15 jobs by 1 December OK -- sent 9 this week, and have already heard back from one asking for more materials. Breath now 'bated
  • Teach 15 hours a week
  • try to start running again
  • Sleep? Well, I got a few extra hours over the weekend ... that should last a couple of days!
  • Figure out my life, which has become a bit complex lately.
  • Other stuff like that

Thursday, November 03, 2005

History Carnival the Nineteenth

History Carnival the Nineteenth




It's here, at (a)musings of a grad student! It's also really good, and I haven't had a chance to dig in -- so you guys have to! Go and learn cool things!

And don't forget to note your nominations for Cliopatria Awards!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Cliopatria Awards


Nominations are open for the Cliopatria Awards for the best in History blogging. These are real awards, people, in the sense that they are by bloggers and blogreaders, for bloggers -- and they're being announced at the History Blogging panel at the AHA meeting in Philadelphia! Legitimacy in the world of Tribbles!

There will be awards in six categories:

Nominations will be open to all readers throughout November; panels of expert* judges will make the final decisions during December. Go here for more info.

*And yeah, I'm a judge. Disclaimer of vested interest noted.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It is to laugh

Gacked from Carl at Got Medieval:

The Shaft theme in Middle English!

I'd probably appreciate it more if I were someone who actually studied the stuff, but my English and German skills are good enough that I at least got most of it.

Coming Soon: The 'best' of the midterms or, awwwww, my students really love me, 'cos they made me laugh for my birthday!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Marking Break ...

Marking Break



So does anybody know the war during which Fernando takes place? It's annoying me. Spanish Civil War? Napoleonic War? Wait -- Mexican-American war? And why are Agnethe and Anni-Frid singing in bad Spanish accents?

Why do I care? Because I told the students that the question that looked like a question about Joan of Arc was absolutely not about Joan of Arc. So that they should really look at their papers and make sure they answered the question I asked. Most of the answers tell me about Joan of Arc, and not what the trial documents tell us about religious beliefs or gender roles. Oh, except for the ones that tell me that the corrupt Roman Catholic Church was trying to keep people down and the Roman Catholics couldn't have been all that holy if they didn't believe in Joan's visions.

So yeah, it's time to worry about song lyrics ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The job description I want to see

The job description I want to see



Small to decently large Liberal Arts College or even research university to appoint a Europeanist specializing in the Middle Ages at the Assistant Professor rank. Additional fields in Ancient and Early Modern Europe preferred. Candidate should have a demonstrated ability to teach the Western Civ survey and supervise TAs for the survey. This tenure-track position will require the coordination of the survey and a willingness to undertake a teaching : research load that emphasizes teaching (to be taken into account at consideration for tenure). The person hired will be in charge of ensuring that students who pass the survey will be able to write a tolerable essay, differentiate between primary and secondary sources, and have a rough idea of chronology, historiography, narrative, etc. Graduate supervision will primarily be in pedagogy, and the successful candidate can expect to teach no more than two upper division courses per year (in addition to a graduate teaching class).


Any takers? Really. Think of how even a really strong department could use this -- Someone who is interested and active in scholarship, but is also willing to do the grunt work of making sure that the grad students get some prep for teaching, grading, etc., AND works to make sure that the underprepared undergrads get the skills and the time they need, so that they don't end up getting frustrated and dropping out! G'wan then -- you know you want me!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Teaching Carnival II

Teaching Carnival II is up!



Hi all -- Teaching Carnival II is up at Scribblingwoman -- and it's pretty damned amazing. Scope! Breadth! Stuff you want to read on teaching, teachers, and students!! Go there!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

It's that time of the term ...

It's that time of the term ...



Since GZombie asked, and because this is something like work, in that it's working out pedagogical ideas, I thought I might write a general, semi-comprehensive answer. Otherwise, this will just be a meme ;-)

The questions:

  1. How long does it take you to read and comment on an essay?
  2. What kind of comments do you make on your students' essays?
  3. What are the goals of your comments on your students' essays?
  4. Can one write too many comments on a student paper? How do you identify for yourself the point of diminishing returns?
  5. How do you calibrate (if that's the right word) your expectations for first-year students, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and grad students?
  6. How do you decide what grade to assign to a paper?


Grading is probably one of the least-liked parts of our jobs. We all whinge about it. It takes time, it's draining, and it's very hard to know how to walk the line between what we see as constructive criticism and what many of our students see as personal attacks. The hardest kind of grading is the essay, I think. Most of us (all of us in the Humanities and most of the Social Sciences, at least) assign some kind of essay writing. We all seem to have an idea of what we're looking for, and are thoroughly depressed when our students fall short of our expectations. And we grade.

The questions GZombie poses are pretty basic, and very important. But I think one of the things the questions bypass is something I've been working on for the last couple of years, something that strikes revulsion and occasional terror -- and sometimes just plain orneriness -- in the hearts of academics everywhere: Outcomes and Assessment. Outcomes and Assessment are the Pain and Panic of Bad Administrators. They are often trotted out as part of the accreditation process, thrown at overworked faculty as "something we have to get on top of" by people who really know nothing but the jargon. Or so it often seems.


But when it comes down to it, GZombie's questions really are primarily assessment-focused. And for those of us who have been fortunate enough to work in places where assessment work is faculty-driven, they are natural. In fact, they are natural questions for any of us who love to teach -- the difference is that many of us have never properly learned to articulate the questions, let alone the answers, in a useful way. I think most good teachers know the answers, but I also know that asking the questions has helped me to be a better teacher. At least, I hope it has.

So, to answer those questions. Grading is always different -- it all depends on the kind of essay. But it takes me roughly 20-30 minutes to read a 5-page paper and comment on it. I can do it in less, but if I want to write substantive comments, it's longer. Except ...

You see, I started using a grading rubric -- a matrix, actually -- a couple of years ago. Every assignment has some things in common, mostly the mechanics. Is there a thesis statement? Is it clearly stated? Is there an appropriate use of supporting arguments and evidence? Beyond that, assignments vary, but it's still reasonably easy to come up with criteria. Criteria can be outcome oriented or not. Since I figured out what outcomes were, I've started thinking about them and how to articulate them much more. In some ways, it's really changed my teaching, and I worry sometimes that I've changed too much. Outcomes as I understand them tend to be organized around broader transferable skills than around the mere acquisition of information. So, for example, I want my students to be able to differentiate between primary and secondary sources, and to understand how to read each one critically. I want students to be able to use historical evidence to construct a well-argued narrative. What I don't articulate as well is what most of us historians grew up with -- which content is important. I worry about that. Where is the line between helping students learn information and a generally accepted historical picture and teaching them to do history? If anyone has an answer to that one, I'd like to hear it!

But back to the rubric. Now that I use them, I spend far less time on my comments. I don't feel that I have to explain every little thing, which sometimes becomes an exercise in justifying to the student the grade she earned. Now, I circle problems and check the appropriate box on the rubric. The comments I write have become much more formative, which is what I like. They aren't always positive -- in fact, I do have to remind myself to write something useful for good papers, too. But they can be more specific, because the overall picture is clearer for the student. She can check the rubric and then come argue if she wants.

I don't get as many student arguments over grades any more, though. Part of it may be the fact that students can really see what I'm looking for in advance (I put the matrices out on Blackboard so the students can check them out), but I think it's because the students have a graphic representation that, although it's not quantitative, makes the assessment process seem more transparent and fair. It may be because the process is more transparent and fair, too. I am pretty sure that I am more consistent when I use a matrix, because I remind myself of the standards I've set with almost every paper.

I'm not sure I've adequately explained this in terms of Outcomes and Assessment, though. Weariness sets in early these days. But in an ADM-sized nutshell, in order to create a matrix, I have to articulate for myself what I want the students to have learned in a particular exercise. Articulating the outcomes makes it possible for me to assess them. It also makes me much more careful in creating assignments. Most of my assignments are much clearer now than they were a few years ago. Before, I was likely to assign a book review by saying, "Write a book review." Now I look to what I want the student to learn and include those things on the assignment sheet. Instead of thinking, "The student should critically assess a scholarly monograph," for example, I must now ask myself what I mean by 'critically assess.' So I tell the students they need to identify the author's thesis, evaluate the evidence the author uses and whether those uses are legitimate, identify the author and his possible biases, identify the audience and judge whether the book is appropriate ...

By clarifying these things to myself, I find that my explanations of assignments (and sometime the explanations of their value) are much more cogent when I express them to my students. The grades I assign are largely based on where the marks fall on the matrix, so that pretty much narrows down the grade to a general area with about a 5-point spread. What I write in the comments helps to set the final grade, at the top of a range or the bottom. I don't have grad students, but the basic method works across the undergrad board. It's also particularly useful in showing students who have no experience with college or with writing (and there are many of them in my neck of the woods -- I had to explain today what a bibliography was) what we are looking for.

At least it does in theory. For me, it works well. The students? Well, it works well for the ones who actually read the assignments carefully and give more than a cursory look to the materials they've been given ... But that's another post!

And by the way ... I know I used the word 'articulate' far more than I should have. I'm sleepy and ill. Sue me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New at H-Net

New at H-Net


H-Net has started a new discussion list, H-Adjunct. It's the H-Net Network for Adjunct, part-time and temporary
faculty at universities, colleges and community colleges -- sponsored by the Joint OAH/AHA committee for adjunct and part-time faculty.

If you're interested in that kind of thing. I think most of my readers are in more permanent positions than I, but it looks like it might be useful ...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Medievalist's Kitchen

 Posted by Picasa


This is my new kitchen. The countertops and sink are supposed to be replaced. Keeping the upper cabinets, though. I'm going there now to make a Thai green curry ...

Carnivalesque IX!

Carnivalesque IX!



Carnivalesque IX is up at Alun's. All Ancient and Mediaeval, with an additional Hallowe'en theme! Go, read, and be enlightened!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Confused about Miers

Confused about Miers



So I'm listening to NPR this morning, and they're talking about Harriet Miers. No big surprise there. Except this part: Apparently Miers was Catholic 'before she converted to Christianity.' Er ... not to beg the question, but as a medievalist I have to ask ... WTF?

Repeat after me, class: Catholics are Christians. Arguably the original ones. Not that I have any personal stake in this.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Teaching Carnival II

Teaching Carnival II



Following Teaching Carnival I at GZombie's place, mj at Scribblingwoman will be hosting Teaching Carnival II on October 15. E-mail suggestions to scribbling*AT*gmail*DOT*com

Sunday, October 02, 2005

MIA

MIA



That's me. Too swamped to blog, read blogs, or comment. Moved this weekend. Sort of. Stuff is at new house. Cats, clothes, toiletries and I are not. DSL installed but doesn't work, so no office hours tomorrow so I can wait for the tech. Why am I still at Professor Kinsey's? My wonderful landlord was trying to make the bathroom really nice, but it turned into A Project. So with luck, there will be cement board on the walls around the tub tonight (but not around the piping, which needs replacing tomorrow or the next night) and I should be able to bathe, but not shower, for the next couple of days. And the shower should be done by Thursday ...

Have I prepped for this week? HAH!

So I'm probably going to be gone for a few days while I try to catch up. Calls and e-mails of moral support are greatly appreciated, though!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Something to be proud of

Something to be proud of


One of New Kid's meme questions was what I felt most proud of. I honestly couldn't think of anything. Yeah, I have a PhD -- so do most of my friends. My value system could be a bit off, I admit.

But here's something: I was in the shower thinking about something entirely different (like how to market myself as Early Modern ...) and realized that I took a course in Germany (seminar course with MA level students) in German, where I gave a paper in German. The course was on the reception of classical sources in the Early Modern era. I had to work with these German students, who were a little snotty, because everyone knows American degrees are not worth as much as German ones. And they really didn't like what I wanted to do with my part of the group presentation, but grudgingly let me do it. I was one of only three students to get top marks in the class. I am proud of that -- and admittedly a bit schadenfreudvoll.

Also, my first publication (the dread review) is finally out. Woohoo!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Rebecca's Survey

Survey on academics who blog, anonymously, pseudonymously, or otherwise



Rebecca at (a)musings of a grad student and Cliopatria is doing a survey in response to the latest Ivan Tribble nonsense. Sorry I didn't post earlier. Beginning of term.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I deserve a break!

I deserve a break!



My head is spinning from prep and beginning of term panic, so I'm taking a short break to do New Kid's Five Questions:

  1. What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
    Strengths: Hmmmm. Probably my patience and accessability. They come in really useful for a person who teaches mostly lower-division classes. I think I'm also very good at adapting to a class's needs and still making sure that the students are getting the course they are supposed to be getting. I've also become very good at teaching on the fly -- the result of having new preps thrown at me at the last minute, but I don't like that.

    Weaknesses: I sometimes lose sight of where I want the class to go and can forget to work from desired outcomes backward. Part of this is the focus I place on teaching how historians know what they know over what we know. Each term I resolve to work harder on finding that balance between narrative and source work. But it is a struggle, and I have to remind myself that students often need more structure -- funny for someone who really needs structure herself! I sometimes wing classes. The students never notice (in fact, they often think my off-the-cuff lectures are the ones I know best), but I know. Must. Tie. Things. Together. Better.

  2. How/when did you get your kitties?

    Boy Kitty, aka Mama's Boy, aka about a million nicknames,
    ;Posted by Picasa

    I got when I walked into a pet superstore and a rescue person was there with the ginormous Snowshoe person. We'd been looking for a friend for senior cat, and I've alsways loved snowshoes because they have all the best parts of Siamese cats but are much heartier. I nagged the woman daily about taking him till she gave up on some of the restrictions (like proof I'd paid a cat deposit to my apartment complex!).

    Girl Kitty,
    Posted by Picasa


    I got when Boy Kitty went walkabout. He was gone for 16 days, and X was convinced by the Animal Control people that the coyotes had eaten him. I'd spent a frightening amount of money on color flyers (in plastic covers) and posted them on every mailbox stand (I lived in an area where mailboxes are all together, one stand every 6 or so houses) and every telephone pole at a major intersection for about a 2 mile radius, and wasn't reasy to give up, so I said I was only ready to get a replacement if it were a Siamese. X said it had to be a girl. They had two girl Siamese-y cats at the pound and were running a 2-for-the-price-of-1 special. We brought other girl home, left Girl Kitty to be spayed, and about an hour after we got home, we got a call that Boy Kitty was in a yard about 7 blocks away.


    After several hours of trying to trap super-freaked-out Boy, I went to work (waitressing -- I hadn't yet returned to teaching) and through a cunning plan (not the Baldric kind that X and Finder Guy came up with, which involved lures and cages), Finder Guy's wife suggested leaving their porch door open with some food inside. An hour later, Boy Kitty was home and we had 4 cats.

  3. What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
    Sometimes, it's just having survived without totally giving up. I think my perspective must be a bit warped, because although I came from a family where almost no-one goes to college, and people frequently drop out of school, it's never occurred to me to be all that proud of having a BA, let alone the PhD. I look at myself and just can't accept that I'm not super-average in my accomplishments, perhaps because I know so many people who have done so much more. And when I do things that I feel I can be proud of, they usually involve standing up for myself and making a defined break in my life that is so scary it's impossible to feel proud. BUT, I do feel really proud when past students tell me they owe part of their success at new institutions to me. And I feel proud and honored to be treated as an equal by friends and colleagues I admire. And OH! I feel proud at having made TEN short lists last year! (Are y'all laughing?)

  4. How would you describe your relationship with your family?
    Depends on the family member. My sisters and I are close, especially my middle sister, but it's in a pretty dysfunctional, shared-jokes-about-our-crazy-mom kind of way. My parents and I love each other, but don't communicate much. There's a lot of baggage in the way, I think, plus my mom tends to unplug her phone for weeks, so she's unavailable even when she's talking to me. My dad and his wife are generally too busy to talk -- especially to a liberal academic who has no clue about the real world. I'm very tight with my uncles and my cousins, although we don't talk as much as I'd like. Oddly, I'm the one who tends to do the calling/writing, and if I go to my hometown to visit, I'm in great demand, which is really nice. For a very communicative, touchy-feely family, we're not good at distance. If I lived near any of my family, we'd probably hang out a lot.

  5. What's your favorite outfit - the one you feel comfortable and attractive in all at once?
    At the moment, it's this great BCBG/Max Azria surplice front tank top (black) and any slimming skirt and a great pair of black high-heeled sandals. The only thing that could be better would be to find a skirt that I can wear with my new KMDAFM t-strap heels, which aren't that comfortable, but make me feel attractive in a Cyd Charisse (in my dreams) way. The top is some kind of jersey that is clingy, but doesn't look cheap. And I love heels, but seldom wear them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

To-do list redux

To-do list redux


  • Syllabus for Ancient/Medieval Civ (by 16 Sept)
  • Syllabus for Early Modern Europe (by 16 Sept)
  • Syllabus for World War II, a class I have never taught and for which the text only arrived last week (by 16 Sept)
  • Kazoo paper abstract (which needs to be Really abstract at this point) (by 14 Sept)
  • more reading and writing for the kazoo paper which really needs to be written as an article and then hacked to pieces for the paper
  • Did I mention that I need to also put the syllabi on Blackboard? What do you want to bet I will not be posting assignments by week, but just link to the document?
  • find a place to live (end of Sept, but I can stay where I am longer if I fancy commuting 3 hours a day) I have a house! I am renting a colleague's "cottage" (built 1917, 3 very small bedrooms, smallest bathroom ever) for a really amazing price -- the most I can afford, but about $200 less than they wanted. It needs work -- paint, etc., but it's got charm and most importantly, is not an apartment!!
  • feed my katzes 2x a day
  • feed the Economist's cat at alternate location 2x a day Changing of the cat sitters! I only have to come by and go through the mail every cople of days to pay bills if I need to. Some people should have online bill pay ...
  • water the Geographer's plants at third location every other day Geographer is due back today!! No more plant watering!
  • prepare actual lectures in hopes that that will remind me that I know how to write (19 Sept)
  • Prepare document discussions (19 Sept)
  • Review new edition of textbooks, because They Have Been Changed
  • Get started on this year's job applications (First one due 1 Oct)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Just ... aargh.

Just ... aargh


Imposter syndrome hits again.

When does this stop? I have a PhD, you know. From a pretty reputable university. I worked hard to get it and I wrote a decent dissertation. My committee included my advisor (six books, talking head on a couple of history series) and a Fellow of the MAA, and a classicist who thinks I have good language skills. They signed the damned thing. I have been known to write and present, although generally the presentations have been pedagogical, rather than on my research. I don't even have to have this bloody paper done this week -- just the abstract, which I have partially written. There is much evidence to lead me to believe that I know what I'm doing, especially if I pretend I'm talking about someone else with the same qualifications. And then I read this. Note that one of the first questions is, "Do you have a paper?"

My answer is, yes, I think so. There is a lot of stuff out there that talks, mostly generally, about what I am doing, or rather, trying to do. Some people, notably Matthew Innes, Regine Le Jan, Franz Staab, et al., have gone into a lot of detail about local nobility in what some call central and others call eastern Francia. But there really isn't much *specifically* on the processes involved in the movement of Frankish nobles into the east and how we can use the sources to illustrate their physical relocation and intermarriage into the already-present local elites. My thesis did that. I can pull a paper out of the thesis and turn it into an article. But what if I'm wrong and I don't have a paper? What if I've missed something crucial and it's been done in the years I wasn't looking? What if I embarrass myself in front of my friends and they take away my medievalist license? What if I embarrass my friends?

Despite such misgivings, Phlebas, you'll have the abstract on time. But if anyone has any advice on this (the meltdown or sources) ...

And now you know what makes this a pseudonymous blog rather than an anonymous one -- it's a pretty small world. Still, I'd rather stay as pseudonymous as possible, if y'all don't mind.

On a somewhat ironic note, my first real publication (a review, but peer-reviewed) will be out in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Carnivalesque at Rebecca's

Carnivalesque at Rebecca's



Well really, Carnivalesque Button is at Rebecca's. And I know it's all about Early Modern this time, but she put me in twice, so I can't complain! Go there. Read good things!

The next one will be ancient/medieval, hosted by Alun on about 9 October. There will be a special theme. Email inquiries/nominations to carnivalesque AT archaeoastronomy DOT co DOT uk.

This needs to be my last entry for a while. I have far too much work to do, like:
  • Syllabus for Ancient/Medieval Civ (by 16 Sept)
  • Syllabus for Early Modern Europe (by 16 Sept)
  • Syllabus for World War II, a class I have never taught and for which the text only arrived last week (by 16 Sept)
  • Kazoo paper abstract (which needs to be Really abstract at this point) (by 14 Sept)
  • more reading and writing for the kazoo paper which really needs to be written as an article and then hacked to pieces for the paper
    Update:Woohoo!! Started writing last night. It's probably all crap, but it's writing. OK, it's also only about 400 words. But after so long, anything is good. Should be able to write more tonight, but also just found an article in Revue Historique I need to look at. In French. My French bites. Yet I will not let Phlebas down!
  • Did I mention that I need to also put the syllabi on Blackboard? What do you want to bet I will not be posting assignments by week, but just link to the document?
  • find a place to live (end of Sept, but I can stay where I am longer if I fancy commuting 3 hours a day)
  • feed my katzes 2x a day
  • feed the Economist's cat at alternate location 2x a day
  • water the Geographer's plants at third location every other day
  • prepare actual lectures in hopes that that will remind me that I know how to write (19 Sept)
  • Prepare document discussions (19 Sept)
  • Review new edition of textbooks, because They Have Been Changed
  • Get started on this year's job applications (First one due 1 Oct)


Just shoot me now.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Periodization QAD

Periodization -- the Quick and Dirty Version


What exactly is Early Modern? Early Modern is the chronological period between the Middle Ages (Late) and the actual Modern. Chronologically, Early Modern starts somewhere in the really late 14th c. in Italy, but more like the early 16th c. everywhere else. It ends somewhere in the late 17th c or maybe even the early 18th c. This may seem a bit confusing. That's because Early Modern is defined as much by what it isn't as by what it includes. It isn't part of the Middle Ages or the Modern World (which starts somewhere around the Age of Revolution, except for when it starts around the Enlightenment). It includes such non-chronological periods, or better, movements, as 'the' Renaissance, the Reformation, the Catholic- or Counter-reformation, the Voyages of Exploration/Discovery and Empire, and the Price Revolution. It is the time of the Tudors and Stuarts, the Valois and Bourbons, and the Habsburgs. It is the time of Leonardo and Shakespeare, of Luther and Loyola, of di Lasso and Bach. Some people might say that the Early Modern is a period where people tried to escape their dark Medieval Past by looking toward a bright future, suddenly aware of the marvels of human potential. Those people would be idiots.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Periodization Long and Punchy

Periodization -- the Long and Punch-drunk Version


It's a new quarter, and we're all going to be answering a lot of the same old questions. Since I started teaching, I've learned that we can't really assume much about our students or what they know coming in the door. There are some things that seem hugely, forehead-slappingly obvious, that just aren't. One of them is chronology. Some things happen before others. Time works that way, and it's really helpful. Another is geography. Some things happen in different places. Sometimes at the same time, and sometimes at different times. And then there is the problem of teaching that there are causes and effects, but that we cannot assume that correlation = similar causality. There are sources to be read, and questions we want our students to ask of the sources. Those questions seem obvious to us, but we did actually learn them once upon a time, although it's a strong bet that this really was by a kind of osmosis, since our teachers often assumed we knew how to question a source and most of us historians seem bent on asking those questions by nature. All of these subjects deserve their own essays. Instead, though, I'm going to talk about something else: Periodization. What follows is a bit glib and should be taken with a few well-placed grains of salt -- Remember, I stopped being an Early Modernist in 1985 and this week has made me a bit punchy!

It shouldn't be all that difficult, but I sometimes find Periodization one of the hardest things to articulate. As far as I can tell, this is for two reasons: the word 'period' sounds chronological -- that's the easier part, and; historians don't seem to agree on what makes a period a period-- a bit tougher. Add to that the fact that we tend to teach in a way that seems chronological, but often isn't, and sometimes students get confused. It's not surprising. I've discussed before my own confusion as to where Late Antiquity ends and Early Medieval begins -- Merovingianists are now Late Antiquarians, but we Carolingianists are still apparently Early MA -- despite the fact that it's damned hard to do Carolingian without taking into account the bloody Merovingians! But that's a question for a different version of Carnivalesque Button
Since Rebecca's hosting an Early Modern Carnival, I'm going to ask, "what the hell is Early Modern when it's at home?"

The answer is simply (perhaps too simply?) Early Modern is the slightly blurry chronological period that allows us to separate the Renaissance, Reformation, Reconquista, various dynastic struggles and amorphous creatures like the Voyages of Exploration/Discovery and the Price Revolution into a block of time that fits between the Medieval and the Modern. Early Modern is neither fish nor fowl. It isn't really modern until very late -- at least the 17th c. for a lot of things. But it's not very medieval, either -- at least not after about the middle of the 15th c. So how do we teach it? How about: Early Modern -- a period characterized by a whole bunch of different movements that happen all over Europe, sometimes overlapping each other and in no one order? Face it: the Early Modern period is great for showing that History has many different acceptable narratives!

The first question is, I suppose, "When did the Middle Ages end?" It's a classic question and one that the students don't like so much. Because, well, the answer is usually, "It depends." It used to be easier. The Middle Ages stopped when the Renaissance started. So ... the Renaissance is Early Modern, right? Any damned medievalist will stop you right there, bub. Because, you see, we must question the whole idea of "the" Renaissance, at least a little bit. It's not that the Renaissance didn't happen, but we'd like our students to realize that there was a Northumbrian Renaissance. And a Carolingian Renaissance. And, possibly, an Ottonian Renaissance. And a Renaissance of the 12th c. And only then, after those other Renaissances, crusades that had gone on since at least 1095 (although an Iberianist might certainly argue that point and put it earlier), amazing achievements in architecture, the rise of the first European universities -- things that happened well before Sr. Francesco Petrarch started talking about how his plague-infested world was so much more advanced than those bad ol' "Dark Ages" -- was there this amazing thing that started in Italy. Suddenly, the world and man's intellectual life were reborn in a new way that was still essentially Christian, but focused more on Man and his place in human society, so we generally call it Humanism. This was the result of some interesting rediscoveries of Greek and some Latin texts, made possible in part through the Crusades -- medieval -- and increased trade -- Renaissance? Medieval? Coupled with the fact that Italy didn't look so much like the rest of Europe in terms of political organization, since much of Italy was made up of city-states that were often run by rich people with no royal blood in their veins, Humanism in Italy was often more narowly focused on state-building and the running of states. So the Humanism of "The" Renaissance in Italy is often referred to as Civic Humanism. Please do not confuse this with that thing you may have heard of called Secular Humanism. Or just plain Humanism. God is still in his Heaven, and Darwin does not yet exist.

Now, while "The" Renaissance was going on in Italy, and everything in art, music, and other intellectual pursuits was changing dramatically, the rest of Europe was still in the Middle Ages, right? The plague, which is generally considered a Late Medieval Thing, raged on. It didn't actually bypass Italy, mind you. But it happened in the Middle Ages there, too. Because "the" Renaissance was too shiny and new for nasty things that looked just a wee bit apocalyptic. In fact, lots of things needed to be shiny and new, like the Pope and papal (PAY-pul, an adjective meaning 'having to do with popes') palaces. There had been some problems with popes in the Middle Ages. They had become so ... secular. They acted like they were equal to kings. They even told kings what to do. The fact that bishops in general had a very long tradition of being the most stable secular authorities in a given area we must ignore for the time being -- it goes back to Late Antiquity. We can also ignore the fact that lot of bishops (don't forget, the pope is the Bishop of Rome) were for a very long time (again, going back to Late Antiquity) members of the most powerful families around. They were brothers and cousins and uncles of kings ... at least, they were till some folks in one of those little medieval renaissances started saying that maybe education was also a big factor, and some not-so-well-born, but smart and reasonably pious types started horning in on the good episcopal (that's 'having to do with bishops,' not in the sense of the Anglican or Episcopal Church -- you may need to explain this, too) offices. But by the last quarter of the 14th c. (that's the Middle Ages in Europe, excluding areas of Italy where people are being smart and artistic, and avoiding the plague like the plague), the Pope had been living in Avignon, which is in France.

Now, you might ask, "what does this have to do with Periodization? I thought you were going to explain Periodization, ADM!" I'm getting there. You see, people weren't too happy about the pope situation. Oddly enough, many people thought that a French pope living in France was probably not as effective as if the pope were actually a resident Bishop of Rome. Not to mention the fact that he just might have had French interests at heart. France was at the time at war with England and occasionally other states. Mostly England. For a Hundred Years' War. It's a Medieval thing. But "The" Renaissance was happening in Italy. And that's not Medieval. Add to that the fact that there were people who are genuinely concerned that popes should be good moral leaders, and also the fact that some of this Renaissance book learning had made its way slowly northwards, and you get the basis for our next important period that isn't Medieval. It's the Northern Renaissance.

The Northern Renaissance is in many ways related to "the" Renaissance that happened in Italy beginning about a hundred years earlier. Some historians lump them together, some don't. What they have in common is very important, though, in that Humanism is arguably the most important characteristic in terms of thought. But Humanism in the Low Countries and parts of the Holy Roman Empire that are mostly now in Germany (with luck, there will be maps at this point. And you can tell the Voltaire joke, if you must) wasn't based so much on man and the state. Northern Humanists used that rediscovery of learning, combined with some very sincere worries about the way the Church was heading, to try to get back to what it really meant to be a Christian. Because of this, the Humanists of the Northern Renaissance are often called Christian Humanists. They are very, very concerned with a reform of Christian thought and the Church. About the Church -- I know we're now in the Renaissance in Italy and a very different Renaissance in the Low Countries, but, just as in the Middle Ages, if you live in Western Europe (but not Spain), you are a Christian of the Roman Catholic variety. You just call yourself a Christian. Unless, of course, you are Jewish, in which case, it's best not to draw too much attention to yourself. It's not till we get to the next period -- the Reformation -- that we can start talking about varieties of Christianity in Western Europe.

So to recap -- There's the Middle Ages, which can claim several renaissances. Then one day, after the Middle Ages in things intellectual and artistic, 'the' Renaissance happens in Italy. It spreads over about a hundred years and changes form dramatically and hits the Low Countries and Germany, with occasional side trips to England. We haven't talked about the Renaissance in England and France. That's because England is having a Reformation when everybody else is still having a Renaissance, and then England has a Renaissance AND a Reformation when other places are having a Counter- or Catholic Reformation. But we talk about these things one after another, so that students will think of them as periods. This is, if you hadn't noticed, akin to teaching Greece and then Rome, so that our students often forget that Alexander came to power well after the foundation of Rome and even a good few years after those nasty Gauls gave the Romans a walloping. Because, you know, Greece comes before Rome.

But I digress. So, people were unhappy with the Church. Christian Humanists called for Reform. Some were willing to break from the Church run by the Pope and take Christianity back to its roots. Others, like Henry VIII of England (or more likely his Humanist advisor, Sir Thomas More) defended the Church -- at least until Renaissance politics got in the way. Or were they just politics? I hope by now that the students are starting to understand that 'the' Renaissance is best seen as something other than a chronological period. But to the politics. And now, we have to go back to the late Middle Ages. While Italy was developing strong (and not so strong) city-states, and France and England were fighting each other for years, other people were also slowly amassing what power and territory they could. The Dukes of Burgundy were doing so, for example. And in Spain, the Muslims who had been pretty much in charge since the 8th c. were losing hold, and various Spanish Christian petty rulers were starting to take back land from the Muslims (and occasionally, each other). And in the late 15th c., while England was in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, a civil war due in part to the Hundred Years' War (Here is where you might want to demonstrate which rose is which by pointing to the crests of Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United -- also good for English geography -- end with a picture of the Tudor rose), Spain was in the middle of the Reconquista. Ferdinand and Isabella had joined their kingdoms together, while maintaining their own independent rules and, under the banner of Santiago Matamoros (St James the Muslim-killer, whose name was recently invoked during the discussion of the European Constitution), with the help of the Spanish Inquisition set about kicking out all Muslims and Jews who were not actually killed. Or converted. Or converted then executed, just to make sure. This is a good place to mention the Ladino-speaking Jewish population of Turkey, which was at the time of the Reconquista and the ensuing diaspora, ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Given that Spain never underwent the crisis of conscience and rejection of Church corruption that much of the rest of Europe experienced, there is no Reformation in Spain. In fact, we might even argue that Spain is where this whole Renaissance-Reformation thing breaks down. But Spain also helps to explain the Reformation everywhere else, and so we must discuss Spain. And Portugal, actually. Because Early Modern is Portugal at its peak. Portugal (and you may in fact have to point it out on a map, unless you have a bunch of Luis Figo fans in class) is, in fact, a World Power. No, really. Stop laughing, you in the back.

You see, while 'the' Renaissance was this (arguably) huge break from the past in terms of art and intellectual endeavors, it (and the Reformation) was also going on at a time of Discovery. Or exploration by Europeans. Because the places they discovered were all pretty much inhabited. Often they were inhabited by people with fairly extensive empires, complex social systems and governments, and access to some fairly major trade networks. The trade networks aren't all that new, either, although the people controlling them have changed over the years. But to Spain and Portugal ... Portugal, then Spain, start sending out boats to see what they can see, partially to bypass existing trade routes and get more stuff. The Portuguese started to try to head east via Africa, which they found to be far bigger than they thought. They knew it was there and all. It's not really that surprising, as Africa is ginormous and, well, um ... Gibralter is in pretty close proximity to Spain, and pretty much everybody in Europe has known it was there since people in Europe started to write about such things. But mostly, people did not know that Africa was ginormous and full of stuff people wanted. Some of the stuff was slaves, but early on, slaves aren't that important. Nowhere to use them. By hugging the coast of Africa, the Portuguese thought they could end up in the Indies. They were right. You should not have to explain anything about the Spanish search for the Indies. Columbus is something people know about. It may be the only thing your students know walking in the door. What they don't know is that the Pope divided all of these new-found places between Portugal and Spain. What they also don't know is that the question of whether the already-resident peoples of the Americas had souls was debated at a church council. It's also a good idea to discuss what exactly was discovered -- those complex societies and all? Yeah. Oh -- and precious metals, which were brought back in impressive amounts. And like that, we've moved from Discovery/Exploration to ... the Price Revolution -- a period of massive inflation and the rise of mercantile economies that, as it happens, had very little to do with the influx of gold and silver from the new world! Go figure.

To re-cap again: while 'the' Renaissance was happening, Reformation had also broken out. Spain had been reconquered and everybody left was serenely Catholic. There are also wars here and there on the continent. The civil war in England was over, but the king, who was a member of a fairly new dynasty, didn't want another one. He therefore thought it a good idea to defend the pope, who had granted a dispensation for him to marry his older brother's widow, who happened to be a Spanish princess. Yes, she was a princess from that same Spain where the Reformation didn't need to happen because of the Reconquista, that same Spain that was carving out a ton of territory in the not-really-very-new world and bringing home lots of silver and gold, which tended to make everybody pretty jealous, although even then people made rude jokes about the Spanish, who were not so much ruled by Spaniards any more, ever since the Habsburgs, who were originally German by way of the Dukes of Burgundy, married into the Spanish royal house (you must now tell them about Juana la Loca; jokes about pop-eyes and huge jaws optional, as Velasquez pretty much says it all; you can try to tell them there are still Habsburgs, but the whole 'Otto von Habsburg forcibly ejects that dangerous and hateful lunatic Ian Paisley from the European Parliament' episode? Forget it. Lead balloon.). BUT THEN ...those same Habsburgs bought ... er ...bribed ...er ...were elected Holy Roman Emperors. As such, they were very interested in Reformation -- except when it was to their advantage not to be.

What does this have to do with England? Everything. It especially has to do with the English Reformation, which is a bit later than the ones in Germany and Switzerland, because if you remember, the King of England is a defender of the Church. And he's married to a Spanish princess. And not long before England's civil war, England had spent about a hundred years fighting with France. They were still not very good friends. But here is where a map becomes your best friend. Look at who has what on the map. Students can see why England would prize a Spanish alliance. Almost as much as they would a healthy male heir who would continue the dynasty and keep England from being plunged into another bloody war. It's a matter of some concern, because while the queen is a Spanish princess and all, she isn't a great breeder. (please do not show the most recent version of Henry VIII and his wives with Ray Winstone as Henry. Just don't go there. Not even for Sean Bean). The English King, Henry VIII, who is a composer of Renaissance music, by the way, broke off the English Church from Rome in order to divorce his Spanish wife and marry a nice English girl who would give him babies. Mark my words, it'll all end in tears. Some people would say that this was the start of the English Reformation. It is true, there was Reform under Henry. Kind of. The Church stopped being the biggest single landowner in England after the monasteries are dissolved, frequently in blood. And there were a few small doctrinal changes. But it would take at least four changes of ruler and as many purges before England really settled into its Anglicanism. More or less. Not counting Puritans and Dissenters and Crypto-Catholics. And the Civil War, which was very different from the Wars of the Roses, because it was about Principles, like whether rulers should be Absolute and have the right to dissolve Parliament on a whim, not dynastic change. Mostly. I say mostly because it didn't entirely work. That happens (arguably) with the Glorious Revolution in 1688, a time really close to the end of Early Modern. So, basically, the Early Modern period in England is characterised by constant struggles over religion and government which leave England with a constitution that looks surprisingly ... Modern. The rest of Europe gets there about a hundred years later.

Meanwhile, the Reformation has left people on the wrong side of Christianity all over Europe. Just because the Reformation resulted in different interpretations of Christianity did not mean people had a choice. Well, they did. It's just that the choice was often, "believe in the kind of Christianity we believe in, or die (or move, if you are lucky)." Not surprisingly, some people wanted to leave. Also, remember that Spain and Portugal had started bringing back all kinds of good stuff from their new possessions? Well, other European countries wanted stuff, too. It was easy for the Reformed countries that had navies, e.g., England and the Netherlands. If you weren't Catholic, that papal decree that divided the rest of the world between Spain and Portugal could be ignored. If you were French, you were just not going to be left out. Also, there were pesky Protestants (the people who protested the problems in the church and wanted reform) whom you could send away to new places where they would be your subjects but not cause so many problems. So while people are reforming Christianity in Europe, the voyages of exploration had become voyages of taking over new places. In some cases, like the Americas, this worked. In others, it didn't work so well. Japan and China, for example, didn't really think foreign occupation was a good idea. So the Spanish and Portuguese did their next best -- they converted as many people as they could. It had worked reasonably well in the Americas. It didn't work as well in China or Japan. But then, the tactics and audience were different. In the Americas, there were great empires with complex bureaucracies. But those empires were relatively new and the military technology was not nearly of the kind one might need to combat the Europeans. Also, European diseases wreaked havoc on non-resistant populations. In Asia, well, people were ... civilized. That is, the Europeans saw the residents of the Americas and Africa (although not much is going on in Africa at this time, except for a few outposts) as savages. Since savages don't know better, it's theoretically acceptable to enslave them and force them to become Christians. The Japanese and Chinese? Big armies and stuff people wanted. And they wrote. And they'd been around a long time. And they really didn't much care for what the Europeans had to offer, except in the case of certain daimyo who took advantage of the fact that conversion meant access to guns. This is where, if your students learned all about the 'F-word', you can boggle their minds by showing that it kinda does exist in Tokugawa Japan.

But back to converting people. Most of this conversion is being done by one religious order, the Jesuits (aka the Society of Jesus), although there are occasionally Dominicans involved. Why are people being converted? To save their souls. This happened everywhere that the Spanish and Portuguese went. But as the Reformation took hold in much of Northern Europe, Catholic efforts to make up for lost souls redoubled. Not only were there attempts to reform Catholicism within Europe, but it made sense to try to make sure that non-Christians would become the right kind of Christians. Whether one sees these efforts as a reaction to the Reformation or a genuine attempt at reform from within the Church determines the name -- Counterreformation or Catholic Reformation. There's no good reason it can't be both, depending on the circumstances.

So where does this all end? That's a tough question. Because while England was getting rid of its Absolute Monarchs and ending the Catholic threat forever, the rest of Europe saw its rulers becoming more absolute, although some were benign in their despotism. In fact, in much of central and eastern Europe, serfdom, a labour system generally considered to be "Medieval," was making a comeback. The serfs aren't freed in Russia till 1861, which really begs the question of Modernity. Is the Scientific Revolution modern? or Early Modern? The jury's out on that one. But I think we can safely say that the Early modern period ended on the morning of the first day of the Enlightenment.

Alternatively, Early Modern is a state of mind.

An afterthought: Why is it that I heard someone refer to the situation in New Orleans as medieval. I though sure that such disasters were more common in the literature of the Ancient Near East ...