Thursday, March 31, 2005

More Interviews

More Interviews

So I'm back and losing it. Thanks, everybody for all the good vibes. Interview one went reasonably well, I think, despite my missing the flight and just about having a nervous breakdown traveling on standby. Really liked the people and the department. Campus really cool. Town not bad -- rust belty, but ok. Rumour has it that property taxes are really high, but changes in ADM's personal circumstances make it highly unlikely that she will be doing more than renting for some time. I have one interview next week -- must send unselected primary source this week. And -- woohoo! an interview for the only local TT job the week after. I can happily say that each position has its own ups and downs, and I'd take any of them at this point, but also need to send in a couple more apps this week.

New classes are mad. No more new preps for a while, please. And yes, I'm thinking about that panel for Kazoo -- have a possible third person who might be able to pull together a paper on Alcuin and monastic things. I need to look over my diss and see what I can do in that vein -- a great deal of it is on monastic donors, but I need to check out a book that came out at about the same time as my diss (I think I started first ... just took a long time to finish) that deals with some of the same sources. So maybe I can do it as a "revisited" kind of thing?

But must concentrate on new class and jobs first. No, I'm not totally freaking out.

D'oh -- how about the excerpts from Pliny and Trajan's correspondence at the Fordham site? It's got administrative stuff and Christians. And doesn't need much in the way of context ...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Evals are in ... mostly

Evals are in ... mostly

Survey from hell -- the class where I had an average attendance of 3 at any given time: 4.03 on the usual 5 point scale. My faves -- what I should improve upon ...
  1. She doesn't give us the answers and makes us work them out for ourselves (I am soooo proud of that)
  2. Way too much work for a 5 credit class. Online BAD
  3. Since English 101 and 102 don't cover Chicago Style, but it's such a major part of doing well in the class, at least a day should be spent on it. Not bloody likely. Feh. 'Cause you know what? Not actually a major part of the class. They have one 15% paper where they are expected to cite, and I give them multiple resources, inform them that the reference librarians have help sheets and will show them how to do it, AND I got the Writing Center to offer three workshops per quarter on it.

Still -- not a bad eval. The other class, where three of the students had taken my classes before? That would be three of five in a survey class that really was just a seminar ... 4.97. Skewed and not scientific, but I'll take my woohoo!s anywhere. Don't know about the 19th c. class yet, and am starting to freeze on the job talk. I'm going to work on it in the morning and try to run it past a couple of colleagues in the afternoon. That is, if ADH will stop coming in to talk about this. It's not that I don't care, mind you. But it's not like it's happening to my team, and really? Although I love football, I don't love it as much as I love the idea of getting a damned job.

Tiruncula -- details as requested in comments below!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Aah, conferences and interviews

Aah, conferences and interviews

I love going to conferences. Really. At first, they made me feel like a total idiot. But now (and please, everybody remember that I took time out of academe and am still trying to catch the hell up), I just know that, like the estimable New Kid, I really just want to be one of the cool kids. So, during the conference (in the sense of 'at the hotel late at night') I committed to working up a paper for a panel at Kazoo next year. This conference was a bit different than others I've been to, by the way. My thesis advisor was there. It was great in some ways, because he treats me like a junior colleague, and we could kibbitz about the talks and pass notes telling each other to behave. On the other hand, I just felt I couldn't ask as many questions. I was just too scared to ask something dumb and embarrass him. Not that it would, because he'd just correct me later. Still, it was fun and I got to know another junior colleague better and spent some time talking with a senior colleague whose work I really like. I forget sometimes that one of the things I love about this job is that there are really great people, and we can build relationships that last ages (there were people there whom I've known for 20 years, and people I'd just met and hope to know for that long). I feel most myself when I'm doing things academic, whether teaching, or researching, writing (even blogging about the academic life), sitting in non-useless committee meetings, and hanging out with colleagues. This weekend made me realize much more clearly that I've had a long break, trying to balance a life where I wanted to do my best at what I love with a life where what I love is just what I do for a very precarious living. It's time to get back to business. Wish me luck.

I have two campus interviews coming up. I'm freaking about the job talks. The first one is straightforward and requires some prep, but not too much, because I just taught some of what they want. The other requires prepping an actual class and teaching a document. Ugh. It sounds great, but I'm having problems choosing a doc, because the ones I love are all pretty obscure and I know I need to choose something more straightforward. Thank goodness I have a couple of weeks for that ...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

History Carnival #4

History Carnival #4

Welcome to this edition of the History Carnival. The main attraction is a selection of entries on the relevance of History or, more importantly, whether we should try to make it relevant. But because this is a carnival in more than one sense, we'll meander through the sideshows to explore the nature of expertise versus credentials and finally, take a quick gander at history that is relevant without our making it so.

Over the past couple of weeks, the question of the meaning of History, or of making History meaningful, has come up a few times, both on history blogs and in my more immediate experience. Just as I feel we should support the Arts because of their intrinsic value, and not because they draw economic health to the community, I believe that History and understanding it are also intrinsically valuable. Moreover, I think that History as a discipline aids in learning critical thinking, fostering greater awareness of other cultures, and understanding our own society. However, I also know that those of us who teach history are often challenged to justify it in terms of FTEs (by administrators) and by relevance (in terms of our students). "What will learning this stuff do for me?" they ask. My answer? Perhaps you're asking the wrong question. And then, sometimes, students try to see much deeper meaning in their history courses, from the almost ridiculous to the sublime, whereNew Kid finds that her Women's History course is almost too relevant:
It's just interesting to me that in some ways, the responses to my women's history assighments have become more a space for a kind of consciousness-raising than analysis of the texts. On the one hand, I kind of hate consciousness-raising; I want to teach women's history as a serious scholarly subject, something that's about using your reason and logic and intellect, rather than about trying to elicit a particular emotional reaction. I don't WANT students to analyze history through their emotions. On the other hand, though, we're talking about 18-21 year-old women who are (mostly, but not all) middle to upper-middle class, mostly from this general region, and while some are quite traveled and sophisticated, they're pretty darn young. Most of them don't know anything about what many women's lives are like TODAY, let alone what they were like in the past.

Want more? Ancarett brings more light on the subject with Little Whigs:
To some extent, I blame the entire “relevancy” culture. When we teach a course that’s billed as being relevant to another field (as when you cross-list with a popular program such as Women’s Studies, but more noticeably here at my institution, Education), we see a flood of students who almost automatically view the past as nothing more than prelude to the present.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for the popularization of History. Over at Threading the Needle, our host treats us to a view of Downward Progression, wherein we see the effects of good documentary programming on a non-specialist audience. It's a good read, although I think in some ways it also helps to illustrate the weaknesses of the medium -- a sometimes simplistic or not exactly correct understanding seems more likely because the big picture needs to be presented in a small, tidy package:
The first 20 African slaves arrived in the Jamestown colony during 1619. At the time, Jamestown was struggling to become an economically viable outpost in the New World. After several failed attempts at various colonial industries, a strain of tobacco began to show a potential for profitability. However, tobacco cultivation required a massive and inexpensive labor force, something in short supply. To remedy this dilemma, the colonists had two choices: indentured servitude and slavery.

Despite the distinction, there was initially little different between the two labor categories. Indentured servants were bound to service for a specific time period in exchange for passage across the Atlantic. Upon completion of their contract, they were released. Likewise, though slaves did not enter into the arrangement willingly, their term of service was not lifelong.

Nevetheless, it's clear from the essay that a popularization of History (and I shrink a bit as I write the phrase, because dammit, we shouldn't have to popularize something that is pretty interesting all by itself) can have great results. For proof that History can hold its own in the world of Interesting Stuff, we need only look to the illustrious Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes, where she treats us to a series of episodes in ritual transvestism! I'm not going to excerpt it here, because it's pure fun and no one excerpt can give enough of the flavour.
Finally, in a pretty serendipitous submission, Natalie Bennett at Philobiblion has a short post on Postcard History that reminds us that certain kinds of evidence make the recent past both historical and relevant.

But wait! That's not all this Carnival has in store! Mark Grimsley, over at The Ohio Twenty-first write in The North Star about republicanism in American History -- or the teaching thereof -- and how that leads into helping students question their own ideas of citizenship. I found the article really interesting, both for the subject and for Grimsley's attempts to translate some of those reflections into action. Subject-wise, I suppose it's because I teach Ancient History, and so spend a lot of time on Athenian democracy and Roman republicanism. In terms of action, well ... I think you can figure that out yourselves.

Moving along to our final features, the topic is a bit tricker: what, exactly qualifies a person to do the job? An education with credentials, or ability? And what about the fuzzy areas where the person with credentials is nonetheless suspect in the eyes of his colleagues, and the person without them proves through his actions that he might should've had them all along? CW at the Dartmouth Observer offers his take on the Ward Churchill case, along with thoughts on Michelle Malkin and, as his main topic, Thomas Woods, author of A Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. CW shows little mercy to Woods (referring to a review by Max Boot):
Check out his book if you want more "evidence" that the Klan were just a bunch of "ham-handed" freedom fighters. Boot's not an academic historian, and his own Savage Wars of Peace suffers from selective examples and inadequate primary research, but he strikes me as being on the mark here.

I can sympathise with CW's sentiments, but as someone who's adjuncted at both 4-year colleges and taught full-time at a community college without drawing too much opprobrium from my colleagues (most of whom understand the vagaries of the job market), I was a bit disappointed at this:
And by solid credentials, I don't just mean a PhD from Harvard; I mean a tenured position at a reputable university (not Suffolk County Community College, where Woods teaches), with a series of peer-reviewed books and articles to one's name.

Despite that comment, which I attribute to inexperience, the article as a whole is quite good and worth your time. On the other end of the spectrum, Ralph Luker, Cliopatriarch par excellence, draws from his college days to remind us that, in some cases, credentials don't make the teacher, but lying about them still makes things, well, complicated, in
Why I Agree with Everything that You Say and with Nothing that You Say ... Read it and reflect, I say.

Last but not least, I seem to recall that in some places, it's the month where we honor women, extraordinary and otherwise (if there is such a thing). Lest we forget, and because again, it's just a really neat story, I leave you with melinama's account of The Rebel Nun of the 17th c. I like it because, among other things, it reminds us that for a very long time women looked to a life in the Church to free them from their obligations. I think in a very nice way, this leads us right back to the kinds of issues that New Kid and her students were dealing with, and something we all deal with on a regular basis -- the debunking of popular conceptions which, although they might help to make history personally relevant, get in the way of allowing history to be meaningful.

Thanks for all the great submissions, folks! The next History Carnival (#5) will be held at Clioweb on or about April 1. Submit entries to jboggs AT gmu DOT edu.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Update on the Carnival

Update on the Carnival

The next History Carnival will be posted sometime on the 15th, so I need submissions by the 14th (evening GMT). I've received lots of good submissions so far. I do have a theme in mind, although I will be working in the 'outliers' because they are good reading. Still, if your post has something to do with the relevance of history, history as progress, or why/what we are also trying to teach through history, I wuld be most appreciative if you would let me know at another_damned_medievalist AT hotmail DOT com. I'll be posting the carnival on Tuesday!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The bittersweet nature of the job hunt

The bittersweet nature of the job hunt

So, here's the great news -- I've made the top cuts for three jobs so far. Two 4-years and one CC. Found out about the CC yesterday. So I know that I've made one top 5-10, one top 9 (waiting for the campus interview cut), and one top 5, campus interview ticket booked today. Totally freaked about the last one, because it came out of the blue, no prelim interview, except group info stuff at the conference. Really like the person I've spoken with, and it turns out we are somewhat acquainted, having been to a couple of the same conferences (one a very small one) and have mutual acquaintances. I am so incredibly jazzed, nervous, hyped up, worried, excited ...

... and then I went to the back yard today. It's really sunny and pretty. The fish are swimming in the pond AHD dug out all by himself. The veggie beds need weeding and prepping. We have a mole who puts piles of dirt allover the yard. I'm half-hoping the cats will do something about it. The cats and dog love the yard. I haven't finished painting the picket fence. And ADH is in the middle of a bathroom remodel.

But I'm in the running for jobs! And they are all jobs that seem pretty damned good! And more ads are coming out. It finally looks like I can do what I've trained to do. I've spent a lot of time on this, and I'm ready to make a move.

Then, last night, I went to a party with my colleagues, who are so damned cool. I really love these people. And the girls across the street informed me that I have been formally adopted as their other aunt. I have ties here. If I get a job elsewhere, I will have to leave a lot of this. But people can always visit, can't they? I just won't be there to go to the plays and concerts and soccer games (they were serious about the adoption -- and it's not like they don't already have, like, three sets of aunts and uncles living nearby, plus 5 other sets!). And I'm over 90% sure I can keep up an adjunct load that is full-time (two schools) and will keep me in benefits. That makes me far better off than many of my peers.

And I still want the TT job. Not just because it will lead to tenure, but because I don't want to worry. I want to put down academic roots and, even if I'm teaching somewhere with an insane 5-5 load, keep up in my field. I want to be able to build long-term relationships with students, and not have to e-mail the ones who want to keep in touch every time I change campuses. And I hate that we live in a world where it's so hard to have one thing without sacrificing so much else.

But hell -- no one's offered me a job yet!


TWO campus interviews!!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Jean-Jacques, not Jean-Luc

Jean-Jacques, not Jean-Luc

Er, no. I am sorry that you are unable to work with me on the idea that the best way to read historical documents is to read them in the context of their times. Really, I am. It makes my life hell, too. And I do understand that you are trying to bring meaning to the documents by looking for comfortable analogies. But please, trust me on this. When Rousseau talks about alienating one's rights for the common good, it is not analogous to the offer the Borg make to those who stand in their way. Yes, I understand that they are offering more technology, knowledge, etc., if one gives up one's rights. But they are a hive. They are not giving more freedom. They are asking (and really, not asking, because I don't remember Picard having much choice in becoming Locutus) civilizations to joing the Hive and give up all their freedom and individuality for a nebulous "something greater." Rousseau never suggests people make that kind of sacrifice. So please, trust me on this one. Not a good analogy.

Oh, and class? When I pointed out that you can't understand history if you don't understand the words? Really, I meant that, too. So when Rousseau is talking about civil religion, he doesn't mean "pleasant" or "polite." Really, I am even happier than you are that this is the last week of class. And I don't think I've ever felt that way before.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Quick Updates

Quick Updates

  • I should be working, but am going out to tidy the garden because it's gloriously sunny and in the 50s. And my garden looks like hell, people. The hydrangeas are getting new leaves, but I never pruned their heads last year. The peonies may not make it. Please do not ask about the veggie patch. It's humiliating.
  • Ran into a really old (in the sense of knowing for almost 20 years) friend on a listserv. SO happy to get back in touch. Funny thing -- I mentioned blogging and he knew exactly which blog was mine. I know I'm not the most anonymous pseudonymous blogger, but there are a bunch of us. I guess if you know me, you kinda know my voice.
  • Phone interviews are over so far. Really liked both schools. Still prefer the more rural one, I think, if only because it allows for more work in my area. On the other hand, midwestern school has no formal tenure and no publishing requirements because they are all about teaching. I really liked the people in the department -- very small. The last interview, with the person from a different department, wasn't quite as good, I felt. Or maybe just a different tone, since it was the only interview with a woman. Still, the interviews each lasted about 90 minutes, so I'm hopeful.
  • ADH is working on his second week of being unemployed. Not fun. I'm hoping he'll get contract work until we know what's going on with me. But that he gets work, because otherwise, we'll have to make some serious budgetary changes.
  • Pets are all happy and well. Dog and I went running yesterday, but I didn't use my inhaler and had to keep slowing down.
  • Found a song that makes me cry every time I hear it: The Waifs' Bridal Train. I'm not sure why, but I always tear up and get blubby. It's about the women in the band's grandmother, who was a war bride. It's also really cool from a historian's perspective, because I did not know that the US government had arranged post-war transport for Australian brides of, as the song calls them, 'Yankee sailors.' Anyway, I highly recommend this band because they rock.
  • And finally, the next History Carnival is happening here on March 15. Please email me at another_damned_medievalist AT hotmail Dot com (syntax corrected, of course) if you have or know of something I should put in.
  • and something past finally -- sorry to all the wonderful bloggers I've been ignoring lately. I love you -- I really love you, but it's the end-of-quarter crunch for me!