Don't forget -- Mug Shots, 8:00 a.m., Friday. More information here -- leave a comment here or there if you think you're coming and haven't said yet -- it's looking like we'll have to grab lots of tables and chairs!
You know how sometimes, you write a paper abstract, and then put it away till a couple of weeks before the conference, only to find it's not exactly what you remembered saying you'd write?
Or does that only happen to me?
Anyway, I spent part of the day googling references for an upcoming paper, and midway through, realised that actually, I'd only been googling for a tangential part of the paper. Oops.
I have a fantastic blogroll here, and am planning on mining it. But if you can think of people not on that blogroll who are pseudonymous bloggers with a voice that you think of as a legitimate academic voice (and I'm all for a wide range of academic voices), please shoot their urls my way.
I'm as interested in blogs by grad students and contingent faculty as in blogs by full-timers. Blogs my junior people and those who are lone medieval (or other) people on their campuses are especially welcome.
I'll post about my feelings about the recent news when I've finally processed it, but thanks again, everybody, for the good wishes.
In the meantime, I have been mulling some things about in my head lately. This has been rather an interesting year, personally and professionally. And some of it is interesting in that Chinese curse sort of way. Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague that resulted in a disagreement over 'the real business of the university.' The real business is apparently scholarship, and the life of the mind. Now, let's all remember that SLAC is, well, a SLAC. There are graduate programs, but really, there's no crossover between faculty or students. For all intents and purposes, I teach in a SLAC. We have a standard 4-4 teaching load, and most of us have a 4-3 load due to one release for research time.* (I know!) Our promotion standards, unlike those at many similar campuses, are really commensurate with our teaching loads. They are achievable, but it's clear that teaching is our primary job. And for those who can really only manage the minimum requirements in scholarship, service can count for a lot.
And that's how we tend to think of our jobs, all of us. It doesn't really matter where we work -- we see our jobs as some combination of teaching, research, and service. But are those the real business of the university? I think yes, absolutely. And also no. I think that my colleague is right -- the life of the mind is an important part of the university. But I'd like to suggest that the life of the mind does not exist in a vacuum. Big surprise, right? The life of the mind doesn't mean a damn, unless it's part of a conversation. Not a bunch of people talking about what they do, and quietly researching away, and presenting what they find to others. Actually entering into a conversation that exists on many different levels is what I mean.
There isn't just one conversation, although I think there is also The Conversation -- the constant ebb and flow of thoughts and the articulation of thoughts, of new knowledge building upon and revising old -- but there is the sharing of our work and our knowledge with each other, crossing the boundaries of our own research and asking questions of each other. It's there when we work with our students -- I mean, seriously... well go to interviews and tell the nice people how our research informs our teaching, and how we all use the Socratic method, but how many of us really think about what that means? The best classes are conversations. Yes, we're the experts, and we are trying to make sure our students acquire content knowledge, and get the approaches of our discipline. But aren't the best classes the ones where our students make us think, that shake us up, that -- even if the students are wrong -- make us look at things in slightly different ways?
The conversation is there when we go to conferences, too. And blogs. You all know this -- you read blogs! But when we go to conferences, is the point to talk about our research, or to share it? Why do we do it? Ok, partially to keep our jobs and pad our CVs. But I know for me, it's more that giving a paper is a ticket to The Conversation. It's a chance to hang out with cool, smart people and share ideas. I want to hear about what other people are doing, and yes, tell them about what I am doing, too -- but mostly in the context of seeing how it can all fit together. What I do is dreadfully dull, unless it's part of a bigger picture. Blogs are just another kind of ticket.
We, and I think especially those of us who are medievalists and classicists, are often challenged, and challenge ourselves, about why what we do is relevant. Yesterday I had the wonderful experience of meeting a colleague in a very different field. The colleague presented some really interesting ideas, and was incredibly flattering to my departmental colleagues about medievalists and how versatile we are. Nice, when one is the only medievalist! The thing I liked best about this colleague, though -- a scholar from a strong research uni -- was that the colleague reminded me about the conversation. We were all over the place, picking each other's brains, suggesting approaches to his research, considering sorts of evidence to broaden the study... it was great fun. And my mind was alive.
Yeah. There's a subtext. I'm not going to go there at the moment, though. Realizing what this means to me is enough.
I think you are missing the point. It doesn't actually matter if in some cases, torture resulted in useful information. It's still torture.
Just as, if a person had had the chance to kill Hitler, or Stalin, or Pol Pot, or any of the other people we know were responsibility for the deaths of millions, and had taken advantage of the opportunity, it would still be murder.
We might feel it was justifiable. We might be grateful to that person. We might even consider it just, in a way. But, absent actual trial and conviction, absent a judicial process that we accept as necessary to our way of life, it would still be murder.
I understand that you are an Important Person at your institution, whose very nature is based on understanding hierarchy and conforming to it. But you have come to me asking a favor. It may be that, in the past, you have had similar favors granted by my predecessors. But we are in a new era of accreditation standards. So if I send you a very polite request asking for further information on which to base my judgement, and make it clear that I am consulting with other colleagues on your request while performing due diligence to make sure, if we grant that request, our accrediting agency will approve, let me give you a little advice:
Do NOT send a curt response to me that denies me my academic title, let alone my professional one (not that being department chair carries any extra rank at SLAC -- just more work!).
Do NOT spell my name incorrectly.
In short, do NOT write:
[insert grudging response to polite request for more information here]
[replacement of courtesy close with a statement that implies that I owe you your request]
Because seriously. Dude. Your insignia don't outrank my PhD. I don't owe you a thing, and I have every right to review your current connection with my department and see if we should discontinue that.*
Department Chair from whom you are asking a favor.
*I should point out that I will not be making this decision on my own, although that is within my rights. I will be consulting with 4 colleagues who have expertise, and then presenting my advice to my Dean. Because in ADM land, we consult and discuss and work for consensus whenever possible -- especially when there might be conflicts of interest -- and we document.
So a couple of weeks ago, I went to a Late Antiquity conference. It was much fun, and there were some good papers. Unfortunately, I missed a few good papers, too -- first because I missed my plane! and second because I decided that falling down a few steps was better than actually, you know, walking down them. But anyway, here's a summary from my notes. If you want details on authors, e-mail me:
The first paper I heard was on Evagrius of Pontus. I only caught a bit, but basicaly the argument was that Evagrius used the image of the exiled Odysseus in talking about monastic exile, and that Evagrius's letters were deliberately written in a 'this contains a secret message' kind of way, in which the intended reader would have understood three different levels of interpretation.
The seond paper was on Varro and his influence in Late Antiquity. Let's see -- we all know Augustine hates Varro, right (well, we do now!) -- and that antipathy is rooted well before Civitas Dei. Anyway, Varro's Hebdomades apparently had some effect on both of the Symmachi, especially the elder. And in general there's an influence in the late 4th C in terms of many things numerological. Oh, but we don't have any precise evidence that the Symmachi were inspired by the Hebdomades. Basically, I understood the argument to be that Symmachus' original letter collection was arranged in 7 books, like the Hebdomades, and that there is other evidence to show that the number was significant to both Symmachi, and the 10-book collection of letters we know was a later compilation.
After the break, there was a very interesting paper on Glycerios and the Dancing Virgins, in which it was argued rather well that early Christians really didn't object to dance, per se. In fact, the imagery and vocabulary of dance permeate much of early Christian writing, and there is evidence to show that virgins were considered especially well-suited to choral dance. However, in examples like that of Glycerios, who appears to have been a ne'er-do-well who led a troup of dancing virgins from town to town, we get a case where the conduct of the leader is suspect, and leads to much crankiness.
Next came one of the best papers of the conference, hands down. All about the prostitutes. Actually, it was about the shift in the perception of and rehabilitation of prostitutes as Christianity took hold. The paper argued that in pre-Christian Roman society, shame equaled social death; all prostitutes pretty much suffered this. But the focus on sin in Christianity meant that the idea of volition played an important role; one chooses to sin, and one can choose to repent and be forgiven, and be welcomed back into the fold.
This is especially problematic in a world where many prostitutes are slaves, and therefore their sins are not volitional. This situation is upsetting to many early church fathers. The presenter went on to draw parallels between Greek romances where boy meets girl, girl is cast into many misadventures, often including into a brothel, and then is rescued, virtue intact, just in time to marry the boy, and the lives of prostitute saints, where the brothel plays a part, but the prostitute is redeemed and becomes a saint. This marks a transition from the social death that accompanies shame to a partial redemption when sex is seen as a sin. I say partial redemption because all of the examples given were of women who are never really redeemed socially, and in fact seem only to regain any social status by redefining their positions by becoming anchorites, hermits, or other religious who cut themselves off from most of the rest of society. In the best example, the repentent prostitute actually dresses as a man and lives a semi-eremitic existence in the desert, so her 'redemption' comes at the cost of becoming a man, or the denial of her female sexuality, at the least.
The last paper of this, the second session I attended, was on athletics in Late Antiquity, and was also rather good. It compared athletics in Classical Greece, which often included people in the upper classes, and also allowed people who began fairly low on the social (and often economic) ladder to gain income and status, which could lead to political influence as well. Moreover, the focus of classical athletics was on glory and winning as intrinsic goods. However, by Late Antiquity (and Roman society), there was a decline in funding for civic games, and the financial prospects for athletes and the comcomitant reduction in opportunities for a rise in status and the chance of gaining political influence. As the benefits of participating in athletics declined, the sorts of people interested in participating also shifted -- as did the goals of the games. The shift was exemplified in an increase of professional athletes who worked for money and popularity (the income could still be good, but because the games were not tied to civic life in the same way, we're looking at merely a rise in economic status for very hard work), and games that focused more on providing spectacles for the masses.
Apropos of a conversation at Historiann's, this idea just struck me. I don't have time to go into it in great detail, and it might not even be original. But here it is:
The discussion of Judith Bennett's book last month focused in part on the idea of patriarchal equalibrium, and Bennett herself focuses a great deal on the consistant wage disparity between men and women. At SLAC, as at other universities all over the country (and possibly the world) -- at least where there is no union scale -- men tend to be paid more than women faculty of the same rank. I want to take that further, though. Those of us in Liberal Arts programs know that the folks in hard sciences are typically paid more than their peers in the humanities and social sciences. And hard sciences have traditionally been dominated by men.
Let's take that a step further, though. At SLAC, faculty in the (mostly male-dominated) professional schools make more than those of us in the Liberal Arts. Moreover, their teaching loads (and often service loads) are lighter, and publication requirements somewhat higher (although many of us in my school meet those higher requirements for scholarship even with our heavier teaching loads). We are 'teaching faculty' and they are 'research and professional' faculty. My question is this -- does the overt masculinization (is that a word?) of the 'research and professional' faculty that exists in terms of actual staffing lead to a de facto feminization of all faculty in the 'teaching' side? That is (partially), do even male faculty in Arts and Sciences get less respect and have they less clout because they teach and are willing to take lower salaries (because what man would do that? it's only natural that women do, but ...)?
So I'm getting a new macBook (the small one) in the next couple of months. This means I might really need a new computer bag. So if you're bored and want to do some virtual online shopping, give me suggestions!
I'm also looking for a pair of low-heeled black shoes to wear with skirts for teaching and such like.
I will blog about the conference I just went to as soon as I get caught up!