Monday, February 28, 2005

History Carnival #3

History Carnival #3

Sorry for the late notice -- vote of no confidence in college president and faculty retreat both happened last week. And I'm still applying for jobs. But more importantly, History Carnival #3 is going on at detrimental postulation. Go and read the great stuff there!

Got to get ready for the rest of the week, but the next carnival will take place here from March 15. If you want to submit something, please e-mail me at another_damned_medievalist AT hotmail Dot com (typed in the normal way) by 3 p.m. EST on March 15. I'm already jonesing to add Ancarett and New Kid's latest on relevance to the list. Please?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

One way to win an argument

One way to win an argument ...

is, apparently, to ignore, or in the case of blogging, delete the comments of people who question you. Fair Warning Notice: this gets a bit rant-y, but I find myself unusually upset by this whole thing and am trying to work it out of my system. Most of you will have read and perhaps participated in the dual one-sided conversations that have occured regarding this post and its follow-ups. I say dual one-sided because it seems to me that the questions posed by myself and other historians were never answered by Mr Holbling/Newall directly, and I still feel, regarding the comments at Siris, where I was chastised for not realising that I had been discussiong the work of one person and his pseudonymous self, that the responses were not meant to contribute to a better understanding of what Mr. H/N was getting at, but simply to reiterate why he was correct. I did mention this at Siris and at a couple of places at Studi Galileani, but those comments have been deleted.

To his credit, Mr. H/N has tried to explain here, here, and and here. It's just that none of these explanations address the question of whether one of his basic premises, i.e., that historians are somehow trying to find (or claiming to try to find) objective truth. Even in the essay on verisimilitude, there is an implicit assumption about what we are trying to do and how we are failing. In my comments (again deleted), I repeatedly asked Mr. H/N to just stop for a moment and explain why he thought that his initial premise was a valid one. I also asked him to speak plainly and without resorting to the jargon so typical of his (and philosophers'?) writing.

Frankly, I'm not sure why I'm so annoyed by all of this. I said at the outset that philosophy and history were different fields and we clearly had different approaches. The comments to my posts and over at Cliopatria certainly show that my opinions are pretty mainstream, and that people I respect and admire think along the same lines. I'm sure it does have something to do with ego, in that I don't like being summarily dismissed and treated as if I am unworthy of conversation. But there's also something in my gut that tells me that people who refuse to consider other viewpoints or try to see things in a different way, to the extent that they will erase those viewpoints and only leave comments that support and flatter, to be at best insufferably arrogant, and at worst, intellectually dishonest. I grant that this might be unintentional. The blogworld does have different norms, and I think sometimes people don't consider how their actions might appear. For example, I really do believe that Mr H/N really doesn't get the whole pseudonym thing, and so did not realize that people might see his writings as belonging to two people who were mutually supportive and egging each other on. Unfortunately, there are lots of trolls, etc., out there who deliberately create alternate personae specifically to tilt an argument in their favor by making it appear that theirs is a popular opinion. And certainly he has the right to delete comments. But I'm just saying, if someone questioned something I'd written, I'd want them to understand why I thought the way I did at that point. And I'd give them the courtesy of a considered answer to the question they asked.

So, if you're still reading, thanks. I left one more comment at Studi Galileani last night. It is, of course, gone. My commenting at Siris seems to have convinced Brandon to block comments there, too, although he has kindly left up the previous bunch, including the ones by eb. But anyway, here's what I posted, I think in response to the Verisimilitude post:
Er ... again, Paul, nothing you are saying is "true" either. Instead, you merely provide me with the impression that you would rather talk about theory absent actual knowledge of a subject than actually try to understand that subject. All of your suppositions about history and verisimiltude and what it is we historians do, believe, and are supposed to be doing ring as false as if you were sitting in your study telling a war veteran how his last battle should have been fought. It may be very nice, but bears no relationship to the real world where historians pretty much agree that there is no one truth. But since that isn't the point of what we do, your entire argument matters not a whit. It's intellectually dishonest to act as though the field is in some way a failure when most of us implicitly accept that we can never know precisely how correct we are. Moreover, you are merely demonstrating your poverty of knowledge of what working historians do and a singular narrowmindedness in refusing to go beyond your comfortable theories, or your ego, and find out. But then, I look at things from a practival point of view. I know that what my colleagues and I do, and what we teach, is valuable both in terms of passing on ideas of what happened, but more importantly for teaching the critical thinking and communication skills that go far beyond simply the study of history. Our students may even leave with a broader understanding of the richness of human experience, whereas there is little I have seen here that would enrich any life other than that of a intellect barren of emotion or human connection. For that type of person, I'm sure it will reinforce feelings of moral superiority and even perhaps a bit of schadenfreude at us poor little historians who don't understand how worthless we are without the big, bright philosophers of history to tell us how to do our jobs, but I bet they're a whole lot lonelier at the end of the day.

I admit it's less than pleasant, but damn. And you know, as far as Philosophy of History goes, this stuff could be really good. But that was never my point. I just wanted to know why he thought his underlying premises were valid (and they seem to be in terms of the theorists he quotes) when they seem to bear little or no resemblance to what it is we think we're doing. Oh, and maybe I was looking for some recognition that maybe we know what history is as well as, or, dare I say it? Better than he does, because we are, like, you know ... Historians?
I think I just realised the why this issue is so damned important to me. It's pedagogical. A lot of our time teaching is spent helping students to divest themselves of preconceived notions about what history is so that they can actually engage in the richness that is "doing History." It would be great if H/N had given me answers I could use in teaching, but instead all I could see was the prospect of a whole bunch of little philosophy types telling me that what I do is meaningless. On the up-side, I suppose I now have a topic for the next History Carnival ;-)

This just in:
Hugo Holbling/Paul Newall lets us know what he really thinks.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Three Day Weekend!

Three Day Weekend!

Woohoo! time to try to catch up!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

And now, for something scholarly-ish

And now, for something scholarly-ish

Ok, this is a discussion I find annoying. And I'm not sure exactly why, except that I think that none of these guys are working from premises that active historians of the here and now would agree with. They seem to hint at that, in the historians say X kind of way, but then they just say, "but the historians are wrong." At least, that's what my little pea brain is getting from this. Basically, I think I'm looking at a bunch of circular (and the uncharitable part of me says 'circle-jerk,' and I know that's gendering the discussion) arguments built upon straw men. Moreover, these arguments reflect a fairly high level of ignorance as to what historians do, since frankly, we don't all do the same thing. Our fields often help to determine our approach, and it's ridiculous to think that, for example, a modern Russian specialist is going to teach the Greek polis the way an Ancient person would. Or that I would teach modern the way a modernist would -- just today I had to tell my class that my approach was different, since most of the modernists I know are somewhat Hegelian (we were talking Romanticism) in their approach, while I reject the idea that humans are progressing towards anything.

And I think that's just fine. Because I've explained different approaches, and they know that they should look for them and consider them when making their own assessments of the events and themes we're studying. Because there does not have to be one right answer. Comments? Because frankly, this discussion just annoys me no end, but I'd almost like to have somebody who can explain it in terms a medievalist would understand prove me wrong.

Is this also Irony?

Is this also Irony?

I have been offered another interview!! It's at Religious College, where the people seem incredibly cool and the entire philosophy and mission are teaching-based. For someone like me, it seems like a wonderful fit. But I have to let them know whether I want the interview after reading the disclaimers. This was a bit worrying. Then I saw them. Nothing scary in terms of pledges or teaching load per se, but I'm stuck. Financially, it may be a deal breaker. The salary is low (or so it seems -- about $15k less than I make now). I can deal with that, because it's a small religious school. But the moving expenses they advertise would sink us into a small financial pit, in that they offer next to nothing. I really would like to interview and I really think the other stumbling blocks are surmountable, but how do I tell them that, as much as I would like the job, and as much as we know the job market sucks, I'm not sure I could afford to take the job, even if they offered it to me?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ah, Irony.

Ah, Irony

ADH has been, shall we say, at best iffy about the whole "we may have to move if I get a T-T job thing." That's another story. But oh, how ironic is it that Mr.'But I have a good job here,' got laid off about ten minutes before I told him I'd got an interview? What a difference a day makes ...

And no, I'm not gloating. Just reminding myself that fortunes can change in a split second.



I forgot to charge my cell phone last night. Today, my dean told me he'd received a call from one of the places I'd applied. When I'd charged the phone and turned it on, there were messages from another referee and from the school in question ... I've made at least one cut, and have a phone interview later in the week. Wheee! I'm sure the panic will set in soon ...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Another Blogging Medievalist?

Another Blogging Medievalist?

Looks like there's another of us girls. Although I'm unsure of area and period (Dead Languages could be anything ...). It also looks like many of the cool kids will be at K'zoo or MA. Not me. I will be here instead. Why? because it's a really great conference: small, good papers, people know each other, and almost everyone is really nice and helpful. Still, it would be nice to meet up with other medieval bloggers. OH -- boss just came in and told me one of the places in a really good state college system called and asked for a reference. Woohoo! It's not much, but it means I made the "looks like she might fit the job" cut. I think. I hope.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Reality Check

Reality Check

Via the last History Carnival, I found this post by Hugo Holbling on Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages. I actually tried to comment on it, but both times my comments did not post. Very freakin' annoying. I'm actually even more annoying because I have seen this whole thing before, and just don't get it. Is it because Cantor writes to popular appeal? Do any working historians actually take his thesis that seriously? Maybe it's just me, but I think he's full of it. It all seems very clear and sensible, but it's just not true. At least, not the way it's presented. Cantor is talking about an impression of the Middle Ages that no scholar I know subscribes to. So, is he talking about the popular vision of the MA? it seems so. And people trained in the late 19th and very early 20th c., when it was still reasonably acceptable to write history with a didactic (often nationalist) point, are supposed to be representative of how things have been done by the historians working now? or even their immediate seniors? Or, because really, I'm old enough to have my own grad students, and my academic grandmother got her degree in the 1940s, two generations ago? Er .... NOT.

To be fair, Cantor's book came out in 1991, but still, it seems to me that he's lumping together medieval scholars under these very loose categories that he himself has created, and then reduces their work to what is representative of those categories. I'm calling bullshit. Moreover, the scholars he's chosen are not all historians, and while they have helped to create a picture of the MA, lumping them in with the rest weakens the argument re "historians". Holbling says, for example:
What Cantor was able to do was illustrate this in a way that seamlessly blended biography, history, politics and philosophy into a carefully reasoned whole. Thus did Erwin Panofsky belong "to that generation of German Jewish humanists who envisioned themselves as connected to a chain of civility and learning that stretched back from Bismarckian and Weimar Germany through the millennia to the classical and biblical worlds that became fused in the Christian patristic culture of the fourth century A.D." Panofsky, like many of the others considered by Cantor, brought to the study of the Middle Ages a conviction of continuity – a thema in Gerald Holton’s terminology – that allowed him to read Medieval times as a steady evolution of the classical liberal project.

So, perhaps Panofsky belonged to that group -- but did he see himself that way, or is Cantor's label the defining factor? If it's evolution that Panofsky sees, why not simply attribute it to the fact that it is an essentially modern approach, and modernism would have been an important cultural factor in Panofsky's world? Among my acquaintances, I'd say that none of the people with an Ancient/Medieval background see the MA as a step in some kind of evolutionary process, but the modernists, and some of the early modernists definitely see all of "our stuff" as moving inevitably towards "their stuff"

It may be Holbling's interpretation, but I have some serious problems with this:
Tolkein and Lewis, whom Cantor grouped with Powicke as "The Oxford Fantasists", disliked the "modern" world and yearned for a return to (or remodelling on) a better age, one they saw in Medieval times. Bloch, hero of the Resistance, granted too much influence to the peasantry. Strayer and Haskins advocated Medieval law for the present, while Huizinga, Power, Postan, Mommsen and Erdmann saw in the Middle Ages a terror in one form or another (the repression of women for Power, decades ahead of other feminists) that had to be surmounted in order to arrive at a more tolerant, reasonable today. Thus the way we look at Medieval times was born of "learned research, humanistic theory, assumptions about human behaviour, and the ever-present ingredient of the personal experiences of medievalists…" Once set, the prestige and power associated with the academic positions occupied by the great Medievalists ensured that their views were perpetuated.

Forgive me, but how do Tolkein and Lewis fit in? Yes, they are medievalists and help shape the picture of the MA, but neither was an historian. And is it really sensible to discuss Lewis absent his Christianity? If I were to look for an agenda in his academic work, I would say that it had much more to do with Christianity (albeit one hugely informed by medieval theology) than with 'disliking the modern world and yearning for a better age'.

Mostly, though, I just get irritated that people accept Cantor's work as if it were talking about things that are true today. No, we can't know wie es eigentlich gewesen. But nowadays, we are trained to try and recognize and remove our own biases and to rely on the evidence, to the point that we have to offer alternate interpretations and say when we can't be conclusive. We try to get as close as possible to how things really were, and we are familiar with the historiography so that we can critique it when necessary. We also tell our students to look for biases in all their sources, primary and secondary. But we also, at least those of us who look at Cliopatria on a regular basis, are pretty condemnatory of those who make no attempt at objectivity, unless they are representative of a particular approach. After all, we may not agree with Marxist interpretation, for example, but we're not going to criticize someone who claims to be writing a Marxist interpretation for writing a Marxist interpretation: we just allow for that. Or at least that's what they taught me in grad school. How 'bout you guys?

note: I can understand that Holbling likes the book because it's well-reasoned, since philosophers and reasoning are natural allies and all, but me? I like to make sure that the reasoning isn't just a good argument. I like it to hold water when faced with actual evidence. Something can be logically flawless, but you know, if the argument is based on dubious premises ...

Who'da Thunk it, pt deux

Who'da Thunk it, pt deux

Apparently, I'm Sandman.


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
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Oh -- and thanks to New Kid, I really am getting the AHA stuff together. NK made a couple of really good comments on why historians' blogs might be a bit different, and also on the "like it" vs. "find it useful to my research" question. Or issue. Or not-really-a-dichotomy.

Otherwise, still looking for a job. Getting the apps in, finally feeling a bit more on top of things now that hell week (12+ hours of meetings) is over.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Caught by the meme

Caught by a Meme

'Cause Ancarett and Wolfangel and profgrrrl and Dr. Cheeky are all doing it.
A. First, recommend to me:
1. A movie:
2. A book:
3. A musical artist, song, or album:

B. Ask me three questions, no more, no less. You may ask me anything you want (however, I reserve the right to weasel out of answering if I feel its necessary!).