Sunday, October 22, 2006

Carnivalesque XX

Carnivalesque XX

Carnivalesque XX is now up at Recent Finds Weblog. It's Early Modern this time, and may be one of our most international versions yet! And it's also perhaps one of the most elegant I've seen. Did I also mention that it's full of links to blogs I've never seen before? The article on female saddlers at Investigations of a Dog is particularly interesting, in part because it talks a bit about how women's history has changed.

Announcements of the next three Ancient/Medieval versions TBA Real Soon Now!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Help from the Asianists

Help From the Asianists

I'm teaching a 300 level East Asian survey in the Spring. Has anybody used Ebrey, Walthall, Palais, East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History? Mostly, I need something that is solid and will be cost-effective (i.e., not horribly pricey). The class is my own, and I can make it a modern class if I like, or limit to China and Japan (in which cases, I can think of all kinds of books, but they'd be spendy -- the two Spence books alone are pretty expensive), but I think the students would prefer that they have a broader course, because we can only offer Asia every other year. Suggestions? Comments?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

All about the dating

All about the Dating

Saw this at Pilgrim's:
The Maid of Honor
Deliberate Gentle Love Master (DGLMf)

Appreciated for your kindness and envied for all your experience, you are The Maid of Honor.

Charismatic, affectionate, and terrific in relationships, you are what many guys would call a "perfect catch"--and you probably have many admirers, each wishing to capture your long-term love. You're careful, extra careful, because the last thing you want is to hurt anyone. Especially some poor boy whose only crime was liking you.

Your exact opposite:

Random Brutal Sex Dreamer
We've deduced you're fully capable of a dirty fling, but you do feel that post-coital attachment after hooking up. So, conscientious person that you are, you do your best to reserve physical affection for those you you can respect yourself.

Your biggest negative is the byproduct of your careful nature: indecision. You're just as slow rejecting someone as you are accepting them.

ALWAYS AVOID: The False Messiah, The 5-Night Stand, The Vapor Trail, The Bachelor

CONSIDER: The Gentleman, someone just like you.

Link: The 32-Type Dating Test by OkCupid - Free Online Dating.

Hm ...

I dunno. Dating is a mystery to me. For example, I can't explain lots of things, like why no American has asked me out in 15 years ...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Marking Again

Marking Again

I know I said I would be happy to help students learn to write. I was serious. But today, I'm marking ID paragraphs. If you teach History, you know the drill -- 2-3 sentences, max., that answer Who, What, Where, When, and So What (Historical Significance). It's formulaic. I hand out a set of terms a week ahead of the exam -- maybe 20-30, all of which they should know anyway, because they are directly from the readings, except for maybe two that I've gone over in class at least twice.

Here's the thing -- in most of the cases, studying the ID list should give the stuents information they can use in the essays. Also, you just learn the damned things. Put them on index cards and memorize that shit, people! Easy points! So far, the highest score out of 20 is 14. With this part, I cannot help them. Except maybe to tell them to write the things down and make sure they put all of the pertinent information and learn it. *sigh*

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Joys of Academia, pt. 2

The Joys of Academia, pt. 2 -- politics

It may come as a surprise to no one that there are politics in academia. Things are no different at SLAC, although frankly, so far everything seems pretty mild. In fact, so far, most of the politics I've come across seem tied to a few egos. I think. There are probably bigger issues and bigger stakes if one looks at the competition between schools -- clearly the fact that one school has a standard teaching load that is 75% of the teaching load of the other schools might cause tensions, for example. But within my school, things seem pretty good, at least compared to what I'm used to.

After all, my first full-time job was at a place where there was a movement for a much-needed vote of no-confidence. The three years I was there were fraught, and politics were ugly and sometimes vindictive. Actually, I'd say some of the politics are still ugly, because too much damage may have been done for a return to health. The last full-time job I had was less politically challenging, but that's because I seemed to have fallen in on the right side of things. There was a definite old boys' club, and people who were invited in were taken care of with extra travel support, etc. TO be fair, the people who were invited in tended to be the faculty with the highest expectations and the lowest bullshit tolerance. They consistently got good teaching evals, served on committees, participated in campus events (cheering on the various teams, actually participating in in-service day symposia and workshops) and were, despite working at a CC, active in their fields. At any campus where such things were based entirely on merit, the rewards would probably have been distributed to the same group ... it's just that at this place, if you weren't already 'in', you might not have found out that there were rewards to be had.

So far at SLAC, I've been negotiating the personalities. On the good side, I've heard no faculty member actively badmouth another. I've also heard no nastiness from faculty towards administration. People genuinely seem to like working here. Still, I'm starting to see and hear evidence of the kinds of petty tensions that can be annoying at best, dangerous to a paranoid new faculty member like me, if I were stupid enough to take sides. Via one of my departmental colleagues, I have been very fortunate. I seem to have made friends with a group of faculty who have all just gotten tenure and (mostly) promotion. I really like them, and am thrilled that they seem to like me. I've also found myself invited to sit with some of the old guard on a number of occasions (almost everyone eats at about the same time, in the same place). I don't know that I'm particularly special in this -- I think any new person who's a little outgoing would find herself in a similar position. This is a friendly place, and there really is a familial feeling to it. Still, people have opinions, and some of those opinions, when held by the firmly entrenched and longstanding holders of positions, need to be treated with respect. It takes a while to figure out which person will consider a difference of opinion, however polite, an affront, and which person will see it as a necessary and almost enjoyable part of process.

I'm not so good at politics. That is, I can't see the point of trying to get in with the 'right' people, or identifying the movers and shakers. Me? I'm more worried about avoiding the pitfalls. So, when I have a colleague who makes me feel uncomfortable, I start to worry. I have a couple of colleagues like that, people who are giving me advice that just doesn't feel quite right, or that may sound like generally good advice, but which I can't entirely trust because the people, despite being more experienced, are also new to SLAC. I am wary. I am not saying that people are out to hurt me -- I certainly hope not! But I sometimes wonder if the advice isn't predicated on someone's own agenda or experiences. And frankly, I've been burned in life by trusting people too quickly. Plus, it doesn't seem to have hurt me much to be polite to people I don't necessarily like, friendly with people who are friendly towards me, and collegial to everybody, even if I don't like them. Part of that may be that I'm a natural mediator ...

Still, what's a junior faculty member to do? Here's what I'm doing, and why.
  • Seek out some committee work of an appropriate level -- some committees are closed to junior faculty, and some require lots of institutional knowledge. So I looked for a couple of committees that would allow me to draw on my own expertise in pedagogy and assessment -- not entirely the kind of committees junior faculty usually get on, but those are the ones where I feel comfortable offering input
  • Continue to get to know as many of my colleagues as possible. I think that the people I've already started to socialize with will continue to be my friends and the basis of my social circle (did I mention that I kind of feel like they're the cool kids?), but there are a lot of good people who have interesting lives and a lot of experience. I might not hang out with them or go shopping with them, but I think it's a shame to get too comfortable with one little group too quickly. I never really liked clicques, and I want to take advantage that I can sit with different groups of colleagues and staff.
  • Think of my friends as mentors and not blur the line between friends away from work, colleagues at work. I think that, on small campuses, it's very normal for people to become close friends with colleagues. But the reality is that we evaluate each other, we make decisions on who gets development money, etc. It has to be clear that we will give each other the respect we deserve and hold each other to the same standards, friends or no.
  • (I did this today) Go to the Dean and ask him for a recommendation for an unofficial mentor -- someone not a personal friend, nor in my department, but rather a neutral person who can give advice on avoiding the occasional buried skeleton or how best to approach awkward situations. Dean had an idea for one, and will let me know.
  • Trust my gut and keep my mouth shut. One of the things that makes me paranoid is finding myself in a conversation where the other person utters such things as, "what's the deal with her?" or, "there's more going on there than you know" or, "there's background; I'll tell you about it someday." Again, I don't know that anything is malicious -- small school, academics are gossips, etc. But I'm afraid I see things like this is a test. I'd rather come out as a person who is fairminded and neutral than as a person who has thrown in her lot with one group. It's not that I don't want to know about these things -- just that I think it's the kiss of death to take sides unless you are either sure that you need to -- and then, you should take the side whether or not you think you'll win.

I hope my plan, such as it is, isn't too stupid. I'd like to think that all of those things are really just part of being a good colleague and doing the job properly. In fact, I don't like that I think of it as a plan at all. But I want to stay in this job, and that means understanding what I need to do to make that happen. The fact that there are people giving me dubious advice on that just makes it more necessary to concentrate on doing the things that got me the job and that I already seemed to be doing right, and avoiding doing things wrong. What are you other junior faculty doing to avoid the pitfalls?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Appeal to the Interwebs

Appeal to the Interwebs

I'll post that promised post soon, but in the meantime ... I need a new laptop. Right now, I have a Dell that I got in 2000. It was ok till TSA broke the catches that hold in the battery and the floppy/CD drive. By OK, I mean that it works. It still does work, but it only has 128k of memory. A memory upgrade would be (if I get the memory on sale) about $100. I think it will only go to 256k. It would cost about $200 to get the catches fixed. Oh -- and the battery? The kid killed it several years ago, and it only lasts for about 15 minutes. I would really like to be able to go to the libraries in Big City and do some research. It would be nice to have a computer (I keep thinking I should take notes on the computer, rather than on reams of paper, although I think I remember things better when I write them) that I could write on.

Here's the problem. I'm cheap. I want the most computer for my money, but I'm torn between getting something really good and having it last for 5 years, or something that will do, because I have a good desktop at home and an acceptable desktop at work. Oh -- it would be nice if it had a 3D accelerator, DirectX 9 compatible video card, too, because otherwise, I'm going to have to upgrade my Video card on the desktop, which is another $100-$200. Crap. I've just realized if I buy a mac laptop, I'll still have to upgrade the video card on the PC. And if I do start going away on reserach trips, I need to have a good computer that will allow me to plug into European power sources.

So anyway, here are the things I really want: small, lightweight (as close to 5 pounds as possible), keyboard that won't cramp my hands. Good screen. CD/DVD RW (because I don't have a DVD burner). Otherwise, I'm clueless.

I am not married to the idea of PCs, but Macs seem pricier. I do like the old powerbooks, but am kind of annoyed that the new iBooks are bigger. Still, if there's a good reason to go Mac, I would. Any opinions out there?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Joys of Academia, pt.1

The Joys of Academia, pt 1 -- on marking papers

I like being an academic. I really do. I am most at home on a campus or in a library or a classroom -- or at a conference, which is like all of those things with all the smartest kids and the couple who are there so you can say, "wtf???"* I love my job. Like most academics, I am no different in that there are those parts of my job that I love to complain about. The most obvious of these is marking papers. We all whinge about it. It takes up huge amounts of time, and can be really demoralizing. Most of the people I know have got to the point where we can differentiate between totally unprepared students and students who just didn't get it, and our responses are different in each case.

When we have totally unprepared students, we can't really feel that guilty about their having done badly. It isn't our fault as college professors that these students never learned to write in complete sentences, let alone an entire essay that answers the question we asked. It isn't our fault if they can't tell water from land on an outline map. They're supposed to know that coming in. Still, as I've said before, a lot of us really have to teach "How to do College". I'm finding that these things are also true at SLAC. I will be marking exams beginning midweek, and I am pretty sure that I will not really be assessing them on how well they've learned the history, because some of them will have failed the exam before I get to historical data and its use. This is a little demoralizing. After all, I'm a professor (assistant) of History, not Composition, right?

Wrong. Historians are writers. It's what we do. It's how we express to others how all the names and dates and stuff that happened go together in some kind of coherent picture that makes sense. I've always known that as a teacher, but I haven't been able to articulate it very well to students when they complain about my not giving them enough credit for "content." Now that I'm writing again, the importance of written communication is much easier for me to explain. Still, there is something very disheartening about essentially failing (or in this case, giving a lot of 'D's, probably) students because they just can't write.**

If a student can't write, I will help them, either myself or by sending the student to the correct places on campus. And since I know how important writing is to my field, I know I am doing my job. I even know, when students do improve, that I am doing my job well. But the necessary focus on writing and other skills the students should already have can mask or interfere with another grading issue. It's an important issue, and I think it's one of the reasons we dread marking, apart from the time-suck. Whether or not we like it, reading and assessing student work forces us (or should force us) to consider our own performance. When we see a consistency in errors, is it our fault? were we not clear enough? Did we not do our jobs well? Of course, that also gives us an opportunity to change how we teach some things to make them clearer. I like that part, but it's hard to get to. I hope I get there with my new students.

This was going to be a post about new challenges that really are old -- marking papers and navigating political waters in a new climate. I'll have to tackle that one later, but I'll give you a not-surprising preview: SLAC has politics. Navigating them is scary and likely to make a new person paranoid.

*or in a restaurant kitchen -- go figure
** including spelling. I have a student who always writes "sum" rather than "some" -- perhaps a texting thing? But I'm trying to figure out a polite and non-embarrasing way to let him know that he really doesn't want to make the equivalent substitution for the spelling of the word 'come'

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ooh! Shiny!

Ooh! Shiny! (a reason why we have the government we do)

This thread over at Making Light explains a lot to me. It starts with a very small post. The comment thread, like all comment threads at ML, is very long. It includes many thoughtful posts by apparently bright people. But. Well... staying on topic doesn't seem to be one of their strongest suits. The issues implied by the link and comment have nothing directly to do with the majority of comments, because frankly, all it took was one commentator to wave a conspiracy flag and they were off to look at the shiny. It reminds me a little of the beginning of Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat, where he talks about one of the fatal flaws in France's tactical approach to war in 1940 -- the French were still fighting the last war, when the Germans were fighting a new one with entirely new rules. I think many people are justifiably outraged by some of the (many of the, most of the) actions of the present US government. Hell, my father, a dyed-in-the-wool SoCal Republican and a regular listener to Rush Limbaugh is outraged by the way the Constitution has been treated. But sometimes, I just get really effing tired of listening to smart people getting such a rush from how smart they are in hindsight that they wont get off their asses and do anything about it, 'it' being the topic they forgot because they were busy showing how smart they are. And no, world, blogging about it is preaching to the choir. It doesn't count.