Friday, December 29, 2006

What I did Yesterday

What I did yesterday

  • Finished the survey syllabus and roughed out about 80% of the assignments and due dates
  • wrote a new assignment sheet. I'm going from requiring students to keep a journal of notes on their primary source readings to a series of four writing assignments. The first is very basic: 300-500 words that identify the particulars of a document and give three specific examples of evidence that would be useful to a historian, written in a general, "the document says X, which tells us Y" way. Still have to do the other three, which will be increasingly complex; the final essay will be still fairly short, but will require the students to look at 3-4 documents, identify a thesis that a historian could derive from them, and then argue the thesis. I really hope this works.
  • finished up the two conference requests, sort of. It will be interesting, because we are supposed to get requests in by Jan 15, but the K'zoo details don't come out till Feb.
  • went to a large and cool zoo, and saw ... many exotic animals, but not enough for me. But it's a very big zoo, and three hours was enough for two 8 year-olds and a 4 year-old (who ended up riding on my shoulders for the last half mile or so). I need to go back and see more large mammals. I'm kind of iffy on zoos ... I just keep hoping that the animals whose freedom is sacrificed are giving that freedom (willingly or no) to engender a desire in zoo visitors to help protect them and their habitats. I never feel that way about the bugs, though. Did I mention there were otters, too?

Got to go and write my 'upper division class in my minor field' syllabus now. If I don't get these into the copy shop this afternoon, I'm screwed.

Also, did anyone notice that the POTUS was having a 'non-decisional' meeting at his ranch yesterday? Is that a real word? (And do I mean locative, rather than locational, above?)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all of you who celebrate it!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pop culture, fantasy, and Islam?

Pop culture, fantasy, and Islam?

Last weekend, on my marking breaks, I took advantage of the all-day broadcasts of The Lord of the Rings (I got to see the uncanonical/non-canonical elves arriving at Helm's Deep scene twice, and wept accordingly). I've also been listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on BBC 7. With Narnia, I was struck once again by Lewis' own particular form of misogyny. I don't entirely agree with Gaiman on that, by the way. I always understood Susan's banishment as a result of her rejecting Narnia/rejecting Christianity, salvation through Jesus, etc. However, it seems to me that Lewis had some serious problems with women, if he can tie lipstick and stockings, i.e., growing up into an adult woman to the rejection of salvation. Funnily enough, in The Lion, etc. Aslan is quite clear in his feelings about women in battle, and in The Horse and his Boy, it's Susan who has grown up to feel about the battle the way Aslan said she should -- and Lucy who fights. Of course, it's also Susan who caused all the trouble by encouraging Rabadash's suit -- again, by doing an adult gender-normative thing.

I'm sure this has all been said before, somewhere, but y'all know I'm slow and don't really read criticism. And, of course, I'm informed by the times in which I live. So, where in the 40s and 50s, Lewis' views might have seemed completely innocent (even in the 60s and 70s, for that matter), I'm not sure that we can see them that way through the filter of the last 25 or so years. Now, there's something kind of icky in female characters who are 'good' only before they become 'truly female', if you will. By that, I don't necessarily mean in terms of gender norms, just in terms of growing up and becoming the powerful adult women they logically should become, with agency of their own (and again, Lucy's adult character is problematic -- except that perhaps she's a virgin warrior, so it's ok?). But hey -- I'm a history person, so I can generally put myself in a Lewis-era mindset and also suspend disbelief. Mostly.

But enough of misogyny. It's Islam I want to talk about now. Again, nothing really profound; rather, it's just something that struck me. In the Narnia books, especially The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle, the Calormenes are swarthy and wear the kind of clothing and armour one associates with the Muslims of Roland (especially the Sayers translation) and of the Crusades. In fact, their religion is very like the misconceptions the Roland poet/singer/whatever had of Islam -- polytheistic, but with one supreme god, Tash, who loves things that are cruel and wicked. We know comparatively less about the Southrons who come to fight with Sauron's forces, but I seem to remember that Jackson's interpretation was pretty much correct -- in terms of appearance, they looked like the Muslims (whether Turkish or Arab) of the Crusades. And I know -- Roland is about Rencesvalles and is Carolingian -- but you all know it's also not. And now you are asking, "ADM, what's your point?"

My point may not be a good one. It's probably not even original, so I'm sorry if I'm boring you. Really, it's more of a question, anyway. But both Tolkein and Lewis were (and are) hugely influential, to their readers and to their myriad imitators. Even though the swarthy Arab-like desert peoples who are always on the wrong side are not Muslims in the books, within the context of Lewis' and Tolkein's professional backgrounds, what else could they be?* Please note that I'm not blaming Lewis, Tolkein, or anyone else for the post-September 11 atmosphere. I do wonder, however, if the huge influence of their works on popular culture -- whether or not people have read them directly -- has in some ways reinforced a distrust of Islam and helped to underpin the belief that many people have that we are somehow engaged in a new round of Crusades. One thing that makes me think it might is that I have talked to otherwise intelligent people whose ideas of the Crusades seem very much influenced, whether or not they realise it, by Roland/Calormenes creeping through the mountain passes/invading Southrons -- despite the fact that none of those images actually come from the Crusades. If that's the case, then there's just one more knot we medievalist types have to untangle. Because some people really do forget that Middle-Earth and Narnia aren't actually part of our history.

*I'm sure there is stuff written on this, but did it ever strike you as odd that there are no scary Germanic types (are there?) in Tolkein or Lewis? Clearly, they had no sympathy for the Romans. The closest we get is in Prince Caspian, where I'm pretty sure that the other humans who take over Narnia (and Arkenland?) are meant to be like the Normans.

Anyway, that's my procrastination done ...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shiny Teaching Carnival!

Shiny Teaching Carnival and Carnivalesque

While I was in grading jail, meg over at xoom posted a Shiny! New! Teaching! Carnival!. Yay for something to do after Christmas cards!

Update!! How could I have forgotten that mj at scribblingwoman has also posted the most recent Early Modern Carnivalesque?? Bad blogger, that's me!

In other news, over break, I have to:
  • Put in requests for conference money
  • buy Christmas gifts for family
  • send a couple of Christmas gifts
  • Entirely revamp my syllabi, because some of the things I've done for years do not work at SLAC
  • turn said requests and syllabi in before jetting off to fabulous city in January (since I get back the Saturday night before the term starts)
  • write another book review (but the last one of the year and one that relates to my research)
  • make substantial progress on my K'zoo paper
  • set up Blackboard classrooms for three courses
  • prep two courses, as I have not taught them in this format before and have never used these books
  • read a friend's MS
  • with luck, turn my campus office into a homier place -- at the moment, it is not gemütlich

Wish me luck, all!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogging after grading

Blogging comes after grading

See you soonish

Thursday, December 14, 2006

One step closer to the Lion House

One step closer to the Lion House, I guess

Well, I think this is good news. My K'zoo paper has been accepted. So, that's a paper, a round table, and three potential articles in the works. All of a sudden, it looks like I'm kind of a working academic. Which means, of course, that I'd better get working!

BTW, do papers ever get rejected by K'zoo?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blogging? Oh, yeah. Right.

Blogging? Oh, yeah. Right.

Er ... changing to 15 week terms from 10 is hard. But FYI, It's finals week at SLAC. I'm giving three tomorrow. Then it's all about marking. And I have to turn in requests for conference funding, but it would look far better if I knew whether my 'cool things about women and property' K'zoo paper has been accepted. Really, it would be nice. At this moment, I know I'm on a roundtable. I submitted an abstract, and told a colleague I'd chair a session if he needed me. So it could be one appearance or three. It would be nice to know. Also, sometime in the next couple of weeks, I should know if my contract has been renewed for next year. I hope so. I really like it here. And I have so much to do, my head feels like it's going to 'splode.

Oh. John Stewart is swearing up a storm tonight. He managed to say every curse word I love to use, plus one of the two blasphemous expressions I use but try hard not to. Hee!

Also, The Girl lost her footing on the balcony edge today and scared the hell out of me as she scrabbled to get her hind end back up. No more balcony for her till I get some chicken wire to keep her in. Or something. Apparently, I can get an invisible fence...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Interesting Spam

Interesting Spam

Just thought I'd share this, because it may be one of the most interesting spam subjects I've ever received. Does anybody know if it has another meaning?

Er macht sich daran, seinen Esel Finnegan in ein Rennpferd zu verwandeln.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

notetaking software

Note taking software?

Hi all -- does anyone use notetaking sofware? I'm awful at taking notes on my computer -- partially because it's uncomfortable, partially because taking notes longhand on paper seems to fix things into my brain in a more permanent way. Nevertheless, paper is a bit more cumbersome and definitely heavier. So, I have questions for you denizens of the internets:
  1. How do you take notes? (format)
  2. If you use note taking software, what do you use and why?
  3. If you take notes on a computer, but don't use software made for notetaking, what do you use and why?

I have just downloaded the new version of Scribe from the GMU site, which seems much more user-friendly and much less clunky than the old version. Does anyone else have specific comments about Scribe?