Monday, December 31, 2007

AHA Meet-up

AHA Meet-up (eta: Saturday Morning)

In an attempt to accommodate flow, variable traffic, and lots of running in and out, we're going for the cafe option, which always works well at the Kazoo meet-ups. Through the kindness of a bloggy friend who knows the territory far better than I, a venue has been chosen:

Cafe International, 2633 Connecticut Ave, just across Connecticut from the Woodley Park metro entrance. The map in the AHA Program should suffice to get you there.

It opens at 7:00 a.m., and that's when we'll meet (early birds willing to help stake out seats are welcome!). I'll be leaving in time to get to session 96 at the Marriott at 9, but obviously people can hang out as long as they want!

ETA: Feel free to pass the message. As usual, anonymity and pseudonymity to be respected as necessary!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

More on the AHA

More on the AHA

Info on meet-up (Saturday am around 7) to follow. But how is it that pretty much every interesting professional panel is across from one of the very few medieval panels? Again, I'm having to choose between things that could be really useful in terms of teaching and SLAC's focus on being a 'teaching school' and Stuff That I Never Get to Hear in My Own Field, Not to Mention People With Whom I Should Stay In Contact.

Aargh. But, since I am taking 4 undergrads with me, I can send them off to Tony Grafton's Saturday morning panel (one of the really interesting TG ones across from the medieval stuff), and maybe send the two who are getting their secondary ed credentials to one of the others that looks useful. Yay for minions mentoring. I'm really looking forward to that part. I took my two favourite and most promising community college students to AHA a few years back, and we all had a blast going through the program and picking sessions (and them elbowing me when I started to doze in one session), and coming back and reporting on what the others had missed. The 'bring students' lower registration rate is one of the best things AHA has done in ages, I think. The two students I took before both did very good degrees in History, and one is now working on an MA, hoping to move on to a PhD (after she gets her damned languages!); the other did a bunch of study abroad and is now going to med school. This year, my students have broad interests, none in my fields, really, but none of my SLAC colleagues seemed to think taking students was a worthwhile operation. The only thing I regret is that I think I'm having to cough up for this one out of my own pocket ...

So I'll be blogger-breakfasting, going to at least one reception, trying to get to a bunch of the medieval panels -- especially the one on Sunday, and seeing friends, all the while meeting up with the students for updates. Yipes! It's not like I have writing, contract negotiations, and class prep or anything -- but so do you all!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Carnivalesques Galore

Carnivalesques Galore!

Aargh! Somehow I missed a Carnivalesque when I was in grading jail! The December Early Modern version is up at Cardinal Wolsey's place.

The next Ancient/Medieval version will be on or about January 20 at Atol is thine unseon, which is something in Anglo-Saxon, but I have no idea what, since my experience of A/S is pretty close to non-existent! I leave it to you all to tell me. This is one of the first times we've turned the reins over to an undergrad, so imagine the pressure!
Contributions to (ahem) floweringnutcase AT gmail DOT com.

And, of course, if you are interested in hosting, please drop a line.

In other news, the blogger meet-up post is here. I'm leaning towards Saturday, and am checking on coffee shops ...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

AHA Blogger Meetup

AHA Blogger Meetup

How does an early Saturday breakfast or Friday at 5-ish sound?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Assessing Assessment

Assessing Assessment

The semester is officially over. All I can see is work piled up from here to the next apocalypse. But tonight I am filled with Chinese food and a little beer, and I'm tired. I've also been percolating some thoughts about this gig at SLAC, now that I've been there for over a year. And I'm thinking about some of the underlying assumptions for assessment and accreditation programs (and yes, for how they fit into the T&P portfolio) and how they leave me cold these days. I've also been thinking about World History again, but that's for another post.

At one point at the beginning of the semester, I thought I'd hit my SLAC groove. It lasted about ten minutes. This semester kicked my butt, and not in that good way that leaves you exhilarated. I taught 13 lecture hours this semester. Two courses were upper-division courses I'd never taught before, and for one of those I had never taken any formal coursework -- I just knew that the students seemed to want something other than had been offered in the course before. I'd have liked some input on the course, because it's a service course. As such, it makes sense to me that the course be fairly consistent no matter who teaches it. Not so much. So I made it up as I went along. Part of the course was on the history of the writing or history, the rest was on the doing of history. I think the best day in the course was when one of the students said s/he thought it was going to be one of those classes where you're not really sure how it all fits together at the time, but you find yourself drawing on in all your other courses. I really hope so. The other course was in a field I know, but the SLAC mentality seemed to have made it hard. Or maybe I just don't know how to teach Upper-division courses effectively yet. What I wanted was to divide the week between topical lectures/discussions and discussions of primary source readings. The topical part kind of went by the wayside when I saw students trying to find what I was talking about in the text. Most of what I was talking about couldn't be looked up. Except for the military history, students didn't really read the primary sources. There was, admittedly, a good bit of reading for SLAC -- all of about 100-200 pp. a week. The surveys should have been easy, but they weren't. Again, there was a problem with preparation. Students just didn't do the reading. They didn't bring notes. Several students turned in only one or two assignments out of four. Much of the time, the students hadn't prepared because they said they didn't understand the language. That is, there were unfamiliar words, and looking them up in a dictionary made no sense.

Well, that's sounding bitter. To be fair, I had some students who really did try hard, and did do all the work. They kept me sane. They also made me feel guilty, because the classes could have been so much better. And in terms of personality, sense of humor, and being a mensch? I'd say probably 75% of the students are just really there. Despite that, though, this is the first time in my teaching life where I really thought, "these people aren't me." Not one of my students showed an interest in being really good, let alone excelling. They all simply seemed to want to be good enough. Good enough means getting a D if it's a non-major class, and a C if it is. Minuses are fine. It's sort of a shock. When I taught community college, I had a lot of grade-grubbers. I had a lot of students who were there to save money and who wanted to transfer into selective universities for their last two years. My classes weren't required, and so only those with an interest took them. Here, I have great enrollment numbers. My classes are not required, but they do fulfill a requirement. And students take classes with me more than once, even when they don't have to. My evals are fine. Students say they like me and that my courses are challenging. But they don't seem to want the A. Or maybe those who do are, like me, so brought down by those who don't care that they've given up.

That was all in aid of getting me to assessment. We're doing lots of assessment things at SLAC. Everybody is, it seems. We review out courses, departments, programs, etc., and re-examine the instruments of assessment. We redefine and refine our outcomes. We are told we must measure not only our students' performance, but our own. How do we measure that? By whether or not our students are successful. We must survey them. We must find standardized tests in our fields to give exiting seniors. We cannot be objective, we are told, so we must let external criteria be our guide.

In principle, I think most of this is fine. I like collaborating and norming with my colleagues, to a point. I like it when I can bounce an idea off a colleague and have him or her tell me I'm being a hard-ass, or unreasonable, or too easy. LDW has served as an external examiner for other universities. I like the idea of having an expert not employed at SLAC looking at what I'm doing and telling me it's in line with what is being taught at other places. After all, there is no one else here who teaches what I teach. How do I know if I'm doing it right? How do I know if I'm letting my standards slip or expecting too much? Sometimes it happens. LDW told me today that he thought the essay question for the Civ final was really hard. Admittedly, he doesn't teach World History, so the idea of a very broad comparison seemed very difficult to him. I had to explain that I was looking for big-picture and not too detailed answers, rather than the kind of deep and detailed essay I'd have wanted in a Western Civ class.

On the other hand ... well, all of the assessment of us as faculty is predicated on the idea that students are here to learn. It's based on the idea that students do learn, and remember. Even though we like to cringe, because so much of assessment and accreditation seems to focus on whether students are getting value for money, it *is* also based on the idea we try to impress upon our students: what we teach is important, and a BA/BA is not just a piece of paper that means a better entry-level job. But what if that's all the students want? What if they aren't so worried about the experience, about savouring and remembering what we try to teach them? What if, as one of my students said to me, they just aren't that into it and really just didn't feel like getting the A they could have got, because all they needed to graduate was 70%? For most of my students at SLAC, that seems to be the rule. Going to SLAC is kind of like buying a Louis Vuitton purse: you pay for it so people can see you did, but really, it's not all that special (I was going to compare it to a Prada bag, but hey, at least they are really good quality leather and they are frighteningly overpriced. Schools like SLAC are more like LV -- you pay too much, but not an insane amount and can't always be sure it's not a knock-off)

All kidding aside, how do we assess places like SLAC in a way that is fair to the good faculty and to the good students? If a campus tries to push a reputation as 'selective', then how do we integrate the results for those students who came in on waivers? There are many days when I'm not so sure I taught my students history. Most days, at least I'm sure I taught them something, even if it's a few new words or a better way to write a sentence or something that will be useful in the long run, but may not be on the course description. And if they aren't, they don't get assessed. Unfortunately, I can't teach the things I'm assessed on unless I teach them the tools to survive in a college class. It's exhausting.

And soon, I will also be assessed on how well I've managed to be a scholar on top of the teaching and service. I got one article (pedagogical) submitted at the beginning of the year. I somehow got elected to an office in a professional organization. I applied for a Dream Job (search suspended) and a postdoc. I'm behind on reviews, and I still have to write a conference paper, a scholarly article, and finish negotiating a contract for a project that is scholarly, but in the way of an aid, rather than something monograph-ish. And when I get that negotiated, I've got to finish it. And then I can work on another paper and the book. In between teaching those 13 hours (only 9 next semester), plus a summer course, and a new prep every semester for the foreseeable future. I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Still in Grading Jail

Still in Grading Jail

Anybody else?

And really, if you're done, just keep it to yourself, thanks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sad News for People whose lives have been brightened by Mr. T. Pratchett

Sad News for People whose lives have been brightened by Mr. T. Pratchett

This is very sad news via Paul Kidby's Discworld site. He aten't dead, but good thoughts are in order.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I think the phrase is, "WTF??"

I think the phrase is, "WTF??"

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said teachers who refuse younger students access to the site are "bad educators".

Is there enough snerk in the world to respond to this adequately? I think not.

ETA How do people feel about a Saturday morning breakfast?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

AHA Meetup?

AHA Meetup?

Hello, all. Is anybody going to AHA, and if so, do you want to have a blogger meet-up? Also, are any of you female types looking for a roommate for one or two nights?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thank goodness it's a meme!

Thank goodness it's a meme!

Squadratomagico tagged me for a meme! yay, a reason to blog. Actually, I'm working on a post about balancing teaching and writing, but I owe a very cool editor a review and will not write my post till I finish that. So this is the seven unconnected things I don't think I've revealed about myself before:

  1. I have a real fear of my body being disposed of before I'm really, dropped-a-house-on-me-and-saw-my-feet-curl-up dead.
  2. The first time I named a pet, I chose "Six Spots." I was only 2 1/2, but I was not allowed to name another pet till I was much older.
  3. I have met a real DC Comics super hero -- or at least an actor who played him -- when he was doing a signing (in costume) on location. I was about five, and I think this may have been my first brush with fandom.
  4. I was a co-founder of a Star Trek fan club in 7th grade. Our leader is now a professor of physics (he does quantum stuff) at a large midwestern university
  5. I once received a hand-coloured original picture from Mike Mignola as a Christmas card
  6. I'm comfortable riding horses in three different types of saddles, but I'm not particularly great at any of them
  7. I don't really do jealousy, or even envy.

Here are the (slightly modified) rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. On it.

Everybody I can think of who would do this has been tagged, so if you haven't, consider yourself obliged. Or not.

Ooh! and from Pilgrim/Heretic, another!

Your Score: Fennel

You scored 50% intoxication, 25% hotness, 75% complexity, and 25% craziness!

You are Fennel!

You're a cool cat. Crisp, clean, fresh, and extremely complicated. You're like quantum physics or modern jazz. Think Niels Bohr meets Ornette Coleman. You may look normal now, but once you sprout, you look kind of, uh, funny.

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test written by jodiesattva on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carnivalesque XXXIII

Carnivalesque XXXIII

Hello, all, and welcome to the 33rd edition of Carnivalesque Logo. It's been a while since I've been able to really enjoy looking at blogs, so the theme for this Ancient/Medieval version is "some really cool stuff I wish I hadn't missed the first time 'round." With any luck, you may have missed some of this, too.

Even though it's not always considered history, I thought I'd start out with some prehistorical discoveries. First, and this is absolutely not historical, but I heard it on the news this morning and thought y'all might be equally amazed, here be dragons? Seriously, has anyone done any work on whether tales of dragons and other mythical creatures might have been discoveries by early fossil hunters?

To get to something a bit closer to our time period, Ancarett points us to prehistoric fashionistas. Meanwhile, both The Antiquarian's Attic and The Cranky Professor report on the discovery of a support village for Stonehenge. It might be Neolithic, but I don't think any ancient or medieval historian would debate that these big honking stone circles and the debates over their purpose and their builders haven't affected concepts of pre-Roman civilizations. Not to mention their importance to Asterix and Obelix! And, it appears, to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen.

Digs at more recent archæological sites are also in the news. Over at Memorabilia Antonina, Tony Keen recounts the possibilities, likely and imagined, of finding a Latin Library at Herculaneum. If you're interested in whether or not Alexander the Great was an alcoholic -- and many of my students are, for some reason -- World History Blog has been reading up on the possibility For those of you who are really interested, there's an even older article out there, I think either in The Lancet or in The New England Journal of Medicine that is an attempt at a forensic report based on what our ancient sources tell us about Alexander's life and death. IIRC, the result was that he was probably not poisoned.

I'd like to stay in chronological order, but really, this time I can't. You'll see why. Moving forward to the Middle Ages, though, there are some really interesting tidbits. My favourite all-around cool thing is this very cool video of a medieval church being moved, lock, stock, and barrel -- again, posted by Cranky Professor. And what's a church without saints? Or at least, saints' days? Over at Executed Today, we find that Saint Brice's Day in 1002 was not a particularly good day for Danes living in England. While you're there, you might also check out somewhat macabre tale of Frederick of Isenberg. Ick.

On a possibly less gory note (if we try to ignore those 4000 Saxons, at least), Magistra et Mater looks at the management secrets of the Carolingians. I don't completely agree, but it's good reading, and I'm very glad to have found her blog, because, well ... another blogging female Carolingianist!!!! I found her through Jonathan Jarrett over at A Corner of Tenth Century Europe. Jonathan also has a post up that is drawing some great comments. In the post, he addresses that perennial question: "what is our purpose?"

Apparently, most of our purpose these days is to talk about Beowulf. The movie, not the poem. My Long Distance Whatever and I saw it the other night. Take two early medievalists who are also sff fans and put them in front of a CGI-assisted film version of a poem they've both taught (and he's actually taught an entire course on the damned thing) from a historical perspective and see what happens. And no, X, we did not bore each other to death! Actually, we did both have to cover our eyes a couple of few times. Neither of us found too many nits to pick, possibly out of Gaiman-loyalty, possibly because for me, at least, the CGI really made it a bit alien to me, and I just felt the film was ... detached? from the poem. There's a lot to say, but really, I think some of our colleagues have done better jobs. First, The hype at In the Middle. Then,Dr. Virago asks, Hwaet the Hell? and later, tells us what she really thinks! Meanwhile, over at Got Medieval, LL Cool Carl waxes philosophic about Angelina Jolie's CGI breasts. No critique of modern views of the medieval could be complete without Matt Gabriele's review at Modern Medieval. And, of course, someone had to help with all the work -- I started collecting these when the film came out, but trust Scott Nokes to have beat me to the punch and posting. What I've missed, he's found. Enjoy!

As a final message, Ralph Luker over at Cliopatria would like me to remind you that The 2007 Cliopatria History Blog Awards are underway. Please check them out and nominate/vote for your faves.

Update: Links now fixed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Carnivalesque Coming Soon

Carnivalesque Coming Soon

I hope it will be up by this evening, PST, but there's a chance it won't be up till early Wednesday, because I'm about to lose my internet connection!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Introducing my newest Reader

Introducing My Newest Reader

So I called X on my way to Fabulous European Capital to say hi and goodbye in case the plane crashed. And he said he'd found this blog and was reading it! So everybody, meet X. X, meet everybody. I hope you like each other. And you know, I guess it says something about the way I feel about him even now, that he's the person I wanted to talk to, just in case something happened. We weren't the greatest of partners, but I think we've managed to be pretty good friends.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Carnivalesque Bleg

Carnivalesque Bleg

Aaaaargh!! I am not just Another Damned Medievalist, but I'm another so screwed medievalist! I had these grand plans to host a Carnivalesque next week, because I was going to have cleared my desk of all work except for editing LDW's book, and was going to try to enjoy my Thanksgiving week with him in Fantastic European Capital. My desk is so not cleared! I feel like I haven't read blogs in forever. So ... if you can think of any particularly good Ancient/Medieval posts from the last two months, please feel free to send me (or post) links. All I can say right now is that there will be a Beowulf section -- with a review if it's opened in Fabulous European Capital.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We remember the day

We remember the day, but we seem to have forgotten why.

Friday, November 09, 2007

History Carnival 58

History Carnival 58

History Carnival 58 is up at Aardvarchaeology.

Sorry for the late notice, but I am in grading jail, had a mild case of 'flu, and it's advising week.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Non-Punitive Quizzage

Non-Punitive Quizzage

In this post, I talked about students not doing the reading and how I didn't want to infantalize my classes by giving quizzes. I got lots of great suggestions that made me do a little re-thinking, and in the last two classes, I gave quizzes. I'd actually warned the first class -- the teeth-pulling one -- that there would be a quiz. Despite this, the results were largely pathetic. But the results of the class period were much better. After the students completed the quiz, I collected it, looked all of the quizzes over, and returned them to the students after getting an idea of where they were. Then we arranged our chairs for a discussion and went over the possible answers (it was an amazingly open quiz -- name five major things that happened in what had been the Roman Empire between that emperor who legalized Christianity and the guy who won the battle of Lechfeld, for example). Most of them had little to go on from what was written down, but if one person knew something, someone else could add to it, and then someone else could come up with another related thing, and so on. So I was able to demonstrate to them that they knew more than they'd thought, AND that they all needed to study more.

The second class erupted in protest. And then a couple of them said, "but we're usually prepared -- you should make it a group quiz!" So I told them that, as long as we could get really good answers to all the questions, we could do that. So we got in a group, and they were all over it. And they ribbed each other about wrongish answers ("Dude! That's like a hundred years too late! What are you thinking??"). It was really fun.

Best thing is that I managed to review a ton of stuff I'd been trying to get to, clarified a lot of things people were having trouble with, and tied it up with a big overview ribbon! I think I may start doing this more often, and earlier.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What will be on the final?

What will be on the final?

Dear Students,

If I keep trying to get you to discuss a certain question in class and online, it might be because I think it's important. If it's a question about my own area of expertise, I probably think it's important. If it's an issue that I think you are letting popular knowledge get in the way of reality (like the ebil Catholics ran the world from the time of Constantine to Luther's reformation), or that the Emperor kept the Pope in his pocket for the same period (despite considerable time spent on the Eastern Roman Empire, Barbarians, etc.), I might think it's important. If I keep saying, "but what about ...?" and "I think you might need to think again about issues of time and geographical location, among many other factors that are right there in your textbook and that you are ignoring ...", I might think it's important.

If I think it's important, there's a good chance it will be on the final. kthxbai.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In college reading is optional

In college reading is optional

Or so a plurality of my students seem to think. I never took a class in community college where faculty gave quizzes. I never took a class at Beachy U where faculty gave quizzes. Ok -- maybe in language classes. But not anything else. I'm damned if I'm going to start. But if the alternative is waiting for several minutes for students to look in their books for answers to really basic questions directly from the reading assignment ... ? One of my colleagues says that this what was expected in high school. Hmph. Blogging will recommence when I am less grumpy.

PS -- it's only half my classes. The others are prepared enough to at least ask questions. Most of them. A couple actually come with prodigious amounts of notes. This makes me very happy.

Update: Well, shoot. Now I'm thinking quizzes might not be awful. the first three comments make it clear that I should probably have a serious re-think.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My week thus far

My week thus far

Saturday, I had a most wonderful day -- close to perfick. Sunday, I rowed with another friend because of an incredibly stupid misunderstanding. Today, I come to my office to find that it's frakkin' freezing. As in, "need my gloves" freezing. As in, "I'd turn on my space heater, but it hasn't worked since the pipes burst in my office and drowned the circuitry. SLAC won't replace it, needless to say. At the moment, I'm looking forward to 5 hours worth of classes. Yep, it's a Monday all right.

Carnivalesque 32

Carnivalesque 32

I was semi-incommunicado this weekend, and so missed yesterday's appearance of the latest Carnivalesque Logo, which is up at Serendipities. Lots of cool Early Modern stuff, especially stuff on duelling and a cartoon!

The next edition will appear right here, on or about 20 November. It will be Ancient and Medieval, natch, and will not be likely to include turkeys ... unless I can think of some way to deal with that particular anachronism!

Suggestions for inclusion are always welcome -- email them to me at another_damned_medievalist AT hotmail DOT com, or use the handy submission form.

Also, we are always looking for hosts -- January and March are open for Ancient/Medieval volunteers, and I know there are some of you out there!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday Already?

Wednesday Already?

OK, so I think I need to figure out a way of adding more structure to my classes. Or learning how to be a crankier medievalist. Or maybe find more motivated students? I've taught 7 classes this week -- down from the usual 9 by the end of Wednesday, because I had scheduled student progress meetings for one class. It has occurred to me that very few of my students are doing as well as they should. Even my good classes are not as on top of the information as they should be. I'm having to work very hard at getting the students to participate, rather than at getting the information across.

Yes, midterms were last week -- why do you ask? I think I had one A in all of my classes. Most of my students seem happy with B's and C's. Lots aren't doing that well. But some are. I don't take credit for that. The students who are doing well are driven and engaged, and seem to think that they should be doing the best they can. I do think they are getting something valuable out of my courses, but that's because they are genuinely putting something into them. I think most of my B students are also getting a lot out of the courses, but they could all be A students if they just did all their work and did it on time. But they all seem OK with what I would consider unacceptable grades.

I worry about them, and I worry that the apathy might be contagious. I need to find a way to make my classes more demanding on the students without disproportionately increasing my work load ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Art Imitates Life

Art Imitates Life

What makes a blog successful? Over at Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden points us to a post at John Scalzi's blog wherein Scalzi eviscerates a "how to make your blog successful" article. As far as I can tell, these people count blog success by number of hits. The advice they give is how to network to get more hits. I don't really get this.

When I started blogging, lo, those 5+ years ago, it was because one of my best friends, Cranky Professor had pointed me to the now sadly-defunct Invisible Adjunct. At the time, I was in the process of returning to academia, and was myself experiencing the woes of adjuncting. After a short while, I was commenting at lots of blogs, and it seemed only polite to set up my own place where I could hog all the space I wanted, rather than hijacking other people's comment threads. So Blogenspiel was born. I still wish I'd given it a second 'g' for phonetic reasons.

The first readers, and some of the people who are now RL friends, were also readers of IA's blog. As we read each other's blogs, we also added new blogs we'd found through each other to our blogrolls, and made new blog friends and acquaintances. Or at least I did -- I can't really speak for anyone else's process, except that it seems to me that mostly this has been pretty organic. I suppose this could be called networking, but really, it's much more the way we meet at conferences when colleagues who are also friends introduce us to other colleagues who are also friends. Unquestionably the professional connections are important, but I still differentiate between meeting as colleagues and meeting as friends who are also colleagues. But then, I'm kind of a sad person in that I don't have all that many friends who aren't connected through academia. When I was married, I did, and I still have friends through X. I've started to meet a larger range of people in the last year or so, especially in the sf/f community, but even there, most of the people I know are connected to the academy in some way. Hell, I met Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Kazoo last year, and I probably wouldn't have met her otherwise, at least not till LDW makes good on this promise to take me to a con -- maybe Worldcon in Denver? (I'm thinking the SFRA paper might not happen. I have good ideas, but my dean will shoot me if I present a third paper this year before getting a medieval article in press!).

Somehow, while all that was happening, a bunch of people started reading this blog. The numbers have gone down as I've stopped writing as regularly -- and probably as I stopped writing about my divorce and job hunt? But I figure people aren't reading as much because there are lots of other interesting people out there who are writing regularly. I'm also not reading as many blogs, nor am I commenting as much, mostly because I am still feeling very overwhelmed with the living of the new T-T life -- which I still haven't managed to chronicle. Part of this is not being able to objectify some of the constant drama at SLAC, especially in my department. Part of it is just that I feel like, even though I've got 13 hours of face time in classes a week, a couple of new preps, and committee work (not to mention a whole passel of advisees), I am now in a position where I really have to show myself and the world that I am a productive academic type. I don't have the excuse of a constant job hunt or a long commute anymore (even though my time has been sucked up by other things!).

But anyway, I don't consider this blog any more or less successful than I ever did. It just is. Ironically, however, I'm giving a paper on blogging and networking this year. One of the points I'll be making is that blogging, even anonymous blogging, can do wonders for one's career. It's not why I started blogging. That was about feeling like a medievalist in the wilderness. At SLAC, I still feel that way. But whatever my intentions, blogging connected me to a wonderful group of medievalists, some of whom are now participants in a locked-down work blog; it reconnected me to some old and very valued friends, one of whom gave me my first opportunity to present a scholarly paper; it connected me to another bunch of medievalists who became RL friends, and who also invited me to present with them; it connected me with another RL academic service opportunity, which I really enjoy -- and through that, to a number of book reviews; it's given me a collegial community with which I can exchange ideas about teaching and from which I can beg for help with readings; and it has inadvertantly garnered me an invitation to fill in at a prestigious conference where I'd never have dared to submit. So ... from the points of view of the people Scalzi complains about, I guess the blog has been a route to their kind of success. But it wasn't planned. I just wanted not to feel so damned isolated. Funny how things work.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Just another day

Just Another Day

I did not know this:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hello? World?

Hello? World?

Um ... hi. So, in the past week and a half, I have written, given, and graded 70 midterms, written a postdoc app, and started the late book review. Also, I apparently miscounted the days till going to fabulous European capital to see LDW. It's 30 days as of today. Hmph. On the other hand, that still means I have time to read his MS. After the book reviews.

In other news, my nose is still above water, but I've been missing out on lots of blog stuff. I just noticed that Mike Drout has been posting all kinds of cool stuff on Beowulf, which I need to read if I'm going to teach it next semester. Speaking of which, I need to think about a book order. I'm thinking Collins for the main text (LA and EM is the course), but does anyone have a better choice? LDW mentioned that a book by Olsen (Lynette?) might be decent ... OH!!! and how much does it say that today in class when we were talking about an excerpt from the Rig Veda, Indra killing the dragon, and a student compared it to part of Genesis, all I could think of was, um ... Beowulf?

Let's see ... I don't have a volunteer for the next Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesque in November, and am thinking I haven't done one in a couple of years, so I might do it myself if no one minds ...

In the meanwhile, I've got to read a ton of a Greek historian writing about Rome about wars with the guy with the elephants for Friday, write the review of a ginormous book which can only be glowing, and a review of different book by reasonably famous types, and write an application for the Dream Job. Now I just have to worry whether to use letterhead for my cover letter.

ETA: apologies to all for the plethora of misplaced and dangling modifiers. I blame two things: drive-by blogging and a drink called a pear blossom.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

RBO Consternation

RBO Consternation

  • There is a collegial issue. I am Switzerland. Or sometimes the clueless looking guy in the light blue helmet.
  • There is a facilities issue. I worry that it is an indication of larger issues.
  • There are tech issues. These actually are indications of larger and completely insoluble issues. But they have caused faculty to move beyond biting nastiness right into slightly raising their voices, and reduced undergraduates to tears.
  • 1/3 of the students in my upper division class did not turn in their first paper. They will now have to pull 100% on each of their other assignments to get a middle B in my class. But ... WTF? Who doesn't turn in papers? I mean, I know I say I won't take late work, but I've never actually refused anything if the story is good enough and the student is willing to take a cut in the final grade.
  • Speaking of late ... Nice Book Review Editor, if you are reading this, really, I am kinda working on it and will have it in ASAP.
  • I am so far behind on applying for a postdoc that I don't know if I can pull it together at this point, because I really don't want to annoy my referees.
  • I so have to publish something academic, so that I can get someone in my field as a referee for the next application.
  • My FIVE classes are all ok. I like almost all the students, and dislike none. I am not especially fond of one of my classes as a whole, because there are some serious time-wasters, and I am close to asking people to leave. As it is, they are so confused that they confuse me. Er, by confused, I mean that several of them say in class that they are confused, but part of why they are confused is that they refuse to believe that I am not going to reiterate what's in the textbook, and they won't do the reading or bring notes.
  • I am counting the days (30) till I jet off to fabulous European Capital to visit LDW. I anticipate much enjoyment and much library time. Some day, I hope to have a vacation with him when we are not working or conferencing. Still, it's good to have someone I can work and conference with. Crap. I have 30 days to read and comment on his MS.

How are your lives?

UPDATE: Because Nice Book Review Editor really is nice, and because my referrees are stars, I think I will be getting in the postdoc app and get going on the review and start editing LDW's book. I've just realised that I can work on that on Monday nights, too, because I teach almost all day on Monday and am usually too tired to do anything else!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Internalization of a construct

Internalization of a construct

It's ages since I've written anything substantive, but today I felt rather impelled to do so. That was a few hours ago, and I'm bloody tired now, so please add elegance and erudition as necessary. This afternoon, I was doing prep for tomorrow's historiography and methods class -- always a thrill, as I've never actually taken a class in historiography, although the economic history seminar I took in grad school was largely historiography. And, of course, one does pick up a lot of historiography along the way. Still, I've had to do a lot of catching up. This is one of the things that makes me glad that I'm at SLAC -- I really do need to refine my upper-division teaching skills and develop some upper division courses. SLAC's students can be pretty good, and most of the majors are pretty bright, but I've found that even the best sometimes are less prepared for discussions than I'd like. So I've been focusing on getting them to talk about the historiographic and methodological concepts they've been reading about and get them to relate them to things they already know from classes they've taken, rather than concentrating on exposing them to a more traditional 'names, schools, and arguments' kind of course. This means that I do a good bit of work on the fly, adding readings as we go to help reinforce the points I've tried to make and to help clarify things for them. We use Tosh for the main text, by the way.

Last week, one of our topics of discussion included the caveats of using constructs to explain history, and the students really seemed to be unsure -- unlike when we talked about the tensions surrounding trying to maintain historical objectivity, when someone astutely pointed out that there was a difficult line to walk between remaining objective and falling prey to relativism. Anyway, back to the idea of constructs ... you know where this was going, right? You probably knew when you saw the title of the post!

I decided last week to have them read the Brown article (the one in the AHR in 1974) I was re-reading it today and I realised something -- it's more than a seminal article. It's part of me. I think I've read it about 4 times over the past 18 or so years. I know the arguments, even if I don't always keep the major scholars straight. For example, I've been thinking that Maitland argued some things in a way he never did -- that is, I somehow always want to argue that, if feudalism worked anywhere, it was in England after the conquest, and I thought that might have been Maitland -- who argues the opposite, if anything!

But basically, I've been arguing that article for at least the last 15 years. I cite it all the time, but until tonight, I never realised how much I'd internalised Brown's arguments -- more than I have Reynolds', as it happens. When people ask me about the f-word, I answer with Brown, where Brown = the entire history of arguments against the f-word. I know there are parts I don't entirely agree with, but in terms of being able to argue the case, I can't imagine doing it any other way -- and I can't always remember when I'm arguing a slightly different case. In some ways, I think this makes me particularly crap at historiography. Aren't we supposed to know what Bloch said and what Ganshof said and what Brown said and what Reynolds said? I can place them all on a spectrum. I think one of the difficulties is that, except for Reynolds, everybody is still a bit vague. But I think the hardest part for me is that I've just taken all of this and synthesized it and turned it into a more coherent, if amalgamated, argument.

I think in some ways, this ability to synthesize and distill arguments is one of the things that makes me a decent teacher. On the other hand, I worry that it's one of the things that makes scholarship difficult for me. Once I've read the same things, or sorts of things, a few times, I forget who said what. I think that part of it is because I have my own internal system going at all times, and so there's a kind of unconscious selection system working to reconcile different arguments into the "best guess" mediated argument. But my internal system needs to be (re)trained to remember the actual arguments and who made them, I think. There needs to be a more conscious sense of acceptance or rejection of other scholars' work; I need to not only be aware of what I know and how I know it, but much more articulate about why I accept some ideas more than others, and why I've synthesized information the way I have.

Overall, thinking about how much this one article has become part of my approach to my field has helped me to connect a little better one of the things I've been grappling with for years, and that I have to try to teach -- why is history important? I've always argued that it's less important for the facts, and more important for the kinds of approaches to sources and analysis we use. But reading "Tyranny of a Construct" again has also made me realise that, for me at least,there's a kind of connection between how I handle information -- subsuming it into my thought processes so that it's as seamless as I can make it -- and who I am. But is my life informed by history and historiography, or am I an historian because I don't know any other way to be?

Interesting Find

Interesting Find

In addition to the hoards at Tiruncula's Carnivalesque, there's been a find of a lime kiln dating to somewhere between the 12th and 13th centuries. The article's in German, so you even get a chance to practice your language skills!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Carnivalesque XXX

Carnivalesque XXX is up!

Before I could even get myself organized to say it was on its way, Tiruncula, medievalist extraordinaire has put up the newest version of Carnivalesque!

I've just looked through it, and it looks fabulous -- with links to blogs I know, and blogs I knew nothing about. Needless to say, I'm always a little prejudiced in favour of the Ancient/Medieval carnivals, but even so, this one is very nice! Go and read and be entertained and enlightened!

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Really, I'm here

No Really, I'm Here!

Just trying to do some juggling. One of my goals this year at SLAC is to really try to be more a member of the SLAC community, which means actually seeing other people rather than hiding in front of my computer. This is becoming easier in some ways -- the hall where my office is located is now full of very social faculty, which is occasionally very distracting. And harder in others -- departmental tensions and a colleague moving out of town and commuting in to Dabbaville mean that, while I feel more connected to the campus and my colleagues in general, I am feeling somewhat disaffected in terms of my department. I do have to say that advising is helping a lot, as is being here for a second year -- students know me, and I know them. I've had lots of people popping by my office. And, in pursuance of my community-oriented goal, I went with colleagues to an actual!sports!event! this weekend. We tailgated, and ended up seeing only a little of the actual event, but saw a lot of folks, reconnected with each other, and I was really kind of happy to walk up to the stadium and have all kinds of students shouting, "Hi, Dr. ADM!!"

But this kind of meant that I have not really achieved what I need for the Big September 15 Deadline. Which means at best a probable submission to the General Sessions, unless I hear from the roundtable people that they can use me. And I will put in for chairing a panel. Hey, I had a topic -- it's just now being given elsewhere. Plus I have to think about Leeds ...

So, expect more after I get through this week. For today, I have FIVE lecture hours to get through.

update: Yay, I'm on a professional panel at K'zoo. And I will put in to chair a panel. So if I can get an abstract submitted by the end of the week, great, but honestly, I'm thinking that I am teaching 8 classes this year, 4 of them new preps, and I have to turn in my T&P stuff at the end of the summer. My first essay for a pedagogical journal is out to the reviewers, and I really want to work on getting at least one medieval article accepted this year, plus get the book proposal honed. So I think I'm going to try to focus on getting things published, and get some things in the pipeline for next year's circuit, including perhaps Leeds, which is on a different fiscal budget. How does that sound, oh wise intrawebs?

ETA -- Clarification: I am giving a medieval paper this year, just not at Kazoo. The paper I had planned to propose for Kazoo will instead be delivered at a Very Large Triennial Conference of Women Historians. So that's still one paper that will work towards article/book chapter, plus a second conference presentation, plus possibly chairing a session if Kazoo needs me to. I'm not cutting back that much.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Off to a start -- cautiously optimistic

Off to a start -- cautiously optimistic

Two teaching days down, one to go. Now to get into a routine where the gym makes an appearance. Classes so far are pretty good. If SLAC were a Hogwarts house, it would be Hufflepuff. There's the occasional Ravenclaw, and only a couple of Slytherins, with maybe a smattering of Gryffindors. But mostly, it's Hufflepuff central. Because I teach in such a small program, I have several students taking more than one class from me. It's kind of confusing to see the same faces more than once a day. I've got one student in three classes. Freaks me out.

I've already had absenteeism (wtf?? who misses classes the first week?), but I've also got students who are warming pretty quickly. This is especially true of the freshmen -- I'm going to have to do some jumping on the upperclassmen, I think. I'm definitely getting a feeling that some of them aren't getting that they need to do the work to survive. I'm very glad I made the decision this time to not give out the exam questions a week in advance. There will be a sorting of sheep from goats.

Mostly, though, I'm going crazy -- I still haven't got anything new for Kazoo, and need to get hold of a panel coordinator or two and see if there's anything open -- wither that, or I'm going to have to submit to the general sessions. At the very least, I hope I can chair a panel, so I can justify travel money.

It's starting to feel a little normal to me now. I think it's time to think about that post on settling in. Last year, I was protected a bit in terms of service, etc. This year, my dean is making jokes about me carrying the department in terms of FTEs. Basically, I've been around just long enough to see the things that could become problematic and the things that can be fixed, if people want them. I'm settled enough to know I could be happy at SLAC for a while, but not so happy that I'm not going to apply for the Dream Job. That one, I'll definitely pursue, but I think I won't be looking beyond that this year. Now is a time to really start putting all the little things I've been learning in practice, so I can move forward, here or elsewhere. To do that, I will need to blog more regularly, and more thoughtfully, but possibly a little less often. Or at least that's one of my New Year's Resolutions!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shopping Bleg

Shopping Bleg -- a public service for those in denial about term starting

OK. I'm on a limited budget and need clothes. I need (and this really is more need than want, I think -- I want a pair of black boots, but I don't really need them so probably won't spend money I don't have on them). You know.
So anyway, I need a dress or two for going out, but not too dressy. And good for travel. Something I could wear for academic things, but also for a nice dinner out at a place where gentlemen would be expected to wear jackets and ties. And suitable for cool weather. So I'm thinking I would like something knit, but not too synthetic because sweaty, in black and/or chocolate brown. 3/4 sleeves would be good.

The other thing I need is the thing I couldn't find last year. A skinny, ribbed turtleneck in mostly silk or wool (or even cotton) with enough lycra or spandex to help it keep its shape, but again, not too synthetic. It should be beige/cream/oatmeal... and maybe chocolate. Alternatively, I might have to start haunting the local discount stores for more skinny v-neck, 3/4 length sweaters, but I really do want a couple of flattering and clingy turtlenecks. So if you have suggestions ...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Holocaust Tarot Deck -- Discuss

Holocaust Tarot Deck -- Discuss

I'm strangely calmly preparing for Monday. I'm pretty much on top of what I'm doing next week, although I have to do some review and put together some PowerPoints of maps and suchlike -- and write a couple of lecture outlines, but I feel very comfortable with knowing what's going on. Easing into the Methods class was a good choice. I have a draft of LDW's book to read and comment on, a postdoc app to write, a job app to start working on, and an article, a book proposal and a book review in the pipeline, plus a publisher in Germany to nag. So I may be a little in denial about how much I've got to do. I also have to start reviewing what I need to do for my T&P portfolio, because it's due in a year.

So I have little of interest to talk about concerning the Middle Ages. Instead, via Gill Polack, I bring you a set of Tarot cards created in the Allach concentration camp. I honestly couldn't look at all of them. They are strangely beautiful, though. Like Gill, I don't know enough about Tarot to understand why the particular images might appear on particular cards. But they seemed the kinds of things that smart people like you all might want to talk about. Me, I find the different layers of horror and belief fascinating, but haven't processed much farther than that. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Carnivalesque XXX

Carnivalesque XXX

Carnivalesque XXX is up at Recent Finds! What more could you ask for than an Early Modern carnival, a Danish host, Harry Potter Bibles, and a few very odds and ends?

The next Carnivalesque will be hosted by the esteemed Tiruncula at Practica on or about the 25th of September. Send your Ancient and Medieval Nominations to tiruncula AT gmail DOT com or via the form.

And now is the time on Sprockets where we dance where I bleg for hosts for November and January and March. How about some of you newer ancient/medieval folk? You can get more details at the Carnivalesque site.

Only one week left!

Only One Week Left!

Sooooo not ready for this term. Are you? Have you started yet?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

PSA - skype

PSA -- if you're a Skype user

this is where to look for info. Kind of a drag, but it's been pretty great service so far.

Call for early Modern posts

Calling for Early Modern Posts!

The next edition of Carnivalesque will be for all things related to the early modern period (c.1500-1800 CE), and will be hosted by Henrik at Recent Finds on 19 August. Send your nominations to henrik.karll[AT]gmail[DOT]com or via the form.

As always, we are looking for volunteers for future carnivalesques. They happen mid-month and alternate between Early Modern and Ancient/Medieval. If you'd like to host, please e-mail me or Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes -- e-mail addresses on our home pages.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Update to my last

Update to my last

Apologies for the attempts to make this entry a little less google-able.

So as an update to this post, I've done some weeding. I've also added some stuff, because Shock!Horror! I had nothing on early Christianity for a course that goes from Archaic Greece to (barely) Constantine. I've been pretty good about keeping the information about those wars that happened between one group of city-states and another in the beginning in the late 5th c. down to three speeches, but that other series of conflicts about which a noted re-creator of a certain slightly warped, cowled, ultra-wealthy hero wrote an illustrated novel turned cinematic testoterone fest? There's just so much, even if I just keep it down to a little background and the three big battles -- and I feel obligated to give battles because there are a couple of military historian types in the class. Can I cut out the background revolt? What else? I mean, really, that's all the reading they have to do for the week ...

And then we get to that guy who wrote a lot about the wars of a certain boot-shaped country and its expansion. I was going to assign the whole book, but have cut it to maybe 25-35%. Again, the major points of the two conflicts he talks about. And the elephants. And, out of order, the whole section on governments.

I avoided almost all of the guy who wrote matching vitae of famous types. Didn't want to. Kept a chunk of the guy who writes my favourite Latin, and balanced with one of my least faves, Mr. Garbanzo. Kept both of the short works by the stodgy senator about his father-in-law and those folks who (mostly) live beyond the limes -- kind of had to, since one of the set papers is on a famous quote from the former. Kept the whole book that's kind of like a story by Carlo Collodi.

I think it's much more manageable, but am now worried that the students will be synthesizing a lot more than they are used to. Am also torn over dumping one of the three papers for an online presentation. I know the students would love that, but really, I think there is more value in asking them to write an essay that forces them to synthesize and analyse rather than spend extra time doing what is essentially a report. Still, at this point, everybody has been so helpful that suggestions are still very welcome -- especially if it's about cutting.

The other readings are all pretty short, and I've taught them all before in other guises. One of the things about teaching World History is that this period gets short shrift, and I can recycle and beef up some of the things I'd normally have included in a Western Civ class.

Am now working on the other new prep. It's the class about how to do what we do, and the history of the writing about stuff in the past. If anybody has an assignment/description for that kind of paper that starts with a big list of all the important sources on a topic and then makes paragraph-shaped notations, all tied into a big essay? I'd love to see it. Considering the library facilities at SLAC and the absence of the best of the article databases, I may just ask for a more in-depth lit review with a list of primary sources on a particular topic. With luck, some of these folks will use the opportunity to start working on that big paper they have to write in order to graduate.

One of the problems of course creation

One of the problems of course creation

It doesn't happen in a vacuum. I'm working on syllabi, because I've not been able to settle to writing. I've got a 4+ course load (the 5th meets for one hour a week) this term. Two courses are new, upper-division, and I've never actually taught either of them. One, thank goodness, is in one of my specialty areas. The problem is, I have an idea of what should go in this course (and honestly, what should go into this course at an upper-division level is half the course, done in real depth. But I am the only Europeanist, so that means I have to keep a bunch of courses in rotation over a two-year cycle. Well, actually, I can do anything I damned well please, but I think it's fairer to the students to make it possible for them to count on courses being offered every couple of years.

The fun thing this time is that, out of the eight courses (six discrete preps) I'm teaching this year, six are service courses. Three are entirely new preps. I need to make these courses good as distinct courses. They have to hold up to standards that would match them to other universities' standards. But one of the things that I've realised is that faculty at the 'top' universities teach fewer courses and often have TAs. I'm desperately torn between wanting to assign the kind of reading that I think appropriate, based on my own experiences and by surveying my peers, and thinking, "OMG!!!! I can't get all this reading done! And there's no time to discuss all the reading, and the students will be pissed if I ask them to read this stuff and we don't. Right -- that last part is silly. Reading is going to be good for their understanding, and we've gone many a decade, if not century, where students have had to read and integrate information without the prof going over it all.

And then there are the written assignments. How to fit them in to a course schedule that makes sense, when you know that you're screwed if you don't spread out the marking ... Is it better to mark a bunch of short assignments constantly? or a bunch of big ones? How do we balance rigor with the time constraints of our jobs and lives?

I know lots of you are dealing with this. It's nothing new. But I have to admit, I'm starting to understand why the people who teach 3-2 and 2-2 are so much more productive. And I'm starting to think I really want to be one of those people.

I have brought some of this on myself. I am trying to help build a program. But there is only one of me, and lots of students. Turns out, I have half again to double the number of students enrolled are two of my colleagues. But you know, I'm looking at this year and thinking it may kill me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Prosopography killed my love

Prosopography killed my love

Once upon a time, when I was on the verge of taking my comps and leaving the safety of coursework for the scary world of the thesis, my Doktorvater said to me, "you will meet many exciting and wonderful topics out there. Make sure you pick one you can not only love, but live with, because your relationship with your topic will last longer than many marriages." So I found a topic. I was never deeply in love with it, but it was interesting, and intriguing and there were lots of sources. How could I tire of this topic when there was so much to learn?

Time passed. I dissertated at the pace of a malnourished and dehydrated snail. Other people who weren't German started working with the same sources and publishing. Still, I finished and ended up with a thesis that I think still stands up, although it is now far too narrow for a book; there are too many overlaps with what's out there. And there is still much to do. I have a topic for a book that comes out of a paper I did last year, based on a small part of a chapter of the thesis. I think it's a really interesting and worthwhile topic. It is, ironically perhaps, one of the topics I'd tended to avoid -- my thesis is old-fashioned administrative history backed up with prosopography. It's Verfassungsgeschichte und Personennamenkunde. Now I'm working on the same documents, but looking at women and the roles they played. Never saw that coming, even though I did my undergrad thesis with a Bynum student, and wrote (not very well) on Orderic Vitalis' representations of women. I'd like to go back to that some day and re-do it, I think. If you decide to, please credit me for the idea.

But somewhere between when I started writing and when I finished, a topic that had little attention in German and virtually nothing in English and French has begun to draw more and more attention by French and English scholars. I'm rather pleased that conclusions I drew are being borne out in the research of others. I sometimes go through moments of panic that I'm still out of the loop and will just end up looking stupid, but those moments are relatively few and deal more now with the fact that I teach a far heavier load than those other people working in closely related areas. My confidence is bolstered by the fact that the two most important scholars working in French and English tend to reiterate their own and each other's work and seem to be making self-referential baby steps even more than they are offering new information. Or perhaps, like some of my own thesis, they are as much adding to the corpus of secondary material in their own languages (because we all rely on the same German scholarship, which really hasn't moved too far in the past 20 years) as they are adding new interpretations.

I've been doing a lot of catch-up reading this summer, much of it on this more recent stuff in English, and mostly in French. My thesis had a couple of chapters that relied on an onomastic approach for building a prosopography. The prosopography is important, because Carolingian administration was based in large part on the use of existing kinship networks among the magnates. Identifying the people and where they fit into those networks is vital to the kind of work I do. It's also frequently dull. It's duller in German. It's pre-global-warming glacier-paced dull in French.

So the other night, I finished one of those seemingly seminal articles on family, power, and social structure (and let me tell you, the number of books and articles that have combinations of famille, pouvoir, and structure sociale in the titles are myriad). 30-odd pages that were interesting, but really not necessary to what I am working on except in a "look! citations!" kind of way. What I took away was actually a little disheartening, as it happens. In reconstructing and redefining social relationships and their relationship to political power under the Carolingians, the author built up a picture of a kinship network that stretched throughout much of the Empire. She relied largely on onomastic evidence, supported by documentary and narrative sources, and made a convincing argument. But I think inadvertantly, she also demonstrated the weaknesses of prosopography and onomastics in particular; in fact, she illustrated many of the caveats offered by Werner and Tellenbach on this kind of study. At the same time, she reinforced my own belief that we have to be very careful about using this stuff -- because in Carolingian Europe, all the leading families really are related to each other. It's therefore very difficult to separate family politics from individual ambition. As I said, it's a bit disheartening, because really, so many of our interpretations of the period are rooted in the idea of family rivalries. Fortunately, it's not an insurmountable problem; look at European politics from the rise of the Habsburgs on, for example. Look at World War I, where a bunch of people related to Queen Victoria were all fighting each other. Hell- look at the Carolingians themselves: being related didn't keep Louis the Pious's sons from fighting each other or their father. So, not insurmountable.

Having said all that, though, I have to say that my marriage to my topic is rocky these days. To get to the parts of it that I love, I have wade through a ton of prosopography that I find increasingly meaningless. The effort of daily maintenance makes me wonder if I really want to keep the relationship going. Fortunately, I suspect that getting back to our roots, the sources themselves, will renew my enjoyment of the topic, and maybe get us back to where we can put the prosopography in its proper place, as a necessary, if dull, support, and not the the primary focus.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Bat Bogey Hex

Bat. Bogey. Hex

Pretty much anybody who has ever discussed Harry Potter with me knows that I abhor Scholastic Books. I reject Scholastic Books, and all their works. And their minions. Ok, I admit, I've actually got US editions of books 2-7, but only because I couldn't get the proper ones.

So anyways, clearly any intelligent human rejects the asshattery that decided to dumb-down Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, a title that makes no earthly sense and (Hel-loooo, Scholastic!) also takes away a learning opportunity. Me, I also reject the changing of British idiom for US idiom, especially when it seems totally random. But there's one thing that really could be misconstrued by US readers that doesn't get changed. Ginny Weasely's signature hex, the Bat-Bogey.

Now, to me, the Bat-Bogey Hex is really pretty gross, but kind of cool, too (well, depending on whether it's bogeys from bats or, as I suspect, a plague of bogeys in the form of bats, which is some clever transfiguration, too). But then, I know what a bogey is. And I'm willing to bet that JKR isn't talking about the other aerial vehicles in a dogfight. So why, in the US editions, is it not called a Bat-Booger Hex?

This post was brought to you by the letters p, r, o, c, r,a,s,t, i, and n.

Saturday, August 04, 2007



Via several friends ...

It's full of spoilers (and some annoying misspellings) so if you haven't read Deathly Hallows, you've been warned.


Friday, August 03, 2007

CFP -- SFRA 2008

CfP: SFRA '08 (Dublin)
Please link to/circulate:

on the theme of Good Writing

We invite papers on all aspects of the aesthetics of sf in any medium.

We particularly welcome papers on our guests who will include:

The banquet will be hosted by Ian McDonald

SFRA Conference 2008 will be held at
Trinity College, Dublin
From Tuesday 24th to Friday 27th June, 2008
Full prices, excluding banquet and accommodation:


Banquet: €75 (You will be asked to select your maincourse/entrée on booking.)

Paypal account: SFRA2008.

Proposals should consist of title, 250-word abstract (maximum) and equipment needs. Deadline for proposals: 29th February 2008.
Proposals to:

Edward James
Paul Kincaid
Farah Mendlesohn
Maureen Kincaid Speller

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bloggy-versary Announcement

Bloggy-versary Announcement

Well, as usual, I was totally wrapped up in a stupid bloody article something being a productive academic and forgot that Monday was the FIFTH anniversary of this blog and my blogging. And I missed the stat counter rolling the 50,000 mark, too! I put stat counter up about three years ago, so I have no idea what the real count is. So ... damn I'm feeling like an old blogger. Thanks to all of you who have been here since the beginning-ish, and to everybody who's come to hang around since.

I've just remembered that I promised Kelly in Kansas that I'd write some reflections on the transition from job-seeker to regular employed academic. And I've still not posted anything about the trip. So I'll work on those between getting through the huge pile of stuff I'm still working on. I can tell you one thing, though. Actually having a job is way harder than looking for one, in terms of workload and emotional investment, but the stress levels aren't nearly as bad and it's a much better kind of stress. YMMV.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Meme?

Yes, right here, it's a meme!

When I was off burying my rather substantial nose in the BL's books, jb tagged me to do the Eight Wonderments Meme. So here are eight things I wonder about. Lots are about me. Sorry.

  1. When will I stop worrying about keeping my job? Seriously. I wonder all the time when people are going to find out about me. Don't laugh. You know you do it, too!
  2. No matter what kind of tomato plants I buy, the damned things never start to ripen before August, and the damned things take weeks. This did not happen in super-overcast city (although the plants were in the open and not on a balcony then). What am I doing wrong here?
  3. Where is the outrage? This is a big question, and I don't mean just other people's outrage. Seriously, look at Alberto Gonzales, and the whole DoJ fiasco, for example. I think my outrage has been replaced by a numbing disbelief -- or a disbelieving numbness. Remember when we thought Nixon had done bad things?
  4. Who would win in a fight -- astronauts or cavemen?
  5. How can people who believe in an omnipotent supreme being not believe in the possibility of life on other planets? Actually, how could anybody not believe it's a possibility?
  6. Why are so many of my colleagues snobs about sf/f, especially in regards to book clubs? Or possibly, why is it that I find a lot of contemporary novels incredibly dull accounts of normal people letting their reasonably normal lives turn them into self-absorbed idiots. I like books that deal with bigger issues and possibility. I really don't want to read about a woman's self-discovery in the face of loss and oppression, set against the sprawling backdrop of a poverty-stricken village.
  7. Why don't poachers just drug the damned rhinos and cut off their horns, so that they can grow back? It seems to me that Rhino horn is probably a renewable resource, since it's made out of hair or something.
  8. Why didn't I meet LDW 20 years ago? or even 15?
  9. Bonus question -- why do you only hear that noise when you are in bed, and why is it that cats choose never to make it when poised over a hard floor? Seriously. Damned cats will run around the house making the noise and leaving little deposits all over, and never is it in the kitchen or bathroom. Why?

Not tagging anybody because this is an old meme!

One Major thing down

One Major thing down

  • read book and write book review 1 by 30 Sept
  • read book and write book review 2 by 30 Sept (postponed till Nov)
  • contact German publisher and remind her that the person she forwarded my stuff to hasn't responded, and would she like to try the second choice?
  • finish pedagogy article
  • get doc collections/analyze data for women and property article
  • write up data, analysis, and add in all that nice secondary research I did at the BL
  • take article an use as a basis for book proposal for meeting at end of August
  • update my CV
  • syllabus for Ancient course
  • blackboard site for Ancient course
  • LJ for Ancient course
  • Syllabus for Methods/Historiography course
  • blackboard site for Methods/Historiography course
  • LJ for Methods/Historiography course? Decided against it after reading the advice in my own article
  • update survey Blackboard sites
  • update survey syllabus
  • clean up office, which flooded three days before I left on my summer travels
  • syllabus for Freshman seminar? Seminar leader sets the syllabus
  • find a paper panel for Kzoo and/or elsewhere (Thank you, anonymous reader!)
  • go to Jesuit U and get books for current work
  • read for fall courses, because I've never used many of the books I've assigned, or have not read them myself since I was a grad student. At the moment, that means Tosh, Freeman, Apuleius, Polybios, Suetonius, Herodotus, and Tey.
  • put all the important due dates in my calendar
  • is there other stuff? probably

  • Write up Wikipedia Assignment for Freshman seminar

Well, I managed to finish cranking out the pedagogical article last night, after having lost a couple of thousand words the night before. Now it's up to a couple of nice friends who are reading it over, and a couple of notes to track down, and I can do some (I hope minor) editing and send the thing out. I've only recently begun to take notes and write on the computer. Even now, I normally start out my writing process on legal pads with a fountain pen (two pads -- one for text, and one for notes), but by the time I get past the first page or two, I move to the computer. I still outline in a moleskine notebook. This article/essay is the first thing I've ever written for publication that comes from my own experiences. It's also the first thing I've ever written completely on the computer. And the first time I managed to lose an entire day's work. Funny, no?

In some ways, it's also the hardest thing I'd ever written. The research was simple, in that it was based on my own classroom experiences with a particular pedagogical method. But writing about that was hard, because I was the authority. I wasn't citing other people, and had little objective evidence, just my experiences, and my students' responses. Blogging is one thing -- readers know that this is all about me. I'm just another damned medievalist spouting off with all the other damned medievalists and academics of other types. What was also hard, but ultimately good, I think, was that I had to really look at what I had done in my courses and re-assess things objectively.

Interestingly, as I wrote, I realised that what I was writing wasn't what the evidence supported. I had discussed the different assignments with students who had done both. The students hated one of the assignments, and loved the other. Initially, I wrote as if the assignment the students hated was a failure. As I looked over their work again, though, I found that the students' work in the assignment they hated demonstrated a much higher achievement of my intended outcomes than the one they liked. This made me realise that it was not a bad assignment; in fact, it was very effective. The problem was that I had chosen a format that didn't work with that kind of assignment. So I ended up re-writing that part of the article, too. But really, I'm so looking forward to writing medieval stuff, where I can point to actual documentary evidence and scholarly opinion. It may be much more laborious, but you know, I'm happy to admit that I like to work within that comfort zone.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Still here, thanks!

Still here, thanks!

Readjusting is always fun. Really, I need a work place. I could go to the office, but the a/c is still not fixed, and for some reason, when I went in to check the other day, someone had bagged up lots of my possessions -- I hope to protect them rather than to culture mildew. The big news here is that I'm all of a sudden giving a paper at a conference I had not planned on attending. This means coming up with a title today! And I finished the pedagogical article. Except that somehow, I didn't save it. Seriously. I've never managed to lose an entire day's work before and not have at least one backup and a hard copy. So I've spent yesterday and will spend much of today re-creating what I lost. Hence the absence of blogging much.

Updated list to come soon ...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Stupid Blooger

stupid blogger

If anyone with mad javascript skilz can look at this template and figure out why the cut is going at the very bottom of the post, and not where it's supposed to be, i.e., between the first several paragraphs and the very last one, I'd be impressed and grateful.

Trying to get back to working and blogging

Trying to get back to working and blogging

Right, so I've been back in the US for almost a week. Mostly, I've been tidying up my life, which has got messy in all kinds of ways, not least catching up on bills, laundry, plants on the balcony, etc. I've come to the conclusion that the trip was really necessary. My office on campus is not air-conditioned at the moment. In fact, I've not been in since my return, because I am avoiding dealing with the water damage caused by the burst A/C three days before I left. But I think I'm really one of those people who needs a work place away from colleagues and where I know I have to make the most of my time. Working at home means lots of faffing, because my computer and books don't go anywhere, and things are a bit too flexible. This worries me a little, because SLAC doesn't offer me that kind of space -- there is my office, but it's on a very sociable hall, and it's an unwritten rule that faculty leave their doors open to encourage student visits at any time. In fact, there's a definite feeling that it counts against faculty who choose to close their doors, because we are not focusing on our students. Leaving doors open, though, means that some of my colleagues who aren't worried about producing written material (or are just far better at budgeting their time than I am -- or are more willing than I am to get up and work at 4:30 am or work till 1:00 am) tend to come by to hang out. It's kind of dangerous, because even those of us who are trying very hard not to get caught up in what a colleague in another building calls "the thrill of landing in the cool, popular dorm" do get caught up in walking that dangerous line between productive conversation about students, teaching, and campus events and plain old procrastinatory gossip.

So spending three weeks in the British Library essentially meant that (in addition to having lunch with LDW every day) I was able to get up in the morning, go in to work with a purpose, read lots of things that I can't get here, take lots of notes, and really focus just on writing projects. I didn't get as much done as I'd have liked, partially because there were lots of books in French, and I second-guess my French on a regular basis. When I wrote the thesis, there was almost nothing written on my topic in French, so honestly, I haven't ever had to use it on a regular basis since about 1989. Now, there is a ton of stuff out there. What is especially frustrating to me is that much of it is not hugely original. It's largely reiterations and sometimes reconceptions of the German scholarship of the 1970s and 1980s with which I'm already familiar. But not reading the stuff and citing would be impossible.

By the way, I'm not knocking the stuff in French -- it's not hugely different from some of the stuff I've done, and to a certain extent what Matthew Innes has done (and published!) -- in a world where Germanophones have been fairly rare, there's a certain legitimacy in making the German scholarship relevant to people who are more comfortable with French and English. Still, it is somewhat discouraging to have to fight one's way through reams of French only to find out that the chief result will be good footnotes.

The other problem with the trip is that I planned it with one thing in mind, and ended up having to work backwards because I didn't know whether I'd be able to get back next summer. So I had to put off primary work to privilege secondary, which may have been a bad gamble (although I don't think so, because I really was behind on current scholarship). Also, I found I was working not only on one scholarly article, but also a book proposal I hadn't expected. So over the next two weeks, I have to put everything aside to check the feasibility of the book -- the second of three planned parts of a comparative study. The good part is that it should also net me the topic for a paper for this coming year -- if I can find a panel for it. The K'zoo CFP didn't seem to have much, although I think maybe one of the sponsored panels? Of course, the panels I think it will best fit are those in the charge of someone I both admire and fear. Fortunately, I don't think she thinks I'm a complete idiot ...

So, if you wonder where I am, just look under the cut and see what's keeping me busy.

Right -- here's my list of what I need to get done. Argh.
  • read book and write book review 1 by 30 Sept
  • read book and write book review 2 by 30 Sept (or postpone)
  • contact German publisher and remind her that the person she forwarded my stuff to hasn't responded, and would she like to try the second choice?
  • finish pedagogy article
  • get doc collections/analyze data for women and property article
  • write up data, analysis, and add in all that nice secondary research I did at the BL
  • take article ans use as a basis for book proposal for meeting at end of August
  • update my CV
  • syllabus for Ancient course
  • blackboard site for Ancient course
  • LJ for Ancient course
  • Syllabus for Methods/Historiography course
  • blackboard site for Methods/Historiography course
  • LJ for Methods/Historiography course?
  • update survey Blackboard sites
  • update survey syllabus
  • clean up office, which flooded three days before I left on my summer travels
  • syllabus for Freshman seminar? (apparently, it's mostly set, although I've got an assignment to put together)
  • find a paper panel for Kzoo and/or elsewhere Berks! (SFRA 2008 is totally out of my field, but I've been encouraged to submit an abstract and I think I have a couple really good ideas)
  • go to Jesuit U and get books for current work
  • read for fall courses, because I've never used many of the books I've assigned, or have not read them myself since I was a grad student. At the moment, that means Tosh, Freeman, Apuleius, Polybios, Suetonius, Herodotus, and Tey.
  • put all the important due dates in my calendar
  • is there other stuff? probably

Yeep! I'd better jump on this stuff. And no, I have not read the latest Harry Potter, and won't till I get some of this list cleared. So don't tell me what happens!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Carnivalesque XXIX

Carnivalesque 29

The newest version of Carnivalesque Button is up at Even a Little Thing, medievalist and sf writer Gillian Polack's Live Journal. Gillian takes us on a shopping trip through the supermarket of history, and finds lots of things to buy! Lots of good things to fill your cart with, too!

We're looking for hosts for the next few months, so please, e-mail me or Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes if you're interested -- or leave a comment here or there!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Teaching the Methods Course

Teaching the Methods Course

I'm teaching Historiography and Methods for the first time this coming term. It'll be interesting, as I've never formally taken a class in the stuff. Fortunately, Ancarett came up with a great list of suggestions last year; based on her recommendations and those of a couple of other colleagues, I'm using John Tosh's The Pursuit of History for the main text. My goal in this course, which is a requirement for majors and usually taken in the third year or beginning of the fourth, is to build on what I've taught them about reading primary sources and analysing secondary sources in the survey courses, and prepare them for the only real research paper they have to do, their senior thesis.

So anyway, I'm starting the Methods course with Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. Well, not exactly. I suppose I should give them the more accepted historical accounts first -- suggestions from the Late MA people would be helpful here (hint hint please!)-- because they will none of them have had a course that covers the period. It isn't history, but I like the way Tey deals with authorial POV and the idea of a particular version of history becoming the norm, even when that version really doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Today, I found this really cool blog post by Errol Morris at the NY Times site. I hope it's still accessible when term starts! Anyway, Morris has written a very good essay on the use of photographic evidence that I thought all the history folk would appreciate and possibly want to use themselves.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

RBOC -- Saturday Edition

RBOC -- Saturday Edition

Hi all -- so I only have decent internet access in the BL, and really, since I'm supposed to be working there, it seems silly to waste my time posting -- or even reading. Evenings are spent with LDW or family, and really, I hate the idea of letting my family think I care more about blogging than I do them. So, expect a huge number of posts about my trip soon, but not yet, as I've just realised I'm leaving this place a day earlier than I thought. Until then ...
  • Oi!! Windows users in the BL! Yeah, I'm talkin' to you! You can turn off the sounds that your computer makes on starting up and shutting down. It's easy, even if you don't have an external volume control. Please feckin' do it, because y'all are pissing me right off!
  • Oi! Steve Muhlburger! Your book is really pricey. LDW and I were in Oxford yesterday and saw it in Blackwell's (Yes, folks, I went to Oxford, visited a friend who has a Visiting Fellowship this summer and saw her very posh digs, and otherwise spent the entire time in bookstores), but couldn't afford it :-(
  • I have no idea who is doing the next Carnivalesque (this month!)-- Gillpolack and Tiruncula both offered, but I spaced out and didn't organise it. Help!
  • I saw a book yesterday that I have to look at. 900 pages on proprietaty churches.
  • I have done much work, but have made no progress. I am going to be so screwed this academic year.
  • LDW bought me a copy of the newest Ward-Perkins.
  • I have a date tonight
  • I am spending Thanksgiving week in a fabulous European capital city where the weather will be shite. I have booked the ticket and will be cancelling classes giving an alternate assignment on the Monday. I am such a bad prof. OTOH, by then, with 5 classes/4 preps this fall (the Dean gave me an overload, but it's very small and really not a full new prep), I will deserve the break!
  • I en't dead yet from derailed trains, bad terrorist plots, or muggers trying to take my computer. *touches wood*
  • I have drafted about 20% of my pedagogical aricle

So, that's what's up with me. What's up with you?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oh Yeah, bombs

Oh yeah, about the bombs

What does it say about me that I heard about the first bomb as I came into the BL yesterday, and the second this morning, and basically thought, "well, that kinda sucks!"? Honestly, I'm a little disconcerted, but not as much as I am by the act that there was a mugging round the corner from LDW's last week and a fatal stabbing round the corner from my in-laws' two weeks ago. OK ... so maybe now I'll get around to making a will. But really? I'm still more worried about getting work done and keeping my job. I figure I have a better chance of being hit by a car than being hit by a bomb. Not that that's reassuring.

Pathetic, eh?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rainy London

Rainy London

Dear everybody,

Trying to work, but am very tired today and not focused, hence blogging. If you're at the BL, I am, too. I am trying to work on both an article and a book proposal. I have only a small clue about what I'm doing. OK, maybe more than that. But anyway, I will be trying to stay away from the blogosphere while here, so I can make the best use of my time!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On the road and copyright infringement

On the road and copyright infringement

So, I'm in rainy London. Had a good day in the BL yesterday with LDW. Still trying to adjust to the time, etc.

In other news, I hope to hell that Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie sue the shit out of the Westboro Baptist Church for this little piece of perverted and twisted copyright infringement. I'm pretty much agnostic these days, but I wasn't always. As a person and as a medievalist, this kind of sick twisting of Christianity offends me deeply. I've actually read the Bible. Both Testaments. I always got the impression that Jesus was talking about a God who loves the world.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Back soon

Back soon

Sorry for the not blogging. I'm at an undisclosed location, having taken on an undisclosed extra week's work, and I think I'm like sworn to secrecy about it or something. More soon.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Required classes

Required Classes

In the comments to this post, New Kid and sqadratomagico disagreed with me on whether or not history should be a required subject. I really think that it's important enough to require -- not so much for content as for teaching people how we do history. I've argued before that history is not necessarily -- should not necessarily -- have to be relevant to our students. I think that's very true in terms making connections between, say, what the Romans did and what we do. More importantly, I think that kind of emphasis and (mis)use of historical learning lead us to the kind of thing Matt Gabriele talks about here.
So how do we teach history and not fall prey to teaching false analogies in order to make it 'relevant'? I think -- and this is just a suggestion -- that it is not so much the content that we should make relevant.

Let me 'splain -- No. It is too much. Let me sum up.* I think the information we teach in inherently relevant and interesting. But it's relevant because of the questions we ask. This is at the root of why I think history should be required, and taught in ways that try to inculcate in our students the fundamental processes of inquiry, reason, and explanation that allow students to then look at history by themselves. It's relevant because the questions that we ask and try to answer about the past are the same kinds of questions that we should be asking about the world around us. If we go a step further, we can help students to understand why, for example, neither Vietnam nor The Crusades are good comparisons for the current situation in Iraq or for the cultural conflict between Islam and the industrialized West. If we do our jobs well, I think our students should come out of our classes with the confidence to say, "Yes, I can understand that you think the Iraq War and the Vietnam War look something alike on the surface, but what about X? Y? Z? If we look at those things, we can see that they are not really that much alike. But the answers to X, Y, and Z help us to figure out what really is going on." Or something like that. To really sum up, I think that it's the way historians are taught to interrogate their sources and ask and answer questions that are the most relevant and most transferable skills we have to offer. The content is always there, and I think that we humans always want to make analogies. That need is what drives many people critique and understand the present through the past. And yeah, I think that, if more people had some decent training in history, people might be a little less complacent. It's that tension between the desire to find explanations through analogy and the discipline of picking apart those analogies for a better understanding that lies at the heart of what we do. If we teach that part better, I think we'll be doing a better job and creating a greater appreciation for history. The hard part is that really, what I'm calling history isn't what most of my students think history is. Still, the best comments on my evals come from people who praise the emphasis on primary sources. Go figure.

OTOH ... I was thinking last night that, when I taught at several campuses where history was not required, I had better students. My life was much happier when I had students who actually cared about doing well in my subject, rather than just passing a required class. These days, I have rockin' FTEs, but I also have a ton of students (depressingly, many of them are education majors) who take my classes because they have to, and see themselves as clocking time towards a piece of paper. Alas, my post on student attitudes must wait.

*Apologies to The Princess Bride and Inigo Montoya.