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.