Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Massive Congratulations!!!

Massive Congratulations!!!

Everybody!!!! My academic sibling, one of my oldest friends, the Cranky Professor, has just been informed that he has joined the ranks of the tenured professoriate!!!

I am so very happy for him. He deserves it. Feel free to pass the word around the medieval blogosphere, too! I am initiating a virtual congratulations party as of now!!

Monday, January 28, 2008

East Asian Medievalists

East Asian Medievalists

Are any of you regular readers who comment here also East Asian (especially Japanese) medievalists? Or, do any of you regulars (i.e., people I feel I kind of know, because you read and comment here) know any? I have an idea. Please free to e-mail me at my personal addy if you know it, or my ADM addy if you don't. Also, MG, you might be part of it. Be afraid. Be very afraid. ;-)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And more on Sartorial splendour

And more on sartorial splendour

This has been yet another week of busy, so I've missed some good blogging. Today I was at New Kid's, and found a typically sensible and strong essay, this time on the latest Thomas Hart Benton essay in the CHE. In it, Benton talks about the effects of dressing less casually (or as he thinks of it, more formally) on his interactions with students. New Kid responds to part of his essay with a:
Well, DUH! And I also wanted to say, Any woman professor could have told you that. Well, okay, maybe almost any is more accurate. Because while I know there are lots of women out there who teach (brilliantly and successfully) in very casual clothes, I have also had the same conversation with lots and lots of women faculty - the conversation in which we agree that in order to project a certain authority in the classroom, we dress formally for teaching.*

And those of us who feel this way have reached this conclusion long before our first post-tenure year.

Because we've HAD to figure it out - because students respond very differently to men and women teachers.

New Kid rightly points out the gender issues of professional dress, and the comment thread is packed with good and thoughtful points on gender, dress, and authority in the classroom. I realised I had such a lot to say about these things -- not particularly in the most organised way, because really, I need to drag my ass to the gym and get a ton of work done today. So apologies for the lack of careful crafting.

I teach on a campus where there are no real dress standards. I like that. I'd like to think it doesn't really make a difference what I wear, but you know, it does. Our undergraduate population comes largely from a demographic where the only people who go by 'Dr' are men. Pretty much every freshman male automatically calls female faculty 'Miss' or 'Mrs.' (hardly ever that nasty feminist 'Ms'), and the male faculty 'Dr' or 'Professor'. Why yes, this is one of the first teaching moments in any of my classes! Of course, the fact that the most influential people on our coaching staff continually refer to us (especially women faculty who don't seem to understand that we need to support our athletes by letting them slide) by our social titles doesn't help. I have to say, I find it pretty amusing that a couple of my colleagues (male and female) have received nasty emails from these folks addressed to 'Mr' or 'Mrs', yet signed, 'Coach' or 'X, Athletic Director'.

I know, I've moved quickly from student perceptions to peer perceptions. The thing is, for me, I know I can get away with teaching in jeans, if I really want to. That is, I can walk into a classroom and teach in jeans, and my authority is not all that diminished. I'm questionably fortunate in that my students frequently find me intimidating. One brand new student actually told me s/he needed to speak to me because s/he loved my class but also dreaded having to show up and participate in class discussions run by a particular barbarian chieftain who showed up in Rome in 451. I've had colleagues tell me I'm intimidating, too -- especially male colleagues. I've been accused (or complimented) for 'communicating like a man' and 'having big brass ones'. Whatever it is, and really, I think what people find intimidating is that I question them. I ask students to defend their assertions, and expect them to be able to back up what they say. And, like any good bull terrier (which I've just realised I may physically resemble in shape of nose -- if I were using bird allusions, it really would be aquiline -- and constant smile, even when going for the throat), I tend not to drop a subject in class until I've got my point across. Ok, I sometimes do go off on wild tangents, but I always come back. So maybe a bull terrier with some Golden Retriever or Irish Setter. What do I know? I'm a cat person. So ... I can maintain my classroom authority in blue jeans.

But ... I hardly ever wear jeans of any colour in the classroom. I have some nice cords that I'll wear with nice pullovers or jackets, and I don't wear suits, because that's not our campus culture -- at least not in our College. But I try to look grown up, professional, and put-together. I take myself more seriously when I show up looking tidy and with my hair and face done, and so do my students. With them, it balances the fact that I run a very relaxed classroom. It also makes it easier to enforce my 'no pajamas and slippers in class' rule. But you know, as I read New Kid's essay, I realised that my dress issues are really less about my students than they are about my peers, and far, far less about my peers in the College than they are about my peers in the professional Schools, administrators, and middle-management types. Those are the places where image is most important.

My College at SLAC is, and has been, the poor stepchild for almost its whole existence. We are seen as serving the needs of the Schools, by providing the core curriculum so that their students can go on to earn Degrees That Mean Something. To be fair, there has been a push to change that for about 10 years, but the fact that College faculty do the vast majority of teaching in terms of both personal loads (4-4 or 4-3, as opposed to 3-2 or 2-2) and the range and number of courses taught. Since I joined SLAC, publication requirements have been added, because our brethren (there are few sistren) in the Schools believe that we must raise our scholarly profile. The faculty of the Schools wear suits and ties. Casual dress for them is neatly pressed khakis, button-down shirts, and ties. They polish their shoes. I now sit on a couple of campus-wide committees. Meetings often fall on my non-teaching days. The guys in facilities have mentioned that they know when I'm teaching by what I'm wearing. They call me by my first name (as they do most of the College faculty they like), and they treat some of us as equals in a 'we're all here together to make this place work' way -- which I think is how it should be. This semester, they aren't so sure. Why? Because I'm dressing for my peers.

I mentioned that I'm on a couple campus-wide committees, right? I'm the only College rep, and often the only woman. I'm frequently the junior person (in rank, not age -- or I'd be really screwed). And I am frequently ignored. Despite the fact that I am on one committee precisely because I have more expertise in the business side of something we are dealing with, and as much or more expertise in the academic side, my contributions are (usually) politely listened to, and then dismissed. Part of this is the top-down nature of SLAC, I think, but it has only recently occurred to me that I am loaded with perceived disadvantages. I know -- it took me a year to figure this out? D'uh! I also have a feeling that I'm on these committees because of the bull terrier thing. Superdean, who has his own bull mastiff (or possibly bull in a china shop) qualities, trusts me not to do what lots of my College peers do in the same situation, i.e., just give up and stop going to the meetings. Me? I guess I'll be pulling out my old industry clothes and dressing like people in the Schools. I don't know how much it will help, but hey, I'm thinking that in this case, clothes are a medium, and the medium is the message.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Carnivalesque 35

Carnivalesque 35

Hello, readers -- Carnivalesque 35 is now up at Atol is þin unseon. Heavy on the mediæval this time, but it rounds up a lot of posts I missed during the rush of semester's end, and I'm really glad to see them. Have fun, and if you'd like to host one of the next Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesques (March and May), please let Sharon at Early Modern Notes or me know!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Late AHA blogging

Late AHA blogging

Right -- so it's been ages. I can only say that I came home from AHA to prep and moving office, which has been very interesting. That and start of the semester. Serious blogging to re-commence soon, as part of my goal to write something purposeful every day. But for now, I am posting Blogger meet-up pix -- dinner with Pilgrim/Heretic. Sorry about the focus -- I'm still learning to use the new camera and also, I need new glasses.

P/H, her LWI, and I went to a place for dinner where we could order lots of small things and share. Here's what we had. Apologies for not cutting -- I can't remember the code at the moment.

Out of focus, but this is a lovely field greens salad big enough for three. Very nice vinaigrette -- just simple and tasty.

Pizza Margherita -- close to perfect, I thought.

A Quail! on Polenta! with lovely little olives!

One of the many good things about blogger dinners is finding you and your friends have similar tastes. The menu offered several sardine preparations, and we were all of one mind that they needed to be included. We chose the most simple variation -- salted sardines with butter and lovely bread.

My personal favourite: duck and rabbit rillettes. Very rich, and delicately seasoned. yum!

Add wine/beer, and it was very nice. But really, as wonderful as the food was, it ws nothing compared to the company. If ever I find myself regretting blogging, I will be able to argue that it has done me far more good than ill. Through this blog, I have made friends who I know will be RL friends for life. How cool is that?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blogging the AHA

Blogging the AHA

Let's see -- the AHA. I never got to any of the professional panels, because there was too much going on! Yes, there was a whole lotta medieval. Seriously -- On Thursday, not so much on Friday, and again on Saturday and Sunday. Not just Medieval, but Early Medieval cleverly slipped in under the radar (because no one wants to hear that stuff). Plus blogger meetups and plans for a Kazoo panel!

So here's the short (for me) version of my AHA this year (and can I say how much better AHA is when not on either side of the interview table? Still, the only reason I can think of to go is to see non-medieval folk, because there's something about it ...more on that later).

Day One: The student who accompanied me really wanted to go to the first panel. I'm glad s/he did. Ran into Extremely Cool Colleague from Jesuit U while registering. Yay! Then a very decent panel, especially the papers on portents and forgeries. I was less enthused about the comment, because post-Postmodernism is only slightly more interesting to me than Postmodernism. I think it's because I'm not really convinced that our approaches to texts is legitimized by Postmodern theory -- perhaps more in the eyes of lit people, but ...?? Then, I think you all know by now that I tend to use whatever approach works, and feel no need to worry about how things get into my toolbox, as long as the tools are there. Jargon aside, I really didn't agree with some of the comment anyway, because I thought there was too much lumping of Classical sources with Late Antique, and sometimes I think they have to be considered separately.

Day Two: Due to a nosebleed, I only made it to part of the first panel -- outside my normal choices, but on a subject that does hold my interest, plus a friend was presenting. Made it to her paper, and joined into lively discussion, then went to an overpriced lunch with nice people. After, met up with the student to go to the book room -- to which s/he had already gone. So we went to a panel of the student's choice -- on late Medieval Spain. Enjoyed watching the student absorb the fact that Europeanists are expected to speak other languages -- one of the papers was in Spanish, and the question and answer session was bilingual. Still, the papers I understood (I got about a quarter of the third, but Castilian is hard for me to follow, and I really don't speak Spanish properly anyway) were pretty good, especially -- and this is hard to admit! -- the one on customs (the tax sort) after the unification. Even better, I ran into Pilgrim/Heretic on the way in, and we firmed up our plans for meeting for dinner.

Dinner was fantastic! We went to one of my favourite places in DC (thanks to Tiruncula for the idea!) -- Two Amys. Food pix to follow. Let's just say it was affordable and very tasty. Plus I met the famous LWI, who is one of the most charming people I have ever met.

Day Three: Blogger meetup was me and Belle. Apologies from many, who had either overslept or had interviews. Still, that was fun. Then off to the first Medieval Social Justice panel. All the papers were good, although really, they needed to be seen in the context of the second panel as well. The second paper was the one I appreciated most in terms of my own work, as it dealt with law and showed very convincingly, I thought, that there was a good deal of unease in the Carolingian period over the extents to which the judicial system seemed at the mercy of political tides. The third paper, on hostages, led to a really interesting discussion about what hostage-taking even means. This paper and the first fit best into the purpose of the session, which was looking at the MA in terms of approaching social justice issues now.

The aims of the panels became much clearer in the second session, where we were given not one, but two calls to action -- to speak out against social injustice. Or at least, the aims of some of the panelists. The paper on marriage equity was, I thought, fantastic, and it and the very first paper, on prisons, made me think an awful lot about the role of faculty in exploring ideas of social justice. They also -- and this is true of most of the papers that explicitly addressed social justice issues -- made me more convinced that we really do have to keep our roles separate. I think, and I said this, that there is a huge difference between introducing certain themes, and arguing whether they are right or wrong. This is especially true when dealing with the MA -- and honestly, I think that we do our subjects an injustice when we try to make the past too relevant. Yes, some of the same, or similar, issues were important to them as to us. BUT -- I think it shortchanges the importance we must place on context if we try to draw too many parallels. I think this is why I appreciated the approaches in the hostage, prisons, and marriage papers the most (in terms of raising issues). Yes, in at least two of them, there were implicit parallels being drawn; but they remained on the side where the parallels were used to explore the questions, and how they were conceived in the MA. They were good reminders that these were not new issues, and that there have been different, and sometimes better, arguments made around those issues in the past. Yet they remained separate: the audience could make the connections, but in a way that raised questions, not that supplied answers.

One of the more eminent audience members contributed fairly eloquent responses to the issue -- although it was noted that he himself has spoken up on social and political issues. Moreover, it was noted many times that, for many of us, being historians does inform our world views and often helps to hone our arguments when it comes to social and political issues. But whether it shapes our ideas of social justice, or whether we should in turn use our positions as academics to legitimize our ideas of what are essentially issues of right and wrong is a different matter. Happily, the sessions proved especially beneficial in raising those questions -- what are our rights and responsibilities? Where do we draw the line between scholarship and politics? They were indeed 'thinking' sessions, and were worth the price of admission.

After that, lunch. Then back to roam around, unsuccessfully try to catch up with old friends, unexpectedly meet up with Ralph Luker and Sepoy and another friend for coffee, run through the book room (which I found far too overwhelming) and then to meet the student for a reception. The reception was fun, but I didn't eat enough, and then was unable to meet with some folks for dinner, so ended up going to another reception, then running into Sepoy and some of his colleagues in the lobby, where they kindly included me in their group and we sat and talked for a very long while. Should have eaten more! But I think I have a good idea for a session for Kalamazoo in 2009, which is always a good thing.

Day Four: Ugh. Far too tired, so met Pilgrim and LWI for breakfast, then went off to the last session -- Really good. All Carolingian! All the time! Stuff I could ask questions about AND comment on without feeling an idiot! And I'm chairing a panel with two of the panelists in May, so that's a good thing. Plus, I got to meet somebody else I'd wanted to meet for a long time, and had a very helpful talk on sources, my current project, and other such things. Had to leave before lunch, but still was happy to have been there. Got home hours and hours later, fed cats, collapsed.

How was your holiday conference?