Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Carnivalesque is up

Sorry for the late notice -- last week was a bear for me. But the new Carnivalesque is up at Archaeoporn. Thaddeus has put up a good selection of links to all the usual suspects, and also some new ones! Need a break? Take one over there!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Roommate Bleg

Roommate Bleg

If any of the people who actually know me are going to Haskins and need a roommate for Friday, Saturday, or maybe both (or know somebody who is, with whom I'd get along) ...

You know my e-mail!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

small hiatus

explanation of small hiatus, RBOC edition

Oh, right -- and also I am too lazy to code the bullets!

Sorry for the silence, but it's been a busy couple of weeks. Last week, I had to turn in a grant app and a paper abstract, plus the teaching. This week, I managed to totally screw up and assigned exam/essay due dates in ALL of my classes for this week. Oh,and a visit to the ER on Monday (nothing serious, nothing at all wrong, even, as far as they could tell, but tests took a lot of time), and over the next 4 days I need to finish revising all my syllabi (all new preps, people), write another abstract, show up at lots of functions, write at least three lectures, and grade some of the huge piles of paper on my desk. And work on the damned book, which has been sadly neglected for ages, and I'm worried about it. And of course the ILL books I haven't touched are due on Tuesday. And actual life? Not what I'd like it to be. And honestly, I would not be surviving without several of my friends, one of whom spent ages on the phone screaming at me (in an excited way, not a mean way) about politics and life in general this evening, despite a very worrying cough. When you realise you've been arguing with someone for over 20 years and are still friends, life is pretty good.

AND ... there should be a new Carnivalesque up in the next couple of days.

That's all for now. I may be back to talk about how World History is Social Science and not a Humanity, or the funny looks I get when I talk about the Bible in class. Or how I'm confused by the ecko jeans commercials. Actually, I'm getting confused more and more by all commercials. And TV in general. Is it just me, or is TV just way too much information? Because I think my life was way happier when I didn't have cable. I'd kind of like to have cable that just had Premiership soccer, Bones, House, and that channel that plays The Princess Bride and a bunch of the same other cool movies all the time (You know the one -- there's The Princess Bride, Star Wars movies, The Lord of the Rings, Stargate and the various PoTC movies in rotation?). Although ... I'm sitting in front of the idiot box at this very moment and find South Park ... strangely compelling. And totally twisted. Yep ... dumping the cable after the election ...

Thursday, September 18, 2008



So there's an American Express ad on TV these days, where a bunch of people are speaking German. Except really not speaking the Hochdeutsch. I find that kind of cool. OTOH, possibly confusing to kids out there taking German!

OK, I'm also amused by the news tonight, because, well, Zapatero and Latin America ... But you know, I just am so over Keith Olbermann. There's enough that Palin and McCain are saying that is just plain dumb without KO trying to make it sound like they said things they really didn't. Me, I'd rather see them get picked apart on their own flaws, rather than have to listen to KO being super-bitchy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's all in the Timing

It's All in the Timing

I'm having a teaching crisis. Last year, I wrote a sign and posted it in my office: "It's the students' job to keep up with me, not my job to wait for the students." And this semester, I seem to have forgotten. One of the things I've been trying to refine in my teaching over the past few years is teaching students to think like historians. If I have to pick out one thing that makes studying history relevant, I would say that it is the approach to primary sources that many of us are trained to use.*

The problem I'm running into is that this approach that I've been honing and tweaking over the last few years worked fine at Jesuit U, and at the CCs, and garners praise from colleagues, but it doesn't seem to be working at SLAC. I think part of this is that the approach depends on the students having done and internalized the background readings. Mine aren't. About 70% just can't handle the textbook (and it's World History -- inherently more confusing), which is currently the one written by a bunch of Princeton folk. It's a lumper's book -- really, it's an anthropologist's book, I think. But in many ways, it's better than the last book I used. But part is that they just don't get it. If there are words they don't understand, they don't look them up. They don't look at the maps when they are reading -- to them, they don't matter; they don't have anything to do with the text. They don't notice that an excerpt of a primary source in the text is related to another excerpt from the same source that I've asked them to read online, nor that the textbook actually discusses that source in detail. Ideally, they would read the book, I'd come in and either give more specific information about the civilizations we're supposed to be working on, and then get them to discuss relevant primary sources, picking them apart for evidence and then tying them back to the readings. Instead, I spend about three times more time than I should just asking them what I think of as warm-up questions -- who are some of the peoples you were supposed to have read about? Where were they located? um ... yeah.

And the primary source discussions ... we don't necessarily get to talk about what they tell us about the societies they come from, because some of the concepts -- polytheism, polygyny, slavery based on debt or conquest and not justified by some wacko racial theory -- are just totally unfamiliar. I am fully confident that I am teaching my students something. I'm just starting to worry that I am not teaching them enough to qualify for credit in a college-level history course. I think that one way to tackle this is to go back to chalk-and-talk. Come in and deliver well-organized lectures on important events and themes, and then test them on that content with objective questions AND essay questions that rely on internalizing that content and applying it to defend an argument on a specific historical question? But there's no active learning there. Still, it was good enough for survey classes in my day. And damn, if I were just coming in and lecturing, I would have all my prep done much more quickly and have some time to do research and write!

But then there are the students who are getting it -- and they don't want to come in, listen, and regurgitate creatively. So I end up using teaching methods and strategies geared toward the better students, at a pace that kills some of us, but is comfortable for the majority. And I'm honestly not sure who is better served -- only that doing this is killing me. It's combining all the hardest parts of teaching, with few of the rewards. And there's no sign that the students will get better anytime soon. So I'm left worrying about them and about me. Because it's burning me out, fast. And I'm pretty scared that, if I do this too long, I will fall behind in my research AND lose my ability to teach at the level that many other SLACs expect. What if teaching at this SLAC actually makes me less employable else where?

Next time ... upperclassmen who don't read.

*By many of us, I mean generally pre-modern people. Although this is not an absolute, I have not yet met a modern historian (including most Americanists) who approaches primary sources the way Classicists and Medievalists do. From what I've gathered in conversation, this seems to have something to do with the number of sources available. We are pretty much expected to be able to draw on a primary source canon, where no comparable canon exists for them.

placeholder post

Another Placeholder post

It's Monday, and I have a substantial post of the 'reflections on my job as I put together my T&P file' type partially written. But it's Monday, the day I have 5 1/2 hours of lecture/seminar, so I won't be finishing that now.

In the meantime ... What happened with Alan Curbishley? Because I haven't been following the sports pages as much as I'd like (well, except for the scores).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Palin I'd Vote For

A Palin I'd Vote For

ht to cf2003

Sunday RBOC

Sunday RBOC

  • I love Pandora radio. I have all kinds of custom stations set up, and one of these days will do some combining. This morning, it's Steeleye Span radio. I will say they sometimes pull some weird-ass stuff on the ABBA station, though.
  • I'm more in control of some classes than I thought, and less on top of others. Guess what I'm doing today? Actually, I feel less awful about my class almost in my specialty. I didn't have anything assigned for this week, in part because I was kind of waiting to see how they were going to do -- most of the class are people who were in exactly-my-specialty seminar last year, and they excelled only in pissing me right off with their excellence in slackerdom. They are going to need a swift kick in their collective butt this time, I think. (there will be a post on this, I think -- the energy drain that is the seminar of laziness)
  • Apropos of the first point, I really do like Richard Thompson
  • I am loving all the news coverage (and Daily Show coverage, too) that shows that, traditionally, VP candidates do get asked tough questions about their qualifications. I just wish that more of the commentators would point out that NOT asking Palin the same sorts of questions is sexist.
  • Sometime over the summer, I was the victim of a theft. I am rather upset about it. Fortunately, it's all replaceable. But it'll make a dent in my wallet. And it makes me trust my neighbors less.
  • A good breakfast can be made by sauteeing a bit of onion, garlic, cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, mustard seeds, a dried chilli, and a bit of paprika together (start the onions first, add the rest when they are softened), then adding rice from last night till it's all warmed through and coated with the spices, then adding a beaten egg to the pan, having pulled the rice to one side so the egg can cook by itself a bit. Stir together and cook till the egg is done. Oh, and it needs salt.
  • I could do with about two more weeks of weather like this -- damp at night, clear and warm during the day.
  • The election cycle is reminding me that I have tapered off on my blog reading way too much. I should get onto that.
  • I should make a to-do list and post that.
  • Ishould go to the office and work now. Byeeee!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Watching the RNC

Watching the RNC -- and I am wearing my American hat

Because I don't really ever take that off. Sorry that some Republicans apparently have to switch hats.

You know? I am not feeling uplifted.

And WTF? Fred Thompson last night and Romney and Huckabee tonight.

you know? I don't care about:

- Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter, although I truly feel sorry that it appears that she and young Levi are heading towards the altar. That's probably compounding the mistake.

But, I do care about some things:

- I care that she advocates things I don't believe in, like the death penalty, the overturning of Roe, home schooling, drilling in ANWR, and few (if any) restrictions on guns

- I care that she doesn't seem to really have a grasp of the job of Vice President

- I care that she is under investigation for abusing her position as Governor

- I care that she hasn't denounced her pastor of now, when Obama was excoriated for not denouncing something his pastor said some time ago

- I care that she really doesn't have any experience on a national or international scale

- I care that she will travel with codes to nuclear weapons

- I care that Palin and her supporters -- and the Religious Right in general -- have convinced people that they own morality, and especially things like abstinence and the value of human life. On abstinence, I don't know any parents who hand their kids birth control pills and condoms and say, 'oh, great! go have sex, because you're safe now!" Not so much. Most of the parents I know pretty much try to get their kids to abstain for a long while, because it is part of what they consider being sexually responsible. On the sanctity of human life, well, when life starts is a question of religious teaching to a certain extent. Most of the people I know who are pro-choice agree that some limits are sensible, and I've never met anyone who thought abortions were something women went out and got for fun. On the other hand, the death penalty kills people who are clearly people and alive. I don't know how you can preach the sanctity of human life when you aren't consistent about the death penalty, and when you aren't consistent about killing innocent non-Americans.

- I care that the speakers at the RNC are carefully blaming the Democrats for many of the problems this country faces at the moment, Romney even implying that things like the mortgage crisis have nothing to do with a loosening in regulation over the last 8 years.

-I care that so much of what the GOP speakers are saying is implying that people who feel as I do are not real Americans.

Well, I've read the Constitution, and I support it. I pay my taxes, I have voted in almost every election, from federal to local (I think I've only ever missed three elections for which I've been eligible to vote -- not all that bad for almost 30 years of voting), and I show up for jury duty. I read all the campaign literature I've been given. And I'm old enough to remember when all of those things counted. The people speaking tonight are old enough, too, but they seem to have forgotten them.