Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The end of the year already?

The end of the year already?

Wow, it was so easy to blog during November, and then I fell off the wagon again. Right now, I'm in a cafe, unable to settle on work, so am going to say some stuff. I would tell you about my year, but it sucked. Actually, many good things happened this year, but the bad things were the sort of things that were in ways devastating. Not as devastating as my last breakup (and that's a whole nother thing, as they say). No, these things were devastating because they hit me at the core of my professional identity and involved going through something we probably all go through once we settle into a place, or maybe when we get tenure and become senior faculty. All of a sudden, we see more of the politics, and are on different committees (actually, not true in my case, but I know it is for some), and when we have the freedom to follow our own agendas a bit more. Or maybe it's just that academic politics can be very much like the schoolyard all over again, with cliques and hurt feelings and all sorts of things that shouldn't actually happen between reasonable adults.

Hm. I am having trouble writing about these things, at least in a dispassionate way.

Let's just say that I kinda love my job. I like the students I teach, even though I wish they were more driven. I work for great people who I really believe would like to pay their faculty more and who have been very supportive of me and my work, and of my colleagues, too. They have foibles, but I wouldn't trade them. I generally like my colleagues, although I am truly disturbed by some of the things I see, particularly those that seem to be the result of giving junior faculty too much responsibility too soon, with too little mentoring and oversight. And frankly, those same things might also be a result of not having a good feel for institutional wisdom and its importance. I love the town I live in, and enjoy much about small-town life. I have a house, and cats, and good friends. I feel loved and appreciated.

And yet

It would be nice if this year hadn't seemed to be a mash-up of Mean Girls, Lear, Middlemarch, and Gaslight.

Hey, it's still the bleak midwinter where I am. Look for productive posts in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Today's word

Today's Word

So I'm not signing up for the Reverb 10 thing seen here, at BrightStar's and here, at Dr. Crazy's, but I thought it might be fun to play along for a bit. So...

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

Wow... lots to choose from, but I think the word is really stress. I started the year taking over as department chair rather unexpectedly. I taught as many or more students than all my colleagues combined, plus doing admin stuff, trying (and often failing) to work on my own stuff, and watching everybody else get ahead on research to the point that I began to resent teaching -- the reason I was hired and what I do best. And of course, I beat myself up for it. I beat myself up for a lot of things, apparently. Who knew? Anyway, by mid-summer, I was waking up with clenched fists and feet and had managed to clench my jaws at night even while wearing a bite guard. So... lots of tired. Lots of inefficient use of time and lack of concentration. Lots more beating myself up. Or, to put it bluntly, more stress. And falling behind meant cutting out the gym to catch up ... I assume you're getting the vicious cycle here? Plus weight gain... on-again, off-again relationship, jugglers' balls bouncing everywhere and breaking things... plus a couple of fairly major work-related crises i will not be blogging about. Oh, and that whole buying a house thing.

I cannot wait for this year to be done.

Next year's word: together. Together is what I want to be. Having a grip on my life again, focusing on the right things, getting my head together, my health together, my finances together. And maybe even being together in the relationship sense, if that ends up being an option. Together in the work sense, too, both for me, and in a collegial sense. Together is good, because it's alone without needing others, and also not alone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

NaBloPoMo 25 -- dinner and big cats

NaBloPoMo 25 -- dinner and big cats

So I am at a friend's/adopted sister's for Thanksgiving. Me, her, and her husband. And the cats. One is rather large .. 27 lbs and about 3 feet long, not including his tail. The other is also not small, but only in a normal not-small-cat kind of way. He's also very orange. We've been talking about life, and teaching, and departmental politics. One of the nice things is that both of them are modernists who sometimes do American history. So they can offer sensible opinions of what normal methodology is for people in their fields. This has been really helpful, both in validating my feelings that all of the people in my department don't mean the same thing when we use the same words (for example, in my world, document analysis almost always requires a close reading of the text, as well as demonstrating an understanding of the context; in theirs, it's far more about context, and close readings are optional at best). It's also been very helpful for my understanding where some of my Americanist colleagues are coming from. Apparently, when Americanists go to conferences, they don't really quiz each other on the use of evidence the way medievalists often do. For me, this is a little weird. I mean, if I went to a panel on Merovingian bishops, I'd expect to hear references to Gregory or maybe Venantius, or... you get the idea. There's a general sort of corpus of narrative history that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with, and we examine the use of those sources as much as anything else, I think. But apparently, this isn't true in all subfields. This explains a lot to me about some of my department's dynamics. It also means I need to re-think some of the ways I teach the methods course, so that the students working with the Americanists will have a better idea of what they need to do on their theses...

ETA: It's interesting that my friend described my approach to what I think of as documents or sources as more akin to a literary approach to texts: very old-fashioned; something that might have been acceptable 40 years ago, but would never be published today. In fact, she intimated, it was like the approach of lit people, where everything is reduced to a text, and context occasionally is missed out. For my part, I said I thought that the other approach was clearly good for synthesis and focusing on context, but the actual primary source evidence seemed to be getting short shrift. In some ways, it seems to me that it's the difference between starting with the primary sources and working outward and starting with a question and the scholarship in working inward. There should be a conversation between the two, obviously, and I doubt I will ever be convinced that the old-fashioned approach is therefore less worthy (in part because I will still always have the attitude of someone who is expected to have more tools in her toolbox to start with, but is also big enough to allow for more tools). But it is probably good to get the perspective of someone else, because this really plays into ideas of academic rigor and assessment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaBloPoMo 23 -- Grading Jail

NaBloPoMo 23 -- Grading Jail

That's where I am. Forever. With a cranky cat. And a pleasant and sleepy cat. Guess which one is lurking over my grading! The weekend will be too short. Aargh!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NaBloPoMo 21 -- back home

NaBloPoMo 21 -- Home again

Hey all, I'm forgiving myself for the lack of blogging because I was at a conference. I was at the SEMA conference, enjoying myself with people I like. There were some great people there, and some good papers -- especially those I heard on Saturday morning, which included a very nicely put-together one on Hildemar of Corbie and the construction of monastic space and my favorite (and not because it was given by The Cranky Professor): one on Agobard of Lyons and the Magonians. It wasn't really about space aliens, which made it all the better because we got to talk about them anyway.

Given the subject of the conference, it wasn't surprising that there were lots of papers that referred to revenants, ghosts, and other such things. Nor was it a big shock that many discussions included references to the impending Zombie Apocalypse. I was polite, and did not correct the person who used I Am Legend as an example of a zombie story. People. Read the book before seeing the movie. There were also some papers that had some iffy bits, I think. I'm not convinced we should consider John Donne to be a Tudor writer. Really, I think he is much more representative of the unpleasant James Stuart and his religion than any of the Tudors... In fact, there were a couple of lit papers I heard that could have been much stronger had the authors been better versed in the history they used to attempt to contextualize their arguments.

It's a funny thing: most of my friends who are lit people are really pretty damned good with the history. Most of the historians I know who use literature are pretty good at using it, too -- although I will admit that most of us tend to rely on the safer historical interpretations. Because of that, I tend to think of all medievalists and classicists to be interdisciplinary types as a rule. This experience reminds me that interdisciplinarity is not merely about using each other's sources, but having a rather firmer understanding of and rooting in each other's disciplines. It also reminded me that honestly? periodization across the disciplines can be sort of difficult.

Anyway, it was a very great time, and my esteemed colleague from VA Tech and Modern Medieval put on a really good conference. There were blogger meetups without planning them, and I got to report some fun stuff back to a person who probably needs a new nickname, so that was nice.

Otherwise, my weekend also included some interesting prospects on the personal front...maybe. And I have now officially started to worry about my writing commitments.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NaBloPoMo 14 --bzuh?

NaBloPoMo 14 --bzuh?

The world has conspired against me today. Back tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaBloPoMo 15 -- halfway done

NaBloPoMo 15 -- halfway done

You know, I haven't posted about X in a while. But you know, he is the best proof in the world that sometimes recognizing a bad marriage, or bad compatibility for marriage, is a good thing. We are so much better as friends than we were as spouses. I appreciate him far more as a friend, and he seems to notice far more about my moods than he did as a husband. I'm sorry it didn't work out, but very glad and very thankful that we still have a relationship that is well worth having. I'm also glad that he has a very cool fiance who likes me :-)

Sometimes, life can work out for the best.

All of this is to say that it is good when we are reminded of the things that *are* good in life.

I had two of those moments today, which was a completely depressing and infuriating day in several other ways. I left class disheartened because my students Just. Did. Not. Get. It. In a way that I could not have anticipated.

I mentioned this to a sort-of colleague I met on the staircase (sort-of, because he's another academic, a Political Scientist, but he doesn't teach at SLAC. He's the President's husband who sometimes works on campus). Anyway, I mentioned the thing -- the students really did not get that the Pact of Umar was not something everybody agreed to so that people of different religions could live together in respect and peace, even though they knew it was imposed on Christians after a conquest!.

And he said something that helped to crystallize the issue for me: "They don't understand power."

And so much fell into place for me. I really need to change some of my teaching, especially in those classes where I can because the outcomes are things like "gain multiple perspectives and demonstrate global awareness." It may just be a good idea to start off the class with a set of theoretical propositions and explanations. What happens in pre-20th C wars? What is slavery, really? How do different cultures define race and ethnicity?


Sunday, November 14, 2010

NaBloPoMo 14 -- teaching reading

NaBloPoMo 14 -- teaching reading

(note: flashy auras happening, so spelling/typing likely to be affected)

Hmm. I'm teaching methodology and historiography next fall. Not my turn. Grrr. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to undoing some less-than-effective teaching. Some of that is down to me. I don't think it's that I've been doing things badly, but I haven't really seen what wasn't working as clearly or as soon as I'd like.

But I need to make some changes even sooner than fall. Next term, I'm going to have to start changing my assignments for reading and analyzing primary sources. I'd been focusing on getting students to talk about what sorts of evidence a text could provide, and put the text in context. Mostly, I can get them to talk about authorship and purpose, but more and more, the students aren't connecting those things to the text. There's no overall understanding. So starting next semester, the exercises will focus on context and really giving detailed discussions of how the document fits into the time period -- as well as some discussion of what's going on in them. And I will probably also have to get them to write out vocabulary lists, to be honest. I won't quiz them, but my students are not so good with words.

In the methods class -- and in my future upper-division classes -- I will be working more and more on getting them to read secondary works critically. I was trying to figure out when I learned to read articles, and I never was taught. But as an undergrad, we were assigned a lot of what were then DC Heath Readers (called Problems in European History). For those unfamiliar, the readers focused on a time period and/or series of major questions, and were made up of seminal and/or famous works (abridged) that addressed those things. We were never asked to compare the view of X versus Y, but we were asked to reiterate and discuss the various arguments. So I guess there was some sort of absorption of the ideas of argument and historiography without explication. Me, I'm going to be more explicit and those things are going to be integrated into every class I can manage, and if I can't get pre-assembled ones, I'll just choose articles myself. I'm also going to have to push the vocab skills and the "look up what you don't know/understand" skills. Most of my students simply don't look things up -- they just keep reading. I'm gong to have to tell them (many times) that I still run into references and allusions I don't get, and *i* look things up. And I will have to teach them to recognize the signposts of academic writing: fore example, when do quotes indicate a quote, and when do they (also) indicate an allusion to a larger idea? And what are hermeneutics?

However.... before doing that, I think I will ask you all to help me. Do you know of any similar collections or titles? Do you have ideas of controversies or subjects on which there are clearly very different interpretations that are also likely to be interested to undergrads? Leave recs in the comments, and I will put together one big "sources for teaching" post!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaBloPoMo 13 sleepy

Nablopomo 13 -- sleepy

Dinner. Movie. Wine. No date. Just hanging with a friend. Sleep now.

Hey -- I'm posting...

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -12 -- migraines

NaBloPoMo 2010 -12 -- migraines

This is not my typical post. It's not about teaching or history or anything else like that. It is instead all about me. I'm blogging it because honestly, when you only have your own body to compare with, it's hard to know what is normal. So I suppose I might be some freak of nature and you will all run screaming the next time you see me. But probably not.

This odd thing happened to me at the therapist's the other day. She suggested that my brain sounded like it had some form of ADHD, but then retracted that when I pointed out that I can totally concentrate, sometimes almost obsessively, on one thing for literally hours on end, once I'm stuck in. This is so true that I can actually forget to drink or eat. But most of the time, my brain is spinning. I can feel myself trying to shove things aside till I'm in something like 'the zone.' I am not so much able to live in the moment, because there is always so much happening. My students have been known to tease me because I can be writing on the board and talking and, mid-sentence, tell a student to stop texting or sim, and then go back to the same idea. Or I can be mid-sentence and have an image flashing through my mind that takes me horribly off course, and sometime after a digression into why they should all see Casablanca or read the Bible, wend my way back to the topic we were discussing. It's less like being a butterfly than having a magpie in control... "Ooh! Shiny!" or like the dog in Up: "Squirrel!"

What does this have to do with migraines?

Well, I have them. They come in many flavors: the kind with kalleidoscopic vision and bright colors; the kind that feels like someone took a rubber mallet and hit the side of my head; the kind that feels like my head's in a vise... any or all of these can be accompanied by extreme pain and nausea, although fortunately as I get older, it's more nausea and nagging pain that drugs can dull to where it's bearable.

But there's another thing to my migraines. When I get them, I become incredibly sensitive. I've noticed it before, obviously -- these things have been plaguing me for 20 years. But this morning, as I lay in bed, not able to work because I couldn't see and sort of wanted to throw up, I realized that my migraines are like exaggerated versions of what my brain is always doing. Migraine brain is freaky, because so many things are going on, and it's like I can see them close up. My eyes are closed, but there are still the flashy lights of the aura. There are so many things happening -- there's the garbage truck coming down the street, and the signal at the next block has changed because someone is grinding his gears moving from first to second, the little cat is purring, and the big cat's fur is rustling on the pillowcase next to my head while he purrs in a different key. I can feel not only the sheets against my skin, but evey place that my skin touches my skin feels like it's almost burning, or electrified. Meanwhile, I'm noticing and trying to focus, but that only serves to make one thing louder -- everything else is going on. And of course I'm thinking thinky things, about writing this blog post and what I need to do at the office and whether I'll make it to my gym class and how loud everything is. At the same time, I feel entirely disconnected. That may be the sumatriptan, though :-)

I have no idea what migraines are like for anybody else, but for me, they are all about sensory overload. The pain and the nausea are in some ways merely secondary discomforts. I monitor the pain because they tell migraine sufferers to do so, just in case this time it's an aneurysm or stroke. The hard part is the being so conscious of everything -- and then the exhaustion later, both from the pain and, as I realized today, all of that processing.

And I think I know why I feel like I needed to write this down. I wonder if whatever it is that makes my brain susceptible to migraines is related to why I often feel assaulted by noise that other people might not notice, or why I sometimes have a hard time compartmentalizing and focusing. hmmmm. Anybody else out there have migraines and recognize any of this?

Thursday, November 11, 2010





Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*photo courtesy of

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NaBloPoMo 10-- More teaching stuff

NaBloPoMo 10 -- More teaching stuff

Well, I just read one of the worst papers ever -- a primary source interpretation exercise. This is one of the things I have trouble dealing with. The paper was not simply bad because it lacked a thesis, or because the lack of thesis was not supported well, with, like, actual evidence. It was a bad paper because there was no evidence that the student had got past the lower stages of Bloom's taxonomy. By that I mean that the student had barely got past "identify". There was some attempt at paraphrasing the texts themselves, but no attempt (despite the instructions and the fact that, when we discuss texts in class, the first questions I ask are always the ones that establish a bit of context) to do anything more, and no attempt to establish context. Moreover, it's not clear that the student actually understood the context -- or the texts.

Now, apart from the fact that I really shouldn't have to deal with students who cannot do college-level work, it's clear that this is part of a bigger issue. It's not a new issue -- it's one that Sam Wineberg has written about many times -- reading like a historian is natural for some of us, but for most people, it's a learned skill. More to the point, I think it's a skill that requires a person to unlearn a lot before she learns it. It would help if I knew how students learned to read anything!

I've looked around for help on this, and honestly, although there are tons of books and aids to help students learn to write in the field, all of them expect a particular level of reading skills. Some of those skills are really not as clear as we might like them to be. So how do we teach our students to read primary sources? Do you have any ideas?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -9

NaBloPoMo 2010 -9 Thinking about what works

Lots going on today, mostly catching up and marking. Lots more to come. One of the very few benefits of being so behind on things this semester is that I'm starting to see some things that the students just don't get -- and also how I am and am not teaching those things. So, for example, I'm trying to get them to do primary source interpretations. For years, I've focused more and more on getting the students to show how a historian could use the information in a given document. Sometimes, this is pretty easy -- If I give the students a set of laws, then they can usually reach the conclusion that society X considered Y an important issue, and give examples of why. This year, I got some really good essays on Ancient Near Eastern societies, based on a couple of law codes, in which a coupe of students said that private property was one of the most important values of those societies -- and they used examples dealing with land, slaves, and women to demonstrate this.

But sometimes, they don't get it. Tonight, I realized that this might be because I'm choosing difficult documents, and perhaps also because what I haven't been teaching well is to contextualize the documents. So next semester, i'm going to change one of the written assignments to have the students place the document(s) in context and discuss authorship. Maybe that will make their final written assignment stronger.

In the meantime, as I mentioned the other day, my students aren't doing a great job with secondary literature. And I honestly don't think any of us are really teaching it. Academic writing is a big step up from textbook writing, even when the textbook is much more a monograph, like Innes' Introduction to Early Medieval Europe or James's Europe's Barbarians, both of which I have used. The students are reading for content, not argument. So I need to work on teaching that, too.

But for now, I need to go to bed.

Monday, November 08, 2010

NaBloPoMo-8 -- Monday Monday

NaBloPoMo-8 -- Monday Monday

Mondays are tough -- four classes, and usually a meeting on top of that. So I'm barely blogging. But tomorrow, I have marking and a bunch of random refreshing on the feudal Revolution/mutation/whatever this week.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -7

NaBloPoMo 2010 -7 -- where did my weekend go?

Well, I did do one thing I meant to do this weekend. Two things, really. I raked a lot of leaves. And that was just the front. Seriously, what possessed me to buy a house with so many maple trees around? And I proofread a chapter for a friend. That was fun -- it gave me an excuse to read history, for a change. Meanwhile, the evil little cat is trying to ruin my new sofa. AAARGH.

Also, I went for a nice long walk with a friend today, along with dogs. Dogs are fun, but I'm glad that I don't have one. Too much work. Somehow, the weekend got away from me and I got little done in the way of catching up.

Somehow, I think more happened, but I can't seem to remember. Still, words on blog is the point of all this. This week, maybe even words on paper!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -6

NaBloPoMo 2010 -6 Movie day

Despite having much to do, today was a good day for yard work and a matinee. saw RED, which was fun and funny. Lightweight entertainment provided by heavyweight actors. Tonight, an extra hour of sleep (or really, just the ability to get up at 8 and have it be back to being 7.

Hey -- it's a post, at least.

NaBloPoMo 2010 -- 5

NaBloPoMo 2010 -- 5 -- A little late

I wrote this in my head last night, and then never posted it. I think because I was trying to pay attention to the news. Or maybe a mystery on TV. Yesterday was fun -- unpacking feminist theory with my upper-division students. I saw in most of their faces the same looks I probably had at their ages -- "why do we have to know this? who cares? can't we just READ THE HISTORY??"

Except that the grown-up scholar me understands why. I still don't love theory much. I'm not a huge fan of historiography for its own sake. But, as one of my students said at the end of our hour together, "Some of that article makes more sense now."

Weirdly, from Scalzi a couple of weeks ago, to Barbara McManus and Jo Stanley yesterday, my teaching and scholarship -- and my life -- are moving more and more to questioning, critiquing, and challenging the dominant paradigms.

Thank you to my colleagues in the blogosphere and at Leeds (mostly, although some of you I see more at the zoo) and to the Tea Party for this. I think.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

NaNoBloMo 2010 - 4 what is work?

NaNoBloMo 4 -- What is work?

Today, I went in to the office, and advised a student. For an hour. And then another one. And then I had lunch, quickly. And then I advised a couple more students. In between, I tidied my desk, marked a few quizzes, caught up on my email (sort of, I have 1003 emails in my box that I haven't even read but right now an organization for which I am an officer is having elections, and I have to keep up with the listserv), tried to ring LDW, read three newspaper articles, I took a couple ten-minute breaks (I've got leechblock set) and liked a few things on facebook, checked requirements for a couple of minors for tomorrow's advising, updated Blackboard with revisions for assignments (which required actually reading through some stuff) for the survey courses for the rest of semester. And then my day was over.

I know lots of us have days like this. The thing is, these days always make me feel as though I haven't got anything done. And yet, almost all of that is part of my job. That is, I am paid actual money (albeit not much) to do these things. Nevertheless, admin days and advising days never really feel like productive days. I think this is in part just me, but more, it's our training. Even though we know when we are students that our professors are working when they are talking to us, and that they write, and that they go to meetings -- and teach, obviously -- I'm not sure it ever sinks in properly how much time is sucked away by those things. The messages we get in grad school are to avoid meetings and anything that keeps us from researching and writing. Teaching, when we do it, is the price we pay to be in grad school. For some of us, teaching is in fact why we went to grad school. We wanted to teach. In some ways, that's probably a very good thing. But in others, at least in my case, it meant that i cultivated early a habit of placing my teaching and my students ahead of my research. Research was the price I paid to be allowed to teach.

It's taken me a long time to get to where I not only appreciate, but also enjoy, research. But like most faculty in the US, the primary focus of my position is teaching. This is a wonderful thing, and suits me. In fact, it's the job I would have wanted more than anything in grad school -- a position with minimal publication requirements, a (relatively) heavy teaching load, and (on paper) not too many service demands. And yet on days that I teach four classes (usually two lectures, two seminars, all different levels, usually 3 preps), I come home feeling as if I haven't accomplished much -- except on the really interesting and weird days where the students and I go unexpected places with fun and stimulating results. I can spend two hours in a meeting putting together a policy that will affect the next several student cohorts, or the way we spend money on technology, or facilitating a workshop for my colleagues, and at the end of the day, all I can see is the work, especially the scholarship, that I haven't got 'round to.

I'm sure some of it is conditioned. My professional journals tell me I should carve out time for my own work in the same way the rest of the media tell me I should be thinner. And maybe that's it. It's our work. It serves us, and us alone. We're paid to do it, but for those of us not in serious research-oriented institutions, it's something that is supposed to be fit into our schedules on top of the teaching and service, even when it makes up a significant part of the evaluation process. For me, no matter how many times I read that it's perfectly normal to get little research done during the year, I still feel like an underachiever, especially on days like today. One of the things that sometimes enhances the stress and the guilt is also a gendered issue. At SLACs like mine, I think female faculty are also expected to be more nurturing than the male faculty are. The guys I work with are by and large much better at putting their own work first and saying no to things than are my female colleagues. Either that or they just don't talk about it much. I know in my own case, there is a lot of baggage that comes with me putting my own work first. In fact, I'm working on a homework assignment for my therapist* -- I have to do three nice things for myself this week, things that make me feel like I am being taken care of. And there is a little voice in the back of my head that says that probably, she doesn't mean sitting and reading a journal or writing a review, although those are the things I plan on doing. And maybe buying a Sunday paper and letting myself read through all of it while drinking coffee. Why? I have too much work to to do, even though it's work that will feel like I got nothing done when it's finished!

Anyway, I have no great wisdom on this. In fact, I'd really just like to ask you all how pervasive this feeling is, and what you do to combat it.

*yeah. Work-related stress.

NaNoBloMo 2010 -3

NaNoBloMo 3 -- I taught what today?

Today's classes included explanations of the following:

Hagia Sophia ➔ hagiography ➔ philo-sophy ➔philanthropy ➔Anglo-philia➔ bibliophilia

Carnivalesque and Bakhtin explained in part via Disney's Hunchback and how it worked with Hill's 'the world turned upside down' in reference to the idea of a pirate Utopia.

The last one kind of astounds me, given that I have no idea where I picked up anything about Bakhtin in the first place, let alone how to explain it to college undergraduates. But it was there in the article (well, the term 'carnivalesque' was, and I'm trying to get them to understand that they have to recognize allusions to scholarly arguments and theory in secondary sources, rather than simply reading at face value. But we unpacked phrases like "subverting the dominant structure," and I tried to explain things.

And the crickets chirped.

But this time, I asked if I needed to go over things a different way, and one of the students said, "I get it. I'm just thinking. This is ... deep. I didn't know that there was so much more to understanding something like this. " And heads nodded around the table.

So I took it further and said that it wasn't all that different from when I told them that they should all have a working knowledge of the Bible. And someone reminded me I'd also said they should be familiar with Shakespeare's major works. And then someone touched on Milton, and I pointed out that the Biblical allusions in Milton were pretty pervasive -- and that really, Pullman's His Dark Materials is far more interesting to people familiar with both Milton and the Bible (not to mention the history of the Reformation)...

I sometimes wonder what the hell it is I think I'm doing. But it's fun, whatever it is.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -2

NaNoBloMo 2010 -2

Day two of the whole "let's blog every day" thingy. I was going to write something in response to Notorious, PhD's really interesting post on teaching and sabbatical, but it's been a really busy day, and dammit, there are election returns coming in.

Too many bastards are winning. There are far too many people in office (I'm looking at YOU, Minority Whip Cantor, and YOU, WI MN Rep Michelle Bachman, and a bunch of others) who make me ill. This is not so much because of their politics, but because of the glee with which they refuse to answer questions and/or blatantly lie. I don't really trust most politicians, but today I realized that I am getting increasingly offended by unseemly behavior.

Otherwise, the day was eaten up by student advising, a medical-ish appointment that is part of my way of dealing with crap at work, and VOTING!

I don't really understand what is going on in this country. I understand the anger. In understand feeling betrayed. I don't understand how people can say that these things are down to the Democrats, or to liberals in general. Neither party has covered itself in glory in the past many years, but these bizarre beliefs that we are supposed to be a Christian nation, or that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as planned will somehow mean raising taxes for people who make far less than $250k a year, or that corporations are people... that, I can't really understand.

UPDATE: Is anybody watching this crap with Boehner crying about his American dream?

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoBloMo 2010 -1

NaNoBloMo 2010 -1

So it's November, and I'm trying to get a bunch of things in order, so what better way to do it than to vow to blog daily for a month. Today's post will be somewhat random, and therefore bulleted...

  • I'm planning to respond to a lot of interesting blog posts this month...

  • Jason Isaacs is terribly attractive,even when playing the dreadfully unpleasant Lucius Malfoy. Gary Oldman is also strangely compelling. But did you ever think that just perhaps we might want to take Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix a little bit more in the way of an object lesson? Because really, every single death in the story is pretty much down to Harry and his amazing lack of self-reflection.

  • Guy Halsall's blog is starting to annoy me, because he's writing really interesting stuff I don't have time to read

  • You may also hear about my going to the gym. This is because I've been terrible about taking care of myself for the last year or so. And that is largely because there has been a lot of crap going on in my life, primarily professionally. That you won't be hearing about.

  • Speaking of which, spinning classes are hard, but not as hard as yard work. I'd forgotten all about that aspect of home-owning

  • again, or still, I'm amazed by how some faculty react when they hear the word "assessment" -- It's as if the word means, "we don't trust you to do your jobs and are going to scrutinize every little thing you do, and if it's not perfect, there will be Consequences!", when really, it mostly just means, "what is it that you want your students to learn, how can you tell if they are learning it, and what do you do if they aren't?" Instead of getting that it's perfectly ok to fail, and then fail better (as long as you document it), they instead talk about "gaming the system" -- even though the system is generally up to faculty to define. I mean really, it boggles the mind.

  • Meanwhile, I'm going to be trying to post boring updates about my research projects, just to keep me honest.

and that is my first post of the month. Sorry it's a bit dull.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Look! Carnivalesque 67!

Look! Carnivalesque! 67

In other words, oops! I totally forgot that I said I'd take care of this. Blame my impending transition into what is now, undeniably, middle age. So, in Ancient and Medieval news or, as I like to think of this one, stuff by and about some people I probably know. Because I may be middle-aged (and honestly, I am -- in two days I will be half as old as my oldest grandparent was when he died, and if I take after my shortest-lived grandparent, I've only got 26 years left), but this blog is kinda old by blog standards! So here we are. Welcome to my own little corner of the blogosphere.

How the hell did I miss that Guy Halsall hath a blog?! Sorry, it just came to a shock to me. Anyway, I just found it, and saw that he posted his Leeds paper from last year. I'm really glad about this, as it came late in the conference and I took notes, but still was absorbing parts of it after the session broke. Nice to have a chance to read through it and think about it again, although I might find myself asking him annoying questions or, as that nice Dr. Jarrett calls them, awkward ones. In the meantime, I notice that Eileen Joy has engaged with Guy's paper over at In the Middle.

Speaking of Dr Jarrett, I hope you all noticed that he has a job in Oxford, or maybe at Oxford. But that hasn't stopped him from blogging the really important stuff, like Christopher Lee's new effort.

This is not the only move around. Vellum, of Vaulting and Vellum, has begun a PhD program at Gothic Revival U. I am pretty sure I know where that is. And there is a fellowship involved, which is always a good reason to be in grad school. In much shorter-term moves, I am now of the opinion that our friend Jeffrey Jerome Cohen should now be called "the peripatetic Jeffrey Jerome Cohen," seeing as how in the last couple of months he has been to Berlin, Buffalo, Bethany Beach and Barcelona. Oh, and next month, I'm off to this conference, where I'll meet up with Matthew Gabriele of Modern Medieval, the The Cranky Professor, and I think some other super-fun folks stodgy medievalists. That's a lot of moving around!

Meanwhile, some people aren't moving around that much, because they are busy researching and writing. Some of the stuff they are writing is cool, too -- even if it isn't part of their project. For example, Dr Virago talks about relics, medieval and modern. Check out the picture of Jeremy Bentham. I sort of think it's freakier than the one of St Catherine, who reminds me of a something between Miss Havisham and Tim Burton's Ghost Bride. And speaking of weird, Carl Pyrdum over at Got Medieval had a contest for the weirdest medieval fact on Wikipedia. Guess what won? Hint -- it's not the papal scrotal-inspection seat!. Geoffrey Chaucer hops on the Zombie Apocalypse Mashup train -- as of today! people, how considerate is it that he gave me something to add? And, to round out the odd facts section, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Scott Noakes' totally cheesy post on acceptable sexual positions in Albertus Magnus, cleverly hidden behind the fact that being fat might have allowed some exemptions. Sounds like combining lust and gluttony to me!

Gluttony leads us into another mention of Dr. Jarrett, this time in the guise of Magistra's post on Edible Numismatics. Speaking of which, you really should read Magistra's blog. It's really, really good. Speaking of coins, it looks like Swedish metal detectorists might be able to start reaping the same benefits as like-minded folk in the UK, according to Aardvarchaeology. And dammit, what ancient-medieval carnival would be complete without a not to the Staffordshire Hoard.

And lots of us have been talking about research and teaching, too. Clio's Disciple tells us about a really bad nun. Karl Steel has a story about feral child, just like Mowgli, except in the wilds of Hesse where, if you read your Annales Fuldensis and the correspondence of that old crank St Boniface, and I have, all kinds of odd things can happen. Did I ever tell you that I was once in Fulda, and saw that, Boniface and the pope aside, people were still eating horseflesh!? Moving forward in time a bit, Cranky Professor is blogging Dante in great detail.

But now, in the almost immediate future, I need to go to bed. As always, putting together a carnival has reminded me of how much great stuff is out there. I'll leave you with two things: First, some very fun public medievalisms from The Society for the Public Understanding of the Middle Ages, and; second... a rather sad farewell from Jennifer at Per Omnia Sæcula. We'll miss you!

Next edition: 21 November 2010 (early modern): to be hosted by Nick at Mercurius Politicus

would you like to host a Carnivalesque?

Potential hosts should be regular bloggers with some knowledge of and interest in pre-modern history (though, again, not necessarily academics). If you are interested in hosting an edition of Carnivalesque, please send us an email (see the sidebar to the right of the page for details), noting whether you are particularly interested in early modern or ancient/medieval, and telling us a little about your background and historical interest

Monday, October 18, 2010

Today, I taught John Scalzi

Today, I taught John Scalzi

No, I didn't actually teach the man himself. Really, it was more that he taught my class. Or maybe he just made it possible for me to teach. No, I don't teach science fiction, but this wasn't science fiction. It wasn't history either, as it happens. Instead, it was my Freshman Seminar on an incredibly cool topic. But one of the outcomes for the course is that students develop multiple perspectives and global awareness. We were supposed to be discussing an article on a 17th pseudo-Utopian community, but instead, we started with Scalzi's post of this morning, "Things I Don't Have to Think About Today."

I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. I saw it and just decided it was worth talking about. So I walked in, and asked how many definitions of the word 'privilege' they knew. A couple had heard of race and/or gender privilege, or class privilege, but no one really knew what it meant. So I said I had something we could read that might help to explain it. The makeup of this class is interesting in that it is majority white and male. Most of my classes are a bit more heterogenous, or at least more gender-balanced. But whatever. So we went around the room, each one reading a line aloud. Sometimes the lines were especially sad, because the student reading them probably *had* had to think about the ones they read. Next time, I will probably give them all a list and ask them to check off the ones they have or haven't had to think about. Anyway, after each one, we took a minute to discuss what they meant, some more than others. So, for example, more than half the students didn't understand why someone would have trouble hailing a cab after midnight. But enough did that they could explain. Some didn't understand why a prescription might be difficult to get. We talked about that, too.

Fortunately, it happened that the reading for class also had some interesting race stuff. So we were able to relate the two readings and to talk about different ways of excluding people or othering them. And this is where I start to worry about fail. Because this is ADM talking, and ADM is pretty white. Yeah, there are lots of sorts of privilege I don't have, but white privilege is something I've got. And so I feel a bit weird talking to students of color, or gay students, or anybody else who really knows about what it's like to have to think about all of the things that Scalzi and his commenters mention, because I'm also the person in the classroom with the most power and privilege in this situation. The dynamic are interesting. Today was a bit more interesting than usual, because I started my day with Dr Crazy's post on feminism in the classroom and was hoping that I create such a space when I teach. I think I probably do, but sometimes it's a clumsy space. Because I'm me. And sometimes I show my ass. But that's the risk you have to take, I think, because this shit is important to talk about. Still, I do hope I'm not screwing it up.

Because I never post anything cool anymore

because I never post anything cool anymore

Apropos of a Pink Floyd-BeeGees mashup I saw via Twitter, I give you this very cool mashup that makes me want to listen to all three of these women:

Also, because I love this video, and I'm not sure we'd have the one above without her:

Happy Monday, people!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The problem with Assessment...

The Problem with Assessment

I've been thinking a lot about assessment lately. This is partly because it is on my institution's radar screen in a big way, and partly because it seems to be one of the real stumbling blocks for faculty relations all over. That is, it seems to me that there are often faculty who are very much on board with the idea of having clearly articulated assessment programs and others who aren't. It doesn't seem to me to be a generational thing, although there is certainly something to that -- at SlACs like mine, older faculty are often used to doing things their own way, whereas younger and often junior faculty are a bit more open to working on such programs. You all probably know that I'm sort of an assessment fan. I don't want anybody in lock-step with me, and I don't want to be in lock-step with anyone else, but I see the value in all the people in a department or an institution having the same sort of standards.

This seems to me to be a particularly American thing in some ways, too. My colleagues in the UK are used to a system of double marking and outside evaluators. I think that's a good thing. I know people who see it as a threat. In fact, I think that, in general, the people who want to stay as far away from any coherent assessment program are those who are the most frightened of being found out. It's impostor syndrome, but in a way I've never thought of before. I worry all the time about being found out, about my colleagues finding out I'm not really one of them. This is entirely centered on my worth as a scholar. It never occurs to me to feel like a fraud in the classroom, but then it always occurs to me that there are better ways to teach something, and I talk to people about teaching all the time. there are plenty of ways my teaching is flawed, but I do also know that I'm not a bad teacher. Weirdly, it never really occurred to me that there might be people whose impostor syndrome worked in the reverse.

Assessment, good assessment, means looking carefully at oneself and the way that one teaches. When we talk about assessment and "quantifying the unquantifiable" as one of my colleagues puts it (which is total bullshit, as far as I'm concerned), it looks like we're tracking our students. To some extent we are, but more importantly, we are assessing ourselves. If our students aren't doing well, then we have to ask why. And why it might be that we aren't doing as good a job as we ought to be doing. We might have to change and re-think things. To me, this is a given. But I can see that, to others, this might also be an indicator that we were wrong, that we weren't doing our jobs well. What if our students aren't lazy or stupid? What if it's us??

I think the truth is that we do have some lazy students and some students who are kind of boneheaded. But we also just have students who are smart, but aren't ready, or unprepared. And we do need to learn to teach them, and perhaps to change the way we teach in order to serve them and yes, to teach them in ways they can learn. Because if we don't assess, and self-assess, then the problem *is* us.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Big Berks

Big Berks

Hey -- I am doing my Big Berks registration, and have booked a room at the hotel for my roommate (another blogfriend who most of you know) and me, but was wondering if there were any other bloggers going who might want to share one of the dorm suites. There's not a lot of difference, price-wise, but the fun of hanging out would be nice. Also, does anyone have ideas about the meal plan? One of the things I liked about the last Berks was the ability to hang out with friends, and I'm not going to get any money from SLAC for meals (or at all?) so it seems a good deal. But I don't want it to be like the Zoo, where buying meal tickets means giving up spontaneity...

And yes, registration is due next week!

(I know, this is not a real post -- life, grading, and trying to remain objective through a serious storm of shit is hampering my ability to cope with anything but getting through at the moment)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Accounting for Culture

Accounting for Culture

My academic year started on an interesting note. At our first faculty meeting, the SLAC president stood up and read some of the responses to the annual, 'what could we be doing better?' survey. A couple were pretty harsh. One pretty much said, "There are faculty who repeatedly not only don't pull their weight, but also who make life more difficult for those who do. Some of them even get ahead because they write while the rest of us do the service. When the hell are you going to address this?" There was a gentle susurration, a flow of murmurs, and then we moved on. Later that day, someone asked if it were my comment. Nope. I knew whose it was, though. Hell, I knew by the tone. Two other people have asked me if I wrote the complaint. They were glad someone had finally talked about the elephant. I'm not sure what it means that they thought it was me, although it probably surprises no one that I am often the person who misses the "don't talk about the elephant" signals. The thing is, I don't tend to talk about such things anonymously. That's a little weird, because -- believe it or not -- I hate confrontation. I hate being angry. I hate being on the spot. It makes me physically ill. Really. Even asking questions at conferences when I know those questions might be elephant questions makes me a little sweaty and queasy. But I feel this compulsion. If a question begs to be asked, I have to ask it. *

Still, that question of, "what are you going to do?" hangs in the air. What will we do? What can we do? We can, apparently, imitate ostriches or headless chickens pretty well. Pretend it goes away. Run around complaining. Fix things? It's amazing how powerless a SLAC full of advanced degrees can be when it comes to confrontation and job performance.

Job performance. Being a faculty member is a job. I have one. Lots of people don't. I've got quasi-tenure, and it would take at least a couple of years to get rid of me, unless I did something egregious, but honestly? I have a job, with a boss, and a set of external standards that may be less rigorous than my own, but are standards nonetheless. But so much of my performance as an employee depends on my own set of standards and ideas of professional ethics, and those things are not, apparently, universal. My own standards require that I put students first and actually fulfill my service obligations. Those are, fortunately, the standards espoused by Superdean and the Provost, as well as by many of my colleagues. Not all of them, though. And that seems to be the rub for a lot of the people I know who teach in SLACs. I think that this may be one of the issues more glaringly obvious at SLACs than at other places, if only because SLACs tend to be smaller, and are often private. These two factors, even more than a generational one that I think might also exist, are arguably the most influential in creating the sorts of tensions that the comments at the faculty meeting indicate.

The S in SLAC stands for 'small'. Small student bodies mean small faculties. Small faculties often mean small departments. In a department of 20, it's pretty easy for one or two people to fly under the radar when it comes to teaching and service. This is especially true where research is clearly an important, perhaps even the most important, part of the job. That also tends to be true in the larger departments, which are most often found in what used to be called R1s (or, in the UK, Russell Group unis). At research campuses, the greatest rewards tend to go to those who are the most productive. Because they offer postgraduate degrees, faculty often have marking help from TAs, students who don't necessarily think to go to academic advisors for hand-holding, and large lecture-style classes. Teaching and especially service are often seen as unfortunate responsibilities in such institutions. This isn't always true: I can think of a dear friend who is at an Ivy and tends to do a lot of service, and LDW is a senior faculty member at a research uni, has always carried a heavy teaching load, a heavy service load, and publishes voluminously in our field and in another -- and regularly marks 400-500 exam scripts each term. So I know that even in some Research unis, teaching and service can also be important, or at least take up substantial amounts of time. BUT -- there is still that ability for those who are successful scholars to fly under the radar in bigger departments.

At SLACs, that's less likely to be true. We know who is doing what. In the best situations, we know what our colleagues think about teaching, what they are researching (or would like to be, if they could find the time), what committees they are on, and what's happening on them... and that's seldom limited to our departments, because we are so small. People actually read newsletters to see what's going on with the colleagues they don't know so well (and, admittedly, to see who got funded for what so they can congratulate them or nurse grudges -- this is academia, after all!). In the worst situations, departments or programs can disintegrate under the stress caused by one or two people. Sometimes it's not all that visible: a new and interesting colleague comes into a department, and leaves in a year or two. And then the next does the same. And then a third. Other times, it might be a matter of someone behaving unprofessionally, but the people who notice have reputations for taking things personally, and their complaints are not clearly rooted in what is really the most important issue: person X is not doing hir job. And sometimes, it seems, everybody knows there's a problem. And it seems like nothing is being done. Morale suffers. A disgruntled person notices a colleague in another department seemingly getting away with murder, hears gossip, internalizes it, and thinks, "hell -- why should I be working this hard when so-and-so doesn't have to?" And so it goes. There is an impression that we are not really being held accountable.

The thing is, we are. We are accountable to ourselves. We are accountable to our colleagues, we are accountable to our students. But our culture is not one that is transparent about these things. Nor should it be. Job performance details are privileged information. Nowhere else would you have people essentially expecting to know if Henry's evaluations were ok, or if Sue had been placed on an action plan. But in the business world, Henry and Sue could be terminated quickly, or could be given an action plan that might be as long as 3 months to meet certain metrics. Academia works on another calendar.

You knew that, didn't you? We start our year in the Fall. We think in terms, plus Summer. We submit papers to journals and they might be published 18 months later. And our timeline for dealing with professional issues is necessarily different, too. Say a colleague appears to have disengaged from students, service, even showing up, except for classes (this is not normal at a SLAC, to the best of my knowledge). A few people notice, but someone says they heard the colleague was having personal issues -- death in the family, divorce, illness, feeling burnt-out, whatever. It's one semester, and everybody has a bad semester now and then. Hell, I've had semesters where I had a really hard time getting to classes on time. In my case, this was because I was commuting 45 miles each way, going through a divorce, and generally not sleeping. My body and brain were really not operating very well. And that can happen to anybody who is dealing with a lot of stress. Few people noticed, but I knew, and tried very hard to make sure it didn't happen again. Still, I was surprised my evals were almost as good as usual. Anyway, so one semester goes by. There's no complaint, no documentation, because the rumor-mill has provided an explanation.

And then it happens again. And mid-semester, someone says something to an administrator. The administrator might document it, but might not. Because we are all professional adults, and a friendly talk might be enough. But it's not. Meanwhile, the faculty member has received her annual contract (because even tenured people still have to agree to terms of employment in most places), and knows that she is safe for another year. So one year has gone by, and no documentation. The next year, the administrators are more wary, but there are no serious complaints. Grumbling, but the students seem happy enough, and the colleague shows up for the meetings for the single committee she's on. She's doing the bare minimum, but that's not enough to fire a person. It might be enough to deny a merit increase, but if a faculty member isn't worried, then that's not really a stick. And so it goes. It can take several years of assiduous documentation to get to a point to show cause for firing a faculty member, because in academia, annual review is often not based on meeting certain metrics or losing one's job. And there can be a difference between doing a good job in terms of one's students, colleagues, and institution, and doing a good job in one's own terms. Academics tend to measure worth in terms of scholarship. If a person wants to move up, it's not done through great teaching or exemplary service. It's done through publishing. It's a weirdly oppositional arrangement. The things that are most portable in terms of our CVs are also the things that are least community minded. They are the things that come out of the most solitary aspect of our jobs, and so we are in some ways rewarded for a sort of independence that really isn't - it relies on the goodwill of our colleagues and their willingness to pick up the slack. But in terms of how we function and how the research and writing is done, it is independent. And traditionally, we bring a sense of entitlement derived from our independent work into the classroom. And there, we really are becoming more and more accountable. Talk about a clash of cultures!

And I will, next time. In the meantime, I need to get the house ready for a party, mark 50 essays, prep classes, send in paperwork for a conference panel, send in an application for conference funding, set up a schedule for a program I'm running for our Provost, register for Berks (YAY! I am giving a paper there! and I might even be able to travel by train to get there!), and write a bunch of stuff.

Yeah -- it's a big list. I expect I'll be back well before then, because I need to write regularly and thoughtfully, so here I go.

*There's a lot more that could be said about my conference questions, but for now, I'm sticking to the others...

Monday, September 06, 2010

Re-thinking teaching, professionalism, and a bunch of other stuff

Re-thinking teaching, professionalism, and a bunch of other stuff...

...probably not all in one post. One of my goals this academic year is to get back to blogging more regularly, despite having a much heavier load than I've had in a long time. I need to do this because I need the discipline of writing something thoughtful on a regular basis, something that in the post has helped me to focus better on my research and teaching, Some of you are aware that the last year has been pretty hard -- so much so that I really couldn't blog the way I wanted to, i.e., objectively enough that I could mask enough details to preserve my friends' and colleagues' privacy. But there are a series of posts I would like to write about teaching, assessment, maturing in the profession and at an institution, wearing an administrator's hat, and what it is that we do for a living. Hint: it's not some of the stuff in this. So here's an update on what's going on, and a solicitation of opinions on what you guys want to hear first. While you're thinking about that, I may be writing. More later today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010



Hey all, sorry for the late notice, but term started on Monday, and I have NO INTERNET AT HOME! OMGWTFBBQ!!!

So I missed that my very esteemed colleague, Jonathan Jarrett, had posted the latest edition of the Ancient/Medieval Carnivalesque at A Corner of Tenth Century Europe. It's easily one of my favorite editions so far, in both content and format. You should go look at it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some quick thoughts on the MAA thing

Some quick thoughts on the MAA thing (updated)

I have an internet connection at the moment, so thought I'd belatedly say my piece on the MAA going to Arizona. To sum it up, I'm pissed off and disappointed, but mostly, I'm upset at being surprised.

I'm NOT surprised that the meeting is going on. A big chunk of money had been spent already, and I can see that the organization's leadership might have felt that they could not simply write off that kind of investment. I can even see that they would think that it was important to some of the putative presenters' careers to give papers at the meeting, although at this point, I doubt it would have affected anyone's funding for travel.

What I AM surprised at, and what really guts me, is that the letter, written by committee or not, expressed absolutely no reference to the laws that those of us who opposed holding the meeting in Tempe objected to, except as some sort of bullshit "collective political action." This upsets me, I think, because to me, the laws are clearly wrong in a moral sense (and in a constitutional one), and are not at all "political." And to a certain extent, because I am acquainted with a couple of the members of the Executive Committee, I feel a little sick at not knowing if they willingly characterized racial discrimination as 'political' or if they were somehow argued down. It's not a good feeling.

I'm also upset and, perhaps naively, surprised at how this entire thing has been characterized by some, especially in the Inside Higher Ed comments, as being a 'leftist' issue, or a case of 'political correctness.' I don't know how people who have read the US Constitution and know anything about US history can see a support of equal rights and equal protections as being 'leftist'. Admittedly, I have a dog in this fight -- my family includes people of color who are Southeast Asian, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino. Some of my family members are also gay. But of all of those people, only the Latinos are likely to be personally affected by SB1070. This is a big country, though, and it's not all about my family -- it's about anybody. I don't see that this is any different morally than making ethnic minorities wear identifying clothing or denying people of a certain skin color the right to eat with Anglos. Shouldn't we have reached a point where civil rights are seen as patriotic, rather than partisan?

So that's why I'm saddened. Not so much about the decision to go on, but about the apparent unwillingness of the leaders of an organization to which I belong to publicly recognize that this is a moral issue at all, or even, at the very least, to publicly recognize that this is a moral and ethical issue for a fair number of the membership. This lack of acknowledgement of something clearly very meaningful to at the least a sizable and vocal majority minority comes across as a lack of respect and a dismissal that is entirely unwarranted and at best, very uncollegial.


Today, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen posted a piece on his reactions and why he is maintaining his membership in the MAA. It is thoughtful, and very convincing. Jeff also noticed something that I had not in the CFP that came out yesterday: an acknowledgement of the moral concerns for some of us. It's a far cry from the condemnation that I feel is necessary, but it's something. And, as Jeff says, it probably indicates that there are rifts on the council. Again, knowing that some of my senior colleagues seem not to think it is one is disturbing to me. And I hope I shall one day find out who argued which way, because that would at least relieve the sick feeling of wondering, but would replace it with the sick feeling that colleagues whom I respect didn't find Arizona's racist laws (and I'm talking about the whole passel of them, not just SB1070 -- a law that requires teachers to have 'a correct accent' seems ludicrous at best to a left-coaster who's lived in the Deep South, and we know it's code for non-Anglo English) morally objectionable. In the meantime, I have been informed via a listserv that three members of the local program committee have resigned, because they cannot give their support to a meeting in the state where they live as long as the laws are racist. They also point out, for those who have forgotten, that a boycott worked to get Arizona to recognize Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday. So yeah, I'm boycotting, but not quitting.

eta: I missed my eighth bloggyversary. Happy eight years!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Moving and penguins

Mobbed by Penguins

Girl Scholar asked for the penguin story, so I will tell it. It is an odd story, as no actual penguins were involved in it, and yet, there was, by the end of the evening, great assurance that we would, indeed, be mobbed, or mugged, by penguins.

This year at Leeds, I stayed in Oxley Flats. Unless I am wanting to share a bed with someone there, I do not ever anticipate this changing. Best conference dorm accommodation around, I say. I was told last year by the amazing Dutchwoman that that was where to stay, and she's right. Well worth the extra £10 a night, if you can afford it. So I checked in. And got a bunch of paperwork, including one which mentioned that we should please to keep our windows closed whenever possible. It said something along the lines of: "Danger! A masked band of pigeons have been entering rooms looking for food!"

Yes, Pigeons.

When I got to my room, there was another sign.

But somehow, when I was at a party held in the flats, trying not to be intimidated by the fact that I'd even been invited because I was surrounded by Big!Scary!Names!*, the scholar with the flowing tresses and I were explaining to someone about the dangerous pigeons, except that, when I said it, it came out "penguins." It caught on, and there were penguin jokes for the rest of the evening. Apparently, medievalists would much rather imagine penguin banditry than pigeon muggings!

Meanwhile, in ADM land, the kitchen is almost finished being unpacked. There are a shiny new fridge and stove, and the plumbers are coming tomorrow at 7 am (eek!) to plumb the gas line (and fix a leak, which they don't know about). On Tuesday, if all goes well, the stove will be hooked up, and I will indeed be cooking with gas! The new furniture is in the living room, and today I will be able to put the TV on the mantel -- this seems a bit high to me, but opinions all pushed for not putting it directly in front of my non-functioning fireplace. There are boxes to unpack there, and I shall need to buy some shelving and a coffee table or ottoman, because there is nowhere to put my feet up, dammit! Upstairs is still a disaster area, and I am somewhat dismayed to find that the litter box must remain in my office (hence the sweeping of much more cat litter than I'd like), because: a) the basement needs a dehumidifier, and that means leaving the door closed; b) the door to the basement is hollow-core, so not great for installing a cat flap, but also; c) I need to figure out how to install a cat flap so it's almost flush with the floor so that the aging Mr Soppy can get through easily, as there is not a lot of top step on the other side of the door, and finally; d) the basement is dark and scary and unless I want to get some lights that remain on permanently, Mr Soppy seems very distressed at climbing the stairs at the moment. His vision seems to have deteriorated in the past couple of months. Anyway, today we hang curtains, and tighten up the bookshelves in the office/guest room, which is very large and comfortable.

Huzzah for DIY Grrl and her wife, the Coach, who are coming to help today!

*Actually, they are all really nice people, even though they are intimidating intellectually, and I fear their questions at conferences. But it's possible that people dread mine, too. Still, I am intimidated and also, now that I know them and have been let in, so to speak, I feel tremendously obligated to produce good work. Which is really not a bad thing. I'm sadly motivated by trying to live up to imaginary standards I project on others - this is one way in which the dread Imposter Complex can work to my advantage!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Almost in the land of the living

Almost in the land of the living

Survived move. Now for the unpacking. Back soon!

Monday, August 02, 2010

T-2 days till the big move...

T-2 days till the big move...

So the closing went well, work on house moves steadily on, with a few contractor glitches. And I need to finish packing. More soon...

Monday, July 26, 2010

RBOC -- where have I been?

RBOC-- where the hell have I been? edition

  • There should be a Carnivalesque coming up at A corner of Tenth Century Europe Real Soon Now next month -- please help with submissions!

  • I have spent the last week at a Think Tank (TM)-run institute, aka Smart People's Citizenship Camp. It was a mixed bag. Some really cool people and great conversations, a beautiful location (marred by the ridonkulous heat wave, which meant that I could not actually enjoy the beautiful location), and some weirder-than-hell dynamics that left many of us feeling uncomfortable, but not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • Supposedly, I close on my house tomorrow. This would be easier if they had told me the closing costs, but presumably I'll find out in time to run down to the bank and get a cashier's check before closing. Holy crap. I'm buying a house!

  • The cats have not yet convinced themselves that I am not leaving them alone for a while.

  • I have a LOT of admin work and teaching prep to do before I'm due back on campus (not counting today's lunch meeting), and did I mention I'm moving into a new house in a week or so? Depending on when I can get re-wiring done. And appliance, sofa, and curtain shopping. Which comes first?

  • I will at some point possibly blog about Leeds, because it was awesome. I can honestly say that Kalamazoo is fun, but Leeds really regenerates me. I think part may be the timing, but also, there are people there who know my field and who make me feel both able and obliged to up my game, and I like that. Anyway, if you're lucky, I'll remember to tell you the story of how I didn't get mobbed by penguins.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010



if you are at Leeds, some of us will be in the Stables from right after the last session till whenever. For me, whenever is at about 7:15.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Leeds, Day 1

Leeds, Day 1

Extremely cool colleague across the hall. Dinner with a friend in Classics. Geezer-fu still working. Meet-up with other people from Grad U and TenthMedieval and friend. Too much beer. Yep, I'm at Leeds. Seriously, the one thing I dislike about Leeds is that the bars are rather further from each other than is convenient. Actual posting on scholarly stuff tomorrow.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Workation, all I ever wanted...

Workation, all I ever wanted...

So this is still not that post about my first year of quasi-tenure. Instead, it's about what I'm doing Right Now. Sort of. Because, I am currently in my favorite big European city -- favorite because many people I love live here, and so is the BL, which is one of my favorite places to work, because I am always able to be somewhat productive there. The weather has been very warm. Very warm. And I've had to use my inhaler every day. But I'm still having a blast. Watching the World Cup with my family and friends, going to the zoo and to pubs, and meeting up with a lot of people. Meanwhile, I've spent a lot of time reading up on diplomatics and charters -- ugh. But useful. And getting ready to go to Leeds. So basically, I've worked every week day, played every night, and have had a very lovely time. I'll be telling you more later. Because I had something to talk about, but I forgot about it, because my family is watching Desperate Housewives, which I've never seen, but it seems a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010



Dear person offering to do my research for me,

Are you effing serious?

Also, eff right off.

Also, yeah, because what I do is sooooo easy. Clearly if I am having difficulties wrapping my head around diplomatics in German, you'll be able to just go on the internet with your super-cool internet research platform and your not-yet-complete undergraduate degree and do it for me.

Did I mention...

Please eff off. Now.

ETA for Cranky Professor

Dear The Author of Blogenspiel,

I am following up on an email I sent you last Monday.

My name is [redacted], and I am an undergraduate student studying English, Philosophy and Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. I am writing to offer you on-demand research support: a high quality intellectual service exactly when you need it.

The mechanics to facilitate this are easy since I am on the [redacted] research platform. [redacted] is based in Canada and was originally developed by professors for professors as a way to connect top students with faculty to assist them with their research. The platform is now open to serve the private sector. I was invited to contact individuals for whom I would be keen to conduct research. I chose you, among others, due to your field of work.
{redacted] works:

1) Visit www.[redacted].com, click “start your research,” and enter your research assignment,
2) Select how long you would like the researcher to spend on your assignment (in 2-, 4-, or 6-hr increments) and how fast you need the report delivered,
3) Register and pay (a 4-hr report can be as low as $69).

[Redacted] is so confident about the quality of its researchers’ work that it offers a full money-back guarantee. To see samples of the quality of work that we produce in just a few hours, please visit www.[redacted].com.[Redacted] researchers are top students from leading North American research universities who are selected and trained by professors. Many professionals spend a lot of time searching, synthesizing, and presenting information. Instead, we can do that quickly, effectively, and at minimal cost, making our clients more productive. The service is hassle free – researchers work on your assignments on demand (when you need it, without employment contracts or price negotiations).

So, if you are swamped and could use a highly motivated, high-performing student to save you time on tasks involving online research, then please let me know.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to be in touch. I am happy to contact you by phone if you prefer.


[redacted] Researcher

I'm really tempted to send them a list of German references on diplomatics and ask them for a precis in English... I bet it takes more than 4 hours!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

History Carnival

History Carnival!

Summertime is carnival time, right? And there is a new History Carnival up at Jonathan Dresner's place. So go and play!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The 2 1/2 orders?

The 2 1/2 Orders?

Following on tenthmedieval's comment on this post, and a conversation at the massive group exam read of last week, I have some thoughts.

The conversation was about the F word at first. A group of us were talking, me, a Late Antique person, a very modern person, and two high school teachers. I mentioned the F word, and one of the high school teachers said, as they often do, "but wait, I always teach the Feudal Pyramid -- it's in the textbook! What am I supposed to tell them?" Me being me, I said, "well, really, that's a model that has been pretty much abandoned. Textbooks tend not to be written by medieval specialists, so the information is often very outdated. If it were a university course, there's a good chance that the first half would be taught by someone who was a pre-modernist, and they'd correct the misrepresentations." So we talked a bit about feudalism and Peggy Brown, and Susan Reynolds, and Chris Wickham, and manorialism, and other such things... like Duby and the Three Orders and how a feudal obligation is between members of the same social group.

Fast forward to the last post.

Because what do you do with the three orders? it doesn't really work unless 'those who pray' are really the low-level monks -- except that in the Early Middle Ages, at least, even monks tend to be not from the lower echelons of society. And if we look at the people who are at the top of the ecclesiastical food chain, so to speak, they are members of the leading families. Their brothers and fathers are comitesand duces -- and even kings. And yet we have a model that is based on lines that we see more and more to be very fluid between the first two orders. By birth, they are largely the same people. And yet, so much of the existing scholarship of the past, oh... hundred years? has created an understanding of society that means that we always seems to express some sort of surprise, or at least forceful assertion, when we find something that indicates that the interests of ecclesiastics and laity were often the same, and were intertwined. And yet, it is only logical. So where do we go from here, to get to where we can start really changing our models? Or should we?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

this confuses me

This confuses me

SO I'm in the British Library, more falling asleep than working (I only got here yesterday morning, and had only three hours' sleep Tuesday night), and read something I've read over and over for years... basically, an author states that lay elites and ecclesiastical elites had similar interests. In this case, we're talking about charters. But really, is this supposed to be a surprise? Because I thought it was pretty clear by now that we are talking about the same people, by and large. Yes, ecclesiastics do have additional interests, because their allegiance is, or should be, somewhat divided.* But hasn't there been enough work done, at least for the Franks, that we can now assume that the two groups are generally related to each other by kinship, and that, especially in the cases of proprietary churches and monasteries (or royal ones), the holders of ecclesiastical office are doing it precisely because they are connected by blood to the lay elites?

Or am I missing something important?

*should be in the sense that they are supposed to be looking out for the church's property and interests, whoever their relatives.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Carnivalesque 63

Carnivalesque 63

Hey everybody!!!1

Carnivalesque 63 is up at The Cranky Professor. It's full of all sorts of fun stuff, so take a break and read!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010



Hey all -- the next Carnivalesque is coming up this coming weekend at Cranky Professor Please, send him links at crankyprofessor AT gmail DOT com!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Regarding my faith in the UK education system

Regarding my faith in the UK education system...

"Professor Rick Trainor has been awarded an honorary knighthood (KBE) for services to higher education. The award is honorary due to his American nationality. Commenting on the award, the Chairman of Council of King’s College London, Lord Douro, said, ‘Rick Trainor has been a tireless advocate for King’s and for British universities more generally. In particular, he has helped to develop the alumni programme and raise significant sums for the College, and has helped improve the estate of King’s, not least through the acquisition of the East Wing of Somerset House. He has also helped shape the improved academic profile of the College and done much to further the student experience at King’s. This award is well deserved.’"

Like f*#k.

'nuff said. Feel free to leave furious comments below.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

back, kinda sorta

back, kinda sorta

So I've done my last deadlined report for work. I'm burnt out. So today is a me, me, me day! It says something about my life lately that this means I am doing one thing for my department, and otherwise cleaning, doing laundry, handling personal finance because it looks like I've bought a house, and getting ready to start a series of posts on my first year with tenure. And going to Target and buying shoes online.

see you soon!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

kalamazoo days 3 and 4

Kalamazoo Days 3 & 4,

Met my SFMS mentee. She's very nice. Hope I gave her good advice. Then off to panels -- Really nice panel where Margaret McCarthy and Karl Heidecker and Justin Lake gave really nice papers. Lots of good questions. Then lunch with friends from Beachy U. Then panels -- two in honor of the legal historian who was the second member of my committee. Since most of my friends from Grad U were there, and also, they were presenting him with his Festschrift, I went to those rather than Steve Muhlberger's De Re Militari lecture. Then off to the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholars' dinner, then to ... the Dance!! Little dancing, some talk, home to bed at a decent hour.

This morning was my panel. It was full of win. First, Sunday morning at 8:30, and at least 20 people were there! Second, the people were all the kind of people who could ask scary questions. Too bad I was not the best moderator ever and let our first speaker go over, but damn, he gave a good paper on formulae. Then one of my blogfriends gave a really interesting paper on things Catalonian, and finally, we heard a very good paper that argued, among other things, that Hincmr's De Ordine was something akin to utopian literature. Then more hanging out with some fab people for brunch at McNalley's, and then home.

I know -- not too detailed.

It was busy and I am tired. More later.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

kalamazoo day 2

Kalamazoo Day 2

One of the things I love about Kzoo is the people -- I get to see folks I only see at conferences. One of the things tat gets me is that I'm actually sort of an introvert. And I'm one of those people who doesn't necessarily do well with too many choices. And I want to be friends with lots of people, and am always worried that I don't fit.

So today was a hard day. Blogger meet-up was great, but one of these days I have to remember to socialize more with the people I'll see less, and more with the people who I only see at the meet-up. But it was really great to see folks especially the ones I communicate with less than I'd like, and see far less than I'd like.

Paper panel one was a disaster. I got there ad realized it wasn't really going ot be what I wanted. Then, before the next panel, lunch that went on too long, service- wise. Late to the most. Crowded. Panel. Ever. Poisoning in the 14th C. Awesome

Friday, May 14, 2010

kalamazoo day 1

Kalamazoo Day 1

Today was all about the Carolingian panels. Heard lots of good papers. Especially enjoyed the first two papers, by Christina Pössel and Paul Kershaw. More on that later. For now, I have been hanging with my friends, and have sleep to be getting to. But so far, my Kalamazoo collection includes Rebel Lettriste, Jonathan Jarrett, meg from xoom, ex-tiruncula, Lisa Carnell, and much of the ITM crowd, and some of the totally cool folks I met last year at St. Andrews and Leeds.

more later. Blogger meetup tomorrow!

OH -- I met the Chaucer blogger tonight!!!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Blogger meetup!!

Kalamazoo Meetup

Because I am soooo far behind in reading Other People's Blogs, I missed it. Usual time and place, though -- Friday at 8 am at Mugshots.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Blogger meetup?

Blogger Meetup at Zoo?

Hey all -- have we organized this yet?

Because there needs to be at least one official blogger meetup at the Zoo. I'm happy to organize, if no one else has (although I'm guessing it will be the usual Friday morning at the coffee place?)


Also, I will blog something of substance soon on my year of isolation.

Monday, April 26, 2010



There is a new Carnivalesque posted at Gill Polack's "Even in a Little Thing". It's got a bunch of things I knew about, and a bunch of things I missed, and it going to be really useful to me in my catching up.

Go and read! I'm too swamped to blog or break, so you should!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Blegging for entries

Blegging for entries

Hi all --

We are looking for entries for the carnivalesque due up in a week or so. We are especially looking for good Ancient posts (anything posted after January 1 is fair game) and would really like more on the closures of Classics departments, cool discoveries, and generally interesting stuff!

this is a great way to get the message out about new blogs and remind people about older ones.

(and obviously, good medieval posts are always welcome!)

Put your links in the comments!


Thursday, April 08, 2010



Ok, folks. I've agreed to come up with something for SEMA. I can simply put in a paper, but might as well see if anybody wants to help put together a panel. Me, I think I'll be writing about women and property, but focusing on the deo sacrata. Anyway, the CFP is below. Let me know if you are interested in putting together a panel or submitting a paper!

Call for Papers

“Natural, Unnatural, & Supernatural”

36th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association
Roanoke, VA
November 18-20, 2010

The Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association will take place November 18-20, 2010, at the Hotel Roanoke, located in the southwest corner of Virginia in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. Because this year’s conference coincides with the 75th anniversary of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, we have selected “Natural, Unnatural, & Supernatural” as its theme.

We welcome papers and panels dealing with all aspects of the Middle Ages, but we particularly encourage those examining elements of the natural, unnatural, and supernatural in the medieval world. As it does every year, the SEMA annual conference encourages submissions from all branches of medieval studies, including but not limited to history, art, science, philosophy, theology, archaeology, paleography, language, and literatures.

Proposals for entire sessions and for interdisciplinary presentations are strongly encouraged, although individual paper proposals are welcome as well. Offers to serve as session moderators are also welcome.

Papers should be no more than 20 minutes in length and sessions should consist of no more than 3 presenters and 1 moderator. If submitting a full session, please indicate the intended format of the session (formal papers, roundtable discussion, panel, and so on) and titles of all individual presentations. All proposals should be approximately 250 words and include all contact information (mailing address as well as email) of the presenter(s) and/or organizer. Proposals must include a note regarding A/V equipment needs. Email submissions are much preferred.

Email proposals by June 1 to:

sema2010 AT

Prof. Matthew Gabriele
Dept. of Religion and Culture
Virginia Tech
342 Lane Hall (0227)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Please explore the conference website, where you'll find information on plenary speakers, accommodation, local dining, travel & maps, and local attractions.

For questions or more information about the conference please contact:

Matthew Gabriele (Virginia Tech) mgabriele AT
Dana-Linn Whiteside (Roanoke College) whiteside AT

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Early Modern carnivalesque

New Early Modern Carnivalesque

Hi all -- this month's Early Modern Carnivalesque is up at The Quack Doctor. Remember, you don't have to be an Early Modernist to like Early Modern history! Two series of Blackadder can't be wrong!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A quick MN note

A quick MN note

Still feeling the disquiet, and thought I should point readers to this article at Inside Higher Ed and a post over at Digital Medievalist.

What I'm finding really interesting is how this is playing out. The internet is a wonderful place. I love it. But I think we often forget about the ramifications of how internet communication works. I fully believe that there would have been no story for IHE to write had the MN folks just said that they had been remiss -- or even hadn't realized that people had issues with their policies -- and agreed to start attributing their sources carefully. But the internet is also a weird place. If you make assertions that might be challenged, you can bet that someone will challenge them on their blog.

Update: I have some more thoughts to add to this, in part due to some things unearthed by a colleague, in part due to my thoughts on what I see as MN's rather inadequate response, which to me says, "Fuck you."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And then there was disquiet

And then there was disquiet

My immediate-ish reaction
I'm still processing the various responses to my last post, and to meg's
first post
and follow-up, in which she responds to's comments. She says a lot of the things I would say, but most of you know that I'm not one to let that stop me entirely. And honestly, I feel that there should be a response from me, because despite a promise from MN to start attributing their work (which seems to have begun on the MN site, if not on the sister sites -- I haven't checked those), I feel a greater disquiet than before.

One of the things that meg pointed out was that, even though she and I wrote very different posts, the responses were identical. And to me, they were fairly predictable. I think that's really the source of the feeling. I was hoping that the response would be something along the lines of Jon Dresner's suggestion in the comments: MN would apologize for not attributing the sources -- or even simply say that they had not realized it was an issue for so many of their readers, and fix the practice. I know! How naive was that? However, I was really not at all surprised when the response was initially one of outrage, followed by defensive statements that I can't help but read as:

  • their practices were within the range of professional standards, especially when we consider that we are not talking about professional journalists, or what I like to call the "everybody else does it" defense;

  • they were simply trying to provide a valuable service to us, and had been doing so for a while, aka "and you should be grateful";

  • complaints that they had not been contacted and would certainly have responded positively if they had only known, because oh, dear, no one has ever complained before or, "you never gave us a fair chance so really, you are the unethical bad guys;"

  • assertions that they are in it to make money, because they love all things medieval, but it doesn't pay the bills, or "you are gatekeeping and trying to keep us from our livelihood!"

Here's the thing: These defenses are all about the herring rouge, about distraction and redirecting the focus of the arguments. Meg and I, each in our own ways, and for overlapping, but also different reasons, were complaining about what we saw as a problem in standards and practices. The responses bordered on the ad feminas. Not only am I not buying it, but I think that responding to the specific comments in more detail than meg has really dilutes the importance of the issues at stake here.

Why this is important and what is at stake

There are several reasons:

  1. I think that we live in a world where the borders of public and private information, of copyright, fair use, and non-attribution have been gradually eroding for rather too long. I think that these things are important in general, and are especially important in scholarship and journalism. It isn't enough for me that a talking head or newspaper or blogger says something -- News Corp and other organizations have demonstrated that they can call all of the shows on their news channels 'news' and huge numbers of people will give their opinions the same amount of credence that they will give to a report on NPR or the Washington Post. So when I look for news, and when I send people to look for news, I want to be able to verify it.

  2. I teach. I teach history. Some of the most important things that I think the field of history can teach us are to consider our sources, to interrogate them, and to run them through well-informed filters for context and subtext, as well as the more obvious information. In order to do this and do it well, citation and attribution are of paramount importance. As I tell my students, we do not cite merely to avoid charges of plagiarism, but also to enter our own reading and writing into a larger academic or cultural conversation. Knowledge is cumulative, yet the model practiced by MN in not granting attribution prevents us from entering into that conversation.

  3. We, as readers academic or not, need to be able to make up our own minds and use the critical skills that I mentioned above. Omitting references makes it impossible for us to do so. We are forced to trust all statements equally, because we haven't been given all the information. Given that the Googling I and others have done shows that not all of the news items are in fact press releases, and some have been, as Peter says, "inadvertently someone's blog piece or news article they wrote for another publication," I can only say that taking more care, and providing references would have obviated this problem.

  4. Standards are important. They are especially important for those who choose to trade on a particular sort of persona. When MN and its staff trade on their connections to academia, they are obligated to follow those standards. I welcome more fluid boundaries between the professional academic and the enthusiast. Some of my favorite blogs are those that focus on being a public scholar and forging those ties. I think it is disingenuous at best to suggest that a site that promotes its connections by linking to scholarly articles and producing interviews with scholars should then fall back on the much lower standards of some forms of journalism. And again, this is a red herring: as others have pointed out in comments, attribution is also de riguer amongst responsible bloggers, academic or otherwise.

Those are the main issues as I seem them. They all boil down to one simple thing, however: being seen to be open and honest is preferable to leaving the reader wondering if what she is reading is kosher in terms of reliability or legality.

And the disquiet

I said I didn't mind the fact that MN is for-profit. And I don't. But that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the fact that I see things written by people I know who are publishing as a requirement to their careers, and not for money, being used to give a third party money. A colleague pointed out that many journal publishers would likely be perfectly happy to trade the links for the publicity, and I think that's likely true. This is why I did not bring up before MN's policy of linking to the download sites for journals like Early Medieval Europe. MN stated on the faceook page that this was all done by invitation and with permission, and really, I figure if an online publisher has a problem, it's up to them to issue a DCMA complaint. But I do resent that MN does not seem to think that this is an issue. As before, I do -- without a statement that says that an article is linked to with permission of the copyright holder, I wonder. And, for example, free content does not always mean "you are free to link to this without asking." Sometimes it means, "you don't have to pay for it, but you have to ask the copyright holder if it's ok." Given the responses from MN, I am not confident that this is happening. I would be more confident if there were a statement that permission had been granted, even if it were a general disclaimer clearly visible at the top or bottom of the page. After all, that is not only the scholarly, but also the journalistic standard.

So yes, there has been a positive response by MN in regards to our (and I mean all of those who have commented here and at other venues) concerns. And, while I was writing this, Peter contacted me via email with what seems to be a genuine willingness to try to bring the site to a place where we can feel comfortable sending our students. So despite the fact that I am still disquieted by the fact that I don't really think they get the issues, I'm hoping that this post and further dialogue will help.

I'll keep you posted.

edited for clarity and typos