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)