Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Daily Mail's "History Girls," or: Do I have to wear stilettos to the archive now?

By now, the internets are all abuzz with links and reactions to the Daily Mail’s Sunday article, “The History Girls,”[1] profiling seven young female historians who “have rescued studying the past from the clutches of fusty academia and changed our view of yesteryear for ever.” Atop the article is a fashion-style shoot of the historians in question, impeccably styled (including some serious stilettos all around) and posed like the ad for a new reality show. Most have PhDs, all are under 40, all are slim and attractive. In the body of the article, each deals with the same questionnaire: “Why topic X?”; “If you could travel back in time…?”; “Who would you resurrect for a dinner date?”

My first reaction? Oh, barf.

Yes, there are second and third reactions, but let’s get to the first one first. No, even before that, let’s get to a pre-reaction: Even in my initial revulsion at the piece, I am not interested in shaming the women themselves. They’re not betraying anyone or anyone’s cause. Chances are that the Mail called them up and pitched this as a piece on young women historians in the UK. If someone had called me up with that, chances are that I would have jumped at the chance to publicly counter the typical image of the old, white, bearded, tweed-jacketed history professor (times ten, since I’m a medievalist). By the time we got to the questionnaire and the photo shoot, I probably would have felt that it was too late to back out gracefully, and hoped that some shred of my original purpose (promote women in the profession!) would have remained.  And stilettos aside, I wouldn’t mind having someone dress me up all high-fashion, just to see what I would like if I were the kind of person who put more than five-minutes' effort into my appearance. 

So, I’m convinced of the good intentions of the historians in question until it can be proven otherwise. Nevertheless, I’m still pretty squicked out at this piece. What are the criteria for being a woman who is making boring old history (::sigh::) interesting again? Well, according to the Daily Mail's selection, you'll want to be young, white (I'm including the one of hispanic heritage), thin, and conventionally pretty. There’s nothing wrong with being any or even all of those things. But historians are not TV presenters (except for the ones that are); our effectiveness in bringing our work to our students and to the public should no more be predicated on broad physical appeal than would apply to a male historian in the same situation.

That, in a nutshell, is my first reaction. Now, let's get the strawmen out of the way. HERE'S WHAT I'M NOT SAYING:
  • That academics shouldn’t be attractive
  • That women shouldn’t be attractive
  • That attractive women aren’t real historians
  • That dressing up fancy is bad
  • That the article is racist
  • That only middle-aged and old historians should be taken seriously 
 Any of these things might be argued to be true, but none of them are what I'm saying. So don't bother arguing against them in the comments, lest you see mine eyes give a mighty roll.

We good there? Alrighty, then; moving on to my reconsideration (second, third, and fourth thoughts about the article):
  1. The questionnaires are dumb, no doubt. But the women’s responses aren’t. Some participants seem to have refused to answer the “who would you date” question.[2] One of them straight-up challenges the idea that women write a different kind of history than men. One of them answers the time-machine question in the same way that I would: by clearly stipulating that she’d first think of loading up on immunizations; another notes that being a European woman in pretty much any past time period would have been much less preferable to being one now.
  2. Some of these women are actually TV presenters on history shows. So for them, looking good and dressing up are part of the job description (whether it should have to be is another kettle of fish). 
  3.  In my opinion, we (not just women) could learn a lot from people whose historical work appears on TV and in the general-readership press. I’m starting to think that we, as academic historians, are part of the problem when it comes to a general lack of historical literacy. If a potential reader needs to be halfway to a graduate degree before they can really “get” something we’ve written, then perhaps it’s time to rethink how we’re presenting our work. Or, at the very least, to think about having a couple of publication tracks going at the same time. And finally... 
  4. It's the friggin' Daily Mail. What did we expect?
I’m still on the whole skeeved out by the piece. I’d have thought that “academic historian” would be one place where I wouldn’t have to be hot or face irrelevance. But beyond the obvious idiocy and pandering, there are some things in this piece worth thinking about.

But don’t worry: You won’t see me posing draped across my desk in stilettos anytime soon.

[1] Title is likely a take on the film "The History Boys." So I'm gonna give the "girls" thing a pass. 
[2] Or perhaps one or more of the "dates" were editorially excluded for being too boring or obscure or even -- saints preserve us! -- not men.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Time for a Little Pick-Me-Up

Last week, commenter Tree of Knowledge asked if I'd do a request on the "evidence of teaching excellence" thing, so I think that'll be next on the job search series, followed by a post on prepping for conference or phone interviews. Look for us to get back to that Monday.

In the meantime, something of perhaps more general interest. We're at a point in the semester when things can get difficult, whether we're grad students, lecturers, or proffies of whatever level. The shine of the new semester has long ago worn off, and it seems like we're drowning in a sea of work, barely keeping our heads above water, and sometimes not even that. Personally, this has been a craptacular discouraging week for me: a few rough things have come my way, and once I start down that road, it's hard for me to see anything but the negative side of things, and that's an ugly spiral to be in.

So, in an attempt to turn things around, I invite commenters to chime in, here at the end of a week: What's one thing you accomplished this week that you're proud of?

Here's mine: Over the course of the week, I finished grading three stacks of essays and two of midterms. These had been hanging over my head like a dark cloud. I just had more come in, but I got the old ones out in time, and if I work at this pace over the weekend, I should get the new batch out before the next ones come in on Tuesday. My goal is to buy myself 24 hours with no grading to do.

How about you?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In Which I Get Paid to Write

A number of academic bloggers have been posting lately about the New York Times article about writing for free: columnists and such being asked to write for "exposure," to the point where it seems like writing is almost never compensated. And, of course, there was the dust-up surrounding the editorial staffer who called scientist Danielle Lee an "urban whore" because she politely declined to write a column for free.

In general, we academics do a lot of writing more or less for "free", simply because it's how we get/keep/get promoted in our day jobs, which do pay. Or, as one senior colleague at another university put to to me when I noted that I wasn't going to see one red cent from my first book, "No, this book will make you more money than anything else you ever write... because this is the book that gets you tenure." Fair enough. But the bulk of informally kinda-sorta-compensated writing that we all do simply underscores why so many of us are not interested in taking on additional non-paying gigs.

All this is a long preface and prelude to saying that last week, something like three years after my book was published, I was notified of my first. royalties. ever.

How much? Well, let's just say that this amount plus seventy-nine cents would buy me one (1) full-priced copy of my own (hardcover) book. Still, that's more than I ever expected to make.

And it makes me think that I ought to start writing books about the knights templar.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Technology and the Job Search

[Sorta-update: I went back and read this after I posted it, and realized that the tone sounded a lot like "Say! Back in the day, we delivered our job applications via dirigible or telegraph, but it seems that the profession is really getting on board with these computing machines, so maybe you should, too!" Honestly, I am not 90 years old. But I'm kind of amazed how a ten-year gap can leave me sounding that way. If you find yourself rolling your eyes at the painfully obvious, then skip straight down to the part where I lecture you about controlling your online persona. Then you can roll your eyes because I'm a schoolmarm.  ::sigh:: ]

[AACK! Real edit! Ellen just mentioned Interfolio, which I had totally forgotten about, since it didn't even exist when I was applying. If anyone wants to chat about that in the comments, I'll just sit back and listen.]

Back when Mama Notorious was on the job market… Well, actually, it wasn’t all that long ago. Maybe a decade or so ago. And yet look at the difference a decade can make.

As I was saying: Back just past the turn of the millennium, the role of technology in the job search was generally limited to finding the job ads: disciplinary website (AHA, MLA, etc.), H-Net, and the Chronicle. But other than that, the search was almost entirely analog. I can recall having my home table covered with stacks of application packets: Cover letters and CVs went to everyone; in some cases the little stack would have a writing sample, a teaching portfolio, or some other supplementary material. And there was the stack of FedEx envelopes. A wing and a prayer: most schools did not acknowledge receipt of your application packet (though one or two did say you could enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope, and they'd mail you your acknowledgement). After that, it was on to the AHA, then waiting at home for the phone to ring or the e-mail to chime for that elusive campus visit, then more waiting.
My sophisticated in-home telecommunications setup looked something like this.

That, in short, is the job search that I know.

Now, let us count the changes, from start to finish:

  • Job ads: Still online. No real change there. In fact, most of the job sites look exactly like they did back in my day -- which, when you think of it, is kind of weird.
  • Submitting the application: A pretty substantial set of changes here. I’m not sure if anybody asks for paper applications anymore. PDF/e-mail submissions are the most common, followed by schools where you upload to an HR website. Sadly, none of these systems can prevent you from sending the wrong letter to the wrong school. In my book, this is a huge improvement. Graduate students are an impoverished lot, generally speaking, and they don’t make enough to make itemizing those shipping fees make any financial sense, so the grad student in question is just plain stuck with the cost. It also eliminates the “Did it arrive in time?” anxiety, and no more messing about with “receipt date” versus “postmark date”. Same goes for faculty letters: they just type ‘em up and send ‘em in. Unless, of course, there’s one of those odious forms to fill out that goes with them. Can we please stop having those? In any case, about the only thing that I’d miss is the satisfaction of taking yet another giant physical stack of fat application envelopes and waving bye-bye to them at the post office. But I think the benefits outweigh the losses.
  • Preliminary interviews: This was by far the biggest complaint among grad students back in my day, and I think it remains so. There is no good way to do a preliminary interview; it’s a matter of finding the best of bad choices. The conference interview — running around, finding your location, practicing your 90-second pitch in a corner behind a potted plant, trying not to throw up — is a rite of passage, but one that can leave the person in question bloody and broken. If you want a shot at a conference interview, you need to book well in advance of knowing whether you have any interested parties. So that’s $1000 expense right there, if you’re lucky, and no one is reimbursing you for that. Couple that with the weirdness of a suite interview, or the awkwardness of the “pit” interviews, and it’s just a nasty experience. And I’ve even heard of some cash-strapped schools insisting on the conference interview, but conducting them in the hotel’s public spaces. But back in my day, the alternative was the phone interview, which everyone agreed was much, much worse. Skype is beginning to emerge as a truly viable alternative. Of course, it disadvantages the technologically clumsy, and I’m giggling trying to imagine implementing something similar in the days of dial-up (again: a decade makes a difference!) but younger grad students may actually be more comfortable operating this way in some cases. Of course, many interviews are still at the big conferences. But as budgets shrink, I think that the Skype interview is going to become more important. And honestly, if someone gave me the choice, as a job-seeker, between having my preliminary interview in a suite, the pit, by phone, or over Skype, factoring in both awkwardness and expense, I’d choose Skype in a heartbeat.
  • Waiting for the call: I think this one’s more or less a wash: waiting for a phone call vs. waiting for an e-mail (and most of this was done by e-mail in my day as well) is pretty much the same thing. The only real difference here is…
  • The Wiki. Yes, I think that it deserves to be capitalized. Way back in… what was it? 2005? Something like that. Anyway, someone noticed that there were a ton of threads in a section of the Chronicle forums called “Have you heard?” Basically, anxious job-seekers wanted to know whether other people had heard anything at stage X from school Z, so they could know whether a particular search was moving on without them, or whether there was still hope that that call would come. So someone built a wiki, and it’s been running ever since. Of course, this wiki is like all others in that its content is user-generated, with all the problems that implies. It’s a largely self-regulating community, but the occasional troll does sneak in: “They made me a job offer!” when no such thing ever happened. Still, some info is better than none… or is it? The wiki can tell you when to stop hoping, but is that a good thing?
  • The presentation: Back in my ABD and job-seeking days, few people in my field (medieval) had Powerpoints to go with their presentations. I, personally, came armed with handouts with a brief outline, some key texts, and a map. And I was in the majority, by far. Now, I can’t recall the last time that I saw a job talk without a visual presentation. But not all Powerpoints are created equal, so this is yet another skill that you need to make sure you’ve got down cold before the campus visit… as well as knowing what to do if the tech goes belly-up.
On the whole, I think that the way that technology has been integrated into the job search has been a very good thing, and most of it has the potential to make things much easier on the grad student pocketbook. But new technologies have also added a new worry that we didn't have back in the day, one that could be the subject of a whole 'nother post (though it won't, at least not by me) called "It's 10 p.m. -- Do you know what your online persona is doing?" Seriously: google yourself. In fact, Have a friendly faculty member at your institution google you so you aren't deceived by the you-specific results that the algorithm will give you in particular; you want an outsider's search results. You should start monitoring and controlling your online presence to whatever degree possible as far in advance as possible. Delete embarrassing pictures -- better yet, don't allow embarrassing pictures to be taken of you. You might also consider actively augmenting the professional you that appears online by building and maintaining a profile at a site like Get it up there several months in advance and it will be one of the first hits when someone googles your name and the school, and you get to control that presentation.

So that is my longish chunk of unsolicited and semi-informed advice. But I’ve really only experienced most of this at one remove. Thoughts from job seekers who have experienced this? What about hiring committees? Any issues with reluctant adopters among the faculty? And for those of you in grad programs that mentor you through the process (for example, with interviewing workshops), are you getting mentoring/advice that incorporates these methods? Anything else that I'm missing here?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Confidential to the grad school applicant who just e-mailed me...

...and to any others who are thinking of doing so.

First of all, thanks for reading! This blog is a combination of open diary, unsolicited advice, half-baked and vaguely presented thoughts on my new research project, and the occasional random thing that comes flying through my brain. I take long leaves from blogging, but when I come back, I find that people are still around, and it sort of amazes me.

Second, I'm glad you appreciated the post on what not to do in your grad school application. I meant for that to be a semi-humorous, semi-venting piece, but with a bit  of a serious overtone. Historiann's piece is even better, but I assume you've seen it already -- in fact, it's the major source of traffic to my own piece. She actually attempts to be helpful (she's excellent like that), where I'm just sort of banging my head on the desk.

Third, I'm flattered that you think enough of me, not even knowing anything about me, that you would ask for advice on how you should pitch the specifics of your proposal. But here's where we come to the issue: I don't know anything about you, and almost nothing about your field. Yes, I offer unsolicited advice all the time, but it's in a general vein. So here's one piece of that: Your best bet is to look at what you wrote to me, and use it to draft a statement of application, then take it to one of your undergraduate professors in your field. They know the genre, they know your field, they know your work. That is where your best help will come from.

And best of luck with your application process.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Mid-Career Search, part 2: Dos and Don'ts (a commenter bleg)

Hi All!

So, after the very long post last time, I promised a part 2 in which I made suggestions as to what to do if you decided you wanted to do this mid-career search thing. Only later did it occur to me that I have no earthly idea.

BUT: in the comments to the previous post, a couple of people who made a midcareer move, and so I thought I'd ask my commenters to weigh in. Have you done a mid-career search? Have you been on a search committee with mid-career applicants? What's your advice?

I've only got one piece, and it's based not on my experience, but my observation of others: Be professional. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Don't trumpet the fact of your search all over the department, especially in a way that lets your colleagues know that you don't value them or your institution.
  • Don't approach the search as if it's in your pocket just because you've got an impressive CV.
  • If you get a campus visit, let your chair know -- even if you don't think you'll want a counter offer. Chairs need to plan, and announcing in March that you won't be there in August can make things a bit difficult. (The exception to this would be if you were leaving a truly toxic situation: then, for your own protection, you might want to wait until you had a signed contract in hand.)
  • Do things to stay engaged in your own department. If you wanted to develop a syllabus for a new course, do that. If you want to take on a mentoring commitment, do that. Maybe don't run for chair, but otherwise, remember that with the job market being what it is, there is every chance that you'll be where you are come next year. Keep yourself grounded, and stay engaged where you are.
  • Approach the search committee with confidence that your experience brings, but not with arrogance.
  • If you take another job offer, be gracious to your colleagues at your current institution. Even if you're not particularly feeling all warm and fuzzy, remember that they gave you your first opportunity and supported you to the point where you could actually make a move. It costs you nothing to be nice (I had one colleague who even wrote a long note of appreciation to the department as a whole, as well as telling those of us personally close to her how much s/he'd miss us).
So, based on my (lack of) relevant experience, that's all I've got. But PLEASE, if you've ever experienced this kind of search, either as an applicant, hiring department/search committee member, or colleague watching from the sidelines, will you jump in in the comments? From the reactions I've gotten, there's a lot of interest in this topic, yet it's something that no one really talks about much.

Next up: Technology and the academic job search.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Mid-Career Search part 1: Do you want to do this?

I’ve often preceded my posts with an enormous “Your Mileage May Vary” — that is to say, that this blog, like every other blog, represents my experience and what lessons I’ve gleaned from it. But here we go with a post where I haven’t got much experience at all: the mid-career search. So, consider this less “advice” and more “thoughts and musings.”  And I invite anyone who’s actually done one of these (whether or not you’ve been successful) to jump in on the comments.

When I speak of the mid-career search, I’m talking about perhaps the most difficult search out there. This isn’t the regular moving around (or seeking to move around) that goes on pre-tenure. I myself applied for two jobs between my hire at Grit City U. and my tenure and promotion.[1]  Nor am I talking about those rare instances where a university with some deep pockets and/or an endowed chair goes looking to poach a superstar or an up-and-comer. (pause here to daydream…) The mid-career search that I’m talking about is where a tenured professor decides to dive back into the open market, applying for jobs right along with the grad students, lecturers, and untenured junior faculty seeking to make a move. These positions might be open-rank, or the extremely rare (at least in humanities fields) associate professor hires, or they might be advertised as “tenure track.” But they almost always mean leaving behind relative job security for the unknown.

So, why might you want to do this? I've got a few friends who have done this, and many, many more who have actively considered it. In some ways, it seems to be the same set of factors that influence the pre-tenure search:

  • Location: The job might be close to family, or something else that says “home” to you. You might be dying to live in a big city, or a college town, or near a coast or the mountains or that research library that you travel to twice a year anyway. Maybe you're fine, but your spouse or partner is desperately unhappy. Whatever. Location is not the number one thing that matters in any job, but it does matter. Dr. Crazy once got some serious snarky blowback (the infamous Gumdrop Unicorn controversy) about this several years ago at a certain Website that Shall Not Be Named. But I am willing to defend the proposition that living near friends and/or family and/or in a place you find nurturing is something we all factor in to our decisions. And for the record, that website folded in 2010, and its successor folded shortly thereafter... and Dr. Crazy's still going strong. Take that, snarkmeisters.
  • Money/Resources: The job you’re in might be short on resources. Maybe you haven’t had a raise in five years. Maybe you don’t get money to present at conferences. Maybe all the books in your library are from 1976 or earlier. If you see a job where you’d be doing more or less the same thing but with better salary, benefits, or campus resources, it’s tempting.
  • New career opportunities and challenges: This one tends to be more about the mid-career person than the early mover: now that you’ve got your feet under you, you may realize that you have ambitions to build your teaching and/or research program in directions that you can’t take it where you’re at. Midcareer’s main challenge is the fight against stagnation and inertia. A new set of challenges can be a tonic to the sluggish academic soul.
  • Partner concerns: are you part of an academic couple where one partner is the trailing spouse, subsisting on whatever courses the university tosses your way? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for many couples, career inequity can put a strain on a relationship. Likewise, if your partner is a non-academic who can only work in a handful of areas in the country, and your current job is not in one of those, a career move may be worth considering.
  • Toxic work environment where you’re at: here I’m talking about something beyond “They’re not paying me what I’m worth” or “80% of my course load is the survey.” Sure, these might be reasons you think about moving, but here I’m talking about “I’m facing systematic discrimination” or “I’ve been bullied by a senior colleague and nobody will do anything about it” or “I’m dealing with a sexual harassment issue that won’t go away,” or “I don’t feel safe here.” There’s also — and this is the flip side of the “partner concerns” section above — the possibility that you’re dealing with an ugly divorce/breakup from a colleague that is making your work life unbearable, and being somewhere else — anywhere else — seems preferable than facing the next 3 years or so it will take for all the trauma and drama to blow over.
  • The Dream Job: Either institution type or actual institution. That place that you can’t not apply to.
  • You're ready and positioned to move up: Maybe you were middle-of-the-pack back when you got your current job, or it was just a thin year on the market. Maybe it's a good job, but you now think you're qualified to step up. Humility is important for the job you're in (that is, don't go being an ass to your current colleagues, no mater what), but there's nothing wrong with ambition, if that's your bent.
Okay, so you’ve asked yourself “Why might I want to do this?” The next question is: “Do I really want to do this?”
  • Job searches take time: Think you’re tired and overworked now? If you haven’t been on the market for a decade, you’ve probably forgotten (or blocked out) how much time and effort applying for a job — even one job! — takes: secure letters from recommenders; write a good cover letter that reflects what you bring to the position, rewrite that letter about a zillion times; research the institution and the faculty; find the perfect writing sample; maybe even write a statement of teaching philosophy (and rewrite that a zillion times, too). A semi-successful search takes even more time than that: you’ll be doing even more research on the institution, prepping for an interview (When’s the last time you had to boil your current research down to 90 seconds? Do you think the process will be any less hateful now? Especially if you're in the early stages of that second- or third-book project, rather than just wrapping one up?); thinking about a job talk; figuring out how to schedule a campus visit around a full-time teaching and service commitments. Do all of this while maintaining your work load and all the grading and meetings and stuff.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
  • The market is much worse than it was a dozen years ago: Seriously. We midcareer folk blog about this, but it’s BAD out there.
  • Finding letters is in some ways harder than it was when you were a grad student: Yeah, you’ve got a broader reputation in the field (and I don’t have to tell you that dissertation committee members are not good choices at this point, right?[2]), but these hotshot faculty who will tell everybody that you’re the bees knees might become a bit more reticent to set you up as competition to their own grad students on the market.
  • You have significant anchors where you're at: Your spouse/partner may not want to move. Your children may be in excellent schools. Your aging parents may live nearby. You may have purchased a home or put down deep roots in other significant ways. The longer you're in one place, the more likely this all is to happen. Remember that a different job may contribute to your happiness in some ways, but detract from it in others. And you might not be the only one who has a say.
  • Expect the stinkeye from all those grad students and lecturers who are desperately trying to land their first job. I recall how irritated I was as a first-time job seeker to realize that some of my competition were people who had perfectly good jobs already. Couldn't they just stay put so I could have a shot at a job, too? On the other hand...
  • The search committee may only want to (or only be able to) do a junior hire: There are lots of reasons that this might be true. But know that this is entirely out of your control. Last year (and yes, this is the inspiration for this post), Fellowship University, where I was so happy for a year, advertised to fill a long-vacant position in my field. So I wrote to the search committee chair, who I had met and lunched with a couple of times while there, and s/he told me, off the record, that while s/he would love to have me as a colleague, the way the search was structured meant that a mid-career person wouldn't even be shortlisted. 
  • More stinkeye, this time from colleagues: If word gets out that you’re on the market, you may be in for some unpleasant reactions from the people you work with, ranging from isolation to hostility to retaliation. I devoutly hope that all my readers are in nurturing, supportive environments where colleagues understand and respect that everyone has their own career calculus and no one takes it personally. But that’s not always the case. This, of course, will be exacerbated if you have a history of being a department malcontent, slacker, or prima donna — though chances are that, in this case, your colleagues will do everything they can to support your attempts to go elsewhere.
  • Things are rough everywhere: Granted, life at a well-funded private research university is different than at a mid-tier regional comprehensive. But most career moves aren’t these huge jumps. If you’re moving from, say, one state system to another, the issues are going to be different, but they’ll still be there. Even if you’re moving from public to private (or vice-versa) there are going to be resource challenges. If you approach the search committee as if you were Cinderella and they were your fairy godmother, waving the wand and making matieral and fiscal issues vanish, you’ll be disappointed. Likewise…
  • They call it a “Dream Job” for a reason: Dreams are not reality. And along with this, remember that if we’re talking about top-tier colleges and universities, your dream job is likely the dream job of dozens if not hundreds of other applicants out there, which means that the applicant pool will be much larger.
  • A geographic cure does not cure all ills: Or, to put it more crudely: If an asshole gets on a plane in L.A., it’s that same asshole who gets off the plane in New York. As noted above, there are toxic work environments that one simply must escape. Agreed. But as with any fight with a spouse, sometimes it's hard to tell what's them and what's you. If you want to leave to escape drama, is it drama that you had a big part in creating (say, by flirting with your grad students or being condescending with your colleagues)? If you’re unable to be happy in your job, is it because of the job, or because you just find it difficult to be happy in anything less than your ideal? Answer that question honestly — to yourself, if to no one else.[3]
  • You may have to give up a lot: If the search is advertised as tenure-track or Assistant Professor, you may be able to negotiate a bit, but there are always constraints. Would you give up your rank? How about tenure? How about take a pay cut? Teach more survey courses and fewer in your area of expertise? Undergraduate courses only?
  • Can you face starting over? Likely you’ve spent the last ten-plus years building a professional reputation among your colleagues. A move means proving yourself all over again. You’ll need to build new professional networks. If you’re not married or partnered, then you’ll need to build entirely new personal networks as well: everything from your friends to your gym to your favorite coffee shop or breakfast joint. That stuff gets much harder as we get older. Are you willing to risk a period of loneliness and isolation? 
Right. So there are some of the questions and considerations. Please expand, contribute, and even contradict in the comments. And, if the craziness of my own job doesn’t interfere, then sometime in the upcoming week I’ll post a "part two" dealing with things to focus on if you do indeed decide to do this thing.

[1] One of these was for a location closer to family; another was because the type and caliber of institution was really appealing to me. Neither one resulted in even an on-campus interview, much less an offer. But that’s a story for another day.
[2] The exception here, of course, is if you’ve built entirely new professional relationships with them, post-grad school.
[3] Yes, I just asked you to think about whether you were an asshole. Don’t confuse that with me asserting that you are an asshole. It’s a good question for all of us to periodically ask ourselves, even if we’re not looking for a job at the time.

Friday, October 18, 2013

With apologies for the delay...

...but life has intervened. Temporarily. This weekend, I try to clear my desk, more or less. Back to the job search series soon...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We interrupt the job search series...**

...for a bit of kvetching, and a not-quite-open thread:

Who out there feels like this year's incoming students are showing the worst consequences of NCLB (in terms of engagement, critical thinking, creativity, etc.)? I'm at a mid-tier regional uni; is it the same at other institution types? I don't want to generate a "Kids these days/it's the end of civilization" type of post; I'd rather think about how we're dealing with it as classroom teachers. If you're seeing this, what are you doing? Have you lowered your expectations? Changed your approach? Are you putting in more one-on-one hours?

And will Common Core save us all?

**Job search series to return Friday. I'm thinking I'll talk (and listen!) about the mid-career search. After that, the influence of technology. So stay tuned.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deadlines and the Job Search

UPDATE/CORRECTION:  In the wake of Dr. Crazy's comment and an e-mail from another reader I went back and read the original post and the comments that prompted the post below, and I'm now convinced that I read the intent of those comments wrong; rather than professing option C below, the commenters were saying something closer to A. So this renders a lot of my setup a bit of an unintentional strawman. My apologies, both to my readers, and to the commenters whose points I mischaracterized. However, for all its flaws, this post has already generated some nice discussion in the comments from faculty who have been on search committees, so I encourage job-seekers to overlook the authorial flaws here and focus on the much better  insights in the comments.

The comments thread on a recent post over at Scattered and Random brought up an issue that I had never even considered: that there may be a more than one interpretation of about the job application's deadline. Allow me to illustrate with an example:

Your job advertisement says something along the lines of "Please submit CV, cover letter, and three letters of recommendation by November 15, 2013." You will:
A. Turn these things in on November 15th.
B. Turn these things in as soon as you have them finished to your satisfaction, but no later than November 15th (and a few days earlier if they need to go by mail).
C. Wait until at least November 15th; this is the first day that you may submit your application.
The correct answer, as I've always understood it, is "B." Never "C" -- the deadline is when the position closes, not when it opens. "A" will probably get you considered as well, [1] but not always -- many job ads say something like "completed applications must be received by November 15, 2013," and in those cases your stuff needs to hit the mail a good few days before the deadline so it gets there on time.

So why do some applicants think that "C" is the right answer? I think there are a couple sources for the confusion. First: As you worked your way through grad school, deadlines may have suddenly become very flexible. If you go to one of your professors and tell them "I can have a paper by deadline, but with one more week I could turn in something much better," you'll usually get that week. And let's not even talk about the Great Floating Deadline that is your dissertation. After 4-8 years of this, you likely treat deadlines as a little bit negotiable.

Second, there's the issue of confusing language in the job ads. Here's a sampling of the key sentences, taken from what's on H-Net right now:
  • Completed applications must be received by October 25, 2013.
  • Please send materials by November 1, 2013.
  • Review of completed applications begins November 1, 2013.
  • Completed applications must be received by November 15, 2013
  • Applications must be complete by November 1, 2013 to ensure full consideration.
And, of course, the dreaded "Review of applications will begin on November 15, 2013 and continue until the position is filled."

As you can see, there's a bit of ambiguity in some of those, and likely some programs are going to be more flexible than others in how they treat applications that roll in a week after the deadline. But in a job market like this one, why would you want to risk it? Turning in a complete and polished application package well before the deadline on time [2] says something about your reliability and organization level -- and those are important qualities in any job.

Or so saith the blogger who has only observed the workings of search committees second-hand. What about my more experienced readers? Would you consider an application that came in a week or so past deadline? What about one that had not all but some of the pieces in on time, and the rest came in a bit later? And job applicants: Have you found this confusing? Or do you just assume a straight-up "get it in by X" paradigm?

[1] Back when I was applying for jobs, a lot of ads had "postmark deadlines," which I always thought was delightfully humane, considering that one does not control the speed of the mail.

[2] Amended w/r/t Dr. Crazy's comment. Upon reflection, I doubt that most search committees are going to dive into the pile of applications until the deadline has passed. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Talking (to a Search Committe) about Teaching

When I was a wee slip of a jumped-up grad student, [1] I was fortunate enough to have faculty who were invested in doing mock job market activities. We workshopped CVs and cover letters, had mock interviews (complete with appropriate attire) and job talks, the whole nine yards. It was a very popular series, and saved more than one of us from more than one disaster.

Around that time was just when the "statement of teaching philosophy" was just coming into vogue as a part of the job search package. Suddenly, every search committee wanted one. Problem was, since it was so new, no one could figure out what it was -- not even search committees who asked for it, I suspect. But one of the faculty mentors in our job search series made a comment on one draft statement that has stuck with me. Reading how this faux applicant talked about his emphasis on primary sources and class discussion, the faculty member said, "This is a good teaching methodology, but it's not a teaching philosophy."

So, what's the difference?

Now, before I jump into that let's get two things out of the way. The first is that everything I say from here on out is in the way of general advice. But if your job ad or search committee's instructions say that your teaching philosophy should feature a discussion of A & C, then fertheluvagod, ignore my advice and write about A and C. And thank your lucky stars that you are working with a search committee that is clearly communicating what it wants to see. This is the kind of department you want to work for. Don't screw it up by ignoring their instructions and sending them something generic just because some random blogger told you that this was what a teaching philosophy should look like. Got it?

Second, you'll hear a lot from certain quarters how the teaching philosophy is a BS exercise, that most committees  ask for it as a sort of fishing expedition with no clear understanding of what they want to see, and that everything that everyone says is all exactly the same... basically, comments that might encourage you not to take this seriously. Mama Notorious is here to tell you no. Okay, in some cases, some of this might be quite true. But in jobs where teaching is a significant part of the mission, your ability (or not) to talk about your approach to teaching shows the search committee that you have thought deeply about how to be effective in the classroom, and that you have a sort of a vision that goes beyond the syllabus and "I assign lots of primary sources." So if your search committee asks for one, take it seriously. Spend some time on it, just as you would spend on a cover letter.

Okay, with those two caveats in mind, as well as the usual YMMV, I'll talk about my approach to teaching philosophies, and I hope that people who have served on search committees that have asked for these will also jump in on the comments and add their perspectives.

Keep it brief: Just like you wouldn't go on and on in your cover letter, you want your teaching philosophy to be no more than 1-2 single-spaced pages (again, this is assuming that your committee hasn't given you specific page limits).

Remember that teaching methodology isn't the same as teaching philosophy: What you do in class is important, but why you do what you do is really what the "philosophy" part of it is.

Philosophical points can be abstract, so back them up with a concrete example: This is where you can -- and likely should -- weave in a bit of methodology. So you have a principle that guides your teaching or course design or whatever. Then you give an example from a course you have designed or taught to nail it down.

Beware the Scylla and Charybdis of edu-jargon and treacle: Too much Bloom's Taxonomy is going to cause lots of eye-rolls among faculty members who have sat through far too many meetings where far too many folks have tried to force-feed them the latest technological innovation or educational model that will save us all, at least until 18 months from now when the next one comes along. Likewise, sounding like you've watched Dead Poets' Society too many times may cause them to lose their lunch. A knowledge of new directions in the field is good (even essential if you get an on-campus interview and find yourself across from a provost who wants to know how you scaffold your courses or what your take on the flipped classroom is). So is idealism -- in fact, if you are an ABD or a freshly-minted Ph.D. and you're not a bit more idealistic than the people interviewing you, there'd probably be something wrong there. But don't overdo either one. Too much in either case and you risk coming across as someone who is saying things that someone told them Good Teachers believe. Be enthusiastic, be engaged, but above all, do not pull out your trowel and start laying on the bullshit. Be true.

Avoid pretentious references like "Scylla and Charybdis." 'Nuff said.

A teaching philosophy should not read like a course catalog, replete with a list of every course and every topic within each course. On the other hand, it should, along the way, give an idea of the range of courses you could teach. In this, you will want to slightly tailor each one to the school you are applying for. If the job is going to call for you to be a generalist, then you will want to emphasize the breadth of courses you can teach. If the job description says that, in addition to courses in your field you will be responsible for teaching the Early U.S. History survey, then your statement ought to address your approach to intro-level survey courses. Just like in your cover letters, you'll probably be working from a general template or two, but then make sure that each one is targeted towards the job you're applying for. And again, don't get all list-y. Remember that the approach/philosophy is the main point; weave in mentions of your courses as you deliver that main message.

Sound like a lot of work for a document that hardly anyone asked for 15 years ago? It is. So here's my last bit of advice: Just like the cover letter, the teaching philosophy is a work of writing and a presentation of who you are as a teacher and what you would bring to their department; give it as much attention as you would that cover letter. Revise it, show it to people, revise it again, have a beginning, middle and end to it, polish the prose. And make it honest.

Thus endeth my take on this. Now, for those of you out there who have sat on search committees and read more than your share of these documents, what would you advise?

[1] And I was always a jumped-up grad student whose reach was always, if not exceeding my grasp, then certainly preceding my grasp by about 18 months. I'm sure the faculty of my graduate institution could only roll their eyes and shake their heads at times.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Should you apply for that job?



Okay, deep breath.


Now, really: Should you apply for that job? There are actually two schools of thought, each with its own subsets.

[**Disclaimer: This is a blog, run by one person, with her own experience and opinions. In this and all posts, your mileage may vary.** Okay, let's carry on.]

1. Apply for every job you're remotely qualified for. Be versatile. Be open to a part of the country you hadn't considered. Nothing says you have to take a job you're offered. But you can't be offered any job if you don't apply.

 This is actually not bad advice, though as I'll argue below, it's not for everyone. The more jobs you apply for, the more chances you have that one will turn up for you. People hesitate to apply for jobs for a few reasons:
  • You don't want to live in that part of the country, or in a town that small/that big/that far from a coast or major airport. Okay, fine. We all have preferences. But until you check a place out you won't know. For grad school I shipped off to a college town in a part of the country I'd never before considered living with fear and trepidation. I found that once I settled in and let go of my regional preconceptions  and appreciated the place for what it was rather than what it wasn't, I grew to love it. Don't rule out an entire region or state or city/town size sight unseen. If you're good+lucky enough to get a campus visit, you will want to look very closely at whether faculty there seem happy. Ask the happy ones what they like. Ask yourself if that appeals to you. Could you trade in world-class museums for a nationally famous farmers' market? Stunning views for great schools? You just. never. know.
  • You have family considerations that keep your search geographically restricted. That may not be negotiable. But see if those restrictions can't be made a little broader. If they can't, fine. Not much to do about that.
  • You're holding out for something that looks like your Dream Job: stop waiting. Keep those sights high, but don't hang your happiness on getting a job at your beloved alma mater or its near-twin. That's a recipe for bitterness, possibly unemployment, and eventually an inability to be happy in the job you do finally land. [1]
2: That said, if you think you'd be dreadfully unhappy in that job, don't apply. No need to waste your time and the time of the search committee and your letter-writers. I have a good friend from grad school who would not apply to high-powered research-intensive schools (though she more than has the intellectual chops and the qualifications) because she knew that such a job would not be a good fit for her. Everybody's decision looks a bit different.

2a: Also don't apply if you're not qualified. Seriously: If the job ad at Dream Uni says that they're looking for someone who works on the Early Modern Atlantic and you work on nineteenth-century Latin America or medieval Spain, this job is too much of a stretch. If they say they want a Ph.D. in hand by August and you've only finished one chapter of your dissertation by January, this is probably too much of a stretch. Not that you couldn't do this job. Not that they might not fall in love with you if they got to know you. But there are lots of people who are better qualified, so it's likely that the tangential candidates won't even make the first cut. Spend your time (and your letter writers' time) on places where you have a shot.

In general, I would recommend to err on the side of "apply for everything," but with a caveat: "Apply for everything where you can imagine being reasonably happy." Maybe it's the type of school you wanted, though not in a part of the country you thought you'd ever live. Maybe it's not the school type you were looking for, but it lets you do what you want to do without having to commute to see your spouse. Maybe the position is written in such a way that it would allow you to develop intellectually in a way that a more traditional position wouldn't. Maybe the campus is located near a beautiful beach, forest, mountains, or desert that you could imagine enriching your life.

Know what your real deal-breakers are versus simple preferences, then look at every ad looking for reasons to say yes. Realize that the broader net you cast, the more potential fish you bring in. Then get drafting those applications.


[1] And anecdotally, I've heard plenty of stories from people interviewed by Dream Schools who have told me that a few of these places are acutely aware of the fact that they're the equivalent of the head cheerleader/football captain and treat their prospective suitors accordingly. Not all, of course, but some. So if one of these dream jobs does call you for a date, congratulate yourself on your noteworthiness... and then go in with your eyes wide open. It could be that the president of the A/V club or the quirky theater major with blue hair is going to be more conducive to your happiness.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

'Tis the season! A series of posts on the job market

First of all, thanks to my dozen remaining readers who have been checking in even after my long fallow period. Part of the issue is that, as my anonymity thins out, the interesting things that happen to and around me are not things I should be broadcasting. Department dust-ups, inappropriate advances, and all the other things that color our academic lives and are great blog fodder are suddenly inappropriate if a critical mass of people know who you (and by extension, your colleagues) are. And this will not become a blog where I just complain about students. Too damn boring. Historiann and Tenured Radical have crafted online identities for themselves, so I know it can be done. But right now, I write if I'm inspired, and I haven't been for a while.

But this morning I realized that we're in the beginnings of job search season. That whole thing has been rather bleak of the past few years, but this year's job listings (as well as anecdotal evidence) suggest that we may be coming out of it. With that in mind, I thought I'd do a series of posts on the job search in history. There may be some tips, or dos and don'ts, or just stories from my own long-ago search history... and I'd be really interested in hearing from the young academics on the market for the first time, since the past ten years has completely changed things in some ways. I'm envisioning a bit of a generational culture clash as a new orthodoxy (online materials submissions, Skype interviews, googling candidates) runs headlong into search committee members who don't see the reason for all this techy stuff (or vice-versa).

So maybe that'll be the next post on this topic. But the first post here asks a simple question for job searchers (don't worry, search committees: you'll get your turn): How are you doing? Are you optimistic? What do the offerings in your field look like this year compared to previous years? Do you feel prepared? Are you crafting a plan B? Paralyzed by fraud complex? Worried that your writing sample sucks? Feel like you could be a contender for the big time but the jobs this year are disappointing? Pick a pseudonym and get it all out here. My department is running no searches this year and I promise not to out you. I'll put on a pot of coffee and bake some cookies. You take some deep breaths and relax:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Return of Three Things

I absolutely cannot begin to tell you how slothful I've been lately. And by "lately," I mean "for a very long time."

Arguably, I've been enjoying life more. But the chaos is piling up in my work life. So the time has come for gettin' shit done. And that means the return of the "three things a day" list. You don't need to read mine. This is just my way of making a public commitment to myself. One work-related thing; one cleaning/organizational thing; one errand. More or less. Every day.

And then, I get it all done, and I get to watch the second-to-last episode of a Certain Show. I blame the television renaissance for my lack of productivity....

Friday, September 20, 2013

What can I say?

Except that there are big goings-on afoot. This girl-scholar has thrown her hat in the ring for a Really Big Thing that could potentially shift her career. It is, arguably, the most blog-worthy thing I've done in the past few years. But it's also one that I can't really talk about, for fear of jinxing myself.

So, what can I say? Apparently, not a goddamn thing. Instead, I offer you this picture of a greenish-yellow feather near yellowish-green moss:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I wish I had time write a real post about yesterday. It was my birthday, and the Supreme Court, who up until yesterday had seemed intent on rolling back civil rights to the 1950s, surprised me by giving me an excellent, excellent birthday present: an affirmation of equality for my LGBT friends.

Unfortunately, after all the excitement of yesterday, today is the day I head to the airport. In about 7 minutes, actually. But this morning I took one last walk through the streets of Bologna. Even though I was sad to be leaving, I found myself singing under my breath, smiling like an idiot at nothing, and walking with a spring in my step that was just short of breaking into a dance.  So. Much. Happy.

And now I leave, to return to a country that seems, while still highly imperfect, just a little better.

Arrivederci, Bologna.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Is it love, or only lust? A photo-essay of 48 hours in Venice

Last weekend, I got to go to spend 48 hours in Venice. My friend Osito, another medievalist of Blargistan who I met in Blerg City back when we were wee slips of grad students, has turned to a second project that has him stationed in La Serenissima for three months. He immediately fell head over heels for the place. He professes that Blerg City is still his true love, but I have my doubts as to how true that is. And there's reason: Venice is, in fact, a stunningly wonderful place, especially early in the morning and late at night, in the 12 hours of the day when there are (relatively) few tourists. [1]

I came into Venice the way everyone does: my train from the mainland, then by vaporetto (a sort of bus line, but with boats) along the Grand Canal:

I'm on a boat!
Upon disembarking at an out-of-the-way stop halfway between the Rialto and Academia bridges, I was met by Osito, who ushered me into the cozy, bright apartment I'd be sharing with him for the next couple of days. the building also housed one of the pavilions of the biennale, a global art fest that Venice hosts every summer, so every once in a while over the past week he had gotten a knock on his door from someone looking for Estonian conceptual art. He was fresh out.

Speaking of odd art: the apartment was right around the corner from an art gallery/studio space where the artist, Gigi Bon, took her inspiration from the early modern cabinet of curiosity. The gallery was indeed stuffed with curious objects (she seems to be very into rhinoceros just now), but my favorite thing to look at was her worktable, which itself is a work of art:

Then there was dinner with Osito and a mutual friend (and director of last summer's Big Seminar Thingy), followed by a leisurely stroll around Venice by night, which is gorgeous beyond words:

Of course, it wasn't all leisurely strolls. One does not leave Venice, even the shortest visit to Venice, without seeing St. Mark's, [2] and with good reason:

(Yes, those are real, unretouched shafts of sunlight.)

But there were also more subtle sights to be seen...

You'd think that a door buzzer would get over being surprised to see guests. well as people, such as these fine fellows:

...and these young ladies, who were either part of a fashion shoot, or another piece of conceptual art:

Of course, Venice has its issues, the main one of which is that it is rapidly becoming Italyland for tourists. Almost no Italian (other than real estate speculators) can afford to buy an apartment there, and the population of real live, honest-to-god Venetians is apparently dropping by about 1,000 a year as owner-occupied apartments are converted into tourist apartments for short-term stays. I can only imagine how it feels to be a Venetian, living in what must seem more and more like a theme park every year.

All that is true. But also true is this: Venice is beautiful. Everywhere you turn, a deep beauty that no other place I've seen can really match, and that no tourist veneer can ever completely efface.

[1] And yes, I recognize that I was, in point of fact, a tourist. Isn't it interesting how even tourists complain about tourists? We so don't want to be one of "those people." Digression: I was browsing through a market (cheap clothes) in the south several weeks ago, when me and the Divine Doctor J. heard a woman near-bellow at a merchant, "NO. HOW MUCH IS IT IN AMERICAN?" This really happened.

[2] You are not supposed to take pictures in St. Mark's. There are signs posted all over to that effect. But look at those morning sunbeams and tell me if you could have resisted. I tucked my big ol' Nikon back in my bag afterwards, though: I figured that I should at least pretend not to be taking pictures, since the many guards were doing me the favor of pretending that they didn't see me doing it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Not literature. Not even close.

When I was packing for my trip to Italy, I knew I'd want some books for my spare time. I picked a novel by Philip K. Dick, because I like me some speculative fiction and he was one of the masters. I also got a copy of Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli: It's a memoir of his year in exile to the Basilicata region during the Mussolini years, and since that was right next door to where I would be spending my first week or so, I figured that it might be atmospheric, and a good opportunity to read one of the classics of Italian literature.

But whenever I start to make a certain amount of progress with a new language, I find it's useful to start reading light fiction -- usually historical fiction -- in the target language. [1] Even if I can't understand every word, or even every sentence, I start to catch the rhythms of the languages, and a handful of idiomatic phrases. And because it's hard to get it at the beginning, I always go for a book I've already read a couple of times in English, so I have the context. That way, if I get into a linguistically difficult passage, I can tell myself, "Oh, this is the part where they go to the market and meet the priest guy for the first time" or something similar. And so, a few days ago, I sought out an Italian version of the same book that I had previously read to help me through the late-beginner/early-intermediate stage of German and Spanish.

What is this compelling work of literature, you might ask, that you return to again, and again?

Uhmmm... it's... ummm... ::cough:: Pillars of the Earth.

I'm sorry: I didn't catch that?

Pillars of the Earth.

 What was that?

Pillars of the Earth! By Ken Follett! Okay?

I know: it's not great literature. Or any literature at all. But here are some of its advantages:

(1) It's super-absorbing narrative, if not a particularly subtle one.

(2) The vocabulary is not too difficult, and as a medievalist, some of the weirder stuff may actually be useful to me someday.

(3) Historically... I've encountered worse. Same goes for the prose. (I'm looking at you, Idalfonso Falconés).

The fact is, I have a long history with this book: I read it for the first time the summer before I graduated from college... and I realized that there was a whole set of questions about medieval history that I had yet to answer. In other words, this melodramatic doorstop of a book bears 50% of the responsibility for my decision to apply to grad school. [2]

So, I do keep returning to it. Which is why this week finds me on page 26 of the 950-page I pilastri della terra. Ed ancora mi piace.

[1] Something interesting that I've observed: Europeans are wild for historical fiction. If you go into a European bookstore (open until past midnight! awesome!), you'll find that most have an entire section for historical fiction. I can't speak to the quality, but I can tell you that people here simply devour it.

[2] The other 50% is down to a bad breakup. But I've told that story elsewhere before.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My museum weekend

"On the weekend in summer, when it gets hot, Bologna empties out. The bolognese go to the beach or the mountains, and the only ones left in the city are the tourists."

This is what one of the instructors here at my school told us a few days ago. Likely the same is true for many Mediterranean cities. But as Bologna is not the huge tourist destination that Rome or Venice or Florence is, it's really notable here. Which is how I come to be passing half an hour leaning against a column under one of he city's famous porticoes in a shady spot blessed by a light breeze, an old bicycle to my left and the "seven churches" of Santo Stefano to my right, working my way through a sour-cherry granita in relative quiet. It's a lovely city.

I've spent a hot and humid weekend ducking inside of air-conditioned local attractions, and that means it's been a museum weekend. Unlike the museums of a place like Rome or Barcelona or Paris, the museums here were uncrowded: at one or two points, a tour group comes through, but they quickly pass me, and I'm left alone again. But that's not the only difference: here, the museum objects and art are just kind of... there. Usually, one or more of the things that I associate with the "museum" experience -- glass, humidity control, carefully researched provenance cards, finely tuned lighting, hovering security personnel -- are absent. Sometimes, it's because the repository is attached to a small church, so the hosts (in this case, an order of monks), while they do their best to preserve and display the art, don't have a lot of money for maintenance, and aren't precisely trained curators:

At least they're set if a fire breaks out.
But even in more mainstream museums, there is a certain casualness when it comes to having someone keep an eye in the visitors. Sometimes someone would poke their head into a room where I was to make sure I wasn't injuring the art, but most of the time I was on my own.

I could have licked this.

Now, I found this all quite strange, and a little shocking. Is there just so much art in Italy that they just pile it up in corners [1] and let us poke around? Is it just because this particular city is off the beaten tourist path, so no one's given it much thought? Is the will there, but not the money? [2]

But then part of me got past the horror of what the benign neglect (not to mention, in some cases, the humidity) was doing to the pieces I was looking at, and began to feel like a bit of a time-traveler. Was this the Italy encountered by American tourists in the 60s? Was there really a time before metal detectors, proximity alarms, and everything under glass? Before everything was carefully labeled to tell you how important it was? Before there was a trained docent standing by to answer your every question?

All that aside: the medieval museum had a lovely opening section telling about the history of the museum itself, and eve preserving some of its items from its origins as a cabinet of curiosities (including some carved ostrich eggs and a four foot-long "unicorn horn"), and the lack of tags in some places left me to make up my own stories. The church of Santo Stefano was an architectural marvel with some lovely little pockets of picturesque decay that made me wish for a better selection of lenses (and that prompted me to drop another euro in the donation box on my way out). The museum of the history of the city was a thoroughly updated and smartly designed didactic museum that I spent four hours in. And lurking in the basement crypt of a deconsecrated church now housing an astounding collection of antique spinnets and claviers, of all things, was this fourteenth-century fresco that workmen just turned up a few years ago:

Next weekend, I dive in to Venice (not literally dive in; I'm not suicidal) to spend a purely tourist weekend, hosted by my dear friend Osito. I've never been, and I know it's going to be a blast. But I'm glad to have spent this weekend as one of a relative handful of lonely tourists in a near-empty city.

[1] No exaggeration: in one place I ducked into a 20-foot-square "room" to find a three-foot-tall silver-plated monstrance, probably from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, tucked into an unlit glass cabinet. No tag, no lighting: just kind of crammed into an out-of-the-way space.

[2] Here I should also note that most places were busily trying to raise money, one donated euro at a time, to repair structural damage caused by the recent earthquake in Emilia-Romagna, so they may have more pressing concerns.

Monday, June 10, 2013

First 48 Hours in Bologna

  • Had lunch with another professor who’s been here a year, and who helped me orient myself.
  • Wandered into the cathedral just in time for a free art-historical tour of the side chapels.
  • Stocked the kitchen with bread, cheese, olive oil, salt, tomatoes, mâche, yogurt, honey, and fresh fruit.
  • Walked out one night for a gelato, and instead ended up wandering through the open door of a small church (I can’t resist an open door that is usually closed; I’ve always been a bit of an explorer) and happened upon the second half of a free concert by two a capella ensembles, performing together traditional Gregorian chant (the male ensemble) interwoven with the music of Hildegard von Bingen.

  • On the way home from this, still looking for gelato, ran across a film crew filming this: [1]

I also attended the first day of classes (3 1/2 hours in the morning: half grammar, half conversation). I ended up in classes that are challenging, but not so far over my head that I end up discouraged. In other words, they’re just right.

So far, other than the fact that the accommodations could use a coat of paint and some spot treatment on the couch, everything’s just about perfect.

[1] Oddly enough, I ran across her and her film crew today as well, in a different part of the city while I was on my way to lunch. One more sighting and she's going to think I'm following her.