Saturday, July 28, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #12

The Yale UP blog tackles the capital-H history problem I've been having:

Here, an English professor writes about history with a lowercase h being one's personal history, and History with a capital H being the sorts of things that show up in the history books. It's theme and variation on where I was going with it, though I'm not yet sure how or whether or to what extent her take on this might be applicable to my translation challenge. I've written three sort of stream-of-consciousness posts on this topic now; I'm sure that one of these days the idea will coalesce and I'll be able to articulate both a theoretical solution as well as a practical one. Inshallah, anyway.

Carnivalesque 87

Welcome to the next installment of Carnivalesque, a roundup of the best recent blogging on the ancient and medieval worlds!

The Olympics are now upon us, so let's begin with a few looks back at the original Olympic Games and medieval sport:

Cambridge don Mary Beard casts a classicist's gaze at the ancient Olympics.

And the British Library's medieval manuscripts blog offers images of medieval water sports and a papyrus with winners' names.

There seemed to be a good bit of interest in ancient and medieval canines, real and in name only, in the last few months:

How do you decline "Rover" and conjugate "fetch!" in ancient Greek? Find out in a post on the names of dogs in ancient Greece  over at Wonders and Marvels.

And when is a she-wolf not a she-wolf? When the Dusthoveller is writing about Isabella, the regent of France and the iconography of the Chapel of St. Stephen's at Westminster.

Segueing into further biographies of ancient medieval women:

What's that on your head? Four updates on the head of Nefertiti from Zenobia, Empress of the East.

A saint, sister or slut? You decide after reading a quick biographical rundown of Edith of Wessex, Queen of England and wife of Edward the Confessor that offers lots of interesting details about her life and the changing loyalties of her immediate context.

Sappho, as quoted by the Emperor Julian, an adventure in the later Roman Empire.

The Olympics theme is running deep in this series of links. Medievalists on women in sport.

Medieval scribbling offers further insight into the lives of medieval subjects with doodles and mmmmarginalia and medieval illuminations and scribal practices which can be thought of as being curiously high-tech.

And to end with a total non-sequitur, because medievalists do see summer movies, choose your bat-time and bat-channel with wine in thirteenth-century England and Vandals in tenth-century Europe.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

'Aṭlāl (Weeping over the Ruins)

I'm feeling very nostalgic for New York, and am trying to cram in all the things I've neglected to do in the last two years before I head out to Philadelphia for my fellowship year. One of those things was a visit to the Renwick Ruin on Roosevelt Island. It used to be a smallpox sanitarium and later became a mental asylum, the one where Nelly Bly got herself committed to write her famous expose.

The first time I visited Spain, one of the graduate students in the residence where I was staying asked me whether it was true that Americans have a complex about not having history. I assured him that we do. In truth, I can't speak for anyone but myself. And it's not so much that I have a complex about not having history as much as I have a complex about not having really good ruins. It's amazing, then, that it's taken me this long to go visit. Going out there today was part of beginning to restore my work-life balance, which has been seriously out of kilter in the work direction basically since I started graduate school, but even more intensely so in the last two years.

I'm not pleased with the photography I did today. I could blame it on the light — I went about ninety minutes too early because I didn't really know where I was going and didn't want to get caught in some random park on some random island with random ruins that I didn't know my way around and potentially get lost in the dark — and I could blame it on the fact that there is a huge fence about five yards away from the façade — that I thought about hopping but decided that I've not been vaccinated against enough things to risk it — but the fact of the matter is that I'm out of practice and getting used to new equipment (finally switching to digital from film). And I made rookie mistakes too, like misjudging the light and using a polarizing filter when I shouldn't have, and was lazy about bringing a tripod, when this kind of work clearly calls for it.  But part of what I wanted to do today was to start getting myself back into the habit of grabbing my camera and going out with it. I wasn't shooting for great today. And anyway, the apartment where I'll be living in Philly is down the street from another very unusual ruin, so I'll have lots of chance to practice.

Roosevelt Island is really different from Manhattan, even though it is technically a part of it. It's quieter and feels like a small town in the way that people are comfortable in just striking up a conversation with a stranger. I met a woman named Olga, who moved to Roosevelt Island four years ago and who was out walking her dog. It was her first time in four years on the Island visiting the ruins at its southern tip. She just came over and, after checking that this ruin did used to be the hospital, that her memory of the space was correct, told me about her history with the place:

"My sister and I used to come visit my aunt here. She wasnt okay in her head. Well, she was, really. Just that — I dont know if you believe in this but — the spirits got to her. We used to take a boat from — my mother used to live, still lives in — the Lower East Side."
z         "What do you remember it being like?" I asked her.

"I was afraid," she said. "My aunt always used to say, 'You look so pretty today.' And then the other people would say, 'Come here.'" 
She squinted up her eyes and beckoned with her hand, in memory and imitation.
"And I was always afraid. There were a lot of doctors in white watching. My elder sister, she used to come all the time and bring my aunt apples. She wasn't afraid. My aunt, she died three years ago. Rest in peace, wherever she is. She took her last breath with us. We took care of her, three sisters. She didn't want us, but we took care of her in the end. I guess life's like that."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Fortnight in Links (This is a Pretty Good Edition)

First off, we're just a week away from the July ancient/medieval blog carnival that will be posted right here on July 28. So far I've only received three submissions, so if you've read or written a great ancient or medieval blog post recently, please submit it using this form.


Normal service has been resumed as soon as possible:

The NYT seems to have a bee in its bonnet about the antiquities trade:

The Curse of the Outcast Artifact

Looted for Love

After all of this, how did I miss this article when it first appeared?:

A Walking Course in Tel Aviv's Graffiti

BBC iPlayer is restricted to the East and I am in the depths of the West:

My Heart is in the East

A review of Geza Vermes' new book, written by Rowan Atkinson, the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury.

One of the manuscripts in the corpus I'm working with was, during the 19th and 20th-century, a part of a college library collection in the UK that was broken up and sold at the end of the 20th. So I speak from the personal experience of having to track down a manuscript from a split-up collection when I say that this is a pain in the ass that will make scholarship more difficult if it is allowed to happen:

Canterbury Cathedral and University in Bid to Preserve Unique Historic Collection

As one corpus is destroyed, another is being created:

Racing to Save the Ladino Legacy of Sephardi Jews

This post reminded me of what I already knew, namely that as someone who is frequently at the margins of all sorts of academic conversations and who will likely always have to work very hard to find interlocutors, I'm spectacularly lucky to have been hired into a quirky department that is okay with me being intellectually quirky and doing a variety of kinds of writing:

On Being a Writer

Another new-to-me this week post, relating to the type of translation my academic subjects do and the type that most of the rest of us hope to do:

The Desirability of Metaphor-for-Metaphor Translation

Slate tackles the poetic voice:

A Poet by any other Name

I have yet to see a case where students and alumni getting involved in a very public contestation of a tenure denial or any other personnel decision was good for the students or the personnel. At the very least, they could have made their site a little more readable than blue text on a black background. I was intrigued by the suggestion in the Chronicle thread that it was great that all these documents had come to light because those of us who will have to go through the process can see a full tenure dossier (unusual because it's a very opaque process). But I'm not sure it's even really all that helpful for those incidental purposes:

Unusually Detailed Look at Tenure Denial

KU Alumni for Romkes

Updated (3pm): And a few other links to thinks I read/viewed and meant to include here but seem to have neglected

1) Epstein on the Rylands Haggadah

2) Different from You and Me


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #11

This is a page from my draft.

I'm now in the process of reading my text, separate from the source text, and making sure that it really sounds like English. Then I'll go back and make sure I've not inadvertently corrupted anything. Where it says QUOTATION, it's not that I was stuck, but rather that I want to go back and translate that quotation from the original Arabic so that I'm not giving a Qur'ān translation mediated through a Spanish translation. What really caught my attention on this page, though, is in the sixth line from the bottom, where I completely inverted the order of three words: "gently rustling trees" becomes "trees gently rustling." It's interesting because often the adjective-noun order in Spanish and English are complete opposites. And while that's sort of what's happening here, I don't think it's Hispanizing syntax, or the desire to avoid it, that is guiding it; it's more just two options within the bounds of English syntax, and the one works better here than the other.

Translation Diary, Entry #10

Playing with punctuation and meaning:

The traces of the old arch-shaped brickwork remnants from when this was a minaret are still visible.

The traces of the old arch-shaped brickwork, remnants from when this was a minaret, are still visible.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #9.6

But sometimes it is about the vocabulary.

I have just translated the following sentence:

En un relato perfecto, aunque no muy celebrado, La busca de Averroes, Borges da noticia de un estupor semejante.


In Averroes' Search, a perfect if underrated short story, Borges makes his readers aware of a similar phenomenon.

Literally, it describes a stupor or enchantment or sense of admiration similar to the one described in the previous paragraph, a stupor or enchantment that is described with words like blithe and insouciant. The word phenomenon on its own doesn't necessarily indicate any of those concepts, except — except insofar as it is related to phenomenal, the sort of thing that either a stupor or an admirable quality is, and is redolent with the reverberations (to my ear, anyway, and I am undertaking this project on the strength and value of my ear) of phantasm, the sort of thing that can produce a stupor.

Translation Diary, Entry #9

It’s not about the vocabulary. Or it’s mainly not about the vocabulary, anyway. It’s about the syntax, the structure, about getting the text to stop being Spanish-shaped and getting it to start taking the shape of English.

I'm a doctor! I'm a doctor and I want my sausages!

One of my internet guilty pleasures* is reading Slate's "Dear Prudence" advice column. Yesterday, she answered a letter from a woman whose parents were offended that their future mechutonim, who are doctors, were planning to use their titles on the wedding invitation. Prudence advised that the parents shouldn't feel threatened, and that since the in-laws were medical doctors, it was perfectly fine for them to use their titles. But, she added: "I have more of a problem with people with Ph.D.s using the Dr. title, which I think is better reserved for those with medical degrees. Try to convey to your parents that it's not a putdown of them they you're marrying into a medical family and their using Dr. is just the facts." 

Erm, Prudence? When those of us with PhDs use the title "Dr." it's also just the facts.

My commentary brain immediately runs to snark when I read something like this. (Oh yeah? You try out grad school and then tell me I'm not entitled (so to speak) to use the title I've earned, etc.)

But past the snark (Oh yeah? And how many advanced degrees do you have? (Okay, almost past the snark)) there is a serious observation to be made: Especially in the absence of any kind of explanation for why, exactly, she has a problem with PhDs using their title (she does know that the D in PhD stands for "doctor," right?) this just reeks of anti-intellectualism and the sort of attacks on the academy that have become all too common. Slate is a left-ish leaning news magazine, and I guess I'd always assumed, if only for that reason, that Prudence was also left-ish leaning. And working on that assumption, this very unnecessary assault on PhDs (not even material to the discussions about the wedding invitations -- a nasty non sequitur) would seem to suggest that the anti-intellectualism that I mostly associate with the political right in this country is actually much more pervasive. It means that even people who don't decry evolution and global warming have been, perhaps subconsciously, influenced by that narrative such that the trappings of it have become part of their world view even when they don't buy into the substance of it. And that's unquestionably a negative development.

My PhD is new enough that I'm still pretty uncomfortable being addressed by my title. I definitely don't lord it over people or use it when I introduce myself or in my email .sig file. I really don't care much at all about my title. I don't care, that is, until somebody tells me I shouldn't be using it. Then I will doctor myself (so to speak) left and right.

And that includes with students. I think that the icing on the cake of infuriation was to see a woman writing this column. Obviously as an outsider to the academy, Prudence has no way of knowing this, but it's very common for students to presume to calling their female professors by their first names or Ms. Lastname (or even worse, Mrs. Lastname) while, by default, calling their male professors Dr. or Professor. So, thanks, Prudence, for striking a blow against academics in a battle that also happens to be fought harder, by necessity, by your half of the species.


*One of my goals for next year is to cut down on Internet guilty pleasures in the interest of not wasting so much time and also not having my down time spent with my butt in a chair and staring at a screen, which I think is contributing to. My sense of burnout. That said, I'm mostly planning on cutting out the reading of blogs that I follow not because they're good but because they are total train wrecks. (Hopefully cutting down on my input of bad writing will also be good for my prose style.) My Prudence readership is safe -- for now.

** I wrote this post on my iPad, just to see what writing on it would be like. I'm withholding judgment until I can try it a few more times, but so far I'm not crazy about having to contend with autocorrect nor about lacking a full QWERTY keyboard. In fact, I find that I keep hitting the shift key in anticipation of needing to punctuate, but that's not one of that key's functions in this setup. (Actually, I've been looking forward to having a chance to try it for taking lecture notes, and now I'm curious how it'll work with the modified keyboard.) Plus, it took about three time longer, there are limited formatting and linking options, and I found myself editing myself down preemptively solely to avoid having to type more or use complicated key combinations.

*** Post title is from Fawlty Towers.

**** Yes, I realize that three of the four footnotes to this post don't have referrents. It's variant championship footnoting.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #8

I always tell my students that translating a text is one way of interpreting it, that translation is just one more interpretive technique, like close reading or source criticism. As I'm working on my translation project, I'm appreciating more and more how much translating is also just like writing. Only this morning that's not a good appreciation. At the moment, I am working on the first of what will be at a minimum three revisions of the first chapter before I send it off to the author. For starters, I'm very much regretting having started with the first chapter, since that is the one that is most clearly written in the author's own voice, which I'm sure I'll have a better sense of once I've translated the whole rest of the book, the chapters that are less self-evidently written in his voice but that, obviously, of course, are. (In fact, I'm starting to suspect that in the end, I may chuck this whole first version of the first chapter and go back and retranslate it de novo. That does pose a bit of a problem for me now, though, since I'd told the author I'd get something to him by the end of the summer, which is fast approaching and still full of tasks yet to accomplish.) But for the moment, what I'm noticing is a real change in my own translation about five pages in. That's sort of the moment when my prose (or, rather, my English version of his prose) becomes fluid and consistent and less Spanish sounding; that's how long it took me to get myself into the text. So, just like with writing, the end result is in front of me and the first five pages are crap. But unlike something I'd written myself, I don't really have the option of throwing these away and starting from what's good. Writing is ultimately about editing; and so here, I'm going to have to adopt a more refined editorial practice than my usual slash, burn and start over.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Continued Saga of My Pageviews

I swear. This isn't going to become a super frequent or regular thing.


I'm getting a lot of pageviews from StumbleUpon, but when I click the link that people have ostensibly followed, it takes me to an ad, and the stats counter isn't giving me data about what post it's  taking people to. So, a request: If you've gotten here via StumbleUpon, could you leave a comment telling me what from my blog has been shared there? Thanks much.


Okay. I wanted funny search results, and I've gotten them. These are all in the last four days (ironically, since I reverted the blog to being invisible to Google, though I presume it takes a while to clear from the cache):

Search term: nice and new amthal
Place: Beirut, Lebanon
Result: Women Poets, Part II

Search term: you are the reason why i draw hearts all over my notebook
Place: Maharastra, India
Result: Translation Diary, Entry #5

Search term: luftmenschlichkeit
Place: Quebec
Result: Leap Post (oddly, and not the post in which I actually use the word luftmenschlichkeit)

Search term: amthal in english mother's day
Place: Al-Fayyum, Egypt
Result: Translation Diary, Entry #6

Search term: translator diary make entries
Place: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Result: Translation Diary, Entry #2

Search term: sweden academic dress
Place: Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
Result: Pomp, Circumstance and Sweat

Search term: complete any 8 hour appointment sims social on facebook
Place: Joao Pessoa, Brazil
Result: Medieval Video Games

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Lesson in Humility

Apparently "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education," an essay written by William Deresiewicz, who seemed to be trying, about five years ago, to make a second career as a professional embittered former Yale English lecturer, has been making the rounds again.

I'm not sure who Willa the Princeton Student is, but her response is rock-solid. Read it. She writes about knowing that you didn't get into an Ivy League school because you were awesomer than everyone else, but because you were pretty awesome and really, really lucky; and about the humility that comes from being around a lot of people who are a lot smarter than you for the first time; and about being awkward and bookish because that's just who you are, not because you've been turned into an elitist snob in your singular pursuit of ivy admission or by dint of having gotten it.

A lot of people have picked out the quote from the image I've included above as the part that resonated most with them. For me it was this line: "People stopped treating me like the eighth world wonder. Instead, they treated me like... a normal person?!?! It was (and is) awesome."

That panel pretty completely encapsulates what Yale was for me: A place where I could be one wicked smart freak among many.

(I'm sure there's more I could/should say now from the other side of the desk and at a slightly different kind of university; I've just returned from a seriously deadening day at jury duty, though, so if there is, it'll have to wait for a second post at a later moment or the comment thread, on the off chance that takes off.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Week in Links (The Peregrine Edition)

First, a public-service link: The July ancient/medieval carnivalesque will be hosted here in just two weeks. So get nominating!

And now, on to your regularly-scheduled weekly link roundup:


A trash bag is not an appropriate place to store a medieval manuscript. I'd crack any number of jokes if there weren't such a huge potential for disaster in this story. It's so fantastic that this incredibly important manuscript was recovered intact, although perhaps not totally surprising, since there were suggestions all along that the theft was part of some ecclesiastical intrigue, that is, a temporary black eye designed to sabotage the career of one of the deans of the cathedral. Even so, the potential for someone to have gotten greedy or something to have gotten wrong is tremendous. So, in sum, really good news:

Codex Calixtinus Found in a Trash Bag in the Suspect's Garage

(And a version in English.)

Here are some images of the MS.

And some more analysis in English from Oxford UP.

For a while, they were saying that they'd have it back in the cathedral this week, but it's looking like it's going to be a bit longer.

When it is eventually returned, it will be kept in a secret location. That may or may not be a good thing.


This was last week, but I wanted to hold off posting it, thinking that I might write a full post about it, but then decided I didn't have enough to say. On the one hand, the author is write that much of our business is totally manufactured, and do agree that it can in large part be down to the fact that we fear loneliness, down time, etc. That's certainly the case for me. But there's also more to it than that, and the article comes off as precious as it does clear-eyed. Some jobs just require more time than five hours a day and it's both a little bougie, a little single-minded, and a little too Holden Caulfield for a grown man to suggest that anyone who doesn't skive off at that point to drink minty pink cocktails is faking it. And some people don't manufacture the busy but are just more ambitious than that. And other people just really genuinely love what they do and know that they have to give themselves some time away to reflect, do other things, etc., but just have a really hard time tearing themselves away from it. Long-winded way of saying that I think that there's a kernel of truth here but I guess I was hoping for more:

The 'Busy' Trap

Also not new, but new to me this week: How not to write a book review, p. 55. Helpful tip: Make borderline racist comments about Michael Jordan while pillorying the personal and intellectual integrity of the author of a biography of Moses Montefiore. The only thing that comes through is personal jealousy and contempt for good and intellectually sound writing for a wider audience than professional historians. Sarcasm aside, this really is a very good model of what not to do in a book review:

Review: Moses Montefiore

Speaking of busy and English Jews, I'll definitely have to stop by here to or from the Bodleian when I visit there this fall to have a look at a few MSS that only exist in unusable editions:

Medieval Jewish Cemetery Discovered in Oxford

Another assessment:

On the Arabic Talmud 

A very different answer than a medievalist would give:

Is Philosophy Literature?

For my friends and readers still in grad school: Why not to worry too much about your prospectus or whether it does or doesn't match the final product:

Lies, Damn Lies

Speaking of lies, a weirdly polemical straw-man argument about how the UK National Literacy Strategy is introducing the subjunctive to schoolchildren. What is it about the subjunctive that just brings out people's worst inner pedants?:

Blithering Idiocy on the Subjunctive

And finally, in the shameless self-promotion department, I've spiffed up my web site to make it look a little less high-contrast and a little more professional (although I've left the picture of me with the larger-than-life Lewis chessman, lest anyone think I'd completely lost my sense of humor). I'm pretty pleased. The background image is a photo I took of a door in Jaffa.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Translation Diary, Entry #7b

Zinc sink poses a joint problem of cacophony and euphony that fregadero de cinc simply does not.

Translation Diary, Entry #7a

The capital-H History problem has reasserted itself.

La teología, dice Borges, es una rama de la literatura fantastica. ¿No es la Historia una rama de la novela, una ficción de sombras nacida del las ruinas de los libros...?

Theology, says Borges, is a branch of fantastical literature. So isn't History just a branch of novelistic writing, a fiction of shadows born out of the ruins of books...?

And this time I'm really unsure of how to handle it. In the last instance, I was able to treat History like a volume of a book that contains within it a sort of précis of capital-H History. But here, no, this is very clearly a reference to The Whole of History in its Fullness. A book solution would be tidy — aren't history books a subcategory of novels? — but I think it would miss some of the nuance that's there in the Spanish capital H.

I really don't know what I'm going to do about this one right now.

In another instance I can, once again, narrowly sidestep the issue, but only because we use definite articles differently in English than in Spanish; and that feels just a little bit like cheating:

La Histora es eso, una ficción nacida del gusto de saber lo que no puede recordarse...

History is just that, a fiction born from the desire to know what can't be remembered...


There's something else going on in this sentence: fiction (ficción) is juxtaposed against shadow (sombra), a fairly clear allusion to one of the most famous Spanish dramas of the so-called Golden Age, La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The line in the play reads: "¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí. ¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión. Una sombra, una ficción." (What is life? A frenzy. What is life? An illusion. A shadow, a fiction.) Perhaps the comparable pair in English would be shadow and theme, or vision and theme, drawing upon an English play dealing with the same themes and written about thirty years earlier, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

...a fictional theme built of shadows born amongst the ruins of books...?

(...the book-ruins? Separate issue, of course.)

In Calderón's play the prince Segismundo spends most of his life in a prison, and then, when he is exposed to the outside world only to be returned to his cell, speculates about the nature of the world and dreams and of what is real or not; Shakespeare portrays lovers and amateur actors whose fates and senses of reality are controlled by some fairies. The English words I am thinking about pulling in come from Puck's final speech in which he draws the audience into the play's unstable reality: "If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear, and this weak and idle theme no more yielding than a dream."

This is a text with many literary allusions; it'll be a real victory if I can translate them not absolutely ad litteram but more holistically — a kind of cultural translation —so that they evoke comparable English texts in the minds of English readers.


Just as a postscript, I saw Life is a Dream performed in Hebrew at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem in 2005; it was actually funnier in places in the Hebrew translation than it is in the original early modern Spanish. Secretly I'm always a little pleased when that happens, when the translation is funnier or cleverer or in some way more masterful with the target language than the original was with the source, when, to borrow a turn of phrase from a medieval polemic, the original is unfaithful to the translation.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Carnivalesque! (Or, One More Post About Academic Blogging Before the Actual Academic Blogging is Resumed)

I'm hosting Carnivalesque this month. For the uninitiated, Carnivalesuqe is a  blog carnival (that is, a themed collection of posts by a variety of authors) that alternates monthly between early modern and ancient/medieval topics. July is an ancient/medieval month, and the collection of links and some terribly incisive commentary will be posted here on July 28 (or thereabouts).

If you'd like more information, you can find it here.

You can nominate posts, your own or others', on all matters ancient and medieval using this form or by emailing me at sarah (dot) j (dot) pearce (at) gmail (dot) com; if you submit by email, please make sure either to put "blog" or "carnivalesque" in the subject line so your submission gets directed to the right folder.

More on Technology: Blog Search Terms

I've tried an experiment over the last few weeks in which I made my blog visible to Google searches. I was curious whether it would bring in more regular readers and what kinds of searches would bring people to the site. What follows is an index of search terms, location from which the search was (either city or especially interesting institutional network), and a link to the page that the search led to.

Search Term — Location — Page Returned

ben ezra synagogue cairo — Protestant Theological Institute, Netherlands — Little Boxes

daniel's vision writing on the wall hebrew — San Bruno, CA — The Writing on the Wall

vatican textual scholarship — Temple University, Philadelphia, PA — Bashing Textual Scholarship 

st therese of the child jesus prayer — Staffordshire, UK — Christian Arabic Paper Ephemera

dr shakshuka tel aviv — Amsterdam — Old Jaffa in Nine and a Half Chapters

bialik story — Dauphin, Manitoba — Beit Biyalik

As you can see, I've not gotten any real howlers — ridiculous searches that lead, ridiculously, to my blog. (Although I did get one spam advertising comment from the Marbella Golfing Club.) But I also don't think that the people doing these searches are finding what they're looking for. And the sort of people who might be interested in my blog or might prove interesting as commenters don't seem to be doing searches that are leading them here. I'll leave the blog visible to search engines for a little longer, but barring the revelation of some really compelling reason, I'm going to set it back to being invisible. Visibility doesn't seem to have any benefits for me or for googlers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reconsidering the 21st Century: Academic Year 2011-12 Technology

I've been blogging for the better part of a year now and have since joined Twitter and set up a really extensive web site/archive for my intro course, and so it seems like the moment has arrived to reflect on my digital usage.

Blogger: I'm really enjoying blogging so far. That said, this has evolved much more into a series of reflections on life on the tenure track rather than about my intellectual life. I'm still struggling with how to balance the desire to produce that latter kind of content with the kind of time investment that it would take and the nagging sense that if I'm going to put in that kind of time, I should just go all the way and publish it properly in some form, be that for an academic or a general audience. This is definitely an area where I'd love to hear suggestions/thoughts/personal narratives from other academic bloggers. How do you balance writing good content with not putting too much time in or scooping yourself? So in sum, this is still very much a work in progress, which is not a bad mirror of the bigger project itself.

I'm also using Blogger to build an attractive-looking course web site/repository for digital resources for the team-taught intro course; the main advantage to using Blogger for this is that we use Google Apps for Education here so it's is integrated seamlessly into the suite that we and our students are already using. It should make it easier for students to use the site actively (leaving comments, using discussion boards) rather than just passively (downloading readings).

Twitter: Still a novelty, so far. I was mostly drawn in by the Dorothy Parker possibilities of the #hashtag. I've still not graduated into real punniness, though, what with the sight of #afewwordsstrugtogether enough to kind of crack me up still. Time to get moving in the intelligent witticisms department, as digital slapstick isn't really going to hold its own much longer. (Actually, I'm not sure the form is much good for humor: John Cleese isn't terribly funny on Twitter, and I sort of think that if he can't manage it, then there's no hope for the rest of us.)  I do know that using hashtags, which are meant to be like post labels, as a comedic device isn't really the right way to be utilizing that piece of it. Not sure if it's better or worse to march to a different drummer on this one.

One friend suggested that using Twitter would give me better insight into my students by better understanding the kinds of technology they use. I've not yet had an opportunity to see if that's been the case since I started Tweeting at the end of term; and I suspect I'll have made a decision about the ultimate fate of the experiment, one way or the other, before I start teaching again in the fall of 2013. I haven't had any big epiphanies, student-wise, since starting to use the service. I suspect that the tempermental gulf between me and most of them is too great to be able to bridge it with more tech-usage or -savviness* on my part.

To be fair, though, Twitter seems like a reasonable place to have a sort of intermediate web-presence. By that, I mean that I'd be comfortable with my students following me even though I follow a few knitters and sometimes let my hair down a bit more on Twitter than I do elsewhere, in a way that I wouldn't be comfortable being Facebook friends with my students. I'm aware that lots of British academics tweet with their students, and I'm not sure I'd love having a Twitter relationship be quite as informal as some of those, but I think there are some possibilities here. A colleague has a theory that it's better for classroom management if your students know a little bit about you as a human being; I'm definitely not the share-in-the-classroom type, so if that theory is actually right, this could work to my advantage. That said, none of my students has found me there yet, so we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I'm following a whole lot of medievalists and finding some useful and interesting events and articles, so that's been a concrete benefit, smallish though it is. I've just gotten added to a medieval list, and more medieval folks are starting to follow me, so we'll see; it may just be too early to determine whether this is useful or just entertaining. Following different authors and literary magazines been really helpful in keeping up with interesting essay-writing. The one definitively useful thing I've done with Twitter was to get some information from a boutique in San Francisco about how to replace a drinking glass that my cat broke. But then again, neither of those is a very medievalisty sort of thing to do.

Java: I've totally fallen down as far as my learning to program goals have gone. I was going to take on this coding-lesson-a-week program, and have managed not to do a single one. The email notifications of the weekly lessons are lurking in my inbox, unread, reminding me of my total failure. I'm not sure if I can catch up at this point, so I'm hoping they'll run it again next year. I'm using Blogger to develop my course web site, and that's actually a better decision anyway both for the aforementioned seamless integration issues and also because it's plug-and-play enough that it means that, with a careful set of directions written out, I won't have to be the webmaster for this course for ever and ever, even when it's not my turn to teach it.

iOS: I bought an iPad. I bought this as part of a grant to develop teaching materials for the intro class. I had a sort of epiphany when I used a video in class one day, the day that we were talking about paper as a commodity topic, and just the fact that I was using something that seemed like technology to my students made them much more open to talking about the idea that the advent of paper and the codex as technological innovations. And it was great — the students themselves were drawing connections between modern and pre-modern vocabulary (hey! we scroll through documents too! just like with scrolls!) and between different type of innovations (so, having books was as big of a deal as getting an e-reader!) Enough students have iPads that if I'm using one I can develop course materials that take advantage of the format, I can have students bring their iPads to class and share and thus be able to maximize how I'm using the technology. I just got it yesterday, so more on this as I develop the materials and activities.

As I was setting it up, and clicking, no, I don't want to use iCloud and have all of my personal photos, music, and email wirelessly delivered to this device, and no, I don't want to turn dictation or location services on, I realized that I'm making totally luddite use of this piece of technology. I want a lightweight, portable, high-res medieval manuscript that my students will think is cool and interesting.

I'm pretty excited about it as a manuscript reader, too, though. With the retina display feature, the embossing of the type that comes through from the back side of this pages is completely legible; I can't wait to see what it can do with challenging-to-read manuscripts:

High-tech medieval manuscript or low-tech iPad?:

So, that's my technology roundup for the academic year.

*The putative tech-savviness of the Millennials (of which I am allegedly one, but have trouble conceiving of myself that way) deserves its own post.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Seriously Kicking Myself...

... for not buying this when I had the chance. Living in an apartment in New York leads one to be circumspect about acquiring things, and I've really tried to cut back on my acquisitiveness since I've lived here, in part by imposing a waiting period on myself when I see something I want to buy. I decided I really did want this and it would be a good purchase that would fit nicely with my other typewriters and my academic interests, only to discover that it had already been sold and that the other one on the site is ten times the cost! Oh well. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Week in Links (Do You Have a Clever Subtitle? Edition)

I totally support institutes that bring in visiting scholars regularly building housing for them:

A Battle over Faculty Housing

Translating the Bible into Arabic is a topic near and dear, and it's no less fascinating in its modern iterations than its medieval ones:

Translating the Trinity for Muslims

Julian Barnes' writing is sublime. I'd recommend starting with A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters if you don't know his work:

My Life as a Bibliophile

First Hebrew MS to reference the New World. Awesome, Dan Brown reference notwithstanding:

Tales of Medieval Daring

More on good reasons for destroying old books:

Witness of Alfonso X's Siete Partidas Serving as a Cover for a Notarial Book

Another lovely paean to glorious irrelevance:

A Much Higher Education

A physician writes about interacting with college students who assume she is a man and are baffled by the fact that she also writes:

Assuming the Doctor is a He

I'm moving books in my own personal Titanic (bad analogy for a pre-tenure prof to use to refer to her office, though, no?), so I'm especially sympathetic. I think that over the long term, though, the way to make this work is to use a library as a hands-on teaching tool, thereby ensuring that you will eventually have really well-educated students who can help contemplate, intelligently, the best way to arrange your library:

Moving the Books on the Titanic

This would be so cool if it weren't based on Wikipedia data:

Graphing the History of Philosophy

The generic first-person-shooter game gives way to the first-person-shoot-Salman-Rushdie game:

Fatwa Turned into Iranian Video Game