Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Very Brief Guide to European Visa Applications

I am theoretically supposed to be teaching at NYU's Madrid study-away site this spring. The university is trying to cycle the New York faculty through the sites with more regularity, which is great in theory; in practice, they haven't really ironed all of the glitches out of the system yet. As a citizen of the United States and nowhere else that would be even remotely useful in terms of spending more than 90 days in a country in the Schengen Area (the designation that the EU takes when talking about passports and visas), there are a lot of hoops to jump through; and so I'm compiling a checklist of things I need to do/have that I wish I had known about well in advance rather than just a little bit in advance.

— Get fingerprinted by the NYPD.
— Get a local police background and clearance certificate.
— Submit fingerprints and a request form to the FBI for a federal criminal background check.
— Medical certification that you are free of yellow fever, cholera, black plague (and not just if you're a medievalist, either), drug addiction, and mental illness. (The guidelines do not yet say anything about being certified as being free of ebola yet.)

The average processing time from submission of all of the documentation (which includes the above, plus a whole host of more expected things, like extra passport photos, a copy of your driver's license and passport, etc.,) is 45 days. Prepare for extra delays when dealing with the federal government. For example, this is the warning at the top of the FBI page with the information and forms for requesting a copy of one's criminal history:

Realistically, this isn't going to happen in time for me to go in the spring, although we're collectively whistling into the wind at this point. It seems like it would be easier to make curriculum and staffing adjustments earlier rather than later, and I would certainly prefer not to have to waste a ton of time playing along with jumping through bureaucratic and paperwork hoops for something that's not going to happen while I'm supposed to be finishing my book manuscript, but I'm not in a position to put an end to what seems to me to be a complete folly. For now, we're working on the assumption that the university will have some kind of workaround.  (Plus, as much as I was initially ambivalent about uprooting my life twice in two years, I'm disappointed that I likely shan't be going.)

In any event, the point is that I wish I'd had a lot more lead time in getting all of this together, hence the beginnings of a checklist, to be updated as I go through the process,  both for myself the next time I have to do this and for any of my colleagues who are also US citizens as we start to cycle around the "global network university."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Textual Corpora and the Digital Islamic Humanities, Day 2

Following up on the Qaddafi-hunt by regular expression of day 1 of the workshop on digital Islamic humanities, here is Maxim Romanov, demonstrating a regular expression to search for terms that describe years within a text corpus that hasn't been subjected to Buckwalter transliteration but is rather in the original Arabic script.

More below the jump:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reverse Anthropology

I popped into the anthropology museum on the Brown campus en route to the workshop. One of the special exhibitions is on the symbols of the university. My initial reaction was that it was a sort of cheap appropriation of the anthropology museum to promote school spirit during homecoming season (which happens to be this weekend here). But in fact, by subjecting academic regalia and ritual to the same scrutiny as the kind of objects one would more conventionally expect to see in an ethnographic collection, it posed a serious question about the place of this sort of thing and about why the viewer should consider a Brown University robe any less strange than the personal adornments of various groups from central America and Africa.

Textual Corpora and the Digital Islamic Humanities, Day 1

I'm in Providence, at Brown, for a digital humanities and text corpora workshop geared towards people working in Islamic Studies fields.

A bit of a conference report follows the jump.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Poems for Two Years

From the diwan of Samuel ibn Nagrilla, trans. Peter Cole

Be glad, she said,
that God has given you
fifty years
in this world —
though she didn't know
there is no division
between, as I see it,
my days that have passed
and Noah's
of which I've heard.
In the world I have nothing
but the hour I"m in,
which stands for a moment,
and then like a cloud moves on.

Excerpted from "Adonais," Percy Bysshe Shelley

O, weep for Adonais!-The quick Dreams,
The passion-winged Ministers of thought,
Who were his flocks, whom near the living streams
Of his young spirit he fed, and whom he taught
The love which was its music, wander not,-
Wander no more, from kindling brain to brain,
But droop there, whence they sprung; and mourn their lot
Round the cold heart, where, after their sweet pain,
They ne'er will gather strength, or find a home again.

And one with trembling hands clasps his cold head,
And fans him with her moonlight wings, and cries,
"Our love, our hope, our sorrow, is not dead;
See, on the silken fringe of his faint eyes,
Like dew upon a sleeping flower, there lies
A tear some Dream has loosened from his brain."
Lost Angel of a ruined Paradise!
She knew not 'twas her own; as with no stain
She faded, like a cloud which had outwept its rain.

One from a lucid urn of starry dew
Washed his light limbs as if embalming them;
Another clipped her profuse locks, and threw
The wreath upon him, like an anadem,
Which frozen tears instead of pearls begem;
Another in her wilful grief would break
Her bow and winged reeds, as if to stem
A greater loss with one which was more weak;
And dull the barbed fire against his frozen cheek.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Anonymous Ism?

Divided Time

I really feel like I ought to have something really intelligent to say to make up for the previous post about social media for academics and cat photos (and to get it off the top of the page) but every ounce of the fairly minimal amount of brainpower that I am finding myself able to muster is going towards finishing a first draft of the last chapter of the book, a draft that I know isn't very good but just needs to be put on paper, integral and complete-ish, so I have something to start working from, something that I can transform from its boring and derivative beginnings into a final chapter that's more fitting to the rest of the book. I really envy people who manage to blog thoughtfully and regularly and at length while getting work done.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Sad Cats of (A Tale of Customer Service in No Way Worthy of T.S. Eliot and Edward Gorey)

Especially since I have complained about in this space before (and especially especially, because that post, depressingly, is my most popular post ever, if site stats are to be believed), I wanted to make a point of publicly complimenting the organization on a good interaction that I had with them.

With no warning, spontaneously changed the layout of their web site and I hate it. The low contrast makes it hard to read, the full listing of everyone's activity in small white boxes makes for a lot more scrolling through screens with no sense of visual hierarchy, and it seemed like change for change's sake, a la Facebook, rather than change in the interest of functionality.

I tweeted my dismay:
The first reply I got was a picture of a sad cat from one of their developers. Maybe not the most professional response on the planet, but whatever mood I was in meant it struck me as really funny.
But then I got two more sad cats from from their developers. (I swear. I'm eventually getting to the part where they act like responsible human beings attending to a user complaint.)
By this point I was getting a little big concerned that I was going to go to sleep and wake up with a feed full of sad cat photos from developers.
In fact, a colleague tweeted to thank me for sending him a PDF offprint of my new article, and I replied that it was good that he had it, since I was fully expecting my page to be full of sad, terrified cats by the morning, too.
In the narrative structure of the anecdote, you may identify this moment as the turning point.

What I in fact woke up to was an email to my NYU account  from the operations manager, apologizing for the loopy cat antics of the night previous and asking if I wouldn't mind putting my concerns about the new layout into more than 140 characters, with copy to one of the company VPs. I figured that if they were going out of their way to solicit feedback, then I had a responsibility to provide it rather than just engage in short-form griping, so I did.  I got a rather lengthy reply from the VP, thanking me for my feedback, explaining why they made the changes that they did and what their planned next phases of development are (which include increasing the contrast between the white background and light gray text!). It seems like the kind of thing that they should have made more public before changing the site on people, but I was pleased that they were willing to take the time to tell their end users what's going on. It's certainly far more than Facebook does with even more serious issues at stake.

So, kitten' around aside, nice job on this one, guys!

(And now a return to your regularly scheduled cat photos, namely ones of my own cat sitting on my own book manuscript and mostly looking bored.)

Saturday, October 4, 2014


The job market is bad again this year.

In other news, the Pope is Catholic.

There is a lot of justifiable anger and anguish about the state of affairs, but one line of complaint I don't understand. I first noticed it last year, and it is the one that rails against language and literature jobs that ask for teaching and research competency in more than one language. The most recent example of the genre is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Rebecca Schuman's:

She reads an ad that asks for "“Ph.D. in English required, with an emphasis in Medieval literature. Ability to teach German courses required (graduate coursework in German)." to mean that "So German is now such a dying discipline that they are willing to allow people with no degree in it whatsoever — who’ve taken a graduate reading course or a single German lit course taught in English — to teach it in college. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of people with degrees in German who can’t get hired to do a damn thing."

I read it differently. A scholar of English with interest in German is a totally different, and no less legitimate thing than a scholar of German only. You're going to get really different applicants and really different work, but it doesn't mean that they'll be half-assed or that they'll only have taken one class or that it'll have been in translation. This search committee isn't looking for a Germanist. And it's a little bit reactionary to condemn interdisciplinarity that way, saying that someone whose attention is divided across traditional disciplines won't do anything as well as someone whose attention isn't. In any case, it's a medieval job and modern university disciplinary boundaries have never really suited medieval work to begin with. 

Another ad is this one: “The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures seeks an energetic and engaged full-time Lecturer (non-tenure-track) to cover at least two–preferably three–of the following areas: Chinese Studies; Japanese Studies; Cultural, Art and Film Studies; German Studies; Korean; Italian; Arabic; Vietnamese; Translation Studies; Hispanic Media, and other related fields. This appointment may be renewed one or more additional years.”

Yeah. It is a weird ad, and clearly it means that they have no idea what they're looking for, but the idea of picking two or three things from that list? Not actually so strange in and of itself: Chinese and Japanese cinema? Art, film, and other media in the Hispanic world? Italian and German translation? There are a lot of sensible combinations to be made. Lots of work on medieval Sicily could fall under Italian and Arabic cultural studies. (I even have a colleague here at NYU whose work mainly utilizes what might seem like one of the harder or more distant pairings on this list, Arabic and Chinese, as he writes about Muslims in medieval China.) The fact that it's not a TT job and might not be renewable is a separate issue.  It seems to be short-sighted to say, in effect, "If you're not going to give me a proper job, I'm only going to work in one language." And now that Schuman's said it, it's starting to reverberate in conversations about the state of job market things.

But another example is from last year and was so strange that I still remember it and found it called to mind when I read Schuman's post. These two posts condemn, in outrageously strong and dehumanizing terms, a search committee with the audacity to try to hire a candidate who could teach both Russian and the obviously completely totally unrelated and alien language of German.

I'm not sure what it means to say that German and Russian aren't related to each other. They are both Indo-European languages, even if they don't belong to the same language families under that broader umbrella. But if linguistic proximity is the standard, then it would also be preposterous to advertise a job for someone who works in colonial Latin American literature and ask him to have Spanish and Quechua, or someone who works in medieval Spain and ask her to have Spanish and Arabic, or someone who works on modern Francophone North Africa and have the audacity to think that he should be competent in both Arabic and French, or a historian of translation with Greek and Arabic and Latin, or a student of the enlightenment with French and German, or any of a whole host of Ancient Near East folks with Akkadian and Sumerian, or an Islamicist with Arabic and Persian and Turkish (a bog-standard expectation for Islamic Studies jobs, by the way), or anybody working on Korean in anything other than total linguistic isolation. These are languages that are related to each other by virtue of their sociocultural and historical circumstances, and there is plenty of literature that reflects those circumstances. If you're doing your job right when you're working on any of those times or places, you are de facto working in multiple languages, whether comparatively or polysystemically.

Even if this German-Russian job at Bates were limited strictly to language teaching, that doesn't make it an impossible order nor should we assume that the person filling the post wouldn't have his or her own active research program (because most language lecturers these days are research active because there aren't enough TT jobs) in which those languages relate.

There is also plenty of scholarly, academic precedent for jobs that require multiple languages. For example, this position at Yale, which is a long-standing one (and had been a proper job for a very long time before it was downgraded to a lectureship sometime in the last decade) is in Semitics. The person who gets this job will end up teaching various Aramaic dialects, Ugaritic, and Hebrew. The ad says there's a preference for candidates who could also teach Ethiopic. That's a very traditional, oldest of the old-school kind of job, one in Semitic philology. (Don't tell, but they'll probably end up hiring somebody who turns out to have competency in Greek, too.)

It's not a question of hiring someone with a PhD in French who happens to be a native speaker of Arabic and so can randomly teach Arabic 101 even if it has nothing to do with her work. Nor is it a question of hiring somebody with a PhD in Spanish who has taken one course on Arabic literature in translation to sex up his CV. Or if it is a question of that, then that's actually a very different problem, one of terrible judgment.  Wanting scholars who work in multiple languages and multiple literary traditions (or a single tradition that is carried out, coherently, in diverse languages), per se, is not a problem. There is so very much wrong with the job market right now that inventing non-issues to complain about  seems to be a deflection or a need to prove that *everything* about the job market is wrong rather than just so very many things that it's badly broken. The job market is bad, the system is bad, even if one or two things here or there aren't totally, irredeemably lost.

There are nowhere near enough jobs now, and nowhere near enough tenured and tenure-track faculty to be able to sustain a broad-based, widely accessible system of higher education. However, I don't believe that hiring somebody who can work in Russian and German or Chinese and Korean is a symptom of that problem. Rather, it is an indication that scholarship is moving in an ever-more interdisciplinary direction and no longer being guided by twentieth-century nationalism as its organizing principle.  Literature and language jobs that expect expertise in more than one language are actually a good thing.

Edited 10/5/14, 3:24 pm, to addA colleague of mine shared this post on her Facebook page, and a long discussion ensued. With her permission, I am reproducing that conversation here below the jump...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Hearty Welcome

... to the person who arrived at this site via a Google search for "stupid women medievalists."

What were you actually trying to find with that search term?

Or, a more plausible question, since I don't expect to get an answer from the source, any speculation, earnest or facetious, as to what someone might have been expecting to find?