First day fragments

My fall semester begins in earnest today, with the first session for both of my classes. I don’t have a single back-to-school post idea, but rather a bunch of loosely connected ones, so decided to go with a fragmentary format.

“I didn’t get everything done” is a standard lament for academics come late August, bemoaning some combination of the cult of productivity, human limitations, and the difficulties of researching during the school year. I am no exception. I set an ambitious schedule for reading scholarship beyond my immediate research, but only managed to read a handful of books and articles, and a couple of books on teaching.

There are a couple of explanations for this failure. One is that the summer quickly became very busy, with multiple family trips that had less down-time than anticipated, meaning that there was neither opportunity for reading nor for a deep recharge of my batteries. Another was that I taught an intensive summer World History course in June, so much of my spare reading went toward preparing for class. A third was that seemingly every spare moment around these time commitments was sucked up by working on revising my dissertation as a book. My goal for that was to have it under review by the start of class, but I missed that deadline, too. At least I am in a position to meet my revised goal of August 31 for that one…

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There has been a movement in recent years to normalize failure, particularly in academia, leading to people sharing their failures on Twitter over the last week. I mentioned there that I respect the movement, and appreciate the baseball analogy where if you’re a batter and only “fail” (make an out) at the plate six out of every ten times, you belong in the hall of fame. (There are obviously other statistics from baseball that could make that more or less extreme. If you’re a pitcher and batters swing and miss just 20% of the time, you’re incredible, but if that is the percentage of the time you throw strikes, then you probably quit playing in little league.) I respect the impulse to normalize failure because it is inevitably going to happen, regardless of how generous and kind the academy becomes. Everyone is going to experience article/grant/abstract/job/proposal rejections for a host of reasons. Sometimes those reasons are good (the project needs more work), sometimes they are petty, and a lot of the time is a simple numbers game that has almost nothing to do with what was proposed.

My shadow CV includes all of these things, including four article rejections, two more revise and resubmits that were later accepted, at least seven paper abstracts rejected that I can think of off hand, too many funding applications for fellowships and travel grants to count them all. And I am only a little more than a year removed from graduating with my PhD.

At the same time, I found the push to normalize, share, and celebrate failure on social media hard to handle. The main reason is that while failure is normal in the academy, and rejections can be handled deftly with an eye toward improving the project for the next time around, it is also a sign of privilege to be able to reflect on this Shadow CV. It is coming from someone still “in the game”, as it were, and I heard with every round of shares “this is what you *should* have been applying for.” As in, your failures themselves are inadequate because the “stars” fail bigger and better.

Then pair this with the part I left out of my Shadow CV that are the all jobs I’ve applied to without making the long list. The Shadow CV is meant to normalize failure so that people can better overcome the natural fear of it and thereby reduce anxiety, but when mixed with too few academic jobs to go around and the sheer amount of time that applying for them takes, it just exacerbated mine.

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I’m looking forward to teaching both of my classes this semester. One I am teaching my own syllabus for the second time, the other I am teaching as the sole instructor for the first time. I had the chance to teach on my own a little bit during graduate school, but this is my second year of continuously teaching my own courses and reading up on pedagogy, so I am now to synthesize some principles for my classroom.

First Principle: Learning, not grades. I do not care about grades beyond making sure that I have created a reasonable and achievable grade scale for the class. My goal as a teacher is to help students develop practical skills such as writing and the ability to understand the world through critical analysis and synthesizing information. Toward that end, I believe that many common assessment tools that are built for scale are next to useless in actually assessing learning. I design my classes around assignments that require students to develop arguments through writing and that build on each other so that students can show improvement in tasks that are not easy.

Second Principle: Empathy. Students are adults who have a larger number of demands on them than even I did when entering school fifteen years ago. I aspire to treat them like adults with responsibilities, just one of which is my class. College is “the real world” where students are on their own for the first time, and I want to be a mentor/coach/guide. This means having empathy, and encouraging them to take ownership of their education by talking with me when they have a conflict or need help.

Third Principle: Engagement. “Meaningful learning experiences” is a hot topic, though my mother assures me that this has been the key phrase for many decades now. Every class is going to be selective in the material it covers, so I see my job being to give students the tools to learn more and to pique their curiosity to want to do so. This means developing activities and assignments that require engagement, through games, debates, and projects where students take ownership of the material. This has not been the easiest task for me as someone who found history books thrilling in high school, but something that I am committed to improving in my own teaching.

There are others, but these are my first three.

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Without further ado, let the semester begin!

Summer Academic Reading Plans

One thing I’ve noticed in working on my primary research project, first as a dissertation and now as a book, is that I’ve gotten away from reading things that are not directly related to that research. As such, I am setting a summer reading goal of one article or book chapter on on the history of the Mediterranean (non-research category), theory or methodology, or pedagogy per weekday. By my count this is about seventy articles. So far the list (see below), consists of twenty five articles—a good start, but too short.

The problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know or, more specifically, I don’t necessarily know what I should be reading. The current iteration of this list is developed from perusing recent journal tables of contents as well as some suggestions crowd-sourced from Twitter, but I could still use more.

So, please, if you have a favorite article or book chapter** that fits the parameters listed above and published in the last fifteen years, I want to hear about it. Tell me what I should be reading!

**I am also open to book suggestions in the same fields and fiction, but already have a long backlog of both.

The List

  • S. Fachard, “A decade of research on Greek fortifications,” AR 62 (2015–2016), 77–88
  • R. Stoneman, “How Many Miles to Babylon?,” G&R 62 (2015), 60–74
  • D.M. Pritchard “Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece,” G&R 62 (2015), 48–59
  • M.J. Taylor, “Sacred Plunder and the Seleucid Near East,” G&R 61 (2014), 222–41
  • D.M. Pritchard, “The Position of Attic Women in Democratic Athens,” G&R 61 (2014) 174–93
  • D.M. Pritchard, “The Archers of Classical Athens,” G&R 65 (2018), 86–102
  • L.M. Yarrow, “How to Read a Diodoros Fragment,” in Diodoros of Sicily, edd. L.I. Hau, A. Meeus, and B. Sheridan (Leuven: 2018), 247–74
  • S.E. Kidd, “How to Gamble in Greek” JHS 137 (2017), 119–34
  • Ali Akhtar, “Enterprising Sultans and the Doge of Venice,” in Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought, edd. S. Toorawa and J. Lowry (2017), 361–74
  • C. Belsey, Criticism: Ideas in Profile (Profile Books: 2016)
  • M.E. Irwin, “Venturing where Vine and Olive don’t grow.” SyllClass 14 (2003), 83–99
  • D. Tober, “Greek Local Historiography and Its Audiences,” CQ2 67 (2017), 460–84
  • A.W. Collins, “The Persian Royal Tent and Ceremonial and Alexander the Great,” CQ2 67 (2017), 71–6
  • R. Konijnendijk, “Mardonius’ Senseless Greeks,” CQ2 66 (2016), 1–12
  • A. Livarda, “Archaeobotany in Greece,” AR 60 (2013–2014), 106–16
  • M. Yue, “Naming the Greeks in the Archaic Period,” JAC 31 (2016), 45–84
  • S.C. Murray, “Lights and Darks: Data, Labeling, and Language in the History of Scholarship on Early Greece,” Hesperia 87 (2018), 17–54
  • R. Sobak, “Sokrates among the Shoemakers,” Hesperia 84 (2015), 669–712
  • L. Khatchadourian, “The Satrapal Condition,” in Imperial Matter (Los Angeles and Berkeley: 2016), 1–24
  • S.E. Psoma, “Athenian Owls and the royal Macedonian monopoly on Timber,” MHR 30 (2015), 1–18
  • J. Giebfried, “The Mongol Invasions and the Aegean World (1241–61),” MHR 28 (2013), 129–39
  • C. Rowan, “Coinage as commodity and bullion in the Western Mediterranean,” MHR 28 (2013), 105–27
  • J. Haubold, “The Achaemenid Empire and the Sea,” MHR 27 (2012), 5–24
  • K.L. Gaca “Reinterpreting the Homeric Simile of Iliad 16.7–11: The Girl and Her Mother in Ancient Greek Warfare,” AJPh 129 (2008), 145–71
  • S. Greenblatt, “Theatrical Mobility”, in Cultural Mobility, ed. S. Greenblatt (Cambridge: 2009), 75–95

Summer project post

I was on a writing fellowship this spring and, despite it all, it ended up being an incredibly busy term. In addition to revising my dissertation and writing articles for submission, I gave a bunch of guest lectures and attended two conferences to present my research. Naturally, this means that at the end of the term I was, and remain for the short term anyway, exhausted.

This summer is going to be a lot more of the same, but, for the sake of accountability, I want to set a (partial) list of projects to tackle this summer.

  • Set up a professional website to my satisfaction, and migrate this blog in order to have a consolidated web-presence.
  • Edit and submit (at least) two articles to academic journals.
  • Finish a complete revised draft of my dissertation

There are some other things I want to accomplish—write a little more broadly here, try to tackle either War and Peace or Infinite Jest, etc—and this list is sure to grow, but this is a good starting point.