#AcWriMo2022

It is November first, which means that it is once against AcWriMo, an academic writing challenge inspired by National Novel Writing Month.

I read through my blog archive in preparation for this post, as I often do when I sit down to write this sort of annual post. After all, I get frustrated with myself when it seems that I am writing the same things over and over. This tag first appeared in 2012, just one year after PhD2Published launched the challenge. I was a second year PhD student at the time, just starting to send ill-fated article manuscripts off for review and preparing for my comprehensive exams with not even the slightest inkling what my dissertation project would end up being.

(How I came to that project is a curious story that points to my atypical journey through graduate school.)

The tag then fell dormant for six years only to begin an annual appearance in 2018, a year and a half after I received my PhD and at a time when I was working on my book proposal. I wrote four posts that year, following a series of prompts created by Margy Thomas of Scholarshape that were designed to inspire metacognitive reflection on the writing process.

2019 saw just one post that was quite gloomy and frustrated because I felt that I was nearing the end of the road in academia. 2020, year one of the pandemic, was more of the same, except now with an attempted return to the goal-setting mandate. I did not hit my goals. By November 2021 I had started my current job and I was starting to acclimate to my schedule and established a single goal of a month-long metacognitive exercise about my writing…that I also did not hit.

So where does that leave me for 2022?

2022 has been a good year for my writing overall, if also more boom-and-bust than is ideal. I started the year with an article that had been rejected a couple of times getting accepted at Classical Quarterly and submitting the final manuscript for my first book at University of Michigan Press. That book has now also gone through copy edits and proof. Between these stages I also turned in five of the eight small pieces that I had outstanding between the pandemic and conditions of my employment, as well as a delivering a conference paper and a book review. The progress has mostly been confined to projects years in the making, though, and I’m having more trouble creating the space for new writing projects.

I have also recently returned to writing in a journal more or less nightly, both as a quiet, cathartic way to wind down before bed and as an extension of my writing discipline. Once upon a time I wrote in that space most days, often as a way of settling my mind before jumping into work on my dissertation. I fell out of that habit in the past few years, but I find that I maintain better equilibrium when I giving myself the space to write in my journal.

The other way that 2022 has been good for my writing is that I started a virtual writing group with Vicky Austen. I have participated in these in the past run by people in the UK, but I’m not in a place right now where I can reasonably wake up at 3am to write, so I suggested that we start one for those of us in this hemisphere. The practice of setting aside two hours twice a week to work in a communal, supportive environment has been enormously helpful as I am trying to re-establish a regular writing habit rather than one that means working feverishly to hit deadlines and then slumps because I’m forced to set aside that work in order to catch up on everything else that I fell behind on because I was writing.

This year I am setting for myself six targets for AcWriMo:

  1. Finish and submit my three outstanding short pieces. They just need to be off my plate so that I can focus on something else.
  2. Spend at least one hour each week writing on one of my new academic projects. For this goal I’m going to set an absurd (for me) target of 500 words an hour, for a minimum of 2,000 fresh words on top of whatever else I write this month.
  3. Write one book review blog post per week. These posts have been a casualty of the general chaos of my life recently, but I want to get back in the habit of writing them for some, if not all, of the books I read. First up is Stuart Ellis-Gorman’s The Medieval Crossbow which I promised to review after I won it in his online giveaway.
  4. Write one other blog post per week. Writing begets writing, as they say.
  5. Continue journaling every night. In particular: November has 30 days: write 28 entries.
  6. Write a recap blog post for December 1 that reviews the targets and reflects on my month in writing.

I see two potential complications with this set of targets.

First, one might reasonably ask whether these targets are suitably academic—which one might ask about so much of what I end up doing. The first two goals clearly fit the bill, while the back three are more about using this month to re-establish good writing habits. Basically, when I write more in general I end up writing more on my academic projects.

Second, I am curious whether this is yet another instance of unreachable targets that will be counter-productive when it comes to building the sustainable habits that I claim to want. This is of particular note because four of these five goals are set on top of whatever other writing I do. I guess there is only one way to find out.

On Privilege

I often see discourse about things happening on Twitter before I see the “offending” tweet. This weekend one thread of the discourse centered on a professor who has books in his office that he gives to students who express interest.

The lines were drawn.

On the one side: people who praised the practice as an act of intellectual generosity.

On the other: those who consider it a mark of extreme privilege.

To be honest, I was confused about the whole thing until I saw the original tweet. My campus office is lined with shelves that I am progressively filling with research and teaching materials, some from the library, some from my personal collection. I have given away a number of books over the years as a process of curating my library, but it struck me as a bit extreme to give away books that I might want to use.

However, my confusion dissipated when I saw the original tweet. The professor had a large, well-lit office with a few chairs in front of a wooden desk. Around the outside of the office were shelves that he had curated to look more like an inviting bookstore display designed to invite students into his research speciality. In other words, the office looked like a space for engaging students and not primarily the place where he was conducting his research—whether or not he is also using it for that.

To the charge of privilege, I think the answer has to be “yes, and?” That office, those shelves, and the students are all marks of privilege, but so what? What is the alternative?

There are basically three options when it comes to privilege:

  1. Reap the benefits while remaining oblivious to, and/or silent about, where those benefits come from and thus tacitly endorse the status quo.
  2. Reap the benefits while seeking to further entrench systems that will benefit you to the maximal extent.
  3. Reap the benefits, but also use the privilege to help others.

That is, performative self-flagellation won’t offset the existence of privilege. The question is not whether someone has privilege, but what they are choosing to do with their privilege. I am of course jealous of this professor’s office and I wish I had the resources to give away books more freely, but it also seems patently absurd to become outraged online at someone sharing an act of intellectual and financial generosity.

I suspect that this outrage, to the extent that it is sincere, stems from a couple of places.

First, the nature of academia plants a toxic combination of entitlement, bitterness, and competition in some people who become disillusioned with their lot in it. These people often believe that they ought to be somewhere more prestigious and they treat every interaction as a zero-sum game in the service of advancing themselves. This is a reaction to systemic factors made worse in our current age of austerity, social media, burnout that has accompanied pandemic teaching. Thus the hostile reaction to seeing acts of generosity.

The second, I think, is a function of the way society approaches philanthropy and personal branding. In his 2018 book, Winners Take All, Anand Giriharadas made an argument that modern philanthropy is a charade (according to the subtitle) wherein elites make a big hullaballoo about their efforts to improve the world, but then structure their programs to maximize both tax breaks and profits and thus further entrench their own position in elite society. This theme also emerges in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain about the Sackler dynasty. At the same time, contemporary viral economic advice seems to fetishize entrepreneurship and personal branding. Taken together, it is possible view every every act of generosity or kindness expressed on social media cynically as an attempt at personal branding that clearly must have an ulterior motive. The charge of “privilege,” in this context, is levied as a way to somehow delegitimize that generosity.

There are reasons to be suspicious of elite philanthropy, many of our economic systems are structured around pitting people against one another, and social media is a cancer eating away at our brains, but neither of these explanations hold water at the end of the day. This professor is operating from a place of privilege, so what? Privilege is, but when given an opportunity this person also gives away books to his students. While not every act of generosity is going to be the gift of books, is this general idea of giving back not something that we all ought to aspire to?

First Day Fragments: Fall 2022

Each of the past four years I have written a post celebrating the start of the fall semester with quick hits on various topics that I’m mulling over going into the new academic year. You can find the earlier posts in the archive: 2021, 202020192018.

I spent most of this summer diligently making myself go out running several times a week. Like many of my summer goals this practice ended up being a mixed bag, and I ended up not hitting my arbitrarily-set target. Despite the aches and pains that have accompanied these runs, I have been pleased by my progress and consider this one of my best recent decisions. There is always another mile to run, just as there is always more that could be done. After a summer during which I neither got the rest I had hoped nor accomplished as much as I intended, it has been useful to just focus on the next step.

ΔΔΔ

The latest buzz about workplace culture is Quiet Quitting, aka working to contract. This is a radical concept that I have seen some of my friends who work in the UK talk about when they, *checks notes*, clock out for the weekend and take annual leave. In a general sense, this “trend” is a reminder that it often takes enormous amounts of uncompensated labor to make the current labor systems function.

This is no less true in higher education than anywhere else, and something that hits basically everyone involved. The diminishing portion of the overall faculty being tenure or tenure track means that the service burdens fall that much heavier on those who remain, while the low pay for adjuncts is sometimes justified by pretending that the hours spent working outside of the classroom don’t exist. At least in the former case there is a reasonable expectation that their job will remain semester after semester.

However, quiet quitting is especially disruptive in teaching. In some fields it means reclaiming one’s time from their employer, but in this one the consequences disproportionately affect the students. They might not exactly be customers, but they are paying for their education in some capacity, which is a difficult circle to square.

My situation is not nearly as bad as many people, and I have a department chair who is excellent about keeping most duties not in my contract off my plate. And yet, this trend of quiet quitting has been on my mind this last week of working (uncompensated) overtime to make sure that my courses were ready to go. Ultimately this is yet another reminder that the entire system needs to be reformed to make it more humane for everyone involved.

ΔΔΔ

One summer during college (summer 2007), I worked on the team that moved the college to a new learning management system. At one point we had a conversation about the functionality that allowed professors to track the time students spent on the website. As a student, I was stridently against making this function available to professors, or at least against highlighting it for them–I don’t actually recall the specific details of the discussion. My point at the time was that these tracking features were, but delicately, bullshit, and I didn’t want there to be any chance that such data would play a role in my grade when it provided, at best, a shoddy reflection of my engagement with the course.

I have modified my stance somewhat as a professor. I still strongly dislike the emphasis on time-on-task, even if I begrudgingly acknowledge that it can play a role in setting expectations. As for the LMS data, I never use it as a form of assessment but have found that I like having it as a diagnostic tool–one of several in my arsenal that can help me best help my students.

It was with this background that I read John Warner’s piece last week on the madness of productivity trackers. He excoriates these trackers as not only a bad way of assessing productivity, but also actively harmful to knowledge work that requires hours of work that can’t be tracked by these tools without rigging an artificial mechanism to keep the system occupied while you actually get the work done. As Warner puts it, ” we are more than our ability to produce according to metrics counted by an algorithm.” He also rightly points out how LMS policies in college can serve as a training ground to normalize this sort of surveillance. This makes me wonder whether the marginal benefit I gain in helping my students is worth contributing to our present dystopia.

ΔΔΔ

I found this semester to be particularly difficult to prepare for. In part my struggle was the growing pain of designing and preparing a new course that is unlike anything I have taught before while, simultaneously, having events conspire to keep me from get the amount of rest I had intended. Put simply, I was tired. But a substantial portion of my exhaustion was not so much physical as feeling emotionally drained from the fire hose of devastation that seems to be going on in the world, from historic drought to continuing pandemic, to vaccine denial bringing about the return of awful disease thought eliminated by modern technology, to the fever pitch of nasty politics, to the crisis of climate change. All systemic problems where the proposed solutions range from personal responsibility to nothing whatsoever. Not good.

In his book Radical Hope, Kevin Gannon writes about the importance of hope as a pedagogical obligation because this is not a job that one should do if they don’t have at least a glimmer of optimism about the future.

I spent most of this summer not feeling a whole lot of hope. I’m still not, in a lot of ways. But this is also not a job that one can do without hope and I often find that I can see that hope most clearly when I’m working with my students. This is very likely going to be a challenging semester, but one day into the semester and I can already start to see the glimmer of that hope rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The world might be burning, but that doesn’t mean we can just let it burn. Only by working together can we start to heal.

Production and Consumption

I have a friend from graduate school who lived in terror of one of our professors. I’m only exaggerating a little bit for effect. This professor had a reputation for being particular about grammar and style, and he regularly made graduate students go through each other’s reviews with, as he might say, a fine-tooth red pen. When you didn’t catch enough mistakes in each other’s work, it was an indication that you weren’t reading carefully enough. Sitting through these exercises could be deeply uncomfortable, but the pressure also forced you to become a better writer.

My friend dreaded these sessions, so you can imagine his terror when it came time to submit his thesis. He spent hour after hour combing through his work to root out every grammatical and stylistic misstep he could think of, fretting about what this professor might say. After my friend had passed on the day of his oral defense, that professor came up to him to point out an error on the cover page.

He had misspelled his name.

Not to minimize the stress my friend felt leading up to that moment, typos like these are functionally inconsequential. Even in published work, typographical errors say more about the process of production than they do about the author, and I am generally loathe to bring them up in book reviews unless there are an egregious number or they substantially affect the experience of reading the piece. Obviously, the goal is to have an error-free manuscript, but to typo is to be human.

I also have been thinking about these anxieties again with respect to a writing funk I have been in these past few weeks.

What happened, basically, is that as soon as I returned my copy-edited book manuscript I started to stumble across references to recent scholarship that I ought to have included. These are obviously more serious concerns than typos, but none of these pieces would fundamentally change the argument I make in the book so much as they would have added a bit more nuance to roughly five paragraphs and/or footnotes in a manuscript that eclipsed 100,000 words. And yet, coming across these citations triggered all of my anxieties about where I received my degree and working as an extremely contingent scholar for the last few years. As much as I stand by my work, I have recently been more concerned about how it’ll be received than excited that my first book has a preliminary release date.

(My partner has informed me that I’m not allowed to fret about how the book will be received until after it is released, at which time if the anxiety returns she will direct me to sleep on the porch.)

What I am wrestling with is the difference between consuming things and producing things. Consuming even the densest scholarship is relatively easy, given adequate time and determination. By contrast, producing things is hard. A short article could have taken the author months of reading or excavation, weeks of writing and rewriting, and several rounds of feedback from people at scholars, early readers, and referees. In other words, something that took half an hour to read very likely took the author weeks, and could have literally taken years, for the author to produce. Writing a book, I have found, only magnifies the asymmetry between these two processes.

This is neither a novel observation nor even the first time I have reflected on it. However, the stakes feel higher this time, both because carrying an extended argument across a book-length project requires wrangling many more threads than does making an argument in an article and simply because this is my first book project.

My book will not be perfect. Then again, neither are any of the books I have reviewed, and I have never reviewed a book I truly disliked—while some other books that I think are awful have received broadly positive reviews. All of this is to say that fixating on those handful of pages where I might have done a little more is distracting me from recalling the things that I think I did very well and the places where I think I am making important contributions.

But this anxiety has also had the insidious effect of pulling me away from doing other writing, even in this space. This is a problem because I have a variety of projects I need to finish, but, really, I’d just like to be able to focus on the process again. Perhaps reminding myself of the difference between producing and consuming will do the trick.

May Reading List and an update on my 2022 reading goal

Back in January I set out a goal to read one article every working day that was not explicitly linked to my research. The idea was that my academic reading had become too narrowly focused on books and thus that I was missing out on some of the richness of the field.

One article shouldn’t be too onerous, I thought. And yet, I found even one article increasingly unmanageable as the semester wore on, particularly when many of the articles that looked interesting (how I tended to choose what to read) were forty or more pages long—or, in some cases, required ILL requests to access them.

I had hoped that my energy for this project would return with the end of the semester, but the reality is that the start of my summer has been characterized by an all-consuming combination of busyness and torpor brought on by the exhaustion of the semester. The five articles I read in May (listed below) turned out to be the last gasps of my semester routine. While I have made good a good start on other reading goals, I have yet to read a single article in June.

In the spirit of doing less, along with a number of more pressing tasks on my to-do list, I am putting this project on hold for the remainder of this summer and will revisit it in the new semester. In the meantime, I’ll keep tracking what I read and consider anything from this summer bonus.

The May List

  • Scott Lawin Arcenas. “The Silence of Thucydides.” TAPA 150 (2020): 299–332.
  • Mira Green. “Butcher Blocks, Vegetable Stands, and Home-Cooked Food: Resisting Gender and Class Constructions in the Roman World.” Arethusa 52, no. 2 (2020): 115–32.
  • Alexandra Bartzoka. “The Vocabulary and Moments of Change: Thucydides and Isocrates on the Rise and Fall of Athens and Sparta.” Pnyx 1, no. 1 (2022): 1–26.
  • David Morassi. “War Mandates in the Peloponnesian War: The Agency of Athenian Strategoi.” GRBS 62, no. 1 (2022): 1–17.
  • Morgan E. Palmer. “Time and Eternity: The Vestal Virgins and the Crisis of the Third Century.” TAPA 150 (2020): 473–97.

Thinking Through Course Design

On my ever-growing to-do list for this summer is thinking through the design of three new (to me) classes for next year. The most imminent—an interdisciplinary seminar on food and drink in the ancient mediterranean that I’m offering in the fall—is, ironically the one I am least worried about of the three. Its proximity means that I have already given the course a decent amount of thought, have already ordered a course reader, and have a good sense of the outcomes I am expecting the students to come away with.

I am having more trouble envisioning these same features of the upper-level survey courses on Rome and ancient Persia set to run in the spring semester—for not entirely dissimilar reasons.

By its next iteration, my Archaic and Classical Greek History course will likely reach a rough equilibrium that takes students through three interlocking units. The first one will deal with an introduction to Ancient Greece, its place in the mediterranean world, and social and political institutions down to roughly 500; the second unit engages with war, empire, and imperial culture down to roughly 404, and then the third unit takes a thematic approach to society and culture, with a focus on the fourth century (300s) down to the foundation of the Hellenistic World.

No course of this sort can take a truly catholic approach to a society, but I have made deliberate choices in this course to generally eschew a blow-by-blow recounting of events like the Peloponnesian in favor of leading students through a sequence that gives them a broad understanding of major issues in Greek history. However, what made this most possible was limiting the chronology of the course to a totally manageable 500 years.

By contrast, my Roman history course is going to cover a minimum of 1,000—and maybe more. I am also the sole ancient historian in a small department and responsible for teaching a number of other courses means that I can’t divide “Roman History” into a two or three semester sequence.

And yet, despite these issues, the Roman history course is the less troublesome of the two. I know the mandate, the broad arc, and a lot of the resources that I can use. I am also brushing up on scholarship and have several syllabus models that I think will work for what I envision.

I am facing more foundational issues in coming to my Persian history course. When I first imagined teaching such a course, I envisioned a deep-dive into Achaemenid Persia as a counterpoint to my Greek history course. It would start with the regal traditions of Western Asia, tackle dynastic and institutional issues, explore the historiographical issues of the many topics that are filtered through a Greek lens, and engage with the diverse cultures that flourished under Persia before culminating with the sticky issues of Alexander’s conquest. I even had the core textbook picked out, Maria Brosius’ A History of Ancient Persia: The Achaemenid Empire.

I absolutely course teach the course this way. There is more than enough material to fill a full semester, and I left the course description flexible for a reason.

However, I also course teach the course across three units, each covering a different ancient Persia—Achaemenid, Asakid Parthian, and Sasanian. Doing the course this way would cut into the amount of time that could be given over to the study, replacing them instead with themes of continuities, historical memory, and the diverse subject populations.

While I have a gut feeling that the latter approach would better fit in the cycle of courses that I teach, I also have some misgivings.

First, it would require significantly more preparation on my part simply by dint of my being less familiar with these empires than Achaemenid Persia. This is, of course, not a deal-breaker, and I have begun collecting resources in case this is the direction I end up going. My reading list as it currently stands can be found below, though I will need to supplement it with edited collections as well.

Second, while there are good options for books to use for Achaemenid history or Sasanian history (and, to a lesser extent Parthian history), there are to my knowledge no good options for resources that cover all three. Thus, a course of this model taught by Touraj Daryaee, whose history of the Sasanian Empire is an early leader for one that I might use, requires students to purchase four books—Ferdowsi’s Shahnehmah, histories of the Achaemenid and Sasanian empires, and a book of sources on Zoroastrianism—and compresses the Parthian empire into one week out of ten, just after the midterm exam.

My concern is that I am extremely sensitive to the price of my courses, almost to a fault. I can point out multiple occasions where I opted to assign an open-access version of a resource that I did not particularly like rather than ask my students to purchase yet another book and generally not assigning complete monographs in order to keep the cost of my course to roughly $50 dollars worth of materials. I was reminded by colleagues that textbooks in STEM routinely run into the hundreds of dollars, so I should not feel guilty if my courses occasionally creep north of $100 as this one is threatening to do, but I still find myself wrestling with these decisions.

I have a little bit of time, at least, and all of these are reasons to be working on course planning so far in advance. Both of these syllabuses will be ongoing projects this summer, so I welcome suggestions or recommendations.

An Ancient Persia Reading List (post Achaemenid)

  • Matthew Canepa, The Two Eyes of the Earth (California 2009)
  • Uwe Ellerbrock, The Parthians (Routledge 2021)
  • Parvaneh Pourshariati (ed.) Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire (I.B. Tauris 2008)
  • M. Rahim Sheyegan, Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran (Harvard 2012)
  • M. Rahim Sheyegan, Arsacids and Sasanians (Cambridge 2011)
  • Touraj Daryaee, Sasanian Iran 224–651 CE: Portrait of a Late Antique Empire (Mazda 2008)
  • Touraj Daryaee, Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (I.B. Tauris, 2009)
  • Sauer Eberhard (ed.), Sasanian Persia: Between Rome and the Steppes and Eurasia (University Press, 2017)
  • Marek Jan Olbrycht, Early Arsakid Parthia (Brill 2021)
  • Vesta Sakhosh Curtis, Michael Alram, Touraj Daryaee (edd.), The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires (Oxbow 2016)

March Reading List

Back in January I laid out an ambitious reading goal for 2022: one article per working day, and resolved to write a wrap-up monthly recap post for accountability. March proved a challenge for a whole host of reasons so the total is much lower than I would have liked. April is looking worse, if anything, but I’m hopeful that I can get back on track over the next week.

Without further ado here is the list, divided once more into my favorite articles (honorable mentions) and the rest of the list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Sofie Remijsen, “Only Greeks at the Olympics? Reconsidering the rule against non-Greeks at ‘Panhellenic’ Games,” C&M 67 (2019): 1–61.

The rest of the list

  • Marcaline J. Boyd, “Sleeping with the Tyrant: Thebe the Tyrannicide and the Death of Alexander of Pherae in Plutarch’s Pelopidas,” Histos 15 (2021): 131–49.
  • Peter A. O’Connell, “How Often Did the Athenian Dikasteria Meet? A Reconsideration,” GRBS 60, no. 3 (2020): 324–41.
  • Piotr Głogowski, “Cyrus the Younger and his Persians: the dynamics of power,” GRBS 60, no. 2 (2020): 165–91.
  • Elizabeth Carney, “Royal Macedonian Widows: Merry and Not,” GRBS 59 (2019): 368–96.
  • Sarah Morris and John Papadopoulos, “Of Granaries and Games: Egyptian Stowaways in an Athenian Chest,” Hesperia Supplements 33 (2004): 225–42.
  • Loren J. Samons II, “Herodotus on the Kimonids: Peisistratid Allies in Sixth-Century Athens,” Historia 66, no. 1 (2017): 21–44.
  • Anastasios Nikolaidis, “Revisiting the Pylos Episode and Thucydides’ ‘Bias’ Against Cleon,” C&M 69 (2021): 121–50.
  • Cinzia Bearzot, “Political Murder in Classical Greece,” Ancient Society 47 (2007): 37–61.
  • Timothy Sorg, “Agyrrhios Beyond Attica: Tax-Farming and Imperial Recovering in the Second Athenian League,” Historia 64, no. 1 (2015): 49–76.
  • Joshua D. Sosin, “Ransom at Athens ([Dem.] 53.11),” Historia 66, no. 2 (2017): 130–46.
  • Etka Liebowitz, “Female Monarchal Succession in Hellenistic and Jewish Society in Antiquity: Parallels and Contrasts,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 49, no. 1 (2018), 30–48.

Previous Months

January, February

February Reading List

Back in January I set an ambitious reading goal for 2022, one article read per working day, and resolved to do a monthly wrap-up for accountability. I am generally happy with the returns even though some busyness in my schedule at the end of February caused me to fall a little bit short this month as well.

Without further ado, here is the list and a handful of honorable mentions for the favorite things I read.

Honorable Mentions

  • David Lewis, “Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories,” Classical Quarterly 61 (2011): 91–113
  • James Roy, “The Son of Pharnabazos and Parapita, A Persian Competing in the Olympic Games: Xenophon Hellenica 4.1.39–40,” Classica et Mediaevalia 68 (2020): 119–34
  • Dominique Lenfant, “Eunuchs as the Guardians of Women: Orientalism and Back Projection in Modern Scholarship,” Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 61 (2021): 456–74

The List

  • Anna Novokhatko, “The Wetted Sponge, the Wretched Rho, and other Greek evidence for Scribal Work,” Glotta 96 (2020): 148–73
  • V.L. Konstantinopoulos, “The Persian Wars and Political Conflicts in Athens,” British Institute of Classical Studies 124 (2013), 63–5
  • Rachel Bruzzone, “Killing the Past in Thucydides’ Plataean Debate,” Classical Philology 110 (2015): 289–300
  • Andrew G. Scott, “Spartan courage and the social function of Plutarch’s Lacaonian apophthegms,” Museum Helveticum 74, no. 1 (2017): 34–53
  • Andrew T. Alwine, “Freedom and Patronage in Athenian Democracy,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 136 (2016): 1–17
  • Christina Skelton, “Greek-Anatolian Language Contact and the Settlement of Pamphylia,” Classical Antiquity 36, no. 1 (2017): 104–29
  • Garrett Ryan, “Building Order,” Classical Antiquity 37, no. 1 (2018): 151–85
  • John O. Hyland, “Contesting Marathon: Billows Krentz, and the Persian Problem,” Classical Philology 106, no. 3 (2011): 265–77 (review article)
  • Richard Rawles, “Lysimeleia (Thucydides 7.52, Theocritus 16.84): What Thucydides Does not Tell us about the Sicilian Expedition,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 135 (2015): 132–46
  • Christian Mann, “Campaign Agones: Towards a Classification of Grek Athletic Competitions,
    Classica et Mediaevalia 68 (2020): 99–117
  • Mait Kõiv, “Greek Rulers and Imperial Powers in Western Anatolia (8th–6th Centuries BC),” Studia Antiqua et Archaeologica 27, no. 2 (2021): 357–72
  • Aynur-Michele-Sara Karatas, “Greek Cults and Their Sacred Laws on Dress Codes,” Classical World 113, no. 2 (2020): 147–70
  • Krzysztof Nawotka, “Seleukos I and the Origin of the Seleukid Dynastic Image,
    Scripta Classical Israelica 36 (2017): 31–43
  • Marloes Deene, “Naturalized Citizens and Social Mobility in Classical Athens: the case of Apollodorus,” Greece and Rome 58, no. 2 (2011): 159–75
  • Benjamin M. Sullivan, “In the Shadow of Phoenicia: North Syria and “Palestinian Syria” in Herodotus,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 138 (2018): 67–79

Previous Months

January

Tenure, contingency, and academic speech, a maunder

A collection of thoughts from my friend Ellie Mackin Roberts caught my attention this morning scrolling through Twitter (not linked because she mentioned she might delete the thread). The higher ed union in the UK is currently on strike over pensions and EMR was reflecting on why she was having a hard time engaging with this strike despite being pro-union. The thrust of the thread was that her position as an hourly employee meant a) that she couldn’t afford to strike; b) that this employment and caring responsibilities largely cuts her off from full time positions, despite being an accomplished and published researcher; and c) that the full time faculty who benefit most from an improved pension scheme have, historically, not shown the same enthusiasm in fighting for pay equity for contingent faculty.

There is a vast gulf between the United Kingdom and United States on issues of organized labor, but the thread nevertheless struck a chord in terms of my evolving attitude toward tenure.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a tenured professor.

In fact, this year, my fifth out from receiving my PhD is the first that I had a full-year, full-time contract at one institution. I like my current job and would like to keep it as long as possible, but, frankly, I have all-but given up on hoping that I will ever win a tenure-track position based simply on how few of these positions come open each year. I will apply when I see good opportunities, of course, I’m just not holding my breath.

Perhaps because of this background, I am of two minds when it comes to the discourse around tenure. On the one hand, I have friends and colleagues who are tenured or tenure-track professors and attacks on tenure in Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere materially affect their jobs. On the other, the tenure system perpetuates a bifurcated system of compensation even though people at different ranks are largely doing the same job, particularly in the humanities.

(This is not just a matter of research expectations, either. People are different ranks will receive different per-course rates.)

The standard line about tenure is that it is an essential protection for free academic discourse. There is a kernel of truth here: tenure makes it more difficult to fire someone for teaching or publishing on potentially controversial issues. But I also find that defense rings hollow in a world where an ever-increasing percentage of the teaching is being done by people on annual, or even semester-by-semester, contracts. In a perfect world the solution would be to dramatically increase the number of tenured and tenure-track positions, but I have been hearing the same thing since I entered graduate school more than a decade ago and those positions only continued to disappear, even before Scott Walker kicked off the current wave of attacks on public institutions in 2015.

Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, and contingent contracts impose challenges to sustaining departments and disciplines, for all sorts of reasons. Students can’t expect to develop relationships with their teachers, contingent faculty spend more time applying for jobs which cuts into the available time for teaching and research, and the looming threat of non-renewal shapes how faculty teach in all sorts of ways, from how to tackle controversial issues to what risks they take in offering creative and innovative pedagogy.

This is why I get frustrated when I see outlets like Lawyers, Guns, and Money respond to a speech where Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, proposes ending tenure in public universities by commenting that tenure will cease to exist in Red States in the coming years. This observation is clearly true and has been for a while, but Patrick’s proposal is a means to an end, part of a sustained attack on education and academic discourse divorced from the reality of what happens in a classroom and designed to teach a carefully curated vision of the world. While tenured faculty have long been a target of these efforts, they also represent a declining percentage of the overall faculty population.

My point is not to that we should strip anyone of tenure or the protections it affords, but that treating tenure as synonymous with free academic discourse seems to be asking a lot of people doing this work to defend a system that does not afford them the same protections. Should this not be reason fight for improved conditions of employment for contingent faculty and to insulate them the pressures of this current culture war? If nothing else, it might cushion the landing when politicians like Patrick succeed in destroying the current system.

Publishing While Contingent

Earlier this month at the annual SCS meeting I attended a roundtable on the future of academic publishing. The conversation ranged widely, from the relative lack of opportunities to receive comments on written work before it is published to discipline-specific series adjusting to meet interdisciplinary work to the need both to teach reviewers how to give useful reviews and teach young academics how to receive feedback productively.

I found the discussion stimulating. But I also kept coming back to what I thought was an elephant in the room.

The panelists had brought contingent faculty up in passing, talking about the systems for compensating the unpaid labor of reviewing that goes into academic publishing. Most journals simply don’t have the money to pay reviewers and one of the challenges facing the field at the moment is the diminishing pool of people who can provide feedback. The panelists were (rightly) wary of exploiting junior colleagues with limited resources by asking them to commit large amounts of time for which they cannot be paid. I appreciated this sentiment, but I was also thinking about how simply excluding this potential pool of reviewers also creates a two-tiered system that requires more and more out of a smaller and smaller set of people while leaving other people outside of potential opportunities that could be found by this sort of networking.

Now, reviewing is not a silver bullet. To this point in my career, I have had one opportunity to review a manuscript (I was paid a small sum to review a book manuscript for a book being rereleased and is due out this summer) and it did not magically open any doors for me. Rather, in this context, reviewing seemed to me to be a microcosm of a larger issue where if people in editorial positions (here I was particularly thinking of scholars who edit journals) routinely don’t incorporate people in contingent positions into these processes and networks of academic publishing even out of reasonable concerns over unpaid labor, will this in time lead to a comparable shrinkage of people who are offered opportunities to participate in edited volumes, curated collections, and the like?

I don’t have an answer. Asking for labor from people who receive no tangible benefit for doing it isn’t the answer, but neither is simply cutting them out of the process.

In truth, very few scholars intend to stay contingent. There are scholars who publish brilliant work while working outside of academia and there are those in secure positions. Being between those two poles is a temporary limbo with few of the opportunities of either—except that the current state of higher education has turned it into the new normal, and you can’t publish your way out of that. To my mind, this makes it even more imperative to at least invite contingent faculty members into these systems of academic publishing. Many might decline the invitation, but choosing not even to extend it simply reifies the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Part of the solution, I think, has to be advocating for improved working conditions for all faculty. Not only would this add to the pool of people who would be able to contribute to these forms of academic labor, but it could also help open space for different types of academic writing since there is some truth to the idea that contingency offers a perverse freedom to one’s writing since you are not judged on the same standards and schedules as tenure-line faculty.

(I have maundered a bit on this topic in the past, most notably when considering what I would write if I stopped pursuing academic employment.)

I have been thinking about this panel again recently while working on the preface for my first book. A preface is supposed to tell the story of the book and offer some reflection on those people and institutions who helped you create the finished product. I have always had a strange affection for prefaces and usually at least skim them because this is where the formal academic tone drops and the person comes through, at least to an extent. I had fun with the acknowledgements and bio for my dissertation, mostly because nobody told me that I couldn’t, but I am finding this part of the book harder to write.

Many first books follow a common template in their acknowledgements:

This is a revised version of my dissertation. Revisions began at X post-doctoral fellowship [or visiting assistant professorship] and completed with the generous support of Y current, full time job that awarded me a research leave and paid for travel, etc, etc.

Not all of these steps are equal, of course. Most post-doctoral positions offer more support than most VAPs, but it is easy to thank either of them when they were a stepping-stone to a tenure-line position.

I am extremely grateful for the support of my colleagues at my current job, but an unvarnished recounting of the conditions that birthed this book would be quite a bit different. Revisions started during two years of a half-time position (no benefits) that provided a standard amount of research funding for the department that was enough to go to a conference each year, but too little for a major research trip and with too little pay to do much more than survive. Plenty of time to write and access to a library, but not much else. They continued during a year of cobbling together employment from different sources, teaching five or six courses at a time (no benefits, no research funds, little time to write). Then during the pandemic, which left me temporarily unemployed, followed by a semester where I taught five classes (four entirely new preps) at three institutions and another semester of four classes at two institutions (no research funds, limited library access, benefits from my partner’s job).

I also found a lot of this employment isolating in the sense that I was often teaching far outside my field and without colleagues in any meaningful sense. The internet helps bridge some of the geographic distance, of course, but it cannot replace physical contact, particularly when you are starting from the outside. Of course, I am hardly the first person to face this challenge. In the preface to his Conquest and Empire (1988), the historian Brian Bosworth wrote:

My obligations are few and many…I have been forced to work in geographical isolation, and my physical contacts with other scholars have been confined to brief periods of leave. That means that my writing is perhaps more personally oriented than it might have been, and I cannot make acknowledgements of direct assistance.

He then goes on to name a series of eminent historians who influenced his thinking and thanks his institution for their support.

I don’t want to put any of my past employers on blast. I took the one course from a local community college, for instance, because I thought that it might help land a full-time job teaching at a community college down the line, not because I expected that it would help me finish my book. At the same time, it has not been an easy road to get to this place. I did it because I wanted to write this book and I am proud of the work I have done, but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been easier with more time and resources.

I am finding this a difficult thing to balance. I have people I want and need to thank, but I also don’t want to white-wash the experience of writing this book with some trite pablum about my tenuous academic employment. A discussion like this might lack for social grace, but at least it would be honest.