Weekly Varia no. 9, 01/14/23

The last few days before the start of a semester exist in a strange state of limbo. On the one hand, these are days free from the rat race of the semester. On the other, they are also the last opportunity to prepare syllabuses and other course materials that brim with an exhilarating cocktail of potential and uncertainty.

I am feeling this state more than usual this semester because of how the last semester ended. I have been thinking about my course policies since in the middle of last semester and pecking away at my syllabuses for weeks, but these documents were nowhere near ready for distribution. Then, on Monday, we learned that one of my colleagues won’t be able to teach this semester. This development had little bearing on my classes other than to fill up my last few open seats, but there was also a suggestion that I might be asked to pick up an online US history survey either in the place of or on top of my other courses. More than the challenge of planning and deploying an online asynchronous class in a week, what I struggled with this week was the uncertainty around which courses I needed to be preparing.

My course list did not change, in the end, and I returned to the syllabuses I had at various states of completion. And to the more usual types of uncertainty: whether the course schedule will prove manageable, whether the readings I assigned will elicit the response I’m hoping for, and whether the tweaks to my course policies will work. Adding to this uncertainty is that I have an entirely new slate of courses, which offers both the struggle and the thrill of invention.

I don’t teach until Wednesday, though, so I’m spending this weekend and the first few days of next week putting all my ducks in a row.

This week’s varia:

Album of the week: Garth Brooks, “Ultimate Hits”

Currently Reading: Tochi Onyebuchi, Goliath; Uwe Ellerbrock, The Parthians

Facing an Avalanche: Weekly Varia, 12/3/22

The fall semester is rapidly drawing to a close and, despite some effort this semester to change the schedule on which students submit their assignments, I am finding myself staring down an avalanche of grading. Under the best of conditions I am deeply ambivalent about this time of year because it generally does not allow students to do their best work, and, this year, I already feel worn down from a semester that has been nothing but an endless cycle of grading.

There will be time for a semester debrief once it has ended. Not for the first time I have been reflecting this week on how much time it takes to grade the way I think grading ought to be done. There are, of course, grading systems that take little or no time on the part of the professor, but these are generally a concession to volume in large classes for what I am teaching rather than an ideal substitute for more labor intensive pedagogies. However, this also means that I have had less time to write, to say nothing to the knock-on effects of this grading like the reading and types of writing I do to find my writing voice again after reading student writing and the time it takes to switch modes. Some days recently I just haven’t had the brain space to make that transition and only one of these activities pays my bills.

This also means that I have a backlog of things I want to write about. Setting aside my academic writing, to which this also applies, I started writing a post about phantom time conspiracies this week, have been compiling my thoughts about both Andor and Rings of Power, and intend to write about at least three books I finished this semester and the one I am currently reading. Then there is a recap of #AcWriMo and a semester reflection. By a quick count, that is nine posts without including weekly varia, my annual end of year series, or any topics that might move me to write before the end of the year. Now, I wouldn’t expect to publish all of these posts before the end of the year even without the avalanche of grading, but simply having these things on the docket means that I feel the lack of time all the more acutely.

This week’s varia:

  • In September James Sweet, the president of AHA, published “Is History History?,” in the professional organization’s Perspectives magazine. The essay prompted an enormous amount of push-back online, leading David Frum to write favorably about Sweet’s position in The Atlantic. This week, Jonathan Wilson published a sensitive rebuttal to both in Clio and the Contemporary.
  • The Bryn Mawr Classical Review is the preeminent book review outfit for Classics, both for good and for ill. It is open-access and prestigious, but the place it holds in these systems also leads to controversy over its impact, what styles it allows (and who gets to write in what register), and editorial choices. I have volunteered to review books a half dozen or so times over the years and been turned down every time, but I nevertheless found of interest Clifford Ando’s reflection on process.
  • There is apparently a deal in the works to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece (BBC). These are friezes taken from Greece in the 19th century and Britain has refused to return them for decades on a variety of excuses and their return would be a welcome development.
  • Paul Campos at LGM Blog responds to the president of the United States asserting on Twitter that the Holocaust happened, as though this were legitimately in question. One critical point he makes: the problem with Hitler is not that he was possessed by demonic powers, which simultaneously makes him remarkable and takes him off the hook for his crimes. The Holocaust is what happens when the worst impulses and desires of people are heightened, enabled, and then realized.
  • A Florida school district tried to block a parent from doing a presentation to her child’s class about Channukah on the basis of the new Parent’s Bill of Rights, but they relented when the parent threatened to make an issue out of the school claiming that Christmas decorations were generically “holiday-themed” rather than an endorsement of Christmas.
  • Related, Paul Bowers writes in “Notes from a School Board Takeover” about how national rhetoric plays out in local communities when conservatives seize control of a school board and warp policy to reflect their political agenda. One of his most important observations: the people enacting these policies are immune to shame and don’t care about lost teachers. This is about the exercise of power.
  • San Francisco’s board of supervisors gave permission for police to arm potentially-lethal robots. Police assure the public that they have no plans to put guns on the robots, just explosives, as though that is much better.
  • A Qatari official put the body count of workers killed in stadium construction (ESPN) between 400 and 500, which is significantly higher than the official line of three dead in work related incidents and 37 others outside of the job.
  • College football is a deeply corrupt sport. All aspects of this corruption is currently on display at Auburn University, which just hired Hugh Freeze as its head coach. Freeze was fired from his job at Mississippi amid scandal and hasn’t done much better at Liberty. He also has a history of harassing critics and worse, while hiding behind bible verses, as Jason Kirk details in his latest newsletter. The latest Split Zone Duo podcast (with host Steven Godfrey who created the Foul Play docuseries about Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss) had, I thought, a compelling discussion of how sports media is allowing Auburn to rehabilitate Freeze’s image.

Album of the Week: Trampled by Turtles, “Alpenglow”

Currently Reading: Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go in the Dark; Emma Dench, Empire and Political Cultures in the Roman World