Publication Wrap 2020

I had a slow-ish publishing year in 2020, making this a second consecutive year of big plans and limited outcomes, but at least this year I had an excuse!

That is not to say that I didn’t have any progress; quite the opposite, in fact.

I had four short pieces come out this year. Two of these were book reviews:

  1. of Rosalind Thomas’ Polis Histories, which came out in CJ-Reviews online over the summer and was chosen to appear in the print version of the journal.
  2. of a recent translation of Jacqueline de Romilly’s Alcibiades, which came out in The New England Classical Journal this fall.

Two more were interview pieces:

  1. I talked about an inscription thanking immigrants to Athens for their service fighting against a tyrannical government in Athens for the Comfort Classics series run by Cora Beth Knowles.
  2. For the Society for Classical Studies blog I wrote about being a contingent faculty member in higher education and how the current situation is unsustainable.

I didn’t have any original research come out, but I did make headway on several projects. I effectively finished a chapter on the Athenian conquest of the island of Samos in 366 BCE for inclusion in a volume on the Athenian orators and their use of recent history and completed an article on fourth century Ephesus and its relationship to Alexander the Great for which I am looking for a home.

I also buried the lede to this post.

Back in October, I signed an advance contract with University of Michigan Press to publish a book tentatively titled Accustomed to Obedience?: Classical Ionia and the Aegean World, 480–294 BCE. This book is a heavily revised version of my dissertation so while I have quite a lot of work between now and when I’m supposed to submit the manuscript, let alone see the book come out, I am also very excited to have taken a very real step toward one of my professional ambitions.

For a full list of my publications, with links to everything available online, visit this page. If you are interested in reading any of my work and do not have access to it, please contact me.

Assorted Links

  1. Are You Smarter Than Your Grandfather– An article in the Smithsonian magazine that examines the rise in IQ scores over the last hundred years. The argument is largely that the environmental factors surrounding linguistic and scientific development of young people has led to a rise in IQ scores without necessarily an actual increase in “intelligence.”
  2. Istanbul’s Heritage: Under Attack– An article in the Economist about Istanbul’s world heritage status as there are plans for a suspension bridge across the Gold Horn that would obscure the skyline of the city and plans for a mosque in Taksim Square–facing the monument to Ataturk and the revolutionaries.
  3. Norwegian Fox Lured by Dying Rabbit App Steals PhoneA smartphone app summons foxes. When you leave the phone unattended, the fox will steal the phone…and evidently answer it when you call.
  4. Searching For Doggerland– A feature in National Geographic this month about relics and finds from Doggerland, the lowlying plains, once connecting Britain to Europe, but now covered by a shallow sea.
  5. Amherst College to launch the first open-access, digital academic press– A librarian at Amherst College is attempting to launch an all-digital, open access, peer reviewed academic press dedicated to the humanities. His stated purpose is to change the academic publishing industry in order to reduce costs and pressures on university libraries in tough fiscal times. Despite the limitations and hurdles to be cleared one school is taking action against the problems in academic publishing in the humanities. Hopefully the press will flourish–and that other like presses spring up elsewhere.
  6. A map…of every brothel, saloon, bar, and casino in the Levee District in Chicago from 1870-1905. Some of the highlights include “Satan’s Mile,” “Street of Whores,” and “W. 18th St. ( Wickedest Place in the USA)”

Assorted Links

  1. The Writing Revolution– From the Atlantic, this information that every educator, particularly those in the humanities, should take to heart. In short, it is the realization that schools have been failing to teach students how to logically compose their thoughts and use their own native language. Once the problem is identified, educators have begun to systematically teach language and writing composition from a young age. This is something I very much support since I often feel the need to teach this information to my students who have reached college without being able to write. Likewise, I feel that teaching these underlying skills will best prepare students for life.
  2. Anti-Japan protests: Outrage to a point– An article in the economist about a series of protests in China about Japan. Some of the people involved suspect that mixed in with the ever-present and historic tension between Japan and China is suppressed social unrest in China.
  3. Minnesota Twins Joe Mauer-A rosy account of the catcher Joe Mauer and his efforts to overcome injuries.
  4. Western Lifestyle Leading to Dangerous Bacterial Imbalances– An article in Spiegel suggesting that western lifestyles are leading to a number of health issues because essential bacteria transfers and growths are not taking place.
  5. Want to Change Academic Publishing?– An article in the Chronicle suggesting that academics should stop giving away labor to for-profit publishers on behalf of peer reviewed journals. The author’s idea is that work done for journals put out by non-profit presses could be considered pro bono, but if the press is in the business of making money (and limiting access to articles), then doing the work pro bono is absurd. Publishing peer reviewed writing is the toughest publishing job by academics and is done without immediate financial reward. I am not sure that a change is viable, at least in the short term, because articles help earn jobs so there is a sort of financial gain obliquely.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism-A piece run in the Guardian about how food and water shortages as the human population grows and environment becomes more volatile, people will have to drastically reduce the amount of animal products they consume (20% down to 5%, according the article).
  2. “We’re Not Going to Let Our Campaign Be Dictated by Fact-Checkers”-A story in the Atlantic that builds on a quote given by one of Romney’s political aids about facts, the media and politics. The articles concludes that the press (who he seems to think should be able “to stand above the fray”) is becoming bogged down in politics and the truth is reduced to something debatable. The gist of the argument I agree with, but the particulars I do not. Sometimes the truth is based on our own point of view, and the press is not a neutral arbiter.
  3. Bomb from World War II Detonated in MunichFrom Spiegel, a bomb from World War Two that authorities were unable to disarm was detonated in Munich.
  4. Self-published authors react with anger to ‘laziness’ charge-Sue Grafton described self-published authors as “too lazy to do the hard work” in an interview with her local newspaper. Independent publishers are less than pleased, and have responded to her charges that most of their work is amateurish.
  5. How Fighting Fantasy beat traditional games-A story in the Guardian that talks about Fighting Fantasy, role-playing games, and how the book market is increasingly responding to a cultural desire for competition and games.
  6. Mitt Romney, Business Thinking, and the Failure of Civilization– An excellent blog post about humanities and business, and why the liberal arts matter for a civilization. Hint: the author claims that it is because civilization can’t exist without the liberal arts, which constitute the defining elements of the culture and how it perceives itself.
  7. The Destruction of Krak des Chevaliers-Some embedded videos of the damage to Krak des Chevaliers, the crusader fortress in Syria. The fortress has been damaged in the fighting. For what it is worth, the blurb for the Wikipedia page calls it “one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world.”
  8. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Academics

An academic books I read the other day had the word “Crepuscular” in the very last sentence of a chapter. After puzzling at the sentence for a minute without knowing the definition, I decided that it made no sense and looked up the definition. It means “dim” or “of or like twilight.” Suddenly, the entire sentence made sense…and it turned out that the author was trying to say that without that particular historian, we would know little of the time period because no other sources survive. That’s it. Instead he had to write a sentence about how the knowledge of the time period would be crepuscular.1 It was reminiscent of a line from The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss) wherein Kvothe, the main character, comments that a particular philosopher writes as though he is afraid someone might understand what he is saying.

A day later, another academic book went on an extended lament about how the publishing industry does not particularly like academic books because they do not sell well, and, in instructions for a textbook he was writing, the publisher had recommended a causal tone, short sentences, small words, and that he not use foreign phrases in order that the students who would have to use the book would find it approachable.3 This seemed to be a sign that the academy was losing in a larger culture war, overtaken by transient fads and (shock!) the unwashed masses.2 Moreover, he claimed that this attack on intellect has breached the bastion that are academic journals. Suffice to say that I was not sympathetic to his lament.4

Somewhere along the line developed the notion that for something to be “smart” (in all its ambiguity), it must also be all but unintelligible. After all, if just anyone could understand your point, how would we know that you are smart? Sometimes books are difficult to understand because they are presenting really difficult ideas and topics, but more often they are merely jargon-y and obtuse for no particular reason–something that the previous author seemed to regard as a virtue. I venture that it is not, particularly in a field that is designed to educate people. Have a good vocabulary is a virtue, but so too the ability to convey information clearly and concisely.

The glorification of obtuse writing is something that is bought into by both the initiated academics and the lay-person. Several months ago a smart person who is not in graduate school asked me what I study, adding a request as an afterthought that I use words that he is capable of understanding. During the conversation he asked good questions and then, after I had finished, he remarked “I understood all those words!”

This was meant partly in jest and certainly not as a slight or even really praise toward me, but it was telling that after a short conversation with an academic that phrase was at all relevant. At the same time, I often feel that academics are defensive about their position in the world and therefore worship complex writing because it “proves” that we are smarter and better than other people. The need to cater to people who are not readily versed in a battery of French phrases and Latin terms offends the sensibilities because those people are forcing us to stoop to the level of everyone else. I think, though, that this says a lot more about our insecurities than it does about our intellect. It is perfectly acceptable to have a level of assumed knowledge as a prerequisite for academic work, but the idea that the ability to explain your ideas diminishes their intelligence is false. If anything, the ability to explain a complex or new idea in such a way that is intelligible makes that idea smarter.

I think that we would be better served working on our ability to explain our ideas than on writing another essay that is only comprehensible to insiders or (worse) complaining that the real world is cramping our style.5 This does not mean that there should not be books about the musicality of Theocritus, the poetics of Homer, or other obscure topics. These books should exist, but they should also be written in such a way that the uninitiated do not get a headache trying to read the title.6 Hoarded knowledge, hidden knowledge is of no use to anyone.


1 Later in the book he used “vertebrate” as a verb, in that “x vertebrated y with z.” The meaning of this was easy to come by, but I rolled my eyes at it nonetheless.
2 Okay, fine, he doesn’t actually seem worried about the non-bathers taking over the academy, so much as the people who do bathe, but who would rather watch the movie version, read Twilight, and get drunk while they stumble toward a degree and a mid-level bureaucracy position for a career.
3 I refer everyone to Orwell’s rules for writing at the end of Politics and the English Language, with particular emphasis on numbers two and five.
4 I have actually surprised people by supporting the publishing of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey because from a business perspective, the return on those books keeps companies in business and able to publish academic books. There is not a 1:1 correlation, but there is some.
5 I do not agree with them entirely, but Hanson and Heath in Who Killed Homer? are populists in this respect, too.
6 The Violent Body: Marxist Roots of Postmodern Homoerotic Mysticism and the Feminine Form in St. Augustine’s Confessions is actually a relatively benign example of this type of book.