Thursday, March 26, 2009

At least I don't have as much grading?

I am not interested in adjudicating students' requests for extensions. I just have no interest in deciding whether the reason for an extension request is a good or bad one. So instead, the policy in my course is that they can have [x] number of extensions per semester, no questions asked, as long as they inform me in writing that they're taking the extension. Still, I was somewhat startled yesterday to find that, of the 36 students in the class, only 6 actually handed in the essay, and the rest requested extensions. Hm. 

In other news, it turns out I don't have pneumonia. In fact, the cold seems to be going away, and the cough seems less frequent, so I may actually be getting...better!

Monday, March 23, 2009

End of spring break

Back to work today, though as I mentioned only one of my two classes resumes this week. Maybe that means I can ease back into the routine?

Unfortunately, my dr. thinks I might have walking pneumonia. And over the weekend I developed yet another cold. Joy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring break progress report

More than midway through now--how am I doing?

1) Finish revisions on long-suffering article so I can resubmit it: not at all. Bad academic.

2) Write recommendation letter for student mentioned in last post: drafted
3) Grade small stack of papers: not actually due until Mar. 31
4) Write comments I promised to a few students ages ago: mostly done
5) Figure out how to rearrange the rest of my course schedule to make up for our snow days: done
6) Skim/peruse books that I'm considering for next year's courses: only a little

7) Tidy up and dust: made some progress
8) Clean the bathroom and kitchen: partly done
9) Clean up my desk: nope

10) Hang out with the spouse (also on break): Yes! Hurray!
11) Visit nearby exhibit: on tomorrow's docket
12) Whatever else strikes my fancy: have done plenty of whatever!

The article is the major failing here. I'm just having trouble getting back into it, after shelving it to deal with the job search and being sick much of the winter.

Next week I have kind of an odd half-break; of my two teaching jobs, one resumes next Monday, and the other will still be on break next week. That should give me some extra time to finish up the revisions and the grading as needed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Were medieval nuns "lesbian-like"?

This post is building on the ongoing conversation about Judith Bennett's History Matters. See part 1, part 2, and part 3. Thanks to Notorious for starting this up--great idea!

First off, I think this is a great book, immensely thought-provoking. I should also clarify that I read the book a year or two ago, and now can't find my copy, so I haven't fully refreshed my memory.

But, as I remarked in the comments to Tenured Radical's post, I have some concerns about the use of "lesbian-like" to describe medieval women, particularly medieval nuns. I can see the attraction to the term: nuns did, after all, live in primarily-female communities, and so often had their closest relationships with other women. Bennett's discussion of the term also reminds me of the need to avoid heteronormativity, which can be easy to slip into.

Nonetheless, I have some qualms. One is that I've encountered a number of people who were already eager to assume that medieval nunneries were hotbeds of women having sex with each other. Many of them were undergraduates, true, but not all; I fear that introducing "lesbian-like" only reinforces some of the more titillating notions about medieval nuns. That alone wouldn't put me off, though.

Second qualm is that women's monasteries in the Middle Ages were, in fact, not always, or even typically, female-exclusive communities. Nuns had male chaplains, confessors, and other priests on hand; some nunneries had attached communities of lay brothers; lay men did construction, farming, or other manual labor around nunneries. So, at many communities, men went in and out quite regularly. Plus, while many nuns, perhaps even most nuns, did have their primary emotional relationships with other women, there must have been many nuns who viewed men as their primary friends and emotional supports. Hildegard of Bingen's male secretary, Volmar, seems to have been a trusted aide and confidant; Elisabeth of Schonau was very close with her brother; numerous later medieval nuns had strong emotional ties to their confessors. So even on the level of emotional, rather than sexual, intimacy, many medieval nuns had important relationships with men.

Even beyond that, nuns were supposed to direct their energies--emotional, sexual, and spiritual--toward God. Much spiritual literature aimed at nuns invoked the image of a nun as Christ's bride. As I've discussed before, this was not just metaphor, but literalized. Many people, including a great many nuns and their spiritual advisors, viewed nuns as the literal brides of Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom. Nuns' relationship with Jesus could be somewhat eroticized as well as emotionally affecting and intimate. (A digression: what would that have been like for a nun whose sexual desires were for women? would she have found the bearded Jesus on the cross alienating rather than fulfilling? might she have fixed on more feminized aspects of Jesus in her personal spiritual journey?) The generally masculine figure of God was, then, theoretically at the center of nuns' existence, which perhaps makes them seem not so lesbian-like after all.

In the area of sexuality, I think a case can be made that, in the Middle Ages, virginity was a sexual identity. Whereas modern secular culture tends to view virginity as a temporary phase of life, to be moved past in one's youth, for medieval people it was a state to aspire toward, to protect vigilantly, to be constantly aware of. The preservation of virginity (or chastity) was a vital part of nuns' identity. How would this affect any sexual orientation on the part of nuns? If a nun had taken vows as a young girl, to what extent was she even aware of her other sexual preferences?

As discussed by Bennett, the term "lesbian-like" does raise some important issues of interpretation and things to think about. But for all the above reasons, I think it's too easy to apply to medieval nuns, and doesn't do enough to reflect the real complexities of nuns' daily lives.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring break plans

My spring break has just begun. Here are some of the things I'd like to get done in the next week:

1) Finish revisions on long-suffering article so I can resubmit it

2) Write recommendation letter for student mentioned in last post
3) Grade small stack of papers
4) Write comments I promised to a few students ages ago
5) Figure out how to rearrange the rest of my course schedule to make up for our snow days
6) Skim/peruse books that I'm considering for next year's courses

7) Tidy up and dust
8) Clean the bathroom and kitchen
9) Clean up my desk

10) Hang out with the spouse (also on break)
11) Visit nearby exhibit
12) Whatever else strikes my fancy

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to request a recommendation

Yesterday I got a packet requesting a recommendation from a former student. The packet was astounding and delightful: it was everything I could have wanted to write her a great recommendation and more. Here's what the student did:

--emailed me ahead of time to let me know the stuff was coming, reminding me of which class of mine she was in
--included a detailed letter explaining her current situation and plans, thus why she's requesting the recommendation
--included a current resume
--included the appropriate form, and a pre-addressed stamped envelope
--included a printout from the website of the program she's applying to; this describes the program and its core courses, so I have a good sense of what its demands are
--included a copy of a paper she wrote for my class; this is in fact a photocopy of the version I returned to her, so my marginal comments are on it as well

So I have here everything I need to write her a detailed and useful letter. I was already pleased to recommend the student, and now I'm extra delighted. Now I can and will also mention how extremely organized, thorough, and considerate she is. The recommendation I will write her will glow in the dark.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The job

Thanks for the good wishes, everyone!

I'm trying to figure out how much I feel comfortable saying about the job in this space. The college I'll be working at has certain quirks that are fairly distinctive, so including the relevant details would make it fairly easy to figure out my real-life identity. Then again, it's not that hard to do that if you're sufficiently motivated, since I've been pretty open about my research interests.

But some details that are less specific:
--I'll be teaching both medieval and early modern history, pretty much half and half. Basically, if something happened in Europe between the years 500 and 1700, it's my bailiwick. I haven't had to teach early modern for a couple of years, so I'll need to brush up. If anyone has suggestions for Renaissance/Reformation/early modern readings for undergrads, I'd welcome them.

--My department is really small. All members seem to get along well, unless they've been pretending for my benefit. Tips on navigating a small department also welcome.

--I won't have any advisees or committee assignments in the first year, so I have more time to figure out those aspects of the job.

--The college has a medieval & Renaissance studies program which apparently needs new life breathed into it. Suggestions on attracting students and/or inspiring an interdisciplinary program are very welcome!

Monday, March 2, 2009

I got the job

I actually got the job.

It's a great job for me. It fits really well with my priorities, and my (future) colleagues seem really nice. I'm delighted to have accepted the offer.

I was originally going to make some comments on the job market in this post, but they rapidly got more complain-y than I was comfortable publishing. So suffice it to say: I've been on the job market now for many years. It's taken me as long to get a tenure-track offer as it took me to get a Ph.D. in the first place. I've actually been quite lucky, in that I've had very solid and generally enjoyable temporary teaching jobs in the meantime. But I am ecstatic to finally have that tenure-track offer.

Snow Day

Classes are cancelled...what's a professor to do?

--figure out how to rearrange the schedule to compensate for this missing day
--do the prep for tomorrow morning's class
--try to get ahead by writing up assignments for future weeks
--ponder submitting an abstract for next year's Medieval Academy meeting

I'm finally healthy, or close enough to make very little difference, so I hope to be returning to more regular posting here this month.