Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Academic Moving

Today I have been sorting through the last 5-6 years' worth of notes. Since I have to pay to ship these across the country, everything unnecessary must go.

Notes relevant to research I'll keep; likewise copies of articles, which I keep either for reference or because I may assign them in a class someday.

But do I really need to keep all my printed-out class notes? When the same files are on my hard drive? I tossed the ones for classes I don't anticipate teaching in the near future (or, perhaps, ever again), but I'm undecided about the others. 

Notes for graduate classes can also be purged, I suspect, especially since I haven't really looked at most of them in ages.

Terrifying discovery: my senior thesis. I'm afraid to look at it too closely.

Edited to add:

I did throw away student evaluations of my grad school teaching. I've taught my own classes for years now, no one cares how well I led discussion sections at the age of 25. Evaluations for my own older courses may go, too--I'm undecided.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm calling it done

There comes a time to just declare a piece of work done.

Sure, I could revise and edit and revise and edit and revise and edit some more. At this point I'm not sure how much that would actually improve the piece.

I have a couple more references to check. Why is that I still forget to write down the page ranges of articles? I know I'm going to need them in the references.

I also need to write the letter that goes with the article responding to the reviewers.

Neither of those things should be too time-consuming, so I should get it out sometime next week.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Teaching the 14th Century

This semester I taught a  "later" medieval history survey (1000-1500), which meant that the 14th century material was sandwiched between the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, and, well, the regular Renaissance. Judging from the final essays, what students remember about the 14th century is this:

  • the Black Death
  • famine
  • the Hundred Years' War
  • the Avignon papacy and the Great Schism

We did do some other things, I swear; we read some Boccaccio and Dante, we looked at Catherine of Siena, and I think there were a few other things in there. Yet clearly, for most of them, the takeaway from this century is death, corruption, and more death. 

The problem I have with this is not so much that their impression is incorrect as that it seems...incomplete. It leaves out a lot of interesting phenomena, such as lay literacy and devotion, and ignores that we can know a lot more about the lives of peasants and artisans from this period than about members of the same social groups in earlier centuries. One of the things I tried to do in this survey was show the complexities of events, and I think I succeeded with some portions of the course. We discussed problems with the idea of "renaissance," for example, and I think we managed a complex, multidimensional examination of the 12th and 15th centuries, and perhaps even the 13th.

Yet somehow, it seems very difficult to convey the complexity of the 14th century--or at least, very difficult to do so in the two or three weeks allocated to it in this survey. Any attempts I made to get beyond the Great Catastrophes of the 14th century just didn't sink in. Perhaps the spell of famine, plague, war, and death is just too difficult to break.

At present, I can easily imagine an upper-level seminar on the 14th century: that could be a great course, with the opportunity to really delve into some rich materials and explore the connections between everything that's going on in that period. But I'm still not sure how I would boil that century down into a concise unit without having the same results I saw this semester.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nearly there

All grades for one class are done. Grades for the other class are done except for the three who need to send me relevant files. This semester is almost officially over for me.

Some of the essays I read today unfortunately managed to hit my pet peeves: Progress, blithe but problematic assertions about periods we haven't covered, wild overgeneralizations.  Many of them also made me reflect on the difficulty of teaching the 14th century well. I have some thoughts brewing along those lines, so will try a more substantive post later.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

And so the grading begins

My students are really so, so lovely this semester. Conscientious, hard-working, generally a pleasure to have in the classroom. As of today, for example, they have all turned in their final assignments, except for the two who wrote me for special permission to turn the assignment in tomorrow. (In both cases, they are traveling, and extra time seems reasonable.) Many of them have also sent me pleasant notes telling me how they enjoyed the class.

The assignments themselves have been somewhat disappointing, however; in the ones I've read so far, people are consistently doing a little worse than their assignments from earlier in the semester. I suppose this is mostly the result of their having to do four or more final assignments at once.

13 grades down, 30 to go.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Approaching the finish line?

My students turn in papers tonight, so grading starts tomorrow. And I'm not going to Kalamazoo, unlike seemingly most of the other medievalist bloggers out there. In the meantime, I can continue plugging away on these revisions.

Today I finally had a bit of a breakthrough: I've substantially reorganized the introduction. I want to make extra-clear that I am not really making a general argument about liturgy, or even about Cistercian liturgy, in this essay, but rather just making an argument about how the liturgy works at this particular community.

I have a few other passages to fix--some additional references to work in. At that point I might be ready to send it back. I'll need to read over the whole thing again (sigh) to be sure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rethinking assignments

As the semester winds down, I tend to take stock of how classes went. Which assignments should I keep, alter, or abandon? What did my class need more or less of?

This semester my two classes went rather differently. One, a medieval history survey, was pretty polished, and I was generally happy with it; there were a few readings I thought I could have prepared to teach better, and I probably could have cut out an assignment or two.  The other, a course on medieval religion, was trickier. I'd not taught it before, and I didn't have a lot of time to prepare it before it started. I made a hasty plan, under the assumption that students would inject their own interests into the class to help direct it. I should know by now that one can never plan on that!

I also experimented with assignments a bit. I like the concept of one assignment I used, but I was not totally satisfied with the results. The idea was that, to gain some familiarity with different scholarship in the field, each student would choose a book and give a brief presentation on it. The presentations would kick off a class thematically tied to the book. 

The problem I had was that students mostly had trouble conveying the main concepts of their books accurately.  Presentations instead tended to be dominated by a series of interesting facts and anecdotes from the book, and then trail off. 

I do like the idea of the assignment, but I think it needs to be structured differently. I think I should require them to end by posing discussion questions, for one thing. I am not entirely sure how to teach them how to identify and describe the argument of a monograph, though--probably we will need to start with articles, work with those in class, and hope they can move up to a longer work from there.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Notes from the end of the semester

I have just one class left in this academic year. I'll be finishing up my contracts at both my current employers really, really soon. This sort of thing always makes me a bit pensive; I've liked my students, and I don't really expect to see most of them again. I've also had to tell them I'm not returning. Their disappointment is flattering, of course: take that, Person Who Got The Tenure-Track Job Here! I'm encouraging them to check out Person's classes, though, and telling them they can get in touch with me if they need anything.

Next week I'll teach that last class, and probably won't go back to that campus again, since it's a longish drive for me. I'll also go in to my other job to clean up my office. I share the office with a person I've never seen (we're there on alternate days). I'm not sure my office-mate actually comes in at all, since the contrast is so freakish. I've posted pictures on the walls; I have piles of library books and papers covering my desk area. He has a computer in his desk area, a pad of paper, a pan, and nothing else. By the end of the next week I'll get all the final assignments in, and within a week or so after that, I'll turn in the grades and be done.

Next fall I can move my books, papers, and other office stuff into my real and permanent office, where they can stay longer than a year; next spring I'll only have to say goodbye to the students who are graduating.