Wednesday, December 31, 2008

one nice thing about the academic job market

Four years ago:

visited 21 states (42%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or try another Douwe Osinga project


visited 32 states (64%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or try another Douwe Osinga project

It would be nice if fewer of them had been flying visits involving constant pressure to impress people, but one can't have everything.

ETA: I don't know why Maine keeps getting cut off, but the last time I tried to do this, it cut off the whole eastern third of the US, so I guess this version is an improvement. (I have not been to Maine, for the record.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas / MLA good wishes

A belated merry Christmas to everyone who's reading this, and good luck to everyone who's headed out to MLA this weekend!

It occurs to me that in the Regency romance of the academic job market, I have become the Elder Sister Who Married the Poor Curate, and consequentially can be of no help whatsoever in bringing the younger ones Into Society. But you do have my very good wishes for a successful Season.

Or, to employ a somewhat less embarrasing comparison: may you have a fine three days of hunting, catch the deer, boar, fox, or knight of your choice, and have to exchange your winnings with nobody.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feeling lazy...

Here I am in Parentland. I'm staying for three weeks. Theoretically, this makes a lot of sense, as there is no particular reason for me to be in Deep South Town over winter break; our little library is unimpressive, the campus will be closed for most of the break anyway, and the most exciting thing to do in town is visit the Super Wal-Mart.

So why do I find it so difficult to get any work done in Parentland?

I would be feeling less guilty about this if I were actually partaking of the delights of Big East Coast City, but in fact, I have mostly stayed in the house re-reading children's books and enjoying the wireless Internet. For some reason, every time I visit my folks, my brain seems to turn into mush. I have three brand-new classes to prep and a paper to write for SAA, but neither of these things is happening at any noticeable speed. Nor have I bought any Christmas presents, because somehow, the "Christmas = four days from now" equation is just not computing.

Is anyone else feeling completely lazy, too?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy 400th birthday, Milton!

... which I wouldn't know about if Flavia and Lea hadn't reminded me, but hey, gratutous poetry posts are always good.

I am not a huge Milton fan, but I am fond of the end of Book 11 of Paradise Lost.

A Dove sent forth once and agen to spie
Green Tree or ground whereon his foot may light;
The second time returning, in his Bill
An Olive leafe he brings, pacific signe:
Anon drie ground appeers, and from his Arke
The ancient Sire descends with all his Train;
Then with uplifted hands, and eyes devout,
Grateful to Heav'n, over his head beholds
A dewie Cloud, and in the Cloud a Bow
Conspicuous with three listed colours gay,
Betok'ning peace from God, and Cov'nant new.
Whereat the heart of Adam erst so sad
Greatly rejoyc'd, and thus his joy broke forth.

O thou that future things canst represent
As present, Heav'nly instructer, I revive
At this last sight, assur'd that Man shall live
With all the Creatures, and thir seed preserve.
Farr less I now lament for one whole World
Of wicked Sons destroyd, then I rejoyce
For one Man found so perfet and so just,
That God voutsafes to raise another World
From him, and all his anger to forget.
But say, what mean those colourd streaks in Heavn,
Distended as the Brow of God appeas'd,
Or serve they as a flourie verge to binde
The fluid skirts of that same watrie Cloud,
Least it again dissolve and showr the Earth?

To whom th' Archangel. Dextrously thou aim'st;
So willingly doth God remit his Ire,
Though late repenting him of Man deprav'd,
Griev'd at his heart, when looking down he saw
The whole Earth fill'd with violence, and all flesh
Corrupting each thir way; yet those remoov'd,
Such grace shall one just Man find in his sight,
That he relents, not to blot out mankind,
And makes a Covenant never to destroy
The Earth again by flood, nor let the Sea
Surpass his bounds, nor Rain to drown the World
With Man therein or Beast; but when he brings
Over the Earth a Cloud, will therein set
His triple-colour'd Bow, whereon to look
And call to mind his Cov'nant: Day and Night,
Seed time and Harvest, Heat and hoary Frost
Shall hold thir course, till fire purge all things new,
Both Heav'n and Earth, wherein the just shall dwell.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Not as bad as I expected": some final musings on the Brit Lit survey

Yes, this is another teaching post. Yes, the semester is over, grades are turned in, I have wine and Christmas music and a nice beef stew simmering on the stove, and I really should be posting about something other than teaching. But I can't resist one more post about the Literature Survey from Hell, even though I should have exorcised it by now.

On a whim, and because I wanted some feedback about what to keep or toss next year, I threw in a three-point extra credit question on the final exam: What was your favorite piece we read this semester, and why?

I discovered three things: 1) Twelfth Night and The Canterbury Tales were the runaway favorites; 2) a significant minority of students, perhaps half a dozen out of a class of 24, chose not to answer the question even though it was a complete freebie -- I don't know whether this means they couldn't think of anything they'd enjoyed, or they resented being asked for some reason, or what; 3) the ones who did answer the question had some interesting and quirky responses, many of which revealed more engagement than I would have expected from this group:

My favorite piece we have read this semester is "Lanval" by Marie de France. I loved it because I read it to my 14-year-old sister the first time I read it. I was just going about reading it nonchalantly and all of a sudden I got to the point where the mysterious woman is in a sheer gown trying to seduce Lanval. Both of our ears perked up because it seemed like some sort of medieval soap opera...

My favorite piece was Twelfth Night. I like the irony in the piece. I like how at the time women were not yet allowed to act, yet here was a women acting like a man so well. She fooled everyone. I also liked how Shakespeare made the men look so dumb.

... The Dream of the Rood because there was so much emotion that came from it ... I cannot seem to forget it. The trials that the man goes through internally with the sacred tree is very memorable, and I believe I'll always remember that story.

... I really liked the York play because it showed the men who crucified Jesus as humans, not monsters. I am a Christian, so I feel as though I have an obligation to view the men who crucified Jesus as monsters. But I also must remember that as humans, we make bad decisions, and sometimes those decisions have consequences far beyond what our minds can grasp. And that seems to be what happened to these men. They were doing their job and will forever throughout history be looked at as monsters because of it.

... Thomas Wyatt's poetry. His words helped me with a situation I had been dealing with for some time now. It was truly inspirational to walk away from previous bad relationships and look for something better out there.

... I can even relate to poor Malvolio. We both like things to be just so, and we try out best to follow the rules. If Malvolio was real, I imagine that he and I would get along very well -- if Malvolio gets along with anyone, that is.

My favorite work was Canterbury Tales ... I also like the fact of that they are on a trip and just telling stories to past the time. It reminds me of what my family does when we go on long trips. Hearing each others stories some serious, and some funny.

I would have to go back to the beginning of the semester and go with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It had a great story and lesson that kept my interest ... I am not a literature fan at all, but this class was not as bad as I expected.

Ringing praise, that last one. But it was a useful reminder that most of them didn't want to be there and felt out of their depth in the literature classroom, that their silence wasn't necessarily about me -- and yet, so many of them seem to have been touched or intrigued by something we read. And that is good news, perhaps the best news I can hope for.

I have a great many reservations about the value of gen ed, at least as it's handled at Misnomer U., which has a huge and inflexible set of core requirements. It's rare to see a student taking a class for pleasure or curiosity; they have so many requirements, and so little time and money, that they can't afford to. I'm also skeptical about the value of giving students a smattering of a dozen different disciplines, usually in introductory courses watered down to the lowest common denominator, rather than encouraging them to pursue upper-level coursework in a field that genuinely engages their interest and complements their major. Besides, on a purely selfish level, I'd rather have classes that are half as big and filled with students who actually want to be there.

For the most part, my freshmen didn't share this skepticism when I brought up the subject in the comp classes; they were firmly convinced that Well-Roundedness Is Good, and many of them offered examples of required courses that had turned out to be useful, or interesting, or not as bad as they expected. So evidently this model does work, at least for some of the students some of the time -- and it also translates into more jobs for English PhDs, so I really shouldn't complain.

And who knows? Maybe, if three-quarters of the class can name a text that they found memorable or funny or moving, from a long list of texts that they didn't know about or care about before, the gen ed lit survey has done what it's supposed to do for those students. I'm not sure that making them all into literary critics would be a desirable goal even if it were possible, but I think it is desirable to make everyone aware that men and women who have been dead for centuries might have something interesting to say to us (and might even be worth reading aloud to your fourteen-year-old sister).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


We are in the midst of exam week. I never know what to do with exam week, since I don't believe that exams are particularly useful pedagogically, not in literature and definitely not in comp. Neither the University of Basketball nor New SLAC held final exams in the comp classes, but Misnomer U. does, and as far as I can tell, the only thing they accomplish is confusing the freshmen. ("Why do we have an extra class at 8:00 on Friday morning? Why is it three hours long? What in the world is a blue book?") I reminded them about the exam period on both of the last two days of class, but so far, about half a dozen of the freshmen have e-mailed me to ask me when it was again. I referred them to their syllabus and to the exam schedule posted on the university web site. I wonder if it's a mistake to announce these things in class -- it seems to induce a kind of learned helplessness. On the other hand, this sort of thing is a useful reminder of how much implicit knowledge about the university I grew up with, and how much of that knowledge I tend to take for granted in my own students when I shouldn't. (I knew what a blue book was when I was FIVE, because my mother was an adjunct and she gave them to me to color in. Different world.)

The Shakespeare class was mostly very serious and focused, and a couple of my best students wrote for the full three hours. I feel good about making them banana bread, and I'm actually looking forward to reading their responses.

Some of the Brit Lit I students handed in their exams after half an hour. Half. An. Hour. For an exam that consisted of fourteen short-answer questions AND an essay that required them to discuss at least three different works. I advised them to spend at least an hour on the essay portion alone. Well, at least they will be short essays, and probably easy to grade. But good Lord, why do students whose grades are already marginal DO this to themselves? What are they thinking?

On the bright side, I read about 2/3 of Thomas Heywood's Rape of Lucrece during the Brit Lit exam. Nothing like two hours of enforced quiet time with no Internet access! (It is very different from Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece. For one thing, it is a musical. One of the songs is in Scottish dialect, never mind that the play is set in ancient Rome. Ah, Heywood, you are completely daft and I adore you.) Anyway, I feel ridiculously productive, although I'm pretty sure The Rape of Lucrece will not become part of the revised Magnum Opus, as all of the characters are a) Roman and b) aristocratic, which places it firmly outside of Magnum Opus territory. I do, however, need to write a conference paper on subversive ballad-singing in Renaissance drama, or some such.