It was perhaps not surprising just after the 2016 election to discover that a portion of president-elect trump’s base espoused ideologies of white supremacy. What was surprising to those who were paying attention but perhaps less familiar, was that trump also garnered significant support from Orthodox Jews, particularly Zionists, both in the US and Israel. While there are many reasons, both historical and expedient, that these particular Jewish groups chose to throw their support behind trump, it’s the coincidence that one of the most historically maligned groups would agree on their choice for political representation as the people who have fought both in the past and present for their extermination and removal from power. What is the connection between Zionist Orthodox Jews and white supremacists?Read More
It might sound like I’m making a value judgment here, that traditional is better than historical. Really, I’m arguing for an awareness of context. There are some traditions that don’t exist anymore. There are some things that really are gone. But it’s not as much as you think. Participating in history, appreciating history, shouldn’t come with a disregard for the present. My point is that before you label something as historical, limited to the past, you should investigate whether it actually still exists in some form in the present.
We’re in a semantic age, when battles are fought over the words we use to refer to people or experiences, and lines are drawn through vocabulary. In a non-political arena, I’m having a similar fight over the specific words historians use. How important are these distinctions, really?Read More
I started writing this one almost two years ago, but put it in the digital drawer because I thought it was kind of obvious. But as more people in my life have come up against the same problems with paralyzing anxiety or decision fatigue, I’m realizing this is actually worth saying.Read More
The words “revise and resubmit” carry with them a particular emotional response in academia: a unique combination of hopeful self-satisfaction, anxiety, and existential dread. Its a trite truism that we all need to learn to accept criticism. Academia turns accepting criticism into an art, that also happens to be part of our daily workload. Revise and resubmit is one of three possible responses when submitting an article for publication in a journal. Rather than outright accept or reject, revise and resubmit means that the core concept is good, but the readers had comments. “The readers had comments” could be written on the tombstone of every academic. Your peers, colleagues in your field, found some things worth changing. It could be that you failed to site a relevant study, or you used a word in a way that didn’t sit well with someone. The overall gestalt is “I liked it, but not as much as you wanted me to.” And the feeling that comes with that is being damned with faint praise.
Revising is perhaps the most essential part of my writing process. Something about how my brain works means that I need many drafts to get the point of my argument across without distracting my reader with something else. I wrote recently that it’s been my tone or my word choice that stops people from understanding me. It can also be the order in which I introduce evidence (apparently I think in concentric circles instead of lines), and as a result I have had editing processes that involved flipping the order of the entire paper.
But revising is still exhausting. Internalizing criticism is exhausting. Doing the same work repeatedly is exhausting.
Today, I had an epiphany about a piece of writing that I have been working on for a decade. In 2010, I wrote a paragraph-long aside in a junior seminar, which became a standalone MA seminar paper in 2013, which became a journal article in 2015. And since 2015 I have tried and failed to get this paper published. The criticisms of it have been varied, but all true. At the same time, I presented this work at a conference in 2016, and it’s up on my Academia.edu page, where the praise for it has been loud and consistent – this is a valid piece of scholarship that would be a useful addition to the field. So, every once in a while, I come back to this paper and revise it yet again, and submit it yet again. I have never been granted a revise and resubmit, just rejection after rejection, but the overall impact of the conflicting responses to it has been revise and resubmit. “I like it, but not as much as you wanted me to.”
My epiphany was a totally different framing to this piece. Instead of launching into the historiographical fray, trying to make my contribution in a debate that is already very full, I should be viewing things from above. What am I actually adding that is new – is what I asked myself. I’m suggesting a different methodological approach to the question. Whereas that methodological approach was a secondary point before (making the whole piece very complicated), I’m making it the main argument now. I can still use a lot of the work I’ve already done, but reframing the piece is actually an easier approach than trying to fix the problems that existed before. The reason this was novel for me was that I suddenly connected what I had been trying to do in this article with what I’ve been working on for my dissertation. I hadn’t thought about it that way before because I wrote this article long before I articulated the methodological argument of my dissertation.
Maybe this version of the article won’t get it accepted to a journal either. But it’s an interesting process to go back and fix what I was trying to say. There’s certainly a limit to revising, and there’s no point in revising something that is totally in the past. But here I have another chance to make this article work while it’s still relevant, and the process of doing that is potentially helpful for other things I’m working on too. That level of self-criticism, that internalization of the feedback I’ve gotten, also feels important, like maybe one day I can not only anticipate the criticism, but head it off entirely.
My mom has a bit of a problem with experts. If you asked her, my mom would tell you that the problem with experts is that they don’t have to justify their opinions on the basis that they have implicitly earned that trust, and, in the reverse, other people who are not experts have not. She argues that people who are not experts should be trusted to form and express opinions on a subject, and moreover that experts should be challenged to support their opinions better. I can’t say that I fully disagree. And yet when it comes to the concept of an expert and, by extension, expertise, I’m torn. On the one hand, experts should not have a monopoly on informed opinions. On the other, expertise is not just knowing the facts, but about understanding the context, methods, and unarticulated information surrounding those facts that contribute to interpreting them. This push and pull between formal expertise and informal knowledge is something I’m constantly struggling with as a junior academic.Read More
After I reacquainted myself with my sewing machine, learned a bit more fundamental sewing skills, and finally understood how to work from a pattern, I spent about a year filling in my wardrobe with everything I’d been missing. I’m still in process with some things, including some everyday shirts, but once the process of making my own clothes got kind of mundane, I started making clothes for other people. And after making the same dress for the third time, I learned what I already knew about myself – I don’t like repetitive activities. So, armed with pretty good sewing skills at this point, a new project started to tug at me. A medieval outfit.Read More
Back in 2019, while I was constantly on research trips, I started watching a lot of youtube. And while I was doing that, I also decided to pick up crocheting. Since I hate reading kitting patterns, I had no earthly idea how to approach a crochet pattern, and so I also started watching crochet pattern videos on youtube. This combination led me to the world of historical costuming videos, or costube. Since I started watching, costube has become a much bigger phenomenon, to the point that last summer the costube community was able to host an entire conference online where individual virtual sessions were attended by thousands of people at a time. Inundating myself with videos of hand sewing and pattern cutting got me to slowly come back to my old sewing hobby. I spent a lot of time as a teenager involved in various sewing ventures, mostly related to the renfaire and my school’s drama department. My friend N and I spent many weekends in high school hand-sewing costumes while watching Disney movies (we were really wild). But I was mostly self-taught and I had a really hard time making wearable clothing, so my hobby fell by the wayside. But since N still sews and started making herself some very cool wearable pieces right around the time I began watching all these youtube videos, I dipped my toes back into sewing at first, and then plunged in.Read More
This is almost more of a general PhD update than a dissertation update, but I thought I needed to write something about my work since it’s been a while.
My dissertation is extremely close to being done. I feel like I’ve had a full draft of this thing for years, but maybe it’s only been since September? Still a long time. Now my draft is really a full draft – there are no big gaps anymore or sections without footnotes. There’s one piece of Chapter 3 that I’m still writing – an analysis that only occurred to me recently after getting feedback in a seminar. But most of my work at this point is polishing. In fact, it’s complete enough that I was able to send the entire thing to a hiring committee, which brings me to update #2…
I’ve been interviewing for a job. I won’t say where, but it’s a tenure-track job in my field, which at this point is a unicorn for PhDs, since there are so few jobs this year at all. I’m incredibly lucky that this even exists, and even luckier that I’ve managed to get anywhere in the application process. The more I learn about this department, the more I want the job, but it’s very much out of my hands at this point. I will say that the interview process during a global pandemic is very strange. My first-round interview was not so unusual, since those have increasingly been video interviews anyway. But this week I did my teaching demo by zoom, and my next interview isn’t for another two weeks because of scheduling conflicts. If nothing else, it gives me a lot of downtime to prepare for each individual interview. It also might make my job talk a bit easier, because I won’t have to memorize anything.
If I don’t get a job in academia, I might end up in project management. This was an interesting thought experiment that’s actually become quite appealing. Rather than take the bad advice of just about everyone in academia that a good alternative if I can’t find a job as a professor is to go into publishing or freelance writing, I thought a bit more abstractly about my skills. Yes, writing is a skill. But I don’t have to be a writer or editor to use writing. The biggest skill I’ve developed as an academic has been project management – taking a large, complex project and breaking it up into smaller pieces with actionable components. I’ve even learned how to manage a group project over several years. Since that’s a role, not an industry, my options are much broader and I can still try to find something interesting rather than resigning myself to a soul-crushing job. My project manager job search is currently on hold, though, while I’m working full time on the academic job opportunity.
My spare-time academic project is now provisionally up and running! The group project I mentioned is called the Medievalist Toolkit, and we’ve been working since 2017 to create a public set of resources for education on the Middle Ages. We now have a website, medievalisttoolkit.org, with our mission statement, some of our work and our contact info. Enjoy!
I can’t say that ancient cuisine sounds particularly exciting, even for someone like me. But I was surprised earlier this week when, after watching this video from the Historical Italian Cooking research group, I felt inspired to make a variation on an ancient Roman frittata.Read More