Category Archives: academe

In the Restricted Section

Over the summer and unbeknownst to me, my university library moved all the U, V and Z (Library of Congress classifications) books out of the general circulations stacks and into storage. Err, the first floor depository, they say. I call it “The Restricted Section”.

Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section. He had been wondering for a while if Flamel wasn’t somewhere in there. Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and he knew he’d never get one. These were the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts, and only read by older students studying advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts. (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Just imagine, wandering innocently into your library, in search of five books you need to check out for your class. You know they’re there. You check them out every year (it’s a small class of grad students – they can share the books over the last half of the term). But the books aren’t there. The whole circulating collection seemingly ends with the T classification for technology topics. But wander farther afield and there’s nothing. Not even a sign. I stumbled about the third floor for ten minutes, looking for where the books had gone to – I knew we had hundreds, if not thousands of titles in that range that had seemingly disappeared.

Only when I headed down to the circulation desk did I get an explanation – those books had been moved to the first floor, off limits to users – I’d have to ask a librarian to retrieve them for me. I presume (but I wasn’t told explicitly), that this was done to free up room upstairs in the circulating collection or ‘stacks’ – as new books are added, and a few are every year, they fill up the current ranges and threaten to overflow. Plus, goodness knows!, we can’t cut back on the study desks and comfy chairs that have filled in around the circulating books over the years.

Still, just wrap your heads around the situation with the books for a bit. Entire classifications of library books are gone. Sure, if you look at each individual catalogue listing, as I did later, you see a note after the call number that explains the book is located at the 1st Floor Depository. But imagine you’re an undergraduate – what does that mean? There’s no word of where that is or what you’ll need to do to see the book. How likely are you to go and ask for that? There’s not even a sign at the end of the range of books still available indicating that you need to go elsewhere and speak to someone. Even better: maybe you committed the call number to memory when you trotted off on your quick search after getting the information from the first page of the catalogue entries? If so, I bet you’ve forgotten it after a few minutes of fruitless searching.

Will you ask? will you wait? Or will you just give up? Remember, you’ve got to intuit that you have to ask someone specially for these books and then you have to wait for them to get them. We aren’t blessed with an overabundance of librarians – on weekends and into the evening, who’s going to be around to fulfil requests? Who’s going to ask if it seems even slightly daunting.

Now consider the role of shelf-browsing? How many of you have found wonderfully useful books just by running your fingers along the shelves, to see what’s there beside the book you came to get? How can you do that now that entire swathes of the library are off in storage. I’ll give you a hint – our catalogue doesn’t have that function anymore to browse a range of call numbers so you won’t.

90% of my students will give up if they think they might want one of these books. They’ll change their topic, make do with what’s online or simply pass the material by. And so the usage stats will drop even more and the library will feel justified in carting these and other books off to our local equivalent of the Restricted Section.

So much for consulting the bibliographies to direct you to other works in particular. Pay no attention to the vast scholarship in print on authorship, reading and publishing that also sits in this range – they’re all getting condemned to near uselessness by such a decision. So much for the many classic and current works of military history and scholarship – if they’re in the U category as opposed to particular national histories, they’re out of reach for ordinary library patrons at my institution.

I’m also afraid of what’s next – in any given year, for my teaching and research, I check out books from many different Library of Congress areas, particularly B, D, H, J, P and Z. What if they decide to shave off those lightly used A & B classifications into the depository next? How am I going to get my students to engage with the works of religious thinkers and the abundant scholarship we own in print of the same if the books are tucked away elsewhere.

Yes, this is a first world problem but it really irked me. I work hard enough to get our students to appreciate the range of books we have available at our library. When something like this happens, I’m filled with despair. What’s the point if our books are going to be consigned to the Restricted Section, willy-nilly?

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Be My Colleagues!

We’re hiring two tenure-track positions in the History/Histoire program at Laurentian.

(1) Un poste francophone menant à la permanence en histoire autochtone nord-américaine au rang de professeur(e) adjoint(e). Entrée en fonction: le 1er juillet 2013. Les tâches liées au poste comprennent l’enseignement en français aux niveaux du premier et du deuxième cycle, des travaux de recherche et des responsabilités administratives. Les qualifications requises consistent en un doctorat en histoire (ou alors presque terminé) et une excellence démontrée en recherche et en enseignement dans le ou les domaines de spécialisation. Les candidates et candidats sont priés de soumettre un exposé de leurs recherches actuelles et planifiées, un dossier d’enseignement, un curriculum vitae et trois lettres de recommandation.

(2) An English-language tenure-track appointment in North American Indigenous history at the rank of Assistant Professor, beginning July 1, 2013. Qualified candidates with expertise in the areas of northern, rural, or health history are especially encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will be expected to teach in English at the undergraduate level, and to participate in the M.A. program. Applicants must have a completed Ph.D. or be near to completion, with demonstrated research productivity and teaching experience. Candidates should submit a statement of current and prospective research, a teaching dossier, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of reference.

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On Again, Off Again Scheduling

This term I’m teaching three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That leaves the other two days a week for research, writing and editing.

It’s been a while since I’ve had two days in a term that were out of the classroom, especially in my heavy term which isn’t as heavy as some have been. Only three courses in my official workload but there’s also one graduate directed readings meeting at a timeslot still TBA. Usually I’ve been lucky to have one non-teaching day in a week and that usually gets further complicated by being on a day when I have regular committee obligations. This year? Not yet. All may change when the T&P committee ramps up for actual meetings but if they’re slow to get started, that might wait until next term. For now, my Tuesdays and Thursdays seem safe.

I must say that I’m enjoying the on again, off again nature of my work this term. The format helps me to recharge my introvert batteries after a long day of teaching, for one thing. For another, even though I know I can write in small timeslots set aside during a busy day, I write best when I have at least two or three hours to pour into one project. Uninterrupted time allows me to better see how what I’m adding fits into the bigger picture.

The schedule also only works by making sure that teaching prep or, in a few weeks!, marking doesn’t eat up my research and writing time. I’ve found that the weekend is the best time to finalize my visuals and class plans for Western Civ (so that the files can be uploaded to our CMS in advance of Monday’s class) and to review the readings for the Tudor seminar which meets on Wednesday mornings. The grad students meet on Friday so I’ll go back through my discussion notes on Wednesday evening (after a veeery long day). Tuesday and Thursday? They’ll stay free. They have to or all of my fall writing plans fall apart.

So yes, I’m eating into my weekends in a big way this fall. It’s unsustainable to work full-out seven days a week all through the academic year, yet somehow so many of us do just that, right? But for a few short weeks I know that I can keep it going and reap the benefits of focused, productive time to research, write and edit on some days while devoting myself fully to teaching and campus contact duties on others.

I’ll see how the rotation holds up once I’m at the midterm point, just around the time I hie off to Potterfest. That’s when a boatload of marking lands on my desk and even with the able assistance of my GTA, I suspect I’ll have to give up a Tuesday here or a Thursday there but don’t let it get to be a habit. I’m fully booked up with writing, editing, revising and researching right through the first of November. After that, it all might fall apart but I’ll hope to sustain the schedule through the end of classes in early December.

What’s your term schedule looking like? Thumbs up or fingers in ears?

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Observations on the Start of Another Term

  • I hate starting teaching in the middle of the week. I understand why we’re starting on a Wednesday. My OCD tendencies just don’t like it. Ditto for the last day of term, the first Wednesday in December, being taught as a Monday to compensate for the Monday we’ll miss on Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s logical. It just doesn’t feel right. It also means that my Wednesday morningsenior seminar will wrap up on November 30.
  • Speaking of the seminar, which I’ll do frequently this fall, we’re currently standing at 36 enrolled. I’m printing out fold-over name cards for each student to set on their desks in hopes that it will not only help me remember all of their names more readily, but also encourage them to use each others’ names in the lively discussions I hope will ensue.
  • Why is discussion so difficult to inspire and maintain? Ah, that’s the million dollar question of academia, isn’t it? If it was easy, everyone would do it. I love what Dr. Virago posted about encouraging discussion earlier this week: that feigning ignorance or error inspires students to attempt their own explanations. It’s not so much the “lying to student” part of not giving them the answer that’s important, it’s how avoiding giving them the answer helps them to generate answers on their own, sometimes even more than we’d be able to give them as the ‘sage on the stage’. Reminder to self: silence is golden, patience is a virtue and the Socratic method still is pretty awesome.
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays will be writing and editing days. I’ll also be devoting a chunk of Monday mornings to writing and editing. And, given the daunting number of projects I have on the go and due in the near future, most of the weekends. Of course, the challenge is to not let administrivia, errands and other issues fill up these blocks of time. Already there’s a service task which is in the process of blowing up in my face (not through any wrongdoing on anyone’s part, it’s just when this particular committee gets called upon, it means Work and lots of it). I’m pretty well-resigned to some of that writing and editing time getting eaten up by the service task from beyond the grave but I can hope that the only time we can tackle that problem is sometime on Friday afternoon instead, when I know I’m too tired to do a good job of writing and editing and focus, instead, on less demanding occupations such as filing, emails and blogging.

And that reminds me, it’s off to Dame Eleanor’s for the weekly writing group check-in!

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The Importance of Being Kempt

Early modernist here so I can legitimately use the term “kempt” whereas those poor folks who don’t at least mentally reside for a good chunk of the year in premodern texts are stuck with only the inelegant “unkempt”. (Check out this fun explanation of the shift in the decline of kempt and the rise of unkempt.)

Bardiac posted about pre-semester rituals – hers include a hair cut which is top of my to-do list for Tuesday. Shaggy and Scooby I fail to get hair cuts during term time so if I don’t do this now, I’ll look a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo within a month or two, minus the stubble, of course!

I don’t aspire to the fashionista heights of blogworthy professorial fashion but I do believe in the power of kempt. Whether you’re rocking the jeans and turtlenecks in the manner of the late Steve Jobs or something a bit more fashion-forward, it behooves a professor to have clothes that are clean and relatively tidy. I’ve culled the wardrobe this summer, ditching the threadbare jeans and shirts along with the items that just never worked (why did I think that pale tan was ever a good colour on me? It isn’t!). I added a few new tops and a skirt or two.

But the number one rule of being kempt? Forgoing those messy condiments during term-time lunches. No more soy sauce, ketchup or, heaven forbid!, mustard. Because there’s nothing more guaranteed to mess up your look than a mustard stain on your shirtfront.

How do you keep it together when in front of the classroom or out in the field?

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One Week Out

Classes start next Wednesday and, oh!, I’m so not ready. Even with adopting new textbooks, I have the first-year course almost nailed down (just have to check a few dates against scheduled workshops and my conference travel), a senior syllabus that still has to have assignments finalized and a grad course syllabus that I haven’t even touched yet. At least the last is the easiest, seeing how much I loved last year’s iteration. Knowing I can apply the same formula with only a few changes is helpful. But there are still all the course shells to set up in our newly-updated Course Management Software.

*sobs discreetly*

But getting courses prepared is hardly the only thing I’m doing to get ready for the new term. There are graduating M.A. students whose final work has to be graded. There are various administrative duties and committees already raising their ugly heads. I’ve just finished proofing the index for the current book and editing another chapter for the next. Let’s not forget the research grant, my own writing and the vain hope of tidying my office in the wake of the Great Floor Waxing of the Summer of 2012.

What’s got you worried for Fall, 2012?

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Summertime, panic time

We’re officially into summer by both of my measures: the calendar and the girls’ high school schedule. Their last courses met today and while they both have exams early next week, that’s hardly anything. What stretches ahead of me, except for two weeks’ vacation I have clearly booked off, is two months of not enough time to get everything I need done before term starts up again in September. And I’m not even talking about the staggering list of things to do at home and with family (at least for the latter part, I’m talking mostly recreational pursuits including a long-awaited family vacation far, far away from here). No, it’s the professional deadlines that had me atwitter.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Can you hear it? That’s the sound of deadlines looming!

When the girls were younger, the end of their school year was a painful moment, professionally speaking: even with a few weeks of summer camp and family visits, here or there, it’s a lot of time when they’re at loose ends and I’m still trying to work. Autistic youngest manages much better these days with a routine that includes regular trips to the local park and board games played with her family members.

Now that they’re both teens, summertime parenting is not nearly so stressful as it used to feel. I’m less an entertainment machine and chauffeur, particularly since Eldest got her driver’s license, and more the keeper of collective memories and deadlines. Thank goodness for my Google calendar with handy reminders that pop up not only on my netbook but also on my smart phone and the large-format Mom’s Family Calendar that hangs in the kitchen and provides us with a column for each family member’s schedule and even one for the pets.

Still, that doesn’t mean that I don’t acutely feel time slipping away. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m accomplishing loads, but there’s so much more that I’d like to do: get this article drafted more quickly, get my next chapter written, edit another chapter for that next collection, refine my next research plan, get my teaching all organized for the fall, start in on my keynote for the October conference, etc., etc., etc. Yikes!

But when the panic started to set in as it did yesterday, I stopped, breathed and refocused. What good is there in panic? How is that going to help me get things done?

I’ve been fortunate this summer to work with a fabulous career coach, Jo VanEvery who’s helped me to clarify my goals, my game plan and my ways of working so that I accomplish what’s important to me and avoid getting bogged down in details, guilt or fears. Thanks to her advice, I realize that my reaction to summertime isn’t helping me, professionally or personally. I need to turn off that nasty clock, pounding in the background of my mind, and reiterate what’s important to me, personally and professionally.

So I’m off to the park with Youngest – I’ll read a book for pleasure while she sees how high she can get the swing to go this time. There’s work to be done, but it won’t be any better for taking up all my waking hours (nor will I be better off for that). I’ll come back to it tomorrow.

Good luck to the rest of you facing down your summer and try not to let the panic take hold!

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#Congress2012

This weekend sees the launch of this year’s edition of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. I still say “the Learneds” even though that’s not been the name of this monster round-up of Canadian academic society meetings for years. What can I say? I’m a historian!

I’m speaking at the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies on Sunday morning – it’ll just be a short trip in and out for me this year as I’m still swamped with popular culture and history projects as well as an article I want to submit to an academic journal before the end of June.

But if you’re hanging around the Waterloo campus this weekend or checking out the Congress Expo, where all the publishers will be setting up shop, look for me. Or follow along on Twitter: that’s where I’ll be looking for the latest news myself.

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Learning from Failure

Not my students’ but my own. I got the official letter today: the internal institutional research grant for which I applied? I didn’t get it. I’d actually sussed that out more than a week ago as I heard from other colleagues who’d gotten emails about their success and then a message from the dean about the overall percentage and numbers of successful versus unsuccessful in the various faculties. It was pretty easy to do the math and realize that if A, B, C and D all got emails about their grants, E, F and yours truly who got no email weren’t successful.

The letter, when it came, was brief and regretful. The feedback wasn’t entirely helpful: according to the comments, committee members felt that my application landed somewhere in-between a publication and a research project grant. They also felt that the research wasn’t entirely new (since I’d proposed moving forward from the preliminary work I’d done last summer for my paper at the Berks).

I’m hoping to learn from the failure but also not to dwell on that. I admit, it’d be nicer to have been successful than not but I’m not about to lose sleep over the one-off assessment about one part of my work given of a panel of people far outside of my discipline. At the same time, a fairly similar panel will be convened for the same competition next year – if I can ‘crack’ this one, I can better plan for the next.

So, it’s time to learn from this go-round. I would like to see what they consider a successful purely research project – I’ll review over some of the applications my successful colleagues shared during our run-up to the application. Did I err by naming specific journals in which I’d like to place the results of the coming year’s research? Would I have been better to propose a publication grant for those would-be articles? I’m doubtful on that front given that for publication grants they seem to want to give money only to people who have an accepted manuscript that needs subvention. None of my publications, accepted or under consideration for the next year would fit that category.

Mostly, I’d like to clarify how the novelty issue factored in and if there’s any point in applying for the next stage of the broader project next year. Because I’m not someone who starts and finishes projects in a blink of an eye. This work on stepmothers I want to take all the way to a monograph. If that means that my institution won’t be able to financially support me, so be it. One nice element about my kind of history is that it’s fairly easy to do with one person, a plane ticket and a cheap squat somewhere near the archives.

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Out with the Old

Ding, dong, the term is dead. Well, except for one last grad course assignment to wrangle. I have to get the chair to sign off on the big survey class’s marks tomorrow morning, as well, but, really, it’s done. I taught two undergraduate classes, one graduate directed readings for two students (so two separate classes but we kind of mushed them up by finding common ground for this past term) and yet one other graduate class that actually integrated in with my senior seminar. Officially four classes on my plate with just over a hundred students between them all.

This term, I’ve also written two short chapters (well, solo-written one, and co-written the other) as well as prepared and submitted a research grant. I’ve edited so many chapters, I’m no longer able to keep count of those!

No time to rest: I’m already knee-deep in the thick of other projects. We’re copy-editing STar Wars and History (which is a fascinating process in and of itself), I’m back to draft-editing chapters for The Hobbit and History and putting in a few hours on my regular research agenda, each week until our July vacation.

Oh, and there are book orders for the fall. And a personnel committee meeting. Oh, and I need to follow up on that research grant application. And get working on the next one. And there’s the conference paper for the end of the month, I need to pull that together, too!

Oh, lordie. I’d better stop thinking right now. I promised Mike I’d take off a day or two. Maybe Friday?

How’s your May shaping up? Crazily busy with conference trips, grading galore and classes still to meet? Or are any of you wrapping matters up already. Take a break from the grind and let us know!

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