Saturday, February 25, 2006

Thoughts on pseudonymity...

...inspired by all the interesting discussion going on at New Kid's and Dr. Crazy's, and by the wonderful meme that jo(e) built. They've already pointed out the best reasons for academics to blog pseudonymously, and the complex relationships between our personal and professional personae.

In my case, there's a personal angle as well. For various reasons, my strategy for survival and happiness as a child was to be generally invisible and not to rock any boats. This approach has carried over into my adult life, partly out of habit and partly because it suits my interests. I’m curious about the world and people around me, and I find I learn a lot more about them by watching and listening than by making myself the center of attention. I’ve never felt any great sense of ambition that motivated me to change the world; I do feel motivated to learn as much about it as I can while I’m here.

Blogging pseudonymously is an extension of that attitude. I’m not trying to publicize my own thoughts as much as I’m trying to join a community and enjoy the ideas and relationships that develop. (Notice I created a place where people come to hang out and enjoy each other’s company, not a place where I can pontificate about my Big Ideas.) I also blog pseudonymously because of some quirks in the way I present myself and relate to others in the real world. Most people (quite appropriately) like advertising the best things about themselves, showing off that they’re funny or musical or have good fashion sense, making sure you see their talents. When I get to know people, though, I like to keep an eye out for their hidden side, and to be the person who finds out something that other people wouldn’t be likely to know. If I went to a party and met five new people, for example, I would feel far more satisfied at the end of the evening if I'd gotten those new people to share something interesting about themselves, than if I'd told them all something interesting about myself.

So that shapes how I present myself, too, in that I don’t go out of my way to advertise the things I like best about myself. I don’t purposely create obstacles to getting to know me, but I do like to reward and surprise the people who get involved with me enough to see past the surface. (This probably explains all those personality-test things that say I’m difficult to get to know.) I don’t mind being pretty ordinary on the surface, and I rather like the idea of cultivating a secret, more interesting me, that only a few people have access to. For example, I keep in pretty good shape, but I’m kind of round and dumpy, and I don’t look at all as athletic as I am. So it tickles me when someone who’s known me for years is startled to find that I hold a black belt in tae kwon do, or that I have walked 300 miles across Spain. (One of the things I liked best about working on the Habitat site was that I signed up for morning times, and then came back to campus for an early afternoon class. It amused me to no end to clean up and change into my spiffiest outfits and go off to class, so that no one would guess that barely an hour earlier I had been wearing leather gloves and my tough boots, sawing strandboard at a construction site.)

What’s funny about the blog is that it tends to reflect the “secret” me rather than the outside me. Not that I have that many wild adventures to write about (or that what I’ve written is all that fascinating), but the nature of blogging means that you’ve already gone through the process of finding me and sticking around long enough to decide you like it here, so even though I haven’t met most of you (and even have no idea who you are), we’ve established the kind of intimacy that lets me write more about the fun stuff. (besides, who wants to cultivate ordinary on a blog?)

But if I were to write about all this under my own name, that would defeat the purpose. You meet me, you google my name, you can walk right into this goofy virtual bar that somehow came to exist here. Nah. What would please me far, far more would be to find out that someone I knew IRL came to the bar but didn’t know it was mine; maybe then in two or three years I could have the pleasure of mentioning offhand “oh, yeah, remember Pilgrim/Heretic? That’d be me.”

Saturday, February 18, 2006

More personality stuff... seen at What Now?. Hey, it says I'd be a good teacher and writer! Good thing I don't have to pull a big career switch. (I took the full-blown version of this several years ago, and I think I got the same results. I yam what I yam!)

Your #1 Match: INFJ

The Protector
You live your life with integrity, originality, vision, and creativity.Independent and stubborn, you rarely stray from your vision - no matter what it is.You are an excellent listener, with almost infinite patience.You have complex, deep feelings, and you take great care to express them.
You would make a great photographer, alternative medicine guru, or teacher.

Your #2 Match: INFP

The Idealist
You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.
You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Professional P/H

Something's up in the universe.

For the last two years or so (well, to be honest, for most of my professional life so far) I haven't had much of a presence in my field. I've published what I had to to get tenure; I've been to a few conferences but not many; and I haven't networked nearly as much as I should have. I have nothing against any of these things, but it's taken most of my time and energy just to keep my head above water in terms of fulfilling my basic teaching/service/research obligations, and I've never had delusions of grandeur in terms of gaining fame and reputation as a scholar. I'm just happy working away in my little corner, remaining in the shadows of obscurity.

However. After all this time I've spent being virtually invisible, in the last forty-eight hours, I have received: two warm and friendly e-mails from reputable (and much admired) scholars in my field, asking me questions about my research; one request from a reputable scholarly journal asking me to review a book for them; and one request from a professional organization to which I belong, asking me to be a candidate for their executive committee.

WTF? Am I suddenly broadcasting professional capability on some secret historian frequency? These are almost certainly coincidental, and none of them on their own is a particularly big deal, but their joint appearance has me wondering if I'm being sent Some Kind of Sign. (I've also had a couple of conversations recently that coincidentally touched on a new project I've been working on, and that were very inspiring.)

If that's true, I've decided to respond... there's a conference in April that I've been wanting to go to, but I didn't submit a paper to it, and I've got so many other things going on this semester that I was wary of committing to anything else. But it's an organization I love, and whose conferences I haven't attended as often as I'd like - and the two Reputable Scholars who have contacted me will be there, as well as a bunch of other people I should cozy up to (in a scholarly way, of course). So I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and bought plane tickets. Time to come out from hiding! I'm going to go, and I'm going to talk to people, and try to be just a teensy bit more visible.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fearless and solitary!

Oooo, I love a good personality test. Seen at Overread's.

(Table zapped because it was screwing up my template.)

My "trait snapshot" is:
introverted, secretive, reclusive, tough, non social, observer, fearless, solitary, libertarian, detached, does not like to lead, outsider, abides the rules, mind over heart, good at saving money, does not like to stand out, does not make friends easily, self sufficient, not aggressive, likes the unknown, unconcerned with external opinion, strong, abstract, independent, very intellectual, analytical, high self control

Yep, I think that pretty much nails it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Back up the ladder

Reason number two why this semester is so much better than all the previous semesters: I finally have time for one or two fun activities outside the usual twelve-hour days of teaching and grading and meetings and academic crap. One of these is my first-ever experience with a Habitat for Humanity build, something I've wanted to do for years. I have zero experience with building stuff, mind you, but I follow instructions well and I don't mind getting dirty, so I figured I'd make a reasonably good grunt worker.

Today was my third day at the site, and at one point I found myself at the top of an extension ladder, left arm wrapped around it for dear life, squinting into the sun, right arm hammering with all my strength at a fourteen-foot wooden brace that needed to be detached from the roof. There’s always a moment in situations like that where I think, oh hell, this isn’t working, I don’t have the strength to do this, and if I did have the strength I’d probably knock myself right off the stupid ladder (whoa is this thing shaking?), and now I’ll have to give up and ask someone else to do it and that will be embarrassing and a waste of time and why the hell did I think I could do construction work in the first place? But I keep on pounding, just. one. more., and when my arm is about to fall off I hear a little surrendering creak from a nail, and then I see a little slice of daylight between the brace and the roof support, and then the whole thing eases loose and I manage not only to not drop it on anyone’s head, but to gracefully maneuver myself back down the ladder and the brace back to its proper stack, after I’ve wrestled all those damn four-inch nails back out of it.

And then I breathe a sigh of relief and think, hey! I can climb ladders and pound stuff and I didn't lose a finger or kill anybody and that was fun! Can I do it again?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

More early modern than you can shake a stick at

Step right up, everybody, get your funnel cakes here, your churros, your sopapillas, your fried dough in every shape and size. The carousel, the Ferris wheel and the jugglers are just around the corner. (We put the carnival in Carnivalesque!) There’s something here for everyone. Looking for the latest great ideas on early modern history, art, philosophy, and science? Keep reading; you’re in the right place. Do your preferences run more towards whisky, snowball fights, bonfires and duct tape? Feel free to wander around some of the other posts (and, more importantly, stroll through the comments; that’s where all the fun is.) If you’re new here, welcome! If you’re a regular, you know the bar’s always open and drinks are on the house.

First of all, special thanks to all the folks who sent in contributions, particularly Sharon Howard who is the ringmaster par excellence of all things early modern.

I’d also like to give a shout out to the history carnivals, especially the most recent one (History Carnival XXIV) hosted by The Elfin Ethicist. There are several good early modern links here: see, for example, Jonathan Dresner’s take on Gavin Menzies, David Post’s challenge of Mozart’s abilities as a “boy genius,” and Jonathan Edelstein’s description of uses of sign language in testimony by deaf witnesses in 18th century English courts.

Here, the carnival is all early modern, all the time. Here are some highlights:

Kristine, who has a veritable treasure-trove of treats at Earmarks in Early Modern Culture, was intrigued by Henry Peacham’s 1622 remark that for a gentleman, learning to swim is, among other things, a good way to “annoy your enemy.” She wonders about the social and cultural context of swimming in early modern society and ferrets out some good references, pointing us in particular to Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi, and its rich discussion (and illustrations!) of early modern swimming techniques.

For those of you who dream of being able to “see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot,” she also describes a 16th century reading machine. Tapping into the 16th century fascination of machines and technology in general, there’s a wonderful collection of images of these at BibliOdyssey, itself a treasure-trove of images and links.

If you had access to one of those wonderful book-reading machines, you’d be likely to make some discoveries like those of Paul Helm at Reformata, who suggests some intriguing parallels between John Calvin’s and Thomas Aquinas’ approaches to astronomy.

In the realm of early modern imagery, how about a three-headed Saturn? MisterAitch of Giornale Nuovo shares some bits from Vincenzo Cartari’s book Imagini delli Dei de gl’Antichi, a 16th century study of the iconography of the gods (principally those of the Greek and Roman pantheon, but with a curious appendix on Mexican and Japanese deities). MisterAitch also shows us how artisans obtained instruction in the basic techniques of perspective drawing, through treatises such as Hieronumus Rodler’s 1531 Eyn schön nützlich büchlin und underweisung der kunst des Messens, (‘A Fine, Useful Booklet and Instruction in the Art of Measurement’).

While we usually envy modernists their relatively easy access to source material, more early modern primary sources are becoming available online all the time. One of the most fascinating collections is that of The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s principal criminal court, which gives us access to over 100,000 criminal trials for the period 1674-1834. From these records, Natalie Bennett highlights the story of a well-traveled thief (with some additional tantalizing hints about the murder of a member of the Royal Society), and Kristine of Earmarks gives us the intriguing tale of a cat who calls its owner’s attention to a suspicious Noise in the Vault.

Crime seems to be a hot topic for early modernists, as Laura James at CLEWS shares the tribulations of Dorothy Talby, one of the first women to be executed in the American colonies. Another mystery comes from Sharon at Early Modern Notes, drawn from her research on early modern crime and legal history: the case of the missing swineherd who came to an unfortunate end.

And crime, of course, has its consequences: “I am now to end a Scandalous Life, by a deserved Ignominious Death,” says a priest about to be executed in 1693. Copernicus at Fústar discusses a collection of gallows speeches from 18th century Ireland (and, in passing, slips in a neat argument that “bloggers are the latterday pamphleteers to the corporate media’s 17th century newspaper publishers”).

“What do you lack? What is’t you buy?” Pasttense reviews Linda Levy Peck’s Consuming Splendor, on the seventeenth-century aristocrat’s consuming desire for… well, consuming. See also Pasttense’s discussion of the BBC’s “In Our Time” episodes on James II and the Jacobites and 17th-century print culture.

More valuable online sources include Winter Evenings, an 18th-century collection of essays on literature and morals by the Rev. Vicesimus Knox. See here, for example, Knox’s argument in favor of quotations and marginal scribblings. A similar collection of writings, in this case from the early 19th-century manuscript volumes of Miss Frances Williams Wynn, is made available to us by Natalie Bennett at Diaries of a Lady of Quality. Exploratoria points us to an entry from the Hon. John Lindsay’s Journal of An Imprisonment in Seringapatam written in the 1780s, with a link to the full text at Christopher Handley’s Diary Research website.

Take a peek at Steve Muhlberger’s relatively new blog, which addresses the BBC’s list of “Who were the worst Britons?” as well as the validity (or not) of everyone’s favorite 15th century Chinese map. Steve also has some excellent links and comments on early modern sources, including Samuel Pepys’ diary and what he describes as “a tremendous collection of paintings and engravings illustrating the life and costumes of the very, very, very rich and noble in the time of Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France,” L'Age d'Or.

Want more early modern culture in your own world? Here’s Natalie Bennett’s review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of Thomas More, and Bunny Smedley discusses the meaning of self-portraiture with particular reference to Jan van Eyck in this review of the National Portrait Gallery's current exhibition Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary.

More contemporary connections come from Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery, who draws on early modern representations of Muhammad to add perspective to the current uproar over the Danish cartoons. Diamond Geezer ponders what day should be chosen to be celebrated as British Day (the possibilities include five different possible dates for the “founding of Britain,” several saint days and royal birthdays, and various “days of enormous historic national importance.”

Last but not least, all the things about the early modern world you’ve always wanted to know but have been afraid to ask: Chris Brooke at the Virtual Stoa wonders “Why did people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries think that the Egyptians worshipped vegetables in general and leeks in particular?” and Richard Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard explores the possible early modern origins of the word “dildo.”

I know I’ve missed lots of other good tidbits, especially since Blogger’s been down for much of the day, so my apologies to anyone who was left out. (I had several good links to Rebecca Goetz’s blog in particular, & will try to post these once I regain access to her site!) There are always more carnivals, though, so take another ride on that Ferris wheel and the next one will swing around soon.

ETA: Here are the links that weren’t working last night (even after most of Blogger seemed to have come back up) that I wanted to include: Rebecca Goetz’s exploration of punishments for interracial sex in 1640s Virginia, and her discussion of Captain William Mitchell and his “Crimes... Soe many and Soe haynous.” And for more on early modern technology, see CLASSical Liberalism’s account of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish military engineer who was inspired by the Declaration of Independence and became George Washington’s chief engineer and strategist.

The next Carnivalesque, in its ancient/medieval incarnation, will be announced here and should appear in early March. The next edition of the History Carnival will be hosted on 15 February at Philobiblon. Please send entry nominations to Natalie Bennett: natalieben[at]journ[dot]freeserve[dot]co[dot]uk, or use the submission form here. So many good things!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Don't forget Carnivalesque coming up! I'll be hosting it here this weekend, and the theme is early modern (1400-1800, or thereabouts): history, literature, art, architecture, philosophy, politics, you name it.

Here are a few themes I've been considering, if you need a nudge:

Anything on specific content is good: comments on individuals (Brunelleschi, Elizabeth I, Christine de Pisan, Rabelais, Machiavelli...) or themes (the significance of print culture, early modern trade connections, social contract theory...).

Personally, I'm jonesing for some discussion of popular culture (and the teaching or research thereof), especially the kind drawn from case studies such as Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, Steven Ozment's The Burgermeister's Daughter, and Gene Brucker's Giovanni and Lusanna.

I'm also curious to see reactions to this recent spate of books on particular years: John Wills’ 1688: A Global History, Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Roger Crowley’s 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, and of course the famous Gavin Menzies, 1421: The Year China Discovered America. It would also be great to see discussion on what you think are the best new books on early modern themes, or sites that provide early modern primary sources.

Last but not least, there's the way the early modern period is represented in our own culture. I just heard about a new television series (American-produced but showing in the UK?) on the Inquisition. Any comments on recent TV, film, or literary representations of early modern topics? The New World, anyone?

Those are just a few ideas; I'm certainly not going to restrict it to these. You want to talk periodization, politics, global connections, anything else, go for it! Please send submissions (your own, or good things you've come across) to me at valdemoro [at] sbcglobal [dot] net, or use the nifty submissions form at Carnivalesque. Thanks, and stay tuned!