Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

I don't think I made any specific New Year's resolutions last year. I used to love having an end-of-year period of deep introspection and figuring out what lessons I needed to learn and what paths I needed to explore, but for the past two or three years I've had the sense that I'm going generally in the right direction and just need to keep chugging along. That's very satisfying in some ways, at least the feeling that there's nothing in my life right now that needs to be fixed, but I'm beginning to feel the need for some kind of spiritual challenge.

While I figure that out, though, it's a good time to look back for a moment. I have a surprisingly crappy memory, so I'm sure I'm forgetting some of the big things that have happened, but the highlights of this year include the following:
  • this was my first year of tenure, which was generally uneventful, but has given me an overall sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and relief
  • my book came out! That's a biggie. :)
  • I've made pretty good progress on the second book project. At the beginning of last year it was a very nebulous idea, and I was terrified of mentioning it to anyone. Over the course of the year I tracked down some good evidence in the archives, and had some wonderful and encouraging conversations with colleagues, and now I'm very excited about the whole thing.
  • I agreed (God help me) to host the yearly meeting of my principal academic organization in 2008. This isn't really an accomplishment yet, but several people talked to me about doing this, which means they must think I'm reasonably competent (or at least sufficiently gullible), and I'm kind of excited about that.
  • Several people in my department have made noises about how I'd be a good candidate for department chair.
  • I worked on my first Habitat for Humanity build! (and will do another this spring.)
  • Started taking yoga classes just about a year ago; that's been a great and satisfying success.
  • We made some nice improvements to the house this year, at least inside (outside is going to hell in a weedy overgrown handbasket) - new carpet and tile in the master bedroom & bath, a couple of new pieces of furniture, and lots of plans for next year...

Those are the big things; I guess the main theme is that this has been a really good year for my professional life. I haven't accomplished anything big (good or bad) personally or socially or spiritually; that's what I'd like to work on more for the coming year, though I'm not sure quite how to proceed. Mostly my goal is to make new friends: I like the people I work with, but I've felt a little starved for interesting conversation recently, and I realize that I've fallen into a lot of social ruts. (I even made the bar a far more interesting place in 2005 than I did in 2006; maybe I can liven that up a little too.) Time to stretch myself a little and shake things up.

What about you?

Have a lovely New Year's Eve, everyone; be safe, and I wish you all the best in friends, family, and good fortune for the new year!

Friday, December 22, 2006


Yesterday on “Charlie Rose” we saw the greatest interview with Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón, three innovative Mexican filmmakers who are also clearly good friends. Charlie was almost irrelevant to the discussion, as the three enthusiastically talked about themes and styles and stories in their work. What was interesting to note, in spite of the well-deserved fame each has achieved, was that they talked very little about their own work; each seemed more interested in describing and discussing the work of his friends. This made for an even richer discussion, I think, and of course it depended on the intimate knowledge each man had of his friends and their ideas, as well as a refreshing lack of ego.

At one point, towards the end, Charlie asked if they ever felt competitive, given their prominence and the fact that their films tend to be nominated for similar awards. This struck me as a rather unnecessary question, since the nature of the previous hour’s discussion had made it perfectly clear that the three were far more mutually supportive than anything, but then I decided that that itself was probably what Charlie was trying to highlight. They seemed a bit surprised by the question, but then responded that of course they weren’t competitive, and in fact they each at some point had withdrawn from various competitions in the interest of highlighting another’s work. What impressed me the most was Cuarón’s simple, honest comment: “When you can transform envy into admiration, that’s incredibly liberating.”

The LWI, who is Spanish, immediately remarked that that sort of attitude was far more common among Hispanics than among Anglo-Saxons. I suspect he’s right, and isn’t that sad? Certainly we collectively celebrate hard work and individual accomplishment, and that’s important, but it also lends itself to a zero-sum attitude, where my win is your loss – and that in turn cultivates one-upmanship and envy. I’ve noticed this working in other ways, in that Americans generally center conversations around their jobs and their accomplishments, while Spaniards will almost never discuss their work, because it doesn’t have that much to do with their identity. I’m making huge generalizations here, and I know there are any number of exceptions. But I was so taken with the way these three men talked to each other, and more importantly how genuinely they listened to each other, and I wish we could liberate ourselves to celebrate each other that way a little more often.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

are we there yet?

You know it's almost the end of the semester when...

...your Western Civ class is having an animated discussion of the Great Schism (when for a few decades in the late fourteenth century there were two popes claiming the papacy), and when you ask for possible solutions for this crisis, one student gleefully pipes up "They could joust for it!"

... and instead of chuckling politely and getting the discussion back on course to a discussion of the role of church councils, you give in to evil temptation and respond that a good game spinoff of that would be "Rock'em Sock'em Pontiffs..."

... and the whole class falls into helpless ridiculousness for the rest of the hour.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The love shirt

Bardiac had a nice description today of a shirt that eases her way through a bad day, partly because it's thick and soft and partly because it fits better than it used to. This is not a small thing in my opinion, and it reminded me of a similar shirt I used to own - or more precisely, of which I was in temporary custody.

Many years ago, my old friend RocketBoy gave me several of his old shirts. There's nothing better than big old shirts from guys you love - worn soft, full of good memories, and big enough to wrap yourself in on cold or scary days. One of them, he told me, was special. Not because of its shape or design - it was just a nicely cut, white cotton long-sleeved shirt - but because it had a long history. I don't even remember the origins of the story, but the shirt came to be in the possession of his girlfriend's father, who gave it to his daughter when she went off to college because she had always loved to steal it from his closet. She wore it to comfort her during the difficult days of adjusting to the new world of college, but when she felt strong and confident, she passed it on to RocketBoy. RocketBoy wore it during some difficult times of his own, but when he figured out a new direction for his life, he gave the shirt to me. And with it he gave me these instructions: Wear it for a while, and then give it to someone you love.

By this time it was a bit frayed at the cuffs, but still soft and strong and a lovely reminder of my friend's support. I confess that I kept hold of it for several years, wearing it as I ended an ugly relationship and worked my way through the complicated years of grad school. After I married and landed my first job, I decided it was time, and I gave the shirt to Musical Friend in Louisiana. I haven't been in touch with him for a while, so I'm not sure how his life is going. But the nice thing about the shirt is that you win either way. If life is rough, you have the comfort of its warmth around your shoulders and the love of all the people that have passed it on to you... or if you're back on top of things, you can give that strength and love to someone else in turn, and smile when you think of them wearing it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

...But where does it go?

Okay, I need help with some meditation-visualizations here. I've been taking an awesome yoga class for the past several months, and when we end in the final corpse pose, the instructor always talks about letting go of whatever stress we've pulled loose, letting it fall away, letting it sink down into the floor.

I love that idea, but I can't help imagining the space about six feet below the floor as a dark seething cesspool of accumulated stress dumped by class after class, week after week, of yoga practitioners. It's a little unsettling. So lately I've been trying to visualize the space beneath the floor as a river, carrying all that stress away and washing us clean. But then I can't help wondering where the river goes, and picturing a big karmic dead zone like where the Mississippi dumps all its nasty fertilizer and chemical load into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything off.

I'm so attuned to environmental issues that I keep thinking of stress like toxic psychological waste: sure, I can get rid of it and that's nice for me, but where does it end up??

Friday, November 10, 2006

Life, the universe, and everything

Back to the comment box for questions: Amy asks who I was in a former life. That's a little disingenuous, because she knows perfectly well that I have some slightly weird ideas about this-life and beyond-this-life issues, and she's trying to expose me to the blogosphere as the loopy goofus that I am.

But you guys have seen plenty of goofiness here already, and you stuck around, so what the heck. Besides, I don't claim to have any particular sort of doctrine or truth, just my gut feeling, and I'm not going to impose my views on anyone else or imply that this has anything to do with anyone but me, or even suggest that this is much more than the product of an overactive imagination.

Many people seem to believe in reincarnation, that they have past lives they occasionally catch odd glimpses of. I can imagine that working, and I do get the sense about some people that they're "old souls," like they've been through this life business a few times and know their way around.

The only problem I have with this, oddly enough, is that it seems much too limited. If you imagine a soul or a life as a force that carries beyond the physical life-spans of its hosts, why limit yourself to a succession of human lives? Some people would go so far as to imagine that there's a sort of hierarchy of hosts, that you might have one life as a cockroach, and work your way up to a bunny rabbit, and with hard work and dedication end up as a presumably-superior homo sapiens (or fall back down again, if you screw up).

But even that falls short for me. Think of it this way: humans, as a species, perceive the world in a fairly limited way. Our eyes can only perceive part of the spectrum of light; our ears register a pathetically small range of sound; there are other forces of chemistry and magnetism that other species sense but that we don't, just because of the limitations of human perception. So, logically, we tend to think of our own existence within the limits of the possibilities given us by the human brain. If we go so far as to imagine a soul, and the possibility of reincarnation, we tend to think of simply reproducing the experiences we know, but in a slightly different time frame.

But why not think bigger than that? If you're going to imagine a soul or life-force that is independent from a physical body, why limit yourself to the patterns contained within a relatively recent species on one dinky planet in a nondescript solar system on the edge of a minor galaxy? Shouldn't the universe contain infinitely more interesting possibilities? I've always entertained the notion that my soul has had some sort of previous existence, but I don't think of that existence in the shape of a medieval French aristocrat, or a Roman courtesan. (People who talk about their previous lives generally portray them as much more exotic and interesting than the average peasant who would have made up the majority of the population... maybe it's just that those who don't think they have past lives had past lives that were too boring to be worth remembering.) I'd rather think of my soul as a universe-traveler, that has played at being a supernova, and the color blue, and an electron circling the nucleus of an atom, or any of an infinite number of things that are entirely beyond human experience and comprehension, and this time around it's chosen to see what humans are like.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now for the down side

Although I'm usually persistently and insistently cheerful, I also tend towards trying to keep a balanced perspective on everything - which means that when things start to look good, I allow myself a little criticism and negativity, just to stay honest.

So these days, on the one hand, I'm pumping my fist in the air and cheering: Dems in the House! Dems in the Senate! Rumsfeld out on his ass! YES.

But I also have to admit to some frustration with all the good people of America who voted against Republicans because of the war in Iraq. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that people are beginning to understand how ugly things are over there, and how badly we've messed up, and that we need to find a different approach than Bush's "Us Good! Them Bad!" tactics. I'm glad that they're frustrated with the Bush administration's failure to accomplish basic social order in Iraq, much less peace and democracy.

But I'm a little irritated that it took them so long. It angers me that people begin to notice that the streets of Baghdad are strewn with decapitated bodies, that American troops are facing increasing casualties, that Iraq is becoming a haven for potential terrorists, that the rest of the world (including our allies) is viewing us with increasing fear and concern, and they say "Oh, this isn't going so well, it isn't fun anymore, maybe we should quit." That's true, but it seems to pass over the fact that it was their own flag-waving enthusiasm that got us into this war in the first place. Sure, I'm angry at the government that trumped up excuses to get us into the war, but I'm also angry at the people who so naively believed them. I'm glad that these people are beginning to get a more realistic view of things, but it's far too late. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, much trust in the US has been destroyed, every country in the so-called "Axis of Evil" has every reason to pursue the development of nuclear weapons as fast as they possibly can, and God only knows where this will all end up. But some of the people who voted for Bush are sorry now, so it's all OK.

I’m an historian, and I begin every survey class with a discussion of the importance of history and why it's a required subject at nearly every level of our educational system. Students always say that it's important because we need to learn from the past, or at least to avoid making mistakes that we've made before. I would like to think that's true, but it only works if we either have some familiarity with history, or if we listen to historians.

Nearly every professional historian I know strenuously opposed the war in the Iraq from the beginning, and several major professional history organizations issued formal statements to this effect. Historians (even those whose specialties are not remotely linked to the Middle East) thought it was dangerously naive to think the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and parades, they argued that there was no link whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and they warned of the factional tensions that were likely to explode if we removed Saddam. But did anyone pay a damn bit of attention?

Maybe I'll have to begin my survey courses with a slightly more emphatic message: Ignore the historians, and people die.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fun with receipts

We stopped at the market on the way home to pick up some essential supplies (I am not proud of this, but Diet Pepsi with Lime is a drug I depend on to function in my daily life) and in the bakery section we found some nice fresh-baked bolillos. "Bolillo" is just Spanish for "roll," so they're ordinary roundish white-bread rolls, and we got a bag full.

I was just now entering the debit-card transaction into my files, when I noticed what it said on the receipt. While the bin was clearly labeled "bolillos," the receipt identifies our purchase as "Ethnic Bread." (Do you think if I bought their challah, it would show up as "Religious Bread"?)

Oh, and here's another one! We purchased two boxes of Swanson's brand chicken broth, and the abbreviation that shows up on the receipt is "Swan Broth." I wonder if that's tastier.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

General sense of inadequacy, soothed by food

Yet another weekend has gone by in which I have not enjoyed enough free time, nor have I gotten done all the things that were on my weekend list to do. I keep wrestling between the desire to buckle down, work the whole weekend, and at least get caught up on everything, and the desire to just take a day off and goof around a little and restore my sanity a bit, and I end up not doing either very well.

So, for a quickie post, I'll take up Phantom on her request for food blogging. This paradoxically can serve as a response to both the question "what's for dinner?" and the question "what are you craving that you can only get in Spain?" because my husband has attempted, for the first time, to reproduce my Awesome Sister-in-Law's famous albondigas. Literally this just translates as "meatballs," but that doesn't really do them justice, because they're meatballs cooked in a special secret sauce, served over crispy potatoes. I've never had them prepared this way outside of Spain, but LWI spent a chunk of time this afternoon slaving over the secret sauce, and oh baby does it smell good.

While he was doing that, I whipped up another favorite recipe, my Awesome Sister-in-Law's famous yogurt bread. I find this recipe oddly entertaining because it measures everything in proportion to the size of yogurt you use, so you just use the empty yogurt container to measure the other ingredients: two yogurts of yogurt, two yogurts of sugar, three yogurts of flour, half a yogurt of vegetable oil. (See, I'm chuckling just typing that out. I am so easily entertained, it's an embarrassment.) That plus three eggs (whip the whites first, and then mix in the yolks, then stir in everything else) [oops - and a couple of teaspoons of baking powder!] and a handful of frozen berries and/or chocolate chips, baked for 40 minutes or so, and you have yourself an excellent breakfast for the week.

It may sound from these two examples that we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves in the kitchen without my Awesome Sister-in-Law. The truth is that we managed for some time without her recipes, but we don't quite remember how, and truly those were darker days.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Purple_Kangaroo just left me a nice comment on an old post (thanks, PK!), old enough that I had to go back and re-read it because I had no memory of what it was about, and in the process of looking for it I glanced over all the posts from that month (March 2005). And that made me realize, goddamn, this blog used to be a lot better. I don't know if it's fall, which always makes me a bit fuzzy, or a phase of mild depression, or just the usual mid-semester weariness, but I haven't had thoughts that clear and interesting for some time.

But I shall carry on, and perhaps the Fun Witty Pilgrim will eventually come back out from her hiding place in the dark corners of my head.

jo(e) asked me about my earliest memory, which is interesting because I have very, very few memories of my childhood, up until about the age of twelve. Nothing traumatic; it's just that I was the youngest of six children, and my mother was tired of having kids, and both of us were eager for me to get through the whole childhood business as quickly as possible so we could get on with our lives.

But my father and I had some very close moments, and one of those I remember vividly. It was fall, cool enough that I was wearing the fuzzy purple coat that I loved, and we were walking through the leaves in Centennial Park. I was four or five years old, and there was something I was worried about - perhaps the first day of school, or some new event I wasn't sure how to handle. I was trying to explain to my father how I felt, but I didn't have the right words. I wasn't afraid, really, because it wasn't a scary thing; I wasn't nervous, because I was pretty sure I could handle whatever it was; I just had a vague sense of unease at the unfamiliar situation coming up.

My father listened to my attempts to describe this feeling, and then he smiled and looked at me and said very carefully, "You are apprehensive!" And oh, the wonder of having the word that captured exactly that feeling. I sounded it out - app-re-hen-sive. Yes! That's what I was. Ideas have colors and shapes in my head, and words are like the boxes we use to convey them to other people; the goal is to find a box of the right shape and size so that it won't distort the fragile idea that it carries. I love finding the right box, and I love that my earliest memory is of my father helping me find one.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


So here's another question (dang, you guys are better than a Magic Eight Ball!). As I proceed along the paths of academia, I keep finding myself in new territory for which I am wholly unprepared. There seem to be unwritten Codes of Conduct for all sorts of academic situations, and I figure them out as I go along, but geez, I wish someone would write these all out in a nifty book.

The latest issue: when you publish a book, and your publisher sends you a handful of free copies, to whom should you give copies? I know some of this is a matter of personal choice, in regards to friends and family. But are there standard recipients in one's academic hierarchy?

It's obvious to me that I should give a copy to my graduate adviser, because this book is an offshoot of my dissertation project, and I am deeply grateful to her for her guidance and support. But I was discussing this question with a friend of mine who has also recently published her first book, and she was told by a colleague that she should give a copy to the dean, in a tone that suggested duh, everybody knows you give a copy to your dean! My dean is awesome, but it hadn't crossed my mind to give her a copy of my book. Now I'm wondering what else isn't crossing my mind? My provost was unusually supportive during a moment of tenure-related crisis; I would rather like to give him a copy as a sign of my gratitude as well. But if I give copies to those two, should I also give one to my department chair, who is a very nice person but who was minimally involved in my tenure decision, and probably could care less? Should I give a copy to a colleague at my previous place of employment, who gave me a copy of his book when it was published? I'd like to do so as a gesture that I still value him as a friend and colleague, but I'm also a little concerned that it would look too snooty. Previous place of employment was a small teaching-oriented liberal arts college, which I left in part because it gave virtually no support for research, and I don't want it to look like I'm saying "Hey, it took you over twenty years to publish your first book, but here I did mine in four!"

Okay, now I'm just getting into psychological games. The real question is this: are there standard people to whom one conventionally gives copies of one's first book? Please keep in mind that my book was published by a press that only publishes in hardback and slaps a hefty price tag on its books; I have six free copies, but can't easily afford to invest in more. Where should they go?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hate that when that happens

Yesterday in one of my upper-level courses, we were discussing a rebellion against a sixteenth-century ruler who had just inherited his throne. The students had read the demands of the rebels, and we were discussing their perspective, their demands for greater local rule, and their resistance to this new ruler whom they neither knew nor trusted.

I then asked them what the ruler's perspective would be regarding these demands. Without missing a beat, one student responded ruefully, "Well, it'd really mess up his king vibe."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chop chop

So I finally finished my review of the Nasty Stinky Book (which turned out to be not all that nasty and stinky, just moderately troublesome). Relieved and happy to get the thing off my to-do list, I went back to the original instruction sheet to make sure I was doing the heading and the formatting and all that stuff properly. Everything shipshape, all I needed to do was print... on A4 paper. It's a British journal, and they want an actual printout as well as a copy on disk mailed to them across the Atlantic.

Those of you who have ever been anywhere outside the US are probably familiar with A4 paper; it's just a shade bigger than our regular 8 1/2 x 11. It's another product of the metric system, which means that most civilized people in the world use it but us. My software lets me format a document for A4; my printer has a setting for A4; now all I needed was the paper itself.

The campus bookstore? Nope. Office Depot? Never heard of it. (Seriously - they had no idea what I was talking about.) Fortunately I began my quest by making phone calls rather than driving around town; something deep in my brain must have suspected that this wasn't going to be as easy as it ought to have been. After six calls to major office supply stores, I only found one person who even knew what A4 meant, and she didn't have any.

I ranted in fury to the Left-Wing Intellectual, who said "Did you check the office? I'm sure I've seen some lying around in the office." I didn't believe him, but asked him to go look for some; it would keep him out of my hair while I yelled at the office-supply people, and on the off chance he was right, he would totally make my day. He turned up triumphantly a few minutes later with a stack of paper that looked...suspiciously long. No, it was just our non-metric next size up, 8 1/2 x 14. "Thanks, but sorry, hon, that's just a little bit too large."

Hey. Wait a minute. That's just a little bit too large.

One rendez-vous with the paper-slicer, and voila, the 8 1/2 x 14 inches are magically transformed into the desired 210 x 297 millimeters. Do you think they'll notice?

Friday, August 25, 2006


B* had a nice post the other day about how “people attend to details about us that we might not ever notice.” This reminded me of a wonderful conversation I had with GoldenFriend the other night. Golden and I went to college together, and we’ve kept in touch off and on ever since, even though at this point we haven’t seen each other for a few years. Most of the time months will go by between conversations, but one of us always breaks the silence, and we always manage to find a connection again. This is something I treasure.

She called me a few nights ago, and during our conversation (especially with all the recent kids-off-to-college posts I’ve read in the blogosphere), it struck me that Golden and I met for the first time on our first day of college, almost exactly twenty years ago. Twenty years! So I asked her: Golden, you sound the same, you have the same sense of humor, I still think I know what matters to you and what your days are like. But it’s been twenty years since we’ve met, and we haven’t been around each other much for the last sixteen of those twenty. What’s different about you now? How should I adjust my mental image of you to match the person you are now?

Golden and I love these kinds of topics, so she took that question and ran with it, and we had a fascinating conversation. As part of this, of course, she tossed the same question back at me. I responded that in some ways I’m more brave than I used to be, because I have more experience and I’m more confident in my abilities. But in some ways, surprisingly, I’m less brave. There are things I did without thinking twenty years ago that just boggle the mind now (arriving in the Bangkok airport in the middle of the night with no idea of where I was going to stay is one example that comes to mind). I’m glad I did those things while I did, because the thought of them terrifies me now, and I have no idea where I got the nerve to do them them. At this point Golden interrupted me and said “But one of the things I most vividly remember you telling me then is that sometimes you did things precisely because they scared you. You said that if something was scary just because it was a challenge, that was a better reason to do it than not to do it, and that’s exactly why you flew off to Bangkok. That was always one of the things I admired most about you.”

What’s funny is that I don’t remember saying that at all, but here she’s carried it around for twenty years as part of her idea of me. (And, come to think of it, that is exactly why I flew off to Bangkok.) I’ve been facing some interesting professional opportunites lately, and they’re both exciting and scary. I’m afraid of making big commitments; I’m afraid of making a mess in front of lots of people; I’m thinking that maybe the common-sense thing to do would be to back off a bit, save my strength, not get over-burdened.

But now I wonder - maybe I should look at myself through Golden’s eyes, and take the advice I gave myself twenty years ago. Why the heck not?

Monday, August 14, 2006

High praise

Back from a brief cat-petting break, I paused by LWI's desk and dropped a kiss on his cheek as he was hard at work preparing a class on modern Germany.

His response: "Ah, that's much better than Hitler."

Thursday, July 13, 2006


My time in Spain is almost over, and I have only one day left in the archive where I've been spending mornings working on a new project. I'm looking for particular bits of information without being sure of exactly where I might find them (possibly in university records, possibly in Inquisition files, possibly in royal pardon requests...), so I've been doing lots of skimming through different kinds of documents to see how promising they look. So far I've found just enough to make me think that this project is doable, though it will continue to involve lots of sifting through files to find just a few tasty little crumbs.

I had one last section to glance at today, and I'd left it for last because I suspected it would involve even more skimming for even fewer useful bits, and because it's very poorly catalogued - the catalog only says that there are 80-some boxes covering three centuries, so I had to choose a box more or less at random hoping to land somewhere near the mid-1600s. I opened the box, and was disappointed to find that the documents were not what I expected - they dealt with the right people, but contained entirely different kinds of reports from what I thought they were going to have. (Plus they were from the 1730s, and I'm just not a big fan of the eighteenth century.) I nearly returned the box right away, but then I thought I should skim through a few more files to see if they were all the same. They seemed to be, but one of them bore the name of a small town I visited last year and really liked, so I took a closer look more out of nostalgia than anything else. Lo and behold - towards the end of each file, and entirely unexpected given the particular information these files contained, there was exactly the kind of information I'd been looking for. It was in every single file, and there were 65 files in the box I was holding.

I have only one day left in the archive. I don't know whether to celebrate like crazy, or jump off a bridge.

Friday, July 07, 2006


One of the things I occasionally marvel at is how gracefully my in-laws duck all questions of religion and politics, given the striking and potentially painful differences in perspective caused by Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970s and the drastically reduced role of the Catholic church. My parents-in-law are devout Catholics and politically firmly conservative; their four children belong to the generation that rejected Franco and celebrated his death. My oldest brother-in-law has stories of being in college when armed policemen came into the classroom to take his too-liberal professors away (and that particular image comes into my head more and more often these days; who knew that fascist Spain would end up being a more genuinely liberal democracy than the U.S.?).

Despite these differences, though, everyone's remarkably good about respecting everyone else's views in the household, and no one says anything to offend. Yesterday on the afternoon news there was a report of how the European parliament has issued an official condemnation of Franco and his government, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Although we were all in the room, the only commentary came in the form of faint snorts of derision from all: ours signifying exasperation that it came seventy years too late ("breaking news! fascism was bad!"), and the parents' at the thought that the European parliament would presume from afar to condemn the system they grew up with, which gave them nothing but stability and prosperity.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Just to give you the full effect, this is Ainsa, the setting of the meal pictured below. (Can you tell I'm nostalgic for this trip already??)


The northern and eastern regions of Spain are well-known for their cuisine, and we took every opportunity to taste the local specialties. We didn't eat a bad (or even a less-than-great) meal the entire trip, but two meals stood out among the general happy feasting. The first was when we found ourselves on a Sunday in a town a bit smaller than we'd expected, where nearly everything was closed. We found one small store where we could buy ingredients for dinner that evening, but the bakery next door seemed to be closed. When we asked the store owner if there was anyplace we could buy bread, she stepped out into the street and called to a man strolling a half block away: "Pacoooooo, come open the bakery!" Paco responded graciously and brought us an enormous loaf of fresh-baked bread. Emboldened by our success, we asked if there was anyplace nearby open for lunch, and store-lady recommended a place just down the hill, past the school on the left - usually it's closed on weekends, but this was a festival weekend, so fortunately for us it was open. Oh, so fortunately! I had fresh asparagus and venison in a rich grape sauce; awesome sister-in-law had grilled lubina (a sweet white fish, not sure what it's called in English), and the Left-Wing Intellectual enjoyed serrano ham with pimientos del padron and a thick steak. Two courses each, with wine and coffee and dessert (oh, that dessert warrants a whole separate post), for which the total bill was about $25 each. (We went back to thank the store-lady afterwards.)

Awesome SIL took a picture of that lunch, so I don't have access to it yet, but below you may behold Superlative Meal #2, enjoyed in the little medieval town of Ainsa. Notice the stone walls: we're in the wine-cellar of the restaurant, cool and quiet, with plates of duck, bull-tail stew, and more lubina. (Faces blurred to protect the crucial pseudonymity of the LWI on the left and ASIL on the right. The food will have to fend for itself.)

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Just a taste of treats to come: here's one of the towns we stayed in last week. The apartment itself was in an ancient stone house on the main plaza, restored so that the interior was perfect and modern and comfortable, but the main structure is centuries old. Most of the inhabitants don't have cars - why bother? - and we were at least fifty miles from any town with more than a hundred people, so there was absolute tranquility... no sound but the local folks chatting with each other in the street, and the birds and crickets, and the river passing through the valley below.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Death by dinner

Since we’re back in the city where the Left-Wing Intellectual was born and raised, naturally when we return there are lots and lots of friends to see and relatives to visit. Spaniards, as many other cultures, like to express their affection through and over food, so it’s common for us to meet friends out for dinner or to be invited to people’s houses for a meal. Naturally this is a delightful experience (especially since I have a particular fondness for Spanish cuisine), but it can be dangerous when too many of these outings cluster too close together.

Last weekend was one of those clusters. It began on Friday, when we met Guy Who Knows Everybody for lunch at his favorite Asturian restaurant. (He really is the guy who knows everybody; every time we go out with him, we can’t get half a block down the street anywhere in the city without people stopping to greet him.) The Asturian restaurant has ohmygod the most wonderful food, but in quantities that would have gotten Napoleon’s armies all the way to Moscow and back. We started with a fabada – a cauldron full of beans in a rich thick sauce seasoned with baseball-sized chunks of chorizo and morcilla sausage, eaten with warm crusty bread and fizzy Asturian cider. A plateful of this is more than I generally eat for a meal, but it’s only the first course. Next comes the merluza, a table-width platter of the most tender, delicate white fish, over a layer of tasty fried potatoes. After that we gave up any hope of moving for the next few days and went ahead and had an almond-cake dessert with liqueurs. After slouching back in our chairs and groaning for half an hour or so, we proceeded home where we collapsed on the couch and groaned for the rest of the day.

Saturday, we were invited to the house of some family friends for a barbecue. Mmmm! Nothing like a big plate of sausage and steak after a long day of sitting around recovering from sausage and beans! (Those of my readers who attended our wedding will probably have vivid memories of how Spaniards serve steak. Beef actually isn’t that common here - pork and lamb are more frequently found - but when they do beef they do it big. Nothing says love like a steak the size of my laptop!) Sunday we celebrated my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, with what else but a giant meal at a restaurant with a lovely outdoor terrace. What? You’ve only eaten two servings of ham? Here, you must have some more, it’s the best in town. (and how can you say no to a man celebrating his eightieth birthday?)

It doesn't help that left to my own devices I tend to be a vegetarian; did you notice that not a single vegetable appears in this narrative? (no, fried potatoes don't really count as a vegetable.) I love these people dearly, but I'm afraid they're going to kill me. ...In the meantime, pass the potatoes?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Princesses and espadrilles

Highlights of the past week (besides being able to connect to the internets in the national library!):

• a morning at the Madrid book fair, one of the biggest in the world. The setting is the lovely green Retiro park, where on the paths among the trees you find several hundred stands with every kind of book you can imagine (all at a 10% discount during the fair, of course), lots of author presentations and signings, and thousands upon thousands of happy Spaniards browsing through the possibilities. (I'm always impressed by how much Spaniards like to read; the book fair is one of the year's biggest attractions, and it's rare to see a commuter on the metro without a book in her hands.)

• an unexpected glimpse of Princess Elena (the oldest daughter of the Spanish royal family) at the book fair. She was dressed casually, and most people were focused on the books rather than each other, so hardly anyone recognized her (either that, or Spaniards are remarkably blase about their royal family). She was only about five feet away, and I wanted so badly to say hello just so I could say that I had, but I chickened out.

• a day in Toledo, with a deliciously slow and attentive stroll through the cathedral (which I've seen a dozen times, but it's so big and complex that every time there's something new to discover)

• several excellent outings with friends, over olives and cheese and little garlicky fishes and wine in cozy bars with worn tile floors and chunky oak tables. There are several chain restaurants here (and every day another Starbucks), but fortunately the vast majority of places are still little family-owned bars, each with its own character, that look like they haven't changed in the last two centuries.

• a morning spent waiting in line for shoes. Not the sort of thing that would usually be a highlight, but it was such an absurd situation that I enjoyed it immensely. There's an espadrille shop in downtown Madrid that for some reason attracts huge mobs of people; my sister-in-law had purchased some for her mother, but needed to exchange them for a different size, so we offered to go on a weekday morning since the place is too crowded on weekends. So imagine, a beautiful Thursday morning, we head to the neighborhood just south of the Plaza Mayor, and it's easy to find the shop because there are people standing in line outside the door. For espadrilles! We claimed a spot, settled in, struck up conversations with the other shoppers, developed a system of keeping people's places in line so they could wander off and window-shop down the street, and overheard the surprised comments of passers-by when they realized that we were all waiting for cheap shoes. Usually people start to get antsy about standing in line for so long, but I think everyone was a little embarrassed about waiting in line for espadrilles, so we all just laughed and enjoyed the morning and eventually wandered off with armloads of shoeboxes. (I didn't get any for myself, but we did get a teeny tiny pair of red-and-white Basque sandals as a gift for a friend's new baby.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Adventures in the attic

(Preface: one of the reasons I go on these no-posting binges is that when I neglect the blog for a few days, I feel like when I post again I either have to have a really good story or to come up with some sort of apology for not having posted, and that sense of obligation becomes burdensome enough to keep me from starting a post. So the solution is to avoid the good story and the apology and just write this explanation instead, and to try to convince myself to duck the guilt, because it is just a blog.)

So anyway. Since we’ll be gone for two months, I’ve had a whole list of fixy things to do with the house before we go. Ostensibly the easiest of these involved replacing the little screen over the dryer vent where the vent exits the house. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, because it’s high enough up to need a small ladder, and there’s a flowering tree on that side of the house that makes it difficult to get the ladder just where I need it. But through some rather clever ladder-yoga I managed to get everything teeteringly in place, and got the new screen on. There were a few bits of grass and straw poking out of the vent, and though it didn’t seem obstructed, I suddenly had a flash of memory of having seen little birds hopping around that tree and ducking into the vent. That was about a year ago, and I’d realized then that the screen was loose – the birds were just pushing it aside and getting into the vent, which was like a nice little shady front porch for them. At the time I fixed the screen back into place (having seen no obvious evidence of nesting) and didn’t think much of it. This spring I noticed the screen was entirely gone, and though I hadn’t seen any more bird activity there, I wanted to get it fixed before we left.

Having done so (hey, that was easy! look how handy I am!), I thought I’d double check and make sure the vent wasn’t obstructed. Turned on the dryer – and only the faintest breath of air came out the vent. Hmmm... this is going to require an expedition into the attic. So I clambered up the wobbly pull-down ladder in the garage, crawled up into the dark, hot, dusty corner where the vent reaches the outside, wrestled it loose enough to ease an arm inside, and just at an arm’s length inside the vent there was an impressive wad of grass and shredded newspaper.

Having cleared out that wad, I triumphantly turn on the dryer again, and… just the faint little breath of air. Now I'm starting to take this personally, muttering foul curses against cute little birds and their cozy little porches. (For full effect, please keep in mind that it's well over 90 degrees in the attic and I'm doing this by flashlight, balancing on the ceiling joists, in a space that's only a few feet high). I manage to unattach the vent from the frame of the roof and un-duct-tape the last three-foot section, which turns out to have three separate grass-wads plugging up its length. How long have they been at this? Dryer on again… and still nothing. Somehow this has gone from a five-minute fix to something that will involve me dismantling my entire attic. So I turn to the next section of vent, disconnect that, and remove several more feet of grass and newspaper. It’s a bit late to make a long story short, but suffice it to say that I ended up cleaning astonishing amounts of crap out of about fifteen feet of dryer vent (and I looked like I was wearing most of it by the time I climbed back down). WTF? I can’t imagine birds nesting that far back, but they were probably irritated by the hot and mysteriously Bounce-scented wind that blew through every Sunday afternoon, and blocked it off for that reason.

Sorry, birds. But I bet my dryer will sure work better tomorrow.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

vacation, all I ever wanted

Okay, instead of all the grading I was supposed to do, I spent a good chunk of last night and this morning IM'ing with awesome sister-in-law (who now will need her own pseudonym, hmm), and I am absolutely beside myself with excitement about how this summer trip is shaping up.

Just two things, as tantalizing examples: MedievalWoman asked about whether this region was close to the Camino de Santiago. Lo, it is, and it looks like this:

But it only gets better. We're staying four nights in a bed & breakfast (more like an apartment, really, because it's a separate floor with its own entry, kitchen, etc.) - and, well, here it is.

Let me add that it's going to cost - for the three of us - about half what a night in an average U.S. hotel would cost (because it's in a town of about a hundred people). And within half an hour's driving distance we have the castle from yesterday's post, various medieval monasteries, and some of the world's most gorgeous hiking.

How am I supposed to get any work done now, with my head full of this?

Saturday, March 25, 2006


My week-before-last spring break trip to Madrid was mostly a scouting trip for a possible future summer study-abroad class, so I don't have a lot of great stories. (we walked a lot! we did quick sprints through lots of museums! we bought lots of guidebooks!)

There should be a much greater potential for stories, however, from the summer trip we're planning. This one will be mostly a research trip (and a family trip, since we stay with LWI's parents) but we always plan a fun getaway of some sort. This summer's week-long escape will include the following:

and best of all, a weekend in a tiny medieval town that celebrates a festival in which the entire town is lit only by candles:

How cool is that?!

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!