From Cyprus to Greece

I head from Cyprus to Greece this morning and transition from our work at Polis (which is publishing an excavated site) to field work with the Western Argolid Regiona Project

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I haven’t quite finished the last bits of my season report for Polis and there are a few little database issues to resolved over the weekend. It was a good season overall, and I’ll miss spending time with artifacts and colleagues. More on my work at Polis in the next few days.

Onward to WARP!

Publishing PKAP

One of the things that my friends and I said when we ran the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project is that we would publish promptly. We took that part of our responsibility as archaeologists seriously and produced our first volume documenting our intensive pedestrian survey work at the site as soon as we could. In fact, we excluded the results of our excavation from our first volume with the plans to publish a second volume. This made sense for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that our excavations were small, the assemblages were relatively more complex to understand, and the number of moving parts (including a retired collaborator!) remained relatively high. The result has been a series of delays and we’re now about 4 years adrift of our last excavation season, have new projects afoot, and are looking ahead to new fieldwork and writing opportunities.

Yesterday, Scott Moore, David Pettegrew, and I had a general meeting about the publication status of PKAP II. We reckon we’re 80% done with the manuscript. The core of the book is the analysis of the stratigraphy and the catalogue of finds with brief sections on our excavation methods and the history of excavation at the site.

The biggest challenge facing us is working on the conclusions. In PKAP I we offered some conclusions that located the Pyla-Koutsopetria micro-region in the larger context of the island of Cyprus and then the Eastern Mediterranean. Our excavations produced a more concentrated assemblage of material that speaks to the history of two small sites: an Early Christian basilica on the coastal plain and a Hellenistic fortified site on the on the plateau of Vigla. The assemblages of material from these sites offers important insights into the Early Hellenistic period and Late Antiquity on the island. Our goal in the conclusion is to write tiny histories of these sites that bring together the excavated assemblages with our survey data, with other assemblages across the island, and with larger narratives of sites (as opposed to regions) on the island.

To get to this point, though, we need to wrangle data, wrangle texts, and most importantly, wrangle people. As we lurch toward having our manuscript complete, we need to arrange the moving parts committed by various scholars. More on this as our manuscript finally takes shape.

Working at Polis

For the last week or so, I’ve been working with Scott Moore and Brandon Olson at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. This is a ongoing publication project focused on the study of the Hellenistic and later material. We started our work in the area around the South Basilica (or E.F2 in Polis lingo), and Brandon Olson continues to work on the Hellenistic material from there. 

Scott Moore and I have shifted our attention from E.F2 to a small excavated area around E.F1. Over the last week, we’ve read most of the pottery from the area and unpacked the stratigraphy as best we can. Now, we’re working on writing up the phases and commenting on the function of the area.

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This work has yielded some intriguing results.

First, we’re beginning to define certain horizons across the area and seem to have at least two phases of Late Antique activities at the site. One is earlier, perhaps dating to the 5th century, and the other seems to date to late 6th and early 7th century, and both are defined by ceramic assemblages. We also have an earlier 1st c. BC/1st c. AD horizon across the site and Brandon is working to put together an assemblage of Early Hellenistic material. (What is particularly cool about these early Hellenistic assemblages is that they link our material from Polis to some of our excavated assemblages from Pyla-Koutsopetria on the eastern part of the island.) We hope these assemblages both inform how we understand the site of Polis, but also how we understand these periods across the island as a whole.

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Secondly, so far the areas we have studied at Polis have shown signs of industrial activity ranging from ceramic production to iron work. EF1 has a rather expansive and clearly defined level filled with iron slag. We also found an usually large number of pithoi (storage vessels), a few amphora stands, and a funnel which also may have industrial functions. We hope that our work will not only help us date the slag and various utilitarian ceramics as well as slowly piece together the history of settlement in this section of the city.

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Finally, the area of E.F1 showed several phases of architectural activity which begins at bedrock. With any luck we’ll be able to unpack these architectural phases to understand the shape of this room and hallway at various times in its history. The site is small, the assemblages manageable, and the problems seem relatively minor, but part of the fun of archaeology is that everything seems to make sense before you try to write it down.

As someone with very uneven archaeological experience consisting of several years of survey, a few seasons of excavation, and some weeks in storerooms looking at pottery and notebooks, projects like Polis help me learn to think more systematically as an archaeologist. Going through past notebooks, scrutinizing ceramics and building schematic diagrams of horizontal and vertical relationships has helped me learn to understand how excavation produces knowledge. I may never be a good or “real” archaeologist, but I hope that working through the site of E.F1 (and E.F2) and taking a few weeks a year to immerse myself in the complexities of spatial relationship, chronology, artifact typologies, and ancient actives will help me be better able to understand archaeological evidence when it’s deployed in the service of historical arguments.

Season Finale of Caraheard Season 2

The season finale of Season 2 of the Caraheard podcast is simply epic. Over two hours of Caraheard goodness with lots of cross references.

To celebrate, I present you with an equally epic show notes to help you navigate the web of references in this final podcast. 

We talked quite optimistically about the number of podcasts in the first episode of the season. We failed to get to a dozen episodes, but we did one per month and we had some pretty spectacular guests including Dimitri Nakassis, Ömür Harmansah, Jon FreyKostis Kourelis, Bev Phillips, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Pretty cool group for our second season on the internets. 

I think it might be nice to have chapters in our podcast, although they may involve more work than we’re willing to invest. Marco Arment, who developed the fine podcast application Overcast was opposed to chapters, until he wasn’t.

We mention Michael Shanks, Bill Rathje, and Chris Witmore’s nice edited volume Archaeology in the Making: Conversations though a Discipline. (London 2013). I reviewed the book this essay for the American Journal of Archaeology and we talk about it with Kostis Kourelis on our podcast here.

I mention The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota never missing a chance to promote my little publishing house. Go and download our books.

For those who are curious. This is the mighty Milo at Repose:

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One of our first big hits from our first season was a live podcast with Andrew Reinhard on the topic of archaeogaming. 

Here’s a link to Ryan Adams, Live at Carnegie Hall. I might have overstated the sonic issues with this album. Despite what I said, I do like the live recordings at KEXP. In fact, I just like KEXP. I also mention Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall. This is a fantastic album.

Wikipedia has nice entry on the loudness wars and a useful primer on Foley Effects.

I mentioned my beloved Zu Speakers and misrepresented the power of my stereo subwoofer set up

I keep teasing about OUTRAGE.

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Here’s what I’m talking about.

Next season, we’re teasing David Pettegrew for the show and his new book is already being promoted by the University of Michigan Press.  We also tease having Bret Weber on the show (he doesn’t do the internet) and Aaron Barth (he blogs here sometimes). We also mentioned a book that will come out on my press edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Derek Counts, and Jody Gordon, titled Mobilizing the Past. I need to get something up to promote it. Finally, it would be really cool to get Eric Kansa, R. Scott Moore, and Sarah Lepinski on the podcast as well.

We mention Loutra Elenis in Greece and Richard’s work at Lechaion, Kenchreai, Korphos, and Vayia and mention Dimitri Nakassis’s lovely short piece on Athens.

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We also talk about some of my work with David Pettegrew at the site of Ano Vayia.

Here’s our stone-by-stone:Www ascsa edu gr pdf uploads hesperia 40981055 pdf 3

And our drawing of the Lychnari tower:

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Tim Gregory wrote desert islands here, he and I published a fort on Mt. Oneion here, and this is the Musandam Peninsula in Oman where Richard’s friend Simon Donato does adventure science 

The ISAW Papers are a pretty cool initiative from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU. I call KML something strange, but it’s really Keyhole Markup Language.

James Wiseman wrote a very useful topographic study of the Corinthia called The Land of the Ancient Corinthians. While there have been many topographic studies of this region, Corinth I by Fowler and Stillwell remains a classic.  

Bill is preparing these show notes from the village of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. For more on his work there, go here, and for some details on the burials at Polis in the area of EG0 are here. He will also be working with the fine folks at WARP (the Western Argolid Regional Project) and will carefully blog about his time here. Finally, he and his colleagues, plod along in the publication of the Pyla-Kouteopstroa Archaeological Project and here is PKAP I (PKAP II is in the works!). 

Richard’s will be working on the Dakota War. You can get a brief survey of the Dakota Wars in an introduction that Richard wrote for a translation of Karl Jakob Skarsteins’s War with the Sioux. You can download that book for free here or buy it on Amazon. There is another university press in North Dakota, and a very fine one at that. Over the course of that conversation we refer to the Pleiades Project, as well as psychogeography and magical realism

Before long, Bill diverges into a conversation about cricket positions

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We talk about how to end things like North Dakota Quarterly or the North Dakota Humanities Council’s Game Changer Series, and how it’s sometimes best to have a plan for how to end something from the beginning. This brings us to the idea of a suicide gene.

Friday Quick Hits and Varia

After the slow blogging week, here’s a little gaggle of quick hits and varia on an early Saturday morning here in Polis, Cyprus.

First, I’d be remiss not to link to Scott Moore’s ongoing review series on exotic potato chips here on Cyprus. It’s an institution.

Brett Ommen is much smarter than I am, and his review of my idea for an Outrage Summit is really smart and subtle. Read it. (And for more on my Outrage Summit… go here).

Dimitri Nakassis has written some great little essays on his blog. If you haven’t read his piece on Athens, do it now. And then read his little piece against the universal museum.

Check out this disarming and clever short story by Janet Sarbanes on the North Dakota Quarterly website.

On the chapbook. I want to get into publishing chapbooks.

NPR on becoming a slow professor. I’ve posted on this book here and here.

Grad School has always sucked.

The new Radiohead album is pretty good.

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Fantastic Fonts

On the flight to Cyprus, I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Without giving too much away, it involves a fictional 16th century font called Gerritszoon. It’s a nice little book and moves along well enough to be a single-sitting read.

The fictional font at the middle of the story is particularly interesting because – again this is a bit of spoiler – the font ends up revealing something very personal about the author and publisher of an early book. It got me thinking about the story of Doves Type and recent documentary, Helvetica

This is not profound, but fonts provide a connection between the computer interface, the printed page, or the mobile device and the reader. In an era when our personal devices – whether sleek silver laptop or glass and aluminum phone – are increasingly adhering to rather efficient elegance of industrial design, a font is something that reminds us of the intimacy of personal design. It was nice to see that connection made in a work of fiction, set largely in bookstores and libraries. While I rarely patronize either these days, I do miss the attention of the bookstore clerk or the experienced librarian who helped guide me reading and scholarship. Like fonts, they formed the interface between orderly world of books, shelves, bindings, and margins and chaotic world of the individual.

Summer Reading List

Last year, I had a rough summer reading list. It was too long and diverse and lingered well into the fall. This year, I’m trying to go a bit leaner and doing a bit more fiction.

Of course, for the first time ever, I’ll also be carrying along a stack of graduate student papers that need to be graded. I’m thinking I can do that on the flight to Athens. 

Here are my 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2011 reading lists.

I’m taking one paper book with me this summer. I have this idea that someone will ask me to review it. I don’t know why, I’m not a geologist, but maybe someone will surprise me.

John P. Bleumle, North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy. NDSU Press 2016.

I’ve been really looking forward to Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Harvard 2016. I suspect it’ll add something to my thinking about slow archaeology. And I’ll leave my paper copy of E. Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York 2013).  

Richard Rothaus has suggested that I read Anthony Lowenstein’s Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. London 2015, and John William’s Stoner. New York 1965. (For more of Richard’s and Kostis Kourelis’s recommendations, see here.)

I’ve also packed some science fiction for my before bed reading. I’ve started reading science fiction again a few years back and have kept at it.

I’d be massively remiss not to read some Kim Stanley Robinson, so I’m taking a Kindle version of his new book Aurora (2015).

I also have Neil Stevenson’s enormous Anathem (2008) on the ole Kindle. 

I was browsing Amazon and was drawn to the cover, and maybe the title, and bought Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (2012). 

I’m sure there will be books that I absolutely MUST READ, like, you know, the red-lines of my Guide to the Bakken manuscript or Historical Archaeology 50.1which treats American Landscapes and features an article on underground mining landscapes.

And, of course, I’ll be reading Polis Notebooks, but more on that in a few days.

Stop Complaining about Grading

If you’re an academic and on social media, now is the time of year where we’re expected to commiserate with our colleagues across the country as they sit down to grade final papers, exams, and projects. Universally, there are cries of disappointment, hilarity, and unhappiness directed toward the grading project. I understand, of course, that some of this is just a marker of academic solidarity. We complain about grading to raise our hands and say “I am an academic.” Some of it has to do with end of the semester exhaustion, being overcommitted to projects, and our eagerness to get on to the next phase of our professional years whether that’s summer teaching, writing, or research projects. In other words, some of the “hatred” of grading is just a thing we say to mark the end of one phase of the year.

At the same time, I do wonder whether some of it is genuine. So I got to thinking about why we hate grading?

1. Too much? There is always too much grading to do at the end of the semester, but this is mostly our own fault. In most cases, faculty make the assignments and schedule their due dates and subject themselves to the end of the semester crush. We bring this on ourselves.

There is a tendency to conform to certain standards and templates that align (with varying degrees of precision) with our pedagogical or assessment goals. At the same time, I wonder whether we’ve become a bit complacent. As a historian, of course, we require a research paper at the end of the semester especially for our upper level classes. While the death of the research paper has been greatly exaggerated, I do wonder whether convention outweighs the continued utility of large term papers. The same goes for final exams and other cumulative projects in which “rigor” (typically associated with length) supersedes their value as assessment of student learning. In other words, many of the basic lessons learned in a lengthy term paper will be visible in a shorter assignment. 

2. Is grading teaching? I make comments on anything a student turns into me. I see it as an opportunity to continue the teaching process even after the semester is over. At the same time, I do recognize that students tend to be less interested in reading comments at the end of the semester and that there is a frustration of writing “ghost comments” that students see only out of the corner of their eye as they move to the final grade.

It does make me wonder, though, whether putting the cumulative assignment at the end of the semester limits the potential for meaningful teaching experiences and shifts the learning encounter to the process rather than the product. Taking time to evaluate, assess, and comment on the product of the student learning experience frequently seems pointless because to be meaningful it relies on the idea that the student continues to build on work in later classes. Teaching and learning doesn’t end at the end of the semester, but continues through the student’s career, and grading that final paper, might be less onerous if we think of it as teaching

3. Learning by grading. One of the most rewarding things about grading is that we can learn what we do well as teacher and what we do not do well. I often see as much about the kind of assignments that I write as the kind of knowledge that students produce at the end of the semester. So at bare minimum, I learn whether my assignments work on not during the grading process. More significantly, however, I get to understand the range of outcomes from my class. As much as we’re told to design our classes “backward” from desired outcomes, most classes present a range of outcomes with the most consistent often being rather marginal to the desired outcomes of the class. Some of these unexpected outcomes can become desired outcomes as the class iterates, and some of the unanticipated outcomes can be nefarious weeds that tweaking assignment language and course content can stamp out.

Grading is never as straight forward as deciding whether a student learned a skill or mastered a body of knowledge. It is always a reciprocal relationship between what the students know and the tools we use to evaluate that. Grading teaches us how well we calibrate our tools. 

4. Doing our job. I also wonder whether the outpouring of solidarity among faculty for the horrors of grading doesn’t undermine our credibility a bit. I mean, I’ve taught long enough to get it. Grading can be a drag, even when it’s self-inflicted and pedagogically informed. At the same time, it is vital part of what we do. Grading involves managing our expectations, creating assignments that are reasonable to grade (and not soul crushing), and recognizing the value of our work in both the lives of our students and our own professional development.

Complaining about it – even just in jest – seems to undermine the value of the work we do when we grade. Like a stock broker complaining about brokering deals constantly or a doctor complaining about diagnosing patients. It seems to me that end of the semester grading is something that we should enjoy as a chance to contribute to the larger process of university education, to calibrate our teaching, and to demonstrate out professional competence. Complaining about it makes us sound bad.

What I learned this year…

The academic year is wrapping up this week at the lovely University of North Dakota. I try to take a little bit of time before the onslaught of grading commences to think about my classes and take some notes on what worked and what didn’t. I also tend to think of new, overwhelming, and complicated projects this time of year. Maybe it’s the looming start of all-consuming archaeological fieldwork season that frees my brain from the pressures of ongoing projects and deadlines. Maybe I just start to feel reborn as springtime spreads across Grand Forks.

Whatever the reason, here are my thoughts:

1. Untextbook. I got thinking that I might want to write an “untextbook” for faculty who are teaching introductory level courses in a active learning type classroom. Instead of presenting a body of content, this textbook would present a plan for managing student engagement with methods of researching, interpretation, and writing history. The result of a course that used my untextbook would be, a textbook produced by the students and demonstrating a mastery of basic historical skills.

I’m envisioning a untextbook made of 15 modules that introduce basic historical thinking skills, a primary source, and a writing exercise the contributes to the larger textbook project. Most of my experience in doing this or preparing this kind of book comes from my time teaching Western Civilization in UND’s Scale-Up classroom. There’s a publisher vaguely interested in at least having a conversation about the book. More on this over the next year or so, I suspect.

2. Totalizing versus Writing in Registers. Today I teach my last graduate historiography course, and our reading over the last month or so has me thinking about how we approach the larger project of history. I’ve tended to maintain, at least in my imagining of the past, that events, people, trends, and objects existed essentially in a kind of universal empty space. Arranging these things in this empty space allowed historians to make connections, trace causality, and construct totalizing narratives.

My students have kept nudging me to think of time and events a bit differently, and to think about the past in registers that do not imply clear connections between past phenomena. At the same time, thinking about the past as discontinuous does help us imagine presents and futures that are not the inevitable conclusion of the dense totality of past events. We can create new presents and futures by looking for ways to undermine the inevitability of history.

3. Stability versus Revision. It seems to me that academic life often revolves around the tension between conservative practices – following well-trod paths, embracing conventional wisdom, and resisting change – and the drive to do things in a different way, to push the limits, and to reject old ways of thinking. This year, there have been a ton of changes across campus spurred mostly by budget contingencies, and faculty have quickly adopted a bunker mentality and dug in. This is understandable because of the changes will not improve the life of faculty at UND or the quality of the university or student experience. Most of the budget cuts will make UND weaker and education at UND worth less to our students.

At the same time, I can’t help being excited about this kind of change. Maybe I was getting complacent, maybe I’m too young to realize how good the “good old days” were, maybe my life isn’t impacted enough by the budget cuts which have ruined careers, terminate programs, and created a sense of largely-unproductive tension across campus.

That being said, these budget changes have provoked me to rethink how I teach my classes. Maybe I could be more efficient and offer a bit less without compromising too much of what my classes are about. Maybe I can even do things in my daily life that save some money for UND and mitigate the impact of future cuts. Maybe I can even, in some cases, do more, and embrace contingency and find energy in the opportunity to reimagine what we do and use the urgency to regain some independence from folks who generally lack a threatening stick and now have lost funding as compelling carrot.  

Digital Humanities and the New Liberal Arts

In a productive coincidence, there was a provocative published in the Los Angeles Review of Books that subjected the Digital Humanities to rather pointed criticism aligning the darling of tech-savvy humanists, granting agencies, and university administrators everywhere with the dreaded neoliberal bugbear of our age. In short, the authors associated the rise of the Digital Humanities with the emergence of the corporatized university, vocational, tool-based education in the humanities, and decline of the traditional emphasis in the humanities on interpreting and engaging texts. I’m sure my colleagues in the #DH world will pull this article apart, but it’s hard to ignore as a good start to an important conversation. 

At this same time, my colleague, Tom Isern, down at North Dakota State University announced on Facebook that he’s working on a talk on the liberal arts to be delivered at an upcoming higher education confab here in North Dakota. The latter prompted me to think about what a forward-looking liberal arts would be (a la the New Liberal Arts), and the former provided me with a nice critical foil against which to imagine the humanities (and the larger liberal arts) in the 21st century. I think I want to write something about that in the late summer or fall. For now I have random thoughts.

1. Backward to a Future. This semester, I’ve particularly enjoyed reading Hayden White, Marshall Salins, and Dipesh Chakrabarty with my graduate historiography students. We’ve pushed each other to think about how the kinds of pasts we imagine shape and reflect the future we desire. As I’ve started to think critically about the future of the humanities and the liberal arts (more broadly), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the current state of higher education is as much the culmination of a long-standing conversation in the humanities (that has insisted on a kind of practical relevance) as well as pressures from outside the academy to make higher education relevant to the economic (and political) needs of the community (and our stakeholders).

In other words, I wonder whether looking back to understand the liberal arts may not help us escape our current bind, where the humanities are not seen as significant to a 21st century view of higher education that is pushing universities to declare the direct impact of their programs on the economic future of the country. Can we imagine a future for the humanities that is free from discussions of methods and methodology, disciplines and professionalism, and outcomes? As someone who teaches historical methods, has published on archaeological methodology, and has thought (critically? naively?) about technology in archaeology, I feel like most of these conversations are essential co-terminus with the emergence of the humanities as a thing within the context of higher education. The seeds of so much of our current university system came not from outside academia, but from the very processes of creating academia. 

2. Integrating and Disintegrating. Part of the challenge that I face teaching historical methods and graduate history, in general, is how much do I push my students simply to try to make sense of the past versus spending time teaching discipline specific methods which range from the pedestrian (this is how we fooooootnooottteeeee) to the elusive (how do we read between the lines of the text) and practical (relational databases, GIS, et c.). The former approach is close to the heart of the discipline and evokes Mommsen’s famous advice that students in history should learn languages and, maybe, a little law. For Mommsen the key to writing good history is carefully and slowly reading texts. I want my students to be able to read a text, understand it, and draw their own conclusions from an intimate relationship with the words on the page.

For our students and our situation, this is much more challenging. Mommsen’s students were preparing for work as teachers, historians, maybe clerks, in a text based world. While I’d contend that our world is still – and maybe more so – dominated by text, our students are expected to have far more granular skill sets at their disposal. There is tremendous pressure to dis-integrate disciplinary knowledge into a set of discrete skills. While big picture skills like reading, critical thinking, information literacy, and writing remain important and, we’re told, “in demand,” skills in data management, software, programing languages, formal editing, public history skills (museum design, accounting, marketing, graphic design, et c.), audio and video recording and production, are all part of a larger package of assets that our students both want and our administrators hope that we can develop within a disciplinary context. The rise of public history programs, for example, is a direct response to pressures to develop a degree with clear and explicit skills that can be dis-integrated and “sold separately” to employers.  

3. Disciplines and their Discontents. If integration and dis-integration of skills represents a constant pressure on how we justify our practice in the classroom and in our disciplines, there is the equal pressure to dissipate and disintegrate disciplinary learning and research across the curriculum. If disciplines are being pushed to identify and develop particular skills so that they can market their graduates outside of the academy, we are also being asked to market our disciplines within the university as the industrial model of higher education reaches its natural conclusion. Each course in the each discipline must fulfill a clear and obvious function in the education of our undergraduate consumers and in the research portfolio of the university in general. At the same time, each discipline needs to articulate itself as a distinct set of skills to justify the qualifications of its graduates for work in a putative “skills-based” world.

Disciplines and their institutional analogues – namely the department – find an increasingly awkward fit with the complex and contradictory rhetoric of higher education. The cynic in me sees much of this rhetoric as a way to undermine the authority of the department within the university administration. Departments – in general – serve as the point of contact between the administration and faculty and faculty governance is most frequently manifest at the departmental level. Efforts to undercut disciplines and departments are a method to undercut faculty authority. At the same time, our own efforts at justifying our discipline and departments often result in appeals to methods that date to the earliest days of the modern university. The development of disciplinary specific methods and skills then serve the purpose of dis-integrating disciplinary knowledge.