Teaching Thumbelina

On the recommendation of a commenter on this post, I read Michael Serres’s Thumbelina: The Culture and Technology of Millennials. (2014). As readers of this blog realize, I’ve been struggling with the growing gap between my expectations as a teacher and the expectations of my students. In particular, I have come to recognize more and more of the daily annoyances – refusing to read, refusing to follow directions, irregular grammar and style, modest levels of classroom engagement – have less to do with laziness, lack of preparation, or even just apathy, and more to do with active strategies of resistance. I find the approach to teaching has led me become more sympathetic with student attitudes and less likely to devise strategies that undermine their autonomy as learners (even if I find that their learning styles run counter to my own expectations in the classroom). In short, I’ve become more inclined to meet students where they are – bored, restive, resistant – than force them into a form that I have created.

Serres’s book is empowering because it recognizes the remarkable character of the millennial generation and suggests that it should be celebrated. In particular, he embraced the desire of millennials to be connected and to talk to one another and work and plan together rather than to lectured. For Serres, Thumbelina talks with thumbs that blur across mobile phone and table screens. Chats with multiple people simultaneously and exists within a dense network of connections. Unlike Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, which presents a desperate and isolated generation only superficially connected through digital media, Serres offers a more uplifting view of a densely networked generation and any superficiality intrinsic in this form of networking as a generally positive rejection of such superficial identifiers as race, nationality, and even – to some extent – economic disparity.     

More importantly, this densely networked generation has a world of knowledge at their fingertips (or thumbs) and is no longer anxious to be told things by authorities. In fact, they are eager to discover connections – links if you will – on their own using their own networks to bring together disparate bits of information into a unified whole. In other words, they don’t need us to tell them what to do because they already do it. So when they are chatting away on their phones and laptops during our lectures, they’re not distracted, they’re working. They’re figuring life out, creating connections, and de-centering knowledge that we remain desperate to re-center.

In fact, Serres indicts the generations that constructed the modern university as the same who brought (in my words, not his) war, colonialism, neoliberal ideologies, and authoritarianism. Our students are actively resisting systems that privileged the authority of the teacher as the keeper of the knowledge and while we grow frustrated talking at them, the students are building new communities of knowledge on their own in defiance of our droning voices heavy with the past. What we need to do is meet our students where they are and enter their networks as legitimate partners in learning. (This is easier said than done in that we carry the burden of generations of privileging and commodifying access to information and we still claw at the vestiges of authority fortified by these practices, but Serres (and I) think it’s possible. In fact, it’s necessary because the next generation with their tools, techniques, and communities will continue to subvert how we do things.)

The book is short and has done more to fuel my imagination than to solidify some particular line of argument. More than that, it’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m increasingly fatigued by articles that tell me that I need to slow down (and to realize that I contributed to this is painful), to read less, to say “no,” and to savor the moment. I wonder if I share more with my students than the authors of these works. I want to read more. I want to speed up. I want to do less with more things. And most importantly, I just want to do stuff. I get tired to talking about things, building skills, practicing, planning, and learning. Maybe this is why I found Serres work so refreshing.  

Movement and Empire in a Connected Mediterranean

I’ve finally found time to check out C. Concannon and L. Mazurka, Across the Corrupting Sea: Post-Braudelian Approaches to the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean. (Ashgate 2016). David Pettegrew and I were lucky enough to have an article in this volume which is joined by some find contributions from archaeologists working around the Mediterranean basin.

I was particularly excited to read Jody Gordon’s article, “To Obey by Land and Sea: Cultural Identity in Hellenistic and Roman Cyprus,” in part because it deals with issues that I’ve played with from time to time, and in part because I knew it to be a summary of some points in his massive dissertation from the University of Cincinnati. Gordon argues that the place of Cyprus in the Mediterranean situated its relations with various imperial states during the Hellenistic and Roman periods and fundamental inflected Cypriot culture. Gordon’s arguments, at their best, are nuanced and recognize that some elements of foreign influence on the island – like the Hellenistic style tombs from Paphos – are more likely to represent intrusions, whereas others – like the adoption of Roman style mosaic floors depicting games – are more likely to be hybrid expressions negotiated over centuries of sustained contact between Cypriots and the wider Roman world. What was particularly clever in Gordon’s piece is that he recognized that the Cypriots used their island status to negotiate its relationship between the various imperial forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. While he could not detail every opportunity for interaction, Gordon’s analysis could be extended both earlier and later than his article. For example, it is clear that Ptolemaic control over Cyprus in the Early Hellenistic period was not simply an expression of Ptolemy’s military and political superiority in the region, but a product of the  wrangling of the late Iron Age kingdoms on Cyprus which allied themselves with various external political powers (and here is clearly echoes of work being done on the contemporary Roman world). Cypriots on a smaller scale presumably negotiated similar understandings through their engagement with Hellenistic and Roman material culture, adopting expressions that served local and regional purposed while ignoring others. The assemblages that these relationships to larger imperial state and networks produced on the island – mitigated by economic, political, religious, and even vague social and cultural factors (taste? memory? internal rivalries between communities?) – created the complex tableaux of sites that constitute our understanding of Cypriot archaeology and history. Like a Foucauldian text, the very idea of Cypriot sites only appears in the relationships with others within the larger discourse of the Hellenistic and Roman world. Good stuff here!

Concannon and Mazurka volume does offer a bit more sweeping views of the Mediterranean. There is a timeliness to their revisiting of Braudel massive Mediterranean and his successors – particular Horden and Purcell’s equally monumental The Corrupting Sea. The notion of the Mediterranean as a place of interaction and in Horden and Purcell’s words, connectivity, is as visible in the contemporary European Union (or in the increasingly transnational economic agents who navigate both the physical and fiscal Mediterranean(s) of the contemporary world) and the current refugee crisis. The movement of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan to the coast of the Mediterranean reflects both the continuities that Braudel and others have described in the region as well as the breakdown of the national borders. In other words, the pre-national Mediterranean of Bruadel and Horden and Purcell does offer lessons and methods for understanding our increasingly post-national world present.

New Views of the Humanities in Higher Education

This weekend, I finished Gordon Hunter’s and Feisal G. Mohamed’s edited volume A New Deal for the Humanities: Liberal Arts and the Future of Public Education. (Rutgers 2016). The book is positioned as a response to The Heart of the Matter a report commissioned by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and published in 2013. The editors felt that this report and others like it which worked to articulate the growing sense of crisis in the liberal arts and humanities overlooked the experiences and situation present in America’s public universities. 

The book is divided, roughly, between folks intent of articulating the historical situation of the humanities in pubic universities in the U.S. and the present political and economic situation facing public universities and colleges. The papers detail the well-know story of declining state support, but more importantly locate this within larger historic trends in public education. Various authors point out that by shifting the focus of public education toward professional degrees and the unrealized promise of STEM fields, they make it more difficult for lower income students to pursue the promises articulated by the humanities both in terms of develop critical reasoning, writing, leadership, and problem solving skills (and the higher, long-term incomes that these produce) and in terms of the quality of life and cultural literacy that humanities degrees offer. Policies that explicitly discourage humanities degrees at public universities such as those articulated by the governors of Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin in favor of support professional exacerbate the existing divisions between graduates of private colleges who tend to be from more economically privileged background and have access to high quality humanities education and those who attend increasingly underfunded public universities. For some contributors this represents an example of how the public education system has broken the American promise of upward mobility and equality of opportunity for those willing to be productive. In some ways, as a few contributors have noted, the promise of publicly funded higher education dates to the Morrill Act’s establishment of land-grant institutions in 1862. The underfunding and marginalizing of America’s community colleges represents another example of this same trajectory.

While the papers are relatively strong in their contextualization of the current state of the humanities, they are less compelling when it comes to offering a “new deal” that would reverse current trends or offer a viable alternative. On the one hand, this speaks to the tragic, if fundamentally realistic, perspective offered by many of the papers. The problems with the humanities in public higher education are deep and profound and potentially intractable.

At the same time, it makes the book unsatisfying. Several authors call for more advocacy and less willingness to accommodate the continued undermining of the public university. Other authors see changes in the relationship between the humanities and STEM disciplines, including the rise of the Digital Humanities and fields like medical humanities. Others look for support among well-heeled and influential humanities graduates not to fund humanities programs (because most authors are clear that private donors and support cannot replace the systematic defunding of public higher education), but for reinforcing the value of humanities education to the workforce, civic institutions, and society. A few appear to hope the awareness of the plight of the humanities enough to change the existing funding priorities, or that change will come from reiterating the value of the humanities in negotiating an increasingly diverse, complex, and ethically fraught world.

None, as far as I could tell, advocated for anything subversive or any form of transformative resistance to the current state of affairs. Of course, the model of a “New Deal” reflects the idea that change will be top down rather than bottom up, but it remains difficult to recognize who in higher education today will initiate the kind of sweeping changes a “New Deal” would anticipate as the contributors seem to all recognize that the American political culture on both sides of the aisle have lost interest in funding higher education. More problematic still is the absence of a triggering crisis – like the stock market crash in 1929 – that would reverse current trends. In short, the book is calling for a New Deal despite the absence of any consensus among the political class or the public at large that there is, in fact, a Great Depression.

At the end of A New Deal for the Humanities, I felt rather defeated. I kept hoping for a call to action that I could engage on a daily level, in my classes, research, and service at a publicly funded university, bit it was strangely absent. I’m glad my students in our introductory level graduate course in history will get a chance to read these contributions because they do offer the tragic vision of higher education today. My hope is that they will not despair, but look more closely for opportunities to shake-up this narrative as they move forward in their careers.

Red Line Proofs and Vivid Figures

It’s the first week of classes and I am flailing about trying to finish up a few projects before the onslaught of the semester gets under way. For this week, I have three projects that need to be shoved unceremoniously forward before the creep of on-campus responsibilities brings my productive days to an end.

First, I got redline proofs from my book, The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape on Friday. I spent the weekend being politely overwhelmed by the prospects of tidying up a 40,000 word text in less than a week, but, yesterday, I got on with the program in earnest. So far, I’ve been relieved the the text is pretty tidy, but like any text that has come into being over the course of a couple years, rather than a couple months, there are consistency and style issues:

1. Second Person or Impersonal. When I first started working on the the book, I allowed myself to use the second person a bit: “you will see on the left an important workforce housing site.” As the book went through various revisions, I decided that this was a lazy way to write and not particularly consonant with the style in the vintage tourist guides that I was trying to imitated. With each revisions, I’ve found a few more examples of second person to the stamped out.

2. Adverbs. My writing – particularly in early drafts – reads like an adverb truck dumped its contents all over the page. I use adverbs relentlessly (see what I did there) both out of habit and to add sparkle to my prose. But like Usain Bolt’s limited edition Hublot chronograph, there can be too much of a good thing. While ites, green, and gold go a long way to celebrate Bolt’s legacy, my adverbial bling makes for some mighty tedious reading. My book could lose about 60% of its adverbs with no ill-effect.

3. Details. At a picnic yesterday to welcome new and returning graduate students, we were discussing ways to get our students to pay more attention to details. I stood awkwardly silent because I am not a detail oriented person (as any reader of this blog knows). In fact, most of my career has involved me surrounding myself with people who’s attention to detail can compensate for my own inattentiveness. The copy editing to The Bakken is first rate, but there are matters of detail and precision throughout that I need to tidy up before the book is typeset. I can’t imagine catching all the little problems in the text, but I can certainly catch most of them.

My second project for this week is pulling together some images for a forum submission to the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology on the work of the North Dakota Man Camp Project (and this involves me studiously ignoring several larger, simmering projects like an Oxford Handbook contribution and an archaeological volume!). It’s basically the only thing I managed to write this summer and the thin line between a productive and unproductive summer writing season. We received some very specific and focused feedback from the forum’s editor, Yannis Hamilakis, and have tidied up the text and made it more engaging and vivid. 

The last thing to do is wrangle the images for the paper and this involved both finding a good (as in already drawn) map and  bringing together an appealing gaggle of photographs. One thing that I do want to work on is preparing some images that include multiple photographs to illustrate a larger point or to show a sequence of events. This involves using Adobe Illustrator and (excuse, excuse, excuse) will get done this morning before it gets too hot.

Finally (and, yes, I know that I only had two things on my list), I have a few gestating web projects that just need to be tidied up before the links can be circulated or the sites taken live. There isn’t much work to do here, but the work that has to be done is fussy enough that it’ll take me some time. So look for some live links later this week and some images from the Bakken and more the The Bakken book.

CAARI Monograph Series at the HathiTrust

Yesterday, I began messing around with sprucing up the venerable CAARI (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute) website. As part of that I thought I’d put together some links to the full and open digital texts of volumes in the CAARI monograph series published by the American Schools of Oriental Research.

A few years ago, the ASOR’s Committee on Publications under the leadership of Chuck Jones took steps to make out of print books published by ASOR open access through the HathiTrust. The most recent volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, edited by Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr, is only a couple of years old, so it hasn’t been released yet (see my comments in this fine volume here). Oddly enough, the first volume, Res Maritimae, from 1994, was not picked up in The Googles scanning net, but I bet no one would object to a digitized copy of this book being made available. Maybe someone at CAARI can oblige! 

(As an aside, we hope that my volume with David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, Pyla-Koustopetria I: Archaeological Survey of An Ancient Coastal Town (2015) will be available in a linked, open format sometime quite soon!)

The only bummer about these volumes is that they are released under a CC-By-ND-NC license. This is a non-commercial license meaning that you can’t use these books for any commercial enterprise. Because this kind of license has been read pretty strictly, some (let’s say) benign commercial entities like universities and academic institutions have been reluctant to allow for the use of material released under non-commercial licenses in their classes, for example.

This is a quibble though because the books remain valuable contributions to our understanding of the island and they are now available for individual researchers to use for free. 

No. 1. Stuart Swiny, Robert L. Hohlfelder, and Helena Wylde Swiny (eds.). Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory to Late Antiquity, 1994.

No. 2. Stuart Swiny (ed.) The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus from Colonization to Exploitation, 2001.

No. 3. Diane Bolger and Nancy Serwint (eds.). Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, 2002.

No. 4. Stuart Swiny, George Rapp, and Ellen Herscher (eds.). Sotira Kaminoudhia, An Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus, 2003.

No. 5. Charles Antony Stewart; Thomas W Davis; Annemarie Weyl Carr (eds.) Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion, 2014.

Act Like You’ve Done It Before! My First Review

I know I should act like I’ve done this before, but I am extraordinarily (and maybe inappropriately) excited to report that a book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota got its first review. Karl Jacob Skarstein’s The War with the Sioux was reviewed in North Dakota History.

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Ironically, the review appears in a paper only journal, but I, nevertheless, appreciate the attention for the book. The reviewer had particularly nice things to say about the contributions from Richard Rothaus, Dakota Goodhouse, and our translators who worked hard to situation the book historiographically and culturally. 

So go and download a free digital copy and see for yourself. Or buy one on Amazon!

(We’re so close to 1000 copies in circulation!)

Breaking the Book

Richard Rothaus recommended that I check out Laura Mandell’s Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (2015) and his suggestion was a good one. Mandell’s short book is fashioned a manifesto, but it explores the impact that book culture has had on the humanities from the 18th to the 21st century. For Mandell, book culture exists at the intersection of the physical character of the book, and the various practices that grew up around the production and consumption of books. 

Her arguments are intricate and I probably can’t do them justice in a relatively short post, but she argues that the practices and conventions that emerged over the 19th century created a print culture that transformed how books appeared and how they produced meaning. By the 20th century, the consistent appearance of the book contributed to the authority of the printed word and the perceived value of the academic monograph (or even the academic article) as a marker of intellectual and scholarly achievement in the humanities. The physical appearance of the printed book and the emergence of mass-printed books and journals shaped the way that the words and arguments on their pages worked.

Mandell argued convincingly that books contributed to a kind of elite culture that distinguished itself from the spoken language. Over the course of the 18th century, printed books became more stable entities with authors making fewer changes to their texts between printings and readers no longer being an intimate circle who had the responsibility to comment upon, revise, and improve the printed texts for the authors. As print runs increased, the number of readers increased, and the familiarity between the author and his or her audience decreased, texts became more and more stable and acquired greater authority. The separation of the author from the audience contributed to a sense of distant, impartial, and dispassionate associated with the text. 

Our current preoccupations with the persistence and permanence of the books and texts is not somehow intrinsic in their form, but developed alongside practices of reading and printing. Any argument for the persistence and stability of print culture runs counter to the prevailing attitudes toward texts in our post modern era. We tend to see texts and sentences and words deriving meaning from their relationship with other texts, sentences, and words within similar discursive formations. In other words, while books convey as sense of permanence and immutability, the texts within them are anything but. Printed books, however, confuse this permeability of texts with the permanence of form, and this contributes to the myth that the humanities are set apart from everyday knowledge. That a book is somehow worth more than a conversation, a lecture, or any number of more ephemeral forms of communication. Mandell does a nice job demonstrating how the ossification of book culture over the course of the 19th century drove a wedge between popular attitudes toward the humanities and the emerging culture of professional academia. Academics used books to create enduring monuments to learning whereas popular culture was ephemeral and disposable. 

In the end, Mandell argues that digital practices and tools have already started to transform the nature of book culture and print humanities, but this book does not advocate for a kind of technological solutionism or celebrate a digital revolution. Instead, by establishing the context for the development of print culture,  Mandell undermines any notion that the print humanities needs book or even that books – as constituted by their development in the 18th and 19th centuries – have any singular claim to authority. In fact, digital reading practices that allow texts to be broken open, recombined, undermined, piled upon, distributed and disturbed, is one salutary step toward breaking the book and making the humanities more accessible. 

A Little Secret Hemingway (and some Tom McGrath too).

Last week, the managing editor at North Dakota Quarterly mentioned that a few folks were inquiring about whether they could pull together all of the articles and special editions on Hemingway published by NDQ over the past 30 years. It so happens that Robert W. Lewis, the long-time editor of the Quarterly, was Hemingway expert and under his leadership, NDQ became an leading outlet for scholars of Hemingway. These folks wanted to publish an edited volume that made the most significant contributions to NDQ available to a wider audience and to add a new introduction and some editorial comments.

Fall  03 Hem2 Cropped

Fortunately, by releasing most of the NDQ to the world under an open license, folks are free to do with it what they please. At the same time, we’re happy enough to lend a hand and to make the more significant contributions to the journal accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

So go and check out North Dakota Quarterly’s contributions to our reading of Ernest Hemingway. I haven’t made the NDQ page live yet on their website, but I likely will this week. 

And while you’re at it, check out the publications of poet and essayist Tom McGrath as well. This year is the centennial of his birth and NDQ will celebrate him with a volume dedicated to his legacy. 


Is Graduate Education a Mess?

With the start of the semester looming just weeks away, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to change my classes and keep the content and approach fresh. I’ve blogged here a bit about my Western Civilization class. I am also teaching History 501, which is a required course for our history graduate students. It is part historical methods and part introduction to graduate school and is designed to ease the transition from undergraduate history major to graduate student. This fall, I’m going to assign Leonard Cassuto’s The Graduate School Mess: what caused it and how we can fix it (2015).    

The book is of the crisis in higher education type which, at best., targets real problems and offers real solutions and, at worst, is a kind of persistent jeremiad. Cassuto’s book manages to be a bit of both which is characteristic of the recent gaggle of books seeking to frame and solve some aspect of higher education. In Cassuto’s case, he wants to fix “the graduate school mess” and recognizes that the problems in American graduate education in the humanities may represent problems in higher education as a whole. 

The Good.

1. A Mess with Success. Cassuto is clear from the very opening pages of the book that whatever the problems with graduate education in the U.S., we continue to produce graduates with advanced degrees who have a place in the private and public sector. In fact, he starts his book with a Wall Street executive who favored hiring Ph.D.s because they could adapt so quickly to workplace challenges. Cassuto’s recognition that the current system is successful both in producing students for the academic job market (such as it is) and the larger world tempers his critique throughout. We can do better, of course, and it’s that shared expectation that will sell the book and promote his ideas, but from the very first pages Cassuto winks at us before he describes the character of the current “mess.”   

2. Historically Aware. Cassuto’s book is explicitly aware that the general of “higher education jeremiad” has a long and storied history that dates back to the early-20th century. In short, critics of higher education haves always seen graduate education as a messy process that is ripe for reform. Cassuto reminds us that he is not the first to call for reforms in graduate education and that many of the reforms that he wants – from time to completion to more flexible approaches to the dissertation – have been bandied about since the early 20th century. By recognizing the persistence of “the graduate school mess,” Cassuto makes clear that there is not an easy solution to various challenges facing graduate education and that we should not despair in our efforts to reform the process.

3. Our Problem. Cassuto makes clear that he is not directing this book at administrators, but at graduate students and faculty. In doing so, he resists the temptation to see the problems in graduate education as some kind of high level structural or institutional complication. The graduate school mess – such as it is – can be fixed by attending to the relationship between graduate students and faculty, shifting our expectations when we teach, advise, and hire, and – most importantly for Cassuto – recognizing that graduate students are students first and foremost. By see graduate students as students – rather than apprentices, incomplete peers, or low-paid labor – Cassuto calls upon us to think about graduate education in terms of human outcomes rather than in terms of perpetuating certain professional or disciplinary standards. Because Cassuto frames the “graduate school mess” as a problem that graduate faculty (and to a lesser extent graduate students) can solve, the book is remarkably empowering. 

4. The Public. On of Cassuto’s best points – and one that I’m going to try to implement in my History 501 class – is that we have to train our graduate students in the humanities to understand what the public humanities are and how they work. Moreover, we have to do more to familiarize students with the range of public careers available to them with graduate degrees in the humanities. I have ideas how to make this happen in my History 501 class. So more on this soon. 

The Bad.

1. Framing the Problem. Cassuto’s book is long on outrage, but short on specifics. In some ways, his characterization of graduate education as a “mess” reflects his own inability to pinpoint the problems specifically. He calls the increasingly protracted time to completion a problem, but recognizes that students have lives during their time in graduate school that should be respected. He regards the dissertation as both too narrowly focused and specialized, but also too long and involved. He sees the specialized environment of the seminar as outmoded but also recognizes the unique skill set and aptitude that graduate education develops. The list goes on as Cassuto tries to balance his critique of graduate education (i.e. the mess) with the broadly successful graduates who despite emerging from a mess situation go on to live fulfilling professional lives both within and outside of academia. For this book to be compelling, Cassuto needs to argue that the problem exists with evidence rather than simply assert that there is an issue. 

2. Professional Training. Cassuto recognizes that the Ph.D. developed in the U.S. as a professional degree designed to produce teachers for the growing number of colleges and university in the late 19th and early 20th century. As the need for professional scholars ebbed and flowed, so did the need for graduate training. As the academic job market in the early 21st century job has largely collapsed (or has entered a period of significant change) graduate education must adapt, but because most people in higher education regard our increasing reliance on contingent labor as bad (and, frankly, inhumane), it is very hard for us to adapt graduate education to accommodate a system that we think is profoundly corrupt. By declaring graduate education to be a mess and implying that it is outmoded, Cassuto must navigate the twin risks of seeming to support an inhumane system of contingent labor, on the one hand, and burying our heads in the sand as a form of resistance, on the other. In many ways, the “mess” confronting graduate education is this very tension between our need to produce professional scholars as a way to preserve the professional standing of academic work and our desire to do what’s best for our students.

3. Two Tiers. At the University of North Dakota we have a Doctor of the Arts program in History. I consider it a fine degree that embodies both the rigor of doctoral level training and the practical realities of academia. It’s a 3-year degree (post M.A.) which grounds our students in both content knowledge, research methods, and higher-education pedagogy. We place our students well in positions at 2-year colleges and among the contingent academic workforce. Cassuto dismisses such degrees as supporting a “two tier system” which allows us to maintain a narrower Ph.D. that reflects a vanishing professional reality but will still attract students who will resist enrolling in a D.A. because it might limit their career possibilities. Our experience is that the D.A. attracts students who have different – not diminished – expectations for their professional futures, but Cassuto prefers an expanded Ph.D. that includes tracks that emphasize teaching or even public humanities (for example) work as well as traditional research. I’m not sure that Cassuto’s system is any less “two tier” except that it might obscure that training of students who recognized that research is not their primary calling in a way that our D.A. does not. 

4. New Knowledge. Finally, I am concerned that Cassuto’s otherwise praiseworthy focus on students overlooks the fact that graduate education does more than just produce students, it also produces new knowledge. He dismissively describes the dissertation as a document that only the committee will read. Moreover, he seems willing to allow for less polished dissertations if it shortens time to degree. At the same time, he acknowledges that the academic publishing has changed and the opportunities to publish a dissertation as a traditional academic monograph have decreased significantly. The tension then between a less polished dissertation and the decline of the monograph runs the risk of making the Ph.D. a less valuable part of the larger intellectual ecosystem which – at the end of the day – exists to make new knowledge production possible.

There is no doubt that we could do a better job preparing our students for the challenges of post-graduate school job market, but we also have to recognize that the dissertation (and to a less extent the M.A. thesis) is not just a demonstration of competence on the part of the student, but also a contribution to the larger body of professional and disciplinary knowledge. Dissertations are useful, important, and with the advent of digital distribution channels, accessible documents that are as much a product of graduate school as the student or the degree.

The Ugly.

1. The Student. The thing that bothered me most about Cassuto’s book is that it both pushed faculty to respect the student more while at the same time, tempering our student’s hopes that they could have a productive and meaningful academic career. On the one hand, I admire Cassuto’s commit to tough and frank talk about the realities of the academic job market. On the other hand, we have to respect and support our student’s dreams. Most graduate students endure graduate school not because they’re delusional about the job market, but because they love graduate school, they love research, they love being in a community of scholars, and they love the time and opportunity to read and write. 

I frequently liken graduate school to minor league baseball. Most minor league baseball players hope to play in the major leagues some day. Most recognize that an opportunity to do this is equal parts hard work and luck. At the same time, minor league players have to love playing baseball. They have to love the actual work that they do and cherish their time doing it even if they know it’ll never result in a major league contract. 

In other words, by privileging the outcome of a graduate program – an important standard to be sure – Cassuto risks ignoring the experience of the graduate program for students. He hints at this when he notes that many graduate students stay in graduate school because they enjoy being in graduate school. The opportunity to immerse oneself in a discipline, an area of study, and a method is usually a key reason for students to go to graduate school, so this should not be a surprise. The dissertation is important to these students, not simply because they need it to graduate but because they see it as a chance to contribute to their discipline in a meaningful way. By minimizing the experience of graduate school and the dissertation itself, we are minimizing the a key aspect of graduate education in the name of a kind of crude, outcome driven formula that reduces education to employment and useful skills.    

2. The Academic Jeremiad. This book is a type. It’s an academic jeremiad that sees higher education in crisis. The author is smart and subtle enough to hint that he knows this type and is playing along to make his major points. For the less than careful reader, however, this book will appear as yet another indictment of higher education, out of touch faculty, and an indulgent system. While Cassuto may well see signs of real problems, he rarely connects the dots between problems within the system and problems outside the system. Part of this is because he sees faculty and students as empowered to solve some problems themselves, but recognizes that they are only parts of a complex system that has its own set of deep set problems from administrative bloat, to budget cuts, restrictive federal guidelines, and other issues that are typically well beyond the purview of faculty. In other words, fixing the graduate school mess will not fix higher education and it won’t fix particular problems, largely because those problems remain too complicated and expansive to define, much less solve.

The issue then is whether this kind of focused jeremiad moves us toward a solution. I’m skeptical. At best, this represents a solution in search of a problem. At worst, this is another contribution to the narrative of perpetual improvement that undermines successes in the constant effort to resolve chimerical problems. Or maybe even worse, it’s ammunition for people who are seeking to destroy higher education because they see the entire project as failed because it resists the march of neoliberal values that recognizes success only in the relentless accumulation of capital.  

Camera Kalaureia

Over the last decade, I’ve been messing around with the relationship between photography and archaeology. As Y. Hamilakis has noted photography and archaeology are “two collateral apparatuses of modernity.” Hamilakis and F. Ifantidis have found new ways to interrogate and reflect on the relationship between photography and archaeology in their new book, Camera Kalaureia (2016). Snippets of ethnographic texts overlay the photographs throughout the short book making clear that the photographs are part of the ethnographic project, and, indeed, the book is called a “Photo-Ethnography.” 

The book uses photography as a way to explore the relationships between the past and the present at the site of Kalaureia on Poros. By consciously recognizing photography as an act and the viewing of the photograph as part of that action, the authors embrace the potential of the photograph as a mediator between the viewer, the photographer, and the objects associated both with photography and the history of the site. In their hands, the modern history of the site – including its carefully planted olive trees, the scarred pine trees from resin collection, the traces of modern tiles and mud brick, and the inscribed graffiti of the landowners – fights for attention with the ancient history of the site and long-robbed out temple of Poseidon. More poignantly, the photographs trace the barriers that define the site – a locked gate, a guard shack, and the red-and-white tape and ropes that cordon off the archaeologists’ trenches –  and their intersection with the movement of visitors, workmen, and archaeologists across the site. 

The photographs are not what we might imagine as conventional “documentary photographs” framed by a kind of “objective” style that focuses the viewer on a point, a person, or an object. Instead the photographs in this book actively drag the viewers eye across panoramas, in and out of focus, and into photos that lack enough contrast to distinguish easily between foreground an background. In fact, some of the most compelling photographs display a relentlessness of focus that prevents the eye from settling comfortably on a point in the photograph. The absence of any place for the eye to rest compels us, first, to become aware of the photographer and the camera, and, then, to probe the photograph for some object, individual, or meaning. 

The text makes clear that the camera’s lens and the photographer are as essential to the landscape as the trees, the fragments of the recent past, the archaeologists, and the antiquities. The situatedness of the photographer, the ethnographic texts, and the photographs push the viewer and reader to recognize the persistent interposition of the present, the modern, and the ancient.

The book is worth a careful exploration and this is made more appealing because it’s a free download! Check out their photoblog as well