A Committee of One!

I am drunk with power – I AM THE LIBRARY COMMITTEE! Because of a withdrawal and a rotation and someone resigning because he thought he was about to be replaced by a woman for better gender balance I find myself constituting the entire Library Committee. I need to get together with the acting librarian and vote for something.
I think we’ll be spending some money on art books.

Trelleborg Ring Forts as Valahlla

Today in BiDis* 291: Medieval Art and Literature – the Vikings we’re starting Snorri’s Prose Edda
and I’m going to talk about imagining Valhalla. The current cover of the Penguin translation (Jesse Byock) has a detail of Odin on Sleipnir from the stone from Alskog Taengvide. Unfortunately, the cover crops out the woman or Valkyrie greeting him with a drinking horn (well, you can see the horn, but not her). So we’ll talk about that stone and a few other ones, but then we’ll turn to the Trelleborg ring-forts. Wikipedia has a pretty nice entry on the forts, but I have better photographs. I’m going to try to help them understand how visions of Heaven (or Valhalla) condition human buildings and how human buildings condition later visions of Heaven. This will work pretty well for the Gothic class, too, I have to admit.

*that’s a local thing – here at these Colleges we have a class of course called BiDisciplinary – team-taught (almost always) courses which often (though not always) cross the Humanities/Social Sciences/Fine Arts/Sciences boundaries. They are a fossil of a former curriculum, in which students had a First Year Seminar, a sophomore-level BiDisciplinary course (I think it was sophomores!), and a senior capstone seminar in the major. My friend Laurence and I teach these because we like teaching together, and the format still exists; our course is actually BiDepartmental, because we’re both humanists, I guess. This is a curricular conversation the faculty needs to have.

The largest coin hoard ever?

The Largest coin hoard ever? It certainly sounds like a lot!


A cellar containing 1.5 tons of ancient coins, including some 2,000-year-old ones, have been discovered by a villager in Changzi County, north China’s Shanxi Province.
. . .
Most of the coins were made during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) with the remainders made during Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and Tang Dynasty (618-907), Li said.

via Cronaca

Early Medieval Archaeologists in the News

Richard Hodges, a really notable British archaeologist of the early Middle Ages, has just taken the post of director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – neat! He’s done lots of interesting things in that controversial area of early medieval towns or urban assemblages. I’m teaching about the whole emporium idea this week in the Vikings course, having read Goodbye to the Vikings? this summer. His material on San Vicenzo al Volturno (much of it with John Mitchell) is really important.
I know nothing about his reputation in the field as a human being (it’s not my end of the world), but he’s obviously one of those archaeologists who’s good at team building – follow the link and look.

Sortes Ipodica


Kaskade - Love Mysterious - Stars AlignStars Align
– Kaskade – Love Mysterious, 2006

Bryan Ferry - These Foolish Things - These Foolish ThingsThese Foolish Things
– Bryan Ferry – These Foolish Things, 2000

Sade - The Best of Sade - Hang On to Your LoveHang On To Your Love
– Sade – The Best Of Sade
“Stop That Train” – Ocean 11 – Ska Island, 1997

Shirley Bassey - Get the Party Started - I Will SurviveI Will Survive
– Dame Shirley Bassey – Get the Party Started, 2007

Michael Franks - The Best of Michael Franks: a Backward Glance - Your Secret's Safe with MeYour Secret’s Safe With Me
– Michael Franks – The Best Of Michael Franks A Backward Glance

The Hippos - Heads Are Gonna Roll - He SaidHe Said
– The Hippos – Heads Are Gonna Roll, 1999

Tina Turner - All the Best: The Hits - I Don't Wanna Lose YouI Don’t Wanna Lose You
– Tina Turner – Simply The Best

Siouxsie and The Banshees - The Best of Siouxsie and The Banshees - SpellboundSpellbound
– Siouxsie and The Banshees – The Best of Siouxsie and The Banshees, 1981

Thievery Corporation - The Richest Man in Babylon - Until the MorningUntil The Morning
– Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon, 2002
It’s the luck of the draw.

Smart and good are separate qualities

The conclusion of a review by Dr. Abigail Zuger in the New York Times of David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists
Charles Lindhbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever:

But for a demonstration of the bizarrely particulate nature of human intelligence, which allows scientific brilliance and moral idiocy to thrive side by side, forget Jekyll, Hyde and Frankenstein: this is the book to read.

I didn’t know about Lindhbergh’s work in what we now call biomedical engineering, but it makes a lot of sense. I’d come across Dr. Carrel before in some eugenics context. This sounds like a book I’d like to read – yet another cautionary tale about why letting smart people run things isn’t a great idea.
I like “bizarrely particulate nature of human inteligence,” too. That’s a useful way of thinking of things.

Three out of three and a half down.

And what was I thinking last year?
I’m teaching Art 101 (cave painting to however close to the Renaissance I get), as per usual. But I changed the damned textbook. Why, O Lord? Why? Now I’m having to retool all kinds of things – not that the art’s changed, but the specific examples chosen are different.
I’ve already whined about the two new courses – Art 218: The Age of Chivalry and BiDis 291: Medieval Art & Literature – the Vikings. Yeah, one of those two is team-taught, but that means thinking twice as hard so we can both keep up. I’d read almost everything we’re teaching before we even started talking about it, but it’s been awhile for some of them. But, hey, we showed the dragon-slaying scene from the Fritz Lang Siegfried on Monday – what’s not to love? And Laurence and I always have a good time – and the students seem to love it, too. Not to mention the inevitable unintended fashion show – Monday was floral – my tie, her capri pants.
Then there’s Chivalry. Or Gothic. Or High Medieval. I reactivated a course already on the books, so that’s my excuse for the utterly-un-Cranky title. Tomorrow I get to do Romanesque – Compostela or Toulouse? Those of my readers who remember the late Thomas W. Lyman know my answer to that one. Pietas. Not to mention dedication dates.
Then there’s the half course. The Rome 2008 group is doing a half-credit course-to-prepare thing called Italy Now! My punctuation. We’re making them do things like eat Italian olives and see Italian movies and learn the 7 Hills of Rome before they go. I don’t know that it will make it better than 2003 (truly, I had a great group), but it might make it easier for the students. We won’t start meeting until next week, so I haven’t finished a full cycle of my classes yet.
All in all, it’s going to be busy but fun.

Movies I won’t see but that make me think

Megan McArdle has a fascinating post on status hierarchies – but it’s still not enough to make me see a movie about Donkey Kong. We’re all part of networks of hierarchies – good or bad at all sorts of things that no one else really cares about.
An odd point – I picked up the post through Net News Wire (where I have my daily reads saved). I usually just click and open blogs in a new window, but for some reason I skimmed through this one in NNW, the newest version of which seems to display a few revisions and additions – some sentences will be picked out in green, for instance, and there will be a few strike-throughs in red. I’m not sure if NNW is showing me just the last couple of versions of the post or what. I learned that Megan has trouble with Sweden, too – she struck it out and retyped it without altering it. That Nordic nation is one of my spelling problems, too. Imagine the semester I’m going to have with this course, BiDis 291: Medieval Art & Literature – the Vikings.

Have I mentioned how much I like the Portable Antiquities Scheme?

I’m playing with the PAS database artefact cloud. Click and see. It’s a big list of words that reflect the finds – the bigger the words, the more of that kind of object people have found. Coin is biggest (71063 entries), but I clicked on badge, of course. 251 entries. That takes you to the database – click on a header to resort – for instance, click on COUNTY to see finds localized, or TYPE to sort between badge and pilgrim badge. Then click on the individual entries to see pictures and information! Oh my!
I love modern living!

Norman Cohn, r.i.p.

The Times Literary Supplement included his seminal 1957 book, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, in a 1995 list of the 100 nonfiction works with the greatest influence on how postwar Europeans perceive themselves. Other books on the list were by Camus, Sartre and Foucault.
Beginning with the Crusades and concluding with 16th-century Anabaptists, Mr. Cohn showed in this book how the desire of the poor to improve their lot merged with prophecies of a final struggle between Christ and Antichrist, to be followed by the emergence of a new paradise.
“In situations of mass disorientation and anxiety, traditional beliefs about a future golden age or messianic kingdom came to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities,” he wrote.

It really is hard to overstate the importance of this book. Cohn was a great scholar.

Neurosis is its own reward

So here I am at the office, Sunday before classes start. We can now make our image presentations from home using the superb software of Artifact, the Visual Resources Collection of these Colleges. Sadly for you, access to Artifact is restricted to Colleges’ users – I’d love to show you the elegant interface.
However, I’m here, because I like to check things. If I ironed shirts I’d always be running back to check on the iron. Luckily, science has solved that problem for me. So I not only am making my presentation for the first meeting of Art 218, Age of Chivalry – Gothic Art & Architecture but I went in to try it out in Houghton House 212, because some remodeling was supposed to be completed by now. At the very least, I wanted to lower the blackout shades before any young folks got near them. I often think we should drop the drinking age in America, but I would be happy to see a requirement of 25-or-older for operating the kind of chain-drive-shades-that-run-in-tracks we have. I don’t mean to be condescending, but the young always seem to rush the process and we end up having to call Building & Grounds to disassemble the tracks and get things back in place.
So there I am, trial run of the first version of tomorrow’s class. The computer starts up on the first try, which is pleasant. The digital projector, no.
I try several things from the podium that often work. No luck.
I walk over and try to start it manually from its own power button. No luck.
I finally climb up on a chair and look at the damned thing. It is suspended on a pipe from the ceiling. Someone (I’m looking at YOU, A.V.! Feel free to blame the painters or the fire alarm installers, though) has UNPLUGGED the projector and forgotten to plug it back in. Of course, the cord is neatly entwined with other cords around the suspension system, so it wasn’t exactly dangling where one could see it from a distance.
But – go back and click on Houghton House – we have high ceilings. Even while standing on a chair I can’t reach the ceiling-mounted power outlet. Now because we’re the Art Department and we’re always fiddling with things hung on the walls and the way we light them, we usually have a ladder standing in a corner of the house. Today? No. I looked everywhere. I even asked a colleague who’s here painting, the only member of the studio side of our faculty who didn’t move to the new building. He couldn’t find it, either.
Well, I’m absolutely certain that AV is way too harried today and tomorrow to get over here to plug something in before my class at 12:20 tomorrow, so I found a sturdy table to stand on and plugged the damned thing in.
Success!
And my images look lovely!
Though, of course, I now see they’re not really what I need. There’s nothing like seeing things room-sized to realize you need other images to explain them. Back to preparation.
However, now you see why neurosis is sometimes its own reward. I’m the first person scheduled to teach in the room this academic year, and that would have been exactly the kind of way to start a semester that would have killed me.

Hammocks? Who knows!

There are three hammocks hanging on the porches of houses on Pulteney Street where some of our seniors live off campus. Hammocks? Hmmm. I wonder what that’s about? Oh – and no hammocks are hung on the porch of the house with the old sailboat in the driveway, so it’s not just a nautical-theme decorator scheme!

Park Work

Well, Park Place is still a mess of bricks and sand and gravel, but we had a little work day in Pulteney Park anyway.
We’re a community-service-oriented liberal arts college of note (that’s what we get for hiring a former director of the Peace Corps as our president), so the 2nd day of Orientation starts with breakfast, a rally on the Quad, and then dispersal to sites all over the area to make themselves useful. I got enough work out of them that the flower beds are tidier, at least, and interested at least one of them in my theory that the statue is a monument to isolationism.