Reading (The Importance of)

January 30th, 2008

I stopped by the bookstore today and saw that half the senior class has not picked up the book assigned for today’s seminar. (It’s not a book you can pick up easily so I can’t imagine anyone got their hands on a copy from other sources.) Matters became worse when I overheard one of the people in class comment that she’d ended up with two copies and was returning the extra one to the bookstore.

So, that makes less than half the senior class possessing the readings.

But wait! It gets better.

There’s not a copy in the library yet. There’s not a copy on reserve. No one’s borrowed my copy, either.

And judging by the level of participation, I’d say that a fair chunk of the students in class didn’t go to any heroic effort to do the readings by borrowing a classmate’s copy. When five students volunteer comments during an entire seminar class, it’s not exactly impressing me with their “mastery of the material.”

Let’s see how they manage next week when they’re assigned a chapter from another obscure book that’s only available on reserve. . . .

And, yes, there is a participation mark. It’s funny that they haven’t really cottoned onto that yet.

Should there be a pop quiz when we return to today’s book on March 5? Maybe!

World of Weird

January 28th, 2008

We got our gas bill on Friday after not getting our gas bill for three months.

Turned out that somehow they’d changed the address on our gas bill to an address at which we’d never lived. Somehow the latest bill got to us despite that problem. Thank goodness because, eep! No gas? In cold Northern Canada? In winter? Not to be dreamt of.

I spent some time on the phone with the gas company and the woman who took my call was full of amazement and disbelief at the predicament. She fixed matters up with the wrong address. She’s also waived all the late charges that were piling up as well as sent copies of the gas bill to my new address. And we’re paid up through the current month so, whew!

Letting Evil Be Done

January 25th, 2008

The city of Mississauga is governed and run by cowards and buck-passers. A young woman bought a puppy at a flea market and it turns out to be, oh no!, one of those dreaded and outlawed pit bulls. It has not attacked anyone. It has not threatened anyone. Its only crime is to be born a pit bull. The city’s taken it from her and rather than accept the help of the Toronto Humane Society to rehouse the dog out of the province, is demanding the owner accede to euthanizing the hapless animal.

Because it’s the damned stinking provincial law passed, over the outcry of every expert group, banning pit bulls.

Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga, bitches that she’s unimpressed by people blasting the city for enforcing this cruel end.

“You can’t imagine the cost of this,” she said, “and the staff time. Where were all these people when the law was being proposed?”

We were there, Hazel. The only problem is that no one listened to us, from the obedient media (particularly the Toronto Star) right through to our elected government. I was fighting that law through phone calls, letters to the editor and a political initiative that went nowhere because our provincial Liberals govern on the basis of appearances and ignore the inconvenient facts. Meanwhile, a dog purchased in ignorance is now locked up at Animal Control until at least the end of February to satisfy the petty bureaucrats of that municipality.

Three Cheers for Technology

January 24th, 2008

Thanks to the wonders of videoconferencing, I’m able to participate in an interesting scholarly conference next summer in the UK, The Metropolis on Trial, that I’d otherwise have to give a miss. Extra bonus points for the opportunity evolving out of a previous post in this blog.

Meals (The Importance Thereof)

January 22nd, 2008

My head hurts (a lot). My stomach is beyond growling (oops, wrong!). I can’t concentrate on anything.

I taught through the lunch hour and failed to grab something to eat after that.

Coincidence? Not!

So NOT Fixed

January 21st, 2008

Repairperson came to fix washing machine. Left after explaining to me it was just a sensor glitch that could be fixed by running the machine on empty with a mix of bleach and dishwasher detergent to clear the machine out.

Ran machine for twenty minutes. Error code reappeared. Rebooted machine, repeated. And once more with feeling.

Phoned the company that sold machine to us to complain that the repair that we’d waited for a week and a half while still under manufacturer’s warranty had not done a bloody bit of good. Since we purchased the mega-extended warranty through them, they are dispatching a different company to really fix the damned machine ASAP (they should call us tomorrow morning and I plan to book them in on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon or anytime on Friday).

Mike, if you’re reading this, I want to make a quick run out to the laundromat and wash a few loads when you come home.

Randomly Occuring Observations

January 20th, 2008
  • Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 adaptation of As You Like It that’s set in Japan? Is full of just so much WTF-ery that I cannot watch it without thinking I’m witnessing some pretentious director’s version of “What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?”
  • It’s really nice to have a fireplace when the day starts off at -28 celsius.
  • Green Bay didn’t really have a chance, did they? Oh well.
  • Tomorrow I have a three hour meeting. There goes another research day!

Quite Gratifying

January 17th, 2008

There’s nothing quite like seeing it in hard copy, is there? You can see proofs and previews but it isn’t until you hold the lovely object in your own hand that you know you’ve got another publication or three. I have three new reference entries on “Childbirth”, “Fatherhood” and “Motherhood” in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Love, Courtship, and Sexuality through History [Six Volumes] (Volume 3: the Early Modern Period).

Women, Science, History, Self

January 15th, 2008

I ran across an excellent blog post, Invisible Computers, at Women in Science (courtesy of Geeky Mom). It’s another wonderful but agonizing story of women who did amazing things — hacked the world’s first programmable computer in order to run important military calculations — only to have their work promptly denigrated, claimed by others or stuffed into the dustbin of history. Fortunately, a documentary is in the works to tell the story of these six women. Meanwhile, many other women who contributed to the history of science in our own time continue to go unnoticed and uncelebrated while pundits continue to speak of women’s natural “inability” to work in these fields.

That blog post also links to a fascinating post at Tiny Cat Pants on the ways women are discouraged or discriminated against in science education. It occurs to me, as I read through the many stories posted there, that I cannot, for the life of me, recall studying under female professors until I took a history course as an elective in my third year (I majored in geophysics and engineering). And it further occurs to me that circumstance affected me a lot more than I ever considered, until today. Read the rest of this entry »

I Could Do an Entire Course on This!

January 13th, 2008

This term my senior seminar tackles the early modern life-cycle in England. We start with childbirth and end with death. Well, actually, we go beyond death, so to speak, and spend the very last week of class on wills (and probate records in general).

Wills are a great research resource for early modern social history. I know I’m not saying anything new there but it’s especially true these days with improved access to digital versions of many probate records. The National Archives (UK) has an excellent introduction to research with wills and includes a wonderful selection of sample wills from the 14th-19th century (PDF links) which includes Jane Austen’s will. (For more fun with pre-modern wills, GENUKI’s website has some wonderful resources such as Leslie Mahler’s transcriptions of Early Gloucester Probate Records while over at Medieval Genealogy we have an exhaustive list of links for medieval (and early modern) probate records.)

Looking at these sources, you can formulate all sorts of interesting research questions that touch on matters of religious, legal, intellectual, social and economic history, just for starters. You can also gently introduce students to the practices of paleography with relatively brief and formulaic documents to ease the pain. We could talk intelligently about regional differences and the impact of important national changes (the Reformation or the Interregnum) with concrete materials to examine for clues. What fun, eh?

Sometimes providing context is the hard part. I’m fortunate in that there’s lots of great material out there to explain how wills are made, how they are proved and what the probate records represent. Last month I nabbed a copy of When Death Do Us Part, a great anthology of articles about interpreting wills and other probate records. Several of the chapters are articles I’ve regularly assigned to my seminar students but there are so many more useful chapters in this collection (particularly in explaining the entire probate process and how to approach inventories, say) that the collection is worthwhile adding to my shelves. Between this book and the wealth of primary material that’s now available in digital form, one could conceivably teach an entire course based on probate records. But I’ll settle for one really fun seminar session — at least this term!