Saturday, December 18, 2010

balance, pt. 11: holidays

Confession time: I hate the holidays. Actually, I like the food (and the baking and cooking). I love the music. I enjoy modest, mostly religious, decorations. In an ideal world (i.e., one where everybody was capable of making nice for a couple of days), I would even enjoy all the togetherness with family and friends. But this isn't an ideal world.

Two years ago, after the second-worst Christmas of my adult life*, my husband and I wrote, printed, and signed our own "Contract on Christmas." We put it on the top of our decorations box so we see it every year at this time. The Contract is our attempt to restore sanity to the holiday. Here are a few of the highlights:

Article 1: Travel
1.1 There shall be no travel over the holiday season, unless said travel is to someplace warmer and/or more interesting than our home, and is undertaken for the purpose of fun or research. No travel to visit family is allowed.

Article 2: Decorations
2.1 Decorations shall consist of one 4-ft plastic tree, pre-hung with garlands and lights, one nativity set, and one advent wreath.
2.2 The sole exception to article 2.1 shall be items made by the children of this household, which may be hung or displayed for that season.

Article 4: Mass
4.1 All theists in the family shall attend mass, which shall be the highlight of the Christmas season. Christmas is primarily a religious holiday, and therefore the true story of Christmas, the birth of Christ, and the true story of St. Nicholas, will be told to each child in preparation for Christmas.

Article 5: Presents
5.1 Each member of the family over five shall give each other member of the immediate family one and only one modest, thoughtful gift.

Article 6: Food
6.1 Our family shall cooperate to create a nice meal with whatever Christmas goodies are desired. We shall eat this meal while remaining scrupulously polite to each other.

Some of these sound rather draconian and dour, but they aren't, really. Bunny and I have made some Christmas projects together, including an ice wreath (with evergreen and cranberry) to hang on the front porch, and Christmas cards. She loves to plug in the tree. We're only buying the kids one present each (toys, no socks or clothes or practical stuff. Those aren't presents!) But, their grandparents, aunts, and uncles have showered them with presents. We have a huge stack of boxes in our entryway, three times the size of our daughter. Bunny and I baked all weekend to make Christmas treats. I have my Grooveshark Christmas music playing all day long (as long as Dr. Mr. Palimpsest isn't in the house!) In other words, we have Christmas frickin' cheer, OK? We're just trying to maintain a little balance, and a focus on the important things in life.

* The worst Christmas in my adult life is affectionately known as "The Christmas from Hell" among my family members, and it is the reason why I have refused to visit the family of my birth over Christmas for the last ten years.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a short comment on science

I haven't blogged about the #AAAfail issue, since, honestly, I don't care that much. The AAA is largely irrelevant for most archaeologists, and this incident shows one of the reasons why. I do support a four-field approach. Call me an elitist, ugly American, but I find most American-style archaeology to be more interesting than European-style archaeology. We tend to deal with bigger questions in a way that I find more compelling (but maybe it's just my training). The difference, I believe, comes from our four-field approach. The value of the approach does not negate the fact that cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology have been developing in their own directions. That's OK, it just makes it hard for us to be members of one over-arching organization where we all can feel included and valued. Personally, I consider myself a scientist, but I have no problem with more post-modern or humanistic approaches to human culture. I think we can learn from them, as well, I just don't find the methods or conclusions as useful for the questions that I want to ask.

My problem with the changes to the AAA's Long Range Plan comes from the perceived slight to those who are interested in science, particularly in an academic climate where archaeologists and biological anthropologists may be quick to assume the worst motives. It was poor politics, and serves to further alienate factions within anthropology. In my opinion, this is not because of any real or significant change in the AAA's plans for the future, but because of the distrust and dislike that was stirred up on both sides. Contrast these two comments, and you'll see what I mean:

From A Hot Cup of Joe:

In their response, the AAA board says, “[a]nthropology is a holistic and expansive discipline that covers the full breadth of human history and culture. As such, it draws on the theories and methods of both the humanities and sciences.”

If by “holistic” they mean it makes use of all the natural sciences to examine and define human culture and history, then that’s fine. Why not simply say so? By why must it rely on or even draw upon the humanities? Just about any definition of “the humanities” you find expressly excludes “the sciences.” This is utter bollocks. The suggestion is that its okay to draw upon religious explanations and speculative post-modern critique to examine human culture past or present. If anything should be excluded and excised from the long-range plans of the AAA it should be this sort of non-scientific codswallop...[W]hy not simply just put back the word science in the Long Range Plan? A word that has far more utility and express intent than the probably post-modernist appeasement of weasel-wording they settled upon.

Now, let's hear from Rex at Savage Minds:

The narrative at work seems basically to be this: for decades real, objective, scientific anthropology has been under assault from interpretivists like Clifford Geertz who do not believe in truth. With the new language in the AAA mission statement, anthropologists have given up on truth altogether.

I wish that this were a parody or simplification of the argument, but it is not — this is honestly as it good as it gets from the critics of the AAA: Clifford Geertz is the thin edge of a wedge inserted into the social sciences by Creationism, Sarah Palin, etc. etc.

The fact that the model used by ‘scientific’ anthropologists has as much complexity as an average episode of WWE Smackdown — with a distinction between the evil ‘fluff-head’ cultural anthropologists and the good ‘scientific’ cultural anthropologists — should be the first sign that something fishy is going on...At times I feel like the real distinction here is between thoughtful people who are aware of the complexities of knowledge production, and those who are for psychological reasons strongly committed to identifying themselves as scientists and everyone else as blasphemers. This approach is, of course, not very scientific and verges on being the close-minded inversion of the fundamentalist Christianity that thinkers of this ilk so love to oppose.

Those quotes illustrate the problem nicely: a complete and utter lack of respect between different factions of anthropology.

I really couldn't care less how the AAA defines anthropology, or what it thinks our long-term goals should be as a discipline. Assuming the AAA wants to make a claim to being the professional organization for more than cultural anthropologists, however, it is going about it the wrong way. Deliberately sowing discord in an already uneasy marriage was a dumb move.

Monday, December 13, 2010

U Penn again

I posted before about the repatriation case between the U Penn museum and the Tlingit community. I thought this article was interesting, because it gives more information about the "not-good Tlingit" (as he was called in the last article) who bought the items for the museum. He sounds like a fascinating person; he grew up in a traditional Tlingit community and ended up going to the Wharton business school and working for the museum. I can't imagine the level of personal conflict he must have felt, during a time of incredible change among his birth community. Perhaps he was trying his best to preserve the heritage of his people - an argument could be made for that interpretation - but at the same time, one could argue he was just selling off the Tlingit heritage. I'm glad I've never had to face such a dilemma.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

weekly accountability: Nov. 28-Dec. 4

I'm leaving town tomorrow, and I've done nothing all week except prepare for this trip (oh, and teach, and deal with two major committee assignments). Suffice to say, I didn't make or meet any goals.

I'll be gone until Wednesday, and then I'll be catching up, and then I'll be dealing with the last week of classes and finals. Blogging will probably be spotty for the immediate future.

Have a great end of semester, y'all!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

U Penn to return cultural patrimony

The University of Pennsylvania lost a NAGPRA federal committee review of their bid to keep a collection of some 40 artifacts from an Alaska tribe. I have no problem with the committee's finding - I would like to see institutions err on the side of repatriation - but I did find this comment flabbergasting:

Most of the items were purchased for $500 in 1924 in Hoonah by Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit man from Klukwan who worked for the Philadelphia university. The school's museum added the items to its collection.

"I guess he believed he was doing the right thing by preserving it," review committee chair Rosita Worl said. "Whereas a good Tlingit wouldn't do that. They would see the most important thing is it's used in our ceremonies and see it as sacred objects."

OK, the committee has the right to determine who has the right to the collection, but I don't think they have the right to determine who is a "good Tlingit" and who isn't. Wow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

caribou management

National Geographic has an interesting article on blending the knowledge of traditional societies with ecological research to help save caribou populations. One of the most important contributions anthropology can make to the world is a better understanding of human/environmental interactions. More specifically, a recognition that almost all environments have a human component to them (yes, I'm on my Historical Ecology soap box again).

Traditional societies of the Arctic have been managing caribou populations for centuries, and doing so sustainably. No, caribou weren't domesticates like in Eurasia, but they have evolved in a context of human-modified environments, and with a certain level and type of human hunting. This is also true of deer in the Eastern Woodlands, or rabbits in the American Southwest. All too frequently, our environmental policies fail to recognize that the landscapes and species we are trying to "save" from humans were heavily modified and managed by humans to begin with. We can't return contingent landscapes to some ill-defined, fictitious "natural state". Recognizing and building on the human component of the environment - playing with the dialectic between people and their landscape - is far better science.

On a totally different topic: this is my 100th post!! Woo hoo!!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

feasting done right

I really like the article by Deanna Grimstead and Frank Bayham published in the most recent American Antiquity. I won't review the whole thing, because it would just be a list of accolades, but I will say that I was particularly impressed by the approach, which blends behavioral ecology approaches with social theory.

Like many (all?) academic disciplines, zooarchaeology tends toward tribalism. There are a few large schools of thought that represent general approaches to the zooarchaeological record, and some of the people in those schools seem to blindly follow the party line, without acknowledging that there are multiple ways to look at the same data, and all could be equally valid. In certain ways, my own work tends to fall outside of the "standard" schools, and I've gotten some reviews that basically boil down to "she doesn't approach this topic the way I would, she doesn't use the same tools, she doesn't follow the acknowledge the same theoretical perspective, therefore, she must be wrong/inexperienced/ill-informed/ignorant of the One True Way."*

The Grimstead and Bayham article is all the more valuable for this reason. They are blending theoretical perspectives that are not often blended. Other zooarchaeologists are doing great work of this sort, but I particularly like this example, and hope to see more of it in the future.

*I especially love the reviews that assume I'm ignorant of the Truth, and suggest that I read a series of seminal articles in the field, as if I could have missed them. Gold stars go to any reviewer who suggests I read the articles of my own graduate advisor.

Monday, November 29, 2010

top ten thanks

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here's a list of the top ten things that I am thankful for:

1) my supportive, loving, soul-mate of a husband

2) my beautiful, healthy, (usually) wonderful kids

3) my parents - they've had health issues in the last few years. I'm so glad they're still with us.

4) my friends - near or far, I appreciate your support!

5) my job - it's not perfect, but I'm happy here for now, and in this economy/job market, I feel lucky to have a job at all.

6) security - my family and I are not in imminent danger of going without food, shelter, or medical care. There are many people who are, so I count my blessings.

7) the joys of my vocation - I don't always love my job, but no matter how stressed out I get, I still have enthusiasm for teaching and for my research.

8) daycare - my kids are both in wonderful daycare situations. Bunny has a whole other family that she loves and loves her, and Boo Too is thriving in his baby place. This makes it so much easier for me to do what I need to do at work.

9) future plans - however things work out, next year has great potential. I was offered a pre-tenure sabbatical (a whole semester to do research, at full pay!). The only reason I wouldn't take that offer is if I have a better one ;-)

10) hope, faith, and love - not to be too trite or too Biblical, but these get me through the day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

cloud computing

Tiny U underwent Google migration this year. (I love that phrase. I picture little e-mails sweeping across the frozen tundra, in search of better pasture.) As a result, we're now using Google calendar for most U business, and I'm experimenting with Google docs.

So far, I love Google docs, with some limits. Like most faculty, I do a lot of work at home in the evenings and on weekends, so I end up schlepping computer files back and forth on a pen drive, or sending them through e-mail. The schlepping isn't a hassle, but inevitably there's something I forgot, and going back to campus to get it is a hassle. So, to the extent that Google docs allows you to work on a file anywhere and anytime you have internet access, it's a lovely thing.

There are a few downsides. For example, Google docs doesn't have a lot of fonts, and I'm something of a font snob, so that's a minor annoyance. As you might expect, Google's spell-checker isn't as good as Word's, and they don't have a thesaurus. So far, I haven't tried anything fancy, such as integrating pictures, and you can't do really fancy things, like mail merge, but the program works well as a basic word processor. If you need the fancy stuff, you can always download your work as a Word file and edit it there. The little problems are greatly outweighed by the advantage of working on your document at home, at work, or even while proctoring an exam, and never having to worry that you're working on an older version. It's all magically backed up in space, too!

Google docs lets you access your paper from anywhere, but you can't necessarily access all the PDFs of relevant literature, your data (depending on format), etc., etc. So, if there is a lot of material that you need at your fingertips in order to write, and you need to be at your office computer, anyway, then Google docs doesn't have many advantages over Word in that circumstance. Still, if you write on your office computer in Google docs, when the time comes to edit the paper, you can do so from home (or, in my fantasy world, from a warm beach, sipping little drinks with umbrellas).

I need a vacation. To a beach. With free wi-fi.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

balance, pt. 10: self care

I have more energy when I exercise. I'm more clear-headed and productive when I eat right. I'm in a far better mood when I get enough sleep. Yet, exercise falls to the bottom of the priority list, I all too easily give in to the lure of pizza and ice cream, and I often stay up late for a little "me-time".

I've read all the self-help books, so I know that I can't care for others if I don't care for myself, that I have to put my own oxygen mask on first, blah, blah, blah. Here's the problem: caring for myself is just another chore that I don't enjoy and don't have time for. And while I know I have to do it, I'd like people to stop making me feel guilty for not enjoying it.

Exercise? I've heard of strange beings who enjoy burning lungs and straining muscles. Me, not so much. I've never experienced an endorphin high; I think it might be a myth created by fit people to shame the rest of us. Yes, I like the results of exercising, and I feel great afterward, but I don't enjoy the process.

Eating well? Sure, healthy food can taste great. Sure, healthy food can be easier to prepare than junk food. But, honestly, if spinach salad and lean chicken really tasted all that good, wouldn't the world be full of much thinner people, myself included? I do pretty well with menu planning, but it takes more time to cook a real meal than to just throw something together. And, yes, I eat when I'm stressed. I already feel guilty about that, I don't need added pressure from the health-conscious telling me that good people like collard greens and tofu so much that they prefer them to fatty foods or *sniff* refined sugar.

As for getting to bed early: after a long day of work, and wrestling the kids to bed, going to bed early feels like punishment for the crime of being responsible and productive. The late evenings are for watching the Red Menace (aka Netflix), or reading junk fiction, or writing for fun, or just talking with my husband like two adults. I love my kids, and I love my job, but I want some time to do other things! (see my post on mental crosstraining.)

I schedule time for the "self-care" basics, just like any other chore or responsibility. But I hate the way we get emotionally hammered coming and going on this topic. If we don't exercise and eat right, then we feel guilty because we're not taking care of ourselves, whether that means letting ourselves go physically, or just not being productive enough/a happy enough parent or spouse, etc. But, because these activities are considered things we do "for ourselves", we feel guilty that we're spending so much time on self care and not caring for our families, spending more hours on our jobs, etc. Even though Dr. Mr. Palimpsest wants me to go to the gym (for my own health's sake), I feel guilty asking him to babysit while I go and "indulge" myself in exercise. (And yes, he and I both know that's crazy.)

I don't have a solution for this, but it has helped me immeasurably to just face the fact that these activities are not fun. I don't do them because I enjoy them, I do them because I have to. And I shouldn't feel guilty that I don't like them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

active learning

There's an article on about active learning in anthropology classrooms. I'm a huge proponent of active learning, and I incorporate a lot of it in my introductory classes, in particular. We walk like chimps, draw rock art and have others try to interpret it, analyze virtual archaeological data, and apply class concepts to all aspects of our own society. Some of the examples of active learning that they gave in the article sound like a lot of fun. I am definitely making my students tape their thumbs to their hands and try to open a starburst.

On the other hand, the article is touting active learning as a way to increase anthropology majors. As a member of a threatened anthropology program (we may be downgraded to a minor if we can't increase the number of majors), I'm very aware of the need. Dynamic instructors and fun classes will increase the number of majors to some extent, but I'm skeptical that they would have a significant effect.

Personally, I think there are two things that might increase our majors: 1) convince students that anthropology is relevant to their daily life and teaches skills that will be useful on the job market. I try to do this when I apply class concepts to our own society, and I do a "what can I do with an anthro degree" lecture each semester. Until we can convince society at large (aka: employers) of the utility of anthropology, we have an uphill battle on this one.; and 2) convince students that it doesn't really matter whether their major is anthropology or sociology or political science, or history. Unless they major in a clearly applied field (like business), then one general liberal arts degree is just as good as another on the job market, so they might as well study something they enjoy.

Obviously, I'm only talking about increasing undergraduate majors here, not grooming students for graduate school. I'm pretty hesitant to encourage students toward graduate school, given the current job market for anthropology PhD's. There are exceptions (I have a Native American student who wants to be a bioarchaeologist, for example), but in general I let the students decide they just can't live without a PhD in anthropology before I will talk to them about graduate studies.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

weekly accountability: Nov. 14-20

My goals for last week were to finish the changes that my co-authors suggested, finish the EFC report (which probably doesn't belong in this set of goals, since it's not research related), and work toward an upcoming deadline.

I met some of the goals, but not others. I made the changes one of my co-authors suggested, but I'm waiting on feedback from the other. I finished the EFC report, but was still chided like a second-graded by the chair of the committee because I didn't have it ready for the whole committee to read (I hadn't gotten feedback from the other committee member who was supposed to help me write it). I managed not to lose my temper, but I did go home and send out another job application. I worked toward my deadline, and probably will keep working until it's over.

Next week, I hope to incorporate my other co-author's comments, and work on the next paper. I'll probably spend most of my time on the deadline, though.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NEH summer institute

One of the NEH Summer Institutes is on sustainability and the humanities. It will be held in Flagstaff, AZ, and led by faculty from Arizona State University. It looks interesting, particularly for those of us who may have more of an interest in the social theory aspects of sustainability.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

plus death and taxes

List of the top ten things that are inevitable, so try not to take them personally, and don't let them get you down:

1) academic politics
2) some students cheating
3) someone else's incompetence affecting you
4) blowhards dominating meetings
5) some of the public failing to understand the value of your field or research
6) some of the administration failing to understand the value of your field or research
7) some negative reviews
8) pointless paperwork
9) pointless service obligations
10) some students failing

Kvetch about these things all you want (God knows I do!). By all means, take steps to prevent/protect yourself from them. But, as a general rule, if any of the above make you question the years of your life dedicated to academia, you're taking this too seriously.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

feminist cookies

I finished the #$%^ report for Excruciating Faculty Committee, and it got me thinking about hidden service costs. Case in point: cookies.

Here at Tiny U, we have a wonderful weekly potluck tradition. It's a great time to hang out with faculty from around campus, let the kids run around together, and just relax. Faculty try to out-do each other by bringing wonderful dishes to share. Sometimes, Dr. Mr. Palimpsest makes his signature bunt cake, but usually we stop at the grocery store on the way to the party and buy a package of feminist cookies, or some feminist chips and dip, or even a feminist six-pack of beer. Honestly, I like to cook, and I can make some pretty good stuff, but I promised a friend that I would never cook anything for a faculty event.

In grad school, I was friends with an administrator at the university's museum. One evening, she was up at 11pm frying chicken for the museum's end-of-semester party the next morning. She had had a long day, she was tired, she was frustrated, (she was writing a dissertation at the time!). And there she was, standing at the stove, grease splattering everywhere, fuming because every time the faculty got together, the women would cook cheesecake and chicken dumplings and pasta salad, while the men would bring a bag of chips and a 2-liter of coke. Her husband made the mistake of coming in and asking why she was up at 11pm frying chicken, and she had a complete breakdown, crying and screaming.

The next day, she made me promise never to bring anything to a faculty event that I hadn't bought at a store. She called this her "feminist statement" (hence, "feminist cookies").

Honestly, whether you're male or female, you may be surprised how much taking that little pledge can change your life. You don't have to bring sophisticated food that shows off your highly-developed tastes - you're making a feminist statement! You don't have to prove you can cook - you're making a feminist statement! You don't have to feel guilty that you put so little effort into the departmental get-together - you're making a feminist statement!

Try it. The feminist cookie are fine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

weekly accountability: Nov 7-13

My writing goals for last week were to get a paper sent to my co-authors, then outline and begin the changes to the next paper. I also needed to finish the draft of a report for Excruciating Faculty Committee.

I met my research-related goals, although I did not write the @#$% report for EFC. Everyone was healthy this week (thank God!), but I've had to adjust for some last-minute major changes to my semester schedule, so even writing hour has fallen victim to my re-arranged priorities. It's all good stuff, but I'll be harried for the next few weeks.

My goals for this week are to finish the changes to the paper that my co-authors have suggested, finish the EFC report (which probably doesn't belong in this set of goals, since it's not research related), and I'm not sure what else I'll be able to do, because of an upcoming deadline.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

documenting horror

I'm preparing to give a lecture on the use of archaeology and forensic anthropology in documenting genocide and human rights violations. It's not a very pleasant topic, but I try to contextualize archaeology in the modern world, both by discussing the effects of politics/cultural forces on archaeological interpretation, and by highlighting this type of applied anthropology.

So, I was struck by these two newspaper articles. German archaeologists have found some art that was condemned and thought destroyed by the Nazis. They found it in a part of Berlin that was bombed to rubble in WWII, then buried under new construction. Meanwhile, in Romania, archaeologists have uncovered a mass grave containing some of the 280,000-380,000 Jews killed during the war. Apparently, Romania didn't admit to their role in the genoicde of Europe's Jews until 2003.

My students tend to think these "stories" are "cool". I have to admit that I find this kind of history hard to tell. As was discussed in one of the comment threads recently, I think as a parent I've gained a lot of empathy. The thought of children (and mothers and fathers) being shot down is really hard to talk about in a dispassionate way. I still think it's important to discuss this with our students, though, just as these archaeologists are engaged in horrific but important work.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ethnobiology conference

I don't often go to the Society of Ethnobiology annual meeting, not because I don't enjoy it or support its mission, but it's often in a smaller, inconvenient town, and archaeology isn't always well represented. So, I was excited to see that the next meeting is in Columbus, OH, which has its own airport (no car rental necessary!), and will focus on historical and archaeological perspectives in ethnobiology. The organizers mention they are particularly interested in:
  • History and evolutionary significance of important ethnobiological patterns, such as plant and animal domestication, food processing, hunting, environmental management, and the use of animals and plants in ceremony, crafts, and traditional medicine
  • Application and integration of multiple lines of archaeological and paleoenvironmental evidence
  • Incorporation of ethnographic and documentary information into studies of past relationships between humans and culturally important animals and plants
  • Human paleoecology, including human impact on past environments

It sounds like a lot of fun, and I hope I can make it. The conference is May 4-7, 2011.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mayan agricultural landscapes

The Maya provide another interesting example of human-modified landscapes. Research by Timothy Beach and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach suggests that 100s of km of swamps were transformed into fertile farmland through a series of drainage canals. Interesting stuff.

Inevitably, it reminds me of this:
"We live in a bloody swamp. We need all the land we can get!"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

weekly accountability: Oct 31-Nov 6

My writing goals for this week were to finish the conclusions on the conference paper I'm turning into a journal article, edit the whole paper, get the bibliography, tables, and graphs whipped into shape, and send it out to my co-authors. I hoped to start outline changes to the next paper.

I did not meet my writing goals. Why? Well, I lost most of Monday when Boo Too came down with a fever and couldn't go to daycare, so Dr. Mr. Palimpsest and I had to stay home with him, handing him off between classes. He doesn't have any other signs of sickness, so we think it may have been a teething fever. He's been fussy/demanding all week. Then I lost most of my productive time Friday because our daycare provider took the day off. I also had two non-standard meetings that ate up precious time, and Excruciating Faculty Committee has asked me to draft a report, further eroding my writing time. I'm going to go out on a feminist limb here and categorically state that being a mother really does make me less of a researcher. I think it makes me a better person overall, and my awareness/experience of reproduction may even make me a better archaeologist in terms of the quality of my work, but it sure doesn't help my productivity much. Anyway, I got the conclusions finished and edited most of the paper, but it's not yet in any condition to send out to my co-authors.

My writing goals for next week are to get the paper sent out to my co-authors, then outline and begin the changes to the next paper. I also need to finish the draft of the report for Excruciating Faculty Committee.

Friday, November 5, 2010

the economics of "eco-friendly"

A British newspaper argues that Romans were the first to invent eco-friendly homes, citing Oxford archaeologists who compared the typical Roman villa to typical 20th century homes and noted that the villa was more efficient in its heating, used more recycled materials, etc., etc.

Well, of course it did. Those of us in post-industrial, high-cost, consumerist, economically and politically powerful societies often seem to forget that "going green" is not (only) some high-tech wave of the future, it's a necessity for people who don't have the luxury to waste energy or resources. Whether you're talking about the poorest people of the modern world, or ancient societies, most people's homes are/were much more in tune with their environments, much more likely to use recycled materials, and more energy efficient than the average member of the Sierra Club's.

Obviously, this isn't always the case. There are ancient societies that stripped their landscapes bare of trees for wood, for example, and modern peripheral societies that burn highly inefficient fuel. My point is that much of what we think of as "green technology" is actually just being careful with limited resources, and we should expect that many ancient societies knew a great deal more about that than modern academics.

a whine of no academic value whatsoever

One of the few things I don't like about being an academic is my inability to engage in significant retail therapy. I shouldn't complain, given the economy. Our household income is not much below the U.S. median (my income alone is less than 15% below), and might even be slightly over, when Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's adjunct income is added in. According to this map, our income is around or above the median for our county. And yes, I realize that consumerism is a cancer on our society, money is the root of all evil, and children are starving in Sudan. I also realize that advertisements are carefully crafted to make me feel I'm living like a Puritan in the midst of Babylon (so don't I deserve a little something for myself?)

For financial, environmental, and ethical reasons, I'm committed to having less stuff in the house. I don't want it, I don't need it, I shouldn't have it. But then I have a bad week, and all I want is a new pair of shoes. And some fancy French cheese with my whine.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

(archaeological) war of northern aggression

Apparently, Ohio stole an 8-ton boulder from Kentucky. Kentucky wants it back, since it was a well-known landmark and (maybe?) antiquity. The antiquity part is rather unclear. The article says the rock may have a face carved on it, but I've seen a lot of supposedly carved rocks brought in by enthusiastic amateurs, so I'd like to see some professional analysis, first. (For years there was a video circulating around the U of Michigan archaeology museum made by a local man who was convinced that the naturally-shaped rocks he found were "Indian artifacts". The video was just him holding up each of the rocks, one by one. Oddly hilarious.)

I can't wrap my head around the 8-ton part of this story. I mean, how much equipment was needed to move an 8-ton boulder, out of a river, no less? The perpetrator was described as a "local historian" from the Ohio side. The story reminds me of medieval European cities poaching each others holy relics, although I have no idea what the motivation was of the Ohio historian, nor do I know the social, political, or economic meaning of the boulder.

8 tons. Holy cow.

Like my students, I should have turned to Wikipedia first for salvation. The Wikipedia article on the boulder shows the carving (definitely humanly-created, but I'd assume historic. Of course, what do I know about prehistoric petroglyphs of the Ohio Valley?) It also gives more details of who, what, when, and where, including the Kentucky House of Representative's proposal to send a raiding party into Ohio to reclaim the rock.

This just gets better and better.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

for your grading pleasure

If you are in the throws of midterm grading, you may want to read this little gem: "Life Reeked with Joy" (if you haven't already). It's a history of the western world from the Middle Ages through the modern period, told through snippets from student essays. Good for a laugh.

My favorite paragraph:
The Reformnation happened when German nobles resented the idea that tithes were going to Papal France or the Pope thus enriching Catholic coiffures. Traditions had become oppressive so they too were crushed in the wake of man's quest for resurrection above the not-just-social beast he had become. An angry Martin Luther nailed 95 theocrats to a church door. Theologically, Luthar was into reorientation mutation. Calvinism was the most convenient religion since the days of the ancients. Anabaptist services tended to be migratory. The Popes, of course, were usually Catholic. Monks went right on seeing themselves as worms. The last Jesuit priest died in the 19th century.
Something about that line "The Popes, of course, were usually Catholic" just sends me into hysterics every time.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

balance, pt. 9: discipline

(Caveat: I'm not a specialist on this topic. In fact, so far I'm a total failure. But this is my opinion on what I should be doing!)

I am increasingly convinced that discipline is a key to life balance. No, not self-discipline - although that's good too - disciplining your children.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about training them to a whistle, like in the early scenes of The Sound of Music. I'm talking about teaching your children to be polite and obedient, for their own safety and for your sanity.

Teaching children to be obedient doesn't mean they turn into automatons. You're not an evil parent breaking the spirit of your child just because you expect to be listened to and cheerfully and promptly obeyed. Children can still ask "why?", and you should give them a reason for your request. Children should have the opportunity to discuss their objections and desires, and to change your mind if warranted. But once you've stated your reasons, and their serious arguments have been dealt with, you should not allow the whining and the delaying to continue. Think of it this way: your time and theirs is too valuable to be taken up in an endless whine of "But please, Mommy? Please, please, please?"

Discipline sucks in the short-term, because it involves a fight that can be avoided by just giving in. In the long-run, taking the time to install proper discipline will give you more and better time to spend with your child, running around outside, doing art projects, cooking together, reading books, talking about things that matter to your kid. And, frankly, when you say to your kid "Don't run across the street without holding my hand," they sure as hell should listen to you. If you haven't instilled in them a healthy respect for your commands, you aren't doing your job as a parent.

Obviously, kids don't always listen to us, no matter what we say or do. If I see you in the grocery store and your kid is acting like a brat, I'm not going to judge you. I've had enough melt-downs of my own in public (and so have the kids - ha!)

I'm not an expert on discipline, by any means. I'm only starting on that journey myself. Bunny turned four this past summer. She's been taught some basics of discipline from a very young age (obey Mommy on certain safety rules, and do age-appropriate tasks for herself). She's getting to an age where we can demand more, and start working on her attitude. I won't say her whining, crying, complaining days are behind her, but we're trying very hard to teach her prompt and cheerful compliance to important rules and requests. I'm sure it'll only take her another twenty years or so to master it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

too little (requested) information

After my post on search committees that ask for too much information from job candidates, I saw this exchange on the Chronicle for Higher Education, asking what search committees mean when they ask for "evidence of teaching effectiveness". The first commenter says that in their program, that phrase means:

1) “My philosophy of teaching” statements, usually 1-3 pages. These are often pretty routine, but occasionally one stands out as really thoughtful; and the absence of ANY such statement counts against an applicant. 2) Photocopies of student evaluations, plus relevant statistical data. Some of our faculty place more weight on the overall data, others on student written comments. 3) Comments by the applicants’ peers or graduate professors who visited the applicants’ classes. 4) Syllabi from courses the applicants have taught.

Further responders asked if the job ads actually specify that these items are required. If the absence of a teaching statement will count as evidence of no teaching philosophy whatsoever, I hope the ads tell candidates that such a statement is expected. Candidates are often told to follow the application guidelines to the letter, since sending more than is asked for could count against us. Alas, not surprisingly, the answer was:

Looking over several of our old ads, I see they vary a bit, and they definitely do not ask for all the six things I listed; but those things carry a lot of weight, and we tend to think that serious applicants should be able to figure out what unspecified items would enhance their chances. The ads have varied because search committee members have varied, and the committee writes the ad (except for the wording the university requires). One example:

Candidate should have teaching competence in XXX … must provide evidence both of proficiency in undergraduate teaching, including introductory level courses, and of potential for scholarly achievement … Finalists must successfully complete an interview and a teaching demonstration.

I love that line about "serious applicants should be able to figure out what unspecified items would enhance their chances." Yeah, because even highly educated academics believe that all people think like them, and there is only one right way to do things: the way it happens to be done at their institution. Therefore they don't have to be clear in their directions, because anyone who was the right fit (i.e. same background in academics, age, class, gender, and race) would know the unspoken code. And, hell, there is nothing capricious about assuming everyone can read their minds.

The commenter did say they would provide clarification if the candidates e-mailed, but it's hardly surprising that many won't. We don't want to annoy members of the search committee who may very well get 100 e-mails regarding the details of the application.

Reason #712 why the job market is a complete and utter crapshoot.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

weekly accountability: Oct 24-30

My writing goals for this week were to finish the body of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article and begin on the conclusions. Also, I hoped to keep all members of the family out of the hospital.

I met my writing goals (and the hospital goal, too, thank God!). If anyone is keeping track, that puts me about 3 weeks behind where I wanted to be at this point, but at least I'm still moving.

My writing goals for next week are to finish the conclusions, edit the whole paper, get the bibliography, tables, and graphs whipped into shape, and send it out to my co-authors. Then I hope to start outlining the changes to the next paper.

Friday, October 29, 2010

balance, pt 8: cross-training

I used to feel guilty that archaeology was not my only pleasure. I think that's common. We're often made to feel bad if we didn't start excavating in the sand box at the age of six, or turn down after-school TV in favor of learning Egyptian hieroglyphics. A cousin of mine in electrical engineering makes a similar complaint. In graduate school, she said, there was a sense that the really serious students had spent their childhoods disassembling radios and building printers out of Legos, and everybody else was just a dilettante. (It probably didn't help that she attended MIT.)

I'd like to make a case for mental cross-training. I was going to say"hobbies", but I don't like the term because it sounds frivolous, selfish, and pointless. Activities outside of our academic focus are useful in getting our creative juices flowing and re-charging our interest in life and in research. I honestly believe that my cross-training activities help me be a better teacher and to get more academic work done.

OK, not all hobbies are created equal, but whether you're interested in flower arranging or model trains, if your hobby makes you think creatively, and introduces you to something new and different, then you're stretching your mind, and that can only make you a better archaeologist. Personally, I write fiction (and this blog!) and do some sewing, as well as small craft/art projects with my daughter. Yes, they take time away from my academic work, and no, a new skirt or a Halloween costume is probably not worth the time it takes to make it. But, I find myself more interested in everything, more motivated, and more creative when I take time to indulge in some mental cross-training.

excellent news

I mentioned the plight of Homolo'vi State Park in an earlier post. The good news is that the Hopi tribe has entered into an intergovernmental pact with the state of Arizona to re-open the park and protect the archaeological sites. It's unfortunate that the Hopi have to pay for this, but wonderful that the sites will be protected and once again open to visitors.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


If it wasn't such an irresponsible thing to do, I would totally apply for this job. Bones, early agriculture, and London. What more could a person ask for?


This year, Excruciating Faculty Committee (EFC) is arguing for an increase in faculty salaries, as we're woefully underpaid compared to peer institutions. Since last year there was a salary freeze, and this year there was an across-the-board salary cut, I think the timing is not auspicious.

We spent a couple of meetings randomly discussing other institutions, and how their faculty make so much more money, and not getting anywhere. As one of the few members of the committee who is comfortable with actual data, in self defense I put together some numbers, showing the average salaries for our full, associate, and assistant professors, and how these compare to regional and peer institutions. The conversation that ensued shows how many of our faculty are knee-deep in the river, snapping pictures of the pyramids.

Excruciating Chair*: "Look how much money they make at [mid-level R1 school that happens to be in the same state]! How come we don't make that much?"

Maybe because we don't have graduate programs, an engineering school, a medical school, or even significant grant income?

Excruciating Biology Professor: "[Internationally known select liberal arts college in the same state] has the same mission that we do! Why do they make so much more money?!"

Uh, 'cause we're an under-enrolled liberal arts college nobody has ever heard of, in the middle of nowhere, with fairly poor student outcomes?

Excruciating Philosophy Professor: "When you look at the salaries by discipline, it looks like the math and science professors are farther from their peers than those of us in the humanities! We can't use these data!"

Me: "But those are the data that argue for the largest pay increase over-all, including for humanities faculty."

Excruciating Philosophy Professor: "But it gives the math and science faculty a bigger raise. I can't accept that!"

Me: "mumble, forces...mumble, mumble."

Excruciating Philosophy Professor: "Don't talk to me about market forces. I do the same job as a computer science professor, I should be paid the same!"

Me: bangs head repeatedly on table.

I'm going to supplement my income by selling souvenir salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Khufu's tomb.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I had another meeting of EFC today. Every time I sit through one of these meetings, I send out another job application. Lest you think I'm just a whiner, and the people on this committee are not as bad as I make out, I want to report on a conversation I had with a colleague in Women's Studies as I was walking to the meeting. She was heading toward a meeting of her own, and complained about the crazy colleagues she would have to deal with.

Me: "You think you've got it bad? We've got [Excruciating Chair] heading the committee!"

Friend: "Good God! Who allowed that to happen?!"

Me: "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to stand idly by."

Friend: "Honestly, I feel for you. Let's send each other good vibes from our separate circles of Hell."

Yup, that just about summed it up.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

faunal indices revisited

Codding, Brian F., Douglas W. Bird, and Rebecca Bliege Bird
2010 Interpreting Abundance Indices: Some Zooarchaeological Implications of Martu Foraging. Journal of Archaeological Science 37:3200-3210.

After the post on my faunal index pet peeve, I just had to comment on this article in JAS. Very roughly, the article can be summarized as "we have ethnographic data that shows that people eat more big animals when they're more common, and fewer big animals when they're rare", but with the caveats related to failure rates that you would expect, given the authors' previous publications. I have no problem with their data, their methods, or their conclusion.

My concern with the article lies in their stated opposition to alternative interpretations of large-game indices. Here's the relevant passage (from page 3201):

However, ethnographic and actualistic work has questioned the assumption that prey body size and prey rank are always positively correlated. Mass capture techniques may increase post-encounter return rates for some types of small prey, particularly fish and insects (Madsen and Kirkman, 1988; Madsen and Schmitt, 1998; Ugan, 2005a,b; Lupo and Schmitt, 2002, 2005). Moreover, under
some circumstances, larger prey may be of lower rank than predicted due to the effects of relative prey mobility, which can increase with prey size, and may lead to higher instances of pursuit failure (Bird et al., 2009; see also Hawkes et al., 1991; Jochim, 1976; O’Connell et al., 1988; Smith, 1991:230e231; Stiner et al., 2000; Winterhalder, 1981:95e96). If this is the case, foragers may attain higher overall return rates by pursuing smaller prey that can be acquired more reliably. Because foragers (often men) continue to pursue larger prey despite the acquisition risk, it may be that the actual goals of foraging vary as a function of gender (Jochim, 1988), with men focused on maximizing currencies other than the rate of resource acquisition, such as social capital or prestige (Bliege Bird and Smith, 2005; Hildebrandt and McGuire, 2002). Instances of such behavior represent a clear violation of one of the primary assumptions of the PCM (e.g., Bliege Bird et al., 2001; Hawkes et al., 1991; Hill et al., 1987; see also Lee, 1968).

With this critique, an alternative interpretation of abundance indices has emerged in opposition to the traditional interpretation. This alternative view suggests that high proportions of large prey relative to small prey represent lower overall foraging efficiency (e.g., Hildebrandt and McGuire, 2002; McGuire et al., 2007) and a gender division in foraging labor in which men’s pursuit of large prey is subsidized by women’s labor focused on more reliable resources (Hildebrandt and McGuire, 2002; McGuire and Hildebrandt, 2005). Accordingly, diachronic declines in the abundance of larger prey relative to smaller prey then reflect increases in foraging efficiency and an increase in the overlap between men’s and women’s resource choice, both being focused on small prey (McGuire and Hildebrandt, 1994, 2005; but see also Jarvenpa and Brumbach, 2009; Kuhn and Stiner, 2006; Waguespack, 2005; Zeanah, 2004).
The authors then state that opposing interpretations of large-game indices will lead to hypotheses about prehistoric foraging being untestable, but that Martu ethnographic data, while not reflecting all variation in hunting, can at least elucidate the basic ties between prey size, foraging returns, and hunting decisions. Their conclusion, as stated above, is that decreasing large-game use is, indeed, evidence for decreasing foraging efficiency, and not the other way around.

Alas, the authors committed my number one faunal index pet peeve: they ignored context.

1) The authors cite Hildebrandt and McGuire as perpetrators of the hypothesis that increasing large game indices represent decreases in foraging efficiency. I can't speak for them, but that's not how I've read their work. Hildebrandt and McGuire (along with several other zooarchaeologists who were not cited in the article, including me!) argue that in certain contexts the increased hunting of large game represents a decrease in foraging efficiency. For example, if large game is important for ritual use, then large game may be more common during periods of high social stress, even though hunting that large game requires less efficient foraging decisions than hunting small game. Another example would be if agricultural labor constrained mobility and settlement locations, and kept hunters from easily accessing areas where large game was prevalent. There, too, an increase in large game would represent a decrease in foraging efficiency, reflecting the need for long-distance hunting as more local protein sources proved inadequate.

2) Since the argument that increases in large-game indices may reflect decreased foraging efficiency is strongly dependent on context, proving that is not the case in one context is not the same as proving that is never the case. The logic is problematic.

3) The authors state that "if both interpretations are taken seriously, competing hypotheses about prehistoric foraging are rendered essentially untestable." This is not true. The competing hypotheses are tested by looking at the archaeological context. As I stated in my previous post, faunal indices do not prove anything in and of themselves, they must be interpreted in light of their archaeological context. We must look at changes in settlement patterns, technology, and other aspects of the economy to know whether economic intensification or food stress manifest during the period in question. If we know so little about the prehistoric societies that produced these faunal assemblages that we cannot even tell if they are undergoing population growth, or community coalescence, or agricultural intensification, then we should probably re-think our understanding of the faunal indices, as well.

I will now re-state my opinion on faunal indices. Perhaps I should call it Palimpsest's First Law: Faunal Indices tell us about the timing and intensity of change, but they do not tell us the direction. For that, we need to know their context.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

weekly accountability: Oct 17-23

My writing goals for this week were to to re-write the body of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article and begin on the conclusions.

I did not meet my writing goals. This week, it was Dr. Mr. Palimpsest who flirted with pneumonia. Now that everyone in the family has begun or finished at least one course of antibiotics, I'm hoping we'll be fully healthy and I'll be able to Get Sh#t Done!

My writing goals for next week are to finish the body of the paper. If we can all stay out of the hospital, I'll consider that a bonus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

too much information

I'm on the job market again, albeit in a fairly small way. I'm only applying for jobs I'd really like, so it's a rather limited pool. This is the first time I've been on the job market after having been on a search committee myself. Some practices that I thought were bizarre or idiotic in the past are now more understandable, or at least I've realized that they are often state- or university-mandated idiocies.

My number one frustration is the amount of up-front information some universities request. I'm resigned to sending letters of recommendation up-front, although I hate to ask for them, and the AAA has a statement in opposition on their webpage. Up-front letters of recommendation are common in many disciplines, and common enough in ours, that I'm not too frustrated when I see them requested. Similarly, it seems reasonable to ask for a short teaching portfolio, including student evaluations and a statement of philosophy. What drives me nuts are schools that want letters, syllabi, writing samples, transcripts (official!), and/or a complete work-up of your astrological profile before they even make the first cut.

I'm sure different search committees work differently and follow different rules, but I can't imagine any committee reading all of that material. Surely it is better to read through a fairly succinct application from everyone, and then determine which dozen or so applicants are strong enough that you're willing to wade through their extra verbage?

Unfortunately, I was on a search committee that required an obscene amount of material up-front. When I objected, I was told that requesting letters up front would "speed up the process." But we didn't want the process sped up! We were searching for a temporary position quite early in the job market cycle. Making an early decision would open up the possibility of our choice backing out because they'd received a tenure-track position. I was also told that senior members of the committee had previously found items like syllabi and transcripts to be "really useful" in making a determination. I can't imagine why, at least not before the first cut.

Problematically, we significantly decreased the number of people willing to apply for our job, even though the job market was so bad. This was a temporary, one-year position at a low-prestige school in the middle of nowhere, and we were asking for more material than the vast majority of tenure-track job postings.

The job market sucks. Until we can institute some logical plan to match people with jobs, could we at least minimize the pain by standardizing the application materials?

balance, pt. 7: grading

When I first started teaching, I spent far too much of my time grading. I commonly teach about 100 students per semester, and if that doesn't seem like a lot, I'll point out that classes here are expected to be heavy on papers, essay exams, and activities, and we have no graduate student TAs to help us with the grading.

I like to get feedback to my students as soon as possible, and I want my feedback to be substantive and constructive. As a result, my first couple of years here I would frequently be snowed under by a pile of grading. Nothing else got done, of course, and frankly the results - as measured by the usefulness of my critiques to the students - were not worth the effort.

So, I tamed the grading beast. Here are a few pointers that worked for me and for my students. These are mostly no-brainers, but they took me a long time to figure out, so I thought I might as well share them. YMMV.

Grading rubrics. An oldie but goodie. When grading an essay, paper, or presentation, I pick the 4-8 most important aspects of the assignment, and I decide how many points each one should be worth. Then I create a column for each of those items in an Excel spreadsheet and put the grades in as I read each paper. Not only can I set it up so Excel automatically adds all the points together to create the final grade, but I can use mail merge to give each student a print-out of their grade break-down with comments.

For example, let's say I've assigned a paper on gorillas, and it is worth 50 points total. I may decide that spelling and punctuation are worth 5 points, grammar and style are 5 points, coverage of basic gorilla biology is 10 points, description of gorilla social organization is 10 points, coverage of gorilla diet is 10 points, and coverage of gorilla conservation is another 10. Obviously, these topics should correspond to the directions for the assignment that I gave to my students. I put together an Excel spreadsheet with each one of those categories as a separate column. As I read John Doe's paper, I put a number in each of those columns, and in the last column I write general comments. Mail merge can then create a Word file that can be printed and stapled to the papers to be returned to the students. More frequently, I copy and paste the relevant paragraph to the end of the student's electronically submitted paper and send it back to them. The file usually looks something like this, and only takes minutes to create for the whole class:
Paper 1: Gorillas
Doe, John

Spelling and punctuation (out of 5 points): 3
Grammar and style (out of 5 points): 4
Basic biology (out of 10 points): 8
Social organization (out of 10 points): 7
Diet (out of 10 points): 10
Conservation (out of 10 points): 6

Total points (out of 50): 38

Comments: Good job on this paper overall, John, but I'd like to see more detail in your discussion of gorilla conservation. I particularly liked your section on gorilla diet, but be careful of typos. I'm pretty sure you didn't mean that gorillas eat their chests.
The beauty of the system is that you've given feedback on where the student went wrong, (John now knows which parts of the paper were strong and which ones were weak), but you don't have to spell it out for him. If you want, you can always add another comments column by each grade, and add that to the mail merge. For example, the grade for spelling and punctuation could have the number, followed by the comment "Please watch for typos. They are very distracting!" I find this system much faster and easier than trying to decide on (and justify) an overall grade without breaking it down in this fashion.

Typical-paragraph comments. A friend of mine is an English professor, has taught one bizillion sections of Freshman Comp, and runs the Writing Tutorial Center at Tiny U. She put me onto the idea of only correcting one typical paragraph, rather than trying to correct grammar, spelling, and organization problems throughout a paper. This is an absolute God-send when one of your students is barely capable of writing a complete sentence, and frequently fails to reach even that mark. My friend maintains that it's the best way to teach students how to write (when paired with the requirement that they re-write one of their essays). If you correct every mistake a student makes, all they will do is go through and make the changes you pointed out to them. If, instead, you mark the major problems in one paragraph and tell them to change similar problems in the rest of the paper, then they have to truly understand your corrections. As a bonus, it takes a lot less of your time!

Pick your battles. This is another tip from my friend the English professor: don't try to fix everything. Whether the paper is excellent or excruciating, pick no more than three problems for the student to fix. Those three things may be the details that turn a good paper into a great one, or they may be things like "try outlining your paper to improve organization", "please craft a legitimate thesis statement", and "for the love of all that is Holy, learn how to write a complete sentence!" It can be tempting to try to fix all of a student's problems, but if you dump all over a paper, the criticism will just be overwhelming. I don't mean that in a touchy-feely, don't-damage-their-poor-little-psychies-by-using-a-red-pen kind of way. What I mean is that too many problems to fix will lead to no problems being fixed. Many students will just give up. It's just not possible to overcome the failure of 12 years of pre-college education in the two weeks before the next paper is due. But if you give them two or three specific tasks to accomplish, they can master those before moving on.

The internet is your friend. I have created an on-line component to all of my introductory classes. Pre-labs, reading quizzes, exams, and activities can all be put on-line using a Moodle or Blackboard system. The initial set-up is a bear, but once they are up and running, many of these activities can be automatically graded by the computer and the grades put in the student's online grade book. Presto - no more grading! Obviously, cheating is easier under this system, but I've moved toward open book and open note exams, with the result that average grades have actually dropped! Why? Partly because students think they don't have to study if it's open book, but also because I can skip a lot of the easy questions and focus on questions that really test comprehension of the basic class concepts. (Yes, it is possible to test comprehension using multiple choice and matching questions.)

An added bonus of creating an on-line component to your class is that students can upload their papers and written assignments to the class web-page, which allows you to request electronic manuscripts without having your e-mail box fill up. The papers are conveniently located in one area on-line, and you won't have to hear any more excuses about failed e-mails.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

visiting scholar conference 2011

Southern Illinois Carbondale's annual Visiting Scholar conference will be on "Narratives of North American Diversity, 1400-1700", with a focus on indigenous and slave experiences of that transformative period, independent or and/or interwoven with European perspectives. It looks like an interesting conference, and if I were in the area, I would definitely attend, although it is well outside my personal research interests.

Actually, that's not completely true. I have a deep interest in the adoption of Old World domestic animals by Native Americans. There are so many interesting stories out there - everything from simple adoption of herding, to the hunting of feral domesticates, to pigs as the cause of the Pequot war, to attempts to create Lapp-like reindeer domestication with Inuit and caribou. Some day, when I've actually written up all the extraneous data from my own research that I still have floating around, I'd love to start research on the movement of Old World domesticates in the New World. I'm not holding my breath until I have time, though.

Abstracts are due December 20, for anyone with an interest in the topic.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

british nagpra?

This article has a very interesting discussion of a relatively new mandate in the UK requiring that all excavated human remains be reburied within two years. Apparently, the regulation of archaeology was transferred to the Ministry of Justice in 2008 (the article doesn't say why). The Ministry decided that archaeologists should be subject to a Victorian-era law that covered the excavation of old graveyards during suburban development.

I've written before about my strong views on NAGPRA; I'm not generally opposed to quick reburial for human remains. That said, I fail to see the purpose for this mandate. I may be wrong (please correct me if I am), but I'm not aware that Britian has a significant problem with power differential between those-that-dig and those-that-are-studied. Perhaps most archaeologists are ethnically English, and they're running roughshod over the pasts of the Welsh, Scotts, and Irish, but I've never gotten that impression. So what is the purpose of the law? Have there been any actual complaints from local communities?

weekly accountability: Oct. 10-16

My writing goals for this week were to re-do the data graphs and tables, and to re-write the body of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

I did not meet my writing goals; I only got about half of it done. As I mentioned in my last post, things fell apart around here the last two weeks (topped off by another doctor's visit this morning and another course of antibiotics, this time for Bunny). I'm just glad I got anything done! As an example of the power of clean living and high thinking, however, yesterday the deadline for this article was extended, so I'm not in as much of a rush as I thought.

My goals for next week are to finish the body of the paper and begin on the conclusions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

balance, pt. 6: losing it

I've been sick since early September. First it was a cold, then it became a secondary infection, then a sinus infection so intense I couldn't move my head without throwing up. Meantime, Little Boo had an ear infection and Dr. Mr. Palimpsest had a cold. We were muddling along alright, until Dr. Mr. Palimpsest caught the flu, and then gave it to our daughter, Bunny. This just happened to coincide with the move-my-head-and-puke phase of my own illness, so everything pretty much went to hell in a handbasket for a while.

Just as many middle-class families are one paycheck from poverty, so are most professional women one set-back away from total chaos. I was never more aware of how precarious is our family balancing act until it was disrupted so radically by a simple illness. But, there we were: our house filling with trash (mostly used tissues), our laundry piling up, our meals going uncooked, and our classes barely getting taught. I didn't do a writing accountability update last weekend because I got absolutely nothing done the week before. I'm lucky I didn't have to cancel classes. This week, it's taken me until today to get caught up and return to a normal routine, a process that was not helped by Bunny staying home for two days from preschool because of the flu.

It's been a tough time, but strangely enough, the last two weeks have made me incredibly grateful for all that I have. I am grateful for the help I receive from my husband (when he's not bedridden). I am grateful for those productive moments of peace in the office when the kids are at daycare. I am grateful for the energy I have (when I don't feel like death on toast) to get stuff done, day after day.

Thank God for a return to balance!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

weekly accountability: Sept. 26-Oct. 2

My writing goals for this week were to re-write the introduction and background sections of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

I did meet my writing goals this week, more or less. I have a rough draft of the introduction and I have all of the sample/site descriptions written. This section of the article will need more editing than I like, but the draft is done. I'm honestly surprised I managed to meet my goals this week, since I lost two days to incipient pneumonia. Bleck!

My goals for next week are to re-do the data graphs and tables, and to re-write the body of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

Friday, October 1, 2010

balance, pt. 5: cleaning house

I said in my first post about life balance that I hate cutting from my to-do list, because I love everything I do. That's not 100% accurate. There is one thing that I really don't enjoy at all: cleaning the house.

I'm not a hyper-clean person under the best of conditions, and long work hours and two small kids are not the best of conditions. Still, I have some standards, low as they are. I know the clean-as-you-go method is the best, but I've never managed to pull that off. Dr. Mr. Palimpsest and I tried a designated a clean-up day (Saturday morning), but too often something else interfered and we were left with a filthy house.

My current system is working fairly well, within limits. I designate the cleaning of certain rooms to particular parts of my daily routine. For example, while I'm helping Bunny to brush her teeth and change into pajamas, I do a quick pick-up of the bathroom, her bedroom, and the playroom (which is conveniently located in-between). Similarly, when I feed our two cats (Orangey and The Brain), I also pick up the mud room and take out the compost (both located near the cat box.) Theoretically, I truly clean these rooms on the weekends (mop, vacuum, scrub, etc.), but that doesn't happen as often as it should.

This system works well for every room except the kitchen, which is the room that gets the dirtiest, and therefore just takes too long to clean. It can't be delegated to a quick pick-up in the middle of some other daily task. Once Little Boo is old enough to amuse himself, I'm sure it will be easier to find the time. Until then, does anyone have suggestions for keeping the kitchen clean?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

archaeological landscapes

One of my earliest memories is of running up and down the Miamisburg Mound, near Dayton, Ohio. I have family in the area, and when we visited, we would take a picnic to the park where the mound is located. My cousins and I would run up and down the steps, or roll down the sides of the mound, while the adults sat around and reminisced. On summer afternoons, there were often many families in the park.

If my parents explained the significance of the mound to me, I certainly didn't understand or remember. Many, many years later, I was sitting through a lecture on Midwestern moundbuilders, when the professor started showing pictures of the Miamisburg Mound. I experienced a wrench of cognitive connection, and had a sudden mental image of running down steep steps, in the dappled green shade of what seemed to me, as a child, a veritable forest of trees. Oh, so that's why there'd been a big hill in that park.

Archaeological sites are embedded within a larger landscape, one imbued with meaning, full of economic implications, and environmental diversity on a micro- and macro-scale. All landscapes are contingent, and while archaeological sites write the history of human occupation on that landscape, the sites continue to be a living part of the landscape well after that occupation has ceased. Archaeological sites affect vegetation regimes, they affect local biodiversity. Due to changes in the soil, Archaeological sites can often be identified by the differences in modern vegetation on the site, when compared to nearby areas. In the Amazon, prehistorically created terras pretas continue to be used by modern farmers as agricultural fields, as the soils are much richer than "natural". Archaeological sites are frequently re-used. Obvious examples include ritualistic "power grabs", like building the cathedral of Mexico City over the major Aztec temples, but archaeological sites are often re-used for purely practical reasons, rather than legitimization or socio-religious ones. At Kincaid Mounds site, in southern Illinois, a farmhouse was built on the largest mound during the historic period, to raise it above the frequently flooded ground-level.

As archaeologists, we often ignore the modern (or post-occupation) uses of archaeological sites, or treat them as something to be filtered out during the "real" analysis of the site. At least in the United States, we're often not comfortable with the archaeological landscape. Perhaps this is because few of us are descendants of the initial occupants. We are all too aware that the original meaning of the landscape has not carried down to us, and a current picnic spot may have been a place of great spiritual power to someone in the past. Our culture is also less enamored than many by places we associate with the dead. Unlike many Mexican communities, or Victorian-era Euro-Americans, we do not consider cemeteries to be a place to bring your children, gossip, laugh, eat, and enjoy life.

We miss something, though, as archaeologists and as human beings, when we attempt to wall off archaeological sites, make them into museums, separate them from the living world. Don't get me wrong, we need to protect archaeological sites. We also must understand the needs of communities who may hold some sites sacred. But, where practical, we benefit by embracing the archaeological landscape. Archaeological sites are living entities, long after those who lived in them have ceased to breathe, and as researchers it behooves us to remember the long post-occupation history of our sites, how they were used, re-used, and re-invented. Additionally, our field benefits by bringing more people into the archaeological landscape, by making the past a place where children race up and down mound steps and families picnic on summer afternoons. Archaeology has a fair amount of public support, a "gee whiz" factor largely based on Indiana Jones and Egyptian mummies, but true stewardship of archaeological sites will come only when our past is integrated into our present.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

profitablity of the past

A Bulgarian archaeologists claims to have found the relics of St. John the Baptist (in Bulgaria, naturally). I have no comment on the veracity of the claims, but I did think that this story by an English-language Sofia news agency was refreshingly forthright in its coverage of the economic benefits of the finds. In the Middle Ages, towns throughout Christendom begged, borrowed, stole, or faked relics - and took advantage of real ones, of course - for exactly these reasons:

"Investments in history and in archaeology are very profitable for whichever country," said Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria's Finance Minister.

According to him, the return would be about 200 times, while the investment in archaeological heritage in general does not cost much.

"It is worth investing there for archaeology's sake as well, and also because of the new job positions it would create. Investments in this sector return repeatedly and in a relatively short period of time," Djankov said.

He has explained that if there are archaeological landmarks and other attractions, "tourists might decide to stay there not for a day, but for two or three days."

You should read the story. It's short, but interesting, and the Bulgarian Diaspora Minister uses some rather shocking language.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Catalhoyuk dust-up

I hadn't heard about the firing of most lab heads on the Catalhoyuk project. I don't have much to say, other than: Wow.

I'm sure it is true that the analytical team on a long-term project like Catal gets stuck in its ways. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that once a particular scientific team has been chosen, the theoretical and methodological outlooks of those people will shape the nature of the project and are unlike to change over the long-term. But I'm skeptical that bringing in "new blood" will actually accomplish much, other than piss a lot of people off and make the new crew rather wary. There are also a lot of logistical problems to face. Will data continue to be gathered in the same way? If new types of data are gathered using new techniques, new forms, new databases, etc., then how compatible will it be with the old data? If the new data is compatible with the old data, what rules will there be about publishing the new and old data together? How much credit will the old analysts get for their work? How much can they continue to publish after 2012 on this material? Sounds like a real mess!

Catalhoyuk is such a fascinating site, and has incredible importance, both intrinsically and as a highly visible example of archaeology. I hope the potential problems are worked out quickly and smoothly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

weekly accountability: Sept. 19-25

My writing goals for this week were to finish my pre-tenure sabbatical application and to write the introduction and background section of a conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

I did not meet my writing goals this week. I finished the pre-tenure sabbatical application, but I didn't get to the journal article at all. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that I've been really sick all week, so I'm barely keeping my head above water. The other reason is I think I'm over-estimating how much I'm capable of getting done during the week. My writing hours have been going very well, and I've gotten more done in the last two weeks than I have since classes started. The fact remains I have a very teaching-intensive job and I'm prepping a brand new class outside my field of expertise. It's not surprising that I'm not as productive as I think I "ought" to be. I have decided to ease back on my expectations a bit.

My goals for next week are to re-write the introduction and background sections of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

Friday, September 24, 2010

balance, pt. 4: class prep

I don't teach any classes in my field of research. The closest I come is a four-field course on environmental theory and anthropology. I don't even teach the introductory archaeology course at Tiny Liberal Arts College (it's taught by Dr. Mr. Palimpsest). Instead, I teach introductory courses in biological anthropology and (gasp!) cultural anthropology, as well as higher-level courses in bioanth and archaeology. The only higher-level archaeology class that I teach is focused on a region I've never been to, much less conducted research on.*

I can easily spend 6 hours prepping for each class period, especially if it's a new class. Since I have a high teaching load, if I'm not careful I lose all my time to teaching and have none left over for research. One trick I've learned that helps: do all class prep in the evening, after the kids go to bed. This has two advantages: 1) it forces me to work during a time that I often get lazy and just want to read a book (or write a blog post). The panic of not having anything to teach the next morning will work wonders; and 2) it forces me to limit the time I devote to class prep. Prep-work, like a gas, expands to take all available time between its initiation and the actual class. If I prep in the evenings, then pure need for sleep will eventually force me to call it quits.

I should note that this plan didn't work at all when I had all new preps, my first year on the job. Then I had to work evenings and all day to get it done. I will also admit that this plan worked a lot better before Boo Too was born. Between sleep deprivation, and an infant who will only sleep while in my arms, my evenings have been increasingly devoted to the Red Menace (aka Netflix). I've found the evening prep time to work well in the past, however, and highly recommend it. I hope to return to it, once Boo Too starts sleeping on his own.

*"Why?" you ask. Don't ask. The inner workings of this department are not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

macaw breeding in Paquime

JAA has a very interesting article on stable oxygen and carbon isotope tests on scarlet macaws from Pacquime. (Anyone know how to add the accent on the last e? Anyone?):

Somerville, Andrew D, Ben A. Nelson, and Kelly J. Knudson
2010 Isotopic Investigation of Pre-Hispanic Macaw Breeding in Northwest Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29: 125-135.

To summarize briefly, the oxygen isotopes suggest most macaws were born and bred at the site, rather than imported from Mesoamerica. The carbon isotopes suggest that adult birds, at least, were fed mostly maize. The outliers were as interesting as the overall pattern. One bird, for example, appears to have come originally from a wetter, warmer climate, probably within the original range of the birds in Mesoamerica.

It's a great example of human manipulation, where prehistoric peoples extended the range (and diet!) of a species. I wonder what other species or sites could be investigated in this manner. As much as I would love to see this kind of analysis applied to the movement of domestic herd animals across Eurasia and Africa, sufficient chronological control is impossible. Macaws are an oddity in many ways: very long-lived animals that were kept alive for a secondary product (feathers), were traded in very small numbers, and were not clearly bred in captivity outside of a few centers. There aren't a lot of other cases like them.

There are on-going debates over the origin of macaws in the Southwest, of course, so it would be fascinating to see whether the oxygen isotopes suggested a Pacquime origin for birds in the Four Corners region. I assume such analyses are on-going.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

agricultural landscapes of the Ozarks

I love this essay about Ozark agriculture and subsistence traditions. Like many areas that are marginal for agriculture (whether due to technological, population, or environmental constraints), the Ozarks encourage alternatives to industrialized agriculture, and in particular create areas of high agricultural biodiversity. Similar things happened in the past, as well, affecting the diversity of both plant and animal species in areas around villages and fields. I'm most familiar with cases from the Americas, and there are just too many to mention. Everyone should read these three books:

Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America, by William Doolittle, Oxford University Press, 2002

Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes, by William Denevan, Oxford University Press, 2003

Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America on the Eve of Conquest, by Thomas M. Whitmore, Oxford University Press, 2002

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

video recommendation

I watched Breaking the Maya Code last night, the 2007 documentary based on Michael Coe's book. I highly recommend it.

A list of things I liked:
- I'm a sucker for history of anthropology stories, particularly those that show the importance of the social/historical context in the development of the field and in the interpretation of data. The movie does a good job with that, for example exploring how a WWI soldier's view of warfare (and Communism) affected his ability to objectively evaluate a Soviet researcher's (in retrospect largely correct) findings. I spend a lot of time in my classes - even intro classes - talking about the importance of cultural context in interpreting scientific data, and making it clear that data discovery and data interpretation are not the same thing. And, as much as we may not want to admit it, passing or failing peer review does not mean an idea is "true" or "false", just that it is or is not generally accepted by the scientific community of that time and place.

- The movie at least hints at the inherent biases built into our interpretations of Maya writing. It does not do a great job of explaining that monumental inscriptions were only one type of writing among the Maya, and our view of their world would be quite different if we had more perishable texts, but at least it mentions the issue. It also does a nice job explaining how archaeological interpretations of the Maya world were shaped by what part of the writing system was readable at that point in the history of the discipline. In many ways, Mayanists were like the man looking for his keys under the streetlight, not because he lost them there, but because that was the only place he could see.

- The movie is much better than your average Mayan documentary in avoiding over-dramatization. You know, the Maya "collapse", "lost cities of the jungle", "enduring mysteries of a lost tribe", and all that crap.

- At the end, the documentary at least pays lip service to the importance of the (yes, still very much alive!) Maya people in the translation of ancient texts. I would have liked to see this discussed more throughout the movie, but it was a nice segment. It includes some interesting commentary on the politics of learning Mayan history, in the context of the modern nation states where the Maya live. Plus, the computer program created to write in Maya was seriously cool.

Some things I didn't like:
- Alas, it's too long. It's not too dull, but at 116 minutes, it would eat an entire week of class. Obviously, it can be broken up into sections, but I always like to show the full video when possible.

- I mentioned that the documentary avoided sensationalism. In the process, it left out some rather striking aspects of Maya history. Of course I can't read the glyphs, but I wondered if some of the translations had been sanitized. I'm sure there are a lot of inscriptions about lords "defeating" enemies, but I remember reading a lot about enemies being tortured, flayed, defleshed and scattered. Similarly, de Landa's burning of Maya books was mentioned in the documentary, as a response to ancient Maya "sacrifices" taking place in nearby villages. I don't know about that specific incident, but human sacrifice continued to take place well into the historic period, often with political implications. Most modern Americans, at least, would have a better understanding of de Landa's horror at what he considered to be "devil worship", if they knew the specific acts he was condemning. I'm not condoning de Landa's actions, just saying that the video skimmed over some of the less pleasant bits (from our modern perspective) of ancient Maya culture.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

weekly accountability: Sept. 12-18

Here is my weekly statement of writing accountability (as discussed in this post):

My goals for last week were to write a complete draft of my pre-tenure sabbatical application. I did not meet them (quite). Still, I'm very happy with my progress so far in the daily writing challenge. I did manage to write 2,800 words and get most of the basic text for the application written, but I still have to finish all of the references, write up a justification of the research methods I plan to use, and do a lot of editing.

I didn't meet my goals because I didn't start the daily writing hour until Wednesday, so I had a short week.

My writing goals for next week are to finish the pre-tenure sabbatical application and send it to colleagues for feedback, and then to re-write the introduction and background sections in a conference paper that I'm revising for publication.

Friday, September 17, 2010

discussion is worth a thousand lectures

I'm the product of state schools, so I'm comfortable with large lecture classes. I'm a good lecturer, too. I get a lot of student evaluations that say I'm witty and make "a boring subject more interesting." (gee, thanks.) Here at Tiny Liberal Arts College, though, lectures are looked down upon. Even in "large" (meaning 70-120 student) introductory courses, there are professors who never lecture, but teach entirely through readings, activities, and discussion.

I've not yet learned the knack. I do a lot more activities than is typical for a big state school (and always did, even when I was teaching at a big state school), but I really can't wrap my head around teaching an intro course through discussion alone. I've been assured by my colleagues that students learn the material much more thoroughly and remember it for longer if they "learn through doing". The problem, as they acknowledge, is that you cover a lot less material. I'm sure students would understand the principles of evolutionary theory much better if they discover them for themselves. At the same time, it took Darwin decades to publish on natural selection. Why have students re-invent the wheel?

OK, natural selection might be a bad example, since a strong understanding of Darwin's theories would be worth the extra time. But what about topics that are less conceptually fundamental, like the details of the Neolithic revolution in North China, or of variation in primate social organization? There is a real trade-off here: do we teach more facts, allowing students to become familiar with the breadth of anthropological material, or do we teach fewer topics but more thoroughly? Note that this is a wash for most students. The average student will learn less of more material in the first scenario, or learn more of less material in the second. The changes come on the ends. Poor students probably do better with more dynamic class structures, while strong, self-motivated students don't learn as much as they could.

My personal preference is to lecture a great deal in intro courses, with activities and discussions for the most important, foundational concepts. In upper-division courses, I've moved away from lectures. I find that I need a lot of structure to those courses to make sure the important topics are covered and the discussions and activities are useful. Free-form discussion on the reading just doesn't do it for me.

Here's one example of the type of structure I've imposed on an upper division course. The course is an over-view of the culture history of the region-that-shall-not-be-named.

The class is organized around weekly thematic topics (diet, agricultural systems, government, trade, religion, etc.). Each student in the class chooses a sub-region or cultural group at the beginning of the semester. Every week, they bring a single-paged summary of the theme as it applies to their sub-region. For example, if this was a North American archaeology class (it's not) they would bring and present information to the rest of the class about the agricultural techniques that have been documented for, say, the Hopewell, or the Missisippian, or the Ancestral Puebloan area. This forces students into research (although they're still using secondary summaries, not primary sources of data). It also gives every student something to say, and helps move discussion along.

If you have an interest in implementing this structure with undergraduates, I have a couple of suggestions: 1) the grading structure must punish students who don't show up. The first time I taught this class, participation per se didn't count (just the quality of the research), and I frequently had half the class absent. 2) walk students through the research process the first time or two, because students who have no clue what you want will not tell you until it's too late. 3) have exams, not just weekly or semester-long research papers, and include all of the students' presentations on the exam. In other words, all students have a vested interest in coming to class, taking notes on other students' presentations, asking clarifying questions, and pushing their colleagues to produce high-quality work.