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 insidehighered.com 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.