We continue to live in upset times, which make the events of a few years back seem even less relevant than they might have been before. Plus which, these posts aren’t actually much fun to write, and this one was set to be fairly grim anyway, which current circumstances set in proportion somewhat; I may not have been having a great time, but look at the world now, right? So I’ll observe chronology and do it, but be more schematic and briefer than usual, so I can move on quickly. In case you prefer to move on even quicker, I’ll put the rest below a cut…
Teaching was not actually where my calendar year academic 2017 began, because not only does the University of Leeds do January exams, which one then has about a week to mark before teaching starts, but before that I was in Cambridge doing my first Ph.D. viva, which I’ll write about next post. After that there were the exams and the marking, which must have dragged on into teaching term, but I don’t remember them going on that long. Once teaching was going, however, this is what it was:
- Empire and Aftermath: The Mediterranean World, 2nd to 8th Centuries, effectively a late antique survey course for first-years which I had inherited and was now re-running with very slight modifications. At its full size this can run five or six seminar groups, and in 2017 I had two of them, so that plus the lecture was 3 hours a week, and I was also coordinating three postgraduate teachers who were doing the rest, two of whom were new to the module.
- Money and Power in Europe 284–1000, a second-year option I’d newly designed based on the coin collection I now knew something about in the Library (as by now do you). This was all new design, though I had a lot of help from a colleague elsewhere who runs a similar module, and it also ran with a lecture and two tutorial groups (though both groups were tiny, because of timetabling) in most weeks, all of which I taught. It went pretty well on first outing, I think, but as long as I ran this module it divided the groups between able and struggling in a very sharp way, and eventually I would decide it was pitched too high.
- Conquest, Convivencia and Conflict: Christian and Muslim Spain 711–1212, my final-year Special Subject, now in its second semester and still all new design and involving a lot of behind-the-scenes source translation and so on. All the midnight oil I put in to make possible this module’s 2-3 hours a week were time saved further down the line, but at the time there was a lot of oil. My group for the module were great, however, and made it all worthwhile.
- History Dissertation: each of the Special Subject students were also doing a dissertation with me, three on related subjects and one on Byzantine involvement in the Crusades, for reasons. Also fun, but probably more for me than the students, one of whom had managed to get this far without reading a whole book for their degree before; we changed that…
- Palaeography: Reading Medieval Manuscripts, one of our MA skills courses. This was the straw that came close to breaking the camel’s back. I only taught 4 of the 11 classes, and those were fun, because unlike the way in which I was taught palaeography Leeds largely teaches it by doing, so each class is a puzzle-solving workshop. It’s assessed by a piece of work every couple of weeks, however, so with a big cohort (and we had 16 that year, I think) you have that many papers to mark every fortnight of a sort, that you cannot skim because every word must be scored, and they must all be double-marked, so if I wasn’t first-marking I was second-marking. Sometimes that marking coincided with other marking, and the logjams were, shall we say, hard to clear.
On top of the regular classroom stuff, and my two weekly office hours, I was also meeting once a term with four postgraduate advisees and once a month with an actual Ph.D. student, and looking out for a crop of personal tutees, most of whom did not come to their meetings but some of whom (I count ten) did. I won’t do a count of hours, but I will say: to make all this possible, I should have cut other things…
Aside from other parts of being part of a department like coming to staff meetings and work-in-progress seminars and attending applicant visit days, you see, a glance through my diary for the months in question finds me still doing coins inventorying. Of course, I was looking for stuff I might want to use, for teaching or even for research, but it was still probably time I didn’t have. Teaching with the coins also meant meetings to choose and set them up, which like the source translations was behind-the-scenes prep no-one was counting. There is lots I could add here about the total situation that would now do no good to rehash, but managing it meant more meetings too, and it all piled up.
Other People’s Research
Looking back now, however, the thing that amazes me that I was still doing was going to seminars. I suppose that it was all I was getting by way of academic engagement except for my own teaching reading, and I was alone in the house for a good part of the period because my partner was away, but still; it was time I could have saved. On the other hand, I saw some cool stuff. This is the list:
- Andrew Jotischky, “The Image of the Greek: Western views of Orthodox monks and monasteries, c. 1000–1500″, Institute for Medieval Studies Public Lecture, University of Leeds, 7th February 2017
- Graham Loud, “The Problem with Pseudo-Hugo: who wrote the History of ‘Hugo Falcandus’?”, Medieval History Seminar, University of Leeds, 15th February 2017
- Judith Jesch, “Runes and Verse: the medialities of early Scandinavian poetry”, Institute for Medieval Studies Public Lecture, University of Leeds, 21st February 2017
- Simon Coupland, “New Light from Carolingian Coinage”, Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 22nd February 2017
- Sunny Harrison, “Ugly, Dangerous and Furious: modelling health and impairment in later-medieval horse medicine treatises”, Medieval History Seminar, University of Leeds, 28th February 2017
- Oliver Creighton, “The Archaeology of Anarchy: landscapes of war and status in twelfth-century England”, Institute of Medieval Studies Public Lecture, 7th March 2017
- Global Byzantium: 50th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham
You see, I was even still going to London. Those were the days eh? Except they really didn’t feel that way. Still, as I say, some of this – much of it – was cool, and much of it deserves reporting even now, but I will be brutal and stick to the things I personally had the most thoughts about (unless people wish to request exceptions). Andrew Jotischky’s lecture is now published in Speculum, so that seems unnecessary to cover; Graham’s paper was very learned but its essential conclusion was that we don’t know, so I can probably just leave that there; I don’t think I could give a qualified appraisal of Professor Jesch’s lecture in the state my notes suggest I was in; I will write up Simon Coupland’s paper, because that does come very close to my interests and it intrigued me; Sunny has his slides up on Academia.edu so you can sort of see that for yourself; I will write up Oliver Creighton’s lecture as he is now on a committee with me! and besides, it speaks to the old questions of how historians and archaeologists should get along which used to be common on this blog when I had more archaeologists with whom to try it; and I cannot not write up something like the Byzantine Symposium, partly because friends were running it but mainly because I wound up presenting in it unexpectedly, a story worth telling!1
So that should keep me busy, but as I say, looking back, I just look at all those hours spent which I so keenly needed elsewhere, and wonder why I made the choices I did. Showing support is a lot of it, of course, to colleagues and friends, and we’d be in a sorry place if that stopped, but maybe, still, I could have rationed it a bit more…
My Own Research, and the Results of Ignoring It
Instead, what I stopped doing was research of my own. I don’t think I read anything that wasn’t for teaching in this whole time, quite often on the train where there was nothing else I could do. About halfway through this period the deadline for my book submission passed, and when the press got gently in touch, I had to confess I had no idea when it would be possible to complete it. It was the honest answer but it cost me my book contract, and that made my probation goals impossible. So really, I should have prioritised differently, but I felt then and still feel to an extent that too much had been asked of me, by too many people who didn’t know what the others were asking. One colleague who will remain nameless, but who was certainly working as hard as me, said to me at some point after I’d had to ask for some help, “So now you’re finding out what a full load is like, eh?” I can see where the impulse came from and I’m sure it was meant comradely, but I had carried what other places think are full loads and managed. I was pretty sure this was not that.
Anyway, it was what it was. I am told that for much of this time I was a grey-masked silent robot who never went to bed before it was too late to be useful, but it is in the past and things did get better. It took a bit of a fight, though, as may in part eventually be told. Meanwhile, though, I have a few other things that gives me to write about, all of which are more fun, so next week onto those, or sooner if I can get through my marking!
1. I should probably provide a reference to the only actual academic publication mentioned there, which is Andrew Jotischky, “The Image of the Greek: Western Pilgrims’ Views of Eastern Monks and Monasteries in the Holy Land, c.1200–1500” in Speculum Vol. 94 (Cambridge MA 2019), pp. 674-703.
Thank you so much for this post! It really resonated with me – looking back to the pre-covid past; struggling with impossible demands, balancing teaching and research, and just the general mood. Knowing about your past struggles really helps me with mine. Swamped with online teaching, I now abandoned my research completely (and before this current emergency situation that we all share, I had my own private family emergency situation, so that for me it was a smooth transition from getting out of my daughter’s medical emergency right into the pandemic lockdown). As summer is approaching, I am getting scared rather than excited, because summer means trying to remember what I was doing before all these happened and trying to resume it. Somehow your post made this perspective less scary for me. Thank you!
That sounds like a worse time than I was having, I have to say! I hope it gets easier. Mine did, though that was not least because I started fighting for myself a bit within my organisation, rather than expecting help. I hope you have help, though! But also I’m glad the post was useful to someone; I wasn’t sure about writing it, even.
I am not sure it was worse, apart from my daughter being sick, yes, this was pretty bad. I did help and support when I needed to be with her in the hospital, people covered for me, proctored my exams etc. But yes, I agree that we need to fight to improve out situation in general – with the ever-growing teaching load, adjunctificationj, all the resources going to the administration, and all these things that I don’t even need to mention, because everyone who reads this blog knows all too well about them
The student who had not read a whole book… a neuro-diverse issue, perhaps? I ask because I now someone who has brilliant but off-kilter takes on main subjects. Unable to read right through materials. Late diagnosed as neuro-diverse.
Undiagnosed if so, is all I can say to that, and I got no impression that they were ‘unable’ as opposed to previously trying to get by on the minimum work. But we found a subject they were interested in!
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