The Little Professor
Saturday, September 27, 2003
  The debate on scholarly publishing (see, e.g., here, here, and here) has unintentionally illuminated another issue: there is no actual data available on either a) tenure requirements or b) the amount of publication "required" to get a tenure-track job. I'm in a system that expects some publication for tenure, but not a book. (Yes, I wrote a book, but no, it's not required.) There are liberal arts colleges that emphasize teaching over publication, to the extent that many faculty never publish anything at all--and some may in fact be penalized for doing so--but there are also liberal arts colleges that require serious scholarship. Similarly, there are regional comprehensives with 4/4 or 5/5 loads that, thank goodness, do not expect much in the way of publications from their faculty--but then again, there are those that do. It's difficult to discuss a crisis or recommend policy changes unless we know what the policies are, although one can certainly make broader recommendations (e.g., schools with 4/4 + loads should require minimal publications for tenure).

And what about the perception that one "must publish" to get a tenure-track job? Again, it would be interesting to see some kind of survey examining the publication records of new hires*, categorized according to the number of years the candidate spent on the market, the graduate school "tier," and the type of school doing the hiring. As Donald E. Hall (CoHE link; reg. req.) points out, too much of a research focus can sink your application at a school like mine; not enough of one can sink your application at Yale. Some schools are really interested in promise, while others want achievement.

I'm not sure, incidentally, when scholarship was last widely available to a public audience. As both Janice Radway and Joan Shelley Rubin point out, Henry Canby was complaining about over-specialization in the early twentieth century. While pre-1950s work, say, may seem less "jargony," it is still highly specialized and hardly pleasure reading. Much of the work I've read from the 1940s and earlier attempts to offer the fullest possible catalog of data, often with surprisingly little argument attached. On the upside, this means that some of this scholarship, like Hillhouse's work on Scott's reception, remains extremely useful; on the downside, it also means that this scholarship remains almost completely unreadable, despite the absence of jargon. Or, looking at the European example, one might think about Auerbach's Mimesis (enjoyable to read, to be sure, but not something a non-academic would be likely or willing to pick up), or Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (rich mine of information, but again, not for the non-specialist). Strictly speaking, American academia has been "professional" since the late nineteenth century, with the kind of elite specialization that entails. There are a number of recent books on the disciplinary histories of English and history that may be relevant here.

*Bearing in mind that the relevant databases may not be up to date. (My last four publications are nowhere to be found in the MLA database, and one of them will certainly never appear there.)  
Friday, September 26, 2003
  This week's acquisitions:


 
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
  Scattered musings:

1. I hereby propose that anyone who wishes to make "knowing" or "incisive" or, heavens forbid, "satirical" generalizations about the foibles of academics must demonstrate a prior acquaintance with the Microcosmographia Academica (1908). Because, you know, there's really no reason to reinvent the wheel.

2. Moving thousands of books around is hard on the arms. And legs. Not too good for the back either, come to think of it.

3. The end of those two essays for the companion is slowly but surely coming into sight. Which is good, because I've just received an inquiry about doing something else. And I'd like to finish off my article about Emily Sarah Holt, which I haven't been able to touch since June. And there's still an index looming on the horizon...

4. I'm currently reading Janice Radway's A Feeling For Books, which is a fascinating failure, albeit an interesting and informative one. I can see what she's trying to do with the mix of personal and scholarly discourses, which enacts her own sense of the conflict between professional and pleasure reading, but in the end it produces a slightly unsatisfying text. Still, the historical background is genuinely useful--especially since it shows that the recent Oprah book club brouhaha repeats a debate from several decades earlier.  
Friday, September 19, 2003
  This week's acquisitions (good thing the second new bookcase is coming next week...):

 
Thursday, September 18, 2003
  Lord Lloyd-Webber's Pre-Raphaelite exhibition is taking a bit of a thwacking from the Guardian, which is using it as a convenient blunt instrument for attacking Victorian art in general. (Theatre critic Michael Billington is kinder.) Not, of course, that contemporaries were always positive either. Oddly, I sympathize...sort of. Some Pre-Raphaelite painting seems deficient in craftmanship (weird foreshortenings, for example, which can't be explained by the PRB aesthetic program). Sometimes the colors can be garish. Victorian painting in general can be deadening in its sentimentality, when it isn't simply being bizarre. (Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's habit of painting diaphanously-clad classical figures lying gracefully recumbent upon, of all things, cold hard marble comes to mind--as it has often come to the minds of others.) But...but still. I don't object to the complex and heavily layered symbolism of much Pre-Raphaelite painting. John Everett Millais went on to become a brilliant portraitist. Moreover, there is real fascination and pleasure to be found in Victorian narrative paintings, which demand to be read like novels. And certainly Victorian artistic practices were far more varied than I suspect the Lloyd-Webber collection lets on. In other words, I don't think that one has to be surreptitious about enjoying Victorian painting.  
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
  Tonight's graduate study menu includes a generous helping of my favorite Dickens novel, Bleak House (1852-53). Reading the novel straight through like this does not quite convey the Victorian experience of the text, released as it was in parts. (As I explained to my students, reading a serialized or part-published novel might take well over a year, during which time you'd have several other books on the burner. It's always worth taking a look at where the novelist started and stopped the serialized sections, since that affected the overall rhythm of the plot.) The always-reliable Victorian Web includes a couple of brief critical pieces on the novel; see also these reflections by G. K. Chesterton, one of Dickens' most influential early twentieth-century critics. This useful page offers spoilers, a map, and a run-down of the principal characters. There's even a Bleak House museum. For more information on Dickens' illustrator Hablot K. Browne (a.k.a. "Phiz"), see here; his illustrations for David Copperfield are also online. (The Charles Dickens Page includes brief biographical sketches of all of Dickens' illustrators.)  
Friday, September 12, 2003
  This week's acquisitions (and there were quite a few of them...):


 
Thursday, September 11, 2003
  Tomorrow's teaching schedule features the somewhat odd combination of John Keats and Anne Bradstreet. The Keats in question is "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which I hope my students will enjoy rather more than they did "The Eve of St. Agnes." (A poem which I happen to like quite a bit.) There are a number of paintings based on "The Eve of St. Agnes"; see, for example, those by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Elizabeth Siddal.

In the meantime, since the deadline for my companion articles is fast approaching, I've found myself scribbling a bit about folks normally outside my purview: Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Christine de Pisan. Lucy Aikin is a bit closer to home, needless to say--although I'm writing about the later Memoirs (Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I) and not the better-known Epistles on Women.  
Monday, September 08, 2003
  (No, I didn't change my template for aesthetic reasons. Blogger just sort of...um...waved its wand and made my sidebar disappear. Very exciting, that.)

The book went off to England today, minus its index, which can't be finalized until the printers are done looking over the text. Tomorrow, I celebrate the (temporary) absence of the MS by visiting the Finger Lakes region with one of my colleagues. 
Sunday, September 07, 2003
  I hate proofreading my own work. All these teensy-weensy errors in formatting, or in author/editor attributions ("um, wait, I've got the wrong editor here..."), or in goodness-knows-what. But the book will be mailed to the UK tomorrow. *puts foot down*

Meanwhile, between proofreading, printing, and printing some more, I finally got fed up with looking at books on my living room floor--a hint to cheapskates: the combination of a Sauder pressed wood bookcase + ice damming=kaput bookcase--and went to Raymour & Flanigan for two Thornton Oak 84" bookcases. Besides being attractive bookcases, they should also temporarily ameliorate the "oh no, I'm out of space again" problem. (You'd think 24+ bookcases for a single person would be enough. But if you think that, you clearly haven't met me!)

 
Thursday, September 04, 2003
  My graduate seminar spent last night discussing Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), which, they all agreed, was one of the strangest novels they had ever read. Indeed, as Instapundit might say. I'm much more of a Jane Eyre person myself--that's next week's assignment--but there's no denying that Wuthering Heights is a potent brew of Byronic Romanticism, the Gothic, and a rather offbeat anti-Calvinist theology. (On post-Romantic Byronism, see, for example, Andrew Elfenbein and the collection edited by Frances Wilson.) Emily wrote genuinely striking poetry as well; see, for example, her work in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). (Ramblings of a Philosophe features some critical essays and lectures on the work of both Emily and Anne, with an emphasis on the poetry.) For a good, albeit brief, biographical introduction to Emily's work, see Steven Vine's essay at the Literary Encyclopedia. The Brontë Sisters Web provides a number of useful links to Emily's poetry and fiction (although several were dead). To see some title pages, try this exhibit at the University of Virginia. And don't forget to drop in for a visit at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, or maybe take a trip to the Brontë Birthplace in Thornton.  
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
  I confess to being somewhat baffled by this article in the NYT (reg. req.). Once I got beyond the initial nods of agreement--no, it won't kill senior faculty to teach freshmen; yes, good teaching should be rewarded--I found myself lost in a miasma of vague promises and claims. To begin with, the idea of a "teaching faculty," while problematic*, might be a good one if the teaching faculty were treated on an even keel with the research faculty. I.e.: sabbaticals, grants, and release time for course development; tenure and promotion based on demonstrated teaching ability; and so forth. But where's the even keel in keeping the teaching faculty off the tenure track? This paragraph didn't improve matters: "But in an academic culture where tenure is the grand prize, Dr. Sexton is struggling with how to accord them status. He said he would find other ways to reward and honor them and assure them of academic freedom." What does that mean? I can see someone exchanging tenure for $$$, but what's being described here really seems to be a stepped-up adjuncting system. Even a teaching "star" is an adjunct when hired on a temporary contract without any hope of obtaining "security of employment" (as administrators normally call tenure for lecturers). Substituting contract faculty for part-timers is a good idea, but don't we already call such faculty "lecturers" or "visiting professors"? It doesn't help that the administration and the adjunct union seem to, ah, differ so strongly in their accounts of who's doing what.

*Thus: do teaching faculty have a heavier courseload? What happens to the teaching professor who discovers a desperate urge to write a monograph on Marivaux? Who assesses their work? How do you assess their work? Can you switch tracks? How does a teaching professor maintain his or her status within the department?  
Things Victorian and academic.
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