Welcome! Fireside again this week (but Collections next week!). Pull up a chair.
First, an announcement combined with some musings. The announcement: I’m starting a Patreon for the blog.
The quick tl;dr:
- The blog remains forever free and open to the public and keeps updating on schedule.
- Patrons get a monthly update on my academic research. There is only one tier.
Now let’s start with the obvious things: the blog is going to stay free and open to the public. My purpose here is to (in my own small, pedantic way) help educate the public and improve historical literacy and hopefully we all have some fun along the way. I can’t do any of that behind a paywall, so this blog will never be paywalled. And no one – no one – should feel the least bit bad remaining a reader if they’d rather not contribute.
Folks who do opt to become ‘Friends of the Pedant’ (amici paedagogi in Latin) will get a once-a-month update on my current research and writing. I’ve set the ‘tier’ of that at $3.50 US because that’s about what it’d cost to buy me a chai and have me chat with you about my research in person; it seemed fitting. Initially, it’s going to be a short written report (the first one is already up), but I may shift to an audio or video recording once I get more familiar with the tools (which I have to do anyway, as my institution just went all-online due to the current pandemic). For now, I’m holding off on any kind of patron-only discussion forum, because I don’t want to split the community and fracture some of the really good discussion that is happening in the comments here. I have no intention of adding additional tiers above the basic one; if I add other Patreon features, it’ll be the same for everyone. And again: no part of the blog proper will get moved into Patreon.
Now the why of the Patreon leads neatly into my musing for the week. Because you may be thinking “wait, I thought this fellow said he had a day job” – and I do! I teach history at a university! But it does not cover my research or projects like this. But this is a good time to talk about the contingent/non-contingent divide in academia, which I have wanted to do for a while. So let’s do that (what I’m going to say here is mostly about the United States’ universities, so I’m going to use that terminology; academic titles differ country to country):
When most people think about professors, they are thinking about tenured or tenure-track (TT) professors. In the USA, generally, tenure-track professors (those who will be eligible for tenure at some time in the future) have the job title of assistant professor. Academics with tenure are typically associate professors or full professors. What all of these have in common is that the professor’s salary and workload assume that they are being paid both for their primary teaching responsibilities, but also some amount of research or public outreach. It’s a whole package. How much teaching and how much research differs substantially institution to institution.
Then you have contingent or (more commonly) adjunct professors, who are not eligible for tenure. Mostly these are early career academics still looking to land a permanent tenure-track position. Now I want to be clear here: adjuncts almost always have PhDs – the days when it was possible for people to land even these jobs without a completed dissertation and a finished PhD are long over. Most students have no idea their instructors are adjuncts which – given how poorly many institutions treat their adjuncts – is often damned heartbreaking.
Universities have realized that ‘adjunct’ has a negative ring to it, so they call these folks (which, as you may have grasped, includes me) all sorts of job titles designed to disguise that fact (mostly from prospective students and parents). The most honest of those (and, in my opinion, the best) is “Visiting Instructor” or “Visiting Lecturer,” but you’ll see all sorts of permutations of ‘visiting’ or ‘teaching’ faculty. In job postings, the most substantial of these positions (with a full teaching load) are often described as ‘Visiting Assistant Professor” (VAP) – but note that visiting in the front essentially invalidates the two words that follow it: a VAP is an adjunct, not an assistant professor. They’re just an adjunct with a full load (and maybe benefits, but often not).
Now, the exact arrangements for these sorts of contingent positions vary wildly, but as a rule (again, there are exceptions!) as a rule, adjuncts are paid for their teaching on a class by class basis, essentially as contract workers. They often don’t get benefits (like health insurance, or even an office in some places!) or any kind of job security – the positions are frequently year-to-year or even semester-to-semester. Crucially, while adjuncts are often expected to discuss their research during the hiring process and frequently aim – as I do – to continue with it during their adjunct job, they are not paid for the research they do and generally do not recieve the sort of institutional support which would enable an active research agenda (funding, sabbaticals, etc). They are paid to teach classes and pretty much only teach classes. It is not an ideal system.
(I’m intending, probably as we get closer to summer, to do a short post-series covering the entire academic life-cycle, along with what exactly an academic historian does all day. The popular image that we’re all just hanging out, smoking pipes, drinking wine and having deep thoughts is not very accurate.)
Which brings us back around to the Patreon. I am currently (as I write this) teaching as a Visiting Lecturer, which is to say, an adjunct. Now, I want to be clear that I am not beating up on my current institution here. I actually think the department I am currently in has been very good with my appointment here – it was extremely useful for me (for reasons I won’t get into). But they aren’t paying me for my research or for this blog.
Which is why I’ve gone ahead and opened the Patreon, which is intended to fund both the blog and also my research. The blog itself will remain completely free and open to the public and I place no burden on any reader to contribute financially. If you do want to help out this project, but don’t feel comfortable being a patron (absolutely fine, I completely understand), please help by sharing the blog. I get all of my readers through word of mouth – I don’t advertise or search-engine optimize or anything like that. I rely on y’all to spread the word. So I appreciate tremendously how y’all have built my readership over the last several months. This blog has always been about sharing my little academic world more widely and the opportunity y’all have given me is really tremendous. Thank you.
On to the recommendations!
First off, I want to highlight this podcast from February at War on the Rocks about landmines. There’s a lot of good discussion here focused on a recent policy change in the United States concerning landmine usage (which I won’t get into), but what I thought it really brought out in an interesting way was how doctrine shapes usage. There’s no question that landmines work generally, but Luke O’Brian makes some really interesting points about how landmine usage interacts with current American land warfare doctrine and raises the question of how well landmines work within that doctrine.
From the HEMA-enthusiast community, I want to recommend Matt Easton’s two recent videos on the Roman heavy javelin, the pilum, both his mini-documentary on the weapon and his video showing some of his real-world tests. A lot of youtube takes on ancient weapons tend to be unmoored from the ancient evidence, but Easton here is quite on-target, I think, as to the current state of the scholarly understanding of this weapon. He is – like most popular material on the Roman army – more focused on the army of the Empire (for instance comparing the pilum to the lancea, its imperial contemporary, rather than the hasta velitaris, it’s republican era equivalent) and I will admit, some of the artistic reconstructions in the images are a touch off-target. But overall, it’s a good summary of an odd weapon that captures our current understanding of it quite well.
For a book recommendation this week, I’m going to shift over to my other research focus, the ancient economy and suggest Paul Erdkamp, The Grain Market in the Roman Empire: A Social, Political and Economic Study (2009). It’s on the pricey end, but well worth it. What I find most to recommend in this book is how it works to reorient our thinking towards subsistence and agriculture and the concerns that would have dominated the day-to-day lives of nearly everyone in the ancient world. Even the mega-wealthy elites generally had their wealth in agricultural land and even the emperor could not afford to ignore the grain supply. Erdkamp is a skilled but also very careful scholar and is very deliberate in his approach, avoiding speculation and sticking to what we can know. The first three chapters, which get into the experience of the small farmer, are especially indispensable.
Next week, we’re going to take a brief look at chemical weapons and ask why the top-tier military powers no longer use them. Is it moral compunction? Or efficacy?