Fireside this week! I had hoped to have the next part of the fortification series done by now (its coming along), but between the ends of semester crunch, a few unexpected time-sensitive projects and it being the week of Thanksgiving, that will have to wait.
For this week’s musing, Thanksgiving seemed an appropriate time to look back at the last couple of years o on ACOUP and express how thankful I am for this platform and all of you reading it. I started this project back in May, 2019 as an outlet for some of my thoughts. Of course I didn’t know then that at the end of that first summer of ACOUP we’d be starting the last ‘normal’ semester for quite a while, or that we were heading into the last normal academic job market until…well, the academic job market is still not back to normal.1 Like many early career academics, I am currently what we call an ‘adjunct’ which is to say that I don’t have a permanent academic position (is a post on ‘what the heck do academic job titles mean?’ something worth writing?), but rather am stringing together short-term (single semester, single year) teaching jobs to stay ‘in the game’ while applying for more permanent positions. When COVID hit, academic hiring essentially froze solid and has only barely thawed so far; even lining up a normal teaching load was touch and go for a bit.
That of course meant there was suddenly a lot more uncertainty, both in getting enough semester-to-semester teaching to pay the bills and also to keep an active academic affiliation (the job market gets even harder if you have to do it as an ‘independent researcher’) and also in the long-term prospects of finding a permanent academic position (which remains an ongoing effort). Alongside that, in Spring 2020, of course, all teaching went remote and so I was stuck at home, lecturing into a laptop and a keyboard, isolated from students and colleagues both. The long, slow work of academic writing can be thankless and isolating even in the best of times, but COVID stole away some of the few positive feedback systems that do exist as our conferences went online and we all retreated from our offices to our hastily cobbled together home-zoom-offices.
Obviously this is not to say that I had the last two years particularly hard, compared to other folks. I didn’t end up unemployed, or in financial difficulties, or – most importantly – seriously ill. Many, many people have not been so fortunate. At the same time, even much smaller difficulties can be terribly demotivating and anxiety inducing.
In all of that, I cannot express how thankful I am that I had this space and all of you readers to help break that feeling of professional isolation and pointlessness. Having an outlet where I could see you all reading my writing, discussing it (both in the comments and off the site on social media) recommending it and so on always helped remind me that I wasn’t just shouting into the void, that the work I was producing had value and purpose. It provided a valuable backup supply of motivation to power through the setbacks and uncertainty. So thank you all for reading and thanks to my patrons especially for continuing to support this effort.
The world certainly seems a lot brighter this year than it did back in the spring of 2020 when the world shut down. We’re winding down the first semester taught in-person; I cannot tell you how glad I am to be teaching in person again and how much I missed it. In-person conferences are also slowly returning. And of course ACOUP continues to surprise me with its growing reach. If you will pardon my indulgence in some data: in 2020, ACOUP saw about 1.9m views2; as I write this, ACOUP is at 2.5m views for 2021 with a month left to go. Academic hiring remains deeply uncertain, but thanks to your support, I have the resources to keep pushing at it and to keep writing, researching and teaching.
So thanks to you all and my good fortune (for the internet’s eyeball-economy is truly quite random) that brought you here.
On to Recommendations:
Over at Sententiae Antiquae – which, by the by, if you are even a little bit interested in Greek or Roman culture, you should be reading Sententiae Antiquae – I was struck by this short post by Lawrence Benn on two fragments by the Greek poets Archilochus and Hybrias both remarking on what they owed to their spears. With language that wouldn’t sound out of place in the verses of ‘Antarah Ibn Shaddad, I think the fragments underscore the central place that military participation had in how the Greeks understood the status of the free citizen landholder. Of course at the same time, they should also underscore how precarious that existence was, how wrapped up in regular violence. After all, the Greek hoplite himself was only ever one bad day – a lost battle, an encounter with bandits on the road – away from losing that spear and all of the other privileges it came with.
Meanwhile, I thought since I mentioned above how my current academic position is temporary, it might be a good time to draw attention to other contingent (another word for various kinds of fixed-term or adjunct positions) scholars working in the Classics. Over at the blog of the Society for Classical Studies, they’ve been running a series of interviews with contingent faculty members in the Classics (they’re up to six such interviews); check them out.
Meanwhile, over at Peopling the Past, they interviewed the folks over at Rhea Classical Reviews about their project, which is an open access review journal which reviews work by non-tenured scholars (pre-tenure, non-tenure, contingent, grad students, alt-ac, independent researchers, etc.), with reviews also written by non-tenured scholars. As tenure sadly continues to break down, I think efforts like Rhea are becoming more important in highlighting that, in fact, important scholarship is being done by scholars not necessarily on the tenure-track. That’s especially urgent because as more and more interesting intellectual output moves outside of the traditional academic status-hierarchy, it is more and more important for scholars at all levels to be able to think and read outside of that hierarchy and to recognize and appreciate the contributions of emerging and non-traditional scholars. You can check out Rhea itself here.
For this week’s book recommendation, since our fortifications series is about to move into the European Middle Ages, I am going to recommend Clifford Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History: The Middle Ages (2007). The book is pricey, to be sure (so perhaps see if your local library has a copy), but it is a really valuable work as a foundation for understanding medieval European warfare. The book is well organized, broken down into the various elements of a medieval army and the various tasks they might perform. Importantly, compared to the other oft-recommended (and also very useful) text, J.F. Verbruggen’s The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages (1997), Rogers treats a much wider range of military activity (Verbruggen, in particular, is very focused on battles at the expense of both sieges and raiding warfare, which can give the wrong impression if one is not already aware that raids and sieges were much more common than battles for most of the Middle Ages). Rogers has explicit sections on private wars, raids, military extortion, and agricultural devastation, activities that didn’t necessarily result in large-scale battles but where nevertheless crucial in the warfare of the period.
The other great virtue of Rogers’ book for the relative beginner looking to get their feet firmly planted before moving on to reading about specific campaigns or delving into the specialist literature on particular aspects is that Rogers foregrounds the actual primary evidence through the book, with long quotations of accounts illustrating the principles he’s describing and frequent use of period artwork (particularly manuscript illustrations; one assumes the abundance of illustrations, even in black-and-white, is part of why the book is so darned expensive) to show how people at the time represented their forms of warfare.
- And by ‘normal’ I mean the ‘normal’ baseline post-2008 where every single year, had it occurred before 2008, would have been one of the worst years ever
- That is views as WordPress counts them, because I don’t have Google Analytics data back to the start of 2020. Generally Google Analytics is more thorough in ignoring bots and the like and so tends to produce view-counts about 10% or so lower than WordPress.