As the end of the semester approaches, I forced myself to find time to peruse the new (2009) volume entitled Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th centuries edited by M. Mundell Mango. It is a pretty neat and diverse collection of papers that touch on trade from the beginning of Late Antiquity to 4th Crusade. The papers range from discussions of amphoras, shipwrecks, and pottery to studies on the location and organization of manufacturing. I’ll admit upfront that I did not read all the papers in the volume so I hardly feel qualified to give a comprehensive review, but the articles that I did read were good.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the volume is the editors effort to locate the papers in relation to other recent scholarly works on trade and the economy in the Late Antique and Byzantine Mediterranean. She takes particular aim at the recent A. Laiou edited Economic History of Byzantium which Mundell Mango points out continued problematic periodization schemes by beginning its analysis at the 7th century and thereby “failing to analyze at the same level the preceding period of formation that links Byzantium to the ancient world.” (4).
More importantly, perhaps, she noted that this volume sought to separate trade from discussions of the economy. When I first read this, it blew my mind, but as I thought more carefully about it, I began to understand her point. On some level, our theorizing about the ancient economy has dictated the kinds of questions that we have asked from our material and the kinds of analyses that we have conducted. For example, most rural survey projects take as a point of departure M. Finley’s ideas of the relationship between the (consumer) city and the (producer) countryside. Our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, is explicitly informed by the ideas advanced in Horden and Purcell’s Corrupting Sea and their idea that the ancient Mediterranean economy was dominated by semi-autonomous micro-regions. By separating trade from larger economic theorizing, there is a chance that we can produce a far less structured body of data that has the potential to reveal new patterns or organization that do more than challenge or confirm the growing body of economic theorizing. In fact, Sean Kingsley’s unstructured datasets (that is to say, a data set made of individual records without any methodological relationship to one another) of Late Antique and Byzantine shipwrecks could present just the kind of evidence necessary to create new models of how trade actually occurred in the ancient and Medieval Mediterranean (31-36). Of course, this kind of optimistic empiricism is difficult to come by in practice (and even more difficult to fund!), although one can imagine a time soon when the results of the various survey projects in the Eastern Mediterranean could offer a similar kind of unstructured data for analysis. It is interesting to observe, however, that most of the papers in this volume fall quickly back on longstanding
P. Armstrong’s article, “Trade in the east Mediterranean in the 8th century”, for example, continues the work of pushing the date of Cypriot Red Slip pottery later demonstrating that trade in this common Eastern Mediterranean table ware continued into the 8th century (157-178). (Moreover, she reminds us that despite its name, CRS (or perhaps better Late Roman D Ware) may not all originate on the island of Cyprus!). Armstrong’s article complements a shorter piece by I. Dimopoulos which looks at the trade in Byzantine red wares in the 11th and 13th century. Both of these articles provide (as well as O. Karagiorgou’s short offering on “Mapping trade by the amphora” (37-58)) continue the discussion of the relationship between the Late Roman and Byzantine economy on archaeological grounds. To my mind, these discussions are rooted in certain basic expectations regarding the economy, specifically, the notion that the Late Roman economy faltered over the course of the 7th-9th century. This basic assumption suggests that the economy is tied to administrative structures and practices like the annona trade and the political control of the Mediterranean basin. Demonstrating the certain kinds of trade continued even as the political power of the Roman state abated does little to separate the idea of trade from larger questions of economic integration or administrative and political control.
I was drawn to this book while thinking about my own venture into the study of Byzantine archaeology and it struck me that the approach advocated here is explicitly anti-theoretical (if one understands the economy as a more intensively theorized version of the practice of trade). The results are interesting and useful, but it barely scratches the surface of what Byzantine archaeologists are currently doing in the field.
Over the past month or so, I’ve decided to shutter this blog. I don’t think that I’ll stop blogging, but I’ll probably move to another platform or try to find better way to integrate social media into my daily observations. My reasons for shuttering this blog are not entirely clear to me, but I guess they reflect a combination of things:
1. Now that my tenure portfolio is in the pipeline, I’ve lost the visceral feeling of risk that comes with blogging while an untenured, assistant professor.
2. This blog is unattractive and I do not have the energy to redesign it.
3. I have this vague feeling that a blog should have a life span. I feel like blogs should come to an end at some point or to have some form of organization dictated by time. After all, a blog is a time driven genre or medium. Posts are organized chronologically like its early predecessor “the log”. One of my favorite blogs on the web, Digital History Hacks sits on the web in archive form.
4. I want a new challenge. I think my readership on this blog has pretty much leveled off at a bit more than 100 page views a day. I run close to 1000 page views a week. This far exceeded my original goals for my blog and now that I have reached these goals, I just have this feeling that I should change up what I’m doing, go somewhere new.
5. My other blogs run on WordPress. As dedicated readers of this blog know, I have a few other online projects that generally run on WordPress (Teaching Thursday, Punk Archaeology) and I have come to like the WordPress interface. So maybe I’ll start up this blog again in some fashion on WordPress.
This is not to say that I’m going to stop blogging today or that this is some kind of dramatic farewell post. I’ll keep blogging here until the end of the year.
The bigger issue is what to do with the content here. This blog runs on Typepad. I chose this years ago without much critical thought. It’s a paid blogging service and the service and uptime has been great. The downside is that, when I stop paying, they stop hosting. I am not sure that it’s viable to pull everything on this blog down (images, links, text) and even if I did do this, I am sure that there are dead links throughout that would do very little good. Moreover, I was pretty careless with regard to organizing where supporting files live scattering them over a range of locations on the web with different lifespans and maintenance parameters.
Another alternative is just to grab all the text and put it into a single text file. Typepad does this more or less automatically. With all the mark up, this file runs to about 900 pages of text with full mark up. While this text based archive would obviously lose the actual hyperlinks between posts and to the wider web, it would preserve the mark up for these links making it possible for someone to reconstruct parts of the blog. We have an excellent University Archive here on campus. I think I’ll offer them the text of my blog for their collection. The Internet Archive has captured several snap shots of my blog (January 13, 2008; December 12, 2007; November 10, 2007; October 28, 2007). It’s pretty cool to know that some of my work is in the Internet Archive. Just to be clear, it’s not that I think that my blog is so revolutionary or brilliant that it deserves a place in the history of the internet, but I am enough of a historian to realize that preservation of historical artifacts of all kinds is a voluntary process.
I guess I could also make an effort to import relevant posts to WordPress or whatever service I plan to use in the future, but this seems like a time consuming and painful process.
So, I have a month to figure out what to do. As per usual, any tips, insights, advice, suggestions, and insults are welcome in the comments.
My wife works in marketing and external relations at The Graduate School here at the University of North Dakota, and we regularly discuss the ways that universities sell themselves both to a local and global community. This happens to coincide with some of my own research interests which explore the tension between institutions with universalizing aspirations (the emperor or, better still, the church) and local practices and traditions. A local saint for example represents a hyper local manifestation of the power of the universal church. For a university, a local class or tradition is the manifestation of global expectations of what a "university" education means. Schools have always sought to maintain an identity that made them both access to longstanding "stakeholders" and, at the same time, appealing to people who will only acquire familiarity with the place and its traditions when they arrive there.
With the expansion of online and distance teaching the relationship between local (and spatial) sense of community and the wider world becomes even more attenuated. A recent group of University of Phoenix commercials, for example, students show students in the most generic of locations (non-spaces, in fact) airports, on trains, at home, or in commuter traffic rather than surrounded by iconic buildings (the intensely local and ubiquitous "old main"), the stadium or other campus scenes.
All this is a long introduction of a billboard that I walk by almost every day on my way home:
The billboard advertises Park University, which has a "campus" at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. From what I can gather Park has an agreement with the Air Force to provide college courses on base which they also open to the wider community. Other than Park being competition for local tuition dollars, I don't know of anything wrong with them and they certainly do not have the reputation of a for-profit university like the University of Phoenix. In fact, I am pretty sure that Park is non-profit university.
Back to local knowledge, Park clearly endeavored to show its "local" nature by featuring in a prominent way what would appear to be a local phone number on its billboard. The number looks local because it does not have an area code or the dreaded 1-800 in front of it (which every American knows to be the area code for "outsourced to India"). Unfortunately, local numbers here in the Grand Cities (like other major metropolitan areas (e.g. New York City)) always feature an area code. Since we are on the North Dakota – Minnesota border local numbers typically are typically proceeded by a 701 or 218 area code. A "local" will almost always starts their number with their area code.
Non-local universities are not a particularly jarring feature of the American higher education landscape these days, they only become jarring when they try to be local and fail.
UPDATE: By the way, I corresponded a bit with the Park University folks and one of them kindly pointed out that John Gillette of our Gillette Hall (and widely regarded as one of the founders of rural sociology) was a Park University graduate in 1895.
Two green ceramic baking dishes.
One white ceramic backing dish with handles.
Two metal “baking pans”.
Ceramic leaf-shaped serving dish with ceramic, acorn-shaped, bowl with lid.
One silver salad bowl.
One pie pan.
One small, ceramic bowl with lid.
3 stainless steel and 2 silver serving spoons. Two brass candle stick holders. 1 bottle glass Prosecco bottle.
Two ceramic plates. 4 forks, 2 knives, 2 spoons. 2 inexpensive glass champagne flutes. 2 glass drinking “glasses”.
Four chairs and table (probably pine). White fabric table cloth.
Despite the inclement weather the University of North Dakota is scheduled to unveil a strange kind of monument today: a bust of George Walsh (here’s the genuinely bizarre press release). Walsh is one of the “founding fathers” of eastern North Dakota and was responsible for the siting of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. His interest in the locating of the University was largely economic, and he used his political power (and audacity) in the provincial legislature to beat out Jamestown and other competing sites for the location of the school. Walsh was a relative of Captian Alexander Griggs who ran the local steamboat line and himself owned the local paper, the Plainsdealer, and served as the president of the town council when Grand Forks was founded in 1878. Walsh county is named in his honor.
Once the university was founded, Walsh ensured that the school continued to receive appropriations from the state legislature throughout the late 19th century. Moreover, he served as the first secretary of the board of regents for UND. (It is fun to imagine that he recorded the minutes of the first meetings in his elegant hand). More importantly, perhaps, he penned the first history of the founding of the University which President Webster Merrifield incorporated into the first “Founder’s Day” celebration at the University’s 21st birthday in 1904 (Geiger, 178).
From a historical standpoint, then, Walsh followed the tradition of writing himself into the history of the university at the moment where the young school was most intent on creating new “invented traditions”. This is not to discredit Walsh’s contribution to the founding of the university, but to place the creating myth of the school within its proper context.
“… Walsh was deeply involved in the complicated intrigues and politics of the crucial legislative session of 1883 at Yankton where so much of the present educational and institutional pattern of both Dakotas was set. Ordway had fired the opening gun in his annual message, in which he recommended the establishment of territorial institutions in the north. The next step, which had been prearranged, was to split the southern dedication, which was in overwhelming majoring in both houses – ten to three in the Council. With the approval of Ordway and the northern crowd, J.O.B. Scobey of Brookings was quickly elected president of the Council. The South Dakota break was further exploited when Walsh after some talk of removing the capital to an entirely new town site on the open prairie, introduced a bill to move it from Yankton to Huron, also in the south.
In late January, while Walsh was held up by a blizzard in St. Paul, where he had gone on a short business trip, the South Dakota group attempted to re-form their lines by making overturns to S. G. Roberts and Jonston Nickeus, the representative from Fargo and Jamestown, who were not satisfied with the plans for the north. They introduced their own set of bills appropriating a half a million dollars for institutions, most of them in the south. Walsh hastily returned and pulled together his wavering northern colleagues, apparently by accepting a proposal that they draw lots for the university, agricultural college, and the insane asylum and penitentiary. (He wrote years later: “I took the University, Jamestown the insane asylum and Fargo took the agricultural college. The penitentiary went to Bismarck.”). He then counterattacked by promising the north’s support for establishment of an agricultural college at Brookings, Scobey’s town, and for appropriations to launch the Dakota University established at Vermillion in 1862 and the normals established by the 1881 Assembly at Spearfish and Madison.
With his lines partially re-formed, Walsh managed to bury the South Dakota institutional bills in the appropriations committee, of which he was chairman. Fearing that his still restive northern colleagues might yet walk off with the prize, he hastily introduced into the legislative hopper some blank sheets of paper inscribed “a bill for an Act Locating the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, N.D., and Providing Government thereto.” In the two days required for first and second readings, which were by title only, Walsh prepared the bill modeled on the University of Wisconsin act and substituted it for the dummy when it was routinely referred to his appropriations committee. As he put it: “No one would be any wiser, and no harm would be done by anyone, and I would get my bill ahead of Fargo or Jamestown, which I succeeded in doing. The Jamestown member was very much disappointed.”
What is interesting to me is that Walsh’s bust – situated outside of the administrative building – will be one of the few monuments to a specific individual on campus here (aside from names on buildings). On historical grounds, it is curious that he’d be chosen. While there is no doubt that his energies helped the university survive its formative years, one could easily argue that personalities like President’s Webster Merrifield or Frank McVey or even John C. West had a more transformative influence on the institution as a place of higher learning.
In contrast, Walsh’s unique contribution seems to have been acts of arguably rather self-serving political cunning, and the opportunity to write himself into the history of a university at the moment when it was looking to establish a set of traditions around which to forge an identity. It is perhaps not coincidental that Walsh’s lonely bust is being dedicated at a time when the University continues to seek an identity and forge distinct traditions in the competitive world of higher education. In fact, it’s hard not to think that the decision to commemorate this little known founder of the University suggests a gentle touch of irony from that least ironic of institutions: the University administration.
Readers of this blog know that I’ve been experimenting with Twitter in the classroom both online and as live backchannel while I am lecturing live. The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning has recently published one of the first academic articles on using Twitter in the classroom: R. Junco, G. Heiberger, and E. Loken “The effect of Twitter on college engagement and grades”. The article argues basically, that Twitter improves student engagement (following the definition for engagement developed by the National Survey of Student Engagement) and, in turn, improves grades. Their data comes from a large (125 student) group of students enrolled in seven sections of a introductory level seminar for a pre-health professional program. The class met one day a week for an hour, focused in part on T. Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains, and centered, apparently, on discussion. They also established a control group who did not use Twitter but the customizable social network service Ning to communicate. Twitter used in a number of ways including prompting students to consider discussion questions before class, organizing study groups, and engaging a panel of upperclassmen, public health majors. It appears that the faculty leaders prompted all uses of Twitter, although they do say that subsequent use of Twitter occurred without prompting.
They gird their argument with relatively careful controls and statistics. They also record qualitative data including several sample conversations between the faculty moderator of the Twitter feed and the students. These examples demonstrated how the faculty member prompted participation in Twitter discussion. The article shows that students not only were significantly (from a statistical viewpoint) more engaged (and there were no pre-existing variations in engagement between the groups). They also showed that the semester GPA for students who used Twitter was significantly higher (.5!!) than among those in the control group. Even accounting for the relatively small size of the sample, these differences are remarkable.
While the experiments did attempt to control for basic variables and appear to have a sufficient degree of internal rigor, one variable did not appear in their discussion. Nowhere do they discuss how the students access Twitter. In my (completely unscientific) experience, students require a significant level of technological engagement in their everyday life (smart phones, laptops, active engagement in existing social media and online communities) to grasp the potential benefits of a service like Twitter. While the authors do cite a recent report that 94% of students use social networking site and, at one school, as many as 85% use Facebook, they offer little in the way of explanation for how students use these services. My expectation would be that students do not see all social media in the same way (and this tends to be backed up by the work of social media researchers like danah boyd), and have markedly different patterns of engagement with a service like Twitter when compared to Facebook, email, or the informal networks produced through sms messages.
While I do not have quantitative (or even systematic qualitative) data to back my point, I can offer some informal observations derived from experiences. I made an effort to use Twitter in a class that met one a week similar to the class studied in the survey. My class was a lecture class with 140+ students rather than the more intimate discussion sections, but I actually think this would be a more fertile environment for a social media service like Twitter to produce functioning sub-communities within the larger and relatively impersonal lecture. I reckoned that this class would require students to check their Twitter account and participate in various activities at least twice a week. To do this, since Twitter is a stand alone site, it would require the student to log into Twitter as a separate place from Facebook, Blackboard, or other course management software. This is something that many of us do as part of our daily routine at our desks, on our laptops, or on our smart phones, but for many of my students, the deep and regular engagement with technology is not really part of their world. Moreover, there was a significant investment in becoming comfortable with the technical language of Twitter, which, while not difficult, is unfamiliar and intimidating to students who only follow well-trod paths on the internet (from Facebook to email to Blackboard and to content driven sites like ESPN, CNN, or (for most students) Wikipedia). In other words, Twitter is unfamiliar in part because most of the web is unfamiliar to students whose use of the internet is largely passive or limited. As a result, many students simply lurked on Twitter; those who participated regularly only engaged when explicitly prompted with points (and then only in a very superficial way). In short, students struggled to understand the advantages to Twitter for keeping them in touch with their classmates and faculty when not in class.
The notion of students are digital natives and that Twitter provides a familiar way to extend the classroom into the space occupied by students in their everyday lives rests upon problematic assumptions. Students’ engagement with the internet and with technology tends to occur in a much more limited or particular way than many of these studies imagine. The assumption that “social media” represents a cohesive body of technology and applications for most students appears to me to be problematic. Twitter for an undergraduate is foreign while Facebook is familiar.
Despite these difficulties, this study provides a good foundation for future study on how to leverage common technology to improve student engagement.
This weekend I spent a little time with the Liz James edited A Companion to Byzantium. (Blackwell 2010). The scope of the book and the quality of articles (and contributors) is pretty impressive. The focus on the range of Byzantine literature is both gratifying since so much of the discussion of Byzantine literature has tended to occur in languages other than English and timely since there seems to be growing interest in Byzantine texts other than hagiography. The bibliography runs to over 70 pages and this alone warrants the perusing of this volume.
The section on Byzantine archaeology, however, is disappointing. First, it is less than 10 pages and one page is half-blank and other other features a photograph of a conserved amphora. So, in all Byzantine archaeology received 8 pages of text in a 400+ page volume. The discussion focuses briefly on villages, towns, fortifications, and churches with short discussions of nationalism and a superficial presentation of different “archaeological approaches.” For their length, the sections are decent, but the decisions to focus on this little handful of areas is difficult to understand. For example, the chapter left out any sustained discussion of ceramic typologies and chronologies (a favorite of many of Byzantine archaeologist colleagues), scientific approaches (e.g. dendrochronology, physical anthropology, et c.) which have made such a significant impact on the field, intensive pedestrian survey on the regional level (which in Greece has begun to produce significant changes in how we understand Byzantine settlement), the archaeology of ethnicity (which is obviously central to discussions of ethnic change, modern nation building, and historical perceptions of Byzantium in the West), and the relationship of Byzantine archaeology to careful work on the Medieval, typically Crusader, eastern Mediterranean. Some of these oversights can be attributed to the “late” date for the start of Byzantium; the author chose to begin the Byzantine period in archaeology in the second half of the 6th century. While this dating falls within the conventional periodization for the start of the Byzantine period, it is not explained in terms of archaeological evidence. In fact, it is increasingly clear that many of the trends that characterize Byzantine material culture (for example, ceramic types, construction styles, and settlement) tend in many parts of the Eastern Mediterranean to persist from the 4th to even the early 7th century (depending on local economic, religious, and political contingencies).
To be fair, the chapter on Byzantine archaeology is complemented by a nice chapter by Peter Sarris on “Economics, Trade, and ‘Feudalism’” which pays particular attention to the circulation of currency and the practical significance of identifying Byzantine coins in archaeological contexts. Despite this contribution, the neglect of archaeology in this volume is remarkable. Of course, it is always easy to say that no volume can even contain everything that every scholar deems central to the study of a particular period. But, on the other hand, the argument for including a robust discussion of Byzantine archaeology in a volume of this scope is hardly a reach.
Few areas of Byzantine studies have seen the vitality of Byzantine archaeology over the past several decades especially when it is considered under the wider banner of Medieval and Post-Medieval archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a little advertisement for myself (this is my blog!), it just so happens that Kostis Kourelis and I are working on an edited volume right now that will bring together some of the most recent contributions to the archaeological study of Byzantium, and we hope that it will contribute to the archaeology of Byzantium taking a more prominent place in the future of Byzantine studies.