Nothing But Flowers

It’s Reading Week – or, as various people have sagely commented on the Twitter, At Last I Can Catch Up On Sleep Get Ahead With My Teaching Prep Write Those Reviews Comment On Postgrad Drafts Spend Some Time With Family Do A Bit Of Reading Finally Get Some Research Done Hey Where Did That Go Week. And that’s in a normal year. This autumn, I imagine I’m not the only person who has found the switch to online teaching and the constant worrying about students thoroughly draining, absorbing every minute of the working day and disturbing every night – with the result that I both need to sleep for a week and have a list of overdue commitments that is at least twice as long as usual. Continue Reading »

Mr Pitiful

There’s a lovely moment at the end of Goodbye Lenin!, after Alex has finished his elaborate attempt at persuading his mother, through fake news footage, that Germany has reunited because of the desperation of westerners to flee to the east. “Wahnsinn,” she says, and the first time I saw the film I took it in the sense that Alex takes it: that’s incredible, that’s crazy, wow! Later viewings – and this is a film that bears repeated viewing; watching it last night for perhaps the twentieth time, I saw some things I hadn’t noticed before – make it clear how far there are substantial gaps between how Alex interprets his world (and tries to control it and the people in it), and the reality. Continue Reading »

Welcome to Tomorrow

There are basically two kinds of opinion piece on the place of technology in higher education. A: anything which potentially distracts students’ attention from my dispensing of Truth in the time-honoured manner must be banished! Down with laptops, mobile phones and ballpoint pens! B: get with the programme, daddio! All the hip youth is on TikTok now so we must convert our mouldy old lectures into 15-second dance clips! Continue Reading »

More Than Words

Pretty well all my mental bandwidth at the moment is taken up with teaching – learning new computer systems, recording lectures, correcting auto-captions (the variants on ‘Thucydides’ – Through CDC, These Sedatives, Civil Liberties – are a marvel, but isn’t the bloody AI capable of learning from my constant corrections?), checking online discussion fora and wondering why no one is participating, waking at 3 am to worry about the fact that no one is participating… So, an exchange of tweets with the great Shadi Bartsch is pretty well all the intellectual engagement I can currently muster. Even there it’s taken me nearly a week to work out what I actually think, by which point it would seem weird and even rude to push the conversation further (plus, I realised that I was doing this as the Thucydiocy Bot, which is a not-terribly-secret identity but nevertheless not immediately identifiable as me…). Continue Reading »

It’s possible that some people reading this will remember the Grauniad‘s ‘Readers Recommend’ music blog. The set-up was simple; every week, the writer in charge of it would set a theme – ‘Songs About the Sea’, for example – and people would comment on the blog with their recommendations, arguing both from quality of music and relevance to theme (and occasionally sheer brass neck; I once got Roxy Music’s Avalon accepted as a pick for ‘Songs About Myth’ through an elaborate structuralist analysis that showed the lyrics really were a deep engagement with the Arthurian legend, references to samba notwithstanding), Continue Reading »

Nothing works properly.

Everything takes much longer.

Flabbiness in places it’s increasingly difficult to hide.

Is that really what I look like now?

Pervasive sense that I used to have much more energy.

Increasing tendency to use the phrase “in my day…”

Occasional thoughts that buying a really expensive new webcam might bring back the mojo.

Powerful suspicion that young people are smirking condescendingly behind my back.

Enormous sense of relief that I don’t have to worry about remembering names.

Waking in the early hours to agonise about all of this.

Castles Made of Sand

I could honestly weep. This is our ‘welcome week’ before teaching starts on Monday, and today I was meeting – f2fip! – my new personal tutees. I have been trying to imagine what it must be like for them, making the transition to university in such extraordinary circumstances, and really wanted to ensure that as their tutor I could offer some degree of calm reassurance, a bit of a community, some essential guidance for the first couple of weeks while they find their feet. Well, it’s possible that I have succeeded in making them feel more confident and on top of things, in contrast to their shambolic tutor. For I was indeed the one to turn up half an hour late for the meeting because I couldn’t find my way into the building because of some very misleading signage…

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Before the Flood

This time of year is usually the calm before the storm; the brief pause, full of anticipation and nervousness, between the end of the summer and the start of the new term, when it’s impossible to settle down to any proper research and one falls back into the fond belief – which does occasionally come true – that it’ll be fine once everything settles down into a routine. This year? It’s not the calm before the storm, it’s the frantic rushing around before the flood. The water is clearly, inexorably rising, though we don’t yet know how bad it will be. What to do? Try to shore up defences? Secure valuables? Move livestock and children to higher ground? Try to improvise a boat? Assume the worst or hope for the best?

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Across the Barricades

On 2nd November 1860, the political scientist Francis Lieber, then professor of history and political science at Columbia College in New York, wrote a letter to his eldest son Oscar. War between the states loomed on the horizon; Lieber was firmly against secession, and during the conflict was in charge of the Loyal Publication Society as well as assisting in drafting military laws, while his two other sons would both serve in the Union army, but Oscar would die in 1862 fighting for the Confederacy. One can imagine the family tensions. Lieber wrote:

It sometimes has occurred to me that what Thucydides said of the Greeks at the time of the Peloponnesian War applies to us. The Greeks, he said, did not understand each other any longer, though they spoke Greek. Words received a different meaning in different parts.

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Caught Out There

Ah, the research-teaching nexus, how I’ve missed you! As I’ve remarked here before, in different ways I do find that my teaching inspires and supports my research as much as vice versa, and this morning was a reminder – admittedly a fairly minimal one. About three years ago, I ran into a dead end trying to establish the origins of another alleged ‘Thucydides’ quotation: “You should punish in the same manner those who commit crimes with those who accuse falsely”. Weird phrasing which actually seems to be the wrong way round, googling the exact line just produces a set of mutually-dependent ‘Great Quotes’ websites with no references, and googling similar phrases gets nowhere because the words are just too common. The best anyone could manage was Jon Dresner’s suggestion that various Near Eastern lawcodes include vaguely similar provisions. Continue Reading »