Thursday, 28 February 2008

More Ponderings...

I realised today that when I started my PhD that many of the PhD students further down the road told me that by the end of it all that I would detest my subject and would struggle to complete. The whole concept of writing up was demonstrated by apathy to the topic and writers' block.

Ironically I adore what I do, I'm planning what to do next, (bit of time off I think, though I plan on maybe taking Greek classes [modern not ancient] and working on articles and conference papers). As for my subject, the iconography I deal specifically with is entertaining in its own right, it's been described randomly as comic, caricature, pornographic, weird... (imagine grotesque pygmies doing things they really shouldn't)... the list could go on but I'd get bored typing. Its an unusual subject where the images make you giggle.

Soon the whole process will be over, though exactly when that will be is difficult to specify. How do you stop tweaking things, editing text, refining important phrases, formatting pictures? I guess in the end, a statement that was taught to me when I was studying Art comes to mind. Things can go too far, get ruined or will never end, you'll just keep working on things, never satisfied, always something more to do...

...the trick, in the end, is to learn when to stop.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I like this...

... and I find it funny because (like so many archaeologists) we wonder what people in the future will make of our current lifestyle.

I realise that I haven't posted in a while, so I'll have to remedy that... soon.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Busy Busy Busy

Well the migraine finally went away and things have been pretty good since. I got the conference abstracts that needed doing in and actually have been accepted for both. One of them has the opportunity to publish the paper as an article in the conference proceedings. So I'm pleased about that.

Plus the Persia course is going well, the class seem to be enjoying it and are starting to open up and ask more questions which is nice. Hard to believe that I'm over halfway through with the course.

I'm also managing to make progress on my PhD too, I spent the morning in the library sorting out all those little annoying references and page numbers and suchlike which you tend to miss as you potter along. And I've managed to get more stuff uploaded onto the CD-Rom which, if I do say so myself, is looking very slick and professional.

So, all-in-all, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself.

Sunday, 17 February 2008


Ten things you don't know about me... as tagged by theraaa.

Now where to begin:

1. I'm a technology junkie, I crave shiny things - even scarier is that I can actually work them.

2. I have done a lot of things that I wouldn't do now, but even so I do not regret them.

3. The only time in my life I would ever wear a burkha is if it would allow me to visit Mount Athos.

4. When I was younger all I ever wanted to do was horse ride, but when I was 17 the riding stables sold my favourite horse to a knacker's yard and I lost the passion for it at that point.

5. I have a phobia about dying, the whole thought of not existing freaks me out.

6. I occasionally dream in German or other languages, not that it makes any sense, just random words keep popping into my head.

7. I've managed to stay friends (and good friends at that) with pretty much everyone I've had a relationship or fling with (I can think of only exception, and he stalked me after the break-up).

8. I have at least forty pairs of shoes, and over 20 handbags... I'm addicted.

9. I never wanted to go to University, now I'm finishing up a PhD... go figure.

And last but not least 10. I tend not to talk about music because my taste in it is bad by the standards of other people.

Now this I'm looking forward to...

And a bit of archaeologist humour which always makes me laugh:

- - - -
January 22, 1939
Assistant Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.

Department of Anthropology
Chapman Hall 227B
Marshall College

Dr. Jones:
As chairman of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, I regret to inform you that your recent application for tenure has been denied by a vote of 6 to 1. Following past policies and procedures, proceedings from the committee's deliberations that were pertinent to our decision have been summarized below according to the assessment criteria.

Demonstrates suitable experience and expertise in chosen field:
The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from "possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency" to "practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics" to "unabashed grave-robbing." Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn't surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.
Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist's tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.

Nationally recognized for an effectual program of scholarship or research supported by publications of high quality:
Though Dr. Jones conducts "field research" far more often than anyone else in the department, he has consistently failed to report the results of his excavations, provide any credible evidence of attending the archaeological conferences he claims to attend, or produce a single published article in any peer-reviewed journal. Someone might tell Dr. Jones that in academia "publish or perish" is the rule. Shockingly, there is little evidence to date that Dr. Jones has successfully excavated even one object since he arrived at Marshall College. Marcus Brody, curator of our natural-history museum, assured me this was not so and graciously pointed out several pieces in the collection that he claimed were procured through Dr. Jones's efforts, but, quite frankly, we have not one shred of documentation that can demonstrate the provenance or legal ownership of these objects.

Meets professional standards of conduct in research and professional activities of the discipline:
The committee was particularly generous (and vociferous) in offering their opinions regarding this criterion. Permit me to list just a few of the more troubling accounts I was privy to during the committee's meeting. Far more times than I would care to mention, the name "Indiana Jones" (the adopted title Dr. Jones insists on being called) has appeared in governmental reports linking him to the Nazi Party, black-market antiquities dealers, underground cults, human sacrifice, Indian child slave labor, and the Chinese mafia. There are a plethora of international criminal charges against Dr. Jones, which include but are not limited to: bringing unregistered weapons into and out of the country; property damage; desecration of national and historical landmarks; impersonating officials; arson; grand theft (automobiles, motorcycles, aircraft, and watercraft in just a one week span last year); excavating without a permit; countless antiquities violations; public endangerment; voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; and, allegedly, murder.

Dr. Jones's interpersonal skills and relationships are no better. By Dr. Jones's own admission, he has repeatedly employed an underage Asian boy as a driver and "personal assistant" during his Far East travels. I will refrain from making any insinuations as to the nature of this relationship, but my intuition insists that it is not a healthy one, nor one to be encouraged. Though the committee may have overstepped the boundaries of its evaluation, I find it pertinent to note that Dr. Jones has been romantically linked to countless women of questionable character, an attribute very unbecoming of a Marshall College professor. One of these women was identified as a notorious nightclub singer whose heart he attempted to extract with his hands, and whom he then tried, and failed, to lower into a lake of magma. Another was a Nazi scholar he was seen courting just last year who, I'm told, plummeted into a fathomless abyss at Dr. Jones's hand. And, of course, no one can forget the slow decline and eventual death of Professor Abner Ravenwood after Dr. Jones's affair with Abner's underage daughter was made public, forcing her to emigrate to Nepal to escape the debacle.

Demonstrates successful record in undergraduate and graduate teaching:
In his nine years with the department, Dr. Jones has failed to complete even one uninterrupted semester of instruction. In fact, he hasn't been in attendance for more than four consecutive weeks since he was hired. Departmental records indicate Dr. Jones has taken more sabbaticals, sick time, personal days, conference allotments, and temporary leaves than all the other members of the department combined.

The lone student representative on the committee wished to convey that, besides being an exceptional instructor, a compassionate mentor, and an unparalleled gentleman, Dr. Jones was extraordinarily receptive to the female student body during and after the transition to a coeducational system at the college. However, his timeliness in grading and returning assignments was a concern.

Establishment of an appropriate record of departmental and campus service:
Dr. Jones's behavior on campus has led not only to disciplinary action but also to concerns as to the state of his mental health. In addition to multiple instances of public drunkenness, Dr. Jones, on three separate occasions, has attempted to set fire to the herpetology wing of the biology department. Perhaps most disturbing, however, are the statements that come directly from Dr. Jones's mouth. Several faculty members maintain that Dr. Jones informed them on multiple occasions of having discovered the Ark of the Covenant, magic diamond rocks, and the Holy Grail! When asked to provide evidence for such claims, he purportedly replied that he was "kind of immortal" and/or muttered derogatory statements about the "bureaucratic fools" running the U.S. government. Given his history with the Nazi Party, I fear where his loyalty lies.
- - - -
To summarize, the committee fails to recognize any indication that Dr. Jones is even remotely proficient when it comes to archaeological scholarship and practice. His aptitude as an instructor is questionable at best, his conduct while abroad is positively deplorable, and his behavior on campus is minimally better. Marshall College has a reputation to uphold. I need not say more.

My apologies,
Prof. G.L. Stevens


Saturday, 16 February 2008

Positive and Negative

The negative side is that I've had a migraine since wednesday, which sucks. At least I haven't I had the sensitivity to light and sound that I usually get. On the other hand I had a meeting with my supervisors on thursday and was so spaced out on migraine medication that I'm having problems remembering what was said. I think I took notes but can't remember if I did and where I put them. The only thing I can remember is that I'm getting the internal/external examiners that I wanted and that they think the thesis as it stands is Research with a capital "R" - which can only be a good thing. Thankfully they email all the necessary information afterwards. The other negative thing was that the tv cablebox was playing up again, but that seems to have sorted itself (with a little judicious prodding of cables).

Annoyingly with the migraine I haven't been able to get as much as I would like done. I had conference abstracts that need to be finalised tomorrow, but hopefully that is in hand. I really need to get on with the editing/finalising of the supporting material... but all I can cope with at the moment is watching re-runs of Cold Case, CSI (varying types), America's Next Top Model and Project Runway - yes when I'm feeling like rubbish all I want to do is watch trashy American TV and eat chocolate. And I know that chocolate is not exactly the best thing to eat when you have a migraine, but I've had to give up drinking and coffee (coffee - my precious coffee) since wednesday and I have to draw the line at some point.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Questions over Education

This news story caught my eye a long time ago. Basically it states that Cambridge University does not want applications from students who take a minimum of 2 'soft' subjects at A-Level and that students ideally should aim to have at least 2 traditional or 'hard' subjects. Although the news article is quite old now, the University website (checked today) still emphasises that potential applicants should opt for subjects like Chemistry, English Literature, History, Mathematics, Languages or Physics.

Then this January this story appeared, continuing the idea of unsuitability of certain courses, the list included in the article comprised of the following:

  • Accounting
  • Art and design
  • Business studies
  • Communication studies
  • Dance
  • Design and technology
  • Drama and theatre studies
  • Film studies
  • Health and social care
  • Home economics
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Leisure studies
  • Media studies
  • Music technology
  • Performance studies
  • Performing arts
  • Photography
  • Physical education
  • Sports studies
  • Travel and tourism

Thats quite a lot. The appearance of this third article just started me wondering. I dislike instensely the idea that some A-levels should be worth more than others - why should someone who has worked as hard or harder in a 'soft' subject be told that it is only worth a certain percentage of something that is deemed to be 'hard'. I took 2 of the so-called 'soft' subjects (Art and Media Studies) as A-levels. And I've had more senior academics ask me directly 'why I did that?' with a tone of voice which clearly said 'that was stupid' and 'why did you waste your time?'

One aspect that I fail to understand in regard to Media Studies; if the study of modern culture is so silly and unsuitable, how does that compare to a course which focuses on literature? The tools and techniques used are very similar, only the media is different. Dissecting a film in many ways is not dissimilar to dissecting a book. The creation of images, scene setting, and so on are all portrayed in a manner where the same methods can be applied. I do not see why the tools I learnt in one course are 'unsuitable' for application to another. I think many of the issues stem from the fact that as a subject, the course is perhaps relatively new... but that is a situation that all subjects would have found themselves in at some point.

Art on the other hand is perhaps more a matter of perception. People often assumed that an art course was sitting around waving a paintbrush at a canvas. I'm not sure what the circumstances are for other people, but the course I participated in involved discussion of artists and styles, of architecture and comics, of computer generated images, photography and pencil; a dissertation was necessary, as were presentations - all of which adds up to a lot more than paintbrush+canvas=art. The skills I learnt there I have found useful, especially since I focus on ancient iconography.

At the end of the day, people should be encouraged to take courses that they are interested in. Not just pointed in the direction of a set (and relatively small) list from which to choose because they are deemed to be suitable. Education relies on interest, I know very few people who have flourished with a subject that they dislike. I see it in the first and second year undergraduates at the University who simply choose courses that they believe to be easy just to fill up the spare slots in their timetable. Many end up in archaeology, and quickly realise that it is not an 'easy' course. What worries me more is that they freely admit that they don't want to be studying 'X', they want to do 'Y' and they do not care what grades (so long as they are passing) they acquire.

If this is the situation, that soft subjects are to be avoided, I was extremely lucky that I chose History as my final A-level option, otherwise the Universities may have thought, I was, like, stupid or something...

Friday, 8 February 2008

This just appealed...

... especially as I read it with glass of wine in hand.


The CFP for the conference that I'm helping to organise was finalised today and will be sent out tonight or tomorrow. It sort of hit me that I've managed to get myself involved in a complex situation in regards to organisation, right at the point when I really should be focused elsewhere... Ah well, I never was very good at doing nothing...

And that reminds me, I need to get abstracts for other conferences sorted.

The Joys of Editing

I've spent the last couple of days stuck in front of a computer editing chapter drafts. Its daft that I spend I significant part of my time fretting that the PhD is just not going to be good enough. I mean what would I do if they (by they, I mean the evil examiners that dwell in my mind) decided that I wasn't allowed to get my doctorate. Paranoia is so annoying. Then at other times I have moments when I'm re-reading something and wonder 'did I actually write that?'

Its very annoying when you go through that sort of see-saw emotional ride over what you have written but at the same time, I really hope its good enough.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Yay, I'm going back. In May I will be back in Athens after over a year of being away. And I have to say it will be wonderful to be going back. I've missed that city so much.

It is one of those places that I can never wait to get back to, so a few months to go and then I'll be back...