August 15th, 2002

Fishy Circumstances

Doing things

For the first time in at least two weeks, I accomplished a few small things on my proto-dissertation yet. I can't call it a dissertation, really, since I'm still gathering information, but I know I need to start writing about it even without sufficient amounts of information, or it'll never happen.

In the trivial-but-useful-in-the-long-run category, I reworked bits of the structure and design on all 4 of my core databases today, and they look both better and have some more sensible features, namely, they all now draw their list of sources from the same file, and in several cases where it made sense to do so, the list of sources is filtered to only include those with the relevant tag. There's no point including the random alchemy sources I nabbed from Winston's bibliography in a list they are very unlikely to have anything to contribute to.

I spent a while talking with my father about my project. It's always good to explain what my project is, especially when the other party understands what I'm talking about and - even better - has advice to offer. In his case, he thought he remembered a number of depictions of medieval scholars with clocks as part of the ambient decoration. Especially images of St. Augustine. This may or may not be true, but his first two tries at the images he was thinking of produced astrolabes, and astrolabes were both invented and commonplace well before any beginning of the Middle Ages. Still, it was useful to think about the "tools of science" as visually denoting learned men, especially since the first major breakthrough for the status of the crafts, according to the existing studies on the subject, was when Hugh of St. Victor first included crafts in his scheme of knowledge, as a parallel to the liberal arts. (The latter was the subject of my last MA thesis and has provided fun fodder for the few conference papers I've given/will be giving since.)

I've mostly finished the chapter in my Art 100 textbook on early Christian art. I'm much more critical of the text than I was when I first read it 8 years ago or thereabouts. Much of it reads like filler. The authors throws around highly technical terms or unnecessary latinisms, perhaps in the hope that someday they will look familiar to young art historians who keep up the trade. I'm not sure I've learned anything entirely new to me, but it's definitely helped to refresh my sense of history and art history, at least for the period it covered.

I briefly tried to pursue - with the in-house resources - just when exactly and where in the mid-fourteenth century the hourglass was invented. I couldn't remember much more detail than that. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica let me down. The OED could only say that the word 'hourglass' was first document in English use in 1515. I've vowed to write up small histories of all my major technological categories when I return to Toronto and have the resources handier. I really ought to know these things.

I shall also track down a copy of Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, which haggisthesecond highly recommends. I'm eager for advice, especially from people other than the several overachievers in my year. I just can't work from 7am until 11pm the way at least one person in my year of the PhD can, and I am certainly not going to try burdening my schedule with 4 major conference papers in one year the way another member of my small group is. I admire them, I really do, but I have neither the attention span to work that many hours, nor the ability to require myself to write 4 major conference papers on top of a dissertation in one year. I'm aiming for 2 conference papers. C., being a diligent guilty conscience, inquires now and again when I'll be publishing my first paper. I still don't know, but need to pursue it sooner. I'm thinking I'll start with something feasible, like a book review.
Fishy Circumstances

In other news

Today I did not go to the fair, where there was both the very noisy tractor pull and the President (i.e. of the U.S.) Lots of politicians are in town right now. The woman who hosted the small lunch I went to today (a social, not political one!) said she'd talked to 4 or 5 major politicians the previous day, on the phone. We are going to the fair, on Saturday if not before. Saturday will be crowded (the Alicia Keyes concert helps with that. And it's a Saturday) but C. hasn't been before and he's only coming down for the weekend.

The lunch was a good one. I met a number of friends of my parents, some of whom were younger than I am, and the weather was lovely. They were very nice people, all of whom I'd happily see again, but because there were 8 of us, I felt slightly awkward in initiating any of the conversations myself. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't disparaged dissertation topics in general as being obscure, since doing so is bad advertising for my own topic. On the other hand, I did it because the hostess was trying to find a common subject of conversation between me and the grandchildren, and personally, I'd forgive any person under those circumstances for failing to find a point of interest with something like a dissertation topic. Anyways, I'll try to be more self-promoting in the future. I don't want this to be a precendent.

My parents had never seen - or heard of - High Fidelity. They hadn't heard of it because it came out during the last sabbatical year, about the time they were in Japan or India. Anyways, it's still a novelty for all of us to be able to watch videos, which we can all now do thanks to having computers with DVD drives. (No tv, and I'm happy that way). So that was this evening.

One last comment, on food. Fresh, ripe, locally grown tomatoes make for wondefully decadent food. This batch was particularly good.