S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Five things again

From strange_complex:


I came to clocks through my Ph.D. topic. My project was a response to Lynn White, jr.'s article on the wacky new iconography of the cardinal virtues, Temperance in particular, which came into vogue in the mid-fifteenth century. I can't find good examples online, but here's a grotty copy of one; and here's a much later Brughel engraving based on the same scheme when it had already mostly died out. (Rosemond Tuve's nicely-illustrated two-part article on the subject is available through JSTOR if you're interested in seeing a range of the relevant images.) In any event, the iconography is such that the cardinal virtues are all laden down with a surfeit of attributes. Temperance alone has eyeglasses in her hand, a bridle in her mouth, a windmill under feet, and a large mechanical clock balance on top of her head.

My dissertation had a chapter on four objects, only three of which was found in the new iconography. The fourth was another timepiece, the sandglass, which is also found in the hands of Temperance, although not in this scheme. And that's how I came to study clocks and the representation of timepieces in the Middle Ages and beyond.

Relatedly, I'll be giving a talk at Eastercon on the subject of medieval timepieces!

P.S. Much as I still love clocks and sometimes go on clock-related trips, I really can't stand trying to fall asleep with the ticking of a clock audible; this limits my ability to acquire nifty ones. I could, but then I wouldn't want them running after all, and it would be such a waste.


Once upon a time, I was a graduate student at the University of York. It was spring term, and darkling_dreams had come over from our undergraduate institution to do a term abroad. We were wandering through central York one grey day when we came upon a toy shop. It had spacious windows, and behind one of them was a display of Playmobil. We went in and browsed.

Our timing was felicitous. What got me wasn't Playmobil per se, but that the newly-introduced set was themed around a Magic Forest. There was a magician with his alchemy lab and telescope and ruined tower; there were unicorns and a waterfall; there were goblins and Ent-like trees; there was a headless horseman; there was an evil queen spiderwebbed in black and gold with her pet panther and a crystal cave for keeping captives. It had all the wonder and disturbing darkness of fairy tales and fantasy with an edge of Arthuriana in small, robust, smiling figures.

I might have resisted even so, but darkling_dreams is persuasive in a good way. She bought some too and we took them back to our rooms in halls where the woodland creatures became ironic personifications, especially the birds, the doves, the ravens, the bluebird. To give you the flavor - although my memory is imprecise - we may have had a bluebird pigeon of discontent.

By the time I was back in Des Moines, I was already accumulating other sets, especially the then-recently-discontinued circus figures. I always have preferred the historical and magical collections, eschewing the modern by-and-large, except for food shop products.

The LJ icons eventually became my excuse for my accumulation of Playmobil, although a very token one given how few I have compared to the quantity I have accrued. I love their detail: the barefooted characters have arches to their feet; a few of them wear earrings; some of the Playmobil-sized books are legible, if very small; the boats float, as does my sea monster; the miniature Christmas tree lights up.

Fine food

I must have always liked good food, for I have plenty of good food memories in my mind from before that fateful day in Toronto. I had been there a year, a new graduate program, and eating lots of mediocre food. Thought I, "There must be good food somewhere in this city!" And so I began to make a project out of it. I bought a variety of restaurant guidebooks and started from there. They helped enormously, and I fairly soon figured out which ones my taste buds agreed with and which ones they didn't.

Food made for a good hobby on several grounds: I needed to eat anyways. Eating good food rarely leads to me accumulating much except memories. As someone with a tendency towards packrattishness, this is useful in a hobby. I started with restaurants, but realized soon that my interest was in food generally; I was happy to cook to obtain good food.

I was the only non-cook in my family growing up. Everyone else cooked, mostly my mother, but also my father - Indian food - and my sister, who at least baked chocolate chip cookies. I made myself bagels with complicated toppings (blueberries and raw onion are really rather good together), but no "real" cooking until, as far as I know, I started graduate school at York.

Food-the-hobby was what really led me to cook seriously. I still don't cook for the joy of cooking, I cook to obtain good food. it's also what's led me to acquire interesting and elegant ingredients, as close to being a packrat as this allows, but limited, since the shelf-life of goods is only so long. Interesting, in-season fruits. (We have red bananas and sharon fruit in the house right now.) Unfamiliar spices (a dozen kinds of varying chili powder; mutabbal's gifts of epazote and mahlab; dried fennel flowers.) A mild insanity of sea and marsh salts, left over from a really good Christmas present idea I had a few years back. I stocked up on intriguing flavored mustards when in France, and ask Toronto friends to bring me others from Kozlik's in St. Lawrence Market. We have more good olive oils than cooking ones: one from a frantoio in Tuscany, from my parents; two more, named, from the Borough Market in refilled bottles. Truffle salt from my sister, herb salt made by my grandmother.

I love how my friends and family indulge me (and us, for C. likes it all too, so long as it involves no fish or seafood) in this. Most of our housewarming gifts were extraordinary offerings of wines for cellaring; lovely assortments of chocolate or 100% dark cooking chocolate. For most of January and February and some of March, between housewarming and trips to the Goods Shed in Canterbury, the fridge was full of amazing cheeses: Colston Bassett Stilton, Cornish Yarg, smoked Swaledale, and De Wit Gouda, to name a few.

As hobbies go, I'm very pleased with this one!

House ownership

We've owned a house for less than a year. It's such a pleasant change not to have to pay rent anymore, not to be reliant on a landlord's diligence for repairs. The good ones are excellent, don't get me wrong, but I think too of our first Toronto landlord, who was a heart attack waiting to happen and didn't really know what he was doing. On the other hand, we haven't had to deal with a real emergency of our own yet here; I'm sure we'll eventually miss this merits of a good landlord.

We never rented a house, we always rents flats and apartments, so this is also the first time I've lived in a house since home. My other, original home, that is, not my current one. C. has been dreaming of home ownership since I first met him, so he's finally fulfilled his long-time dream. I'm not sure I ever had such a dream, but I certainly don't mind being a home owner now.

Apparently, I don't have much to say on this subject!

Long-distance teaching / learning

I didn't say so at my interview, but I secretly think that my best qualification for online teaching is the decade I spent roleplaying on a Pern-themed MUSH. Text-based roleplaying of leadership characters is excellent preparation for people-managing in a nearly all-text environment. Coding-lite is the only choice in both cases, as all more complicated interactions are pre-empted by the dedicated environment. Actually, I exaggerate; about all I can do in Blackboard and WebCT is HTML markup. At least in mu*s there's scripting! But that's background

The University of Arkansas has about a third of its courses online. Not, so far as I know, in any kind coherently programmed way. It's more that is has online classes when that's the most convenient way to offer that class. I met their historian of science at the Leeds medieval congress; we were each an opportunity for the other. Her department is contractually obligated to offer history of technology regularly since it's an optional requirement for another class; she was just as happy to have a specialist teach the topic, freeing her for subjects closer to her heart. For me, it was a chance to teach exactly what I'd trained to teach, and exactly what I was most interested in teaching.

It works even better than I expected. We really do have good, in-depth discussions via discussion boards. I know some classes use real-time interactions, such as chat. With all our collective schedules, lives, and families, I've found it easier to stretch discussion out over the week than to try to all coordinate at once.

I realized early on that I couldn't effectively assign research papers to online-only students. Guided research is far easier to discuss in person. This is even more true in the case of suspected plagiarism, where the ideal situation is to ask a student what they wrote on, without their ability to reference that paper then-and-there. If they wrote it, they'll know. None of this is possible online, so I've focused on developing other historical skills through essays: primary source analysis or book review and related analytical skills primarily.

It works better too, I believe, at upper levels, when the students have a certain amount of foundational material in common. One of the downsides of beginner-level courses online, you see, is the difficulty of knowing whether or not a student understands or is bored or excited. I can't see students falling asleep or hanging on my every word. Feedback must be done self-consciously.

I've still another set to write from the_lady_lily, but this post is quite long enough already!

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