Archive for ‘academia’

November 8, 2011

Times Higher Ed World University Rankings

I don’t set all that much store by international rankings of universities – criteria that hold true across multiple education markets are hard to come by, and anyway, what’s being measured when you rank an institution as broad and diverse and irrational as a university? The quality of its teaching? Measured how? The quality of its research? Well, counting citations is some kind of useful metric there, particularly for sciences, but it’s still a pretty blunt instrument… And then the THE says it measures “international outlook” (number of foreigners on the faculty, I guess), but what does that measure?

Then there’s the question of who is compiling and ranking, which gets you into all the usual questions of intentional and unintentional bias – what people measure for, what they take as evidence and what they think that evidence means, and on and on. So I take this with a large pinch of salt. I doubt, for instance, that Oxbridge really deserve the prominence they enjoy on this British table, and I’m suspicious of the relative invisibility of non-Anglophone institutions, especially when you consider that Anglophone scholars are simply in a larger pool for citation purposes than most others.

And yet, and still and all… foolish though I know it is, I can’t help feeling something undefinable about having gone first to a top 5 institution, then a top 20, and now looking for post-docs around 100 and 150…

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June 8, 2011

Astonishing set of online resources from Huygens ING for Early Modern History

The thing with this digitizing business, you check in early, there’s nothing there. You forget about it for a year or two and then something prompts you to go back and woah.

INGhist, one of the major Dutch research institution/partnerships, have been busy, and they’ve been smart. They’re putting whole archives up, Old Bailey style, for page-by-page browsing, machine searching, because the whole thing is OCR’d, and pdf dowload (!) of massive scan files.

Of chief interest to me is Stapel’s 1932 edition of Pieter Van Dam’s 1700 magnum opus, Description of the Dutch East India Company (4 vols, but really 7: a state-of-the-company statement for the use of the directors when it was at the height of its power) and the General Missives from the governors-general in the Indies to the Ruling council of the VOC or 17 Gentlemen. But there’s loads more: 17th century Italian sources on the Netherlands, the collected papers of individual East India factories, Pieter Van Os’s “History of The Hague from Adam to 1523“, letters and diaries by folks like Hugo Grotius and this little titbit: the collected papers of two English ambassadors to the Hague at the time Charles II suddenly cozied up to France. Here, I’ll let the original editor explain –

On March 28, 1681, Charles II dissolved, at Oxford, his fifth and last Parliament. This event marked the end of his policy of opposition to France and of his attempts to secure supplies from Parliament. He now turned to the easier, if less honourable, method of securing from Louis XIV the money which was needed to meet the expenses of his government and concluded verbally with Barillon the secret treaty of 1 April 1681 n. s.

This secret change in England’s foreign policy made necessary certain substitutions in the diplomatic service and an alteration in the course of diplomatic negotiations 2). Great care was taken, however, that the secret should not be let out by too sudden a break with the old policy. One by one, during the following year, the English envoys, who in certain Courts of Europe had worked zealously to checkmate the designs of
Louis XIV, ware recalled. Their places were either held vacant or filled by men who, though not cognizant of the strict alliance between their master and the French king, would nevertheless work zealously for the personal interests of Charles II and the Duke of York and would, without question, do their bidding.

March 2, 2011

New York is a luxury product

This looks set to be a fascinating story in serial blog form: an anthropologist trained in urban planning studied the Bloomberg administration from 2003, watching them treat New York as a business that required design and marketing and management. His biggest surprise: that they actually paid some attention to academics.

I remember the west side was receiving all the attention when I was in NY from roughly 98 to 03, with Hell’s Kitchen being remarketed as Chelsea Clinton and the Meatpacking District being touted as the new hotness; evidently that intensified, as the piers came under ever greater development pressure.

I’m looking forward to hearing how it all went down.

February 27, 2011

connected histories meta-database of British history

Lots of resources are being digitized now. This is a clearing house project for centralizing a bunch of them.

The Institute for Historical Research looks like an interesting bunch.

February 22, 2011

roman villa in Shropshire, a reconstruction

So this rebuild of a Roman villa in Shropshire makes me question a bunch of things.

First, it’s really not very appealing. I see what they’re doing, with the various building methods and layers exposed, somewhat a la Knossos, and the (mostly) eschewing flashy tourist-pandering details. There’s no references to gladiators or lion taming here. The “shop” sells candles. But. I have no real desire to visit it. I think I know exactly what I’m going to find when I do, and what I’ll find is a testament to how little we really know about Roman daily life. It does a great job of de-exoticising Rome, but in its place it puts the kinds of timbers you can find at MFI. So it makes me question the place of entertainment, and of Hollywood pizazz, in all this. Should the truth get in the way of good presentation?

Second, they built the house as a standard Mediterranean Roman villa – there’s an intriguing hint that they don’t know how Romans might have adapted to local conditions. Or building methods/materials. So it’s really not a Shropshire house, as such. Makes me question what sort of truth is being preserved here – and whether our ignorance is being accurately modeled after all.

Third, the fabric of the house itself is considered carefully, the furniture not so much. And the paintings on the walls, dear god. The rattan chair may be possible in Rome, but it’s also very clearly post 1930 contract furniture. The 3 sofas of the triclinum are clearly improvised. The candles in the “shop” make it look like a stall at Glastonbury festival. So that makes me question their focus. Because a reconstruction like this is inevitably a gesamtwerk, whether its creators recognise that or not.

Also via history blog.

February 2, 2011

Museum virtual tours courtesy of google

The History Blog calls these “the world’s best museums.” Which is just asking for trouble. It’s a very good collection, though, including teasers* of the Rijksmuseum, the Uffizi, the Hermitage(!), the Met, the National Gallery in London, the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, MoMA, the Tate…

Google art project.

In retrospect it was obvious. Now I want to see all the in-gallery interactives at the museums of natural history and science and the aquaria and imaginaria reproduced on the web.

There’s another thing, though: of course this reminds me of Giordano Bruno‘s memory palaces (and the Frick is a joy in a sea of bare walls, from that perspective), but as a method of library resource navigation (which is really what the web is, right?) it’s downright peculiar. Why would the museum’s collection be arranged in these rooms, if not to aid wandering and casual connection-making? If you know which artwork you want to see, is this a good interface? And it points up the disconnect between virtual touring and actual touring like nothing else. And the metadata, as usual, are troubling: who’s going to look for Rembrandt under “van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmensz.”?

Still, it’s an amazing thing. Thank you, google. Again.

* the Rijksmuseum contains only 9 rooms including the gift shop and 20 works in their “other works in this museum” section, and the collection shown does not include works in the “masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum” show they’ve had up during renovations. To really get a sense of the selection, though, check out the Hermitage floorplan, which includes the Rembrandt hall, mysteriously devoid of Rembrandts.

November 1, 2010

flickr 2: models of the musee national de la marine, paris

So I finally made it to the National Maritime Museum in Paris (Palais de Chaillot, a remnant of Paris’ own “white city” of 1889, still linked to the Eiffel Tower) to see the remarkable and oddly moving Tous Les Bateaux Du Monde, (no direct stable link! look over on the left side for a link, at least until the current expo is over…) and I was struck dumb by the collection of models of ironclads on the floor above.

It made me think of steampunk, and the improvisational nature of invention. It also made me aware of the Jules Verne Trophy (which is made mostly from aluminium, floats on magnetic repulsion and is based on the radii of the Earth, the moon and the sun – it’s the most geekycool object I’ve seen in some time, and it’s awarded to whoever sets the world record for sailing around the world in the shortest time).

Also of incredible interest: a trio of tiny dioramas showing how the obelisk in Place de la Concorde was transported from Egypt. And a bunch of other models made out of god knows what. And this Japanese boat with accompanying (unique, I think) 19th century plans and sections.

April 28, 2010

Rorotoko: interviews with scholars about their books

Does what it says on the can. The list of authors is intriguing, too: for my own topics, Miles Ogborn on global lives (1550-1800), Nancy Um on the merchant houses of Mocha, and somewhat more distantly Ian Almond on the long history of Islam in Europe.

Of more general interest: Eric Ames on the 19th century primitives-and-animals exhibit (a sibling to the circus and the theme park), Peter Wilson on the 30 years war, Charlie Hailey on camps: from festival- to disaster relief- to man- (which might be an interesting meditation on the sociology of gathering and gesellschaft or might be vague waffling in roadside mud, I’ll have to read it to find out), what looks like a paranoid conspiracy theory rant by Jan Birksted on the occult significance of le Corbusier, and a challenge to a thesis of which I knew nothing: Thomas Bisson on the crisis (not renaissance) of 12th century Europe and the difficulties of running a small barony instead of a big kingdom. Curious.

March 23, 2010

Ship models from the national maritime museum, Paris

nice set of photos taken in Quebec, when the models were traveling there. Includes a xebec, a flemish galliot and a nice galley, alongside the usual 60, 74 and 100 gun warships.

Musee national de la Marine in the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. Must go there next time I’m in town…