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What kind of Medievalist am I?

6 January, 2009

What kind of Medievalist am I?

JJ Cohen asked that the other week or so, and I started to write something else, which I shall no doubt post later. Because really, Jeff asked what kind of medievalist I yearn to be. This last week has put that a bit clearer in my mind.

On Saturday, I went to AHA. I went for an interview. I went for an interview for Dream Job. Now, I need to make it clear that I’m not looking to leave SLAC. I have a good position, and I feel very settled. I get a lot of support, physical and moral, from my Dean, and it does look like I can be continually successful there. My colleagues are mostly lovely people, and I have made good friends.

But realistically speaking, I’m the only non-US historian in my department. I don’t spend a lot of time being a medievalist. I spend most of my time being a generalist, and worrying about falling behind in my research and writing. I teach a 4-3 load — plus an additional course that isn’t quite a course. I manage to crank out a couple of conference papers a year, one usually pedagogical, but the other definitely medieval. I have a book in the works — and advance advertising on it has begun. I have two articles in the works, and two book projects I’d like to work on. In my head, and I think more and more among my medievalist colleagues, I think I might be working towards what I’d like to be — someone who is known to produce reasonably interesting, solid research, and is a really good teacher.

The thing is, smack in the middle of my interview on Saturday, I realised that that wasn’t what I’d like to be — it’s what I yearn to be. At the moment, being a medievalist is like a reward for doing a lot of grunt work. As I sat and talked to the nice people at Dream Job, where the load is 3-2, there is automatic access to R1 libraries at no extra charge, where the students are capable of reading Anglo-Saxon, and faculty collaborate, I realised that Dream Job was a place where I could actually be the kind of medievalist I want to be — or at least, it would be a hell of a lot easier. At the moment I’m rather on tenterhooks. I’m pretty sure I bollixed up the interview. They opened with, “We have 2 hours of questions and have half an hour,” and despite bringing in 3 pages of notes and questions of my own, I think I came off as someone who alternated between deer-in-the-headlights and someone who might have been too assertive (or even bossy?) for a person applying for a junior position. I just don’t think I managed to come off as competent and special enough. I really hope to hell I’m wrong.

And if I’m not? That’s OK. Because interviewing reminded me that I have a list of things that are important to me. They remind me of the path I stepped on when Phlebas offered to let me give a paper on his panel, and I started meeting more and more of you lot IRL, and LDW and I got together, and he convinced me I was capable of being a lion cub, at least. After the book contract came through (as much as it has), I ended up being so focused on that, and the collapse of some of the more important parts of my life, and the hell of the last semester and the stress of a tonne of committee work, more new preps, and advising, that I kind of forgot that I do have a research agenda, I do have an image of the kind of medievalist I want to be. It’s a lot like the medievalist I am, but an even better teacher in my specialty and more productive. How I’m going to get it done at SLAC is an interesting question, but I expect it can be done — I just don’t want it to kill me. So Provost, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ve got some good ideas đŸ™‚ I’ll tell you what I told Dream Job — I’m damned good at what I do. I am a good colleague and dammit, I’m managing to keep writing even though I seldom teach my field, let alone my research. I shoulder at least my share of service. And dammit, I do like the fact that we seem to be turning a corner and I could be in on some really fantastic changes. If, by chance, I didn’t screw things up and end up heading to a campus interview, and don’t screw that up, I’d still have lots of thinking to do. SLAC isn’t a place I want to run from, after all. If it were, there were lots of jobs I could have applied for; instead, I limited myself to a very special one. But either way, I’m going to have a lot of work to do to be the kind of medievalist I yearn to be.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 January, 2009 12:14 am

    First, unless you did something blazingly stupid (and you’re not the kind of person who does those things!), don’t assume anything about how your interview was received: you know nothing about the competition, about their unstated goals or needs, about their perceptiveness (some of us historians are terrible judges of character and behavior, after all!). I have trouble believing that you didn’t come of as both competent (three pages of notes!?!) and pretty special, particularly for your range of existing experience and, as you note, continuing productivity.Second, you’re not the only historian who has a yearning to be more; it’s a very healthy sign, really, of someone who’s in this for the long haul, who’s made the right choice in career and focus. It’s a good thing, really.

  2. 7 January, 2009 12:27 am

    “At the moment I’m rather on tenterhooks. I’m pretty sure I bollixed up the interview. . . . despite bringing in 3 pages of notes and questions of my own, I think I came off as someone who alternated between deer-in-the-headlights and someone who might have been too assertive (or even bossy?) for a person applying for a junior position. I just don’t think I managed to come off as competent and special enough. I really hope to hell I’m wrong.”You probably are wrong, and are worried just because you care about this job possibility. My guess is that they have different expectations of you as a junior faculty person already, versus an ABD or postdoc, but if you’re not wrong and those things mattered to the interviewers, then you’d have to question whether it really would be a good working environment for you. I like to work with people who are confident and self-directed, but those qualities (especially in women, natch!) are read negatively as “too bossy” or “overbearing.” It’s not fair, and in fact it’s really stupid–but that may be who they are. If they don’t want to work with you, then you don’t want the job either, because they’ll make you miserable. (You might make them miserable too in the long run, but for the first several years, they have all the power, and who wants to live like that?) It’s good that you’ve decided what you “yearn to be.” It sounds like you could probably be that at SLAC, despite its not-ideal aspects. One of the things I like about our profession is that it’s relatively meritocratic if you’re a publishing scholar. That is, people don’t seem to be too snobby about other people’s affiliations if they publish and remain active in their field/s. You and I can probably both name people in our fields who are really respected for their work but who teach at relatively obscure institutions, while on the other hand there are people who landed plum jobs but who haven’t done much with them. So, I would say that you have a great deal of control over the kind of scholar you are/will become, regardless of your institutional

  3. 7 January, 2009 4:10 am

    Thanks to both of you — it’s nice to think I might not have screwed up too badly, and to be reminded that it can also be about not being what they want, rather than being crap. And Ann — funny thing: I spent the nights before and after the interview with my family of affinity — and BiL, Cliotechnik, knows you from grad school!

  4. 7 January, 2009 4:49 am

    I can’t imagine your not doing well in an interview . . .

  5. 7 January, 2009 5:54 pm

    Hey, I bollixed my interview. c’est la vie!The _ONLY_ medievalist job in my field was cancelled. The chair met me at AHA and sympathized. It is hard out there for medievalists.Sorry we couldn’t meet up…

  6. 7 January, 2009 7:15 pm

    Here is hoping that things work out as you want them to, and that you have the chance to flourish as the kind of medievalist you yearn to be.

  7. 7 January, 2009 8:07 pm

    Well, I echo what others have said — if they had 2 hours of questions, they must have expected a somewhat jumpy and disorganized 1/2 hour! But I really like your thinking about what you are doing/can do in your current position….half of life, it seems to me, is figuring out what we can do with the hand that is dealt us, and I think you’re doing an excellent job!It was great having our quick cup of tea — and good luck.

  8. 7 January, 2009 9:24 pm

    Manan, I actually looked for you via the message center, but your name didn’t come up! Grrrr. Oh well, we’ll have K’zoo. And I’m sorry about your interview. Thanks Jeff and Susan. And Susan, the feeling is mutual! I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have met so many cool people through this place. I wish we’d had more time for talking, but hope you had fun at the reception — and that they found your phone!

  9. 8 January, 2009 2:52 am

    I don’t know you that well but I bet they were both charmed and impressed.

  10. 8 January, 2009 2:57 am

    I can only hope so, Steve. They were pretty impressive themselves!

  11. 8 January, 2009 9:03 pm

    It was great to get to see you again at AHA! And please let us know if you hear from DreamJob!I think this is a really thoughtful post, and I sympathize with pretty much everything you say here. I, too, have a very good job with great colleagues, but I feel like I’m a “service professor” — most of our majors are there to study U.S., modern Europe, or Latin America (we have a large hispanic student demographic). So students take my courses to fill requirements, and while I get a few hooked, most aren’t really that engaged to begin with. Combine that with a load of 3-4 courses a semester, and it becomes a bit of a grind.

  12. 12 January, 2009 4:06 pm

    Is that the job I think it is, I wonder? I wish you the very best of luck either way of course. I shall hold thumbs for you wherever it won’t stop me typing đŸ™‚

  13. 14 January, 2009 4:06 am

    Yep — that’s the job. Haven’t heard anything yet, and am hoping no news is good news, but am not holding my breath.

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