I first began blogging at the behest Dorothy King and Kristina Killgrove. I have always been fortunate to have strong female mentors in my day-t0-day academic life, and was pleasantly surprised to find a similarly robust (although geographically dispersed) network of scholars online when I joined Twitter in 2011. At that time, I was simply hoping to promote an Op-Ed piece I had written for the New York Times regarding the history of damnatio memoriae. A scholar and academic writer in her own right, Dorothy also runs the PhDiva Blog. She invited me to post for her as frequently or infrequently as I wanted, never censored my content, and gave me a prefabricated forum to speak to an audience, to develop ideas that were not quite to the level of journal articles, and, ultimately, to cultivate a network of people I have come to rely on in the past 5 years. As many people have pointed out (including Times Higher Education): Blogging can make you a better academic writer. These are just a few reasons I encourage early career professionals to begin blogging.
Now, in the spirit of the time-honored Throwback Thursday (and not at all unlike those lazy 1990s sitcom episodes that stitch together flashback scenes from previous seasons in order to give the writing staff a break from producing new material), I give you my top (5) favorite posts written for PhDiva…and a few of the lessons I have learned along the way:
I. A Classical Review of Django Unchained: In this post, I explored Quentin Tarantino’s admission that the character of the antebellum slave master Calvin Candie was meant to be a “southern fried Caligula.” This post challenged me to return to the primary sources (e.g., Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars) and to explore secondary scholarship in order to compare the two characters. I concluded that, “Much as Suetonius’ Caligula was meant to both amuse and to moralize, Tarantino presents his evil slaveholder, Mr. Candie, as a lesson to be learned—albeit in an incredibly gory and over-the-top manner–just two years before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Both Mr. Candie and Caligula are portrayed as people with little regard for human life or the natural rights of man by their biographers, and as men who abhorred civil liberties.” I can’t be 100% sure, but I think Tarantino use some Suetonius on set, just as Oliver Stone used Plutarch for Alexander.
II. Death By Roof Tile or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Twitter: This post had its nascence, as many things do, on the micro-blogging site of Twitter. I had been reading the Collectio Avellana, which is a late antique primary collection of documents covering the years 366 to 553 CE, part of which recounts the tumult that erupted upon the death of the Bishop of Rome Liberius. In 366, Pope Damasus’ (alleged) posse of charioteers, gravediggers, and brigands caused mayhem in the city and threw roof tiles down on people from the roof of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. That is when I thought: “Huh! That is exactly how Saturninus died!”… In 100 BCE, one of Marius’ previous supporters, Saturninus, went rogue and took the Capitoline hill with his partner Glaucia and their supporters. Marius formed a militia after the Senate passed an SCU–senatus consultum ultimum–a grave measure passed only once before. Saturninus and Glaucia surrendered and were imprisoned in the Curia, the Roman Senate house, but many men climbed on top, tore up the roof, and rained tiles down on the captives.” When I crowd sourced the “death by roof tile” meme, Duncan MacRae, a superb ancient historian at University of Cincinnati, chimed in, as did many others. We found that death by roof tile was not so unusual in antiquity, and that the act largely emphasized temple transgression and the power being taken into the hands of the people.
III. Mapping the Winds: Roman Anemoscopes and Meteorology: While writing a lesson plan for a lecture on Roman weather reporting, I came across two wind-roses, called anemoscopes (see pictures above), which Romans used to gauge the wind. I had no idea such instruments even existed, and the discovery sent me down a rabbit hole in order to explore the technology used in the pursuit of meteorology in antiquity. Not only did I become more familiar with an area foreign to me by reading scholarship, I realized that it was not just a fascination of antiquity. “The legacy of mapping the winds continued into Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. A manuscript of Isidore of Seville’s work (d. 636) on winds from the 12th century, now at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, shows both the Latin and Greek names for the winds around a T-O map. It illustrates clearly that ordering the world also meant ordering the winds.” If blogging has underscored anything, it is the vast parallels between my field and the modern world. The challenge before us is then to make those parallels accessible to the audience.
IV. On Saving Time: The Roman Hour and DST: After returning from the AIA-SCS a few years back, and seeing Andrew Riggsby’s poster on quantification in Roman inscriptions, I got to thinking: what is the power behind controlling time? My advisor has a book coming out on Roman sundials, and well, I thought I would delve into the topic via an anecdote in Cassiodorus’ Variae, wherein around “507, the Ostrogothic emperor Theodoric sent a sundial to King Gundobad, the leader of the Burgundians. The initial request was made to Boethius by the Ostrogoth, who asked him to make a sundial and a waterclock (1.45.9-10).” Thinking about the historical delineation of time and of our modern use of Daylight Savings Time in particular was fruitful to understanding how the Roman world differed from our own. As I said, “The hours may change, but our ability to standardize, control, and manipulate them remains a human obsession. Just like Theodoric’s gift to Gundobad, the gift of measuring time was and is seen as a feature of civility, but it is also a lens through which to view any culture.”
V. The Power to Divorce in Antiquity. Last but not least, blogging can allow you to say something important and to comment on current events. Back in late 2013, it was reported that rabbis were being hired to beat up husbands: “Rabbis that sold their torture services were busted by federal authorities in New Jersey this week. The Orthodox Jewish rabbis were hired by wives who wished to obtain a divorce, which, in the Orthodox Jewish culture, you cannot do without the consent of the husband to obtain a ‘get.’” I didn’t know much about the Orthodox Jewish rules, but I did know a bit about Greco-Roman law, and in early imperial Roman antiquity, divorce was a right given to both men and women, before a shift occurred in Late Antiquity. Revoking the right of divorce from either gender, I concluded, was disastrous, and took away basic human agency. “I guess what I have to say is this: historically, when you don’t grant women the power to obtain a divorce–particularly to escape life threatening and abusive relationships–and in fact make them beholden to men in order to achieve one, actions are often taken that at first appear out of the ordinary and absurd. I am not claiming that these orthodox women were justified in hiring rabbis to torture their husbands for money, far from it. I am rather saying that it should never even have to come to this. It is one thing to say that divorce is forbidden, it is quite another to say that only a man can grant one.” Blogging has allowed me to further join the trend of looking at the long durée, and to show how the modification of legal rights effects individuals.
The purpose of this post was, to put it quasi-classically (i.e., the best way to put things!),
to pour some old wine into a new skin. When it was time for me to leave Dorothy’s established Forum and build my own here on my site, she never discouraged me. She has continued to support my writing both publicly and privately and to be someone I can turn to. It is a great example of how important it is for graduate students and professionals in either traditional or “alt-ac” (I truly hate that term; they really are not alternate to academia. They are as much academics as professors.) positions to reach out to the digital community in order to formulate a support network. Beyond the scholarly network you may find, blogging hones your mad skills as a writer. Because baby, if writing is a muscle, then blogging is one hell of a Zumba class.