Monthly Archives: October 2016

From Dissertation to Book: A Few Things I Learned Over the Past 10 Years

I don’t tend to get overly personal on this blog very often. Although I adore social media (clearly), the first person singular is an uncomfortable voice when I address the public as a historian. I have always used banter about ancient or medieval history as a kind of protective tortoise shell that makes me seem extroverted. However, I did want to post a blog today that reflects a bit on the process of transitioning your book from a dissertation format to a published monograph–along with some personal anecdotes. The occasion? After ten years of ruminating on Greco-Roman disreputable tradesmen and the socio-legal construction of dishonor, my book, Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean, has come out with the University of Michigan Press. Here are a few things I learned:

5. Take a Break From the Dissertation: After you defend your dissertation, you need to put the book in a drawer for a little while. Tell the printed copy (you know, the one with all those fresh signatures on the top) that while you love it, you need a little “me time” where you don’t see each other. Then lock it in a desk and forget about it for 6 months. While you are doing this, begin to think about all the things that didn’t make it into that dissertation. Gather the proverbial hair off of the beauty shop floor. These research scraps can usually form the beginnings of at least one article. For me, the book was focused on artisans and tradesmen, and yet I had all this research on late antique heretics, apostates, and non-Christians that received the stigma of infamia in Late Antiquity. Eventually (with much aid from James Rives and Andrew Riggsby in particular), this became an article called, “Altering Infamy: Status, Violence, and Civic Exclusion in Late Antiquity.” During this time, you will be developing clearer eyes for when you return to the dissertation.

4. Reflect On Whether You Need a Monograph In Your Life At All: Not all dissertations will make good monographs. Moreover, I am not convinced that the monograph is the end-all and be-all of becoming an “academic.” It is not the ruler by which we must measure greatness either now or in the future; however, the field of history generally requires a monograph for tenure requirements, and thus I began to re-conceptualize and adapt my book for those requirements. First, I started to write a book prospectus (you can download it here (PDF): bond_prospectus) after emailing Prof. Greg Aldrete at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Why did I do this? I have admired Greg and his writing for years. I want to be Greg when I grow up. Ergo, I modeled my book proposal and my tone on a successful prospectus from someone I truly admire. Greg and his wife Alicia would become integral to this book in so many myriad ways, but it all began with a cold-call email to him (get used to these). He responded by sharing his book prospectus for Floods of the Tiber with me. Veteran historians: If you can? Always share a book prospectus with younger authors. We don’t know what we are doing about 87% of the time, and, well, we need your mentorship.

3. Conference: Yes, that is right. I am using this word as the ever important academic verb “to conference.” I presented some new research on Roman tanning practices at a conference called the Association of Ancient Historians (AAH) while writing the chapter on tanners. Like a standup comic, it gave me a chance to try out new material. And at that conference, a professor heard my paper and introduced me to the executive editor at the press I would later work with, University of Michigan Press. You have to get your work out there and present it. There is no use keeping your brilliant thoughts on the page alone. Conferences allow you to workshop your chapters with people that can not only give you good feedback, they can introduce you to editors and other people that can help you. It is cliché to say “it is who you know,” but there is a lot of truth to this. Also, don’t be ashamed to apply for early career aid to help you afford the travel. I know it ain’t cheap, but it is necessary.

2. Blog: Writing is a muscle and you want to be buff, don’t you? I would suggest beginning to blog much earlier, say, during the writing of your dissertation, but if you haven’t started to create an online voice, you need to. You are not Ariel. You need a voice that is recognizable. Blogging and Twitter also allow you to meet people doing similar work to you and  begin to develop your own ideas. A lot of people tell me they are afraid to put their dissertation thoughts or current research online, but please do not fear your ideas being stolen. First, that is a bit narcissistic of you. Second, the blog (and its timestamp) are a way of staking your own claim. Blogs are citable under MLA and Chicago Style guidelines. Moreover, blogging allows you to develop a voice that is accessible, creates a visible audience that is attractive to publishers, and allows your curiosity to take you in new directions. I never thought my most popular blog post would be on chastity belts, but, well, here we are. I am okay with the fact that the number one google search for my name is “Sarah Bond Chastity Belt.” It means people are reading what I write and that, just maybe, they will read my book too.

1. It will Take a Village: Close to 100 people read, edited, contributed to, or brought me a libation during the writing of this book. I tried to thank as many as I could in the acknowledgements, but try and keep a running list in the first footnote of every chapter while you are writing or revising. Then move all of these chapter citations to the acknowledgements section when you are finished. There will indeed be people who leave your life (breakups or perhaps colleagues you lost touch with) and a whole bunch of new people that enter it during the course of writing your book. Why? Because you didn’t write this damn thing in a vacuum. You wrote this book while you were living your life and damn it, a lot of amazing and horrible things will happen in between your hours seeing it via Microsoft word over the next few years. Here is a PDF of my acknowledgements. I am truly thankful for all the help they gave me.

This certainly isn’t everything I learned, but it is a start. Some of the best tips actually come from ‘The Professor Is In‘ and from books written on this subject, but these are just a few of my own recommendations. Thanks for reading this blog for all these years and if you care to read the book, that is great too.


Image graciously given to me by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for the cover of the book. It is an image of two imperial-era Roman potters. You are going to need a lot of gifts of time and resources from friends, colleagues, and… sometimes museums. 


A Short History of Demons, Exorcism, And Possessed Women

Since last’s week accusation by Alex Jones that Hillary Clinton and President Obama were demons that smelled of sulfur, I had begun to think about the role of demons, exorcism, and demoniacs in early Christian texts. Over on the Forbes blog, I discuss how the subject of demons has a rich past in the religion, but it must be said that from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, accusations of demon possession have often shown gender bias. That is to say that women are frequently cast as more susceptible to possession than men of power are–particularly in the demon possessions mentioned in the 13th century. Moreover, male priests and saints are often then relied upon to cast the demons out. As this post explores, accusing Hillary Clinton of being a demon is not simply an outlandish thing to do, it carries serious and long-held misogynist undertones.

Please note that this story contains a number of images from the Public Domain made freely accessible by the British Library Manuscripts Library. The British Library is, after all, probably the best and safest place to find demons.


Image via the British Library: “Dante and Virgil observing Satan swallowing his victims, with figures of those who betrayed their benefactors, such as Brutus and Judas Iscariot, frozen in ice below, from Canto 34 of the Inferno” (illustration from 1370)

Picturing the Patriarch: Resources for Finding Illustrated Papyri and the Case for Image Licensing

Ancient and medieval papyri not only transmitted text, some even held illustrations. Mathematical, scientific, and magical papyri often had accompanying images meant to enhance the understanding of a text or perhaps to depict someone being cursed. Some historical and literary papyri (e.g., those of Homer) had illustrations as well. I was reminded of this fact this morning, as I reflected on the death date of the notorious Alexandrian patriarch Theophilus, who died on October 15, 412 CE.

We are lucky enough to have the Papyrus Goleniscev, a codex (fol. 6v, Pushkin Museum, Moscow) that was later published in color in 1905 (digital edition here) and then digitized by the Munich Digitization Center (Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum [MDZ]). The papyrus is originally from Alexandria, and perhaps dates to the 5th c. CE–not long after the death of Theophilus himself. The papyrus transmits fragments of the Alexandrian World Chronicle and has a pivotal depiction of the patriarch holding a gospel and standing atop the head of the Egyptian god Serapis, which had been destroyed along with Alexandria’s Serapeum.

The painting of papyri has been happening for millenia, and reveals not only what may have been important to those that painted them–but also what people found humorous. Over at the British Museum, they have one of my favorite papyri of all time, dating to the period of Rameses (1292 – 1077 BCE) and from Deir el-Medina (Thebes). It shows various animals engaged in common Egyptian trades: there is a hippopotamus and then a lion brewing beer, a cat serving a mouse, and a dog carrying grain. I like showing this papyrus when I give talks on ancient beer or in class, just to illustrate to students that anthropomorphized animals were amusing to people way before LOLZ Cats came around.


Image of an illustrated animal papyrus from the British Museum (c. 1200 BCE). Licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. Check out that Hippo brewing some beer.

There are some beautiful images of Hellenistic era papyri (4th-3rd c. BCE) in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum as well. What is more? The Brooklyn Museum has placed their images under a creative commons license, which allows me to show you this stunning procession of Egyptian Gods below.


Illustrated papyrus from the 4th-3rd c. BCE showing a procession of Egyptian Gods. Image via the Brooklyn Museum under a CC Attribution 3.0 License.

The ability to look at this papyrus online with students or to use it for research purposes is a valuable one–but it comes with some caveats. Particularly, we must consider how an image can be used: in publications, in the classroom, and online. Licensing is something I have thought a lot about since beginning to blog at Forbes, but many images I cannot use simply because they are not available for free use by commercial outlets. I understand this sentiment completely, but it means I have to be very careful about the images I post at Forbes, which is a for-profit news corporation, versus my WordPress blog, which makes me no money. That is why I appreciate the clear use of Creative Commons licensing that marks how I can use an image. For the MDZ, who digitized the 1905 edition of the Papyrus Goleniscev, there is a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license that stipulates that I must note the institution and if I modified the image, and bans me from using the image for profit. Hence why I am writing this post on my WordPress blog.

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I started thinking about CC licensing this week largely because Dot Porter (Curator, Digital Research Services, in the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania) pointed out on her blog that it is frustrating when an institution says that texts are “freely available online” and then does not clearly delineate what they mean by this. In her post, she lists a number of questions one should answer when posting digital images (e.g., are your images licensed?) and does a fantastic job of laying out the logistics that need to be thought through when museums, libraries, individuals, or institutions disseminate digital images online.

Licensing is important for blogging, but also needs to be integrated into our Twitter lives. For a long time, I have been trying to do a better job of citing the sources for my images on Twitter and encouraging others to do so as well. I try to use my own pictures from museums or those freely available on Wikimedia, and to give attribution to people when I use Flickr photos or perhaps pull from their personal blog (e.g. Following Hadrian’s Carole Raddato, who is incredibly generous with her images). Other digital humanists, like Alice Lynn McMichael at MSU, have also begun to think about how Twitter licensing and tags can help us to use Twitter content for use in linked open data digital projects–like Pleiades.

Many on Twitter pointed me to the fact that Twitter has a description capability for images that was originally put in place for people with visual disabilities. As Twitter notes: “Enable this feature by using the compose image descriptions option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters.” Twitter’s “image descriptions” function is a fantastic resource that we all need to use more. My hope is also that Twitter will begin to add machine-readable tags (e.g. as they do at Flickr) that will allow images posted through the social media service to be better archived and used by DH projects.

This post has certainly been a mix of ideas and topics, but licensing ideas have been brewing in my head for awhile (by me, not by an Egyptian hippo). This morning seemed as good a time as any to begin a deeper conversation on the importance of clear image licensing. It is also a chance to say thank you to those digital preservation librarians who work tirelessly to provide these images for public use. In my teaching demonstration just two years ago, while interviewing at the University of Iowa, I taught a passage of Homer directly from a papyrus image provided by the Homer Multitext Project. The students relished the ability to see how some of Homer’s texts were transmitted and to read the original papyrus–in all its funky handwriting. Having access to papyri while sitting at a desk in Iowa City has been an invaluable resource, but clear licensing by posters and clear citation by users is part of maintaining healthy digital relationships and respecting each other’s work.

Digital Resources for Papyri:

Duke University, (check out their list of papyrological resources here).

University of Michigan Papyrological Collection (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license)

Digital Papyri at the Houghton Library (Varying in copyright, but largely in the Public Domain).

Fantastic Papyrology Blogs

Roberta Mazza, Faces and Voices 

Digital Papyrology: News and commentary concerning digital applications, methodology and resources in papyrology.

 *Many thanks to Dorothy King, who sent me a ton of photos of the Papyrus Goleniscev this morning and has always been incredibly generous with her images.

‘Bind His Hands’: Curse Tablets and Charioteer Magic in Ancient Sports

Over on the Forbes blog this week, I wrote a bit about how social anxiety can be viewed through magic. In the case of curse tablets involving charioteers, we see an incredible amount of energy invested in sports. The culture of athletic competition and rivalry in chariot racing is not all that different from the seriousness with which Red Sox fans curse the Yankees or Green Bay Packers fans scream at the Minnesota Vikings–but the use of magic is something a bit different from the modern day. Fans, factions managers, and even the charioteers themselves often engaged in the writing of curse tablets later buried in graves, wells, on boundary zones, or on the outskirts of the hippodrome itself. They reveal a society that put at least some stock in the potency of magical practices like curses and apotropaic amulets, but also demonstrate the long history of people attempting to seize agency within athletic competitions. For fans and bystanders who felt so much emotion connected to the circus factions, magic was an outlet for fear and angst that gave them at least a modicum of perceived control. Read more over at the blog!