Wednesday, February 3, 2010


"Being a relatively well known classicist is one thing, but to most of the world it is something akin to being a relatively well known beekeeper (if that's not unfair to beekeepers)."
-Mary Beard, reflecting on a radio announcer referring to her as a physicist

Part of the fun of going to conferences is playing Spot the Scholar. It's rather entertaining to peer discreetly at the name tag of the person nearby looking at the book tables, or buying coffee, or attending your session. At my very first conference, a very well known archaeologist came up to me and asked if I knew where the ladies room was. I did, so I stammeringly pointed it out to her. She will never remember that, but I always will.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On books of genius

Do you ever read books or articles (or novels, for that matter) which are completely mesmerizing pieces of work? To me, the ultimate test of a good article/book is if I wish I had written it, or something like it. Usually that entails the author either thinking about the issues in a way I never have, or expressing thoughts and ideas which I have had, but have not been able to elucidate nearly so well. One of the truly great joys of life is encountering these towering monuments of achievement. A true test of this is its applicability to multiple concepts and time periods. You know, those articles which cause a florescence of marginal notations along the lines of "this is like this!" or "implications for this?" or just arrows, stars, and exclamation points.

Clearly, I'm currently reading such a book, Diplomacy by Design, by Marian H. Feldman. It's one of the books I have to read for a rather exacting professor who thinks that I, as a graduate student, have nothing better to do than read three extra books and write 3-5 pages reviews of them in addition to a 15-20 page research paper, on TOP of the four question sets all the undergrads in the class are doing (but if the other two books are as good as this one, I will officially stop complaining about it...a bit).

Basically, in examining small luxury goods found throughout the Aegean, Egypt, Levant, and Near East in the Late Bronze Age, Feldman argues that they function as exchange items among elite, are intentionally expressive of a generic, hybridizing international system (she uses the analogy of the iconography of the Euro), and completely transform in meaning depending on who was giving the object to whom (e.g. as tribute, gift, or exchange). Along the way, she calls upon several newish theories such as object biography and agency, but not in an obnoxious or self-congratulatory way. So, she uses theory as one should - as a means of interrogating a concrete set of material evidence. None of this theory-for-theory's-sake nonsense. Anyway, I just finished the introduction, so we'll see if the rest of the book holds up, but I'm really looking forward to reading the rest. The fact that I could really give two hoots about the Bronze Age, and am still totally loving this book, is a true testament to its awesomeness.

In other news, I passed my Latin exam, meaning I am officially DONE with all four language requirements for my program. Which is pretty exiting, when you think about it, considering how much languages have been the total bane of my existence for years.