Tag Archives: humanities

“Inside the box, outside the box, and among boxes”

Written by guest blogger, Steven C. Muir.

People are encouraged to “think outside the box,” and while this is worthwhile advice, it does not tell the whole story of doing effective and innovative research. Below are some observations on this process, and how I go about it. These issues were at work in my article for Mouseion.

Inside the box. Dive deep! Don’t settle for a superficial reading or quick assessment of data. Go over the material very carefully, multiple times. Investigate the context of the phenomenon you are investigating. Things not only reflect but are a product of their time and setting. In your research, sometimes the background may need to be moved into the foreground. Have a good grasp of the relevant methodologies and theories. Consult assessments within secondary scholarship, but don’t be locked into those. They are relative to the perspectival context of the researcher. Finally, always check primary data. Don’t rely on footnotes and what others say. Others may be wrong, incorrect, or only have a partial grasp of the issue. Come to your own conclusions and don’t just parrot what others have said.

Outside the box. Question old paradigms and theories. Seek new connections and explanations in data. Look for patterns. Assume very little. Investigate as much as possible. Cultivate your intuition and don’t be afraid to be creative and imaginative. In research, I empathize with others – walking the paths they walked, seeing the sights they saw, feeling what they felt. Have a sense of humour, for whatever humans do may seem surprising or even odd at first. Have fun in your research! “The devil is in the details” – and so is the fun.

Among the boxes. Choose and combine fields and disciplines. Particularly within the Humanities, there is nothing which cannot fit together and inform your research. You will be learning not only about your topic, but about what it means to be human. Be interdisciplinary in your research and eclectic in your interests. In my Mouseion article, I deliberately brought Classics, Philosophy and Religious Studies into dialogue. That synthesis helped me produce new insights and challenge previous scholarship. A new project I am working on will bring together Archaeology/Architecture, Performance and Ritual Studies, and Pilgrimage Studies. Remember, boxes are always a construct, even when they are academic fields. We build and work within structures to help us manage and analyze data. But, those structures are not absolute. When we can achieve new insights by moving outside them, we are at liberty to do so.

“A wheel has spokes,
but it rotates around a hollow center.

A pot is made out of clay or glass,
but you keep things in the space inside.

A house is made of wood or brick,
but you live between the walls.

We work with something,
but we use no-thing.”

Tao te Ching #11, in Getting Right with Tao (a modern translation) by Ron Hogan

photo of Steven Muir

Dr. Steven C. Muir is a professor of Religious Studies at Concordia University of Edmonton. He has published in the areas of Biblical Studies, Classics, History of Early Christianity, Healing and Identity in Religious Communities, Pilgrimage Studies, Ritual Studies. His most recent book is a co-edited volume, titled, Ritual Life in Early Christianity (Routledge 2018). Read his recent article in Mouseion “Greek Piety and the Charge against Socrates”—free for a limited time here.

Putting the Devil in Context

Elizabeth Lorentz was a young maid servant in early modern Germany who believed herself to be tormented by the devil, and who was eventually brought to trial in 1667. We invited Peter A. Morton and Barbara Dähms to discuss their new book, The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz, and how they give the reader the opportunity to grapple with Elizabeth’s testimony for themselves.

Written by guest blogger, Peter A. Morton

This book is the second translation of trial records from the city of Brunswick in the seventeenth century that Barbara Dähms and I have published with University of Toronto Press. The first was The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Both trials involved an accusation of a pact with the Devil. A question that naturally arises is what this trial offers that distinguishes it from that of Tempel Anneke. The short answer is that Lorentz’s testimony reveals some of the richness and complexity of early modern ideas of the Devil and his relations with human beings.

The first point to make about the trial of Elizabeth Lorentz is that it was not a witch trial. Although she was accused of making a diabolical pact, no one involved in the case suspected that Elizabeth was a witch according to the picture that drove the witch trials. And this raises the question, why not? It would not have been difficult for the court officials to interrogate Elizabeth about the common aspects of witchcraft, especially the use of harmful magic and attendance at the sabbat. The use of torture was an option open to them, if they had wanted to force such confessions from her. The same court did just that in the trial of Tempel Anneke just a few years earlier. Yet, according to the records, both the court and the legal faculty at the University of Helmstedt accepted fairly readily that Elizabeth was a troubled soul, and that her pact (if there was one) did not derive from a desire to harm others as was commonly assumed of witches. A second point is that the stories of the Devil came from Elizabeth herself, not from the questioning of the court officials. The officials based their questions on what Elizabeth said of her own experiences.

There is here, I believe, a valuable lesson about early modern European beliefs concerning human relations with the Devil and his demons: There was not a single template applied universally to every suspicion of involvement with the Devil. As Stuart Clark long ago emphasized in his book, Thinking with Demons, despite the degree of uniformity in demonological thinking, the concept of human interaction with demons served a myriad of purposes and could be adapted to many circumstances. In the introductory essay to The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz I tried to convey some of the variety of ways in which concourse with the Devil was conceived of between the medieval and early modern periods. As I emphasized there, fitting Elizabeth neatly into any of these categories is problematic. These trial records will hopefully underscore the importance of not rushing to conclusions when we find the Devil appearing in historical documents.

With regard to understanding Elizabeth’s testimony, the reader of these documents is in somewhat the same position as that of the court officials. We have Elizabeth’s behavior as it was reported by the family and servants of her employer, Hilmar von Strombek, and we have her own descriptions of her experiences. What we don’t have is her presence before us, and so we must use the documents we have as best we can. The objective in preparing this book, as it was with The Trial of Tempel Anneke, was to present the reader with the documents as much as possible in the same manner as they would be encountered in the archive reading room. The opportunity is there for the reader to sift through the evidence so as to determine how best to make sense of the rather extraordinary tales Elizabeth tells.

Readers in the twenty-first century are of course not likely to take Elizabeth’s descriptions of the Devil as literally true, and so they will perhaps look for psychological origins of her testimony. This is an option the court considers as well. But understanding the trial records requires us to recognize that Elizabeth’s testimony conformed with a belief in the reality of the Devil that was universally accepted. There was at that time no reason to reject the truth of her testimony of demonic temptation without some kind of strong evidence against it. For the court, the possibility that Elizabeth was “not of sound mind” was fully consistent with the truth of her stories of spiritual torment by the Devil. We cannot, therefore, simply label or explain away her claims of demonic encounters; to gain a sympathetic reading of the records we must, rather, “think with demons.”

Much the same can be said for the supplementary reading of the book, the preface to a book of prayers for Appolonia Stampke, a girl who believed herself to be possessed by the Devil. There are dramatic ways of imagining cases of possession: violent behavior, strange preternatural powers, and so on. Some of these ideas have their origins in the history of possession. But there is little of this in the behavior of Appolonia, although some of the scenes in the church must have been startling. The story presented to us by her pastor, Melchior Neukirch, is that of a pious girl struggling to maintain her faith against doubts implanted by Satan. Like the attacks on Elizabeth, Appolonia’s actions need to be read carefully against their social and religious background.

The editor and translator of this book hope that the records will offer a chance for the reader to work directly with the complexities and nuances in the responses of ordinary people in early modern Europe to evidence of the Devil in their world.

Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University and author of the newly-released book The Bedivilment of Elizabeth Lorentz.

Barbara Dähms is a translator.

The Enduring Power of University Press Publishing

In this contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our editor, Stephen Shapiro, reflects on the enduring power of university press publishing. When considering today’s theme of #TurnItUP: History, Stephen goes beyond just our history list to explore the legacy of what we do as a publisher.

By Stephen Shapiro

The theme of today’s contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour is #History. As one of three acquiring editors for history who work at University of Toronto Press, I assumed that I would write about some of the excellent history books that UTP publishes every year. Many of those books reflect the press’ mission to advance scholarly knowledge and our authors’ commitment to #TurnItUP by amplifying stories and voices from the margins, whether those are geographic, social, or temporal. Indigenous history, queer history, and migration and memory studies are only some of the areas where UTP is proud to bring important, often overlooked, issues to public attention.

However, the more I dug into the press’ backlist to write about those themes, the more I was reminded that they were just a small slice of the publishing that University of Toronto Press has done over the past 117 years. A quick look uncovered some eclectic bestsellers from the press’ past, like Frank Parker Day’s novel Rockbound, first published in 1928 and re-issued in 1973 by UTP, which became a CanLit smash hit after it won the first CBC Canada Reads competition in 2005. Or E.H. Moss’s Flora of Alberta (revised by John G. Packer in 1983), which seems to still have a devoted following in that province. Other strong sellers include the works of Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, whose papers are held at the Lonergan Research Institute at Toronto. UTP published the first volume of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan in 1988 and should complete the twenty-five volume series, with any luck, in 2020. It is only one of several major series at the press that have taken twenty or more years to complete (the eighty-nine volume Collected Works of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a truly herculean project, began in 1968 and is still ongoing here). Like many university presses, UTP has to balance obligations to stay the course with the need to encourage the latest trends in scholarship (like those fields mentioned above that barely existed in academia in 1968, when the Erasmus project began), but it’s humbling as an editor to think the manuscripts on my (virtual) desk today might still be relevant fifty-plus years from now.

Of course, no editor goes into a project thinking they are handling a future classic. But I take comfort in knowing that, smash hit or not, the books UTP publishes will be out there, making a contribution to knowledge, fifty or more years on. That’s a consequence of unsung work all across the press, from the managing editors whose XML workflow helps us “future-proof” our e-books to the production department, printing our physical copies on acid-free, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and a sales and marketing team that aims to put books not just in the hands of consumers today but also in libraries around the world. UTP’s own heritage is being preserved at the University of Toronto, where they fill 1,070 boxes spanning 450 linear metres (almost 1,500 linear feet) … so far. According to our website, right now the press has 4,898 different books either in print or forthcoming. With any luck, they’ll all still be available to #TurnItUP in another 117 years.

To continue on Day Four of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Blog: https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Blog
Twitter: @wlupress

University of California Press
Blog: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/
Twitter: @ucpress

University of Nebraska Press
Blog: https://unpblog.com/
Twitter: @UnivNebPress

University of Alabama Press
Blog: https://uapressblog.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @UnivofALPress

Rutgers University Press
Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
Twitter: @RutgersUPress

Boydell & Brewer
Blog: https://boydellandbrewer.com/blog/
Twitter: @boydellbrewer

Beacon Press
Blog: https://www.beaconbroadside.com
Twitter: @BeaconPressbks

University Press of Kansas
Blog: https://kansaspress.ku.edu/
Twitter: @Kansas_Press

Harvard University Press
Blog: https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/
Twitter: @Harvard_Press

University of Georgia Press
Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
Twitter: @UGAPress

MIT Press
Blog: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog
Twitter: @mitpress

Witches, Charms & Rituals: Top Titles With Spirit For Your Halloween List

Trick or treat? That depends on your reading list…

This week, we’re counting down to Halloween with spirited titles on everything from ghosts to witchcraft to Canadian horror films. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites – just in case you want a couple of treats for your shelf.

Ghostly Landscapes: Film, Photography, and the Aesthetics of Haunting in Contemporary Spanish Culture

“To speak of ghosts is to always speak of a loss that returns. Loss can tell us something not only about the distant past but also how we live in the present and imagine the future.”

Revisit twentieth-century Spanish history through the camera lens. Ghostly Landscapes reveals how haunting serves to mourn loss, redefine space and history, and confirm the significance of lives and stories previously hidden or erased. A significant re-evaluation of fascist and post-fascist Spanish visual culture from Patricia Keller.

The Canadian Horror Film: Terrors of the Soul

Welcome to a wasteland of docile damnation and prosaic pestilence where savage beasts and mad scientists rub elbows with pasty suburbanites, grumpy seamen, and baby-faced porn stars.

Highlighting more than a century of Canadian horror filmmaking, The Canadian Horror Film offers a series of thought-provoking reflections that promises to guide both scholars and enthusiasts alike. Unearth the terrors hidden in the recesses of the Canadian psyche from editors Gina Freitag and André Loiselle.

Magic in Medieval Manuscripts

Exploring the place of magic in the medieval world through an exploration of images and texts in British Library manuscripts, Sophie Page reveals a fascination with the points of contact between this and the celestial and infernal realms. Find magicians, wisewomen, witches, charms, and rituals in Magic in Medieval Manuscripts.

Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

“The spiritualist trend played a significant role in the ideological and social life of the realist age. The reality of the soul was a major issue of the time. Physicists, physiologists, theologians, mystics, and, of course, writers all took part in this debate.”

Surprisingly, nineteenth-century Russia was consumed with a passion for activities such as séances and summoning the spirits. Ghostly Paradoxes examines the relationship between spiritualist beliefs and the mindset of the Russian Age of Realism. Newly released in paperback – now that’s a treat!

Awful Parenthesis: Suspension and the Sublime in Romantic and Victorian Poetry

“Suspension rejects the impulse to cling to the known and the knowable.”

Whether the rapt trances of Romanticism or the corpse-like figures that confounded Victorian science and religion, Awful Parenthesis reveals that depictions of bodies in suspended animation are a response to an expanding, incoherent world in crisis. Examining various aesthetics of suspension in the works of poets such as Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti, Anne McCarthy shares important insights into the nineteenth-century fascination with the sublime.

European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader

“Those who have picked up this book are about to fly through a mirror, back through time, and look down upon an unfamiliar terrain.”

What’s really behind our fascination with magic and witchcraft? Editor Martha Rampton demonstrates how understandings of magic changed over time, and how these were influenced by factors such as religion, science, and law. By engaging with a full spectrum of source types, learn how magic was understood through the medieval and early modern eras.

Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts 

Medieval astrologers, though sometimes feared to be magicians in league with demons, were usually revered by scholars whose ideas and practices were widely respected. Explore the dazzling complexity of western astrology and its place in society, as revealed by a wealth of illustrated manuscripts from the British Library’s rich medieval collections.

 

Ideas for Building Career Development into PhD Seminars

By Loleen Berdahl

Since the publication of our book Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences and Humanities PhD, my co-author Jonathan Malloy and I have been asked for ideas about how to use the book in PhD seminar classes. I am delighted that faculty are looking for ways to help PhD students start thinking about their careers at an early stage, and that they are working to create a climate where students feel safe to discuss career options. Over the past couple of years, Jonathan and I have led conference sessions and workshops with PhD students, postdocs, and others interested in PhD career development that draw on the ideas we present in Work Your Career. Most recently, we offered a Career Corner session at the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and we were pleased to see students across a broad range of academic disciplines enthusiastically engage with the topic.

For our sessions, we have led students in discussions and group activities. The discussions of PhD career development prompt students to think about the many career options—including but not exclusively academia—for which PhD students can prepare. The group activities are particularly useful to help students engage with the ideas; for these, we ask students to complete a self-assessment on a specific area for a short period, and then share their responses with each other in small groups of 3-4 people. This is then followed by a larger full group discussion. We conclude the process by asking students to come up with a personal “action plan” to develop areas they wish to strengthen. What we particularly enjoy about this collaborative process is that it helps students identify further strengths that they already possess. By developing an action plan students increase their awareness of how they can use personal agency to achieve their goals.

Building off these conference sessions, I have developed a list of activities for faculty who wish to use Work Your Career in their PhD seminars or in non-credit, stand-alone professional development seminars offered to students. For the group activities (Table 1), I suggest that students begin with individual work, followed by small group student discussions, and then full class discussion. For some classes, instructors might consider including students at other stages of their program. This can have the dual benefit of bringing in some different perspectives as well as prompting more senior students to reflect on their own studies. For the reading responses (Table 2), I suggest that instructors limit responses to 250 words, and assign grades on a complete/incomplete basis to avoid any perception that there are “right answers.” The reading response items could also be adapted to serve as seminar discussion questions.

It is rewarding to see that so many faculty—and particularly PhD supervisors, graduate program chairs, and department chairs—are deeply committed to advancing PhD student career success. For those who use Work Your Career in the classroom, I hope that you will find these activities useful as you guide and mentor your students. I welcome your ideas to expand this list, as well as any feedback on how the activities work in your classroom, at loleen.berdahl@usask.ca. And I thank you for looking for opportunities to prompt PhD students to engage with their own career development as early in their programs as possible.

Table 1: Group Activities drawing upon Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

Group Activity Reading and Material
Assess your current career competency evidence and strengths, and select areas where you would like to develop your evidence and strengths further. Chapter 1, particularly Table 1.2
Explore how you can build further career competency evidence through program activities such as classes, comps, and dissertation, and create a personal action plan. Chapter 3
Evaluate how you can build further career competency evidence through non-program activities, and create a personal action plan. Chapter 4, particularly Table 4.1
Create an informational interview action plan. Chapter 4, particularly pages 87-89
Assess and refine the significance of your current dissertation project idea. Chapter 5, particularly Table 5.1
Create a schedule for the remainder of the semester, strategically booking tasks into high energy and low energy schedule blocks. Chapter 7, particularly pages 142-149
Detail your current professional network, and select areas where you would like to develop your network further. Create a personal action plan to do so. Chapter 7, particularly Figure 7.1
Appraise which PhD activities you find most energizing and rewarding. Chapter 8, particularly Table 8.2
Develop a short narrative story that uses evidence to demonstrate one or more of your career competencies. Chapter 8, particularly pages 179-183
Formulate specific strategies to identify the problem that an organization is hiring to solve, and create a personal action plan for how to approach job applications. Chapters 8 and 9
Plan specific answers to the common questions raised during academic job interviews. Chapter 9, particularly Table 9.4

Table 2: Reading Response Topics drawing upon Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

Reading Response Topics Reading
What is your personal career goal? How does your PhD program fit into this goal? Chapter 1
What are the strengths of your current program for your personal career goal and how can you realize these strengths? Chapter 2
What factors should students regularly consider when deciding whether or not to continue their program? How can you make this a safe question for yourself as you move through your program? Chapter 3
What are the opportunities for you to use non-program activities to increase your experience and skills? (Examine your university’s doctoral professional development opportunities and be specific in your response.) Chapter 4
What are the opportunities for you to build your funding track record? (Search online for opportunities and be specific in your response.) Chapter 5
Identify one potential scholarly journal option and one potential non-scholarly publishing option for your work. Explain why these options are good fits for your research. Chapter 6
In what ways do you personally use graciousness, professionalism, and discretion to cultivate your own professional reputation? Chapter 7
What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of an “academia-first” mentality? Chapter 8
What amount of teaching experience do you feel would best position you to be competitive for tenure-track academic jobs? Chapter 9
Which of the identified faculty “actions” do you feel would most benefit PhD students? What other actions, if any, do you recommend? Appendix

Loleen Berdahl is Professor and Head of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and co-author (with Jonathan Malloy) of the book Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences and Humanities PhD (University of Toronto Press, 2018). After completing her PhD, she worked for ten years in the nonprofit think tank world. Her research considers public attitudes, intergovernmental relations, and political science career development, and she is the recipient of three University of Saskatchewan teaching awards. Follow her on Twitter (@loleen_berdahl), where she tweets about political science, higher education, and opportunities for students, among other topics, and connect with her on LinkedIn.