October has been a slog. I’ve now done half of my teaching for this academic year. In one month. Okay, this means that the rest of the year is going to be relatively easy on that front, but naturally there are things I’ve not been doing this month that will come more to the fore for the rest of the year. Like research. One of the reasons this blog has been largely an information-posting service over the past few weeks, rather than an account of my writing projects has been because I’ve been doing very little of that. When I’ve not been teaching, preparing teaching, in meetings, seeing students, and so on, I’ve been keeping up on e-mail and editing Society and Space. A very little bit of reading, but not much. My Leibniz paper has crawled ahead very slowly, but not developed in quite the way I’d hoped.
Hopefully, after a weekend away, this will change. One of the reasons it took quite a lot of work to do that teaching is that I made a decision not to simply pull old lectures from the hard-drive, but to rework them, change the examples, use better maps, quotes, etc. and to use video. I now trust the internet connection in lecture theatres more than I did a few years back, and so have been showing clips of Foucault interviews, news reports or documentaries – the ones on the Stanley Milgram Obedience to Authority lectures and the Stanford Prison Experiment seemed to go down especially well in the Political Geography lecture I gave on ‘Power and the State’.
I’ve also shown some clips of movies in my Territory and Geopolitics lectures. While historically suspect I found a scene between Marcus Aurelius and Maximus in Gladiator useful. This is where the old emperor asks Maximus to rule Rome with the single purpose of restoring it to a republic, and Maximus declines because of his wish to return home and his lack of experience of Rome (he’s never been there). It allowed me to talk about the idea of a military leader becoming a politician; the emperor questioning what his rule has been; and the nature of the Roman army being built from the provinces rather than all ‘Roman’ in a narrow sense. Themes such as the real power being at the front; the historically dodgy but retrospectively interesting map; and the corruption of Rome itself all come up. Only 5 minutes in a lecture, but it breaks up the session and makes a set of visual connections that it’s hard to do other ways. I showed a brief clip from 300 in the lecture on Greece (not a battle bit, but about the upbringing of Spartan children), though some technical problems meant this didn’t work too well. I know that using video isn’t exactly innovative for some people, but I’ve not really done it before and it’s been interesting to see how it works. Thinking of suitable movies and then finding the right scenes isn’t always easy. In particular I’m struggling to find a good one for the Middle Ages. The Beowulf adaptations are generally shockingly bad – a shame because the geopolitical stuff at the end of the poem is good – and I don’t want to use the Crusades as the example. I will probably use Act I scene 1 of King Lear the following week. And I’ve been trying to think of literary texts too – for example I asked the students to read Sophocles’ Antigone for the seminar on Greece, which seemed to work quite well.
The other thing that has been harder is that I don’t live in or near Durham, and so have had a 150 mile round trip every time I go in. That’s added substantially to my time away from research too, even though I’ve stayed up one night a week at the wonderful Victoria Inn and done long days either side of that. I know this isn’t sustainable, but I didn’t want to lose the summer moving house, and so the plan is to reassess during the Christmas break. This commuting time, the shorter days, and the weather has also taken a toll on the cycling, but I’ve got a static trainer for the road bike which makes a big difference. My preference is still to get out on the roads or tracks, in just about any weather, but when I’m back home too late this is a big plus.
So, now I have a weekend with Susan, a friend’s birthday party, meetings with publishers and a Steven Wilson gig on Monday, and then hopefully I can get into a more sustainable work routine that balances research, teaching, and administration…