Ongoing projects and self-promotion

Lots going on at the moment as the school year begins anew! My foreign students and private tutoring always start a couple of weeks after the beginning of the academic year, so while proper teachers are already at full tilt I’m just getting up to speed, but I have more courses this year, so there is a fair bit of preparation to be doing.

However, that doesn’t mean I’ve been neglecting other fronts completely. New book to review for Fortean Times arrived yesterday, and I am looking forward to getting to grips with it:

Also, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re in Cambridge on 22nd October, why not come by ExiliCon 2016 and hear me giving my talk on archaeology in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Updated! A little bit shorter! All that kind of thing!

As always, the podcast and the gaming blog are chugging along; we just had a history-heavy episode of the podcast, in which I compare the culture of Restoration England to disco space fish criminals.

Ongoing projects and self-promotion

The virtue of adaptability

You’re probably familiar with the distinction between foxes and hedgehogs — “the fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog knows only one, but it’s a good one.” Foxes are generalists, but hedgehogs are specialists.

I always sort of envisioned myself as a potential hedgehog. In many ways, the British system seems set up to produce hedgehogs — you apply to university in a specific subject, and students seem specialised relatively early in the secondary system compared to their counterparts in the US (the only other system I really know about, although I’ve seen a little of some others). And, of course, graduate education is specialised for everyone — as you continue, you know, as they say, more and more about less and less.  And I went through that system like everyone else; by the end, I knew a huge amount about a very specific topic.

But outside academia, I was pulled in the opposite direction. I work as a teacher and tutor, so I spend a lot of time being called on to talk about subjects I’m sometimes only passingly familiar with. Here’s the stuff I’ll be dealing with this week, purely on the history side (I also tutor kids in English):

  • The legislation of the Long Parliament.
  • Cleopatra VII and her impact on Roman politics.
  • Anti-war messages in the popular culture of the late 1960s.
  • The Arab-Israeli conflict (twice).
  • Daily life in the early and high middle ages.
  • The first Gulf War (maybe, time permitting).
  • The Amritsar massacre.

I’ve also been working on the podcast I co-host, and it’s been a similar experience. So far we’ve talked about:

  • Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades.
  • The middle ages in general.
  • Science and superstition in Renaissance Italy.
  • Magna Carta.
  • Experimental archaeology.
  • Arthurian legend.
  • The invasions of 1066.
  • The Jacobite rising of 1745.
  • Occultism, folk dance and pop archaeology of the 1970s.

I never know what I’m going to get asked — we don’t really script our show ahead of time — so I try to be prepared!

Now, on the one hand this is a lot of work. But on the other hand it’s definitely working out my “ginning up a subject quickly” muscles, which is a very useful thing. It also allows me to mentally justify buying books on pretty much whatever since they could one day be useful.


The virtue of adaptability

Vintage bicycles (lazy photo post)

On Monday, the Tour de France went past my house, blocking all the roads in Cambridge so that I had the day off work. So that was pretty cool. I went out of the house to get some grub, and while I did I ran across an awesome display of vintage bicycles, complete with cyclists 

This chap was riding around Trumpington High Street on his vintage bicycle.
This chap was riding around Trumpington High Street on his vintage bicycle.

I believe they were associated with the March Veteran & Vintage Cycle Club, which is part of the National Association of Veteran Cycle Clubs

It was pretty cool to see these pieces of history being ridden and explained by people who cared about them, especially right near my house. 


Technically, this is a velocipede.
Technically, this is a velocipede.

20140707_100121 20140707_100241

Also known as a "boneshaker."
Also known as a “boneshaker.”

20140707_100443 20140707_100345


I really admire people who do this kind of living history stuff in general, and it makes me very happy to see that they got an opportunity to share these fascinating machines with people. (There aren’t many people around in the photos, but that’s only because I was there before the event technically started.)

This bicycle is 120 years old and cost over $200 in 1894. It is the only one of its kind known to exist.  Victorian baller checklist: complete.
This bicycle is 120 years old and cost over $200 in 1894. It is the only one of its kind known to exist.
Victorian baller checklist: complete.
Vintage bicycles (lazy photo post)