History of the body archaeological bonanza: 600 year old bras and thongs?

Have you heard the one about the 600-year old bra?  (Some of my bras only seem that old, but when I find a bra that works, I’m likely to wear it to shreds.  Can any of you relate, or am I just about the laziest lingerie shopper in the universe?)  This is a seriously cool discovery, one that I’m particularly interested in because I’ve developed something of a fascination with historical underwear. (I just gave a talk last month about the significance of stays in seventeenth and eighteenth-century North America.)

This discovery by Beatrix Nutz of the University of Innsbruck is important because historians of clothing have assumed that the brassiere was invented little more than a century ago, when aggressive corseting went out of style, and middle-class and elite American and European women were being encouraged (for the health of “the race”) to engage in sports and become more active.  Corsets, which by the end of the nineteenth century severely limited one’s lung capacity, were not helpful when engaging in late Victorian and Edwardian-era fashionable sports, like tennis, bicycling, and croquet.

Some news organizations are also publishing photos of what looks like a 600-year old thong that was also part of the same cache of clothing.  I’d love to read what you medievalists and/or fashion experts think about this, because I doubt that this article was worn in the way modern women wear underwear.  My theory Continue reading

Our colleagues, ourselves

GayProf is back, and he’s got another hilarious quiz for all of you proffie types, “Collegial is as Collegial Does.”  Here’s a little flava:

My office:

Best: “Is a place where I work quietly.”

Fair: “Is a place where I meet students from time to time.”

Bad: “Is a place where I can really turn up the volume on my music.”

Evil: “Smells suspiciously of sulphur.”

.       .       .       .       .

The role model who influenced my career:

Best: “The hardworking professors who took an interest in me as a student. They not only taught me the knowledge that I need for this job, but also what it means to be a committed educator.”

Fair: “Wonder Woman.”

Bad: “I did it on my own. Nobody ever helped me and I was always falling through the cracks.”

Evil: “Pope Benedict XVI.”

Honestly?  I would rate myself “fair” for the most part.  Continue reading

Didn’t any of these people live through the dot-bomb of 2000?

But this time everything will be different!  Reader Indyanna points us to a New York Times article that’s even fuller of fatuousness.

The great thing about being middle-aged is that you’ve heard it all before, and you can’t believe the rubes are falling for it all over again.  Remember those heady days of 1998 and 1999, when everyone was sure that the internet changed everything, and that we were all internet millionaires-to-be or stupid suckers who didn’t clearly perceive the bright future just around the corner?  Remember when we were promised the wonders of ordering groceries online?  (Who ever did that more than once, anyway?)  When we were assured that bricks-and-mortar stores (as they were condescendingly referred to) were soon to become like the abandoned caverns of a lost Atlantis because we’d be buying all of our stuff online?

Most of the breathless excitement was rooted in the fact that most people chose to ignore the fact that the same exact infrastructure is required to buy your books, your yoga mats, and your nephew’s birthday present at Amazon as you need to schlep to a store yourself and pick something up:  petroleum, pavement, and trucks, not to mention a gazillion miles of warehouse space in repositories around North America to hold all of that not-yet-purchased stuff.  And guess what?  It turns out that you need bricks and mortar for those warehouses, too.  And it also turns out that driving, walking, or biking to a store to evaluate the merchandise, whether it’s a new bathing suit or a bunch of parsley, and make your purchasing decisions on the spot is usually less wasteful and more efficient than having UPS deliver everything to your door (and/or return your merchandise because it doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, or doesn’t look right.) Continue reading

Thoughts from our common Jonathon

Today’s post is a guest post from a random commenter on the internets, Jonathon Booth.  I have no idea who this person is, so take it for what it’s worth, but I thought his comment on my previous post deserved highlighting and perhaps further discussion.  I hope he’ll check in and comment further:

Having taken a number of online business courses from a reputable university (long story), I’ve come to the conclusion that they are utter garbage. First of all, they are made as easy as possible—which is their primary appeal to students. I took a second year course, and the entire grade was based on weekly reading of one textbook chapter and answering about 10 simple questions from the book. The amount of actual knowledge I gained from these courses was next to nothing, but I did manage to get As in almost all of them. Second, and certainly more important, the students that get the most out of online courses are the students who are already self motivated to learn. The difference between taking an online calculus class and simply buying a calculus textbook and teaching yourself is minimal. This of course puts students who need a bit of extra motivation—even just a professor’s disappointment at their missing class—at a distinct disadvantage. Third, the classes are usually over-enrolled, and the part-time adjunct faculty (who I assume are making next to nothing to teach the classes) never seem to care very much. The whole thing is very rote and is a pathetic imitation of higher education. Continue reading

Hot and cranky: and yourselves? Mooks pushing MOOCs.


I just can’t wait to take an online course!

This story is why I just can’t take seriously the claims that online teaching is teh awesumm future.  Nobody pushing this crap knows the first thing about much of anything beyond their own disciplines plus some $hit they read about in Wired magazine back in 1998.

First of all, we have the Stanford University professor and student who clearly have no idea that American higher education is enormously diverse and has evolved over the past two hundred years with little things like the Morrill Act, and that there are things like liberal arts colleges (secular and sectarian), community colleges, public directionals, state flagships, and Agricultural and Mechanical colleges like my employer:

In spring  2005, preparing for that autumn’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor of robotics, and David Stavens, his undergraduate protégé, arrived in the desert for several months of off-road testing. In tow was their Volkswagen Touareg, “Stanley,” a vehicle that can drive itself.

The Grand Challenge called on American university students to build robotic cars and race them, unassisted, across 131 miles of unforgiving desert scrub, over salt flats and down the treacherous Beer Bottle Pass. The contest was sponsored by the US department of defence, which hopes one day to send driverless vehicles into battle. Thrun and Stavens were counting on Stanley, more than a year in the making, to take home the $2m cash prize. But Stanley—its trunk packed with computers, sprouting radar and GPS antennae from its roof rack—needed a careful debugging.

“We happened to be in the car a lot, doing nothing else but waiting,” Thrun said recently. “Then something would go wrong and one of us would code like crazy. And during those times often there was really nothing to do, so we chatted a lot.”

Bouncing around the desert with their $150,000 toy, Stavens recalls, privilege was a frequent topic of conversation. “It would come up at night, in the hotel rooms of these very small towns we were staying in. ‘This has been a great system for us, higher education, but it’s kind of broken. What can we do?’”

It’s to their credit that they talked about privilege–after all, how many undergrads (or even professors!) get to tool around in the desert for months at a time with a robotic car?  I suppose that’s the kind of bubble of privilege that would make you forget–or believe that it’s irrelevant–that American higher education is not Stanford or nothing.  But doesn’t this make online courses sound like the dream of Judy Jetson’s flying car?  Continue reading