Study finds female professors experience more work demands and special favor requests, particularly from academically “entitled” students.
— Read on www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/01/10/study-finds-female-professors-experience-more-work-demands-and-special-favor

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I was privileged to be invited to the XI Congreso Internacional de Historia de la Cultura Escrita, held this June in Alcalá de Henares, which will for me be forever remembered as the city of storks – these enormous birds nest atop many of the old buildings around the Calle de Colegios, clacking their beaks as you walk the streets below.

I will be honest: I was at a bit of a loss when it came to most of the papers, as my Spanish is only rudimentary despite several attempts to learn over the course of about 30 years; my French is worse and my Italian is non-existent. Nevertheless, it was certainly an experience.

The inaugural lecture was given by Beatrice Frankel, on Montaigne, and the conference coincided with the opening of an exhibition of Alcalá’s environmental print over the years.

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Veronica Sierra Blas, Beatrice Frankel and Antonio Castillo Gómez
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I enjoyed Veronica Calsoni Lima’s paper, ‘From official to clandestine presses: the publishing businesses of Giles Calvert and Thomas Brewster in the 1650s’.  She began by describing the rapid circulation of news during the run up to the Civil War, and the breakdown of censorship which led to a flood of printed material. After 1653, there were new attempts to clampdown, and Cromwell’s regime began attempts to find a new official printer. Four men were considered, and between May and August at least 25 official texts were shared between them. Received wisdom is that Brewster and Calvert were the less obvious choices within the four potential printer, as they had associations with radical groups. But Veronica pointed out that this period coincided with the Nominated Assembly, or ‘Barebones Parliament’, which makes their presence fairly reasonable given it was made up of religious radicals itself. The folio-sized official publications they produced were intended to be pinned up in public and had large titles to catch the reader’s attention from a distance, decorated capital letters, the commonwealth’s arms, and shared imprints.

But after August, Brewster and Calvert disappear from official publications. Veronica suggested that this might be due to their radical sympathies and links with separatist congregations. They printed anti-royalist propaganda and pro-commonwealth propaganda, but also radical religious tracts by Quakers, Baptists and Fifth Monarchists. They also started to print anti-Cromwell propaganda, which got them into trouble. She took as her examples Edward Burrough’s ‘A trumpet of the Lord’ (which was a millenarian pamphlet that landed the printer in prison) and Henry Vane’s ‘A Healing Question’. Neither pamphlet has the official information, and although they have large titles, they don’t have complete imprints. Later clandestine works have no names for author, printer, or publisher. She suggested that the controversial texts that they published at the same time they were publishing official material, led to them being dropped as official printers.

She closed her remarks by commenting that other printers printed throughout the commonwealth, restoration, and under James II, which showed them to be canny businessmen, but Brewster and Calvert put their political and religious beliefs before business, risking loss of profit and even imprisonment rather than give up their ideals.

I gave my paper at one of the main panels on Wednesday afternoon.  It is the first time I have ever been on a panel with someone talking about Twitter and someone talking about mobile libraries.  I’m not entirely sure what the link was, but it certainly made for a different experience!

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After the panel, we walked across Alcala to the opening of a mural, Alcala: Ciudad Escrita, on the wall of the city’s outdoor swimming pool, and to finish the evening, we went to El Sexto Sensido for the conference dinner, where I was asked to sing again for some of the delegates who had missed my paper.

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All in all, it was a very interesting few days, and I enjoyed the opportunity.

…no-one really wants to know the true answer.

At least that’s what my fiend said when I told him a few months ago that I’d decided to be honest about my precarity.

Well, maybe people don’t, but maybe we should tell them more often.

One of the difficult situations that I face when attending conferences is answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ In academic circles, this rarely means what it would appear to mean. The answer is not Longridge, because the question is not where do you live, but where do you work? I’ve written before about being ‘academically homeless’ (having no institution to support my research, or give me access to a library and essential research databases), but I now face a slightly different problem: do I tell people I’m from Lancaster, where I currently do most work; Southampton, where I am a visiting fellow; or Liverpool Hope, where I have worked, albeit only for a few hours, for the longest period? None of these contracts is permanent. At the time of writing, my only ongoing position is that of Honorary Research Fellow at Lancaster – an unpaid post.

This is no way to live. I have little or no money coming in over the summer. All three of the paid jobs have come to an end with no guarantee that there will be any work for me anywhere in September. It does nothing to improve my mental health, and makes the summer a very stressful period.

What’s more, over the summer I’m working for free. It’s not as if I can stop and take an unpaid break, spending weeks on end with my children (much as I might like to). No. Instead, I’m frantically trying to finish articles that have been gathering dust for too long and work on book number 2, trying to build the publication record that might, just might, help me land a permanent job.

I know I’m not alone, either in feeling this stress or in my increasing anger at the system. Twitter recently went mad when a 3 year cover position at a major university was advertised, blatently stating that the successful applicant’s pay would be suspended over the summer months because there was no teaching – as if the preparation and admin (and the poor mug’s own research) stopped over the summer too. And woe betide that successful applicant if they wanted to pay rent or a mortgage during that time, or if they had the audacity to want to eat…

No-one that I have spoken to outside academia can believe that someone with a PhD can be employed in a university for just over £15 an hour and earn only a few thousand pounds for teaching on 4 different courses at one institution. 2018-19 is the first year I’ve paid tax on my earnings since completing my PhD, and even now

  • I have only just passed the Lower Earnings Threshold and
  • I have only reached this point through topping up my work for 4 different PAYE employers in the year with extra freelance work.

I’ve got three children to support, and they are rapidly approaching their own entry into the university system. So while I teach other people’s children and help them get their degrees, I don’t know if I can afford for my own to go to university. I have no pension to speak of, so my future isn’t looking that bright either.

The system is broken. While it can get away with employing lecturers on zero hours contracts, it will, because it’s cheap. And those of us at the bottom end of the food chain can’t afford to turn down the crumbs that are offered.

The system is broken. There are lovely people at all of the universities that I’ve taught at, and none of this is either their fault or, realistically, something that they as individuals can hope to change. I know that they feel bad about it too. And I know that many of them have done their best to ensure that I get any extra bits of work that might help me out.

But I’m fed up of pretending that everything is okay. That I’m not being taken advantage of by a system which is happy to bleed me dry working for hours to prepare courses that I might only teach once, but doesn’t value me enough to pay me through Christmas, Easter and summer, or if I’m sick (which I never have been – who as an ECR can afford to be ill?!), and will throw me to the wind the moment it’s convenient.

So if you ask me where I’m from, forgive me if I give you a blunt answer.

Nowhere really.

Following a short break in posts, caused by a problem with internet access, this is the first in a short series of posts about the Historical Association Conference 2019, held in Chester in May.

Becky Sullivan welcoming people to the conference

On Friday morning, the proceedings opened with a welcome from Rebecca Sullivan, the HA chief executive, who was very pleased to note that this was the biggest HA conference since 2015 in Bristol.  She then introduced the first keynote speaker, Professor Tony Badger, the HA President, who was once described by the Wall Street journal as a man with an instinctive understanding of American politics.  Prof Badger’s talk was on ‘The Kennedys and the Gores’.  He described how families became good friends, lasting 50 years through 2 generations of politics, to the point where Ted Kennedy’s support was vital to Al Gore’s nomination in 2000.  He pointed out that you can use the Kennedys and the Gores to chart the changing fortunes of American liberalism. 

Albert Gore grew up in a rural small town – a very different wold to that of the global superpower, space race and nuclear arms.  In 1938 he had to make his mark not just through speaking on hustings, but by playing fiddle in a country band to draw a crowd at political meetings. John Kennedy, on the other hand, came from a very wealthy background and was a genuine war hero.  He was of Irish Catholic while Gore was a southern Baptist, but at the time public religiosity was not the order of the day. Both had strong wives: Pauline Gore was one of the first women to graduate in law; Jackie Kennedy a style icon.

Professor Tony Badger, HA President

Both Kennedy and Gore were interested in foreign policy, but by the 50s had already differed on South East Asia. Neither was an intellectual, but Kennedy drew academics into his advisors.  Both made the effort to learn, though different ways.  Neither was a member of the Senate Club, which critics thought stymied reform, but members respected its hardworking ministers. Likewise, both found themselves at odds with Lyndon Johnson.  Gore tried very hard to get on with him, but they hated each other. He admired Johnson’s legislative skills but thought he was a cruel bully, and resented his exclusion from administration.  Meanwhile, Johnson didn’t take Kennedy seriously as a senator.  But Kennedy understood Johnson’s power as majority leader, which is why he made him vice president. 

Another similarity between Gore and Kennedy was that both were targets of Hoover. Kennedy was put under watch because of his sexual liaisons, while Gore was put on a list ‘not to be contacted’ as long as Hoover in charge of FBI.  Both also supported civil rights, at least to an extent; they were not hugely active but made the right noises.  Gore felt that the race issue divided his poor white and black constituents and wanted to concentrate on economic issues. Kennedy established good relations with southern leaders and thought he could work with them, though his faith was tested during his presidency.  Gore hoped that LBJ’s civil rights legislation would be softened enough to enable him to give it support, and had Kennedy lived, it might well have been.  But LBJ had different imperatives and in the end it wasn’t so Gore didn’t support it, making him almost irrelevant.

Gore, however, still supported Kennedy’s presidential campaign of 1960 and during Kennedy’s presidency, the Gores were regularly entertained at the White House.  Kennedy used Gore as sounding board, for example over the Bay of Pigs crisis.

Nevertheless, there were tensions between Kennedy and Gore.  The interstate highways policy caused problems because Gore supported them as essential for the economic development of the south, whereas Kennedy thought the policy would cause problems for the north.  There were also problems when the vice presidency was opened up to the floor, and over tax cuts.  Finally, Gore watched with alarm as Kennedy administration was sucked into Vietnam.  He read reports about what was going wrong, and he wanted Kennedy to pull troops out.  Then Kennedy was assassinated. Albert Gore worked closely with Ted Kennedy after Bobby’s assassination, but couldn’t persuade Ted to stand for president.

Gore had allowed himself to support the Tonkin Gulf resolution in August 1964, but he was one of the the first senators to call for a negotiated settlement.  The Kennedys couldn’t come out against in cased they were seen as going against their brother’s legacy.   During the 1970s, the anti-war stance became mainstream and younger senators respected Gore’s expertise in the Nixon years. He became Nixon’s number one target in the 1970 campaign, which focussed on race and evangelical religion and made the south the bastion of republicanism. White southern voters saw the civil rights movement help African Americans, women, gays etc, but not themselves. 

Al Gore didn’t go straight to politics, but when he got into Washington he travelled home each weekend to hold meetings in his constituency, keeping in touch with the voters.  He steered clear of presidential politics.  The Gores didn’t back the Kennedy family in the 80s, as ‘Kennedy liberal’ was a term of abuse.  When Al Gore ran for the senate in 1984, he wouldn’t have his photo taken with Ted Kennedy.  But by 2000 they were on the platform together, with Gore having got to know Kennedy from sitting next to him in the senate.  When Ted Kennedy died in 2009, Al Gore described him as a champion of Americans who had no voice. 

Prof Badger concluded his lecture by noting that the problems faced by these politicians were no less significant than those faced now, but unlike now, the two families didn’t foster anti-intellectualism and think that a soundbite was a substitute for effective legislation.

The HA conference combines several Continuing Professional Development strands for teachers with general interest lectures for ‘armchair historians’.  The first session that I attended was given by Hugh Richards,  from the Huntington School in York, on helping GCSE students who are swamped by the new GCSE.  In fact, he concentrated on the challenges facing students who need to write essays in an exam, such as self-regulation, recall of information, deploying information and even getting started.  He pointed out that teachers are being asked to beat a system that is designed to differentiate the students, and advised deliberate practice, breaking down the big tasks. He also suggested that  students shouldn’t be attempting the big tasks, such as long essay questions, straight away because they are designed to asses a GCSE student who has done the whole course.  They need to be able to do all the component parts of the task and we need to break that down for them. 

Hugh Richards

Hugh took a sample ‘how far do you agree’ question and broke it down in to its constituent bits:

  • Knowledge
  • Structured response
  • Vocabulary
  • Multiple viewpoints
  • Understanding the question
  • Judgement

His school, like many others, had giving students essay frameworks, but this can make them too used to the ‘life rings’, meaning that they can’t manage without them when they are in the exam and faced just with a blank page.  Instead, he recommended basing teaching on the 3 elements to self-regulated learning:

  • Cognition
  • Metacognition
  • Motivation

He then outlined a couple of teaching techniques which helped to raise achievement for all pupils. 

The first technique was the use of spiderplans – a spider diagram that plans an essay and one of several different visual plans for different types of question.  He argued that spiderplans worked because they are based on a blank sheet of paper rather than a grid or scaffold, so they can easily be reproduced in the exam.  Students draw a circle in middle of the page and focus on putting question in their own words. Then they add points around it, giving them a well-structured response.

The next technique was to get the students to ask themselves ‘What mistakes might I make?’ These mistakes might be different for each student, so it helps them to reflect on the feedback they have received for completed assignments and use it to improve their essay plan.

Once this has been done, the students submit their structures to the teacher, who puts them on the board in a table so that the students can compare different possible structures, for example, answering by decade, by theme, groups of people.  You can ask them which structure they like best and why, because exposing the thought processes makes them reflect on the effectiveness of the different approaches.  It exposes the historical thinking and helps them to see why there might be problems. You can vote on the most effective, which makes the learning point clear but it hasn’t been done by giving model answers.

The next step is to consider as a group the evidence for one structure.  You can then ask again what mistakes they might make. They often remember the mistakes better than their successes, so we need to turn this to their advantage.  Another advantage of this technique is that it avoids wasting their time writing a whole essay that is then wrong, which is demoralising.  He advised asking students cross out their work when it was wrong, to avoid them revising from incorrect material.