Monthly Archives: December 2015

to a well traveled hidalgo

This will be hard to explain, so please lie
Still and I’ll try to make it clear to you.
It may have been a normal day; perhaps
You were optimistic, out for a hunt.
Something happened, though–a fall from the saddle?
Boils, putrid breath, and fever? An axe?
Whatever it was, you were dead by day’s end.
(Every death comes before a day has ended.)
At least a few people were sorry enough
They had a huge monument made of you:
Sword in your hand, Pepe curled at your feet,
All in gilt and expensive blue tempera.
Come to think of it, they messed up the garments
A bit. Parts hang down as if you were standing;
Other parts lie flat as if you were prone.
Never mind; in all, it was resplendent.

Some of the rest is easy to relate.
Woodworms are responsible for all those holes.
There was a fire once. You would recognize
La Guerra Civil as a peasant revolt
With more than the typical body count.
Napoleon–he was sort of a Lombard
Who got himself crowned Emperor in Rome
And sent a Frankish army to sack Spain.
Columbus–well, let’s just say there’s another
Large country out west across the sea, yes,
Way west of Galicia, and a part
Of that is settled now by a kind of
Heretical Anglian peasant mob
Who like things like your monument. They bought it
Cheap, carted it over, and laid you out
To be labeled, walked around, and looked at.

Honestly, just one in ten look down, for
The pictures all around you are more vibrant
And hang conveniently at eye level.
Still, now and then a whole regiment
Will gather round, women in their midst, and point.
They know more of your time, Hidalgo, than
You did. They know the before and after
And the why of everything. You just inhaled
The loamy air, tasted salt from your lip,
Felt horsehair, and heard the crack of the whip.

remembering Melisto

MellistoThis is Melisto, a daughter of Ktesikrates from Sounion, which is now a day-trip from Athens. I think her name means “Melody,” unless it’s related to the word for “honey.”* Melisto lived for a few years (six, perhaps?) around 340 BCE. The Macedonian King Phillip II was dominating Greece at the time, and his son Alexander was soon to conquer a vast empire. Ktesikrates and perhaps other members of the family were sad enough to lose Melisto that they had a very handsome marble stele carved for her, with her name at the top. She is showing a live bird to her fluffy lapdog and smiling at the results. The figure in her other hand may be a votive object rather than a doll, according to the museum label. A nice little classical building shelters her and announces her name to us, 2,350 years later, in Cambridge, MA.

*Is it from melisma (song) or melisseios (honey)?

survey measures of civic learning and engagement that track change from grades 4-12

Our colleagues Amy Syvertsen, Laura Wray-Lake, and Aaron Metzger have posted on the CIRCLE website a set of survey-based measures of civic engagement that they have carefully developed to be appropriate for kids all the way from fourth grade up to twelfth grade. Such measures are invaluable for assessing growth and learning. They are hard to develop, for reasons the authors describe on the CIRCLE website. Even just finding phrases that are appropriate for both children and older teenagers is a challenge. The new toolkit is the result of an intensive and highly professional project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and it sets the standard.

See Civic and Character Development: Good Data Starts with Good Measures. The recommended citation for the toolkit itself is: Syvertsen, A. K., Wray-Lake, L., & Metzger, A. (2015). Youth civic and character measures toolkit. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

Rome didn’t end because of barbarian invasions

(New York) This is a classic map of the “barbarian invasions,” taken from Wikipedia. I certainly grew up looking at maps like these. The story they illustrate goes like this. First, there was a Roman Empire with armed borders all around the periphery of the Mediterranean. Inside its borders, the people were Romans who spoke Latin and/or Greek and were ruled from Rome. Beyond were barbarian peoples who behaved very differently. At a certain point, the borders collapsed and various barbarian peoples swept in, taking up residence in portions of the former Empire. They brought new languages, myths, and cultures with them. Their descendants still constitute the majority populations of most parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Levant to this day. The newcomers ceased to be barbarians once they stopped moving, because then missionaries were able to radiate back out from Rome and Constantinople to teach them Christianity, Latin and/or Greek, and other elements of ancient civilization.

I had already begun to realize from various scraps of evidence (even including news reports of genetic data) that this model was quite wrong. Now reading Peter Brown’s brilliant book The Rise of Western Christendom, I understand the current synthesis. It denies that there were vast movements of peoples from one place to another around the time the Roman Empire ended. Rather, the population within and around the territory of the old official Empire went through a series of cultural, political, and economic changes until the Imperial system was gone. These changes often germinated within the borders rather than coming from outside. People who were, in some important sense, Romans turned (over the course of several generations) into people who thought of themselves as Franks or Bulgarians.

To elaborate a bit: The Roman Empire was always much more culturally and linguistically diverse than I was taught in grade school, and much more loosely governed. Local elites always ran things in their own ways. Brown notes that even though Egypt was a crucial province that encompassed one of the biggest cities in the world, Rome posted only one official there per 10,000 residents. Egyptians governed Egypt. The official borders made little difference, since the culture, economy, and political order on both sides was just about the same. However, the Empire was important economically because it taxed everyone within its borders and used the proceeds for armies and official building programs (both of which also enriched an upper class). When the Empire lost its taxing capacity, that changed the flow of goods and greatly reduced levels of construction and production.

The Empire was also important culturally because it offered a set of ideas that could be used by local elites. Among these ideas: Rome was the center of the world (urbs et orbis), the Emperor was the most powerful mortal of the day, Latin was the language of law, and there was a difference between Roman subjects/citizens and barbarians. Those ideas were never exactly true or false—they were closer to orienting value judgments. Over time, they lost their force, and then the same elites who had governed as Romans started to govern as, for instance, Franks. In place of stories about Rome, they started to tell mythical stories about their ancestors’ migrations from primordial homelands beyond the old borders, and those myths continue to influence Europeans to this day.

Meanwhile, profound changes in culture and behavior developed within the Empire. For instance, in the third and fourth centuries, civil wars were almost constant. They were fought by soldiers who pledged personal loyalty to leaders (claimants to the Imperial throne) and moved around regions like northern Italy and the Balkans, often pillaging. They dressed increasingly in ways that we associate with the “Dark Ages.” Brown says these soldiers wore “Embroidered trousers, great swinging cloaks, large gold brooches, and heavy belt-buckles.” They probably spoke various languages other than Latin. We might once have viewed them as barbarians who had somehow come inside the frontiers of the Empire and threatened its security. But a better theory is that they were Roman soldiers who were gradually developing the organization, behavior, and even dress that we associate with the post-Roman era. That is a great example of the new synthesis.

come work with us

(Washington, DC) Tisch College is advertising two positions:

A Program Administrator for the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, who will manage essential responsibilities associated with NSLVE including recruiting campuses to join the study, distributing data to campuses in the form of reports, and working to develop resources for all campuses to access through the website. The Program Administrator will also be responsible for supporting communications including but not limited to managing the process for the newsletter, updating the website, and collaborating with the team on other publications.

A Coordinator for our Voting Initiative: This individual will coordinate efforts to increase voter participation among Tufts students in the 2016 presidential election through initiatives supported by faculty and staff at all Tufts campuses. Responsibilities will include: working with student groups to sponsor forums on campaign issues of interest; implementing a plan for comprehensive voter registration opportunities; administering a fund for student-driven initiatives (etc.)