Arthurian Romance in the Gritty Field

Thanks to Dear Reader Kate L.


My First UK Job Interview

Compared to the Swedish system, academic recruitment is extremely swift in the UK. In Scandyland, it’s typically 7 months from the application deadline to the rejection letter, mainly because of slow external referees. The worst I’ve seen was 14 months. But in the UK, it’s all done in a matter of weeks.

I recently had the pleasure of receiving my first invitation to an interview for a UK academic job. Though in the end I didn’t actually get the job, it was overall a very friendly and pleasant experience. Before I describe my trip, I’ll relate a story told to me by one of the other applicants about a horrific job interview he once did in Ireland.

This guy was informed that he had made the short list, and was asked to show up at a certain door on campus at a certain time. He travelled to Ireland, found the door, and realised that it opened on an anonymous conference room in the campus computer lab building. This was nowhere near the archaeology department. He gave a test lecture and an interview, and then the Head of Department said goodbye. Back to the airport without even seeing the department, fly home, receive rejection letter.

My English experience was very different. On the first evening, a minibus taxi picked me and the other four short-listed scholars up at the centrally located hotel where the department had put us up. We went to the home of the Head of Department, where we were joined by a considerable number of departmental staff members. The HoD and his wife proceeded to wine and dine us all in royal style, and after an evening of laughter and camaraderie the taxi took us applicants back to the hotel.

The following morning I took a 45-minute sunlit walk to campus, found the department, was offered coffee, and then gave my test lecture to staff and students. To keep me from booing and hissing at my competitors (I suppose), I was then sent out of the lecture room and given a tour of the department by the friendly secretary. Afterwards I took a walk on my own around campus, looking at gardens and buildings and students, and had something to eat while the other four gave their lectures. At an appointed time, staff, applicants, MA students and PhD students all gathered among the display cases in the departmental museum and had sandwiches and pastries for lunch on the departmental buck, while we all mingled about and chatted.

I was then shown by the secretary to another building, where I was interviewed by four men in suits. Two of them were the HoD and an associate professor, with both of whom I was at this point on a friendly first-name basis. The third was a professor from another faculty, and the fourth was the Head of School (an organisational level between the department and the faculty). As far as I can tell the interview went reasonably well, though I forgot to brag about my new-media prowess and my collaboration with amateur archaeologists, and I got some bad-cop questions from the Head of School. To the latter, I of course came up with excellent ésprit d’escalier replies afterwards. And as my friend Tor had warned me, it was a little confusing to be asked about things that I had already given full info on in my written application, a copy of which each suit-clad man was holding.

But all in all, I don’t think it was poor performance either at the lecture or at the interview that lost me the job. The HoD explained to me that all five on the short list were more than employable. He even quipped that if he were to apply for jobs today with the qualifications that secured him his first academic job back in the 70s, he wouldn’t even make the short list. Though few of my age can beat my publication record, I do have very little formal experience of life as a university lecturer. When I explained to the Head of School that co-editing eleven years’ worth of Swedish archaeology’s main research journal teaches a man one or two things about admin, he just smiled thinly and said, “You know, that sounds more like fun to me”.

All in all, though I didn’t get the job, my trip to England was made quite a heartening experience by the friendliness and consideration of everyone involved. I came away feeling not rejected, but as if I have actually climbed a rung on my rickety career ladder just by being considered for a UK job. I don’t reveal the name of the place here because I have a vague feeling that this would be a transgressive act. But if anybody involved is reading this, please accept my heartfelt thanks for the great way you all took care of us applicants! And to the person who did get the job, my best wishes.

Update same evening: A student just wrote me and said they were disappointed that I didn’t get the job! YES! Now I am a proud man!

Update next day: And another one! “I am very disappointed that you did not get the position within our department. Unfortunately, so are a number of other students. We all wanted you to know that you were great and we very much enjoyed your presentation and your approachability.”

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Double-False Conditionals

One of my pet peeves in academic prose of the more pretentious kind is the double-false conditional statement. Here’s one that I’ve made up.

“If the adoption of bronze casting can be seen as a sign of increasing preoccupation with eschatology, then it follows that we must be continually vigilant against any appropriation of the era’s heritage by the extreme right.”

What I’m doing here is first putting forward a probably false or untestable statement as a condition, and then asserting baldly that one can infer something else from it, which is in fact completely unrelated. This is quite common in some quarters. Apparently, what these writers do is take opinion A and the unrelated opinion B, and just slot them blindly into an IF A THEN B statement.

The double-false conditional. Watch for it when you read academic prose in the humanities and social sciences. Do share your findings with us here! And don’t let them fool you.

Update 29 October: Here’s one from David Wengrow’s new book, What Makes Civilization?, p. xvi:

If the effect of such displays and substitutions [the display of Egyptian mummies in the Louvre, which had been a royal palace during the ancien regime] is to reassure us that we have passed beyond the threshold of ‘early civilization’ into some more ‘modern’ condition, then it becomes all the more important to go beneath the surface, and examine the true nature of those societies we have come to regard as so distant from our own.”

What Wengrow really says here is:

1. I think that when mummies replaced kings in the Louvre, the [intended?] effect was to reassure us that we have passed beyond the threshold of ‘early civilization’ into some more ‘modern’ condition.
2. I also think that it is important to examine the true nature [!] of ancient societies.

New Guide Book to Medieval Södermanland

i-944ccb98a31e3427bdd204e4e90b34c2-detmedeltidasormland.jpgSweden’s traditionally divided into 25 landskap provinces. They live on in people’s minds despite having been superseded by a new län division in 1634. The boundaries of the landskap go way back into prehistory, and so they don’t respect the country’s cities much, these generally being much later in origin.

Stockholm is a case in point. Today’s urban area is neatly bisected by the boundary between Uppland and Södermanland provinces. And therefore, myself and other Stockholmers only get half of our High Medieval itches scratched by a new archaeological guide book, Det medeltida Sörmland by Johan Anund and Linda Qviström.

The book’s not covering Uppland isn’t exactly a major complaint here. It offers many cool sites to visit and lots of high-quality supplementary information on the period c. 1100-1550. I read the book from one end to the other and enjoyed it greatly. The illustrations are very good too. But I have a few suggestions for how a second edition could easily be made more useful as a guide book you consult on specific points, which is after all what it says on the cover.

  • A table of contents that covers subheadings as well, not just the top-level chapter headings.
  • Individual page headers identifying tersely what each page is about.
  • GPS coordinates for the recommended sites .

To anyone in Södermanland who likes the Middle Ages, or indeed anyone with such interests who drives regularly through the province e.g. from Norrköping to Stockholm, I highly recommend this fine guide book.

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Archaeological Stratigraphy Conference, Sweden, February 2011

Interested in archaeological stratigraphy? In 3D fieldwork methodology? Then come to Jönköping in southern Sweden for the VIIIth Nordic Stratigraphy Conference, 25-26 February 2011.

The theme of the conference is Modern Times – New Epochs & New Roads over Familiar Ground. Main sessions will cover post-Medieval excavations, burial archaeology and landscape archaeology.

I’ve been to two previous conferences in the series, and they were wide-ranging and stimulating. Archaeology can never be better than its data collection methodology!

Here’s the prospectus & call for papers.

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Fornvännen’s Spring Issue On-Line

i-13f7b69eeda8f8e3c08f598298b4fa23-Fig. 01.jpg

Fornvännen’s spring issue (2010:1) is now on-line and available to anyone who wants to read it. Check it out!

  • Michael Neiss analyses the intricate animal interlace on a weird new 8th century decorative mount. It looks like it might be Scandinavia’s earliest book-cover fitting! Did it adorn the cover of a manuscript of the gospels or of the Elder Edda – or of something I shudder to even think about?
  • Ylva Sjöstrand finds thought-out structure among the innumerable elks carved on rocks at Nämforsen during the Neolithic.
  • Henrik Klackenberg and Magnus Olsson discuss a papal lead seal found in Scania and suggests an explanation for how it ended up there.
  • Evert Baudou tells the story of the first lectures in archaeology at what would become the University of Stockholm and puts them in their context during archaeology’s early period of social establishment.
  • Christian Lovén rounds off the debate about Romanesque chancel apses.
  • Carl Löfving challenges the consensus dating of the runic door-ring from Forsa.
  • Torbjörn Brorsson joins the ranks of field archaeologists warning us about the consequences of the currently heightened cost competition in Swedish contract archaeology.
  • Elisabeth Iregren and Helena Schramm Hedelin call for clearer and more explicit rules for the repatriation and reburial of human remains. As osteologists, they don’t like reburial. And I agree: reburying archaeological bones is like reburying silver hoards, copper-alloy jewellery or pottery. The only reasons to do so are non-scientific and the outcomes are anti-scientific.
  • Thorsten Lemm presents the place-name milieu around the world’s southernmost Husby hamlet, once a royal manor, this one in Schleswig-Holstein.
  • Frans-Arne Stylegar reports on the find of a portable altar stone, a piece of repurposed green Roman wall tile, in Vest-Agder, Norway.
  • Jan Peder Lamm announces the publication of inter-war Swedish-Lithuanian collaborative fieldwork at the hillfort of Apuole.

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Surrender to Your Darkest Dreams, Kids, in Church

Last night I attended Junior’s school concert in the church of St. Catherine in Stockholm. Here are some of the lyrics sung by the 13-14-year-olds in front of the altar.

Because the world is round it turns me on

Because the wind is high it blows my mind

“Because”, Lennon & McCartney


Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defenses

Slowly, gently night unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Turn your face away from the garish light of day
Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light
And listen to the music of the night

Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar
And you’ll live as you’ve never lived before

Softly, deftly, music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it secretly posses you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
in this darkness that you know you cannot find
The darkness of the music of the night

Let your mind start to journey through a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the life you knew before
Let your soul take you where you long to be
Only then can you belong to me

Floating, folding, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me savor each sensation
Let the dream begin, let your darker side
give in to the power of the music that I write
The power of the music of the night

You alone can make my song take flight
Help me make the music of the night

Charles Hart, “The Music of the Night”, from The Phantom of the Opera

Welcome to the Church of Sweden!

Girl Power


Asked by her teacher to write five things she’s good at, and to illustrate them, 7-y-o Juniorette just produced this.

The speech bubble reads “Yes I win”. Then “I’m good at writing running putting my hand up eating candy and not liking liquorice.”

Next term she’s scheduled to chair the student council.

I wonder if I may have been a little lax in fulfilling my patriarchal misogynist duties with this child.

TAM London, Sunday

I type this during the last act of TAM London, Alan Moore, who is being gnomic in a basso north English working-class accent. Interesting character, a little perversely irrational (“I worship a 2nd century snake goddess”) while leaving no doubt that he’s keen as a whip.

The day began with a talk by Randi where I learned that he was friends with Richard Feynman! I knew that though my acquaintance with the Amazing One I’m only two steps from Alice Cooper, but Feynman as well – wow!

Science writer Marcus Chown then gave us his ten most mind-boggling physics facts. Good stuff! He could have skipped the scifi slide show and 70s pop tunes though.

D.J. Grothe gave a long “skeptics policy” talk, outlining his position in the accommodation/confrontation debate and taking a centrist stance. He suggested that what really unites the skeptical movement isn’t shared opinions about factual matters but shared moral values. Does a pro-science critical-thinking approach automatically lead to liberal humanism? Maybe.

A panel about the new media chaired by Rebecca Watson gave us the views of Tracey Brown, Gia Milinovich, Kate Russell, Martin Robbins and Neil Denny. Interesting stuff, though I was seriously distracted by Mrs. Milinovich’s looks. That woman should wear a burqa! No, I mean, really I don’t expect her to wear anything. Errr, that didn’t come out right either. Anyway…

An interview with feminist erotic comic artist Melinda Gebbie came across as completely irrelevant to the conference’s theme. But it was interesting in itself and I’m sure it helped the conference’s demographics greatly, so I’m all for it.

We then saw a new video “interview” where Tim Minchin and Stephen Fry were talking at the same time, both coming across as highly intelligent and well-read and funny skeptics, though hard to make out individually.

Jon Ronson interviewed Graham Linehan, writer of hit TV shows Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and they talked largely about Twitter. Fun and interesting!

PZ Myers gave an excellent talk about the accommodation/confrontation debate, one of the few during which I felt no need to fiddle with my smartphone. He recommended ridiculing stupid adversaries. I agree, though I prefer to do so in a quieter and more ironic manner than he does. Of course, my road to work isn’t cluttered with anti-abortion billboards like his is.

And then on came Alan Moore.