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Seventy metal books found in Jordan?

This is the best metal news to come out of the Middle East since Acrassicauda:

So. I wanted to devote more time to the blog this year. I even made a post that a couple of you responded to. Then I got sick in February: 21 days in bed. Then I got bogged down, trying to catch up on all the work of the semester that I could only half do while sick. Bleh. It’s been a crap year so far. But, I’m starting to catch up. Just got back from Vancouver ASECS, and it was good: academically and socially rewarding, in the best of all possible ways. Thank you, Canuckialand, for helping me celebrate a return to health and leisure time.

Then I found this interesting bit, from The Eclectic Magazine, Nov. 1848:

Dr. Vilmar denounces, in strong terms, the self-conceit so characteristic of modern taste and modern criticism, which consigns so much of the past, and especially in the earlier history of nations, to oblivion, as necessarily unworthy of study.

Those of you who have ever talked to me on the subject can see that I haven’t changed my views in over 160 years. I hold firm to these principles, and will continue to hold firm to them. Indeed, this just goes to show you that a couple of months blog hiatus isn’t at all an indication of a change of direction, in the grand scheme of his evident immortality.

Good metal bands, for one. (Much like the rest of Scandinavia. Gothenburg, for example, is a world-famous producer of metal bands–and also home to international pop sensations Ace of Base. There’s a bit of trivia I bet you didn’t know.)

But Finland also boasts the best national educational program in the world. And here’s how they do it:

In the 1970s, reports Darling-Hammond, Finland’s student achievement was low. But in the decades since, they have steadily upgraded their education system until now they’ve reached the top.

What’s more, they took what was once a wide achievement gap between rich and poor, and reduced it until it’s now smaller than in nearly all other wealthy nations.

Here’s how:

* They got rid of the mandated standardized testing that used to tie teachers’ hands.

* They provide social supports for students including a free daily meal and free health care.

* They upgraded the teaching profession. Teachers now take a three-year graduate school preparation program, free and with a stipend for living expenses. In Finland, you don’t go into debt to become a teacher.

* The stress on top-quality teaching continues after teachers walk into their schools. Teachers spend nearly half of their time in school in high-level professional development, collaborative planning, and working with parents.

These changes have attracted more people to the teaching profession — so many that only 15 percent of applicants are accepted.

The Finns trust their teachers, Darling-Hammond reports. They used to have prescriptive curriculum guides running over 700 pages. Now the national math curriculum is under 10 pages.

With the support of the knowledge-based business community (think Nokia), Finnish schools focus on 21st century skills like creative problem-solving, not test prep.

Which prompts me to wonder just how good the metal scene could be here in America, were we to improve our national education system?

OK, I haven’t blogged in an unconscionably long time. Things have been busy in ye olde Casa de Perplexed, what can I say. But this bit of Johnson trivia struck me as blog-worthy–and maybe getting my feet wet will bring me back into circulation:

Johnson’s bibliographer, J.D. Fleeman, estimated that as many as half of the 2000 copies originally printed may still be around, but noted that “few copies survive in booksellers’ boards, and all such have restored spines, for when standing upright, the contents are too heavy for the binding cords”.

The re-appearance at auction of a stunning copy in a wholly unrestored original binding at Christie’s on October 27 was always likely to become a defining moment in terms of auction records.

Uncut in original half-sheep and comb-marbled boards, this was the copy that in 1975 was bought from the House of El Dieff for $9000 by Haven O’Moore, and then sold for $60,000 when his spectacular ‘Garden’ library was dispersed by Sotheby’s New York in 1989. This time it was offered as part of Ladislaus von Hoffmann’s ‘Arcana Collection’, and the price was a record £130,000.

The previous best had been the $140,000 (then £94,710) paid for a copy, unusually bound as three volumes in original sheep-backed boards, in the Abel Berland library, sold at Christie’s New York in 2001.

Copies not retaining those original bindings are priced very differently.

A hugely successful Sotheby’s sale of October 28 saw records tumbling for any number of famous works of English literature, but the copy of Johnson’s Dictionary in that sale, while a very fine one and in 18th century half calf and marbled boards, was sold at just £14,000. The fact that it had once belonged to Ross Smith, who in 1919 made the first flight from England to Australia, seemed not to help at all.

It seems somehow…right, that Johnson should hold some records.

This is truly funny, and also truly…true, and therefore depressing.

This post at OUPblog caught my eye–an announcement that “bromance” has now gotten some official recognition:

Can you believe the word “bromance” has now made it into the accepted lexicon through its addition to the New Oxford American Dictionary? I, for one, could not be more tickled. […]

To what can we credit this? Men have always had guy friends but, until fairly recently, showing affection physically and verbally toward that guy might brand you as gay. Many years ago – think back to the 19th century and earlier – it was okay for men to share their affection for each other. Sociologist Peter Nardi notes that men would express love to each other in their letters. Abraham Lincoln, before he became president, shared his bed with his good friend, Joshua Speed. These non-sexual relationships, born in Lincoln’s case out of financial necessity and physical warmth on cold Springfield nights, became frowned upon by the late 19th century. With changing women’s roles and with blacks entering the workforce, white men were threatened. They adopted a hyper-sexualized sense of masculinity, according to sociologist Michael Kimmel, which came to exclude the physical and emotional expression of positive feelings towards another man. Freudian psychology further concretized beliefs about “normal” development which did include homosexuality. All of this fit well within the American culture’s sense of “rugged individualism” that obtains to some extent today. Many heterosexual men would not feel comfortable today sharing a bed with another man or going to an intimate French restaurant and opening a bottle of Pinot Noir. Relocate to the sports bar instead. There, men can carry out their shoulder-to-shoulder friendships as they get together with friends to “do something.” Contrast that with women’s face-to-face friendships where they feel more comfortable talking to each other without the distractions of sports.

Given this, it is interesting that the culture has grown within the last few years to allow men the freedom again of expressing their affection for each other. […] To my thinking, anything that allows men (and women) to express themselves more openly is a good thing.

Of course, I immediately thought of this parody:

In a slightly dated article about the decline of universities in Britain, Anthony Grafton defines the mission of the modern university (in bold, below) and then goes on to discuss how recent budget measures in Britain have made it next to impossible for British universities to fulfill that mission:

Universities exist to discover and transmit knowledge. Scholars and teachers provide those services. Administrators protect and nurture the scholars and teachers: give them the security, the resources, and the possibilities of camaraderie and debate that make serious work possible. Firing excellent faculty members is not a clever tactical “disinvestment,” it’s a catastrophic failure.

Are academic salaries really the main source of the pressure on the principal? Vague official documents couched in management jargon are hard to decode. The novelist and art historian Iain Pears notes that King’s has assembled in recent years an “executive team with all the managerial bling of a fully-fledged multi-national, complete with two executive officers and a Chief information officer.” The college spent £33.5 million on administrative costs in 2009, and is actively recruiting more senior managers now. These figures do not evince a passion for thrift. Moreover, the head of arts and humanities proposes to appoint several new members of staff even as others are dismissed. Management probably does want to save money—but it definitely wants to install its own priorities and its own people, regardless of the human and intellectual cost.

Universities become great by investing for the long term. You choose the best scholars and teachers you can and give them the resources and the time to think problems through. Sometimes a lecturer turns out to be Malcolm Bradbury’s fluent, shallow, vicious History Man; sometimes he or she turns out to be Michael Baxandall. No one knows quite why this happens. We do know, though, that turning the university into The Office will produce a lot more History Men than scholars such as Baxandall.

Accept the short term as your standard—support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now—and you lose the future. The subjects and methods that will matter most in twenty years are often the ones that nobody values very much right now. Slow scholarship—like Slow Food—is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their way. The British used to know that, but now they’ve streaked by us on the way to the other extreme.

Grafton concludes, however, by pointing out that American universities are beginning to take the same approach. Woe is us.

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about the work of Terry Eagleton, which I won’t go into here, but that makes me all the more happy to find a passage of his in which I wholeheartedly concur:

It was in the plan for his Catholic university in Dublin that Newman’s generosity of spirit can be seen at its finest. Catholics in Ireland were barred from Trinity College, Dublin, and the Queen’s Colleges, established by the British government to civilise the natives and render them less troublesome, were secular institutions where no theology was taught. Newman, however, did not insist that theology should rule in the Catholic university. He believed that pursuing any branch of knowledge for its own sake was a religious activity, since the whole of Nature was God’s creation. In The Idea of a University, he speaks up for an ‘intercommunion’ of all the principal academic disciplines and for disinterested scholarly inquiry. The task of a university is to foster intellectual culture for its own sake, which means that it can be the tool of neither church nor state. His book needs to be placed in the hands of the vandals, philistines and soulless bureaucrats who are currently destroying our places of higher learning.

“Vandals, philistines, and soulless bureaucrats,” indeed.

Andrew Pettegree, Professor of History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, was recently interviewed by The Boston Globe, and his interview landed on the front page. The lead-in is very interesting in terms of book history:

In the beginning, before there was such a thing as a Gutenberg Bible, Johannes Gutenberg laid out his rows of metal type and brushed them with ink and, using the mechanism that would change the world, produced an ordinary little schoolbook. It was probably an edition of a fourth-century grammar text by Aelius Donatus, some 28 pages long. Only a few fragments of the printed sheets survive, because no one thought the book was worth keeping.

“Now had he kept to that, doing grammars…it probably would all have been well,” said Andrew Pettegree, a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews and author of “The Book in the Renaissance,” the story of the birth of print. Instead, Gutenberg was bent on making a grand statement, an edition of Scripture that would cost half as much as a house and would live through the ages. “And it was a towering success, as a cultural artifact, but it was horribly expensive,” Pettegree said. In the end, struggling for capital to support the Bible project, Gutenberg was forced out of his own print shop by his business partner, Johann Fust.

Inventing the printing press was not the same thing as inventing the publishing business. Technologically, craftsmen were ready to follow Gutenberg’s example, opening presses across Europe. But they could only guess at what to print, and the public saw no particular need to buy books. The books they knew, manuscript texts, were valuable items and were copied to order. The habit of spending money to read something a printer had decided to publish was an alien one.

Nor was print clearly destined to replace manuscript, from the point of view of the book owners of the day. A few fussy color-printing experiments aside, the new books were monochrome, dull in comparison to illuminated manuscripts. Many books left blank spaces for adding hand decoration, and collectors frequently bound printed pages together with manuscript ones.

“It’s a great mistake to think of an absolute disjunction between a manuscript world of the Middle Ages and a print world of the 16th century,” Pettegree said.

And then, of course, the article goes on to make a link between early printers and the early years of the internets. To be fair, it’s a link explored by Pettegree in his comments. Gotta make things relevant, always, I guess.

Here’s where Pettegree gets into the nitty-gritty of what we actually know about early publishing:

Most narratives of print have relied on looking at the most eye-catching products — whether it’s Gutenberg’s Bible or Copernicus or the polyglot Bible of Plantin — these are the ones which seem to push civilization forward. In fact, these are very untypical productions of the 16th-century press.

I’ve done a specific study of the Low Countries, and there, something like 40 percent of all the books published before 1600 would have taken less than two days to print. That’s a phenomenal market, and it’s a very productive one for the printers. These are the sort of books they want to produce, tiny books. Very often they’re not even trying to sell them retail. They’re a commissioned book for a particular customer, who might be the town council or a local church, and they get paid for the whole edition. And those are the people who tended to stay in business in the first age of print.

Lots of interesting new twists on the famous narrative of the Gutenberg Bible and the Nuremburg Chronicle (which I recently saw three copies of, back in May when I was up at Penn reviewing their Reading Pictures exhibition, which just closed a couple of weeks ago). Worth reading in full, I think, though I did try to excerpt the best bits above. I’m going to poach a few ideas from this article in a few weeks, when I deliver my introductory lecture to the Renaissance in British Literature I.

From a column about a subversive Norman Rockwell:

I, of course, prefer the subversive interpretation. I am one of those readers who prefers the bloody-minded Robert Frost of “Design” and “Never Again Would Bird’s Song Be the Same” to the kindly old white-maned Yankee bard cherished by my third-grade teacher, Miss Martin — all the while admiring Frost for being able to appeal to the both of us.

Likewise I see Jane Austen as a hard-headed realist, intolerant of fools of all kinds and occasionally cruel in her judgment of well-meaning idiots, a far cry from the Gentle Jane of the current (nauseating) Austen industry.

Pretty accurate, I’d say, though the products of the Gentle Jane school are not as nauseating as he would make out.