It begins…

I am sorry to say that I have just submitted my first job application of the 2019-20 season. It was a damnably depressing thing to do, even if the job itself is a good one. I don’t have any reason to be optimistic, and that’s because I’ve come to learn that hiring decisions are functionally random. I don’t mean to say that the name of the successful candidate is simply pulled out of a hat, but rather that it is impossible to predict or gauge the selection criteria. ‘Merit’ is ill-defined and subjective, and sometimes, but not always, it loses out to cronyism and/or good looks. I’ve seen many seemingly under-qualified candidates get picked over me for jobs, and as a result the older I get the less I understand the market. The only comfort I’ve received is that I now know that if my wife gets a job before I do I’m going to narrow my search to focus on her new employer’s location. It’s more important for us to be together than to try to game the system somehow for an ideal position — after all, you can’t game a system that is functionally random!

My essay on the canon of ancient Iranian art

I have just received the proofs for my essay “Ancient Iranian Art: From Grand Narratives to Local Perspectives,” which will be published in Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, edited by Amy Gansell and Ann Shafer (Oxford University Press), sometime this winter. I’m even getting a couple of color images for my essay, which is very exciting.

I have a great fondness for this essay because it was the first thing I wrote that made me feel explicitly like a scholar of ancient Iran, and not just a peripheral classicist (though I still feel like a peripheral classicist). In many respects it marked my transition from working on Egypt to working on Iran, though of course I continue to produce scholarship on Achaemenid Egypt (I agreed to another one yesterday). This essay also helped me to get my current position at the Met, for which I am enormously grateful, and it informs the work I do every day on the planning for the re-installation of the Ancient Near Eastern galleries.

So buy the book! I’ll tell you how when it’s published.

Novae Fama is dead! Long live Novae Famae!

Novae Famae, the vitriolic, un-moderated successor to Famae Volent, the classics job message board, has gone the way of the dodo. In its place has risen, phoenix-like, Novae Famae 2019-20, which, from the comments posted on its landing page, seems to aim to restore some order, with the restoration of moderators and the re-establishment of rules addressing slander, hate speech and naming names. Most significantly, NF19 (my own coinage!) insists on user IDs for commentators. If I understand correctly these are still functionally anonymous, but they will permit such things as responding to specific posters or even banning them if necessary.

In my view the death of Novae Famae is a good thing; it will not be missed. However, I learned one very important thing from it: classicists are not in the vanguard of humanistic studies the way they once were. Rather, it seems that a significant subset of them are trying desperately to maintain a fossilized academic field, on the premise that the Greeks and Romans are somehow more special than any other ancient (or modern) peoples, which is very foolish. I was distressed to find out how vocal, and oftentimes bigoted, this subset is. It has furthered the alienation I feel from the classics, a topic which I have studied for more than half my life (and I say this as a 36-year-old).

I don’t have any moralizing notes on which to end, save for my usual refrain that I think classics is doomed, and rightly so.