The Week In Review: August 17-23, 2015

Now that the academic term has begun at my university, it is time to reinstall the “Week in Review” feature–the weekly roundup of my teaching, researching, service, and self-care efforts that serves in many ways as the backbone of this blog, showing what I actually do week in and week out as a doctoral student. In particular, I think it is helpful for those still in coursework or those just contemplating going to graduate school to see how someone further along the path navigates the post-courses period, when it’s you and the work and an occasional meeting with your advisors, rather than constant feedback and interaction–how to make the shift to independent scholarship versus fully supervised scholarship.


My research currently is spread out across three major projects–my dissertation, an essay I’m writing on the alchemical nature of the Melusine figure, and how to navigate the job market; for the purposes of keeping things organized, I’ll keep academic research here, and put the work I’m doing towards the job market under “other scholarly activity,”

For the dissertation:

Noah D. Guynn and Zeinka Stahuljak, Violence and the Writing of History in the Medieval Francophone World (D.S. Brewer, 2013) is proving especially helpful for theorizing textual uses and functions of violence versus their actual historical counterparts.

Bettina Schmidt and Ingo Schroder, “Introduction” Anthropology of Violence and Conflict (Routledge, 2001) provides another view of the relationship of imagined to actual instances of violence.

Chaucer’s “Man of Law’s Tale” in the Riverside Chaucer–the text I’m currently working with in my chapter on women and violence at the feast. (Someday, tragically, I’m going to have to cave in and order the Wadsworth Chaucer, now that Riverside isn’t in print any longer, but I am determined not to do so until I have to teach out of it!)

Mary Catherine Davidson, Medievalism, Multilingualism, and Chaucer (Palgrave, 2010).

For the Melusine essay (and also a book review–always make your reading do double-duty when you can make your reading do double-duty!):

Tara L. Pedersen, Mermaids and the Production of Knowledge in Early Modern England (Ashgate 2015)


My co-editors and I finished and sent to the series editor for vetting our book proposal for the Melusine volume, who promptly responded with a warm reception of the project and a few editing suggestions to make it as strong as possible going to the board, which means we should have it back out within the week. Fingers crossed!

Over the summer, I completed full drafts of chapters one and two of the dissertation, and wrote the introduction to chapter three. This week, I managed to eke out two more pages to chapter three (I’ll be doing a bit more today–but again, when you’re in term and teaching, writing tends to go much more slowly, which is why I completely advocate for using the whole summer to write, write, write!)

I completed and submitted an abstract for a Kalamazoo roundtable

I began writing the book review for the Pedersen monograph.


I have two courses this term: College Writing I and an intermediate class, Literature and the Arts, which I am teaching as Medieval Afterlives: Medieval Figures in Popular Culture.

College Writing I: We went over the syllabus and freewrote about whether or not we are writers, and the kinds of writing we do. We discussed the rhetorical triangle, canons, and appeals and how to use them to think about writing. We read David Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University” and a few short texts on various ways that we use language. (The first few weeks in this course are always great, because you get to watch the students go from 0-60 in terms of their knowledge of rhetoric and what it can do for them, and you can really see their interest and confidence developing as they realize what they can really do with writing. The rest of the term is spent helping them sort through the fact that knowing is half the battle, and actually doing is harder…..!)

Literature and the Arts: I went into the classroom every day and geeked out for an hour and had a total blast That is, we went over the syllabus, talked about the Anglo-Saxon period, I gave a mini-lecture on Anglo-Saxon material culture, we read (modernized versions, since this is an intermediate class with a general ed marker on it) Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon, and, focusing on Beowulf, we watched a few video clips, listened to some music clips, they brought in images that illustrated their favorite scene and talked about the artist’s choices and whether or not the artist’s vision seemed to cohere with the narrative, and we read the first page of several different translations to get a sense of how translator’s decisions affect the story we receive as audience. I am using Twitter as a discussion platform for the first time in this course, and so far they have been enchantingly brilliant with it. Here’s the Twitter activity they are responsible for each week:

Twitter Discussions: You will create a new Twitter account for the course; your account handle should be linked to your university email: This will permit those of you already on Twitter to maintain your class work separately from your personal accounts. When you have created your account, Tweet to me @MRidleyElmes, and then follow me. I will compile a class list list on Twitter and also post a list of your handles to Canvas so you have it handy. The course hashtag is #MedAft. Each text has its own hashtag; these are listed in the course schedule. To receive credit for a Tweet, you have to use both the course hashtag and the text hashtag! No hashtags, no credit. You are then responsible for the following Tweets EACH WEEK:

Two (2) comments and/or questions about the texts we are reading

Four (4) responses to classmates’ Tweets

Three (3) WILDCARD Tweets—these can be anything related to the course materials. At least one should be of an image, meme, illustration, film/TV still, or some other visual or performance-based representation of the week’s texts.

Now, let me be clear: I am not an advocate for “digital initiatives for the sake of using cool digital initiatives” as a pedagogical approach, but I do believe in using digital humanities whenever they can be meaningful and enhance student learning. For this particular class–“Medieval Afterlives”– and for the particular work I want them to do in these discussions, which is to share the medieval references they stumble across in every day life as well as to discuss the texts, Twitter seemed like the best option–and so far, even only one week in, it’s proving more true than I imagined! For more on how to use Twitter as an effective learning platform, see Angie Bennett Segler’s wonderful blog post on the subject.She taught me everything I know about stepping into the world of the Twitterati.


I held GSA President’s office hours on Monday afternoon; we had a mandatory TA meeting on Wednesday early evening, and I met with a GSA Constituent to talk about opportunities for service to the organization on Friday afternoon.

Other Scholarly Activity

I’m the Senior Editor for Hortulus: The Online Journal of Graduate Medieval Studies this year, so this week I sent out a final blast for submissions to the Fall issue, wrote the Fall publishing timeline, and contacted all of the current editorial board to make sure everyone had this information. We’re also arranging a Leeds session proposal.

Annnnnnnnd…. yes, I’m on the job market this year. So this week I also (re) read Kathryn Hume’s Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt and Karen Kelsky’s The Professor Is In, nit-picked at my CV (again), revised my dissertation abstract (again), started drafting two more job letters, and researched two schools’ English departments. So far, there are a number of positions advertised and the official JIL (Job Information List) from MLA doesn’t release until mid-September, so it is shaping up to be a pretty good year for medieval literary scholars. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but there are definitely schools hiring that I know I would absolutely love to work for and where I am certain I could thrive as a scholar and do a lot of good as a professor–so keep your fingers crossed for me, Interwebs folks.

Nurturing My Self

Teaching two classes, editing a journal, serving as President of the Univeristy’s Graduate Student Association, finishing my dissertation, and going on the job market? And as if that list of responsibilities weren’t enough all on its own, the people renting our house decided to opt out of the rent-to-own clause and have moved out, leaving several pressing issues that must be addressed before we can rent the house out again. The house must be rented, because we can’t afford the mortgage on top of our rent on DH’s salary and my stipend (which doesn’t kick in until September 3 anyhow). Fortunately, we have people interested in renting the house, if a few repairs are made first. But, we can’t afford to pay someone else to do the work (see above comment about my stipend),  which means that for the next two weekends we will be driving two hours away to frantically re-do the kitchen floor, fix a hole in the ceiling of a downstairs room, check for leaks, and re-tile a section of the bathroom. (that’s two full weekends lost in terms of researching, writing, and grading, by the way. Think of it as a loss of two articles and a short book read, five to ten pages written, two sets of written class assignments and two weeks of Twitter discussions between 38 people assessed–and all of those things have to crowded instead into the already-crammed workweek rather than handled in more civilized fashion on weekends.)

When things are THAT crazy, nurturing one’s self is NOT a luxury, it is a necessity. If you don’t take some time for yourself, your body will rebel against you; the stress will beat you into submission and you’ll end up sick. The most important thing you can do in these cases of extreme personal-stress-meets-professional-stress is to take the time to be gentle with yourself, whatever form that self-care takes. Maybe you’ll have a hot bath. Maybe you’ll go ahead and eat the pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Maybe instead of cooking this week you’ll just order out. Maybe you’ll get some nice face masks and a bottle of wine. Maybe you’ll do yoga, or pilates, or dance, or lift weights, or stretch, or go for a run–but you HAVE to do something to keep yourself centered and breathing!

This week, because it was our first week back at work and because I know the next two weekends are going to suuuuuuuck, I tried to do something nurturing or fun every day. I stopped at the gym and worked out on my way home Monday and Wednesday, took a pool break Thursday afternoon for an hour, and went for a run yesterday morning; Wednesday after the TA meeting some of us went out for a drink and a chat; Friday night we watched Avengers and had a glass of wine and a facemask; and last night we watched Thor (I skimmed the book I’m teaching out of so I’d feel less guilty about so much time not working when I have so much to do.)

All in all, it was a pretty good start to the term. Really looking forward to the coming weeks and months!


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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