Jerry Seinfeld, Gandalf the Grey, and Speaking

November 19th, 2012

Apparently, the number one fear that people have is of speaking in public (I try to shy away from labeling it as “public speaking” because to me that makes the concept stand out as some “thing” as opposed to just “speaking in a public setting” or however you like- this could simply be semantics but if it helps you then go for it!) which is of course ridiculous.  Really?  More terrifying than death?  So, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket then doing the eulogy.”  And it sounds crazy but I’m sure most of us have felt that way at least once before in our lives.  I know I have.  In high school I decided to join Forensics (not Criminal Investigation or science but a sort of public speaking team) in which I came to enjoy performing humorous pieces of literature for competition.  I won’t say it eradicated an notion of fear- or the jitters- in me as I still am highly prone to dry mouth but I realized that speaking in front of other people is okay, it does not lead to death, and- as Gandalf reminds us- “that is an encouraging thought.”  I’m looking forward to enjoying your presentations next week.  Cheers!


Critical Reintroduction to Michael Doukas’ History

October 23rd, 2012

I started out with Nicolo Barbaro’s Diary of the Siege of Constantinople, 1453 but after having shifted my focus from the military happenings of the siege to the religious happenings I found Michael Doukas’ Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks
more useful in establishing religious tension of the time.  Doukas was not an eyewitness to events himself however he took it upon himself to interview various persons who were (a widow, several monks, and soldiers who survived the siege).  This posses a potential problem in that memory and fact can be obscured in time but given his writing this piece only ten years after the siege and reliance on eyewitnesses his work seems sound.  His chronology of events corresponds to other sources (Sphratzes, Nicolo, and Nestor-Iskander) and since he isn’t chiefly writing to discredit the Turks, although he does occasionally disparage their religion and culture, but rather to detail events and especially religious happenings- he is a monk after all!- in the city he seems a reliable source.  Most scholars agree with this summation however their is some disagreement as to the mysterious demise of Constantine XI but this isn’t solely his discrepancy but rather there exists a variety of facto-mythic end stories about the emperors death.  This is not sufficient to throw doubt on his entire history since you could take none of the primary sources seriously if you viewed things this way- they all tell of different tales.

Primary plus Secondary yields “Final” Analysis

October 18th, 2012

There is generally a great deal of agreement between my secondary and primary sources.  That is, I suppose, to be expected however that is not to say there are no discrepancies.  At times I am led to wonder whether or not a secondary author utilized only a portion of a primary work without taking in the full meaning of what the medieval author was expressing.  To varying degrees, some level of educated inferences must be made when constructing an argument.  Otherwise, how ever would anything new be said?  That does not mean one can guess whatever thing one likes but knowledge progresses after a fashion of thesis, anti-thesis, progression.  Label me a Hegelian if you like, it is unfair to reduce educated speculation to falsehood simple because the certainty of the thing is not complete.  Theories are sometimes proved wrong or at least in need of readjustment after some new data or theory presents itself but that does not render the original theory useless since how else would you have arrived at your present theory or thesis without the prior?  That tangent aside, re-exploring my primary sources has reminded me that the very best efforts of scholars are open to criticism and interpretation and has reinforced the notion that two or more experts using the same or similar material  might have a different opinion on the same event.  This understanding will of course temper my final papers authority by providing the author with a humble appreciation of knowledge and understanding.

Concerning Notes

September 18th, 2012

My method of note taking is simple.  I have a legal pad and record all my notes in pen.  Simple enough but I find the very tangible note taking experience helps me focus.  Admittedly, I have never seriously tried taking notes on a computer but I don’t think it would help me process the material any better than pad and pen.  I always prefer a physical book over an e-reader or the like because it helps me stay focused and somehow this sense of touch makes what I’m reading feel more real.  The same applies to note taking for me.

I usually include all the books pertinent information at the top of the page; I put the bibliographic information and a summary of the author at the top of the page as a reference.  I often find it difficult to take notes while I read through for the first time so I usually only jot down pages pertinent to my topic.  I then reread those pages and take specific notes for my topic.  This is what I’ve done with my primary sources.  Typically, being a bit longer, what I do with some secondary sources is note their introductions, pertinent chapters, and any conclusions, prologues, or epilogues.  When I come across a secondary work cited by several other authors I make an effort to read their work more extensively and take notes accordingly.

Honestly, I don’t know that my method for note taking is the most efficient for a project of this length and I am open to suggestions.


Good vs. Bad (Websites)

September 11th, 2012

These two are definitely bad websites for research (although I find the Onion site humorous):,974/

This one is reliable:

Choosing a Topic and Primary Sources

September 6th, 2012

I recently changed my topic from the iconoclast debates within the Byzantine Empire during the 8th and early 9th centuries to the final siege of Constantinople in 1453.  I was having some trouble locating sources but after speaking with Dr. Al-Tikriti I decided to go where the primary sources led me.  To that effect, I changed my topic and while I cannot discuss in detail my sources I do have several on the way that I am looking forward to reading.

A couple sources were not translated out of Latin into English and a couple others I simple could not locate online despite their being mention in some of my secondary sources.  There is a diary of the siege written by the Italian Nicolo Barbaro that should provide a good chronology of events.  I also located two Greek sources although I believe at least one of them was written sometime after the siege so that might bring the soundness of memory and contemporary political/religious/cultural bias into play.  Interestingly enough there is an account by the Russian Nestor-Iskander who converted to Islam and took part in the siege.  His perspective would be truly interesting.  From a Turkish perspective I found Tursun Beg’s The History of Mehmed the Conqueror.

I am not certain yet what specific aspect of the siege to focus on but feel confident I will be able to further define and narrow my topic with these primary sources.

History? Why not?

August 30th, 2012

I am a history major because I find the past fascinating.  It wasn’t always this way, but by the third grade I was hooked.  Mrs. Helms introduced my budding mind to strange people of the past, people who wore fake beards, men who wore makeup and who walked like Egyptians.  Some others wore bed sheets for clothes and managed to rule the world.  I was entranced.  There was a whole wide-world out there full of strange people like the Egyptians and Romans to be found and I wanted to find them.  So, naturally, instead of packing a lunch and moving out at the ripe old age of nine to see for myself, I stuck my nose in a book.

I suppose you could say the fascination grew as I did.  I found out more about the strangeness of past people, the way they worked and warred and worshiped, and can only say it satisfied me.  That’s really why I want to be a history major.  I want to major in history because somehow I find learning about past people rewarding.  And I have not left this feeling to idle but fed it with books, yes, but more often than not with (and to my shame!) computer games.  From the city-building wonders of Caesar III, Pharaoh, Zeus, and Poseidon to the military tactics and strategy of the Total War games, all the way into the marvelous detail of Paradox Interactive games such as Crusader Kings II, Victoria II, and Europa Universalis III, I have inundated myself with history in some form or another and never looked back.

Hello world!

August 27th, 2012

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