Scholarly Roadkill

Mitch’s Blog

Dreaming in Tarakhun

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I had been to Tarakhun, I just didn’t remember it well. Until today.

It was a late stop on our three day trip to the Afghan/Iran/Pakistani border as part of our archaeological work in Afghanistan in 1975. A memorable trip in the company of Khan Hajji Nafaz. The desert between our field camp and the border was a no fly zone unless you were accompanied by Hajji Nafaz, who had family and political contacts all through the area. He knew which unmarked dirt tracks would get us to Jali Robat and the border station. He had Mohammad Osman,…

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The Backhouse Diary

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The name Captain Julius Brockman Backhouse of the Bengal Artillery is unfamiliar to most everybody, including me until a week ago. He served in the British Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842. An artillery expert, he moved back and forth between Afghanistan and British India doing training and whatever else artillery officers do. He survived the war, having left a diary of his time there that had been kept for over a century in the family. And, somehow, I’m now involved with Captain Backhouse, his descendants, and his diary.

If you were a British soldier in the First…

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Graduating to Old Person

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

For all the years I’ve performed as a dancer, I only ever acted in a stage play once. It was a lark in my last year of college with all my graduation requirements well in hand. The play was the only comedy written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, a one-act called The First Warning. For Strindberg, “comedy” only meant that none of the characters committed suicide. I was the father in the play, being volleyed back and forth between his boring wife and a precocious teen who boards with them. Climax of the play is when his wife loses a tooth.…

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History as It is Happening

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Call me a nerd, but I like reading history. But not any old history. History as it is happening. My favorite book as a child was a history of World War I, written in 1917 before its outcome was known. On a week where only the third ever presidential impeachment was filed, I dived into one of the books on my shelf containing bound issues of Harper’s Monthly from November 1860 to April 1861. Mixed in with serialized novel by Bulwer-Lytton and drawings of the latest women’s hoop skirt fashion is the section called Monthly Record of…

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Jinxed: Two Tales of Istanbul

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

“You jinxed us,” said Becky with dagger eyes. 

“This has happened to you before in Istanbul. You jinxed us.”

We were all standing before the Departures board at Istanbul airport searching for the gate for our flight to San Francisco. Our dance festival in Macedonia was over and we seven were anxious to get home.  Flight 79 was nowhere to be seen among the hundreds going to various other saintly cities: San Antonio, Sao Paolo, St. Louis.

Becky was wrong, it wasn’t really my fault (hah, those words). Our flight from Skopje had departed an hour late, arrived even later,…

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Eagle Week

Sunday, July 28, 2019

It’s been a week of eagles. Best known, of course, is the golf club-wielding Russian bird who oversaw Trump’s speech to a conservative college group. While generated entirely by accident, it still represents the height of American political satire. Kudos to the poor now-unemployed program assistant who hurried too quickly in his Google search and ended up with the perfect image to frame the perfect idiot in a perfect speech to a perfect set of automatons. Good on you.

My own eagle story is a bit more compelling.

Earlier this week I’m biking to Coombs, BC, a small town 8…

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Upending the Journals World

Friday, June 14, 2019

Started on the paper you’re writing this summer? Musing about which journal to submit it to when you drift back to campus? Are you aware that journal world is being turned upside down while you’re sitting here daydreaming? If you’re up to date on Plan S, Read and Publish, Big Deals, and Plan U, then go back to your rumination. If not, better listen up because it might matter by the time you get that paper ready to submit.

Point 1 (and Points 2-200): Publishing journals costs money. Even with all the free labor of editors and reviewers, it still…

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Can Scholars Really Write Popular Books?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The cry is all around the university—Relevance! Public engagement! Write so the whole world can read you! This is the path for public support for higher education, for weaving our work into important policy debates, for fielding calls from TV producers, for finally…finally explaining to Aunt Faye what exactly it is that we do. As a retired publisher, I’ve been asked to help scholars get better at this writing game in my workshops, writings, and consulting. “Reaching the Hidden Audience: Ten Rules for the Archaeological Writer” was one of my first articles, now almost 20 years old.  Should…

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Where Do Our Words Go?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Messages in a bottle go far beyond the song by The Police or the 1999 movie with Kevin Costner and Robin Wright.  A West Australian beach produced one thrown from a German ship in the 1880s. A Florida couple found one launched by a group of Scottish school children in the 1980s. This seems an appropriate way to start the question that bedevils every writer and publisher: where do your words go after they are released into the world?

Phillip Henslowe is the Elizabethan theatre producer in Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love. The hardy…

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The Great Conference Mandala

Monday, April 22, 2019

It was at the end of an email exchange with Caryn to arrange dinner in Albuquerque that I asked “Do you need any help at the booth?” Caryn is archaeology editor for Berghahn Books and the Society for American Archaeology meeting was coming up. A lunch meeting on Friday would leave her booth empty for a couple of hours. Could I cover for her? “Of course,” I responded. After all, I do know a bit about how to sell books at an academic conference.

But the meaning of that simple exchange, as she and I both knew, went…

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