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Finding the Haggadah: Archival Sources for Understanding Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book

Finding the Haggadah: Archival Sources for Understanding Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book

In her 2008 novel, People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks presents the fictionalized history of a single book–the Sarajevo Haggadah–as seen by Dr. Hanna Heath, an Australian expert in rare books. Alternating between Hanna’s story and glimpses from the Haggadah’s past, Brooks pieces together the book’s history using the clues stuck to, drawn in, spilled on, and missing from it.

Over the next few weeks, I want to provide readers of People of the Book with real-world examples from archives, libraries, and museums across the world. These examples should help you picture what Brooks is describing, contextualizing her novel and providing an introduction to the history of the book.

To start us off, the Haggadah.

The Haggadah is a sacred Jewish book that sets out to fulfill the commandment to “tell your son” of the escape from Egypt. A blueprint for the Seder, or ritual feast at the beginning of Passover, the Haggadah is a very common book, one that can be found in almost every Jewish home. Although most are rather normal-looking, throughout the last eight-hundred years many have been designed with extraordinary attention to detail and a lot of money. Surviving examples in libraries, archives, museums, and private collections present scholars with insight into Medieval manuscript illumination, Jewish and Biblical art, and the history of the book in Europe.

The examples provided below are keeping to the general genre of Brooks’s Haggadah. They are from Medieval Europe, illuminated with human figures, made from expensive materials, and finely decorated by a master.

  • Sarajevo Haggadah (Catalonia, c. 1350): This real book was the inspiration for Brooks’s fictional one, in name and design. Although it belongs to the National Museum, the Haggadah is currently on display in the main hall at the Sarajevo Parliament in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • The Golden Haggadah (Catalonia, c. 1320): Comparable to the Sarajevo Haggadah, both being created in the same area around the same time, the Golden Haggadah is different in two ways. First, although the Sarajevo one is illuminated with copper and some gold, the Golden one lives up to its name: gold covers almost every page of illustration. Second, the Golden Haggadah has almost double the miniature illustrations (56 to Sarajevo’s 34). In content and size, this version of the Haggadah is stunning in its overwhelming luxuriousness. Currently owned by the British Museum, it is available in full online.
  • The Birds’ Head Haggadah (South Germany, c. 1300): Quite possibly the oldest Haggadah in existence, the name comes from the bird-like features of the people in this book’s marginal illustrations. This style of drawing skirted the rules against drawing humans by giving them pronounced beaks, and it was very common in Southern German manuscripts of the time. This Haggadah is currently owned by the Israel Museum.
  • The Washington Haggadah (South Germany, 1478): Created more than 100 years after the Sarajevo Haggadah in Brooks’s book, the Washington Haggadah has a much clearer provenance (the history of who owned it, when, and where). We know, for example, that it was created by Joel ben Simeon and came into the possession of the Library of Congress as part of a large accession in 1916. Frequently on tour, this version of the Haggadah is one of the most accessible in person, having spent a long time at the Met and available in facsimile through Harvard University Press.
  • The Rylands Haggadah (Catalonia, c. 1330): Most likely the finest Haggadah in existence, the Rylands Haggadah incorporates a variety of illustrative techniques with the text and includes a 13-page miniature cycle, which details Exodus from the burning bush to the Red Sea. As such, it is a pillar of Judaic and Biblical art and a standout example of the genre. Owned by the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, it was also displayed at the Met and available in facsimile.
A Fair Use Primer for Graduate Students [GradHacker]

A Fair Use Primer for Graduate Students [GradHacker]

In my latest post for GradHacker, I tackle another aspect of copyright law: fair use.

When I close my eyes and try to imagine what a Campbell’s Soup can looks like, I am not sure if what I see is the actual object or one of Andy Warhol’s famous works. These iconic cans, regardless of their importance to modern art and American history, are a tangle of popular culture, artistic expression, and copyright litigation, all of which knot around the concept of fair use.

Fair use is a designation within US copyright law, which recognizes that certain people under certain circumstances are allowed to use copyrighted materials without obtaining permissions or licenses in advance. Whereas Creative Commons makes materials available with minimal protections or none at all, fair use provides a few legal exemptions for copyrighted materials. There are limits to these exceptions, but they cover most forms of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”

If Campbell’s had decided to sue Warhol for copyright infringement, his defense would have most likely been based on fair use. He may have argued that his appropriation of popular culture constituted a criticism of it and that his intentions were to create art (not cash). Although tenuous, given Warhol had to settle a later copyright dispute out of court, this example illustrates the flexibility of the doctrine of fair use.

Although we, as graduate students, frequently employ materials under this provision, I find we rarely take time to understand exactly what it entails. I have come across professors and other instructors who span the gamut on this issue. Some seem to think that anything is covered under fair use, like a copyright carte blanche to do what they want with others’ materials; others interpret the flexibility as a constant threat looming over them, so they avoid utilizing copyrighted materials at all costs…

For the rest of this post, check it out at GradHacker!

[Image by Flickr user Ben Mason and used under the Creative Commons license.]

Mentoring as a Graduate Student [GradHacker Post]

Mentoring as a Graduate Student [GradHacker Post]

In my most recent GradHacker post on Inside Higher Ed, I discuss how mentoring an undergraduate changed the way I see myself as an academic.

Honestly, I had no intention of becoming anyone’s mentor. I was deep into the “make it work” stage of my academic career: my dissertation was stagnating, I was teaching a new course in a new discipline, my partner had gotten a job across the country, and I was having health problems.

Nevertheless, despite my being lost in the fog of graduate school, an undergraduate found me and turned me into a mentor. And I am thankful every day that she did.

Oddly enough, I was never even C’s teacher; she was never my student. I was an intern archivist, she was a student assistant, and we shared a basement workroom in the library. Chatting to keep our minds occupied while processing a collection and keep our bodies from freezing, we became good friends over a mutual interest in history, archival management, and Ryan Gosling memes.

To read the rest of this post, check it out here.

[Image from Flickr user Ivan T, modified by Heather VanMouwerik, and used under Creative Commons License.]

Sample Syllabi and Course Websites

Sample Syllabi and Course Websites

Below are links to syllabi have developed and used for teaching undergraduate English composition and history courses.

Please feel free to use and modify anything you see here. I’m standing on the shoulders of the amazing instructors who helped me. All I ask is that you pay it forward and be generous with the newbies in your life.

Beginning English Composition | Spring 2016

Intermediate English Composition | Winter 2016

World History: 1500-1900 | Summer 2016

[Image from Flikr user Kevin Dooley and used under the Creative Commons License.]

Lowering the Stakes with Online Writing: A Case Study [GradHacker]

Lowering the Stakes with Online Writing: A Case Study [GradHacker]

In my latest post, I walk you through how I solved a pedagogical problem using a digital tool…

I have written several posts on digital literacy and pedagogy for GradHacker, many of which suggest ways to incorporate digital components into undergraduate courses. The overarching theme to all of my advice is simple: start with clearly articulated learning goals, and then find the right digital tools to achieve them. Not only does this help you focus on the learning objectives instead of being distracted by shiny new technologies, it also ensures that your students understand the value of the digital assignment and that you are not overwhelmed with troubleshooting.

So, today, I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of giving more advice along these lines, I wanted to walk you through how I approached and eventually solved a pedagogical puzzle with a digital tool. The rest of this post will walk you through how I developed a successful low-stakes online writing assignment for a beginning English Composition course, which might helpful for graduate students designing their first college course or more seasoned instructors who want to incorporate a little digital into their preexisting classes…

To read the rest, check it out at GradHacker!

[Image provided by Flickr user Alan Levine and used under a Creative Commons license.]