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April 4, 2007, Oldenburg

A Diary?

April 4, around 8am, a quiet, blue and sunny morning, the trees are in all shades of light green, someone is walking his two dogs down there on the grass, the campus is silent, yet somehow I feel the tension of the summer semester is out there... this seems to be a diary.

The Angl-lit-wiss-wiki is going into its second week and I feel it is developing a life of its own. The Recent changes link (at the left) lists a look all the edits. You can see for instance how the Introduction to Literature Basismodul grows step by step in a process of teamwork. If you visit that page click its “history”-tab to get this view.

Yet the edits do not give the complete picture. Each page has its own counter (scroll down to see it) – and if you click Special:Popularpages (you get there via the "Special pages" link at the left), you can see how many visitors have visited our individual pages. 632 hits for the main page within 7 days, not bad.

My favourite is this page Special:Listusers – it gives the list of all our “users”, i.e. of all who have opened an account so far. 99% of the edits have come from the staff, so far. Yet we are already the minority among the users listed.

A Wiki

The wiki we have created is open – anyone can create an account, anyone can open pages, anyone can vandalise – even if he or she does not have an account.

April 5, 2007, Oldenburg

Well, I confess, I thought it would be easier to fill pages with – virtually nothing – every day a bit.

In fact, a year ago, before I moved to Oldenburg, a women’s magazine contacted me. They were just about to bring out their first issue. As an addition to their magazine they thought of offering a blog, or rather some two or three or five blogs and they were looking for people – of my age group, I am afraid – who were just about to start something new in their lives.

I seemed to be an ideal character (a Bavarian in the north - so they thought). It gave me sleepless nights – imagine: You arrive at a place, you meet people for the first time in your life, and you write about these encounters late at night in your blog, something that will then be read everywhere.

You could of course change your identity. Let’s say I’d teach French at Greifswald – oh what a world of complications. Eventually they buried the project and I was somewhat relieved, having the experience to begin here just for myself and those around me. Anyway, I made it clear that I would hardly be the Bavarian they were looking for).

I should pack and clear the table here at the office before I go.

To be continued. --Olaf Simons 17:16, 5 April 2007 (CEST)

An open wiki is a kind of Tamagochi – it is there, here, in Australia, Canada or Zimbabwe – you can kill it in China and revitalise a deleted page at the Vatican at Rome. It hence needs people to take care of it.

Well yes, we could have restricted participation to users we know personally. We would then need a bureaucracy to legitimize new accounts and all that.

The open wiki needs its own care – and a group of people who will look through the list of recent changes every now and then to detect vandalism, it needs people who have pages on their watchlists.

Things will be easy if we develop a kind of wikiquette among us – I’d propose we interact with our real names – first names and family names like Anna Auguscik or John Alistair Kühne (if you have already opened an account under Pseudonym or just your first name, open a full name one and we’ll delete the old account – the interaction between us, will become pretty messy otherwise, I fear.

And this Blog?

I do not know. Had the idea this morning. May be I shall do it for a week and someone else does it for the following. It would be brilliant to have changing perspectives. What does the institute look like through Mariam’s eyes – we all visit her office every day? What does it look like for you if this is your first or last semester?

Jutta Schwarzkopf and Uwe Zagratzki – two of our staff members – will work this semester at universities in Paris and Vechta. I feel it would be fascinating to have them writing for us for a week during this semester. (I just realise, that I myself will be absent over much of the next week – so may be I’ll find time to write from Rutgers, where I am going to give a lecture on the 12th – can hardly imagine this.)

Time to end this day’s entry – there is serious work to be done.

--Olaf Simons 7:45, 4 April 2007 (CEST)

April 16, 2007, New Brunswick, NJ

a rainy day here in New Brunswick, the third of three cold and rainy days. The schools remain closed today, some of the roads are under water, cellars in many of the houses are flooded. Hillary Clinton was supposed to speak at Rutgers this afternoon and has cancelled her visit, which I regret – yet it will give me a moment to continue this blog.

The breakfast table at Martin’s house – Martin Mulsow, professor of intellectual history here at Rutgers, to whom I owe the invitation. Karin, Martin’s wife has left the house to bring little Jonathan to the kindergarten, Martin is answering his e-mail in his study downstairs, the two girls sit in their rooms and waste the boring day. I drink a cup of tea, skip through the The Star Ledger, the local newspaper. The United States remain a peculiar and somewhat frightening country – for a nation involved so deeply in world politics this is nothing you note when reading your local newspaper or listening to the radio news (Martins and Karin’s hose is without TV).

American News

Last week we began with Don Imus, the radio host who had made some racist remarks in his morning show the week before – levelled against the female predominantly Afro-American basketball team of Rutgers University. His show was suspended the day after, his apologies were the news of the following day. On Wednesday we received a broad coverage of the hurt feelings of the girls - he had called them hos and said something about their hair cuts. On Thursday evening he met with the team to openly apologise and set things right – he was fired on Friday when it became clear that CBS was about to loose its main sponsors if he were to continue. New Jersey’s governor Corzine was supposed to join that meeting on Thursday night yet got involved in a car crash which filled the papers on Friday – we got a full coverage of his wounds on Saturday: 12 broken ribs, his leg broken with an open wound. “It was not immediately clear whether he had fastened his seat belt”, we read on Friday which told us that he had not. The juicier papers made this their point of a new scandal on Saturday.

Crime is the other big topic – with the case of the woman who killed and mutilated her husband earlier this year. He was found in plastic bags and it was difficult to get the full story as she hardly spoke. I had seen the court-room-TV bus in front of the local court building on my first walk through New Brunswick before I got the first bits of the story in the papers. The world’s curiosity had entered the scene to hear and see the lady who had had sex with the man about a year ago, casual sex between colleagues who had then met at work. She was asked to give details, as this could shed light into the question whether his marriage was happy or not. There was thirdly the story of the babysitter, a black girl, who had killed a pregnant mother and cut the embryo out of her womb, before she drowned the three girls of the household.

The war in Iraq is a continuous topic – yet it does not really evolve into a story to be told, and that seems to be the fundamental problem of any such news. South America, Europe and Asia are beyond the horizon. One has to follow CNN TV News and to read the New York Times to get informed, yet this will already be information of interest to a special audience.


Is it worth living in the US? This was the continuous topic among those I met – Europeans who enjoy the freedom the academic world can offer to those who made it to the top. University professors are doomed to become bureaucrats in Germany. American professors remain teachers and researchers, so it seems. The meetings I joined were extremely interesting. On Monday it was an informal top level seminar – something like the Oberseminar we are trying to establish in Oldenburg, yet far more open. This semester’s topic was “Circulation” – a simple and broad topic. The guest who spoke on Tuesday, Steve Johnson, answered questions about the book he had just published on the cholera in London in the 1860s. The audience consisted of teachers and post grad students. The questions had nothing of the typical German test trial, where you ask a question only to show your erudition or to side with so and so also present in the room. It was rather curiosity of people who are about to write new books themselves. The second half of the three hour meeting was most fascinating: Our guest was involved in an web project in which they used Google Earth to give access to the world’s sphere of local bloggers. If you have a blog with a local perspective you enter it into the new web space they created. Your news will then be digested so that people can take look at a quarter of a city they are interested in to find out more about, let us say, crimes that recently happened around this street in Brooklyn. The Global Village is on its way and it cost just some 40.000 Dollars to produce the interface and to get the project going.

I gave my talk on Thursday in a series of book history events at Rutgers Library, on Friday I joined Martin on a trip to Princeton where we visited a conference on Renaissance Hellenism. On Sunday Martin had invited scholars interested in the question of the Sacred and the Profane. The morning was immensely interesting with a group of Jewish scholars getting back into the era of the Babylonian Talmud. Jacov Elmann compared Zoroastrian religious laws with Talmudian traditions and reconstructed cultural life in Persia around 900 AD. The old bearded man was particularly interested in the young audience – “I should be”, he later said, “do you think I can teach my colleagues the old and forgotten languages? – it takes half a life to learn the languages and read the texts before you can dive into the debates of this period. This is something only the next generation can do, and I have about twelve students who I have educated to go into this field.”

The conference moved from antiquity into the early modern period and focussed on interpretations of sacred texts. Martin gave his talk on Huet’s attempts to prove bridges between biblical and pagan mythologies. Back home I should write an article on Huet’s efforts to move his art of theological interpretation into the worldly sphere of novels and romances, a topic you will have to deal with this semester.

It is time to end this bit of my blog. I feel I am not a good blogger. We should try to find an American student who just arrived this month in Oldenburg and ask him or her to keep an open diary for the next week. Noon here in New Brunswick, about late afternoon in Oldenburg, Germany. The rain has ceased. My plane is scheduled for 23.00 tonight, the train connection to New York is said to operate. May be I should pack and leave. I’ll be tired as a stone by tomorrow, and I am already looking forward to the new semester.

--Olaf Simons 20:18, 16 April 2007 (CEST)

April 18, 2007, Oldenburg, Oldenburg

Time passes incredibly quickly, I am still just arriving and trying to find out what I must get done within the next couple of days.

  • I want this blog to find a continuation and need someone to take over. It would be great if one of you took over - I mean: one of you students. You feel interested to write for a week what it is for you to begin the Semester? A thought per day? Contact me.
  • Seminar work... I must finish some last semester leftovers – and must get my course work done for this semester! All my thanks to Anna for joining me this afternoon.
  • Saturday – I wonder how many we will be – a reading group for Richard III. Will we be many? Shall we eat together later that evening (and if so: what?)?
  • The Tae-Kwon-Do-course – needs some more advertisement (I have just done that).
  • And then there is the Oberseminar in a few minutes – twenty minutes remain to read today’s text!

...time to end this blog as swiftly as I have begun it.

--Olaf Simons 19:30, 18 April 2007 (CEST)

April 19, 2007, Oldenburg, Oldenburg

Jet-lag-days. Travelling to the US is so easy, you just become one of those people who can get up very early (and all who meet you will be tolerant if you get tired at about ten at night). Travelling back to Europe is much more nasty (suddenly you are one of those miserable folks who spend their nights sleepless in bed only to be tired the day after).

A new page I opened: Seminar Ideas. So far I had this long list of possible seminar topics hanging over my desk, where only I would see the changing items and wonder what to do with them. The new list is different. I give a few words on each topic and the wiki will allow interaction. If you are particularly fond of one of these topics, use the respective discussion for a remark. If you feel such a seminar should tackle a question of your interest – modify the rough seminar plan given.

The best feature about this list is, however, that it is open and not connected with my or anyone’s name. If you have ideas of seminars you always wanted to have – here you are: Open a page under that topic and tell the world why you felt this would be an interesting seminar to have. May be one of us will feel intrigued and perplexed enough to start some research and to actually offer the seminar?

Enjoy the nice spring-day, --Olaf Simons 13:16, 19 April 2007 (CEST)

April 20, 2007, Oldenburg, Oldenburg

Friday afternoon, the campus has turned silent, I should clear my desk, decide, what work I can do during the weekend, drink another cup of tea - I still have not answered all my mail.

The little Tae Kwon Do course (just a couple of minutes ago) has woken me up, feels good to move. Five people enrolled - ten would be better, so that it won’t matter whether all are present on all occasions. It is, by the way, not necessary to attend all sessions, one can drop in very now and then (though learning begins with the more regular thought about the whole thing).

Before the training we were having lunch together, Anton Kirchhofer, Anna Auguscik and Silke Greskamp, who is just completing her PhD in the field of gender-studies. Anton could win her to offer a seminar on a topic of her choice. She opted for:

Yann Martel's 'Self' and 'Life of Pi'

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was received with great enthusiasm among readers and critics alike. It won him the prestigious Booker Prize in 2002 causing some controversy over alleged plagiarism. His novel deals with an (in)credible sea journey of a young boy and develops remarkable parallels with Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. But what is more, it is a very contemporary version of the ring parable and virtually forces the reader to make a decision, not only for the period of your reading the text but for your life.

(How on earth can I be so eloquent about a title I never read? – I just asked Anna sitting next to me.) In any case: The seminar - taking place on Mondays 18:00-20:00, A06 0-001 - got listed too late, and the number of participants is still too small. So think of the topic and if you are studying at the Aufbau-Modul level, think of enrolling. You already have a chosen one seminar? – choose another and decide later where you will write your paper.

A quarter to five! At six I should be at home – and I still have not decided what to cook tonight! Pasta, Anna said – Chaucer and then a gratin with fresh sweet-cream-tomato sauce? My fridge needs to be filled...

--Olaf Simons 16:43, 20 April 2007 (CEST)