Month: May 2017

Month: May 2017

A Paradise

The steel gate to a cinderblock compound in Fars
The gate to the Izadi paradise. As a prosperous country family, their walls are all cinderblocks, not mud brick or fieldstone.

παράδεισ-ος -ου, masuline noun, from Avestan pairidaēza-, Old Persian +paridaida-, Median +paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), an enclosed park or pleasure-ground …

Dictionaries rarely have room to illustrate many entries, even when this works better than a written definition. On this blog, however, I am free to use more pictures than words!

Read more


Historical Prices for Gamers and Writers

Photo of cloth dealers in the old bazaar of Isfahan
Isfahan’s glory days are young, within the last thousand years, but a nice shaded place to set up shop is a luxury in any period! Photo of the Old Bazaar in Isfahan by Sean Manning, May 2017.

One of the big problems facing anyone studying ancient economies is that it’s very difficult to tell how much things cost at any given time. Records of market prices are sparse at the best of times and often nonexistent, and even where such records exist, they’re usually exceptional or represent only a single transaction. But sometimes historians get lucky …

– Matthew Riggsby, GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road p. 34 http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-hot-spots-the-silk-road

Gamers and novelists often want to know something which historians are not eager to answer: how much did practical things cost in the past? Historians of older periods tend to be very aware of the limits of a source which just says “five pounds of iron nails worth thus-and-such,” and admire the work of specialists in recent times who construct methodical serieses and statistics and turn them into charts with lines and inflection points. But characters in a short story or an adventure game are much more likely to buy a drink or a sword than ten bushels of barley. The writers of roleplaying games almost never have time to do the research, unless the game is set in very recent times and they can mine their collection of old Sears Catalogues and Baedekers. (Also, their customers tend to become just as attached to “a longsword costs 15 gold pieces” as they are to “magic missile always hits,” and in our decadent and decimalized age they sometimes revolt against something as simple as pounds/shillings/pence). So this week, I thought I would honour the release of Matthew Riggsby’s GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road with a list of some resources which I have found.

Read more


The UBC PhD Career Outcomes Survey of 2016

A snapshot from a university department website with a field containing the automatically-generated message "There are no opportunities at this time"
From the mouth of algorithms comes truth- maybe a bit too much truth, in this case! A screenshot from the website of a Canadian university.

PhD students like to talk about the fact that there are far more new doctors of philosophy than positions as tenure-track faculty or researchers, so anyone who wants a job like that has to follow a series of very specific and demanding steps, with a high chance of finding themself stuck in a poorly paid, overworked position as a sessional instructor or post-doctoral researcher. Unfortunately, hard numbers are hard to come by, and naturally the people who are very successful or very unhappy have the loudest voices. The people who are most active in complaining about the problem tend to be Americans, and the situation in that country has some special features. Back in 2013, I estimated that about four people got a PhD in history in Canada for every tenured professor who retired, and made some choices accordingly.

Recently, the University of British Columbia published a survey of 3,805 students who graduated UBC with a PhD between 2003 and 2015. Through a combination of mail, email, and online searches, they were able to find some information about 91% of these students. A summary is posted at http://outcomes.grad.ubc.ca/
Read more


A Sasanid Rock Relief

A relief of an enthroned king carved into a cliff over a natural spring
An overview of the relief at the spring, with some Franks admiring it. Photo by Sean Manning, May 2016.

On Friday morning a week ago, thick snow was falling on the green leaves in Innsbruck, and someone posted to the agade mailing list that Yale proposes to dissolve the Yale Babylonian Collection as an institution, reassign its curator to other work, and transfer it from the Sterling Library to closed storage where it will not be immediately accessible to scholarly visitors. I suppose that an institution with investments worth 25 billion dollars finds it difficult to afford such luxuries, gathered as they were in a softer time when workers could earn several dollars for a 12-hour shift in a steel factory. If you want to learn more you can find the petition Save the Yale Babylonian Collection on change.org. This week I want to tell a story about another community with heritage to protect and make accessible.

Read more