Quote Dump

As always, citation implies neither approval nor disapproval.

A specialist in early medieval archaeology spells out one big problem with the modern fixation on fitting ancient people into boxes and assigning them distinctive labels:

Before I start, though, I want to address the obvious criticism of the topic, which is that modern scholars work a lot on identities, but did past people care as much? Certainly it can be argued that early medieval people did not say very much about identities, and nor do modern people, outside academia. But they did not say very much about a lot of things that modern scholars obsess over, such as gender, ethnicity, social age, or sometimes even aristocracy or nobility. The only social categories that they wrote much about were ones with precise legal importance, status that had implications for property and legal rights.

It is almost certainly the case that the inhabitants of sixth-century northern Gaul did not think of themselves in terms of many – perhaps most – of the categories that I have discussed here, although some of those aspects of their identity were remarked upon and thought of as important. Nevertheless, even if entirely modern in its framing, I think that, if theorised in sophisticated fashion, the concept of identities and their interplay provides a valuable means of analysing past societies and, on that basis, thinking about the present.

– The thinly pseudonymous Historian on the Edge

I’m writing about this now because these vulnerabilities illustrate two very important truisms about encryption and the current debate about adding back doors to security products:

1) Cryptography is harder than it looks.
2) Complexity is the worst enemy of security.

These aren’t new truisms. I wrote about the first in 1997 and the second in 1999. I’ve talked about them both in Secrets and Lies (2000) and Practical Cryptography (2003). They’ve been proven true again and again, as security vulnerabilities are discovered in cryptographic system after cryptographic system. They’re both still true today.

– Bruce Schneier, “Cryptography is Harder than it Looks,”

The re-enactment world in general, but the Roman one in particular, is very prone to breakaways. I have heard recently of a group of only six breaking in half as egos clash.

– Chris Haines, “History of the Guard,”

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How Many Ancient Military Historians Are There at Canadian Universities?

A painting of a two-humped camel with bit and bridle next to a saddled horse
Like camels in the Brenner pass in the fourteenth century, military historians are more common in pictures and stories than real life in Canada today. Wall painting from about the 1330s in the Burgkapelle Aufenstein near Matrei am Brenner. Photo by author, July 2014.

Although military history fills the television screens, YouTube channels, and bookstore history aisles in Canada just as in other countries, its presence at universities is very modest indeed. Until October 2015 I did not know of anyone who studies any aspect of warfare before the nineteenth century who teaches history at a Canadian university to fund his research. At least a hundred faculty are paid to teach history before the nineteenth century at a Canadian university [1], but very few chose to publish on the military aspects. This week I thought I would list the determined scholars who insist on working on this topic at an advanced level at Canadian universities.

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The University as Social Service

Alex Usher of the Higher Education Strategy Associates recently posted a summary of some surveys of students at Canadian universities.  He and his colleagues found that students at most Canadian universities answered questions about their university the same way.  Usher often suggests that he wants universities to become more diverse, but in this post he mentions with a hint of disdain another view, that universities exist to provide a uniform social service.  That strikes me as a very good description of the role which I would like Canadian universities to play.  Moreover, while I think his heart is in the right place, I can see a few disadvantages of greater “differentiation” which Alex Usher has not spelled out.

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Two Admirable Letters

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan by several students  In the project briefs the university expresses an aspiration to improve the quality and quantity of humanities research. It intends to do this by removing some programs, and merging others. Research is a valuable goal, but to suggest that the problem with specific humanities... Continue reading: Two Admirable Letters

An unusually forthright statement

“The University of Calgary is a significant business … a $1.2-billion (a year) business.  The space, specifically for the president, that the board of governors worked out of was embarrassing.” Mr. Bob Ellard, VP Facilities Development, University of Calgary, quoted by Mark McClure, Calgary Herald, 18 November 2013.  Ellard was explaining why he and his... Continue reading: An unusually forthright statement

Funding Canadian Universities

Alex Usher of the Higher Education Strategy Associates has posted a series of comments on the operating budgets of Canadian colleges and universities since 1992 (first second third fourth and fifth).  In a comment he explains that his source is the Financial Information for Universities and Colleges survey by Statistics Canada (here).  I have some... Continue reading: Funding Canadian Universities