Friday, March 18, 2016

Post-Academic: Back to the Coal Mines

I had a rather long layoff from this blog until quite recently: the truth of the matter was that I was a finalist for an academic job at the associate professor level. It was, indeed, very nice to be taken seriously in the academic world again, even for a couple of days: I got to go to a new campus, talk about my academic work and writing, and feel like in insider, rather than an outsider, at least for a moment.

Of course, most academics who know me still do take me seriously, but the reality of the job market, I've known for a long time, is that they can't really get me a job. I mostly know Anglo-Saxonists, and rarely will a school be looking to hire a second one! But that means, of course, that hiring committees will almost always be made up entirely of folks from outside my specialty. Ah, well.

I did not get the job offer, of course, or I might be writing a very different blog post, announcing my return to academia. But the truth is, the amount of life-rearrangement that it would have involved could only have been undertaken with a fair amount of trepidation.  

But yesterday, I was out at a local antique mall and I purchased a few little books, including a very rough copy of Maud and Miska Petersham's elementary-level schoolbook, The Story Book of Coal (1935)The book suggests, just by its existence, how thoroughly the Appalachian coal industry  permeated the lives of West Virginians, even in the schoolroom. It still does so, in many ways, I think.

This book is filled with wonderful 1930s illustrations, and I was especially delighted to see a two-page opening with an illustration of a medieval English king, tidily linking my own presence in West Virginia with my work on the middle age. How wonderful to read: "There was a time in England . . . when people though that the smoke from coal poisoned the air. The English king, Edward the First, declared that if coal smoke were seen coming from a building, the building was to be destroyed. He also made the burning of coal an offense to be punished by death."

Thank goodness, of course, that we no long are subject to such medieval foolishness!

I very much liked this picture of a snow-white miner's mule, too: "Mules and horses are still used in many mines. They are taken down underground, and there they live in stables deep down under the earth. They spend their lives pulling the cars of coal."

I am sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere, but whether I am now returning to the coal mines, or whether I would rather have done so had I returned to academia, I am not entirely sure. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.


  1. Congratulations on being a finalist; I'm sorry you didn't get the offer.

    I love the pages you've shown from the book, and now I've learned something new about Edward I. I'd never heard that before.

    1. Thanks, Nicole! There's no citation for the Edward I info, unfortunately, so I can't confirm it.