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July 26, 2009

The road to Harvard ends in ... Joplin?

The past year yielded several events in the academic job search, ending with buying a new (old) house in Joplin.

In April, Gainesville State College invited me for a campus interview, one of three finalists (Asian and world history). I did not get an offer. If I had gotten one, we might not have accepted. The college is in an urban sprawl area an hour and a half northeast of Atlanta. The school is in transition from a 2- to a 4-year institution, so there would have been limited opportunities to teach courses other than surveys. In May, my friend Liu Sheng forwarded an offer from another friend of his to teach at Jiangsu University in Yangzhou. The opportunity (U.S. history and English) was very attractive, except that the salary was too low for us to live comfortably in the U.S. during the summer. In June, Nottingham University invited me to the UK to interview as a finalist for a position (US-Asian Relations) at their campus in Ningbo. As my liaison subsequently informed me, my "candidacy was not successful." A one-day walking tour of Nottingham was great fun, though. In July, Southern Illinois University, after a phone interview, offered me a one-year lectureship in Asian and world history. From what I could learn on the Internet about Carbondale, it sounds like a neat college town. The university itself is attractive -- big library, seemingly collegial department, big center for Dewey studies. The offer was inferior to my current position, as I was fairly certain would be the case. Still, it was good practice -- and we'll know each other, in case a tenure-track search materializes in the future.

Plodding along on the publication front. After spending nine months with my book manuscript, Stanford U Press declined it, based on a "should be published but not here" review by a political scientist. That rejection may have doomed my prospects at U of Nottingham-Ningbo. I am moving on to other university presses, one by one. In the meantime, I have submitted some of the material to the J of American-East Asian Relations as an article on the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The editor, Chuck Hayford, sent an initially encouraging reply.

After the rejection by U of Nottingham-Ningbo, Terry and I decided to place a bet on my teaching long-term at MSSU. Specifically, we began house hunting soon after returning from Israel (a trip we began two days after I returned from my UK interview). The first time out, July 3, we found a house we liked, made an offer, and signed a contract. We'll close next week, July 30. One consideration was that any house we purchased be easy to re-sell, in case I get pushed or pulled out of Joplin. This one meets that requirement. More on the house in a future entry. In addition to wanting to get rooted again, several other factors were incentives to buy now: the 2009-only $8000 tax credit for first-time home buyers (we qualify, having rented for the past three years); our kids' (Inga and Noel) decision to buy our house in Prairie Village; the current depression in both housing prices and mortgage interest rates.

--- Norty

Trip to Israel, Palestine, & Jordan

In the grand tradition of Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad) and numerous less famous Americans, we recently toured “the Holy Land.” Norty picked this as the year to make our long-desired trip, and Terry did the planning. [link to photos: http://nortonwheeler.com/gallery/v/RoadToHarvard/Israel_Palestine_Jordan+2009/]

Before presenting a day-by-day reconstructed journal, we will note two distinctive features of our trip. First, it was mainly organized by The Melville Society, in conjunction with the society’s “Melville and the Mediterranean” conference in Jerusalem. Second, for the conference-organized portion of the trip, there was a pronounced pro-Palestinian orientation.

Best known for his novel Moby-Dick, published in 1851, Melville continued writing faction and poetry until his death in 1891. In 1856, Melville made his own tour of the Holy Land, and in 1876 he published a long-ignored epic poem, Clarel, inspired by his experiences and reflections on them. Longer than The Aeneid or Paradise Lost, the initial print run was about 120 copies. Only with the Melville Revival of the 1920s did some literary critics begin to appreciate the poem. Clarel is mainly a religious-philosophical dialogue among a group of Protestant pilgrims to the Holy Land and the Jews, Muslims, and Catholics they meet there. Most of the papers at this year’s Melville Society conference directly or indirectly addressed literary, biographical, philosophical, or historical themes associated with Clarel.

The three conference organizers, all Melville scholars, were: Tim Marr, a Bahai (as it usefully turned out – see below) and, thus, generally apolitical; Hilton Obenzinger, who has basically a Peace Now perspective on the Israel-Palestinian conflict; and Basem Ra’ad, a Palestinian with a Canadian passport who teaches at Al Quds University and has more or less an Edward Said view of the conflict (supports some form of one-state solution with amicable relations between Jews and Palestinians). The five-day conference proper (meetings, meals, housing) took place in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Participants stayed at the Jerusalem Hotel or nearby church guest houses, and the Ècole Biblique (a Catholic church) hosted conference sessions. The keynote address (but no subsequent panels), several half-day tours during the conference, and two post-conference tours, for which about half of the 50 or so conference participants stayed, had Arab guides and a generally Arab itinerary and narrative.

Monday 6/15/2009
Arrived in the afternoon at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Too tired to try navigating a public bus or train with our luggage, we took a taxi to our hotel, the newly renovated Port Hotel, in the northern part of the city, near the port. The room was comfortable, and we had a first exposure to Fox News as the only American news channel available in Israel. We were never able to confirm whether that is because CNN and MSNBC are boycotting Israel or because Israel likes Fox’s more pro-Israel politics. Had a tasty Mediterranean dinner at one of the many outdoor cafes along Tel Aviv Port, followed by a leisurely stroll along the port.

Tuesday 6/16/2009
A modest Middle Eastern breakfast came with the room’s $100 price tag. Most of the historical sites are to the south, in the older part of Tel Aviv and, especially, in Jaffa (Yafo), the original city (made famous by Jonah). The formal name of the combined city is Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Because our hotel was in the northern part of the city, we chose a touring agenda in the north. Still tired from jet lag, we walked a couple of miles to the Eretz Israel Museum, which is comprised of 11 pavilions and an archaeological dig. The numismatic pavilion housed an interesting exhibit on the pre-modern-Israel history of coins in region, as well as a special exhibit on Chinese money. The postal pavilion was not as exciting. We lunched in the museum’s café, then headed for the planetarium. Unfortunately, the planetarium was closed. Our Hebrew failed us, but the most plausible interpretation of the sign was that the planetarium is open only for a couple of hours daily. Walked back to the hotel, tiring from the heat as the sun ascended to its mid-day height. The desk clerk initiated us into an economical form of travel in Israel. Mini-buses function like a cross between a taxi and a bus, wait until they have a full load, and charge like buses. Took one to Tel Aviv’s central bus station, then another to the outskirts of Jerusalem. (“Sherut” – service – is the Hebrew singular for these vehicles. Not sure about the plural, since “sherutim” means restroom.) We’re still not sure whether we chose the right stop for getting off the second sherut (to Jerusalem), but we reached our destination. The driver was Arab and recognized the Jerusalem Hotel, as his English-speaking partner who stayed behind reassured us. We insisted the driver run the meter, which reflected a fee of about 25 shekels (four to the dollar) by the time he dropped us in front of the hotel. We had passed on staying at the Jerusalem hotel for $140/night, in favor of a sparser but satisfactory room at St. Thomas Church Guest House around the corner for $75/night. The desk clerk at the hotel directed us to the guest house, around the corner and up an alley. The St. Thomas desk clerk pointed us in the direction of a falafel stand, where we had a delicious meal for 12 shekels total. A drink at the outdoor Jerusalem Hotel restaurant, then a night’s sleep.

Wednesday 6/17/2009
Modest but tasty breakfast (rolls, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, thick plain yogurt) in the basement of the guest house. Norty committed the faux pas of reaching for a plate of mixed olives. “These are special for the sisters,” the desk clerk/waiter informed us. Gathered at the Ècole. Greeted Haskell Springer (whose 1998 seminar hooked Norty on Melville) and Beth Schulz from the University of Kansas. Thomas L. Thompson gave the keynote address, innocuously entitled “Clarel, Jonah, and the Whale: A Question Concerning Rachel’s Missing Children.” Basem introduced Thompson as a leading scholar of Biblical archaeology, whose controversial views prevented him from earning tenure in the United States, so that he spent most of his professional career in Denmark. Before Thompson began speaking, Terry observed that it was more likely that inferior scholarship was the bar to tenure. As we understood Thompson’s speech, he argued that: there is no archaeological proof of an ancient Jewish state in Palestine; most Jews remained in Palestine, rather than being exiled, and converted over time to other religions; the modern Jewish Diaspora is mainly the result of conversion rather than immigration; Melville, in Clarel, was critical of Zionism as aggressive but affirming of Jewish religion (as opposed to peoplehood). We have no expertise in Biblical archaeology, but Thompson’s talk seemed to have a none-too-subtle contemporary political agenda. [For what it is worth: 1) Wikipedia has a page on Thompson that reads as though he wrote it himself. 2) A scholarly handbook includes the following: “By the early 1990s, a small but vocal group of European biblical scholars were beginning to argue that there was no ‘historical Solomon,’ no ‘United Monarchy’ – indeed, no Israelite state before the 9th century BCE, and no Judean state before the late 7th century BCE (if then). … Later, even more radical works in this vein were produced throughout the 1990s by Keith Whitelman of the University of Stirling (Scotland) and by Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson of Copenhagen. In the end, the Hebrew Bible contained no reliable history of any ‘Israel’ in the Iron Age of Palestine, but was simply the original Zionist myth. Archaeology might in theory illuminate some ‘historical’ Israel; but since archaeological data were largely ‘mute,’ the task should be given up. Instead, both Biblicists and archaeologists should be writing the history of the Palestinian people. … [F]ew archaeologists except myself have bothered to respond to the ‘revisionists’’ efforts to write ancient Israel out of the history of Palestine, probably because it is self-evident to us that such an Israel did exist in the Iron Age. … Nevertheless, I have argued that the ‘revisionists’’ ignorance or deliberate abuse of archaeology must not be allowed to go unchallenged – not because it poses any real threat to our discipline, or to the histories of ancient Israel that will still be written, but for methodological reasons: it precludes any dialogue between two disciplines that are, after all, complementary. … Most archaeologists would hold that if we can distinguish Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Aramaeans, Phoenicians, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites in the archaeological (and textual) record, why not ‘Israelites’? In that sense, mainstream Palestinian archaeologists remain overwhelmingly positivist: there was an ‘early Israel’ in the 12th-11th centuries BCE; and an Israelite ‘state’ by the 10th century BCE, however modest. … Lurking behind the ‘revisionists’’ loss of confidence in our ability to attain any secure knowledge of the past, I would argue, is a typical, although rarely acknowledged, adaptation of the ‘postmodern’ paradigm that has plagued so many of the social sciences in the past two decades. Postmodernism holds that all claims to knowledge are merely ‘social constructs.’ Ancient texts – especially biblical texts – have become a ‘metanarrative’ designed to privilege the Establishment, so they must be resisted, ultimately rejected. Furthermore, since such texts have no intrinsic meaning, are inherently contradictory, we can supply any ‘meaning’ we choose. … ‘Revisionists,’ in particular, are fond of declaring that ‘archaeology is mute.’ My reply is, ‘No: but some historians are deaf.’ Archaeology today speaks volumes about the reality of ancient Israel in the Iron Age of Palestine; but the ‘revisionists’ typically ignore or discredit the abundant data. Together, basic archaeological handbooks like those of Weippert, Mazar, Ben-Tor, and Levy have a total of some 1,000 pages of detailed, well documented archaeological information on the Iron Age, or Israelite period. Yet nowhere do the ‘revisionists’ confront this body of data, not even to refute it.” William G. Dever, “Biblical and Syro-Palestinian Archaeology,” 127-147, in Leo G. Perdue, ed., The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001), 138-139.] The first panel included an interesting paper on the role of the dragomen (Arab translator) in Melville’s poem, someone who translates across cultures as well as languages. The conference provided lunch. Next, American Studies scholar Amy Kaplan gave a second keynote address on “Transnational Melville.” Although she later was one of the most outspoken advocates of Palestinian rights, her talk was not political in that sense – and it was welcome for being one of a minority at this (or any) conference that was an engaging talk, as opposed to a reading. We skipped the afternoon panels and went to the Western Wall in the Old City. Terry prayed on the women’s side; Norty watched people pray on the men’s side and took a few photos. Several people asked whether we went into “the cave,” and we didn’t realize until a week later that there is an underground archaeological dig, below the wall, that we missed. Dined quietly on our own at the Jerusalem Hotel.

Thursday 6/18/2009
Morning tour of the Old City, led by a Palestinian guide. Although the itinerary and the accompanying narrative for this and subsequent tours had an implicit political bias, we felt that most of the information our guide presented was accurate, though often incomplete. Furthermore, the guide was very animated and often humorous in his expositions. So, we liked him. The most significant sites we visited were, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Via Dolorosa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The first two were the most striking, both for their beauty and because most non-Muslim tourists cannot enter these sites, which are under the administrative control of the Muslim Waqf. At the Mosque, we also visited an interesting document preservation studio, which an internal spokesman claimed is one of the top four such institutions in the world. At the Dome, a member of our group asked an internal spokesman whether the remains of an ancient Jewish Temple were underneath, and he replied that this notion is a myth. In fact, the failure of this tour to include the Western Wall fed into an emerging subtext of the conference – that Jews had no important (pre-Zionist movement) connection to Israel. As Terry observed, however strong or weak the archaeological evidence for a Jewish Temple on the site, there is none at all for the ascension to heaven of Jesus from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or of Mohamad from the Dome of the Rock. After the tour, we hung around the Old City, looking for an Internet café. We found one and checked our e-mail. In addition to close-in buildings housing shops, restaurants, synagogues/mosques/churches, the Old City includes miles of hilly, honeycomb-like tunnels that are packed with smaller shops, mainly selling souvenirs. Terry’s knee tired from all the walking, so she bought a cane. 40 shekels might have been a little high, but it was an improvement over the original asking price of 800. Dinner “banquet” with the Melville group at the Jerusalem Hotel.

Friday 6/19/2009
Hilton opened the day with a statement that there had been insufficient time to visit the Western Wall yesterday, but that he encouraged everyone to do so on their own, as a complement to having seen the Dome, Al-Aqsa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We had previously told Tim we were considering writing a letter to Leviathan (the Melville Society journal) critical of the politicization of the conference. It is unclear whether Hilton’s statement was a response to this and possibly other grumblings, but it was welcome in any case. One of the two morning panels included a paper by a leading Chinese literary scholar, Yang Jincai, on Melville’s reception in China. Yang teaches at Nanjing University, and hopefully we will have a chance to see him there in the future. Rested during the afternoon, rather than going on the conference tour to he Dead Sea followed by dinner in Jericho. The trip would have conflicted with our plan for attending synagogue that evening. Norty’s colleague at Missouri Southern, Bill Tannenbaum, had told us about Shira Hadasha synagogue. While orthodox in adhering to tradition (such as using a mechitza, or dividing curtain to separate women from men), the congregation comes close to practicing egalitarianism in its worship. The service was lay led, and women led more of it than men. At least as noteworthy, almost the entire service consisted of singing – in beautiful harmony – rather than reading or chanting. We had befriended a young Jewish woman from N. Dakota, Linda Baeza, who had presented a paper that morning. She accompanied us to services, after we all dined at an Arab restaurant in the neighborhood of the conference. We took a taxi the two miles or so to the synagogue. We thought we would walk just far enough afterward to get beyond the informal no-driving-on-the-Sabbath zone, but in the cool of the evening it was a comfortable walk all the way back.

Saturday 6/20/2009
First panel included a paper by Robert and Karen Madison that went against the current in arguing that Derwent, an advocate of an optimistic, evolutionary view of history within Clarel, speaks for Melville. Norty is requesting a copy, as it might help on his long-gestating article on Hegel and Melville (in revise-and-resubmit status with the journal Clio). Rested during the second panel, but later bought an interesting self-published book by presenter Donna Ferrantello that demonstrates Melville’s substantial awareness of and interest in American importation of goods (and possibly ideas) from China. Back to the falafel stand for lunch. Afternoon tour of Mar Saba, Herodium, and Bethlehem. Mar Saba is an interesting, remote Greek Orthodox monastery, built in the fifth century in a location that is now part of the West Bank. Melville visited it and used it as the title of a major section of Clarel. As was the case at the Mosque and the Dome (where women with insufficiently modest dress had to take corrective action) and would have been the case had our conference group collectively gone to the Western Wall, women were treated differently from men. In this case, they could not enter the monastery building, but could only view it from the outside. Norty was coming down with a cold and decided to conserve energy by remaining outside, in the shade of a tree, with the women. We learned from the men who went inside that the head monk is an immigrant from the United States, a former California hippie who loves to tell stories but spends most of his waking hours in silent prayer. During the drive to Mar Saba, our guide provided a running commentary on who (Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs) previously and presently lived in the various villages we passed. He indicated which from which villages Jews drove Palestinians during the 1948 war, in which they stayed, and which they simply abandoned. Herodium is the ruin of a guard tower and summer palace that King Herod built. This was the first and only site we visited under conference auspices that was under Israeli government management. In a manner that we could not discern, though, its story seemed somehow to fit it with the narrative that Jews’ presence in and attachment to Palestine/Israel is a relatively recent phenomenon. During the subsequent drive to Bethlehem, a friend of Basem took over the microphone from our guide. She is an American Orthodox Christian who teaches at Al Quds University and is staunchly pro-Palestinian. Stridently might be a better adverb. She offered to compile for us and distribute during the next bus trip a detailed timeline about King Herod and a list of all the villages where Israelis had driven Palestinians from their homes in 1948. She asked whether anyone in the group would like her to compile other information. Norty – usually the dove in a conversation about Israeli-Palestinian conflict – raised his hand and asked for a list of all the villages where Arabs drove Jews from their homes in 1948 and a list of the events that led to the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973. The woman seemed surprised, but said she could present “the Israeli narrative” – or, as another member of the group suggested, find a more sympathetic individual to do so. Haskell later congratulated Norty for speaking out against a one-sided narrative. (As it turned out, happily we did not see this woman again. Basem conceded the next day to Norty that she had “pushed a little hard.”) On the way to Bethlehem, we saw a Roman ruin. In Bethlehem, we saw the Church of the Nativity and had an Italian dinner at the Opera Bistro and Lounge.

Sunday 6/21/2009
Attended the first panel, which had a nature theme, Haskell as panel chair, and Beth as one of the presenters. Skipped the rest of this last day of the conference, so as to be able to see more of Jewish Jerusalem. Had time only to see Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. Much of the museum was similar to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, but there were additional features as well – tributes to “righteous gentiles” who risked their lives to save Jews; historical documents, such as the deportation papers for Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and other Jewish intellectuals; a special children’s memorial; a library of all recovered names of victims. Feeling adventurous, we then caught the number 20 bus back toward East Jerusalem. We got off near the famous Ben Yehuda Street, so that we could eat dinner at a vegetarian restaurant that other conference attendees had told us about. The food at Village Green was delicious. Next, we walked around Ben Yehuda Street, hoping to find something we cold buy to take home with us. Along the way, we enjoyed watching and listening to a variety of street dancers and musicians. After browsing the merchandise of several shops, we found a ceramic wall hanging we liked at Y. Sh. Ghatan & Sons. It is a beautiful, modernist portrait of King David with a guitar and two of his wives. So, we contributed $200 to the Jewish sector of the Israeli economy.

Monday 6/22/2009
All-day tour. Drive north up the Mediterranean cost. Brief stop in Jaffa, then drive through the rest of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, toward Haifa. Stop in Haifa for a look at the beautiful Baha’i Gardens at the international headquarters in Haifa of this offshoot of Islam. This is when we learned that Tim is a Baha’i, as he took over the guide role and provided an extensive and informative commentary. Then, we took a tour boat across the Sea of Galilee and had dinner in Nazareth, after visiting the Church of the Annunciation.

Tuesday 6/23/2009
Crossed the border into Jordan. Changed tour buses and acquired a new guide named Mohamad. He was lower-key than the first guide, but provided generally competent commentary. To the annoyance of some of the pro-Palestinian members of the group, he did not talk about the plight of that group. He did, on numerous occasions, refer in passing to the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Although we could see from driving past Amman and from watching Jordanian television at our hotel that parts of Jordanian society are highly modern, the focus of our tour was on ruins. Our first visit was to Umm Qais. Next, we went to Jerash, an amazing Roman ruin that is more intact than anything one can see in Italy. At mid-day, we had our best meal of the entire trip, a luscious array of Mediterranean salads. Our hotel was in the modern (small) city of Petra.

Wednesday 6/24/2009
Toured the ruins of the ancient Sabatean [Nabatean] city of Petra. Melville used verbal images of Petra in his short story “Bartleby” as well as in Clarel. Pictures (see photo gallery) speak louder than words here. They day was hot. Terry nearly had heat stroke, and Norty was worn out for the next two days. Spent about five hours walking, mostly in the hot sun. On the way out, Terry snapped a photo of Norty and Basem, two skinny Semitic looking guys. Showing the photo to Basem, Norty asked (with a twinkle in his eye) whether Basem thought his (Norty’s) ancestors “might have come from this part of the world.” Basem replied (with what seemed to be a twinkle in his own eye), “Maybe from Armenia or some place like that.” For reasons not clear (or appealing) to most of our tired group, the bus next took us south for dinner at Aqaba, Jordan’s beautiful port city. Then crossed back into Israel at its port city of Eilat. The border guards harassed a couple of people who had exercised an option that Israel provides of using a separate card, rather than passport, to record entries into and departures from Israel. There are two reasons some people choose this option: a) to protest Israeli policies, such as West Bank settlements; b) to avoid being excluded from countries like Syria and Lebanon. Back (late) to Jerusalem for one last night at St. Thomas. A guard also harassed Gordon Poole, a senior Melville scholar, because of a book he had purchased with the title Palestine and the Palestinians. On the lighter side, a good looking young male guard “randomly” selected the attractive teen daughter of a conference-attending couple to ask a series of standard security questions. Both blushed as the crowded smiled.

Thursday 6/25/2009
New experience. We rent a car from Avis in Jerusalem. Terry drove (Norty refused). The car gave us more flexibility and, theoretically, shorter transits to our next stop and back to Tel Aviv. The reason car rental was unavoidable, though, is that we needed to get to the airport in Tel Aviv by about 8:00 pm Saturday evening but, because of the Jewish Sabbath, would have no access before then to public transportation. Terry had a tasty lunch during a stop at the village of Zikhron Ya’akov, while Norty, nursing an upset stomach, had a Coke. We eventually made it to our destination, a guest house at the vegetarian moshav Amirim. It was not easy, though. We discovered that road signage is minimal and sometimes misleading in Israel. The proprietors of the Campbell Guest House are Philip Campbell (originally from Britain) and Alit Campbell (a native Israeli). Philip told a story of asking a woman from Brooklyn to slow down so that he could understand her. After making herself understood, she complimented Philip on his English. He explained, “I went to night school.” Norty continued to rest his stomach, while Terry had some breakfast cereal for dinner.

Friday 6/26/2009
We had planned either to visit the Safed (Svat), famous as the historical headquarters of Jewish mysticism and a contemporary center for artists, or to swim in the Sea of Galilee. Both exhausted (even if pleasantly) from the trip, though, we decided to partake of the laid-back lifestyle at Amarim. We had brunch at Dahlia’s restaurant, took a walk, swam in the communal pool, and napped. In the evening, we attended Shabbat services at the small synagogue that serves the minority of the moshav’s religious members. Afterwards, a friendly American couple who were ending a year’s stay at Amarim invited us to join them and their two sons for a pleasant Shabbat dinner.

Saturday 6/27/2009
Again, the theme (in keeping with the Sabbath) was rest. We ate again at Dahlia’s, walked through a soothing sculpture garden, bought a mezuzah case from a local artist, and rested. Left for the airport in the early afternoon, again having to cope with poor road signage. Learned how to gas up at Israeli “petrol” stations, made it to the airport, returned the rental car, and got ourselves checked in for the flight home. Made it to Atlanta, then Kansas City on time. Norty drove home to Joplin. Finis.