Local Political Signs

If you follow me on social media you probably know my lawn signs (a Biden/Harris sign and a BLM sign) were stolen yesterday between 2 and 5 pm. This sparked a discussion on our local email list about lawn signs and responses to them in the community.  I finally wrote up some thoughts.  Obviously my thoughts on how to ‘read’  signs is influenced by my work as a Roman historian and numismatist specializing in visual political rhetoric, particularly at the end of the republic.  I am professionally accustomed to thinking about the dissemination of meaning and plurality of connotations of any message, but especially the combination of image and words.  Thus I thought I’d share my words here too:
For the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting a great deal on why I am unsettled by the current design of the Support Easton Police Signs (link to FB group distributing signs).  I did in fact acquire a BLM sign as my first public response to this message from some of my neighbors.
The words on these “Support Easton Police” signs communicate a positive attitude towards a group of local government employees.  Many of us (including myself) have had personal positive experiences with the individuals who make up this group.  Many of us want that group to help us when we feel scared or our property or persons are threatened.  Many of us trust that this is how this group will respond.  Some in our community have had negative experiences.  Some do not trust that calling this group will be a positive experience in a crisis.  Many (most even?) would want others in the community to share our positive experiences and trust.  We may have different ideas about how to widen that inclusive message.
The words on the Support Easton Police signs communicate one’s own trust and positive experience on a local level, but some who have had negative experiences or distrust may read the signs as a discounting of the experiences of themselves and their communities on a local level.  I would not put such a sign in my own yard because I would not want my neighbors to think I prioritize my own positive experiences over their negative ones.  This is especially true because these signs are in dialogue with wider national experiences and conversations.  This is made most obvious by the same design being used in immediately neighboring communities like Palmer with only a name change, likely printed, designed, and/or distributed by the same individuals.
The words are one thing, but the image/background is in fact what gives me the biggest pause.
The background is a black and white American flag with a blue line. The flag is a visual representation of the belief that the police are “a thin blue line” a rhetoric that is far older than the flag itself.  The exact creation of the imagery is still hazy but its dissemination came to the fore in 2014 in the aftermath of the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.  Read more both the history and recent usage of the imagery and the phrase  here–I chose this piece as it gives voice to some of those who have been most active in the promotion of the the imagery itself. The flag has also been divisive in other small cities.


In my professional research one way I make arguments about the historical connotations of an image is by tracing patterns of usage and associated symbols.  Not everyone who uses thin blue line imagery may believe that white people are under threat or that there is a need for private citizens to arm themselves and prepare for vigilante action, but groups with these beliefs regularly use this flag in conjunction with other symbols related to those beliefs. The symbol is strongly associated and adopted by those with more extreme beliefs regarding race and the use of firearms and violence.  Warrior XII merchandise is a good example of the co-option and elision of such symbols (links to waybackmachine site archive; there is also analysis of this iconography available from Vassar faculty).
Of course, similar arguments about the connotations of my Black Lives Matter sign can be made, especially that it connotes abolition of the police because many (but not all) who support the Black Lives Matter movement advocate for de-funding the police or abolition.  And it is true, I want those who see my sign to think about why I might be willing to give up some of my own sense of security and to have a conversation about police abolition because of the violence of our present policing system. On the spectrum of possible policy changes my personal preference falls more on community engagement in reform, demilitarization, and reallocation of funds to different social services and providing our community with a wider set of possible 911 crisis response options to ensure police don’t have to be on the front lines when others are better trained for a particular situation. Nevertheless, I’m fully cognizant my sign may connote more and accept those connotations as well in the overall message I’m willing to send:
When I put a BLM sign in my lawn I want you to assume I prioritize the lives and safety of my neighbors above and beyond my support for any one governmental institution no matter how much I may love and respect the individuals who work with that institution.
When I see a sign with a thin blue line flag it seems reasonable to assume those who post it prioritize the organization over the lives, perhaps viewing the violence as either justified or unavoidable as part of what they see as a wider “social good”.  This message is not just communicated by the words but by the choice of background.
If you feel differently, but wish to communicate support for the Easton police, I would encourage our local community adopt a different background.  I’d love to see an Easton sign design with many clasped hands of different skin colors that has a slogan about serving our whole community, to accompany an inclusive conversation about how we can improve and enhance how our local government, including the police, to serve the needs of all members of our community.
One may say “that’s not what I personally meant by my sign” but much of communication (especially public speech like lawn signs!) is not simply individual intention, but rather what is heard. That is why context matters.  My hope here is to help clarify context.  Even if you do not agree with me.  I hope we can keep talking.  That’s what neighbors do.

Re-blogging Abstract Guidance

This is an excellent post from Cora Beth Knowles. I’m copying in full to create an archival copy of this materials but this her work, not mine! PLEASE FOLLOW HER both here on wordpress and on twitter!

What is an abstract and how do I write one?

Posted on by Cora Beth

I’ve been reading a lot of abstracts lately, and thinking about what makes a good one. So here are my thoughts, for those times when you’re unexpectedly in need of an abstract!

This year I’m a judge on the Classics and Archaeology Panel for the Undergraduate Awards. As part of the judging process we look at the abstracts that people have written to accompany their essays. Now, I’ve seen some great abstracts over the last couple of weeks, but in general it’s apparent that people don’t know what to do with an abstract. They write a few lines as an afterthought, or more often they simply copy and paste their introduction. So let me address both of those mistakes, to show you why an abstract is important, and why it’s not an introduction.

You should always make good use of the opportunity to provide an abstract. The abstract is the public face of your work – your advert, if you like, for your own research. It’s the first bit of your writing that your readers will see: and if it’s not good enough, it will be the only bit they’ll see, because they won’t bother with the rest! Essentially it’s rhetoric: you’re persuading people to read on.

So what are you supposed to do, and how can you do it well enough to hook a reader?

One crucial element of the answer is that the abstract is different from an introduction. It should be catchier: just ask yourself, ‘What would Cicero write?’. It should be a standalone piece of writing. It’s the classic ‘elevator pitch’: the way you’d sum up your research to someone if you were sharing a lift with them for thirty seconds. An abstract should usually be between 100 and 300 words, and doesn’t usually contain references: so it can be more powerful than normal academic writing.

It should also go further than your introduction. These are the things you’re usually advised to include:

Background information




Methodology/ Approach


In other words you’re telling the story of your developing research; you set out the context of your main interest and (crucially) the gap that it is going to fill; and you cover the purpose of the work (what does it set out to achieve?). These are all things that you might do in your introduction. But in your abstract you also need to outline your methods: what approach have you chosen? This is important: people might choose to read your work because they want to use similar methods in a different context, so you need to see your methodology as a selling point in your elevator pitch.

You also need to anticipate your conclusion. Many people don’t do that, because it’s not something you would usually do in an introduction – but of course (as I may have mentioned!) this isn’t an introduction. Don’t worry about giving away the ending: frankly, your research is unlikely to contain a great deal of dramatic tension anyway! Tell the reader what you’ve found out: if they find it interesting, they’ll read the full article to see how your research justifies your conclusion.

There aren’t a lot of occasions at undergraduate level when you need to write an abstract. You’re likely to need one if you pursue undergraduate publication or submit an essay to the Undergraduate Awards; but apart from those, it tends to be seen as a higher-level requirement, for MA study and beyond. However, if you can get into the habit of writing a rough abstract, for your eyes only, for every essay (yes, I know, it’s a crazy idea!), you’ll see how the act of writing an abstract forces you to sharpen up your thinking about how your goals, methods and conclusions connect.

Abstracts are a big part of academic life; but for the most part, writing an abstract is a skill that is not taught. Scholars even at the top levels of academia are often dreadful at writing abstracts. It’s a startling omission in research and skills training, but it’s one that you can exploit by developing the ‘elevator pitch’ as a skill that sets your work apart. Keep in mind that when people get out of that metaphorical lift, they should be interested in finding out more about you. If they’re bored or confused when the doors open, you’ve lost that audience forever.

Abstracts: the art of being fun in a lift. Remember that definition and you won’t go far wrong!


(And here’s a detailed discussion of the ideal [arguably!] composition of an abstract, from the LSE Blog.)

Cora Beth Knowles

“Indian” Rhetoric

While preparing for my graduate seminar last night I found references to the importance of Bingham’s Columbian Orator to classical reception particularly the reception of Cato and Addison’s Cato. All things of deep interest to me.

This morning as I was cleaning up my open tabs I couldn’t help but browse the table of contents and noticed an ‘anonymous’ speech:

Image links to book on archive.org

This is bizarre and also not unexpected.  It so well typifies beliefs about the ‘Noble Savage’ and ‘right’ relations with indigenous peoples.  I wondered if anyone had written on it, but then I remembered how much I had to do so I am throwing up this blog post.  When I return to it I want to start here:

Stockbridge Indian papers, 1739-1915.
Collection Number: 9185

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library

BUT I also want to think about the possible influence of the Bingham version of the speech on the Lewis speech to the Yankton Sioux!  Note especially the use of the FAMILIAL VOCATIVE!

Opening excerpt

Notes to Self on Running Charitable Auction

  • Paypal was a nightmare to set up, allow time and multiple people to work on this.
  • Compressed is best to conserved your own energy and enthusiasm and also of the bidders. This was shorter but in someways still too long.
  • This is in tension with the fact that everyone want to bid immediately when they see stuff and also wants to donate items even when they are learning about auction at the last moment
  • Line up data entry volunteers or paid help, people solely responsible for keeping track of donations and uploading them into website.
  • You never know what will appeal to others. Accept the wacky as long as on theme and trust it will find its fan base.
  • People are motivated by the personal, make it ALL personal
  • Promote matching from the start BUT don’t make matches too big, use twice retail as a good bench mark for a successful possible match target. Suggest big matchers sponsor instead.
  • Recruit sponsors, but set a minimum for sponsorship and make clear to differentiate levels (bronze, silver, gold are boring but the I now see why fundraisers use these!)
  • Research and PAY for a better site. Time = money. A clunky site costs time.
  • People like to the donate items during auction. Let this happen but have data entry support lined up to handle it.
  • Social media alliances are key. Get people to volunteer as designated re-tweeters. Formalizing this will validate it as work.
  • Never under estimate who will complain about what. Keep to a NO DRAMA policy, but pre establish what will be grounds for removing posted items.
  • Mail Merge is your best friend. That and spreadsheets. Make sure donation form has fields that can be directly uploaded to action site.
  • The raffle worked great earning 4/5s as much as auction itself. Some legal issues should be talked through and we also need to cognizant in future of religious prohibitions in some communities.
  • Go Live works but use Youtube not FB. FB requires an account.
  • Don’t forget to set minimum bid increment
  • Don’t set buy it now too low.
  • Closing time matters!
  • If working in a team have a pre scheduled set of check in meetings on the calendar.
  • The pool of bidders and donors has huge overlap. A core group uses the momentum of the event to encourage themselves to engage further and extend giving. Much of it is about community.
  • Too much work and too much risk of becoming ritualized if run annually. Should be random-ish and at least 14 plus months since last similar event.

Hellenistic Royal Portrait Mosaic

This isn’t a real post.  I’m too busy for a real post.  Everything I’m doing feels a little neglected as I’m doing too much.  HAPPY SEPTEMBER!  but I don’t want to lose this image or refs.

For #MosaicMonday, my second favorite Hellenistic mosaic: the stunning portrait of Berenike II, Queen of Kyrenaika and later Ptolemaic Egypt. She sports a crown made of warship prows and a fibula (brooch) with an anchor, a possible hint at her Seleukid lineage. Naval couture.

From Eduardo García-Molina

Dr. Blouin  argues this is Arsinoe II

2015. Mendès et les reines: reconsidération historique des mosaïques navales de Thmouis (Alexandrie 21739 et 21736), KOUSOULIS, P. and L. LAZARIDIS eds. Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Egyptologists, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, 22-29 May 2008, pp.1951-1960.

Hercules and the Muses

ANS 1937.158.170, RRC 410/1

John Ma on twitter offered a translation of this newly discovered inscription:

“I am Maternus, new Herakles, who was best in the Muses and unconquered in the gladiatorial schools. I killed Pasinikos, and myself descended to the underworld with him”

-Tweet from Aug 26
Screenshot of original publication

I just wanted to file this away for another example of Hercules association with the Muses for juxtaposition with coin above.