Timothy Egan is the kind of guy you’d think I could agree with: He thinks history is important! He thinks we should write history to engage and fascinate our readers! He thinks assaults on high school Advanced Placement history classes are foolish, as he states in his recent essay on the misguided attempts in Oklahoma to control the A.P. American history curriculum!
I agree with him on all of the above, but then he goes and writes something just as dumb and as dishonest as any opportunistic Okie legislator would write:
With the latest initiatives, the party of science denial is now getting into history denial. On the academic front, they have a point, indirectly. Much of the A.P history framework is boring, bland, and sounds like it was written by committee, which it was. There’s little narrative, drama, heroics or personality — in other words, the real-life stuff that makes for thrilling history.
Here’s a sample “learning objective” from the current national course and exam description from the College Board: “Analyze the role of economic, political, social and ethnic factors on the formation of regional identities in what would become the United States from the colonial period through the 19th century.” And you wonder why the humanities are in trouble.
That’s right: “a sample ‘learning objective'” apparently must be just as thrilling and as full of “narrative, drama, heroics [and] personality” as Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, otherwise it’s just further proof that historians and educators are just as bad as the Oklahoma legislators who want history to be all happy talk about the Founding Fathers.
Egan pretends not to know that there’s a difference in the ways that educators communicate with each other, and the ways in which they communicate with their students, readers of history, or the general public about their work. He writes as though an internal process document or a sample exam question exactly describes what is taught in A.P. high school classrooms. He writes to suggest that classroom educators aren’t smart enough to know how to talk to their own students about history, and implies that they’re smart enough to communicate in professional shorthand with one another about the boring (but necessary) stuff. Continue reading
Via an amie on Twitter, we read of Ryan Boudinot’s “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now that I No Longer Teach in One.” More accurately, this would be called “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Students Now that I No Longer Teach Them,” and implicitly he offers excellent advice to anyone contemplating an advanced degree of just about any kind. To wit:
If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
I went to a low-residency MFA program and, years later, taught at a low-residency MFA program. “Low-residency” basically means I met with my students two weeks out of the year and spent the rest of the semester critiquing their work by mail. My experience tells me this: Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student. On a related note: Students who ask if they’re “real writers,” simply by asking that question, prove that they are not.
(Portions bolded in blue are highlighted by Historiann.) Right on! Either you have time to devote to professional training and development, or you don’t. If you don’t, then wait until you have the time to prioritize your education. (And please, for the love of God don’t take out loans for an education you can’t prioritize!) Sadly, universities (like mine!) are encouraging the fantasy that college or graduate school are things you can do in your jammies at home on your own time while also raising a family and holding down a full-time day job, and presumably getting the laundry done, keeping everyone fed and kitted out, and staying physically fit. (Good luck with that!)
However, a degree like that, however honestly and earnestly pursued, is not the equal of a degree pursued as your number one priority. Life is long, and graduate school is short, so make the time you spend there really count.
Here’s another bon mot that seems specific to MFA students, but is in fact useful for grad students and scholars everywhere: Continue reading
Civil Rights movement veteran Anne Moody died last week at 74. She was the author of one of the best autobiographies in American History, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968). I read that book as a college junior, and remember it being utterly un-putdownable. It was one of those books in college that I read straight through without stopping not because of a syllabus deadline, but because it was brilliant and moving. It was the first feminist book about the Civil Rights movement I had read.
Anne Moody invented intersectional analysis in 1968–scholars took years to catch on and catch up.
From an email I received from the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Bryn Mawr College about the “recommendation from a Board working group that was created at the September 2014 Board meeting to examine the mission of the College with respect to transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming applicants” that was “discussed and approved” last weekend. I’m sure this working group came in response to this story from the New York Times last fall about trans* students at Wellesley.
The working group concluded unanimously that the mission of the College at the undergraduate level is to educate women to be future leaders. In its recommendation to the Board, the working group noted that Bryn Mawr’s identity as a women’s college is fundamental to its distinctive environment, one in which women are central, faculty assume and expect excellence from women, and women assume positions of leadership. The working group also recommended that the College use language that affirms our institutional identity as a women’s college (e.g. use of gendered language) while respecting the diversity of individual identities in the community.
The working group also proposed that the College more clearly articulate the eligible undergraduate applicant pool in the context of its mission. The Board approved the working group’s recommendation that in addition to those applicants who were assigned female at birth, the applicant pool will be inclusive of transwomen and of intersex individuals who live and identify as women at the time of application. Intersex individuals who do not identify as male are also eligible for admission. Those assigned female at birth who have taken medical or legal steps to identify as male are not eligible for admission.
In cases where an applicant’s gender identity is not clearly reflected in their application materials, the College may request additional information, which could include verifiable legal or medical steps taken to affirm gender. In evaluating such additional information, the College fully intends to be as flexible and inclusive as possible.
Within the context of our mission as a women’s college, all Bryn Mawr students will continue to be valued and supported members of the community, no matter how their gender identity shifts during their time at the College.
The Ellenic vs. Ellenistic Eras
Over at Notches, they’ve got yet another excellent description of a panel last month at the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City, this time reporting on “Teaching Queer History.” John D’Emillio described his brilliant periodization for students of queer history: “Pre-Ellen” and “Post-Ellen.” Or, to put it in terms of the Classics, we might call them the Ellenic versus the Ellenistic generations. To wit:
Familiar with the oppression LGBT people faced in the past, the undergraduate students of the “pre-Ellen” generation (before 2001 or so) were thrilled by the stories of resistance to that oppression. By contrast, D’Emilio found the “Post-Ellen” generation (undergraduates coming of age after 2001) more normalized to the idea of LGBT people and less comfortable with the narratives of oppression and resistance. Because of ongoing cultural normalization, LGBT oppression and the resistance movements they spawned seem distant and foreign to these recent students. This shift, D’Emilio noted, is reflected in the students’ own involvement with and awareness of LGBT politics today: while many students know of or attend pride parades, few of them have heard of Stonewall or know its significance.
D’Emilio ended hopefully, adding that while these somewhat more disengaged Post-Ellen-ites were unaware of much of LGBT history, they were nonetheless keen to learn. The clear solution was greater exposure to LGBT history earlier in their education.
Just go read Elizabeth Reis on the Mount Holyoke College non-production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues at Nursing Clio:
Intersex activists have coined the insightful slogan, “No Body is Shameful®,” to draw attention to the shaming and forced cosmetic adherence to the idea of a “normal” body. Of course, here they are talking about people born with atypical sex development, like the one in 5000 infant girls born with MRKH Syndrome [Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome]. Since the nineteenth century, girls born without vaginas have endured the surgical creation of such anatomy. This reconstructive “corrective” surgery, described eloquently here by Esther Morris Leidolf, in a narrative she calls the “The Missing Vagina Monologue,” has never been done for the pleasure of the girl, but as her physician bluntly explained when she was only thirteen years old: so that she “could have a normal sex life with her husband.”
This is the kind of violence that The Vagina Monologues speaks to, even though there are no intersex characters in Eve Ensler’s play. It doesn’t matter (though it would be a good idea!). Watching the play encourages us to appreciate the profound refrain, “No Body is Shameful,” whether we have a vagina, want a vagina, like vaginas, or just love hearing the word spoken rebelliously and repeatedly on stage.
I like Reis’s point about the surgical violence done to women’s bodies for men’s pleasure. I know that many trans* people have embraced this kind of surgery as something that can make them whole or complete, but I sometimes wonder where the feminist critiques of allopathic medicine have gone sometimes in the trans* celebrations of the power of technology to alter people’s bodies through hormones and surgery. Continue reading
Via Rebecca Onion at Slate’s The Vault and the Bryn Mawr College library:
In this piece of anonymously-authored ephemera [Ten Little Suffergets], suffragettes are pictured not as men, but as roly-poly three-year-old girls. They bear an array of placards whose slogans mix the actual platform items of women working for the vote (“Votes for Women,” “Equal Rights”) with petulant and childish demands (“No More Early Bedtimes,” “Cake Every Day”).
In the course of the book, the weak-willed protestors leave behind their goals one by one, after kissing boys, eating too many sweets, or simply falling asleep—a story that paints women’s desire for suffrage as frivolous and shallowly felt.