Everything changes, part II

Today’s post is part II of a meditation on skin and ink inspired by Flavia’s recent adventures in body art.  Part I is here.

Last week, the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson, gave a small group of readers a tour of some of the literary manuscripts from the collections that reveal the different ways in which writers wrote–some revised as they wrote in longhand or on a typewriter (Jack London and Charles Bukowski), others clearly didn’t save their drafts as their work was printed in clear, neat, meticulously spaced tiny letters on the page (Wallace Stevens).  That was fascinating–it made me long to see the famous Mark Twain papers collected here.

More fascinating for the historians among us–or at least for me–was the conversation we got into about preservation issues.  Hodson pointed out that the most durable and long-lasting materials for literary and historical texts are some of the oldest technologies like vellum and other parchment, whereas the newer technologies and media for storing information were some of the least stable and most ephemeral.  In general, she said, the further you progress in time, the less stable the archival materials become.  So, seventeenth and eighteenth-century paper made with rags is a much more stable information storage medium than cheap nineteenth-century paper made from wood pulp, and that wood-pulp paper is more durable than a great deal of later twentieth-century media. Continue reading

Timothy Egan is the only guy who gets it

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

What makes for a good MFA student makes for a good grad student too.

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

Schriebaschram 2015!

schreibaschram2From the H-WOMEN listserv this morning (edited only to embed links), we learn of a new writer’s retreat called the Schreibaschram, under the headline “If you want to get writing done:  “Get thee to a nunnery!”

Dear colleagues,

Quite ironically, the time for concentration and intellectual contemplation seems to be eroding at universities.  Therefore we have developed the project Writing Ashram– a monastary simulation for academics.  I would like to share new dates for this intensive writing retreat hosted by the University of the Arts Berlin with you.  It happens in the countryside outside Berlin.  The new quality in focus and boost of productivity, that come through living in this monastary-like daily structure, away from all chores, with other writers for a couple of days is quite astonishing.  So, do feel free to join us or share the information with colleagues!

***DATES***

August 1-7, 2015 as part of the Berlin Summer University. You find all information important details here.

Here are some photos to give you an idea.  Maybe this is also interesting for your university:  We offer this unique course for exclusive groups, such as graduate schools, and research teams all over Europe.

Let there be output!  Best wishes,

Ingrid Scherübl

p.s.  And yes, this is a secular endeavour!

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Oliver Sacks is dying an optimist

A  great public intellectual writes about his robust good spirits in the face of a terminal diagnosis:

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

.       .       .       .       .

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

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I bleg your pardon: tips for moving onward and upward?

Nicoleandmaggie have a letter from a reader who got a new, better job (yay!) who wants advice for the new job. And they apparently think that my readers can help! A little flava:

At my current institution, I did way too much service (sitting on university wide committees, directing a program) partially because I didn’t say no, partially because the institution is full of men who think that female professors should be on all committees relating to teaching and do all service, partially because I was thrown under the bus by my chair and dean. Needless to say, I am delighted to be moving. And that I am better at saying no now than I was 5 years ago.
My big question is this: What advice would you give someone who was moving about adapting to the new place? Are there things that faculty who have come to your departments / former departments did that drove you nuts? That you saw as particularly savvy or smart? I am bringing lots of credit on the tenure clock to the new place, so I have one year there before I go through the tenure process, if that matters. 

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Teaching queer history in the Ellenic vs. the Ellenistic eras

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.

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