Preemptive quit lit, or, does history have a future?

Come and get it!

Come and get it!

Much to my surprise, as I’ve been a bit of a grumpypants lately, the post last week on Matthew Pratt Guterl’s “What to Love” really struck a chord with a number of you.  Can you stand me blowing more sunshine up your skirt?

In today’s quit-lit-esque Jeremiad, Robert Zaretsky of the University of Houston riffs on Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II  in “The Future of History,” published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Braudel’s approach casts light not just on early-modern scholastics, but also on their postmodern descendants. Consider the tempo of life in graduate school: It moves at the same glacial pace as did life during the age of Phillip. Still governed by guildlike regulations and socio-professional traditions that our early-modern ancestors would recognize, the careers of grad students advance as languidly as trade caravans once did across North Africa.

It is hardly surprising, then, that we are unprepared for the tempo and temper of the times. We have handicapped ourselves, in addition, by a process of professional fission, fracturing into a growing number of subdisciplines. As our profession continued to sprawl, we fastened on ever smaller matters, and phrased our work in ever more arcane jargon. Mostly indifferent to the art of storytelling, we have been dying a death by a thousand monographs.

Seriously?  The “we’ve forgotten how to tell stories” line again?  Just how many copies of The Med and the Med World did Braudel sell outside of university libraries, anyway?  Was it a Book of the Month Club selection?  Riiiight.  Whenever I see that old line trotted out about “dying a death by a thousand monographs,” I see someone getting ready to push someone else out of the lifeboat, or at least hear him tell some kids to get off his lawn.

Enough of the “golden age” fantasies about the awesome, well-paid, and always well-respected scholars of yore.  When is your imagined “golden age” for history in these United States–the early and mid-nineteenth century, when only Gentlemen Scholars wrote history and bent it to their Protestant, white, male, triumphalist ends?  Just how many of those historians were actually making a living at it?  Just about none?  Alrighty then. Continue reading

Just another day at a university in cowboy country fantasyland (aka the U.S.A.)

Do I feel lucky?

Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

H/t to @LeapingRobot (aka Patrick McCray) for drawing my attention to this thoughtful request from Boisie State’s Greg Hampikian, who asks the Idaho Lege, “When May I Shoot A Student?”  Published nearly two years ago, he explains:

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.

I think you get the sense of the Swiftian satire that follows.  (Swift’s essay on eating children is eerily appropriate to the problem Hampikian’s essay addresses, which is extraordinary deference shown to a minority of gun nuts in the population at the expense of the majority of us, who just want to go to church, school, the gym, and the mall without being shot.) My favorite is his imagining of the popularity of study-abroad programs for bad guys who want to wreak havoc in gun-free zones: Continue reading

Tired of academic quit lit? Another view on academic labor.

dontquitApparently responding to the recent spate of academic “quit lit,” Matthew Pratt Guterl writes:

Let me tell you why not to quit.

You’ve been told that the university is a back-breaking neoliberal machine. That it encourages a certain solipsism and inhibits any sort of solidarity. That it will wall you off from colleagues and comrades. That it wants you to be happy but also to focus only on your own happiness. And that, by doing so, by finding happiness in the profit you glean from your own labor, you are complicit in someone else’s tragic undoing. In their erasure from life on the tenure stream. And in their own chance at happiness. That the ideological work of the institution dissolves your identity as a worker, and that it makes it impossible for you to connect with someone else with a different pay grade or institutional status, even if you both work in the classroom.

The architects of this story are scarred survivors of a dystopian landscape. Brilliant and talented, they’ve walked away from the tenure stream, spent a few years questing for a bright future, or never quite got close. The university they describe is bleak. It features: people tearing down other people; days and weeks spent alone in the office; a job market that resembles Lord of the Flies; faculty who are either preening peacocks or back-stabbing social climbers; students who will suck the life out of you, or who too closely scrutinize your tone and your words; administrators interested only measuring things, in taking away money, or in expanding their own ranks. They describe a life set to the lonely rhythm of the keypad and warmed by narcissism.

He appreciates the totalizing effects of this academic dystopianism:  “Full of strong colors and clear divisions, it is a magnificent, totalizing, overdetermined work of art.  Dystopian landscapes serve a purpose. They do great political work. Their broad brush strokes are meant to persuade, but also to focus the eye on a single, instrumentally conceived big picture. I might disagree with them on the details, but I also see their truth out there.”

But then he makes his point, which is an important one:  “other realities are out there. Other landscapes for you to inhabit. Or to create.”  Continue reading

Great prediction, Carnac: a brief history of the future of online education

carnacthemagnificentOne of the great things about blogging for the better part of a decade is that you can hold people accountable for the silly things they once said, or wrote, and presumably believed.

Do you remember 2010?  Like yesterday?  Here’s columnist Froma Harrop on September 21, 2010:

Bill Gates recently predicted: “Five years from now on the Web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

It’s the fall semester of 2015:  are we there yet?  What does Professor Pushbutton have to say about all of this?  How ’bout them learning machines, y’all?   Continue reading

Wrung out.


This is not me, but it’s pretty close.

Another day, another mass shooting in the U.S.A.  I know it’s been FOUR days already, but I’m wrung out.  (I also just typed “wrong out” instead of “wrung out,” which indicates why it’s probably best that I’ve been off-blog and social media in general lately.)

I used to write about gun violence a lot (see below for links).  I guess I’m just as jaded and discouraged as everyone else, but it’s hard to gin up the outrage yet again for another classroom full of dead students and a dead teacher.  Another socially isolated and probably mentally ill young man who had a parent eager to supply him with an arsenal for mass murder.

This article by Melissa Duclos, a community college proffie in Oregon, published last Friday morning at was the best thing I saw all weekend about last week’s murderous rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, “we don’t need your prayers, we need your courage.”  After a rundown of her CC’s “emergency protocols,” she writes this: Continue reading

Sometimes I don’t know what to say.

In both my grad class and my undergrad class this week we’re discussing Sharon Block’s Rape and Sexual Power in Early America.  This is a book that goes over very well with college students, given their vulnerability to sexual assault as well as Block’s analysis of the racial and class dynamics of rape complaints and prosecutions.  I was pushing my students on the question of why more hasn’t changed over the past 300 years, and decided to ask them if they knew someone who had been raped.  All of us but ONE person out of 17 or 18 of us in the discussion section raised a hand. Continue reading

You Must Remember This, the podcast

YouMustRememberThisI have a new obsession.  If it were a man, my husband would be jealous (or so I would hope.)  All weekend and much of this week so far, I’ve been listening to the You Must Remember This podcast, which is written and voiced by Karina Longworth.  Its tagline is “exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of 20th Century Hollywood.”

Why do I love it?  It’s like eating a bag of potato chips, or a box of candy, but they’re really smart potato chips, and really nutritious candy.  I think I’ve shared here before that on the rare occasions I read history books for pleasure, I read twentieth-century U.S. history.  Longworth’s research and writing are all that, plus celebrity gossip, and more!

But by far, the best thing about You Must Remember This is the clear feminist through-line of Longworth’s analysis of the careers of women artists.  I burned through the entire 12-part series she did last summer on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” while washing my windows on Sunday afternoon, and this almost made window-washing a pleasure.  This series includes a riveting analysis of Manson Family murder victim Sharon Tate’s short acting career along with a consideration of the not-very-revolutionary aspects of the Sexual Revolution for most women, even (or especially) women in the industry.  Since then I’ve heard her fascinating reconsiderations of the careers of Marion Davies and Mia Farrow. Continue reading