Why I’ve fallen down on the (uncompensated) job this term

A self-portrait, minus cowboy hat.

I was wondering the other day why I’ve managed to get so little scholarship or blogging done since classes started in August.  Why, why, why?  Is my middle-aged brain incapable of nimble, complete synaptical connections?  Am I lazy?  Am I distracted?  Too much wine at dinner?  Then I remembered:  I’m teaching 2 new classes this semester, a team-taught undergraduate class on the History of Sexuality in America, and the graduate historiography class (or as I call it to make it seem less intimidating:  Introduction to Historical Practice.)  So, lots of lecture writing and new-book-reading is what’s keeping me busy.  No doy.

Apparently, my tiny brain only has so much room for innovation at this stage of midlife.  I think that age and/or complacency has a lot to do with this.  I used to teach a 3-3 load, write articles, make progress on a book manuscript, and win nationally competitive grants!  (Maybe I peaked at 33?  Maybe this is just what it is to be an Associate Professor at a beleaguered Aggie that’s down 6 or 7 tenure lines in the past 10 years?)

I’ll have a post up this weekend about all of your wonderful (and speedy) responses to Tony Grafton’s challenge for more specifically grounded descriptions of the “crisis” in American universities.  If you just can’t wait, please see this thread for lots of smart, detailed, and contrarian views!

17 thoughts on “Why I’ve fallen down on the (uncompensated) job this term

  1. No discernable fall-off on the quality here, Historiann; I wouldn’t worry too much about any “new-metrix” like total yards per carry. On a “wins against replacement” basis, it’s no contest. Besides, 2012 figures to be an interesting year, in the Chinese proverb sense of the term, so probably best to conserve energy for that.


  2. H-Ann has an epic OPS of like .950. She is, in baseball terms, a classic #3 hitter. Even on the days she doesn’t get a hit, she gets on base, or alters somebody else’s approach, and the team wins.


  3. Sometimes I look back to what I managed to accomplish as a grad student: coursework and/or dissertation writing, plus T.A. work, plus cranking out two conference papers a year and the occasional article. My final semester in my M.A. program I was taking one grad-level history course, plus one language course, plus T.A.-ing 20+ hours a week… and I still had time to write and revise a 90-page thesis in 7 weeks.

    Where the hell did I get all that energy?


  4. The decline awaits you may be 20 years later, so far so good. We all have ups and downs and the reasons vary. My projection after reading this blog for a long time is that when either the teaching load or some other unidentified factor changes, you should revert back to the old bad and good habits.

    Of course, you can change your habits.


  5. Teaching a 3-2 load with several senior honors students (no grad students here), and I go for days when I don’t have time to *read* your fine blog. You’re doing great! I do find that I have been working harder post-tenure than pre-, partly because of greater service expectations but mostly because I’ve found it really hard to get new research going. Before tenure, I had years of research done during grad school to refine and publish. Now, without ready access to a research library or the necessary archives, it takes a lot more effort to engage in even basic scholarship. Plus, as adults, we have family/house/community responsibilities that were nonexistent or lesser in grad school. Professors are expected to have endless energy to do everything all the time, but we are just people!


  6. My hypothesis is that a major component in my being more efficient as a grad student/post-doc/new lecturer is that I always believed that effort now would pay off – that the level of work and stress would not stay at 120%, but would fall off any time soon, once I… [graduated/got funded/moved to a better place/got an academic job/got past probation]. Somewhere along the way I stopped believing that and the sense that it will never get any easier saps my ability to do as much as I used to.

    Plus age, of course, but I like to think at least some of it is wisdom not decline…


  7. I must admit that I don’t understand this reactionary sentiment, this things (including my productivity) were soooo much better in the past. Oh come on. My day had fewer obligations when I was a graduate student but I was working on somebody else’s (finite) time line. I did not have liberty. Now, my day is wound up tight as can be but I’m teaching a comic book in a science inquiry class. It’s all good.


  8. I really want to to take your sexual history class…so fascinating! Are you enjoying it?
    I imagine it takes a great deal of time to create a class, let alone two….


  9. At one time I would come home from teaching 3 classes plus doing all the other student things and meetings, and read journal articles *to relax* and come back to reality – by letting my brain run at regular speed, I just realized.

    Then I got too tired – my brain was mush by 5 (or 8, I get off work at 5 some afternoons and 8PM others). But actually, the idea that relaxation comes from letting brain run at regular speed helps; I should relax by reading journal articles when tired just as one relaxes by working out even if tired.


  10. As someone who can’t keep track of her own brain, I suspect it’s all the other things that go on when you hit your stage of a career. You usually manage two or three smart and/or funny posts a week: seems pretty good to me! There are days I don’t even look at blogs I’m so busy. (Today, it’s just been catching up from a day when we didn’t have any email.)


  11. Notorious’s description of her grad student days is ridiculously intimidating (as a grad student myself). Here I’d hoped that one gained stamina as one got older, but this thread is definitely not encouraging in that direction…!


  12. We’re down four or five lines over the past three years. That’s certainly part of the problem as I’m on many more committees these days. I’m not teaching new preps unless you count the graduate directed readings which essentially is since it’s a course to support my grad student’s research topic (only related to my own research by virtue of exploring a subject in the same national history that has a century of overlap with my own studies).

    You have my sympathies because creating new courses is about the most difficult work we do. There’s no peer review to tell us if we’re doing it right or wrong and few useful guidelines to make a course ‘click’. So it’s a huge effort that very few people outside of students and colleagues will see enough of the outcome to admire.

    By the way, I teach our graduate methods course all the time – I’d love to blog some on what is important to teach in practices and how to teach it. I adore Miles Fairburn’s “Social History: Problems, Strategies and Methods” for hitting a sweet spot between all sorts of methodological insights and a sweeping overview of historiographic themes. But I’m always looking for new books and new techniques to liven up the course!


  13. Thanks, Janice–great idea. I’ve taken a more philosophical approach to my historiography class, which is more about the ethics and politics of history than a methodology class. (Our students also have to take at least one research seminar, which I assume covers methodology better than I could.)

    My course is organized around an exploration of the history of professional history itself, and then an in-depth investigation of a variety of “history scandals” that have been in the news in North America over the past 25 years. Here’s the reading list:

    Michael Bellesiles, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000; 2003)

    Antoinette Burton, Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (2006)

    Shelley Ruth Butler, Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa (1999; 2007)

    Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History (1997)

    Peter Hoffer, Past Imperfect: Facts, Fiction, Fraud—American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (2004;2007)

    Edward Pearson, Design Against Charleston: The Trial Record of the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy of 1822 (1999)

    Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History: Men, Women, & Historical Practice, 2nd edition (2000)

    Jon Wiener, Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Politics, and Fraud in the Ivory Tower (2005)

    Deborah Gray White, Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008)

    Richard White, Richard White, Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories (1998; 2003)

    (Plus supplementary articles and forums from the Journal of American History and the American Historical Review, and a bunch of articles on the EEOC v. Sears trial of 1984-86.)


  14. Historiann, that sounds like a fabulous course and a great set of readings. I love Grafton’s book and am itching for an excuse to teach from it. Someday. . . .

    We’ve been using the first one as a case study in our undergraduate methods course for sophomores – great bit to open the eyes of students to why professional ethics matters! I think they were also engaging with Hoffer, if not the whole book, at least a segment.

    One of the objectives for the seminar that I teach is to prepare students for their topic defence, so we teach them how to write a proposal and how to expand their bibliographic reach, for example. I also spend half of the course taking a particular subfield and leading students through the historiographic variety. This year I’m doing media history so we’ve looked at the history of the book as well as more modern media.

    I used Leslie Howsam’s “Old Books and New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture” to start the ball rolling on this half of the term and then have asked each student to choose a set of readings from a longer list each week. So I can thrown McLuhan, Darnton, Eisenstein and all sorts of others into the mix. I might branch out and get them to read and react to Steve Anderson’s “Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past” for the end of the term.

    It’s invigorating to teach grad students but very intimidating, especially when you’re not teaching “your subfield” but something as broad-reaching and technically demanding as methods or historiography. I know that some of my colleagues talk about the joy of leading grad students to explore their own specialty – I’ve never gotten to do that.


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