Chronology, “coverage,” and other pointless wastes of time for historians.

I’m not a traditional historian. I don’t give a fig about chronology except (maybe) in my “first half” (1492-1877) of the U.S. History survey class, and I never care about “coverage.” Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I go for books and ideas that intrigue me rather than the idea that I need to “cover” certain decades or themes in my classes.  The only kind of coverage I ever worry about is ensuring that my students are reading, hearing, and talking about as many different Americans as possible.  I try to ensure that we are reading and talking about women and men alike, and Americans of all classes and ethnic backgrounds.

More proof that I’m probably a bad professor: I write syllabi for the courses I wish I could have taken.  Selfish?  Guilty as charged.  But then I figure if I’m bored, how can my students not be bored too?  I’m just not that good of an actor.  Also, I’ve found that if it excites me (environmental history! material culture!), it’s probably going to interest the students more than a lecture or book I feel merely obligated to share with them.

Joseph Adelman has an interesting blog post over at The Junto about teaching a history course organized around four American autobiographies rather than rigid notions of “coverage” and chronology.  In a seminar for first-year students, I can see how it might be disorienting for them to jump from the 1670s (Mary Rowlandson) to the eighteenth century (Benjamin Franklin), and then to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with two African American autobiographies, Frederick Douglass and Melba Pattillo Beals.  (He very generously provides a link to his syllabus, too.) Continue reading

On Giving Tuesday, Support Planned Parenthood

There’s something going around on Twitter called Giving Tuesday, which sounds like an attempt to prick people’s consciences after the push to spend money on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Whatever! We should give generously to the causes we support.

If you’re so inclined to donate, here’s a post from last summer in which I described how I donated money to Planned Parenthood AND IN THE SAME PHONE CALL got my name off their irritating call list! You can do it! They haven’t bugged me since then, so I may pick up the phone again to give them more money to show support for their work in the wake now of yet another mass shooting targeting a women’s clinic: Continue reading

Who’s telling who to STFU at American universities? Observations on teaching at a HWCU.

cupofSTFUAh, yes: freedom of speech. What some really mean when they evoke it is, “my right to have my say and not have you talk back,” like all of those crybabies who have cancelled their appearances at commencement ceremonies in the last few years because not every student and faculty member greeted their future appearance on campus with hugs and cocoa and slankets.

If you really believe in liberty of speech, then stop telling others to STFU.  In my view, the people who are being criticized most vigorously for speaking up lately at Yale and the University of Missouri are all too often quiet about their experiences, silent on campus, and eager not to draw attention to themselves, and it’s these students whose voices we need to listen to the most.

Too many people have zero imagination about what it is to be African American or Latin@ on a historically white college or university (HWCU) campus. But everyone who has ever attended or taught or worked at a HWCU knows that African Americans on HWCUs are viewed with suspicion just for being there, let alone when they try to unlock their own damn bikes or organize a protest about their marginalization.

I teach at a HWCU in Northern Colorado, a place that is increasingly Latin@ but has very few African American residents.  In my classes, my experience with non-white students in general, and African American students in particular, over the past fourteen years is that they go out of their way to be polite, inoffensive, unobtrusive, and try not to call attention to themselves in any way.  Their efforts to try to fly under the radar and evade notice grieve me, even as I think I understand their interest in remaining quiet and unobtrusive.  I work to offer a non-white perspective on history constantly, but I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse for my non-white students (or if they even care.) That’s the reality of attending a HWCU for the majority of black students in the United States:  working hard to get your degree, trying not be noticed, not taking up much space or speaking up in class. 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

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

The author’s corner: Selbstmörder und freiheit edition

Snyder-powertodie

University of Chicago Press, 2015

Don’t miss John Fea’s interview of Terri L. Snyder about her brand-new bookThe Power to Die:  Slavery and Suicide in British North America (University of Chicago Press, 2015)., which I learned of via the ubiquitous and always-in-the-know Liz Covart on Twitter.

In the course of the interview, Snyder outlines how she came about her ideas for her second book in the course of researching her first book, Brabbilng Women:  Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (Cornell University Press, 2003; Cornell Paperback, 2013): Continue reading

You #LookLikeAProfessor too!

magicmirrorThere’s a nice explanation at Inside Higher Ed today about the #ILookLikeAProfessor meme that took off last week on Twitter.  Masterminded by my Tweet peeps Sarah Pritchard, Adeline Koh, and Michelle Moravec, the movement attempts to address the age-old problem that we professors who aren’t bearded white men face at work:

Frustrated by the microaggressions we experience as “nontraditional” faculty, we started a new hashtag:#ILookLikeAProfessor. The flurry of photos, retweets and horror stories since last Thursday suggests that we are not alone in experiencing entrenched stereotypes and bias — both subtle and explicit.

  • The female professor mistaken for an undergraduate. She was grading homework, not doing it.
  • Male teaching assistants assumed to be the professor.
  • Faculty members of color assumed to be the custodian.
  • Asian professors assumed to be Chinese food delivery drivers.

We are not making this up.

Continue reading