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
Thomas Jefferson statue at the College of William and Mary, November 2015
This is so 2015: According to Inside Higher Ed, “At both the University of Missouri at Columbia and the College of William & Mary, critics have been placing yellow sticky notes on [Thomas] Jefferson statues, labeling him — among other things — ‘rapist’ and ‘racist.'”
Polite, inoffensive, non-vandalizing sticky notes with words on them, and still the internet right wing is in a predictable lather. A William and Mary spokesperson comments, “‘A university setting is the very place where civil conversations about difficult and important issues should occur. Nondestructive sticky notes are a form of expression compatible with our tradition of free expression.'”
Tell me again who’s against liberty of speech and expression, friends? The IHE article offers some interesting perspectives from different historians and Jefferson biographers–check them out. Continue reading
Ah, 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
Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Today’s post was written at my invitation by Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Among many other titles in the history of evangelical Protestantism in the American South, most recently he is the author most recently of Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South and the co-author with Edward J. Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. Regular readers of Historiann may also recognize Paul as the creator of the blog Religion in American History.
Paul lives just about a mile from the place where yet another deranged white man murdered three strangers last Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’m so grateful to him for sharing his perspective as a neighbor and a fellow historian.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning here on October 31st. Weekends in the Old North End of Colorado Springs are full of people walking about, garage sales, scores of bicyclists and joggers, 20somethings tapping away on their smartphones in recently opened hipster coffee places, evangelicals gathering for para-church activities, and me – grading papers, writing, reading the book for next week’s class, or whatever (all three, this particular weekend). There seemed to be an inordinate number of sirens this particular morning, but I do live by a firehouse and near a hospital, and sometimes you get that. I settled back into some coursework.
But on this particular beautiful Saturday morning, yet another troubled white man – the same one we’ve seen all over the country, shooting up people in college and grade-school classrooms, malls, chain restaurants, and theaters – walked down a street about a mile and a quarter south of my home (and about three blocks from the historic downtown high school – Palmer High, named for the founder of this city, William Jackson Palmer). He previously had left a bizarre video “expressing displeasure with his father for allegedly falling under the sway of a particular preacher.” His mother had published a book that was, in part, about her son (as well as about her own struggles), entitled Sober mercies: How love caught up with a Christian Drunk.
Whatever his problems, it was still legal for him to walk around brandishing a heavy firearm. Actually, he had three – an AR-15 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a .357 revolver. Continue reading
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
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
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 Salon.com 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