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

Teaching the sixties: what do you think?

ValleyoftheDollsposterMy colleague and co-conspiritor in teaching History of Sexuality in America over the past several years, Ruth Alexander, has suggested that we develop and co-teach another course on the 1960s. She has correctly deduced my excitement over the multi-media primary sources that modern historians can use–primarily video and audio clips that are available widely on the internet, as well as material culture and clothing that we find at Goodwill and garage sales! Wow!

When we had Carrie Pitzulo, author of Batchelors and Bunnies:  The Sexual Politics of Playboy as a special guest in our class last term to talk about her article on Hugh Hefner’s and Playboy‘s engagement with feminism, I couldn’t believe that there was an entire episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line on YouTube, starring Hefner and engaging his ideas about the sexual revolution and feminism!  Amazing.  It’s also fascinating as a style of TV production that never happens now, even on PBS.  Buckley draws Hefner out on “the Playboy philosophy” and where it fits in American intellectual history.

The sad truth about teaching the early modern period is that the video is totally inferior. Continue reading

Supporting women’s work with money is a feminist issue

excellenceThis blog has mocked the notion of “Excellence without Money” as the guiding meme of universities these days, because excellence has a price, and a price that can’t be paid without actual money.  (It’s like all of those people who tell you that “breastfeeding is free!”  These people must never have breastfed a child and/or think that women’s time and labor is worth nothing, because no one who thinks about this for 15 seconds could say anything that stupid.)

But in our new media landscape, we have the option of scooping up a lot of excellent podcasts and public radio shows without paying for them.  I seriously hope you’ll reconsider this, especially if you earn a paycheck yourself, because it’s all too frequently women’s work we undervalue and take for granted.  If more self-avowed feminists looked around and started paying other women what they’re worth, it would benefit all of us–women and men, feminist and non-feminist alike.

Liz Covart of the podcast Ben Franklin’s World is asking the thousands of people who read her blog and listen to her podcasts to support her work financially. I donated some coin a few days ago, and want to urge you all to think about supporting her or another independent feminist and/or or history blogger, podcaster, or someone whose volunteer labor entertains and educates you. Continue reading

A strong argument for actual and virtual libraries as “Humanities Labs.”

Christine de Pizan schooling the menz.

Christine de Pizan schooling the menz.

Historian and Dean at Cleveland State University Liz Lehfeldt describes her modest proposal for her “lab in the cloud” over at Inside Higher Ed today (h/t Susan Amussen on Twitter!), making an argument for humanities scholars to talk about libraries and digital resources as the sites of our research:


We know what a scientific lab looks like and requires, but what about the work of historians and literature scholars whose labs are far-flung, overseas, and sometimes even reside in the cloud, in the form of electronic resources?

.       .       .       .       .

So let’s embrace the vocabulary of our scientist colleagues. Let’s talk about our labs and how flexible and efficient they are. I’m no Pollyanna. I don’t think this conceptual shift will result immediately in more funding for the humanities or a greater valuing of humanities research. But I do think we risk the further erosion of the status of our work within the academy unless we come up with new and more resonant ways of talking about it.

Continue reading

Students protest Jefferson statues on campuses with sticky notes

Thomas Jefferson statue at the College of William and Mary, November 2015

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

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

Susan Amussen of UC Merced on what it’s like when it’s your campus: “Violence ripples out, affecting far more people than we expect.”

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015. Courtesy of Susan Amussen.

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015
Courtesy of Susan Amussen

Today’s guest post is from yet another friend of the blog whose campus sustained a knife attack by a student that was ended when he was shot and killed by campus police.  Fortunately and significantly, the only fatality in this incident was the perpetrator–he inflicted no fatal injuries because his weapon of choice was not a gun.  Susan Amussen, Professor of History at the University of California, Merced, sent this in on Thursday night and updated it last night after the vigil for the victims. 

By now, most of you know that on Wednesday morning, a student at UC Merced named Faisal Mohammed attacked a fellow student in a classroom with a knife.  He proceeded to stab a contract worker who had intervened when he heard the noise.   He then went outside and stabbed one of our staff advisors, and another student who tried to help that advisor.  As he ran from the campus police he was shot; he later died of his wounds.

As these stories go, it’s not as bad as it could have been.   He didn’t have a gun.  That was my first thought, and I can’t tell you how many of the messages I’ve received have commented on that.   It was early (a 7:30 AM class) so the campus was relatively empty.  All the victims are alive, and will make a full recovery.  Only the student who wielded the knife is dead.  Faisal (who I hadn’t known) was a first year student, and really, at this point that’s all we know.  While Fox News has tried to talk about jihad, as our Chancellor has said, there is no evidence that the initial attack involved anything but personal antagonism.  His roommate reports that he kept to himself, and didn’t seem to have friends.  All of us who teach know how complicated the transition to college is for many kids, and I keep thinking of him as a child.  I can’t use the words that are used so often – suspect, perpetrator, etc.  He was a kid, a student, with some kind of problem, but we don’t know what. Continue reading