Archive for November, 2009

November 8th 2009
Pirates and Emperors: from the Schoolhouse Rock cutting room floor

Posted under American history & art & childhood & race & unhappy endings

You must check this out, or the terrorists have already won:

Clearly, this is a really well done parody of the genre–perhaps unsurprisingly, I was always a fan of the four “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons that referred to early American history–No More Kings, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, The Preamble, and Elbow Room.  Of course, I’m appalled by the incredible whiteness of their points of view, but I admire them still today for their engaging animation and their wonderful songs, which integrate storytelling with traditional American musical forms and references.  Continue Reading »


November 7th 2009
Sex and the Single (or Married) “Mad” Man

Posted under American history & art & Gender & unhappy endings

washingmachineWell, friends, I’m more than halfway through Season 2 of Mad Men.  It is a very absorbing show, probably the most interesting TV show I’ve seen in years (since Sex and the City ended, perhaps?), and the ideal diversion while I’m letting my brand-new high efficiency front-loading washer do most of my laundry chores for me!  (Too bad it doesn’t dry and fold my clothes, too, eh?  Except, with the retro-look of these front loaders, it makes me feel a bit too much like Betty Draper and her “desperate housewife” friends.)

In response to your clamorous queries for yet more, more, MORE of my opinions about this particular expression of the zeitgeist, I have some more thoughts to share today.  Specifically, I’d like to talk about the representation and function of sex in Mad Men.  For the most part, we’ll be talking about heterosexuality because that’s what’s on the Mad Men menu, with few exceptions.  (For the record, I’m exactly half-way through Season 2.)  Spoiler alert–if you haven’t yet watched the show mid-way through Season 2 and don’t want to know what happens, don’t read any further!

It’s striking that in this supposedly pre-AIDS, proto-sexual revolution era of 1960-62 (from what I’ve seen so far, anyway), sex is never represented as an affirming, positive, or even a very enjoyable activity.  This is the era of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl (1962)but where’s the fun?  Where’s the adventure?  Continue Reading »


November 6th 2009
More guns make us safer! Not.

Posted under American history & unhappy endings


Fort Hood, Texas, November 5, 2009. Photo from the New York Times

Yesterday’s terrible news of mass murder at Fort Hood, Texas is interesting because of its location at a military base.  We’re told over and over again by the gun lobby that if only we would buy more guns and armed ourselves at church, in school, and in shopping malls, we’d be safe from these terrible rampages.  The mass murders at Fort Hood strongly suggest that this is not the case.  Civil society still depends on a great degree of trust in each other–we have to think that we’ll be safe from most kinds of harm in order for us to go to work, to school, the supermarket, restaurants, and churches.  As it turns out, life on military bases is not so different from civilian life, and crazed gunmen can exact a terrible toll in human life even in an environment where most people have access to guns and walk around with firearms.

How many guns will it take for us to be safe?  Continue Reading »


November 5th 2009
Technology and pedagogy: what’s good is what works.

Posted under jobs & students & technoskepticism

John Gast, "American Progress," 1872

John Gast, "American Progress," 1872

Inside Higher Ed reports on a study that says that faculty think they’re more tech savvy than their students think they are.   Color me unsurprised!  Second commenter “bevo” explains some of the perception gap here, and asks, “Why do we assume that all technology has to improve education?”  Why indeed?  It’s only useful if it’s used thoughtfully and effectively.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m pretty far from what you’d call an “early adapter” of anything.  But, I’m open to whatever works–I don’t see me adopting Twitter for use in class or out, but I think it’s great if other faculty want to experiment with it and figure out how it’s useful for their pedagogical goals. 

I’ve become a big adherent of PowerPoint, because of its ability to incorporate visual and verbal information–I’m able to include analyses of a wider range of documentary and material culture sources in my lectures because of it.  (That, and the fact that there are so many big, beautiful color images of just about everything that I can rip from the web.)  But, it took me a long time to switch from a lecture outlined on an overhead projector to PowerPoint.  When people first started using PowerPoint, I was extremely underwhelmed with how they were using it:  either as a digital overhead projector, with the same outline and bullet points, or illustrated badly with anachronistic images.  I don’t use any images that can’t be analyzed as primary sources–a challenge in my period, but it can be done.

Switching to PowerPoint changed my lectures, Continue Reading »


November 4th 2009
Time for a National Women’s Party, again.

Posted under American history & Gender & the body & unhappy endings & women's history


Divisive, bitter troublemakers!

There are a number of good analyses out there on the world-wide non peer-reviewed interwebs regarding the upcoming showdown over abortion rights (or rather, whose bill will go farthest in restricting abortion rights) and health care reform.  Dems are falling all over themselves to prove how icky and gross and inappropriate it is to offer women the full range of legal and necessary medical care.  Go read Melissa at Shakesville, who wrote in response to Natasha Chart at OpenLeft, who wrote in response to Digby, who wrote:

I think [abortion rights] is a lost cause and was probably lost before the debate even began when the president bought into “common ground” nonsense. Even though some lame form of health care reform, likely with an even lamer opt-in public option, is going to hit the floors, everyone will insist that they simply have to further restrict millions of women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights in order to appease “moderates.” And then the Republicans can run against the whole reform as a liberal nightmare. Awesome.

For years now, it’s been obvious to me that abortion is just a fundraising tool and outrage-o-meter used to gin up enthusiasm for Republicans who wear the “pro-life” mantle.  Why do those anti-abortion people keep falling for the Republican line, when they never actually do anything serious about limiting abortion rights?  National Republicans did nothing, although they controlled the U.S. House, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court from 2003-2007  (Most of the limitations have come from state legislatures and Supreme Court cases, not at the direct behest of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate.)  How dumb can they really be?

Well, they’re not the only dummies out there.  Continue Reading »


November 3rd 2009
Counterfeit campuses?

Posted under American history & art & jobs & students


Gilman Hall, Johns Hopkins University, 1913-15

Via Inside Higher Ed, Some Johns Hopkins students are honked off that their campus is being used as a stand-in for Harvard in the shooting of a new movie, “The Social Network,” about the invention of Facebook.  Having spent time on both campuses as a guest in the 1990s, I can say that the Homewood campus looks just about nothing like Harvard.  Kudos to one of the first commenters on the Baltimore Sun article, who asks, “Wow, did they manage to change the architecture from Neo-Georgian to Gothic as well?”  (Actually, to be fair, some of the comparison is in fact Georgian to neo-Georgian.  Harvard went Georgian in the eighteenth century, so at the time Hopkins was founded in 1876, it was big into Gothic Revival.) 


Memorial Hall, Harvard University, ca. 1870-78

Many buildings are brick on both campuses (although JHU’s bricks are newer and therefore orangier)–that’s about where the similarities start and end.  The Homewood campus feels like a suburban college campus, with several wide open greenswards, and it has little if any relationship to the city neighborhood in which it’s situated.  Harvard’s campus is integrally knit into the city of Cambridge–that’s the big difference I perceive, moreso than the different kinds of architecture.  Continue Reading »


November 2nd 2009
Deadlines, schmedlines

Posted under jobs & students

womanwriting2How do the rest of you handle setting deadlines for student assignments and late submissions?  Here’s an interesting idea from Nels P. Highberg (h/t Inside Higher Ed):

Keep in mind that I mostly teach writing.  Even when a course is not specifically a writing course, almost all of my assignments are writing assignments, and that shapes my policies in general.  In terms of late work, I try to keep things clear and simple.  I will take any essay up to a week late without a grade penalty, but I will not offer any comments on that essay at all.  Since I usually offer students the chance to revise all of their major assignments (except at the end of the semester), the lack of comments puts them at a significant disadvantage.  I always offer to meet with students in my office, but there is a pretty big difference between having a concrete set of specific comments on a draft and a series of notes taken during a office visit.

Highberg says he developed this policy because “policies need to align with pedagogies,” and I think that’s right.  He explains:  Continue Reading »


November 1st 2009
David Lane defends Constitution, appears at the Laugh Factory Tuesday nights

Posted under American history & jobs & local news

Is it just me, or is my adopted home state full of cranks and criminals who make the national news rather disproportionately given our low population numbers (about 4 million, probably on its way to 5 by the time the 2010 census is complete)?  There’s a profile of Constitutional rights attorney and local celebrity David Lane, along with some of his celebrity clients, in today’s Denver Post, and in the interview he tells a funny joke.  (I think there’s a good chance this is an entirely fictional story, but it’s still a good joke.)

And of all the controversial clients he has ever represented, none has been quite like [Ward] Churchill, fired by CU after questions were raised about his scholarship. But those questions first arose after the emergence of an essay in which Churchill referred to some victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “little Eichmanns.”

For Lane, it was a clear-cut First Amendment issue — he believed Churchill was fired not for plagiarism or fabrication, as CU leaders claimed, but for his speech.

And Lane won, sort of, when a jury sided with him, although the judge later issued a ruling tossing out the verdict. That case is still on appeal, and things may change.  Continue Reading »


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