Archive for January, 2011

January 20th 2011
Bad news/good news?

Posted under American history & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers

According to an “unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college,” students aren’t learning “the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.”  (H/t to commenter quixote for bringing this to my attention.)  How now? 

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Arum, whose book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective.

But, wait, good readers!  There’s an interesting small fact you find only when you read all the way to the end.  Dig this:

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. Continue Reading »


January 19th 2011
Historiann tells all! (And too much is sometimes plenty.)

Posted under American history & art & bad language & Gender & jobs & local news & women's history

Booted and ready to ride!

I don’t quite reveal it all, but I’ve been invited to write recently for peer reviewed journals about the non-peer reviewed world-wide time-wasting blogosphere and my playground here, Historiann!  I know, friends:  Whodathunkit?  And who really cares?

First of all, readers will find an answer to this question at least if they click on over to Common-place to read my contribution to this month’s “Common Reading” feature, which I’ve called “Silence Dogood Rides Again:  Blogging the Frontiers of Early American History,” an essay on the long tradition of pseudonymity in early American history, pseudonymity on the world-wide non-peer reviewed internets, and my ambitions to join the local Roller Derby team.  (For realz!  I’ve got a great idea for a Roller Derby name, anyway, and that’s a good place to start.  You’ll have to click on over to Common-place if you want to find it out!)

Here’s some flava:

My main interest in my blog is now the larger community of readers and commenters who connect me to a wider intellectual world and whom otherwise I’d never meet, work with, or encounter through any of the traditional networking strategies in academia. Forget what you’ve heard about supposedly cool Colorado college towns and so-called “liberal” academia—it’s lonelyout here for a Marxist feminist early Americanist who writes eastern history. My (lightly) pseudonymous identity as a cowgirl probably plays a large part of my success in bringing folks together on the blog. I don’t want to burst your bubble, amigas, but Historiann is a lot more fun than I am—she doesn’t have any family or work responsibilities outside of writing about whatever she wants to write about, and acting as a welcoming host for guests who want to join online conversations about history, the academic workplace, feminism, contemporary politics, and the interesting intersections I find therein. Who knew that there would be 2,000-3,000 people a day interested in reading about my idiosyncratic and not necessarily interconnected interests? My playful pseudonymous identity helps pull it all together. (And, I think a lot of you eastern “Dudes” are pretty easy marks!) Continue Reading »


January 18th 2011
Back to school blues, browns, and greens

Posted under art & childhood & fluff & students

It’s that time of the year:  back to teaching for me.  I had a great holiday break with family at my place, and then a really productive two weeks of writing (offline!)  Here’s a back-to-school ditty with some cuties who will put smiles on your faces.  (It’s good to remember that even the most tuned-out seeming college student is someone’s child, and was once that six-year old mugging for the camera.)

Have a good week! I sure do miss the smell of that big ol’ box of 64. (And, am I a complete freak, or is Kids Place Live not the best satellite radio channel? I just might forgive the poor punctuation of its own name.)


January 16th 2011
Some people learn nothing, forget everything, and can’t shoot straight

Posted under American history & bad language & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Garry Wills, in the New York Review of Books, compares Barack Obama’s speech in Tucson to Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg (via RealClearPolitics).  For realz!  Gaze on in slack-jawed horror:

In preparing his speech, Obama had called and talked to the hurt and the survivors. He could tell their personal stories. Michelle Obama invited the family of the murdered nine-year-old to visit her in the White House. Obama came to the speech from the bedsides of those who had been wounded. Their message to him was one of dedication: “They believed, and I believe, that we can be better.” This rang a bell with me. It reminded me of the lesson of the fallen that Lincoln took from Gettysburg—“that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” At Gettysburg Lincoln might have been expected to defend the North and blame the South—which is what Edward Everett did in the speech preceding his. Rather, the bulk of his speech was given to praising the dead and urging others to learn from them.

Wow–I bet no other public eulogies in American history from 1863 to 2011 “prais[ed] the dead and urg[ed] others to learn from them.”  Right on!  Except, the people Lincoln mourned were for the most part volunteers for a war against slaveryContinue Reading »


January 15th 2011
Is “gringo” offensive?

Posted under American history & bad language & race & unhappy endings & wankers

Latina feminist columnist Daisy Hernandez talked on NPR this week about her relief when she learned that the Arizona mass-murderer wasn’t Latino.  I heard this when it was first broadcast on Wednesday afternoon, and thought that it was terrific, because she explains how the world looks from her perspective, and it’s not a perspective that most white people would probably imagine on their own:

It’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn’t be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they’d be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy. The new members of the House would be stepping over each other to propose new legislation for more guns on the border, more mothers to be deported, and more employers to be penalized for hiring brown people. Obama would be attending funerals and telling the nation tonight that he was going to increase security just about everywhere.

In short, the only reason the nation is taking a few days to reflect on the animosity in politics today is precisely that the shooter was not Latino.

I thought that this was a completely sensible thing to point out, but apparently NPR was hit with e-mails and comments about how “gringo” is an offensive word.  I have never heard this–and I live in the American West, where both white and Latin@ people use the term casually and usually playfully.  (Example:  Continue Reading »


January 13th 2011
History Under Attack, part II: Can splitters be polemicists?

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & publication & race & students

Get to work, friends!

 Last week, we had a conversation here inspired by incoming American Historical Association President Tony Grafton’s call to arms in this month’s Perspectives, the AHA’s monthly magazine.  I’ll republish here what I saw as the nut of his argument: 

For history has its own special place in these indictments. Critics rebuke historians for drawing politicized conclusions from their research—and even, in some notorious cases, for deliberately distorting or inventing the evidence to support their own left-wing views.They criticize authors of textbooks and public historians for subverting patriotism, claiming that they emphasize violence, inequality, and oppression in European and American life at the expense of more positive qualities. . . 

.       .       .       .      .       .      

[T]he indictment is hydra-headed. . . . It’s here that the real difficulty arises.  The real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical: it’s that our research and teaching are nothing more than sterile pursuits of mind-numbing factoids, tedious and predictable exercises in group think, or politicized exercises in deploying the evidence to prove predetermined conclusions. If we can’t answer those criticisms convincingly, we will lose on all fronts: history positions will disappear, and so will neighboring departments in foreign languages and other fields, without which we can’t function. 

The discussion in the comments here included some great points and contributed many important nuances to the conversation:  many of you noted that our perception of these issues varies by the kinds of institutions academic historians were educated in and now work in; others commented on problems of anti-intellectualism within the profession and within our own universities; there were several comments about the double-bind most of us are in with respect to the adjunctification of the profession:  in spite of popular representations of our work in the media and in political discourse, most of us in fact spend much more time teaching than we do in research, but 4-4 and 5-5 teaching loads don’t lead to better teaching, they just lead to more teaching.  And the pious critics of higher ed who insist that we spend more, not less, time in the classroom don’t in fact want to spend the money it would take to pay for more higher-quality instruction, which would mean reducing, not expanding, the teaching loads of most of us–they just want to beat us rhetorically with the unfounded assumption that those large classes and scantron exams are due to faculty research agendas rather than the casualization of academic labor. 

I think Grafton is correct that “[t]he real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical,” but I have real doubts about our profession’s ability to answer his call with a polemic or ideological defense of our work.  Historians are, by nature, splitters rather than lumpers.  We aren’t united by a methodology or single set of disciplinary practices, and our writing and teaching more often than not seeks not to impose order on a given topic but rather to provide nuance and complexity. Continue Reading »


January 12th 2011
Rape: a crime too terrible to be named.

Posted under American history & bad language & Gender & students & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

This morning, we have more evidence of the widespread refusal in our culture to name a rape a rape:

Former University of Colorado linebacker Michael Sipili was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman last month at an off-campus apartment, according to Boulder police.

.       .       .       .      .       .      

Witnesses told police that Sipili went into a room at the apartment with one woman. He then entered a room in which his friend and the other woman were engaged in consensual sex.

That woman told detectives that the next thing she knew, Sipili began having sex with her. She said she told him to stop and said “this hurts” numerous times.

She said Sipili had sex with her for about five to 10 minutes before leaving.

When the woman got up to leave, the affidavit said, she noticed blood on the sheets and said Sipili’s friend tried to cover it up.

A rape examination later revealed she had suffered multiple tears to her vagina, according to the affidavit.

What???  A “rape examination?”  The story said merely that the alleged perpetrator “had sex with her.Continue Reading »


January 9th 2011
Sadly, no surprises: young, mentally ill man murders 6 and injures 14

Posted under American history & Gender & students & unhappy endings

The assassination attempt yesterday in Tucson of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the attendant massacre of 6 of her constituents and the injury of 13 others was apparently the work of an obviously mentally unstable young man.  Here’s a report from his community college instructor and a fellow student, in which they report that they were afraid he’d bring a gun to class.  (More details here in this earlier report.)  (H/t to this thread at TalkLeft.)

As I’ve written here before, on sadly too many occasions in the past three years, it’s clear that this massacre was the work of the same kind of person who always engages in spectacular incidents of gun violence.  Continue Reading »


January 7th 2011
The Kennedys yanked by the “History” Channel: ‘not a fit for the History brand’! (Plus, they’ve got several episodes of Pawn Stars already in the vault.)

Posted under American history & art & bad language & O Canada & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

After all the sturm und drang last winter about the alleged historical inaccuracies of the “History” Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys because of the political sympathies of the creators, the “History” Channel itself has pulled the plug on the show (via The Daily Beast.)  The Hollywood Reporter says that a network rep released a statement that “upon completion of the production of The Kennedys, History has decided not to air the 8-part miniseries on the network. . . . While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.” 

Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of 24, along with production companies Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment and writer Stephen Kronish, the project drew fire from the political left and some Kennedy historians. Even before cameras rolled, a front-page New York Times story last February included a sharp attack from former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson, who called an early version of the script “vindictive” and “malicious.”
History and parent A&E said at the time that the script had been revised and that the final version had been vetted by experts. Indeed, the script used in production had passed muster with History historians for accuracy.

“History historians?”  WTF?  How bad does it have to be to not be fit to share the same channel as Ice Road Truckers? Continue Reading »


January 6th 2011
Brief interlude: from the mixed-up files of the brain-dead critique of higher ed

Posted under American history & jobs & unhappy endings & wankers

Mike Rosen, in today’s Denver Post, with some advice for our incoming Governor John Hickenlooper:

Instead of more money for higher ed, propose an across-the-board salary cut. Labor costs have been a major driver of higher tuition.

I could actually get behind this, if the cuts were restricted to senior and mid-level administrators, who at my university are making in the mid-six figure range (or, 5 to 6 times what I make.)  My guess is that they can afford the sacrifice more than the faculty I know–but those cuts would be merely a pi$$hole in the snow, as my mother-in-law likes to say.  Rosen clearly has no data and no clue about the adjunctification of higher ed, let alone the salary freezes faculty at Baa Ram U. have labored under since 2008.

Anyone who thinks that “labor costs” (at least among the faculty) are “a major driver” of higher tuition is so out to lunch he should just never come back to his desk.


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