Archive for September, 2012

September 30th 2012
The Color of Christ: America’s own personal Jesus?

Posted under American history & happy endings & local news & race

Our friend Paul Harvey, the proprietor of Religion in American History and a Professor of History at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, has had a banner month in September.  First, his new book with Edward J. Blum, The Color of Christ:  The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2012)  has just been published.  Then the authors got a nice bit of publicity from the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago when it published a brief explanation of their argument, along with some thoughtful comments about Mormonism, Mitt Romney, and representations of Barack Obama as a Christlike figure.

The book ranges over the entire course of American religious history, from puritan prohibitions on representing Christ at all, to Mormon imaginings of a blue-eyed, phenotypically northern European-looking Jesus, to the emergence of a black Jesus in the Civil Rights era.  As the publisher’s website suggests, “[t]he color of Christ still symbolizes America’s most combustible divisions, revealing the power and malleability of race and religion from colonial times to the presidency of Barack Obama.”

But that’s not all!  Last week, I got an e-mail from Fraguy while he was at Denver International Airport, reporting that Harvey and Blum had published an opinion piece in the New York Times about “Fighting over God’s Image.”  They point out that Americans bloviating over “Muslim rage” about recent profane American representations of the prophet Muhammad overlook the fact that “Americans have had their own history of conflict, some of it deadly, over displays of the sacred.”  Continue Reading »


September 29th 2012
MOOCs for Mooks: local proffie takes one out for a spin

Posted under jobs & local news & students & technoskepticism & women's history

You know what I’ve been thinking?  More of you should read Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk.  Here’s why:  the man shows a commitment to explaining why if the future of higher ed is online, then the future of the republic is a dim one.  (See for example his riff on selling As based on Michael Moore’s question, “Why doesn’t GM sell crack?”)  While some of us just  rip something out of the mailbag, or rant about politics, or put up a YouTube of a song we heard in yoga this week, Jonathan has signed up for a MOOC and is posting regularly on the results.

Here’s his reportage so far on Princeton Proffie Jeremy Adelman’s World History course:


September 27th 2012
The ethics and politics of peer teaching evaluations

Posted under happy endings & jobs & students & wankers

As a member of my departments Tenure and Promotion and Executive Committees this year, I’ll likely be writing at least two evaluations of the teaching of my regular junior and adjunct colleagues.  I’ve read dozens of these over the years by my colleagues (and have written at least half a dozen myself, if not more).  Additionally, as a friendly informal mentor to several junior women in my field, I’ve had the chance to read letters evaluating their teaching by their colleagues.

One of my mentees sent me a letter today that got me thinking about the ethics and politics of writing these evaluation letters.  She just recently received a letter from a colleague that was 1) from a class taught nearly six months ago which then proceeded to 2) pick nits about the introductory blurb on her syllabus, and 3) criticize her for letting her students figure out a primary source together in class rather than just telling them everything they need to know.  Would you be surprised to learn that this is also a letter from a person who has been an Associate Professor for at least 30 years?  No, I didn’t think so.  The writer of this letter just couldn’t let someone 30-some years his junior, and the author of three peer-reviewed articles in top journals and a forthcoming book, be an expert in her own field.

(Every time I read a letter like this, whether it’s in a tenure file or passed to me by a friend looking for advice, I’m reminded of the value of modesty and generosity in being a good colleague.  Because, really:  who wants to be THAT guy?  Those letters are so transparent–like a cry for help, almost.  Any smart committee, chair or dean can see right through them.)

Here’s my question for you readers:  if you are in the position to write letters like this, what’s your approach?  Continue Reading »


September 24th 2012
Academic job ads, translated

Posted under jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

This is a winning and productive use of social media (h/t to ej, who sent me the link.)  Here’s my favorite, of course:

[The] University of Virginia seeks Professor of English with specialty in “educational” technology for setting up MOOCs. Position will be responsible for attracting national attention with bombastic, unproven claims about the future of education; ideal candidate will be heavily read in David Brooks.

Busy day here, so go find your own!



September 22nd 2012
Scamtastic Study Abroad Programs: What to do?

Posted under jobs & students & unhappy endings & wankers

To the barricades, responsible faculty!

Today’s post is a letter from a reader who, as she says, wants to “start a conversation with fellow academics about faculty abuse of study abroad programs.”  I myself have never taught in one, so this one goes out to you readers who have taught in a study abroad program.  Does this letter ring true?

Dear Historiann,

I just returned from co-teaching for the first time in a summer study abroad program which is run by my department, and I was fairly sickened by the behavior of my colleague in charge.  Specifically, I was troubled by his absence, as he was out of town for 6 out of 7 days a week, for two weeks in a row, on vacation with family. He taught no classes during that time, leaving the students either to take little tests administered by an assistant, or to do site visits by themselves. I continued to teach my class as scheduled. He is the lead coordinator of this program every year, but he appears to use it for family vacations where they have free accommodations and generous per diem which more than covers expenses for them all.

Another colleague has set up a yearly study abroad program during the academic year, such that she is away from campus for up to 6 months every year. She owns property in the city where her program is run, but still claims a huge per diem and lodging expenses. I have it on good authority from former students that she also regularly leaves students to fend for themselves. Continue Reading »


September 20th 2012
Well and truly romneyed!

Posted under American history & bad language & wankers

Let’s make up some new words and Googlebomb “romney.”

romney.  v.  To demonstrate utter incompetence again and again without any apparent shame or awareness. Continue Reading »


September 18th 2012
Trilogies, trade presses, and books in print: part III of my interview with Mary Beth Norton

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & publication & women's history

Today’s post is the final installment of my three-part interview with Mary Beth Norton, whose career will be celebrated at Liberty’s Sons and Daughters, a conference in her honor in Ithaca, New York September 28 and 29.  (If you’ve missed part I and part II, get yourself caught up and then read on.)  Here, we talk about her decision to to write a trilogy of books on early American women’s and gender history.  In chronological order of the history they cover, they are Founding Mothers and Fathers:  Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (1996), Separated by their Sex:  Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (2011), and Liberty’s Daughters:  The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (1980).   We also talk about her experiences publishing with both trade and university presses, both of which present their own advantages and disadvantages.

Historiann:  You write in your introduction to Separated by their Sex that this is the third volume of your trilogy focusing on colonial and Revolutionary-era women’s history, connecting Founding Mothers and Fathers to Liberty’s Daughters.  When and how did you conceive of writing a trilogy?  Would you recommend this career strategy to younger historians?

MBN:  I knew I had to write a trilogy when I was three or four years into the research for what became Founding Mothers & Fathers, for I realized then that the project I had conceived as one book had to be divided into two. And even later I decided that Salem witchcraft deserved its own book, an offshoot of the trilogy, because otherwise I feared it would take over the second volume. As it happened, both the Salem research and the research for Separated by their Sex went in directions that I had not anticipated, and so In the Devil’s Snare became more a stand-alone (but related) volume. Continue Reading »


September 17th 2012
Feminist mentors and feminist activism: part II of my interview with Mary Beth Norton

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & local news & students & women's history

Today’s post is part two of a three-part interview with Mary Beth Norton.  If you missed yesterday’s post, catch it here and get with the program! 

At the end of yesterday’s interview, Norton talked about how she transformed herself from a historian of loyalists in the American Revolution into a women’s historian.  She spoke of an anecdote in which a senior scholar in her field wondered why she had given up loyalists to study women, when her loyalist work was “perfectly OK!”  In today’s conversation, Norton and I move from a discussion about feminist scholarship to a conversation about feminist activism in the historical profession.  She also talks about her feminist mentors in the academy, and about the relationships and organization that has sustained her through her career.

Historiann:  I am pretty sure that if you had stuck with the loyalists, you would not have achieved the stature in your fields that you have as a women’s historian! 

I assume that as your star rose as a historian that you were able to make some changes in the Cornell history department itself, such as hiring more women and continuing to diversify the curriculum.  Can you tell us more about this side of your feminist activism?  Who or what was most helpful to you, and what (if any) obstacles still remain in your view to sex equality in academia or the historical profession in particular? Continue Reading »


September 16th 2012
Mary Beth Norton: A Founding Mother tells all.

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & women's history

Today and for the next two posts, Historiann is thrilled to present an interview with the distinguished senior scholar and women’s history great Mary Beth Norton.  Norton is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University.  Even those of you who have never met her in person probably know of the legendary energy, enthusiasm, and industry that have made her a legendary scholar in both early American history and American women’s history.  Quite simply, Mary Beth Norton is a force of nature.

She is the author of The British-Americans:  Loyalist Exiles in England, 1774-1789 (1972), Women of America:  A History (1979, with Carol Berkin), Liberty’s Daughters:  The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (1980), Founding Mothers & Fathers:  Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (1996), In the Devil’s Snare:  The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002), and most recently, Separated by their Sex:  Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (2011).  Aside from numerous important articles, she is also the co-author of an American history textbook, A People and a Nation, and she is the co-editor (with my colleague at Colorado State University Ruth Alexander) of Major Problems in American Women’s History.

You’d think that someone with a groaning shelf of books like this wouldn’t have time to answer her own e-mail, but when I contacted her this summer about interviewing her, she wrote back immediately and enthusiastically.  Continue Reading »


September 13th 2012
La Loca contemplates bespoke suits and online education. Historiann contemplates the profit motive at her allegedly non-profit employer.

Posted under American history & bad language & jobs & local news & unhappy endings & wankers

I know many of my readers also follow Dr. Crazy, but just in case you missed her post from earlier this week, I’ll show you a preview and encourage you to go read the whole post over at her place.  First of all, she writes:

You might think that I am a person who would pass over an article about $4,000 suits in the New York Times, but you would be wrong.  Because the thing is, this article has a hell of a lot to say about higher education, I think, at least from my perspective.

Interesting, no?  She quotes from the story, in which the author explains why a guy making $4,000 custom-made suits only makes $50,000 a year himself.  “As I watched Frew work, it became glaringly obvious why he is not rich. Like a 17th-century craftsman, he has no economy of scale.”

[T]he phrase “no economy of scale” sure did stand out to me and ring a giant bell in my head.  And then I glanced back up at the preceding paragraph (the joys of reading on paper rather than electronically: you can return to a thing you otherwise would have glossed over), and I noted the following: “he explained how he customizes every aspect of its design” and then, “Modern technology cannot create anything comparable.”

Does this sound familiar to any of y’all?  ‘Cause it sure does to me.  Wearing non-fancy clothes to do heavy lifting? Check.  Customizing every aspect of the design for the individual?  Um, check.  That is, in fact, the entire pedagogical premise behind “active learning” in the classroom.  The inability of modern technology to create the particular product that Frew is selling?  Um, YES.  Look, I’ve taught online, and I have many students who’ve taken courses online, although not all of them have done so with me.  They and I will tell you that it is not the same fucking thing as doing it face to face. So the question then becomes, does a $4 suit do the same thing that a $4,000 suit does? Continue Reading »


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