Archive for September, 2013

September 28th 2013
The Liturgy of the Book

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & happy endings & jobs & O Canada & publication & women's history

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

When Tenured Radical wrote a blog post about the “Grafton Challenge” this summer, I was both impressed and completely intimidated by the blistering pace at which Tony Grafton writes:  3,500 words a day!  Amazing.  Then when she followed up to report that Matthew Gutterl had drafted a book this summer by. . . sitting down to write every day and cutting out distractions like blogging!. . . I thought to myself:  how much longer do I really want to live with the book I’m writing now, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright?  Isn’t it time to move on?

So, I decided to finish a rough draft of my book this fall, with Christmas day as my drop-dead date.  When I finished the second draft of Abraham in Arms eight years ago, the only time I had to myself that was completely free of familial distractions or responsibilities was from 4-6 a.m.  So, several days a week I now get out of bed at 4 a.m. and try to write for two hours.  It’s not as difficult as you’d think.  Caffeine helps, as does a shockingly early bedtime the night before.  I’ve had a cold this week, and the high-test antihistamines I’m on also give me a kick.  (I think it’s the stuff they cook meth out of, so no wonder.)  I prefer the silence of the tomb when I work, and my brain is freshest first thing in the morning, so 4-6 a.m. it is.

(I was reviewing a chapter I had already drafted, and I re-read something I had written last summer about how the Ursuline nuns I’m writing about would rise at 4 a.m. to begin their day.  Coincidence?  Continue Reading »

34 Comments »

September 24th 2013
Ask a Slave!

Posted under American history & art & class & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & Uncategorized & women's history

A graduate student of mine alerted me to this brilliant YouTube series of short videos, Ask a Slave. (Don’t we get all the best ideas from our students? I sure do!) Ask a Slave, directed by comedian Jordan Black, is based on the real-life experiences of actress Azie Mira Dungey who worked as a “living history character” to portray an enslaved maid at Mount Vernon.

One of the things I think Lizzie May does very well is to suggest the ways in which white women were just as complicit in the creation and maintenance of slavery as white men. Continue Reading »

5 Comments »

September 23rd 2013
Finally, some reasoned analysis of the so-called “high cost of higher ed”

Posted under American history & class & jobs & students

Grab a chair and a cup, and let's talk!

Grab a chair and a cup, and let’s talk!

This strikes me as a sensible intervention into the typically un-nuanced conversation about the price of a four-year undergraduate degree.  And what’d'ya know–it’s from a panel of admissions officers, the kind of people whose job it is to know their target audience and to recruit and retain students?

Steven Graff, senior director of admissions and enrollment services at the College Board, said it’s become “knee jerk” to say college is too costly.

“But,” he said, “what I think we have to do is move away from the monolithic assumption that the word ‘college,’ the word ‘price,’ the word ‘cost’ are the same for every student, every institution, for every situation we are dealing with.”

Instead, the panel argued, college prices and costs require a more nuanced view than the one offered by most in the media or perhaps even by President Obama, who last month went on a campaign-style tour to tout his plan to curb college costs.

Graff and two consultants from the enrollment management firm Art & Science Group argued that there is a significant difference between college cost and college price, in part because of financial aid, and there are also rather significant differences among prices at different kinds of institutions.

Sanity, at last.  But how’s that? Continue Reading »

25 Comments »

September 20th 2013
An almost unbloglich level of Franzenfreude

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & European history & Gender & race & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

Check it out:  Amanda Hess’s analysis of Jonathan Franzen’s recent essay in which he screams at the children to get off his lawn, and to take their Twitter-machines with them:

Franzen blames the Internet for eradicating “the quiet and permanence of the printed word,” which “assured some kind of quality control,” in favor of an apocalyptic hellscape punctuated by “bogus” Amazon reviews and “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion.” Back in Franzen’s day, “TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments.” He goes on: “It wasn’t necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.”

Wow.  Not too many white people can openly express their nostalgia for segregation or apartheid and get their 6,500 word essays published in The Guardian!  But that’s not all:  apparently, guys like Franzen really are victims!  Of something.  The important thing to know is that Jonathan Franzen can no longer “find his place. . . as a writer” in our modern dystopia.  But the pre-internet world doesn’t seem all that awesome in his telling:

And then there is the tale of the German chick, told to pinpoint exactly the moment Franzen became an angry person. Continue Reading »

42 Comments »

September 19th 2013
An invitation, or performance art?

Posted under bad language & jobs & local news & students & the body & wankers

Photographed today at 4:35 p.m. scrawled on the wall of the west side of the A-wing of the Andrew G. Clark building at Baa Ram U.:

Continue Reading »

14 Comments »

September 16th 2013
After the flood

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

Thanks!

Thanks!

Thanks to everyone who has written, called, or texted me to ask if we’re doing OK here at the ranch. It sure was rainy last week–I can’t remember a time since I moved to Colorado that it rained for six days straight, but that’s what happened starting last Tuesday. People have made comparisons to the epic flood of the Big Thompson River in 1976. Fortunately, this flood has been much less deadly.

There have been some pretty scary pictures of what’s happening in some parts of the Front Range, but so far as I can tell, if you don’t live in the wildlife-urban interface and/or a canyon, and you don’t live in a mobile home, you’re probably OK. Sadly, the people with the fewest resources were disproportionately affected here on the plains.

The one exception to my rule about living in cities/not in mobile home parks to stay safe appears to be Longmont, Colorado, which is right on the St. Vrain River and which is apparently still really bad. The western side of Loveland, Colorado all the way up to Estes Park–through the Big Thompson canyon–has made for some dramatic news footage, I am sure. Fort Collins, where Baa Ram U. is located, seems to be getting back to normal after the Cache la Poudre River left its banks Friday–some of the lowlands near I-25 look a little floody, but not too bad. Most of the scary photos and videos you’ve seen recently that might have been labeled Greeley are probably Evans, Colorado, which is right on the South Platte River. We live right between the “two rivers” in Greeley, so we are high, dry, and lucky. Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

September 13th 2013
Every class, David! We’ll be there!

Posted under American history & bad language & students & unhappy endings

To paraphrase General William T. Sherman:  teaching is hell.

 

Forgive me but–bwa-hahahahahaha!–I’m sure it’s very, very difficult to be called “David” instead of “General Petraeus.” (Nice move, though, walking in front of the city bus to try to lose your tormentors!) And to think: you’re doing it all for a single, lousy greenback instead of the $200,000 paycheck you signed up for.

8 Comments »

September 13th 2013
“A MOOC is only about inputs, not about outputs.”

Posted under bad language & Gender & happy endings & students & technoskepticism & women's history

underpantsgnomes

Where is your profit now?

Except maybe. . . profit!??!?!

Here’s a university administrator who apparently sees through the smoke, mirrors, and Thomas Friedmanesque rainbows-and-unicorns technofluff of the Lords of MOOC Creation, Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zeland (h/t to regular commenter truffula.  Maybe it takes an ocean of winds and a position outside of the U.S. and Europe to blow away the bullcrap and see them for what they’re worth?)  Hayne writes,

The University of Otago has considered the issue of MOOCs very carefully. Over this past January, I personally studied everything that I could lay my hands on about the subject. I sought specialist advice on the issue from international experts in distance education and online learning. I discussed the matter extensively with my counterparts in New Zealand and overseas. The conclusion from all of these quarters is that, although there may be a handful of opportunities in this space, the concept of the MOOC will not displace the traditional university experience and the business case for the future of MOOCs actually hangs by a thread.

Although the current enrolment in MOOCs is extremely high, completion of any given course is very low. In most instances, more than 90 per cent of the students who sign up for a course, never complete it. Given this, we have to ask ourselves two questions. First, why do so many sign up? That one is easy – the courses are currently free. Once this aspect of the MOOC system changes (and it will have to change if anyone is going to make any money), then I suspect that enrolments will plummet. Second, why do so many students fail to complete? There are probably many reasons, but the most parsimonious one is that the courses quickly get boring. Even when you place the best speaker in the world on the internet, the experience pales in comparison to face-to-face interaction. Continue Reading »

12 Comments »

September 10th 2013
“We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

Posted under American history & art

Oliver Hazard Perry by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1813

Oliver Hazard Perry by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1813

Today is the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, 27-year old Oliver Hazard Perry’s unlikely victory over the British fleet in Lake Erie during the War of 1812.  The fact that the commander of the U.S. Navy in Lake Erie was 27 years old is a sign of just how desperate and underdeveloped the Navy was in 1813!  Nevertheless, his confident (and only slightly boastful) statement that “we have met the enemy, and they are ours,” is remembered today, especially by people who live near Lake Erie.  And, it was probably for the best that the Navy got its use out of him while young, as it did with most of its seamen, as he died of yellow fever at the age of 34 in 1819.

You can read more about the battle and its re-enactment on Labor Day this year at The Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial webpage, complete with a video of the replica of Perry’s ship The Niagra.  (Unfortunately, it’s marred by using that hideously ubiquitous song by “F.U.N.,” which is pretentious and overplayed.)  They’ve set up a Twitter account for the old commodore, and there’s more information about the battle at “The” Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, a freshwater research lab on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. Continue Reading »

7 Comments »

September 8th 2013
Stop, drop, and read: HBS’s experiment in sex equity

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

Check out this article about the Harvard Business School’s two-year old (so far) scheme to close the gender gap in terms of student grades and participation in class.  It’s been a huge success, and it also appears to have increased students’ overall satisfaction with their experience at HBS.  (Also, if you don’t already know, you’ll learn about what a “search fund” is.  Sounds pretty scammy and potentially a kind of pyramid scheme to me–I’m not really clear as to where our HBS grads are adding any value whatsoever, but you be the judge.)

[HBS '13] had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?

The country’s premier business training ground was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind. Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.

Some students, like Sheryl Sandberg, class of ’95, the Facebook executive and author of “Lean In,” sailed through. Yet many Wall Street-hardened women confided that Harvard was worse than any trading floor, with first-year students divided into sections that took all their classes together and often developed the overheated dynamics of reality shows. Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would “kill, sleep with or marry” (in cruder terms). Alcohol-soaked social events could be worse. Continue Reading »

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