Archive for the 'unhappy endings' Category

August 20th 2014
History, Judge Lynch, and Walking While Black: thoughts on Ferguson, MO

Posted under American history & Intersectionality & jobs & race & the body & unhappy endings

cowgirlcoffeeStop by and sit for a spell.  Have a cup of coffee, too, while you’re at it!  (It’s fresh, or at least it was this morning.)  As you have probably guessed, I’ve crawled my way out of the wilderness and back to internet-connected civilization.  Although the entrance to The Huntington Library and Gardens is torn up now because of a major construction project, everything indoors and out is pretty much its usual quiet and studied perfection.  As commenter Susan noted in the comments on my last post, the Corpse Flower is about to bloom here, so we’re all on the edge of our seats.  (Follow the progress on Twitter, #CorpseFlower).

I’ll surely be reporting more from my new sabbatical year location, but I’m actually getting lots of writing done this week (!) so I don’t want to let the blog suck too much of my mojo right now.  I’m enjoying the offline company of my fellow nuns and monks here.  It’s a refreshingly cloistered environment, in which people still cultivate the attention spans required for long study and deep reflection rather than the instincts of the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

The Huntington is also culturally and environmentally about 15,000 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri.  Working and strolling through this privileged environment, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the incredible liberties I have even amidst the many botanical, art, manuscript, and bibliographic treasures.  All it takes is a “reader’s card” on a lanyard around my neck, and I have nearly the run of the place.  And who am I?  I haven’t paid a dime for the pleasure–in fact, I’m a huge welfare queen!  I’m getting paid to be here!  What a tragically different experience Mike Brown had of his own neighborhood. Continue Reading »

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July 15th 2014
The war on expertise: there are limits to the democratization of knowledge

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

einsteinrelativityThis American Life featured a fascinating–as in, car-crashtastic–example of the war on expertise that I thought many of you academic readers might be interested in, if you haven’t heard it already.  In a story called “Sucker Mc-squared” (Mc-squared as in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, not Mc- as in McDonald’s), Robert Andrew Powell tells the story of Bob the Electrician, and of Bob’s conviction that he alone had discovered a fatal flaw in Einstein’s theory.  You can hear the entire story here–it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.

To summarize:  Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong.  Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons:  there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians.  In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have.  But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.

 Why does Bob believe that all of physics has it all wrong?  Why is he argumentative and defensive when finally Powell convinces a real physicist (Brant Watson of the University of Miami School of Medicine) to explain to him why he’s all wet?  Why does he admit that he doesn’t understand the advanced training in mathematics that physicists receive, and still believe he’s right?  SPOILER ALERT!
Continue Reading »

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July 1st 2014
RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

Posted under American history & bad language & Berkshire Conference & captivity & conferences & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & O Canada & students & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

cowgirlhayoopsFrom the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:

A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness.  While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues.  Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling.  And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.

It’s true.  I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history:  Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’  Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT:  I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor:  Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution.  That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense.  Skemp continues: Continue Reading »

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June 20th 2014
Twitter-friendly explanation of the gunfight at the Mass. Ave. corral

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1In case you’ve missed the Jill Lepore-Clayton Christiansen Harvard University faculty feud, here’s a brief recap:

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June 19th 2014
Behind these times: on professional standards and not losing your marbles.

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article.  (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.)  Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me.  He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there.  However, he got stalled.  Really stalled.

If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.

He went to work for In These Times until 1979.  Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue Reading »

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June 16th 2014
What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

Posted under American history & book reviews & jobs & publication & students & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here): Continue Reading »

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June 7th 2014
Education round-up: the suck it up edition

Posted under American history & jobs & local news & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

cowgirlbroncobestedFriendly greeting!  Comments on the local weather, and humorous story about my weekend plans.  Here we go:

  • Denver second grade teacher Austen Kassinger says that struggle is inherent to learning, and that parents need to push their children to achieve by owning that struggle.  After spending an entire evening working through five long-division problems in fourth grade, her mother told her to figure it out:  “No, she did not think the assignment was unfair. No, she would not write a note to Mrs. Hall. And no, I absolutely could not stay home from school. Thus went her long-standing policy for schoolwork: If my sisters or I didn’t understand something, it was our job, not hers, to talk to the teacher. . . .I wonder what would have happened if my mother had taken the approach of the comedian Louis C.K., whose tweets about his children’s homework recently went viral: ‘Yet again I must tell my kid ‘don’t answer it. It’s a bad question.’ ’ ‘Who is writi[n]g these? And why?” “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!’ My mother could have said some version of those things in response to my meltdown, but she didn’t. She chose not to blame the question, or the teacher, or the test. And because of her steady insistence that if I took ownership of my learning, I could master any subject, I recovered from long division and went on to take AP calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra — in high school.”
  • This is the chief complaint I hear from K-12 teachers:  lack of parental support for their work, or even resentment that parents undermine the standards they have set for their students.  Yes, the same parents who make sure their children get to soccer and football practices and games on time, and force their entire families to eat crappy food and live in the backs of their minivans and SUVs to do so.  I just don’t understand the priorities of my fellow Americans.  At all.
  • Dartmouth digital humanist Mary Flanagan writes about the power and the overwhelming distraction of laptops and other personal digital devices in class.  She has encouraged the use of digital technologies in her classes to good effect, “[b]ut most days, there will come a time where faculty or guest speakers actually speak, or dialogue happens or provocative points are raised. It is then that students with technology-control issues immediately check out and check into Facebook or online games or shoe shopping. Unless they are directly involved in a hands-on activity for which they will be accountable in public by the end of class, it is much easier to give in to the presence of technology and lose the experience of direct engagement.”
  • Do you ban the use of tablets, laptops, and/or phones in your classes?  I have a blanket statement on my syllabus about not using digital devices to distracting ends in class, but I haven’t banned them outright.  A few of my students every semester buy e-books and use their Kindles or tablets in class to access them as well as PDFs of assigned articles and primary sources.  This year, several students have used their phones for this purpose as well.  As for laptops, it’s only a few students at my university who use them in class, and my experience is that it’s both some of the high performers and some of the low performers who use laptops in class.  That is, they work well for very organized and dedicated students, and they serve as vehicles for distraction for others.  I have been of the opinion that it’s up to students to pay attention, or not–remembering full well all of the means by which I used to distract myself in college classes nearly 30 years ago.  Also, if students are distracted by someone else’s laptop or tablet, it’s up to them to find a seat in which they can learn.  But now I’m starting to think that digital distraction may play a role in the poor performance of my two most recent classes, and that I may need to start banning laptops.

Continue Reading »

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June 2nd 2014
Feminist lives: Stephanie M. H. Camp, Maya Angelou, and Sandra Bem

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & unhappy endings & women's history

Last week, Kate Raphael of Pacifica’s Women’s Magazine (KFPA 94.1) contacted me to see if I would let her interview me about Stephanie Camp and the importance of her scholarship.  Kate put together a series of commemorations of the lives of feminist women who have died recently–Maya Angelou, Sandra Bem, and Stephanie.  The show also features a lengthy interview with Stacy Russo, who edited Life as Activism: June Jordan’s essays in the Progressive.  Russo shares her memory of Jordan as a teacher as well as reviews the importance of her work.

You can hear the results here.  Women’s Magazine’s blog is here.  I hope you’re enjoying June.

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May 28th 2014
The so-called “liberal” academic workplace

Posted under class & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

AliceteapartyJust go read this description of a job interview in a humanities program at a rich SLAC.  The search Chair told our informant, Anonymous, that the young African American woman on the faculty had been denied tenure.  Some flava:

Dr. Chair explained that the whole process had been very unpleasant and that the aforementioned white male colleagues had been “hurt” as a consequence. I said something innocuous in response like, “Oh well I suppose the tenure process is hard on everyone.” But Dr. Chair assured me that there had been problems for a while. “We just want this to be a nice place,” she said.

In addition to making her white male colleagues sad, Dr. Chair told me that the African-American woman who had been fired did not produce what she was expected to produce or teach what she was expected to teach. When I asked what those expectations were, Dr. Chair sighed and said something to the effect of, “She’s a black feminist, you know, and it’s just: not everything is about black feminism.” She said this to me matter-of-factly, as if it were a satisfactory answer to my question.

Continue Reading »

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May 27th 2014
The “high cost of higher ed” is in fact not going to college (and in not going to class)

Posted under American history & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings

What am I missing

What am I missing?

David Leonhardt asks “Is College Worth It?,” and finds that the pay gap between college grads and people without college is at an all-time high.  Fortunately, he sings one of my favorite songs here too:

[The] public discussion today — for which we in the news media deserve some responsibility — often focuses on the undeniable fact that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success. But of course it doesn’t. Nothing guarantees success, especially after 15 years of disappointing economic growth and rising inequality.

When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.

The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.

Longtime readers will recall my frustration with the “high cost of higher education” media conversation, mostly because I think it’s dominated by people who are choosing to pay for private, selective educations for their children, not by people who patronize our fine state colleges and universities, which have in fact kept the price of their educations artificially low by shifting a majority of their faculty from tenured or tenure-track positions to adjunct casual labor.  Also, where’s the accountability for school performance by students in these conversations?  Are students with 3.0 averages or higher suffering from unemployment at the same rate as students who didn’t work as hard in college?  We don’t know, because no one ever holds alumni responsible for any part of their achievement (or lack thereof).

This article comes just a week after I submitted my final grades for the two classes I taught in the spring semester, an upper-level course aimed at History and other Liberal Arts majors, and a lower-level survey course.  Continue Reading »

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