Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ipod History

I have been thinking about the connections between iPods and history lately. I started to think about this when we were interviewing job candidates. One of them mentioned that at her current campus there is a push for faculty to figure out ways to provide class content that students can access with their iPods.

Apparently, some of the faculty at her campus make their lectures available online. I really can't imagine doing that -- not so much because I would be worried about students not having to come to lecture (which I suppose they wouldn't have to do), but because I do say some things in class to try and get a laugh which 'might' be taken the wrong way it you were just listening to it out of context. For example, me making some sort of lip smacking 'ummmmm good' sound after talking about the Donner Party. People just listening to that might think I was serious. You really needed to see me rubbing my stomach to know I was joking. :P

However, I do think the use of podcasts by the history teacher in this story, Georgia College Pushes for iPod Ingenuity, is something I could do. This semester I started showing a lot more film clips, etc. in class to help students better get an idea of what I'm talking about. I have showed a clip from the Kennedy/Nixon debate, part of King's 'I have a dream' speech, and some of a Clara Bow film. These clips are only a few seconds long and I rarely use more than one in a lecture even if there is more good stuff to show. So if I could make longer clips available and more of a variety available, I think it would be helpful to students and maybe give them a different view of history than they can get solely from lecture.

Still, I am not sure whether or not it would significantly improve my student's learning. If I was sure it would, I probably could justify the time it would take to locate sources for podcasts and put them online. But until then, I'm not sure that this isn't just the new 'powerpoint' trend - which so many students make fun of these days.

Update (3.27.2006): As I suspected many podcasts never make it to a portable device.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Historical Revisionism

The Onion had a pretty funny story this week about President Bush and revisionist history.

Bush Increasingly Focused On How Revisionist History Will See Him - March 13, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC. With many of his administration's policies facing growing public disapproval, President Bush is reportedly becoming more concerned with how he will be portrayed by future revisionist historians. "Just last summer, the president never reflected on how apologists would spin his increased lobbying for an unpopular war, or how future far-right generations would justify his failed domestic policy initiatives," presidential scholar Dr. Robert Dallek said. "He reportedly asked an aide if, decades from now, the deluded would see him as great, like Ronald Reagan, or merely as a fully redeemed elder statesman, like Richard Nixon." Margaret Meehan, a spokesman for the National Board Of Historical Revision, offered no comment on any future portrayal of "America's most beloved and accomplished president."

Of course, in 2003 President Bush made it crystal clear what he thought of revisionist history when he said: "This nation acted to a threat from the dictator of Iraq," Bush said. "Now there are some who would like to rewrite history -- revisionist historians is what I like to call them." (BTW, that is what everyone calls people who rewrite the standard or initial interpretation of an event.)

However, revisionism isn't necessarily bad or good. Hopefully, revisionism brings to light a new perspective on an issue - perhaps a more accurate one - perhaps one that is more applicable to modern times. But to condemn all revisionism, just because you disagree with one revisionist interpretation of an event is not only short-sighted, but also indicates an inaccurate understanding of the discipline of history -- the belief that there is only one historical 'truth.' I would have expected a better understanding of the subject coming from someone who got his B.A. in history from an ivy league university.

P.S. As long as you are reading The Onion check out this story.

St. Patrick's Day

Amy Rainey at the Chronicle of Higher Education posted these little know facts about St. Patrik's Day.

1. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated all over the world, even in Ulaanbaater, Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar began to celebrate St. Patrick's Day after receiving a package from the Irish beer maker Guinness with instructions for celebrating Irish identity and singing songs like "Danny Boy." Other unlikely St. Paddy's celebrations take place in Moscow, Tokyo, and Lagos, Nigeria.

2. Looking for an excuse to take the day off from class, engineering students at the University of Missouri at Columbia declared in 1903 that St. Patrick was the patron saint of engineers, for only an engineer could drive the snakes out of Ireland. Since then, engineering students at Midwest schools have celebrated the holiday as a day for engineers.

3. One in 10 Americans report their ancestry as Irish, according to the 2000 Census. Irish is the second-largest ancestry among Americans; German is No. 1.

4. Eating corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day is a peculiarly American tradition. In Ireland the day is used an excuse to drink alcohol and eat sweet foods, which people have given up for Lent.

5. The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York in 1762. In the late 19th century, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in New York, Boston, and Chicago began to include people of all heritages. Out of these inclusive festivals developed the Irish-American traditions of large parades, green beer, and draping oneself head to toe in emerald.

6. The only town in the world named St. Patrick is in northeast Missouri. The Missouri town, population 19, has a shrine to the saint that was built in 1935. Letters from all over the world are sent to the post office each year to be mailed out on March 17 with a special shamrock postmark.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yo Google!

I am going to try and recreate my old site thanks to Google's cache. I'll probably end up missing some stuff or leavings things out, but at least this way I won't feel like it was all forever lost.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Please Stop Calling Them Historians!

I was watching CNN this morning when I heard the anchor refer to Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, the authors of The Holy Blood, The Holy Grail as historians. Baigent and Leigh are news-worthy because they are suing Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code for stealing material from their book. While I have no opinion on whether Brown lifted material from The Holy Blood or not, I do not like seeing Baigent and Leigh referred to as historians. Their work does not in any way meet the standards of history.

When Charles Wood of Dartmouth College reviewed Baigent's and Leigh's work in The Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, he argued that it was not a "serious scholarly book" and that it did not measure of up to other history texts in terms of "approach, methodology, and research design". In addition, it doesn't appear that either of the authors have any training in history. Michael Baigent obtained a degree in psychology from Canterbury University and worked primarily as a photojournalist before becoming interested in the Templars. While Richard Leigh does have a Ph.D. from Stony Brook University (although I can't find his dissertation listed in dissertation abstracts), it is apparently in comparative literature (according to his publisher), not history.

So neither by training, nor by approach and methodology are Baigent and Leigh historians. Therefore, PLEASE stop calling them that.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

You go Big-D!

Donald Rumsfeld recently made the comment that not enough people study history and I couldn't agree more.

He said: "I think the biggest problem we've got in the country is people don't study history anymore. People who go to school in high schools and colleges, they tend to study current events and call it history... There are just too darn few people in our country who study history enough."

I don't know many college history classes that are current event classes, but I know that it is a problem in some high schools. One of my colleagues has a son who just graduated from a local high school and his world history class spent half of their time discussing current events from the newspaper. While I think trying to find ways to link current events to their historical roots could be a interesting approach to high school history - just talking about world events doesn't even come close to addressing the subject. So for once, me and the Big-D agree.

Of course, Rumsfeld made this comment about the study of history as a way to explain President Bush's low popularity ratings.

He claimed: "There's never been a popular war. You can't name a popular war. There isn't such a thing."

"George Washington was almost fired."

"The Civil War was the ugliest thing -- carnage. 10,000, 15,000 people killed in a battle."

"Same thing in World War II... Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most hated people in the country and he was President of the United States. He was Commander-in-Chief. He did a terrific job."

This point I'm not so sure about. While it is true that in all wars there are people who are unhappy about the conflict and struggle, at the same time there were some wars that have been generally embraced by the majority of the American people and could be viewed as popular wars. The two that spring to my mind are the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Gulf War of 1992. Of course what these two wars had going for them that you can't claim about the Revolutionary War, the War in Iraq, or even World War II -- is that each of them was relatively short and had few American casualties.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The World Turned Upside Down

I read this on a list-serve for engineering professors, but its strikes a good chord for all professors. When I was in band back in H.S., I used to imagine writing a screen-play where it was the band members who were the popular kids in school while the athletes would be the geeks. I figure that idea was, in part, just sour grapes about the way society worked. But there is something appealing about speculating how the world (or if the world) would be different if certain standards were turned on their head.


Imagine, if you can, an academic universe in which the roles of teaching and research have been suddenly and magically reversed.

Faculty members emerge from the library or laboratory and heave a sigh of relief: "Thank goodness I've finished all my research for this year! Now I can get on with my real work!" Rushing back to the classroom, they throw themselves with relish into the job they have trained to do through years of graduate study, the labor for which they are recognized and rewarded by their peers and their institutions: the "real work" of teaching.

Committed research scholars, meanwhile, profess frustration at the inequities of the system, but their complaints fall on deaf ears. Indeed, their excessive attention to research is secretly regarded by their peers as a sign of intellectual deficiency. "If so-and-so were a truly talented teacher," colleagues mutter to one another at cocktail parties, "s/he wouldn't waste so much time and energy on research." Newly hired faculty who want to pursue cutting-edge research methodologies are actively discouraged by their department Chairs, who urge them to focus on their teaching instead: "You have to think about your career, you know!"

When asked by administrators and promotion committees to develop measures for demonstrating research competence, faculty rise up in anger. "How can anyone really measure or evaluate good research?" they demand. "Research is a private matter, a matter of personal style." These same scholars have no qualms, needless to say, about subjecting their teaching to collegial scrutiny and rigorous peer review. Indeed, they love to fly off to far-flung conferences where they can engage in lively disciplinary debates with teaching colleagues from around the world, leaving behind the drudgery of their research obligations.

Top universities maintain their international stature by offering generous funding for innovative teachers, with additional support from government and industry sources. Academic units devoted to the promotion of research excellence, by contrast, remain consistently underfunded and understaffed. University administrators do pay a certain amount of lip service to the importance of supporting stellar researchers; but under their breaths, they all recite the same mantra: "This is a teaching university!"

Friday, March 10, 2006

Andrew Jackson and Wile E. Coyote

Wile E. Coyote - Super Genius Posted by Picasa

I was lecturing on Andrew Jackson the other day and when I got to the part about his war on the national bank, I mentioned that Jackson probably thought he was a genius when he decided to weaken the bank by pulling out federal deposits. Almost immediately, the picture of Wile E. Coyote calling himself a 'super-genius' popped into my head. Within the space of 2 second I had decided that this might get me a laugh if I shared it with my students. So I said, 'Like the coyote who chases road-runner, Jackson too thought he was a super-genius.' Rather than break out in laughter, my students started to argue with me that Wile E. Coyote never talks.

Now I'm not a super-genius but I remembered seeing at least one cartoon where Wile E. Coyote talked. So after class I hopped on the computer and began my search. At first all I was able to find were some sound clips of the Wile E. calling himself a super-genius. But after days of looking I finally found a copy of the entire cartoon. So of course, I downloaded it and brought it into class. I made them sit through the last 30 seconds of the cartoon, so they could hear Wile E. Coyote talk and watch what happens to people who brag about being a super-genius. The class backed down, but not before after asking me when these cartoons were made (trying to make me feel old I assume). But I got them back by ending the class with the comment, 'Now you can never doubt anything I say again.'

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Smartest President

One of the guys in political science and I just got in an argument about who was the smartest president. I went with Thomas Jefferson, Jimmy Carter, and James Garfield (who apparently could simultaneously write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other).

He was arguing for Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. I would agree that Lincoln and Roosevelt were bright and effective, but I'm not sure their IQ scores would be in the genius range.

Perhaps this is a different point of view between historians and political scientists. Maybe they think to be smart a present also has to accomplish something, while historians assume if a president is REALLY smart he will probably be ineffective.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Faculty Awards

I served as a member of an awards committee last week and found the experience to be very disappointing. We were giving awards to the student, staff, and faculty member who does the most to represent the culture of the school and serves as a means to unite people around campus.

While the student and staff awards were fairly clear-cut, I was upset with how the faculty award was decided. The two top candidates were both well-deserving individuals who are excellent colleagues. However, the person who ended up getting the faculty award teaches less than 1/2 time. The other 1/2 of the time that person is involved in running a program in the Dean of Students office. Through this program the award recipient comes in contact with almost all of the incoming students. In fact the main arguments for giving this person the award was that program is run so successfully and does so many innovative things to bring the campus together. I brought up the point that this person's job was to do these things for the program and that how would any 'regular' faculty member ever win, unless they too had some administrative post. But in the end I was out-voted (of course full-time faculty were a minority on the awards committee).

Is it too much to hope that the people who are given faculty awards actually spend most of their time teaching?