Thursday, May 31, 2007

History is a Weapon

I stumbled across an online site today titled: History is a Weapon. The introduction to the site makes a statement with which most historians would agree.

It claims: History isn't what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.

Things get a little bit more uncomfortable for those of us who teach history a couple of paragraphs later, when the site's editors maintain: The very selection of which histories to teach in a society shapes our view of how what is came to be and, in turn, what we understand as possible. This choice of which history to teach can never be "neutral" or "objective." Those who choose, either following a set agenda or guided by hidden prejudices, serve their interests. Their interests could be to continue this world as it now stands or to make a new world.

Okay, yes what someone decides to lecture about and how they present that material is a bit subjective and it can benefit or hinder certain ideologies. But at the same time history that is published by university presses and taught on college campuses around the nation is not essentially an ideological basketball that gets passed back and forth between two teams. There is a little something called the historical paradigm, which does limit or constrain the dialogue that historians can engage. For example, you are not going to get taken seriously by colleagues, get a book deal with a university press, or even get hired in the first place if you are a holocaust denier.

If the historical paradigm isn't enough to ensure that history is more than just a 'story', there is a community of scholars in the discipline, who try to keep each other honest. Should one's interpretation not line up with the historical evidence this community, in book reviews, blogs, and at conferences, does not hesitate to challenge others' presentations.

While History is a Weapon is correct about history being a story and I even agree with them that people should examine the past for themselves by reading primary sources and seeing what opinions or stories might have been left out of their historical educations, at the same time, history is more than just a story and more than just twisted or ideologically driven interpretation. In fact, I would argue that history is a weapon because of its very real relationship to what actually occurred in the past. Something that literature or philosophy or fine arts can't claim.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Student Calls Police After Instructor Confiscates Cell Phone That Rung during Class

Apparently, the police in West Lafayette, IN showed up at a business law class after a student reported the instructor for stealing his cell phone. The instructor (who is also a judge in Lafayette) confiscated the phone for ringing during class, but refused to return it immediately after the class ended. He said he was going to give it to the Dean of Students and that it could be picked up there. (Sounds good to me - inconvenience the student the same way he inconvenienced the entire class for letting his cell phone ring.) This idea didn't sit well with the student (I'm guessing a business major), who called the police. The complaint was turned over to a Lafayette prosecutor who dismissed the charges. You can read the story here.

I am left with several impressions after reading this news article.

1. The instructor showed great nerve in not only taking the phone, but also not giving it back immediately. I do hope he had the cell phone policy in his syllabus, however, since that seems to be the end-all-be-all of classroom disputes.

2. The student showed great nerve in calling the cops on his instructor. It must have been quite a sight to see the student's righteous indignation. Although, I think the student probably went too far and should have sucked it up and gone to the Dean of Students to retrieve his phone. I am kind of proud that s/he handled it himself and didn't call mommy or daddy to save him.

3. I imagine that next class session was pretty awkward. Do you drop the class after accusing the instructor of stealing and trying to get him arrested? Or do you sit tight knowing that you got a perfect claim for retaliation if you don't get the grade you wanted in class.

4. Where did the student get the phone to call the cops? Did s/he borrow it from a fellow classmate? Did the person who loaned the phone know what it was going to be used for? How awkward is it for this classmate to stay in the business law course?

Personally, I don't have a policy on cell phones in class. Inevitably a few go off every semester, but I just ignore them or wait until they have stopped ringing (maybe do a little dance if the tune is particularly good) before continuing with my lecture. I have a colleague, however, who takes 1% off a student's final class grade every time his or her cell phone rings in class. That is pretty hard core, but effective. I think he's only had 1 cell phone ring in the 3+ years he's had the policy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Disney Promotes War and Safe Sex

It is fairly common knowledge that during World War II, Walt Disney worked with different government agencies to make war-propaganda films, including one for the Treasury on the importance of paying taxes and four anti-Hitler films. He also allowed Disney characters to be used to support the purchase of war bonds and rationing.

Perhaps, less well-known is that some Disney characters in the interest of winning the war also encouraged soldiers to use condoms. It is now possible to purchase your own World War II Anti-VD poster of Donald Duck despairing that he can't shag a woman because he is without a prophylactic.

I can't help but wonder about the success of this campaign. I mean why Donald and not Mickey or Goofy? It is some sort of slam on Donald's morals? Or could it be that no one can imagine Goofy remembering to use condom in such a situation?

Did hearing such wise words from a cartoon duck work better than the posters that warned that "You can't beat the Axis if you get VD" or tried to scare soldiers into worrying about what diseases the women they picked up off duty might have?

Each year I make my classes read Walt Disney's testimony before HUAC where he talks about the use of propaganda in Hollywood during the war. I never shown them examples of that propaganda before -but I would be interested in hearing their thoughts on why the government thought such campaigns would be effective. Although if I decide to present an example, I'll probably stick with the rationing poster - just to be safe.

Monday, May 07, 2007

First Day of Summer Break

Well it as officially the first day of my summer break today. I spent the first 3 hours grading - was only 1 hour and 15 minutes late turning in grades this semester. Didn't prevent from having to do the 'walk of shame' but at least I avoided a visit from the Dean.

I spent the last 6 hours of the work day at a 'studies' conference. Some of the information was SOOO boring and I doubt will be of any use at all. However, other information was fascinating - although I probably will never use it either. Still how often any more do I get fascinated by something? Not often enough.

Now, I'm going to spend the rest of the evening on my couch - watching bad movies and surfing online. Then I'm going to go to bed at a decent hour, sleep well, and then wake up and start to plan so ambitious a summer of research, etc. that I won't get half of it done.