Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for February, 2008

The End of Western Civilization

Posted by Gerald on February 27, 2008

There is something fitting that what I’m about to tell you happened on the same day that we have all heard about the passing of William F. Buckley – intellectual, writer, editor, and champion of oppressed Euro-centrism.

Ever since I was an adjunct at my current institution, I’ve been championing the inclusion of a two-semester World History survey course as an alternative for the usual Western Civilization course that makes up 90% of our offerings.  My department chair attended a meeting this morning where this was approved.  In fact, except for a couple of sections of Western Civ that will be taught by a semi-retired former faculty member (basically our version of a professor emeritus) we are dumping that relic of post-WWII academia entirely and going to World History across the board come next fall.

No more NATO history!!!

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

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Presentation Day

Posted by Gerald on February 21, 2008

As part of the college’s observance of Black History Month, this morning I presented a talk to a mixed audience of students and faculty on “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Modern World.”  I broke my remarks into four areas – how the slave trade created African communities in other places, the role of Atlantic slavery in the emergence of the modern world economy, the relationship between slavery and modern racism, and the place of slavery in the emergence of American ideas of freedom.  We had a pretty good discussion, although – perhaps not surprisingly – it was dominated by the faculty members.  I’m not too sure most of them really understood what I was trying to say about the relationship between the political and economic freedoms of white Americans on the one hand and the existence of African slavery on the other.  Still, it did open the door to a good exchange about nativism and its relationship to racism.

Unfortunately I noticed once again a dynamic I have encountered repeatedly in my classes, in written work from students, and in these sorts of presentations.  It seems like most people cannot resist turning any discussion of slavery into an opportunity to talk about how opposed they are to it.  Rather than wanting to discuss why it came into being, why it flourished, what it meant in the past and what that might mean to us today, most students, faculty, audience members, etc… just want to say “Slavery was bad” and then have everyone nod.  I guess this is just that desire for group experiences of affirmation that embraces everything from singing the national anthem to watching Jerry Springer.  Unfortunately it also leads to the death of any analytical thinking.

Despite all of that, I think it went well.

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1776 – Robot Chicken

Posted by Gerald on February 20, 2008

If you are teaching or studying American history, let me recommend this to you.

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Beginning Again

Posted by Gerald on February 19, 2008

I’ve been thinking about some things for the last several months and I’ve come to a decision.  Despite some rather public protestations to the contrary – some made within the last 24 hours – I’m not really wholly satisfied with my career choices.  I’m content with where I am in terms of my job.  I like teaching and I feel I have something important to contribute here at a community college to students who otherwise might never see a four-year institution.  Also, frankly, I am in my 40s and like the idea of a steady paycheck, health insurance, and a pension in the unlikely event that I live long enough to retire.  I don’t want to change jobs.

The thing is – I think I can, and should, do more.

I’ve said that I didn’t really like doing research or writing history.  I’m not too sure that is true.  I think my problem was that I didn’t like WHAT I was researching.  After I got to Iowa I made the last of a series of mistakes and I think that might have derailed my entire career.  As I think I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I backed into a lot of the decisions I made in my academic career.  I didn’t really understand what I was getting into when I headed for my doctoral program in Iowa.  I hadn’t made any choices about who I wanted to study with or what I wanted to study.  Because I had taken a lot of British history, I focused on British history.  My Master’s Essay – a product of a similar lack of planning – had dealt with the empire, so I focused on Imperial studies.  This brought me to Jeff Cox.  He did quite well by me given my lack of real focus and I owe him more than i can say for teaching me how to actually write.  Jeff also first brought me into the orbit of the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry – a group whose work really shaped everything since for me.  I then met my dissertation advisor, Dee McCloskey.  Dee helped me move deeper into my rhetoric studies and has been my personal icon for humane scholarship.  I’ve never understood what she saw in me, but she was unstinting in her support for me.  Even when immersed in huge personal difficulties, she was still there with guidance for her students – including me.

The problem is that Dee is a British economic historian.  In moving into her orbit, I tried to combine British history, economic history, and imperial history.  I came up with a dissertation topic that fit all of those things.

And hit a blank wall.

I didn’t realize it.  I came up with ideas and approaches, but I couldn’t envision what the finished product would look like.  I kept trying to forge ahead and assured everyone – and especially myself – that I could do this but I also was secretly thinking “I don’t know what I am supposed to do!”.  Although I had learned to act like an economic historian, of sorts, I never really was one and I now believe I never should have tried.  I’ve never had a passion for this field, just an appreciation for what it could do.  I asked various people for input and tried to follow their suggestions, but without any real success.  As time passed I became more disenchanted with it, but I kept slamming my head into that wall.

Finally, in 1997 I blew what remaining money I had on a big research trip in hopes of jump-starting the process.  For reasons that I’ve discussed elsewhere that didn’t really work.  Then the rollercoaster ride began – Dad died, Mom’s health went sour, I became a part-time instructor and a full-time care-giver.  Then Mom died and a year later I got a full-time job.  The last two years I’ve been settling into that role.

What I’ve come to realize is that I miss doing research and writing.  I think i might have things to contribute even lacking my PhD.  The thing is that I don’t think they have anything to do with economic or imperial history.  I decided to try for my doctorate after taking a graduate course on the French Revolution at UNCG.  It wasn’t the study of French history so much as the topic of my final paper in there that lit my interest.  I wrote on an idea called the theory of political languages and how that could be used to understand the Revolution.  That was the writing sample I sent to Iowa with my application.  While in Iowa I was entranced by the work on rhetoric and with my studies with POROI.  I didn’t finish my doctorate, but I did finish a certificate in the Rhetoric of Inquiry.  I loved the study of ideas and their expression in language and what that tells us about the people involved.  I am fascinated by how language creates communities and how it both defines and is defined by our thought.

I think that is what I need to do.  I need to get back to that.  I’m dropping back to some of my first interests – Bernard Bailyn and David Brion Davis among others.  Political and cultural speech in the English-speaking Atlantic world of the early modern period is where I’m starting.  I’m going to re-explore some of what I’ve already studied and then try to broaden out into new areas.  Along the way I hope to find avenues of research so that I can try to contribute to history.

I feel like I’m starting grad school again – but without the school part.

I’ve got to be realistic here.  I have a heavy course load by four-year standards, no real institutional support at all (no journals, minimal access to non-public-access on-line material, no real library resources, no sabbaticals or teaching reductions, and no willing grad student serfs), and I’ve never worked or written fast at the best of times.  Still, I can try.

Some of you folks who read this are working in academia.  I’ve been away from heavy involvement in journals and conferences for a long time.  I’m trying to get back on my own, but if you have any ideas about recent monographs or bibliographic suggestions or other thoughts I’d really appreciate them.

Here goes…

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Occasionally, There IS Some Justice

Posted by Gerald on February 15, 2008

My friend Bridgett got tenure!


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Non-Snow-Day Snow-Day

Posted by Gerald on February 14, 2008

We got enough snow that the county schools here closed and most regional colleges and two-year schools were on two-hour delays.

But not ours.

Luckily for me, my first class on Thursday doesn’t meet until 11:00.  The roads didn’t seem too bad (a few icy patches, but not many) but my sidewalk and driveway both looked a bit treacherous – and, frankly, my ankle still hasn’t entirely recovered from New Orleans.  As a result, I gave myself a slight delay and didn’t get in until about 10:30.

The day felt like a snow day even though there was no snow day.  I taught my classes and resisted the temptation to cut things short or just show a video, but except for that I didn’t get a thing done.  I wasn’t alone in this.  About half of the kids in my 2:00 class didn’t show – and by then it was in the 50s outside.  When my department chair left her office at just before 4:00 and announced that everyone should leave, it didn’t take much to convince me to join the mass exodus.

I did some grocery shopping and came home.  When I left this morning, my porch was solid snow and ice and my yard was white.  This afternoon when I got home the snow and ice had almost completely disappeared and the house was warm enough inside that I turned on the over head fan in the living room and got myself a cold Bass ale.

For any of you who are indulging, have a happy Valentine’s Day.

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Snow Surprise

Posted by Gerald on February 13, 2008

This may not mean much to my friends up north, but I just went to let my dog outside and discovered an unexpected blanket of snow over everything.  Not much – maybe a quarter inch – just enough to leave everything but the street looking white.  I knew there was an outside chance of some flurries, but I had no idea it was actually snowing.

I have just enough kid left in me to have found that a little magical

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Grading Stream of Consciousness

Posted by Gerald on February 13, 2008

Another answer to that prompt … why do I even bother giving them options? … Wrong tense … Wrong case … Passive Voice … Trifecta! … You’ve gotta be kidding me … Okay, but so what? … Yep … Yep … Wrong! … I KNOW I did not say that … Okay …


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Snickers Ad

Posted by Gerald on February 11, 2008

I do not know why, but when I saw this ad for the first time while writing the previous post I started laughing and can’t seem to stop:

I know it isn’t that funny, but I just can’t help myself.

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Meeting Rant

Posted by Gerald on February 11, 2008

There are days I am not in love with the institution that employs me.  This was one of them.

The Faculty Senate produced a report and suggestions on how we do advisement and registration.  As president I was invited to discuss this report with a committee that handles these things.  This itself is somewhat notable.  Despite the fact that we faculty members both advise students and handle the bulk of actual registration (we do not have one of those new-fangled systems from the 1990s that allow students to register online) there has never been faculty representation on this committee below the level of department chairs.

As I expected, the committee responded to our report and suggestions with a pat on the head, no dog biscuit, and the promise that these issues would all be dealt with when we get Web Advisor.  This has been the stock answer the administration has been handing us for at least three years whenever we point out issues with advising and registering.  Soon we shall have Web Advisor and the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yeah!  The date of when that will happen keeps getting shifted forward, but when it happens all will be well!

I think that by the time we get Web Advisor running, our students will be downloading their courses directly into their genetically enhanced brains.

Then there was a discussion about our practice of having open advising and registration on Tuesdays.  When, again, we raised some of the problems involved the response was, well there are a lot of things to look at there.  Then we DID NOT LOOK AT ANY OF THOSE THINGS and went ahead to schedule Tuesday advising and registration dates through the spring of 2009.

They did not listen to anything we said on this subject.  They respond to everything we said with either meaningless platitudes or by treating us like spoiled children for having complained.  These administrators assume our students are too stupid to be able to understand the idea of having registration on alternate Tuesdays (to ease staffing issues) or too irresponsible to be asked to come to advisement when they are supposed to (for returning students.)  I don’t think either of those things are true.  Certainly there are some students who would fail to read the dates for registration and would show up on the wrong date and would be so frustrated they would then decide not to come back the next week to sign up to take courses – but are we really losing anything if they don’t?  Are students that lacking in ability, desire, and drive really going to succeed?  I doubt it.  But no, let us not demand responsibility if that might lose us a few FTE.

I’m a bit irritated…

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