Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New and Improved -- It's History!

New and Improved -- It's History!

As someone currently on the job market, I've noticed more and more that History departments are looking for people who can teach World History. World History has replaced the Western Civilization survey on many campuses, and is generally preferred. The problem for most of us is that World History is a fairly new field, and there are only about five (I'm pretty sure) departments in the country that offer graduate study in the discipline. So really, the vast majority of job candidates who claim to be "World Historians" are probably lying. I've never claimed to be a World Historian. I say that, given the fact that few people are so trained, my background (I do have a non-western field on top of the pre-modern stuff) and teaching experience make it possible for me to teach it as well as anyone else, and better than most. I try to give specific examples of the important approaches World History does have to offer, and why I prefer certain textbooks and source material. More than that, I cannot do. I will not lie to get a job, no matter how much I want it. But I worry that there are people who will, and will get the job, and who probably understand the discipline less than I do. It's not that I don't understand it -- I just don't know that I think it's the best way to teach what may be the one History course students take.

For many people, especially non-historians, there might not be much of a difference between World History and the History of the World. For others, there is a huge one. As I understand it, the creation of World History as a field came in response to a realization that we live in a global society and, as members of a dominant culture, know and teach far too little about other cultures. I completely agree with that. But I also think that, to a great extent, my own period of study is every bit as remote to the average student as is the history of dar el-Islam. In my own experience, the past really is a different country, and it is the discipline and methodology of history that are central to my teaching. Students who learn the kinds of questions historians ask of their sources and who learn to use those questions to construct a narrative will be able to use those same skills to study the history of any area or people. It is those same questions that Eric Martin seems to discard, telling faculty that they must allow students of World History another framework for their studies than the one that's been pretty much accepted since, oh... Thucydides. To be fair, he does not want to discard all of historical method as most of us know it, but again, he seems to argue that World History really is the way of the future, and in fact a better approach. In the newest World History Connected, Martin discusses this very different approach:
World historians practice a way of thinking defined by these two sets of characteristics: the inclination to ask big questions about how the world works as a whole and the interest in developing innovative techniques to answer such large-scale, complicated questions. Thus far, world history as a way of thinking has been primarily described as an intellectual characteristic shared by professional scholars engaged in the field. However, there is a much wider demand for the kinds of thinking skills that world historians practice. For example, world historians have developed ways of thinking about the kinds of big-picture questions currently being asked by the U.S. public, including why the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, and how effective the war on terrorism has been in decreasing the chances of a repeat disaster. There is public concern as well about whether the U.S. is a liberating force or an occupying power in Iraq, and whether or not Iraq is 'another Vietnam.' Americans are wondering about the causes of -- and the solutions to -- the economic problems facing our communities in globalng economy, and why people in some countries are rich and poor in others. They are asking about the relationships between producers and consumers, and about the nature of globalization and how it affects communities. World historians practice a way of thinking that provides the conceptual tools to address questions of such magnitude and complexity: few other fields can say the same.

Really? I certainly agree that we live in an increasingly global society and that it behooves us all to know more about the people we interact with. If nothing else, it helps one (or countries) avoid horrible cultural gaffes. But I have to ask the question: what is more important? History of the World, or World History? I do wonder about the tacit assumption by most of the World Historians I've met that global history is intrinsically better than any other history, especially the Eurocentric type. I admit that this may in part be because I am a medievalist and am therefore probably guilty of Eurocentrism. But I am coming more and more to question whether World History is not itself marred by its own blind spots. These blind spots are not rooted in Eurocentrism, per se, but instead in Americanism and Modernism (in the sense of a Modern historian's approach to the subject). I say Americanism because really, World History is 'owned' by Americans and framed by the questions of what matters to America and Americans as a culture even more dominant in today's world than "The West," and because, although there are many non-American scholars now working in the field, from what I can tell from listservs like H-World, they are generally ignored. In terms of the Modernist approach, I think that there is an implicit desire to see things in terms of progress and event-based relevance that is arguably alien to a Classicist or Medievalist (and to many Early Modernists).

My historical playground is one that assumes that our ancestors lived in a very different world. My colleagues and I study our subjects pretty much in- and of themselves, for what they were and in the context of their times. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, we are generally able to be objective and yet find great relevance, not by comparing events like VietNam and Iraq, which is frankly very superficial on most points and masks many important details, but by trying to look at a different big picture, e.g., the history of a country and people who once were world leaders in thought and art and how their position in the larger world changed over time. And of course, understanding Iraq's history would still do little to explain 9/11, because the people who flew the planes into the WTC weren't Iraqis. You see, we're trained to look at lots of details that make it much harder to tie events like those of September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq together into any big picture. That same attention to the small questions makes us much more aware of the myriad of events that might help to explain the long-term cultural interaction between Islam (in many forms and in many regional and historical varieties) and "The West." And, of course, to ask if that is the central question, or whether it's just the American version of Western culture that's the problem. But I digress.

To return to the idea of context, we should also consider whether there is a causal relationship between the rise of World History as a field a time when historians (and really, anyone in the Humanities), especially in the US, were finding it harder and harder to justify the relevance of their disciplines in a world of increasingly commercialized education. Rather than rising to the challenge and doing what our colleagues in the sciences do when it becomes clear that students need to learn more, i.e., to push for more requirements in the field, historians (again, mostly in the US, as History is generally considered necessary to a solid education in other countries, Charles Clarke notwithstanding) instead tried to do more with less, to revise the curriculum to reflect and include what had been missing, instead of increasing the amount of historical knowledge required for a degree. And thus, rather than saying simply, "We Americans do not know enough about the people we deal with every day. We should fix that," we said, "we know we aren't very marketable, so we will stop teaching those things that help explain why western culture became dominant, the same things that people in other, non-western countries know better than we do, and instead just try to fit everything else in." As an immediate afterthought, some of us then seemed to have bought into the idea that history as it existed had a problem because it wasn't relevant enough. The result has been mixed. Most World History texts are justifiably accused of being Eurocentric with some non-European stuff thrown in. And there has been a real attempt to create a viable field of World History. It is indeed global, but is it history?

It is not in the sense that Donald Kagan, in his recent Jefferson Lecture,understands. Rather, Kagan's discussion of method helps to show that History is largely relevant if 'only' in a human sense:
But unlike philosophers and their post-enlightenment offspring, the social scientists, who usually prefer to explain a vast range of particular phenomena by the simplest possible generalization, historians must be prepared to explain the variety of behavior in various ways. The well-known lines of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus present the two fundamental choices: "The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one:/ one big one." This may work in the animal kingdom, but in the world of human affairs, wildly complicated by the presence of individual wills and of different ideas of what produces or deprives people of happiness and honor, in what does interest consist and of what there is to fear, extremely general explanations are neither useful nor possible. Historians, in the first instance, need to be foxes, using as many tricks as they can to explain as many particular things as accurately and convincingly as they can. Then, they should try to find revealing examples from the wide variety of human experiences to support generalizations of varying breadth. They should not expect to find the one big trick that will explain everything, but the lesser generalizations that can be tested by other understandings of the evidence and by new human experiences as they arise, which can still be interesting and useful. It is this mixed path taken by the historian, chiefly of the fox but with a necessary element of the hedgehog that promises the best results.

But where Kagan's fox must constantly deal with the fine details and change tacks to deal with different types of information, World History seems to be more of a Hedgehog with some vulpine traits. And relevance to the hedgehog is often merely relevance only in the sense of 'relevance to our students right now' -- despite the fact that World History purports to address a global society and our students, or at least mine, are a pretty heterogenous group for whom different events already engender different interpretations. My students from Ethiopia certainly have a different read on the Scramble for Africa than do my students from small agricultural town America.

Because World History necessarily focuses on a global scale, it only asks those questions that help to generate a Big Picture, not in the Braudelian sense, but in a sense that, more often than not, denies the beauty of studying difference and its causes in order to relate a oneness in human experience. Historians like Jerry Bentley have focused on cultural connections -- something that is hugely important. But the definition of separate cultures by World Historians seems most often to be one that is based more on race or geography than on any of the other factors that could and should define separate cultures. To an Ancient or Early Medieval Historian, for example, the different Germanic groups really are different. To a World Historian, they are often defined by their not having been Romans -- although again, for people who study them, there are crucial differences over time. Some of the Germans are really quite Roman! (and of course, Walter Goffart now tells us that we shouldn't even call them Germans ...) Those amazingly beautiful details that explain so much about the complexities of human civilization, at least in my fields, are just glossed over, and any semblance of truth is lost.

The same is true in the coverage of African and Asian peoples, as far as I can tell. It seems to me that we could understand much more about Africa today if we studied not simply the great African Empires and their interactions with European empires and Islam, but if we taught Africa as we teach Europe -- hugely diverse in terms of cultures and languages, social institutions and economies. Wouldn't that explain the situation in, say, Rwanda, better than a brief exposure to the Big Picture? Perhaps not. I'm not an Africanist. And I can't be. Because the truth is, no one can specialize and keep up with scholarship in everything. Trying to do so makes a mockery of the idea of specialization, and I say this as someone who teaches as a generalist but admits areas of weakness. If World History is to be a viable field, and not just a way for departments to pay lip service to relevance and the commercial value of education by hiring the untrained to teach the unknowing, why not make it a capstone course, something that really does build upon the disciplinary tradition of a couple of thousand years? Forests are beautiful from a distance, but it's our understanding and experiences of the trees and plants and animals that live there that make it possible for us to care about them.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Breaking with the past

Breaking with the past

So I'm spending the best weekend of the quarter packing. One of the things I thought about packing were the drafts of my diss, with all DV's red ink. And then I thought, the bloody thing is finished and done. It's presumably better than the earlier versions. It's bound and lives in several locations, including UMI. So I threw the drafts into the recycling. And it feels strange. Can anybody think of a reason I should keep it? I have all the important stuff, i.e., my notes. Funny, those pieces of a work in progress just seem so personal ... Could this be a step forward?

On a similar front, AXADH has a sort-of date tonight. I'm really happy for him, but it's very weird, since I live in the same house. Please send vibes for some kind of job decision, because I can't move till I know where ...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Hand Meme

The Hand Meme

ADM's summer hand look. Posted by Hello

No News is Good News?

No News is Good News?

Well, I haven't received any more rejections yet ... both jobs were supposed to have got back to us by last week, although I think Rural U underestimated the amount of time they would need for travel authorizations. Still, I haven't heard anything negative yet, and all communication so far has been via e-mail. And there is still the local job, the application for which I need to write this weekend. And this is the weekend where I start packing my things, despite the fact that I really need to work. I know -- I'll do both! And maybe write that post on World History as a stress-reliever? Bwaaaahhhhhaaaahhhaaaa!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Advice Requested

Advice Requested

So I have a phone interview this week. For what looks like a job that seems most likely (despite a questionable library collection) to help me to become an actual lion cub. And I don't know if I give good phone. Any suggestions, besides the one about smiling the whole time?

Not necessarily my best interview. Got caught up in the "don't let there be too much dead air so answer without thinking things through" dilemma. That, and they asked a litmus test question that I don't know if I answered really well. it was the one on World History. It's a question I dread, because, while I entirely agree that we should all know more history of everywhere, I am not convinced that World History is a better way of learning than History of the World. For the non-History folk, that's a whole post that I think I'll write in a few days, after I know how this went. Part of why I say this is that the very best WH text out there -- Bentley-Ziegler, IMHO -- presents information on my own areas of expertise in a very superficial and indeed, a misleading (but not necessarily deliberately so) way. if that's the case for my stuff, is it also true for other areas? I will always wonder. Anyway, while I think I was convincing about having the background to teach WH (I do have experience and a field outside of Europe), I do not think I was convincing about my belief in the field. I am happy to say I was honest, though. We'll see. I should know about the next step by the end of the week.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cranky Professor Sends a Meme

Cranky Professor Sends a Meme

I've been resisting memes lately, but when the Cranky One, who is one of my oldest friends, passes one on, I must perforce respond.

Total Number of Books I've Owned: Ever? I have no idea. I had books at my mother's, many of which have been snagged by my neice and nephew and books in boxes left at my dad's, which he may have given away by now ... When I moved back from Germany, soon-to-be-XADH guilted me into getting rid of about 10 boxes of books, "you'll never need" -- well, no, not if I weren't going to be an academic! Now I find I really need a lot of them, and am having to spend even more money to replace them. Grump. But let's say it's still under a thousand, mostly because I use libraries A Lot, and have never been one to buy books unless I know I'll use them again.

Last Book I Bought: Not counting books in transit from B&N (The Academic Self and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), Simon MacLean's Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century, Alexander Murray's From Roman to Merovingian Gaul, and Paul Dutton's Carolingian Civilization and Charlemagne's Courtier. Yes, all on the same day at AHA.

Last Book I Read: fiction: re-read Darkover Landfall; non-fiction -- besides catching up on journals and re-reading my thesis? Ruiz and Winks, Medieval Europe and the World, which I will not be adopting.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me: Like Cranky Prof., I'm not sure -- what day of the week? Today, I say ...
  1. Jane Austen, Persuasion. It's my favourite of all her books, followed possibly by Mansfield Park
  2. Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, because it is just so good
  3. The Aeneid,especially book four
  4. Codex Diplomaticus Fuldensis and Annales Fuldensis. I could not do my work without them.
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird because it may be perfect, and it's always good.

I'm tagging New Kid and Sharon for this one! I'd tag more of you, but I have to let them have victims, too!

Ooh! Ooh! Just got an e-mail from Rural State U -- Phone interview next week!!!!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Always a Bridesmaid

Always a Bridesmaid

So I think the interview was OK, but at this point, I don't really trust myself. Perfect Job said I interview well. The people I teach for now said I interview well ... but? Got lots of smiles and nods, and a couple of "That's what I/we do" comments. Forgot to ask about tenure and travel policies -- very rushed interview process, with a bunch of candidates all on the same day. Answered something like 10 questions and did a 10 minute teaching demo in an hour.

The trip was exciting. Got an automatic upgrade on the way out. Very cool. Same on the way back. Except that we got hit with a thunderstorm and waited on the tarmac for 2 1/2 hours in lightning after waiting an hour and a half in the terminal. Missed my connecting flight and had to eat the cost of a hotel room in Moountain Time. But the airline had me re-booked to get home this morning and I got exit row seats all the way. Yay!

Got home to find the rejection letter from AP job. Apparently, I was not one of the finalists. One of five campus interviewees, but not an actual finalist. So I've now made five short lists, 4 campus interviews and one phone interview where they were not bringing people in. Out of 20 applications, I think. Waiting to hear on Friday's. So thoroughly depressed that I'm going to take a bath and a nap. I should prep instead. Damn. I was so jazzed this weekend I actually got a lot of the book I've been putting off reviewing for an embarassing amount of time read. I was feeling all "ooh, look, I can do this academic thing. Apparently not. Off to wallow now. Shit.

Update: a door closes ... Just got a call from 'boss-if-I-adjunct-next-year'. It looks like a local college has an emergency one-year position that they will be advertising this week. I will be applying. So I'm still in the running for: TT job I interviewed for; 4-year job I just applied for; 2-year job I just applied for; two 1-year jobs that are local that I am going to apply for. Not wallowing so much, because a good cry (the first one since all of this nonsense started) and a bath make many things better.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On Being a 'Real' Lion

On Being a 'Real' Lion

If you haven't been by New Kid's or Evie Ballerina's since they came back from the 'Zoo (lucky dogs!), you really must go! Both offer incredibly lucid essays on that elusive feeling of belonging that so many of us grasp at, but often as at straws. Or not.
It's the return of the imposter syndrome, writ larger than ever. When do we become 'real' academics (or lions, as Evie puts it)? Is there a point where we get to say we belong? How will we know when we get there? And, once we do, how long will it take before the gatekeepers realize they let us in and politely ask us to leave?

I know that, for me, being published and getting tenure have always been the milestones. Lately, though, I wonder how much of that is true and how much of that is self-limiting. I am, despite not having a 'real' job (please, please, please, let one of these interviews pan out), a very good teacher. I have independent confirmation of this, although I know I could be even better. When I work on committees and give workshops with my colleagues, the feedback is good, and people actually ask me for advice. I think my blog colleagues must think so, too, because I've inadvertantly found that blogging is also a great way of networking and collaborating and I have definitely begun to reap the benefits.

But get me to a conference, and I experience real panic (mixed with delight). I've been to a few in the past couple of years, and people recognize me. Some are grad students on the market -- many who are presenting, unlike yours truly. But others are established faculty and even Senior Colleagues. The big hunters. And they sometimes also know me. They ask what I'm working on. They engage in conversations based on questions I've asked, and don't act as though I'm an idiot. Many of them seem not to have a problem with the fact that I teach at a CC and have a load that is certainly not conducive to production of scholarship. And I feel almost real. Because I know that I can be like them, to some degree. And I feel guilty that I'm not. And the more I think about this, I think that we academics, whether lions or monkeys or dolphins or hyenas, feel this way more often than not. In some of us, it manifests itself as a certain cockiness and an air of brusque certainty -- often with an annoying lack of humility. But we come by it honestly. We have spent years putting ourselves out there to be judged. We live in advisor/student/peer review central. From our first college exams to conference papers, from thesis defenses to tenure review, we are -- must be -- judged by others. Even the Senior Colleagues are subject to peer review, although Seniority does seem to cut one some slack. And even they have to interview for the prime positions -- against serious competition that would make us junior types lose all composure. Some of them will still be found lacking.

So why the hell are we surprised that we feel this way? Yes, we may act differently, and I have a theory about that, too. Adding to our own temperaments a relatively hostile/competetive grad program (maybe even undergrad ones) and you get the brash, arrogant imposter. Put us in a program with more nurturing, and we know we don't deserve it. But you know what? Maybe we should sometimes listen to each other and our Senior Colleagues (who are just us, but have had longer to be better at it). When we go to conferences, we think (unless a paper is total shite), "hey, that person is really smart/good/knows a lot." We admire each other as scholars and trust each other's advice on sources, theories, and all those things we are supposed to know. But get us in a room with those same people whose judgement we most respect-- even with Senior Colleagues and our own Doktorvaeter (muetter)/Advisors -- and we ignore everything that might be a handing over of the keys to the Cool Kids' Lounge, because in this one case, we're just sure that they're wrong. It's a funny ol' world, innit?

PS: OK, this is pre-interview procrastination, not avoiding scholarship procrastination. And it's my bedtime (I get up at 5). No more blogging till I have been productive!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Am I Insane?

Am I Insane?

OK, so it appears that one of my referres did not get back to AP job till the very end of last week (my others got back within hours). I hope that he sent a reference, rather than another copy of my recommendation ... Still, this might explain why AP has not got back to me.

But now I have another interview scheduled. Leaving Thursday. School has a good rep, in a really cool (but too expensive) location, and a broader range of courses to teach. Am I insane in just really hoping that AP gets hold of me, and makes me an offer in time to cancel the interview trip? I think I'd really like the job at new school, but I just want to be done (and employed, natch!)!

And yes, I do realize that I've been incredibly fortunate on getting interviews and I should be grateful and stop whining. But it's the job I want, not the interview!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day

What I always want for Mother's Day: To be left alone to do whatever I want, or to catch up on work, more likely. What I usually get:
The Kid: What are you doing for Mother's Day, because I got you the perfect present and want to come over and give it to you?
ADM:(realizing that the perfect present is not "I quit my second job and learned instead to stop spending extravagant amounts of money and can now go back to school" or "I decided to come clean your house/weed your garden/walk the dog so you could have some peace and quiet") Oh, you know I don't like you to buy things, but coming over is good. I have a bunch of stuff I have to get done, though, so when do you want to come over, so I can plan?
TK: I don't know, I thought Saturday and I'd spend the night.
ADM: OK, what time?
TK: I don't know, I might have to work.
ADM: SO can you check your schedule, or call in?
TK: [sighs heavily] I guess.
ADM: OK, call me when you have a plan.
TK: Fine

Saturday afternoon rolls around. TK's ex boyfriend calls,

TKX: Hi ADM, TK, asked if I wanted to come to your house tomorrow, and I wanted to make sure that would be all right.
ADM: Of course, you're always welcome. (TKX will also probably be renting a room from ADH when I move out -- nice guy)
TKX: The thing is, the starter on my van went out, and so I'll have to get a ride.
ADM: (penny having dropped -- TK has no car and no licence -- never has to be designated driver that way -- TK asked TKX to come because he will always drive, but can't this time) OK -- Work out with TK some kind of plan and I will come get you, I guess.

TK calls about 6 hours later

TK: I'm at BFFs house. TKX said you talked to him.
ADM: Yes, what's up?
TK: He can't drive us, but I want to come over.
ADM: OK, I can probably come get you, if you arrange to be in the same place (they live in different suburbs, but BFF is in same one as TKX) at the same time.
TK: Ok, but I left your gift at my house.
ADM: SO why were you coming over again?
TK: I wanted to hang out with you for Mother's Day. I don't want to come if we're just going to watch TV or while you work.
ADM: I understand that, but I have a lot to do. You know I have to get ready for another interview.
TK: [sigh] I don't suppose you could drive us home after? Or I can spend the night and ride in with you in the morning, but TKX has to get home.
ADM: Sorry, I can't. All that driving will take close to 3 1/2 hours. YOu can ask your dad ...
TK: No
ADM: so, are you coming over?
TK: you're making this really difficult. Yeah.
ADM: when do I need to pick you up?
TK: I don't know.
ADM: call me by ten tomorrow a.m. and let me know, so I can plan.
ADM: really, by 10.
TK: Fine. ich liebe dich -tschuess!

So like her father. At least, having worked in restaurants with me, she knows how I feel about people who take their mothers out for mothers day ON mothers' day. Homie don' play that.

So happy Mother's Day to all you academic moms! Clearly they weren't thinking about the piles of grading at this time of year ;-)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Like a Gopher

Like a Gopher ...

... I'm popping my head out for an update. House mostly settled! Legal things in motion! References being checked by Almost Perfect job! Got a call for an interview next week for a different CC job in one of the coolest (I think) metro areas in the country (REM might disagree ...)! Now to find a plane ticket! Not happy about the timing, because AP might offer, and I would have to take it, but that's cool -- it's the flight insurance for the interview I have to worry about.

Still working on ... Student stuff, committee stuff, more job apps, and Summer teaching. Plus training for the listserv ... Going back into hiding now!

For all of you at the Zoo -- I am jealous!!! Hope you're having a great time, and if you hear anything pre-1100 that's good, I hope y'all will bring me notes!

Update: Turns out one of my references was not sent till yesterday (I hope a simple response to the e-mail!). This could explain why I've not heard anything about AP job. Keeping my fingers crossed that I'll hear something positive before I actually have to go fly out for another interview...

Monday, May 02, 2005


Self-Imposed Blogxile

Ok -- recovering from 'flu (horrible cough and congestion, plus exhaustion), pile of marking, dealing with readying a house to sell/seing if ADH can afford to keep it, wondering where I'm going to live, and how to get a short-term lease till I find out where I'm working next year, applying for jobs, division meeting today, catching up on class prep, catching up on two other committees, learning to do some technical stuff for the listserv, and dodging massive guilt bombs in between. Not to mention dealing with lawyers and courthouses, etc. So if you see me IRL or otherwise, don't mind if I don't feel like talking. Just a bit massively overwhelmed and, while blogging is fun, it's also adding to the procrastination levels, which really eventually causes more stress. So I am going into hiding. No worries, just trying to prioritize and make sure the students don't suffer. I'm sure I'll not stop commenting at other places, though I shall try not to! ;-)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sharon closes out

Sharon closes out with a winner

I really love the poems I posted, as well as the ones that Ancarett and Sharon offered in response But I humbly bow to Sharon in the end, because she's given me
another to hold in my all-too-limited poetry treasury. Damn, but it's good. To fair Sharon go the laurels.