I had the honor of being invited to deliver the keynote talk, and to lead a workshop, at the University of Wisconsin System’s Faculty College from May 30-June 2. This event is an annual gathering of faculty engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning from almost every UW campus. For three-plus days we engaged in wonderful discussions, workshops, and informal conversations on teaching and learning. In these fraught times for higher education, it was remarkably energizing to be with this group of dedicated practitioners. I got see the passion and creativity with which they approach our work with and among students, and I’m grateful to have been invited to participate in the week’s events. Continue reading “Keynoting on Purpose, Strategy, and Pedagogy”
When I took the research and methods seminar in my undergraduate History major, one of our texts was E.H. Carr’s What Is History?, a profoundly important and trenchant work, but also one I was nowhere near intellectually mature enough to appreciate. In subsequent years, I’ve circled back to Carr when I’ve taught my own methods and historiography seminars as well as in my own epistemological knocking around in the corners of our discipline. In addition to being a historiography geek of the highest order (I read it for fun, y’all!), I’m also drawn to the ways in which a deeper connection with historiography and, more essentially, the theory and philosophy of History, intersect with pedagogy and student learning. In this vein,Carr’s arguments have been on my mind lately, as I’ve been working on several projects that touch on historical issues that still echo urgently today. Carr’s book isn’t perfect, but as a gateway drug to thinking about history, the historian, and their deeply vital interconnections, it remains an essential read. History, for Carr, is “a continuous conversation between the historian and his [or her] facts, an unending dialogue between the past and the present” (p. 30). In other words, the stuff that happened in the past isn’t by itself history. History is when that stuff–which is promoted to the level of “historical facts” by the historian–gets processed and interpreted. The stuff that happened, yet didn’t make this cut, remains in the ephemeral realm of just plain old “facts.” A pithy example used by Carr nicely illustrates this distinction. Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon: THIS IS IMPORTANT. Julius Agricolus the small-time farmer crosses the Rubicon: who gives a shit? (I took some liberties with Carr’s phrasing.)
One of the fascinating things about language and popular discourse in the age of the internet is how quickly the cycle of expansion-to-repulsion occurs. It usually goes something like this: a word or phrase enters the popular vocabulary and quickly becomes a trendy, go-to word for the “smart set” (which was itself one of those phrases); moves into the mainstream, where it is appropriated for all sorts of purposes not related to its original meaning; and finally, after having reached peak cultural saturation, is banished to the land of annoying cliches, living out the rest of its existence on businessmens’ page-a-day calendars and motivational memes posted by your mom’s Facebook friends. The examples are legion: “take it to the next level”; “think outside of the box”; “at the end of the day”; anything with “silo”; “leverage” as a verb, not a noun—hell, “jump the shark” jumped the shark years ago. I propose we add another one to the pile. It’s a word that has not only become trite, but advocates for outcomes that range from irritating to disastrous. Ladies and Gentlemen: I hereby propose that we ban disrupt. BEGONE FOUL BUZZWORD
I’ve been on a pretty good tear through Critical Pedagogy literature lately, and one result has been some wrestling on my part with the issues of teaching, scholarship, and activism. In particular, I’ve often been struck at what seems to be a tension—often implicit, sometimes explicit—between “scholarship” and “teaching” at one pole, and “activism” at the other. In my discipline of History, the message is often quite explicit. As Graduate Student Me was immersed in the review literature, the point was driven home time and again: there is no place in scholarship for activism. They diverge at the beginning, and never again the twain shall meet. I always imagined if they did, the result would be something like the Ghostbusters crossing the streams of their proton guns. “That would be bad, right?” “Yes. VERY BAD.”
It’s certainly been a banner week or so for kulturkampf in the historical field. The most visible example is the Oklahoma legislature’s movements toward banning AP US History, because that course’s curriculum does not hew sufficiently to the “American Exceptionalism” creed that’s de rigeur in Neanderthal Right circles. Not as far down the spectrum, but still very much in the same spirit, was Gordon Wood’s baffling and grumpy essay in the Weekly Standard, which alternated between being a screed against the last thirty years of historical scholarship and a battle cry for privileged white men who are feeling a bit out of sorts about having their hegemonic narratives challenged. There have been plenty of good responses to these rear-guard actions of the cornered and desperate culture warriors. Jezebel’s takedown of the Oklahoma legislators is scathing and on point, and Kevin Levin has a trenchant piece on Wood’s get-off-my-lawn manifesto, to cite just two of the best examples. But there will be more diatribes coming, you can bet on it.