Tuesday, January 31, 2012
"In 1980, I joined the staff of the Leiden Archives," writes Jeremy Bangs, "as a historian specialized in the cultural history of Leiden before 1575. The Chief Archivist asked what I knew about the Pilgrims, to which I replied, 'Nothing.' 'Oh, well,' was the response, 'we have American tourists and you can deal with them, because your English is better than ours. But,' he said, 'don’t waste your time on any research about the Pilgrims – that’s all been done already.'"
And so it begins!
Have a look at Bangs's extensive piece over at Sail 1620 that details all sources Pilgrim related. Bangs covers the primary and secondary source material. He follows the literature up to the present, and then concludes by asking "Where do we go next?"
Monday, January 30, 2012
Early last month I posted a short piece on a class website project that my students and I did as part of a fall history readings/methods course. We created a resource website for the Moswetuset Hummock, a historic outcropping of land near our college, which played an important role in the first encounters between Indians and English settlers. If nothing else, the effort inspired students to get out of the classroom and do history.
The students and I had no idea that the website would garner the attention of our local Quincy newspaper. And we certainly didn't imagine that the project would draw the attention of the Boston Globe. But . . . it did. And we're thrilled to get that kind of attention!
Jessica Bartlett reports on our efforts and what we hoped to achieve. ("Eastern Nazarene College students create website on Quincy's Moswetuset Hummock," Boston Globe, January 25, 2012.)
Although the small section of Quincy known as Moswetuset Hummock is where Massachusetts derived its name, relatively few know the significance of the small marsh located on Quincy Bay.
The small, wooded area that separates Quincy Bay from the Neponset River received recent exposure with the help of six ENC students and History Professor Randall Stephens, who created a website dedicated to exploring the significance of the shore and detailing its place in history.
Part class history project, part exploratory jaunt through time, the website includes information on the Indians that lived in the area, to the relations with new settlers, to the diseases that would decimate the tribes by the time Myles Standish meet the tribe leader in 1621. >>> read on
Friday, January 27, 2012
Roberta Smith, "History Unfolding on a Hand Scroll," New York Times, January 26, 2012
The painter Fu Baoshi was born in China in 1904, seven years before the Chinese Revolution brought 2,100 years of dynastic rule to an end. He died in 1965, months before China’s Communist regime unleashed the Cultural Revolution, which aggressively persecuted the country’s writers, artists and other intelligentsia, sometimes unto death.>>>
"A nation of city slickers.
A first in Chinese history: city-dwellers outnumber the rural population," The Economist, January 21, 2012
FOR a nation whose culture and society have been shaped over millennia by its rice-, millet- and wheat-farming traditions, and whose ruling Communist Party rose to power in 1949 by mobilising a put-upon peasantry and encircling the cities, China has just passed a remarkable milestone. By the end of 2011, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, more than half of China’s 1.35 billion people were living in cities.>>>
Sergey Radchenko, "China's iron grip on past impairs future on world stage," Sydney Morning Herald, January 4, 2012
With China stumping assertively on the world stage, one might think Beijing would be open, even gracious, about the country's past. To the contrary, history remains a sensitive subject, drawing relentless attention from authorities anxious to keep all skeletons safely in closets.>>>
Bethan Jinkinson, "The story behind Chinese war epic The Flowers of War," BBC, January 24, 2012
The film, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring English actor Christian Bale, opened in China on 16 December.
Since then it has been shown on thousands of screens across the country, taking $93m (£60m) gross in its first five weeks, according to entertainment research group EntGroup Consulting.
It was also the highest-grossing Chinese film of 2011.>>>
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Today’s guest post comes from Brendan Wolfe, Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia Virginia. Here Wolfe returns to the Our Virginia textbook—which we posted on here and here. He asks if the revisions to the volume, implemented after a the controversial first version, make it a good enough text.
A little more than a year ago, the Washington Post reported that Virginia's fourth-grade history textbook was full of factual errors. The big news were those two battalions of black Confederates supposedly under the command of Stonewall Jackson, but there were other errors, too, and the resulting kerfuffle put Five Ponds Press on the defensive and almost out of business. More importantly, it persuaded the folks there to involve actual historians in the vetting of their books.
Now a new edition of Our Virginia: Past and Present has been released, and as one might expect, those historians have made it a much better book. But is it good enough? I'm not yet convinced.
To be clear, the facts are all largely in order. But as for the narrative constructed from those facts, it's a real mess. Facts only get us so far, after all. Textbook authors still must do the hard work of telling us what they mean, why they matter, and how we can put them together so that they begin to make sense.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about from Our Virginia:
The book tells us that the English colonist John Smith was "obnoxious" while describing his adversary Powhatan as "a ruler of great spiritual, mental, and physical strength." It makes no mention of Powhatan's explicit understanding of power and violence: that he ruled some of his people by force, for example, and that he both helped and fought the English.
Why does this matter? Because on the same page the textbook tells us that without Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas, "Jamestown might have ended up as another 'Lost Colony.'" How? Why? The book doesn't say. And what it does say about the Lost Colony at Roanoke doesn't help, because the author never even hints at why that colony might have failed or that it might have been because of fighting with the local Indians.
In other words, even though the facts are in order, a reader would still be left with the inability to draw any meaningful conclusions.
The author later tells us that the Starving Time at Jamestown occurred because the English settlers did not save enough food. While this is partly true, it doesn't explain why Powhatan and Pocahontas had helped them earlier but not this time. Nor does it acknowledge that food was short for everyone, and that this very shortage was causing conflict between Englishmen and Indians.
Food and conflict. These are two important concepts that are perfectly understandable to fourth-graders but are missing here. To make the point earlier that Powhatan understood power and violence is to be able to make it again now, when it truly bears on the students' understanding of the material. In the meantime, to pay respect to Virginia Indians is to make them actors in this drama. And yet during the Starving Time—this moment when they come so close to expelling the English once and for all—they have completely disappeared!
Last year's textbook controversy focused on fuzzy facts and, to a lesser extent, whether you could find quality information online. But now that many of those facts have been corrected, we are still left with . . . just facts. What do they mean? Why do they matter? Our Virginia is still not up to the task.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
"Let us keep up the rules that flapperism is composed of--bobbed hair, short skirts and low-heeled shoes, giving the body plenty of room to expand itself and that free and easy swing that only a short skirt can afford. What do you say flappers?"
-Excerpt from a letter published in The Flapper magazine (1922) written by a Chicago flapper
my grandma in 1926
Any flapper reader of The Flapper magazine may fill out the following blank and mail it in as a token of her stand on Parisian dictation of styles. No names will be used; our only concern is to arrive at an accurate gauge of flapper opinion. Results of this referendum will be published in the November issue.For Against
The Flapper, 604 Ogden Bldg., Chicago, Ill.
Gentlemen: This is how I stand on continuation of present-day
styles. I am marking my preference with an X.
Bobbed Hair ____ ____
Rolled Sox ____ ____
Short Skirts ____ ____
Knickers ____ ____
Low-heeled Shoes ____ ____
Corsets ____ ____
Street Address............................ City.............
my grandma in the 1920s
With the Great Gatsby remake to be released in December and Gucci, Marchesa, Ralph Lauren, and Alberta Ferretti, just to name a few, all sending twenties-inspired looks down the runway, this will be the year to celebrate flapper fashion. High-end designer dresses this spring will feature drop-waists, feathers, fringe, pleats, soft silks, and beading. One of the only fashion houses to not partake in this resurgence is Alexander McQueen. When recently asked about the up and coming trend, creative director Sarah Burton commented, "We’re not a house to do a dropped waist."
Fashion designers may be bringing the twenties back to the runway, but the Dave Stephens Band is bringing it to the stage. Kansas City became a famous jazz hub during the Jazz Age and the Dave Stephens Band is keeping it alive today by performing vintage delights such as Alexander's Ragtime Band, Puttin' on the Ritz, and Runnin' Wild. Their energetic, live shows take you back in time to a night in a past decade. The intimate experience feels so authentic that you half expect the police to burst through the doors like a speakeasy raid on the grounds that the crowd is having a little too much fun. The New York Times described Dave Stephens as "a jazz singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles whose perpetual smile, expansive gestures and habit of breaking into song unprovoked make him seem like a Broadway musical character." Cue the curtain!
Monday, January 23, 2012
I'm giving a talk on Wednesday to high school teachers in Trysil, Norway, which happens to be the largest ski destination in the country. Poor me. I'll be focusing in on how we might best engage students in historical, political, and cultural debates. That's always a tough task, especially if students arrive on the first day with absolutely no interest in the topic.
As a guide I plan to use a course I teach on America in the 1960s. (Admittedly, it's a bit easier to generate interest here. Would be more difficult if the class was about Medieval court records or Byzantine statesmanship.) Larger guiding questions, I've found, work well in a class like this. I want students to better understand change over time, the connection of the past to the present, and the debates that rage over American history. Here are some of the questions that help direct the 60s course:
In what ways was America in 1969 different from America in 1959?
How is America in 2012 different from America in the 1960s?
What explains the degree of activism—anti-war movements, the black freedom struggle, the New Right, liberation movements—of the decade?
How did American politics and culture have a world impact in the 1960s?
How have the debates and key issues of that decade continued to shape American culture? (Hint: culture wars.)
To describe how best to make use of these sorts of questions—and more micro ones as well—I'm going to draw on some material from the National History Education Clearinghouse (NHEC). (This is a stretch for me. I don't typically cotton to endless pedagogy talk.) The NHEC website includes some great material on "Inquiry Lessons," which:
The idea is to choose a historical question that can then be examined in detail with primary and secondary sources. Other questions might follow that will help students think about the sources. How do the documents relate to one another? How can one judge the relative value of one source against another? The evidence can go well beyond written materials. In the case of the 1960s one could use posters, video clips, music, photographs, and more.
I'm looking forward to my first interactive session with teachers. And I'm hoping that we'll have a good discussion about what works best to draw students into the debates. Maybe I'll get some skiing in as well.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Steve Kolowich, "Relaunching the iPad: Apple drops new iPad apps for digital textbook creation and distribution," Inside Higher Ed, January 20, 2012
NEW YORK CITY -- Apple made its much-anticipated move on the education technology industry on Thursday, announcing a revamped version of its iTunes U platform that could challenge traditional learning management systems. It also unveiled new tools for creating and distributing low-cost digital textbooks that could speed the pace of e-text adoption.>>>
Dan Miller, "Analysis: Apple's e-textbook push earns mixed grades," Macworld.com, Jan 19, 2012
Ask people in educational publishing about Apple’s foray into e-textbooks, and you’ll hear a consistent message: It’s good for all of us—and good luck to Apple.
It’s good for e-textbooks in general because “Every time Apple enters a market, that market gets attention,” as Dan Rosensweig, CEO of textbook-rental firm Chegg, puts it. Widespread availability of e-textbooks on the iPad could help alert a lot of students, teachers, and parents who didn’t know otherwise that such things exist.>>>
Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows, "Apple to bolster iPad's educational content," San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2012
. . . . Apple also wants to empower "self-publishers" to create new kinds of teaching tools, said the people. Teachers could use it to design materials for that week's lesson. Scientists, historians and other authors could publish professional-looking content without a deal with a publisher.>>>
Jeffrey R. Young, "Apple's New E-Textbook Platform Enters an Already Crowded Field," Chronicle of Higher Ed, January 19, 2012
Apple made a splashy entrance into the digital-textbook market on Thursday at an event here at the Guggenheim Museum, but its new build-your-own-textbook tool is likely to lead to more fragmentation in the market rather than becoming a dominant new model.>>>
Larry Abramson, "Apple Carves Inroads In Educational Publishing," NPR, January 19, 2012
Apple today launched a big initiative to update an old standby, the school textbook. In a splashy announcement, the company released new tools to help publishers create digital content for students. As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, Apple is trying to capitalize on enthusiasm for the iPad in schools and colleges.>>>
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Last week I had the pleasure of teaching several lectures in Stavanger and Bryne, Norway, as part of my work as a Fulbright Roving Scholar here. The students were bright and had, for the most part, high proficiency in English. Some, I figure, have a better grasp of English than do many American college students. (Thanks to all the teachers for being such great hosts!)
I gave a few talks and generated some discussion with students at the Stavanger Katedralskole, an institution that dates back to the early 19th century. The cathedral that looms next to it is Norway's oldest, dating to the 1100s. The beautiful interior of the school looked like something out of a Carl Larsson painting.
The school describes itself with the following on its website.
I spoke to the students about American advertising in the postwar era, the 2012 election, and the founding of America. It was interesting to talk with them about the role the US plays in the world and to hear what they had to say about America from the vantage of Norway.
We started out our look at the founding by asking what role the government should play in the lives of citizens. "It should guarantee the welfare of all," said some. Others thought that governments should be responsible for securing education and equal opportunities. We had some time to talk about the long anti-government tradition in America and to focus on some of the debates among the founders over less or more government. That theme tied in well with the 2012 election, the Tea Party, and the views that GOP candidates have expressed about President Obama. I used a recent quote from frontrunner Mitt Romney: "President Obama wants to make us a European style welfare state, where instead of being a merit society, we're an entitlement society, where government's role is to take from some and give to others."*
One of the challenges for me will be to try to explain why so many Americans have a low opinion of the government and how that has been critical to the debates that have roiled the public over the decades and centuries.
Now, on to give talks in Porsgrunn and Oslo this week.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Tired of using PowerPoint in your History teaching? You might consider using Prezi instead. Here are some preliminary thoughts. (Maybe you’ve already seen it used here; for a brief overview, check this out.)
If you make extensive use of in-class readings and don’t want to distribute the texts in paper form, Prezi can help. It allows you to easily pull the texts up and zoom on important passages. Ditto for high resolution pictures and maps. You could post an entire reproduction of a U.S. or world map and quickly zoom around it. That’s handy.
With Prezi you can easily create a vivid and infinitely extendable timeline, connecting it to relevant images, videos, and text. As far as I know, there’s no way to do this in PowerPoint or Keynote.
Beyond that, the most immediately apparent virtue of Prezi is the fact that it allows for nonlinear presentations. If you’re like me and mix lecture and discussion flexibly throughout the class, that’s an especially attractive feature. Of course, PowerPoint and Keynote allow you do this as well. Just not as gracefully.
Finally, you could, theoretically, save a cluster of class materials or even an entire semester’s worth of materials in the same Prezi. This would save students the trouble of slogging through twenty-plus PowerPoint presentations ahead of their final exam and might also encourage them (and you, history teacher) to make stronger connections between class topics.
When it comes to usability, Prezi is often coy, seldom allowing you to predict just what it intends to do. The interface will not feel intuitive to PowerPoint users. Right-clicking gets you nowhere. Formatting options are available, but somewhat mysterious. And as far as I can tell, Prezi places new frames wherever it darn well chooses.
Non-linearity has its advantages, but let’s keep in mind that teachers resort to linear arguments for a reason: they make sense to human beings and are easily recalled. One of the virtues of PowerPoint is that it keeps the digression-prone professor on track. Prezi includes a tool (called “Path”) that allows you to fly from one section to another. By zooming out you can see a riveting overview of your class’s trajectory. This has the aesthetically pleasing effect of launching you up, over, and around the various parts of the presentation. I suspect that this novelty will wear off fast and that Prezi will have to rely on other virtues to retain converts. (Another cute feature—the ability to create tiny hidden text—is likely to make it unnecessarily difficult for students reviewing the presentation to find what they need.)
I’m also worried about preserving Prezis over time. With a subscription, you can download them to your computer. You can also save the entire presentation for static use as a .pdf. I don’t find either option reassuring. Prezi’s novelty and its isolation from an existing office sweet offer additional reasons for pause.
This Prezi on jazz bassists illustrates some of the strengths and weaknesses of the software. Though beautiful and moderately instructive, the gratuitous twisting and zooming is dizzying. You can also see that the presentation includes five or so embedded YouTube videos and that one of them isn’t working.
Prezi should appeal to the teacher who needs the technological structure that presentation software provides but also wants to encourage active learning. The ease with which users can vault from timeline, to text, to image, to video—and back again—is certainly alluring. The capacity to zoom into and out of images, including portraits, photographs and maps, should especially charm historians.
In the end, Prezi’s primary contribution to history instruction may be on the teaching side of the teaching-learning enterprise. It should force us to think more rigorously and creatively about the connections residing within our class materials. For that reason alone, it’s worth a try.* Here’s a tiny text caveat: I tried Prezi for the first time in a local Teaching American History session this past week. The feedback hasn’t come back to me yet, but I got the distinct impression that the results were mixed. In addition to the usual assortment of images and maps that any PowerPoint might include, I pasted in some very long selections from Lincoln’s 1842 Temperance Address. That was a mistake. I ended up reading aloud for extended periods. Looking back, Prezi’s zoom-function may have been the cure to the this disease of my own making. In sum: While you may be tempted to post a large selection from a speech, article, or book chapter, you should resist the urge. But longer excerpted text selections are definitely possible with Prezi.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
From our colleagues at Cliopatria, HNN:
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
"He was so tired of this: this job search, this whole process emptying him out like a vast, brutal enema again and again," the hapless protagonist thinks to himself in Ian McGuire's raucous, delightfully funny academic novel Incredible Bodies (Bloomsbury, 2006). Morris Gutman, a 37-year-old deadender, waits in his car, in a cold sweat on a typically gloomy English day, before his interview with Coketown University. The school is something like an updated, slightly better off Rummidge from David Lodge's hilarious classic Small World. "How many interviews had he had over the last five years? He added them up - Eccles, Peterborough, Gwent . . . twenty-two. Twenty-two interviews. He needed to bring it to an end one way or another. It had to stop." The book's dark comedy is a great distraction from the toils of academic labor.
Academic novels are surely gazpacho soup for the sick academic soul. Served cold and with a side of schadenfreude, it's still weirdly therapeutic.
Will the wretched job market turn around any time this side of 2112? Maybe, as Audrey Williams June writes in the latest Chronicle. But in the meantime, if you're adrift in the uncertain seas of the market, try reading academic novels for a little help.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Art rock chameleon David Bowie turned 65 yesterday. The BBC has a slew of programs that it lined up to celebrate the star's reaching that milestone. An original 1973 TV performance of "The Jean Geanie," presumed lost, has been rediscovered and re-aired.
At the Guardian Alexis Petridis reflects on the unlikely longevity of Bowie:
And the Telegraph reports that fans are clamoring for a tour: "Dozens of music industry celebrities from Boy George to Gary Barlow took to the online social networking site Twitter to congratulate him on a remarkable career."
One of the more interesting historical perspectives on the gender-bending, shape-shifting Bowie comes from Peter Doggett, author of The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie And The 1970s (Random House, 2012), who argues that, in hindsight, the Thin White Duke was the most influential rock star of the 1970s. Certainly, when looking at how instrumental Bowie was in creating the rock persona and inspiring so much music in the 1980s, there's a case to be made here.
Writes Doggett in the intro to his book:
Do we have enough perspective on the 1970s to make those kinds of broad claims? The Age of Fracture through David Bowie's career and music?
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Double Take 'Toons: 1912 The Issues, NPR, January 4, 2012
In 1912 the expansion of democratic rights was key to most progressives, and women's suffrage was on the ballot in a number of states including Ohio where Donahy celebrated the struggle. Ending the wrongs perpetrated by monopolistic "trusts" was something Democrats Republicans, Socialists and W. A Rogers agreed on. >>>
Kimberly Primicerio, "Southington Historical Society draws up plan for cartoonist," Record Journal, December 29, 2011
SOUTHINGTON - Members of the Southington Historical Society have a large task ahead of them. In the coming months, they'll look through more than 40 years' worth of editorial cartoons that document significant political events and everyday activities in town. >>>
"No justification for blasting Nast," Asbury Park Press, December 19, 2011
Thomas Nast, one of this year’s nominees for the New Jersey Hall of Fame, is widely recognized as the “Father of the American Cartoon.” His editorial drawings in the 1800s exhibited a broad social conscience, with anti-slavery and anti-segregation themes. He championed better treatment of Native Americans and Asian immigrants. His work is even credited with spawning the classic depictions of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam still with us today.
That’s certainly a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. But that hasn’t stopped several legislators from calling for Nast to be removed from consideration because of what they believe to be bigoted representations of Irish and Catholics. >>>
"This Month's Best Political Cartoons," US News and World Report, January 4, 2012 >>>
"Year in Cartoons," Washington Post, December 9, 2011
The Washington Post’s picks for the best editorial cartoons of 2011. >>>
Monday, January 2, 2012
Pillaging and plundering. Murder and torture. Soldiers gassed in the trenches. Kings and Queens behaving badly. Those are some of the many things you'll see on the BBC hit TV show Horrible Histories. The program is fittingly hosted by a rat puppet. Its so popular with kids and parents that it's spawned a play, "colouring" books, and more. I'm hooked after seeing just a little of it with my god daughter here in the UK. (Watch the Four Georges boy-band sketch here.)
And in addition, the play, TV show, and the books all teach some fun lessons about the past. Jonathan Jones writes in the Guardian:
But I doubt it: kids addicted to this programme would be more likely to be trying to memorise a song that names all the monarchs of England since William the Conqueror (one that should make the Tories happy there!) or collecting the full series of original books from Savage Stone Age to Blitzed Brits. Although it's impossible to achieve that goal because Deary keeps adding to them, endlessly spinning new variants on a winning formula. Only when he runs out of gruesome "R" words will he be done with the Romans – you can already get both Rotten Romans and Ruthless Romans.
I have wondered if the show's premise and popularity comes from Brits' happy pessimism, there comic dark streak. (Think for a moment of Monty Python or one of England's greatest poets, Philip Larkin, who famously said: "Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.")
I doubt something like Horrible Histories would fly in the US. Too much celebratory and triumphant history dominates the popular view. But I certainly can see some great episodes based on robber barons, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, anti-communism, Henry Ford, slavery, and more!