- Chilean Rebel Camila Vallejo– A profile in the Guardian of Camila Vallejo, a student radical who led student strikes that cancelled much of the academic year. She began by demanding free education (most students do not get a free high school education and college costs around 3,400 dollars in a country where the average salary is 8,500 dollars. The strikes were met with violence and, it is reported, sexual abuse of students. She has since decided that there is an underlying structural problem in the country, believing that there has not been enough change since the days of Pinochet.
- Congo’s Eastern Crisis– A story in the Economist about a province of the Congo perhaps leaving the country after rebel forces took the town of Goma–while UN peacekeepers watched.
- ”Being Tolkien’s grandson blocked my writing…”– an interview with Simon Tolkien, J.R.R.’s grandson, on the Guardian. The article is a series of thoughts and comments about the author, particularly that J.R.R. was upset that the Silmarillion was deemed unpublishable.
- Let Women Fight– An article (available for a limited time only) in Foreign Affairs about lifting the ban on women in combat situations.
- Norway bans zombie advert from daytime TV– A sporting goods company stopped airing an advertisement during the day that features a zombie attack on a suburban neighborhood after viewers complained that it was stupid and provocative.
- A Tsunami in Switzerland– New geological findings provide evidence that Gregory of Tours documented an actual event in recording a wall of water on Lake Geneva in 563 CE. The study discovered a massive deposit of sediment in the middle of the lake, likely put there by massive rock fall into the silt near the mouth of a river.
- Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started– The Onion, of course: “at press time, sources confirmed that millions of readers skipped past this story immediately after seeing the word “Syria” in the headline.” Likewise, from eight months ago: Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To.
- Gaza– A thoughtful consideration of the many problems with the Gaza-Israel issue. In short: there are no good guys in this issue.
- Syrian Rebels Have Lost Their Innocence– A story in Spiegel that discusses the violence in Syria. In short, what was once seen as relatively one sided violence perpetrated by the Assad regime has devolved into violence perpetrated by both sides. Promises of war crimes trials after the regime change seem less and less likely the longer violence continues.
- Turkish Call For Help Puts Germany in a Tough Spot– An article in Spiegel that discusses a recent call for NATO aid in setting up patriot missiles along the Turkish border with Syria after mortar fire landed in Turkey. Commentators says both that this would be a slippery slope toward German involvement in Syria and that Germany is somewhat willing to aid Turkey–and can’t refuse the request.
I like the idea of AcWriMo and I suspect that it works for many of the same reasons that accurately tracking caloric intake aids dieting–goals, accountability, and a reasonable terminus. At the start of November I was already trying to finish up my first article for submission, so I chose not to participate. Well, I sent that article for consideration yesterday and have been thinking about retroactively joining the writing drive. This year I will remain on the sidelines, though.
My reasons are as follows:
1. As a graduate student who is taking classes, preparing for comprehensive exams, teaching, and tutoring, my priorities need to be elsewhere right now.
2. Most of my current projects do not involve fresh writing, but rather adapting and editing text that I have already written. This is not totally incongruous with the way that the drive is set up, but my targets are still a variety of smaller projects and do not fit well into a word-count based objectives.
All that said, I do have some writing objectives for November:
1. Review the material that I have already written that serves as the basis for the next article and create an outline for that article.
2. Create an abstract for a current ongoing project on Greek Historiography that takes it in a new direction.
3. Create an abstract/research proposal for the next new project on ancient Macedonia.
Each of these projects is preliminary–my focus needs to be on passing my comprehensive exams, but neither does that mean I will stop researching and writing.
- Can Syria’s Fractious Opposition be Melded into One?– A story in the Economist about Syria and the divisions within the rebel forces. In particular, it focuses on western powers refusing to aid the rebels until they have a unified leadership. The author seems doubtful that anything will come of it and, while the west has cause to want a single leadership as to avoid anarchy, there may need to be a multi-state solution.
- Syria in Ruins– A visual account of the war in Syria on the Atlantic. Everyone should see these pictures.
- Mali and Al Qaeda – Can the Jihadists be Stopped– An account of the UN plans for intervention in Mali, which will be led by Malian and African troops. They are expecting that the intervention force will be able to at least retake the main cities. Unfortunately, this seems to be a band aid for underlying problems, including both a weak central government and disgruntled Tuaregs such that it might end an al-Qaeda led separatist state, but the local unrest will remain.
- Why White Women Voted For Romney– A story in the New Yorker that looks at the demographics of the election. The author points out that saying that Obama and the Democrats win the women’s vote is misleading. Educated women, much like educated men, tend to skew liberal, but women are also closer to representative of their racial category (talking about polling data here, not what these mean…I don’t make up the categories), albeit to a lesser extent. White women, like white men, tend to vote conservative overall.
- Can Paper Survive the Digital Age?– An essay in the Guardian about the digital age, and calling for people to take the time to remember the paper age.
- Orhan Pamuk – By the Book– An interview in the New York Times with my favorite author whose work I have never read.
- How the aroma of freshly baked bread makes us kinder to strangers– A story in the telegraph about a study demonstrating that fresh baked bread (as well as other pleasant smells) make people kinder to strangers. I know (from experience) that at least one person gets hostile at the smell, though.
- Barack Obama and the paradox behind his African-American support base– a story in the Guardian about Obama’s record for the African-American community. It touches upon the issue of whether equality means getting someone elected to office as the final point on the checklist or whether it means changing hearts and minds. It suggests that for many people the former holds true, while the latter has actually taken a step back under Obama’s presidency.
- Should Science Majors Pay Less for College Than Arts Majors– An essay in the Atlantic that discusses some of the pitfalls of the proposed Florida legislation that would make liberal arts degrees more expensive than STEM degrees. The article also pointed out that one of the motivators of this may be that Florida lags behind national averages in terms of those degrees.
- Driver who drove on pavement to avoid a schoolbus told to wear an “idiot” sign– A woman in Cleveland was filmed by a bus driver driving onto the sidewalk to avoid stopping for the bus unloading children. She is thought to have done this regularly. In addition to a suspended licence, the woman has been told to stand at an intersection with a sign reading “only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”
- Ancient Fears: The Return of the Flood Saga– An essay in the New Yorker talking about some of the discussion in the wake of hurricane Sandy as paralleling much of the language in the ancient flood sagas.
- Panel Recommends Varying University Tuition Based on Degrees, Job Prospects– In Florida there is a proposition to vary how much university tuition is by further subsidizing STEM degrees over humanities degrees. According to the panel chair there would not be any elimination of programs because “There will always be a need for them, but you better really want to do it, because you may have to pay more.” On one hand, I am sympathetic to their attempts to draw people to those degrees since there is a sense that the future is coming from them. On the other, doesn’t offering people money to take those degrees lead more people to them for the wrong reasons (particularly because many of those jobs already pay more)? I also disagree with the premise that this will not discourage students from going into the humanities since many students already receive pressure from their family to study something that will get them a job out of college and some hiring decisions for college departments are made on the basis of enrollment. If the cost of a humanities degree is higher than sciences then enrollment will likely dip, thus stagnating the department if not killing it outright.
- Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar– A report in the economist of yet another part of the world that is experiencing ethnic cleansing over religious/cultural/immigration issues. The violence is being carried out against against the Rohingya, an ethnic group considered illegal immigrants by the Myanmarese government after being deprived of citizenship in 1982.
- The Problem with Rape Exemptions– An article in the Atlantic about how the extreme debate over whether candidates support the right to an abortion when a woman has been raped and the subsequent adoption of “rape exemptions” as a liberal marker misses the point. The article focuses on the onus of proving rape, but briefly notes the more insidious problem that desperately fighting for just this one acceptable version of an abortion starts out by limiting the woman’s right to choose in any situation and comes in asking for this one concession, rather than requiring lawmakers to have a good reason for each and every limit they place.
- Yemen: Journey to a land in limbo– A profile in the London Financial Times about Yemen since the Arab spring. The tagline from an activist is that the government is not strong, but neither are the people free.
- Nobs and Natives– A review of the book Prairie Fever about British Aristocrats who journeyed into the American west during the 19th century and their efforts to buy or steal land and reaffirm their racial superiority over the indigenous Americans.
- The Middle East’s Belly Dancing Recession– A story in the Atlantic with the tag line “how the Arab Spring has hobbled one of the world’s oldest dance forms.” Of course, the article actually examines the economic fallout from reduced tourism after the Arab Spring. Belly dancers, particularly those who moved to the middle east because of heightened job prospects as part of the tourism industry, have been hit hard and are considering leaving the area.
Teaching history is at a bit of a crossroads. High school history, particularly with its emphasis on objective forms of testing and standardization, has diluted history and gives the sense that there should be some sort of objective correct answer. Objective testing and a renewed sense of practical applicability to every aspect of education has also led to an increase in apathy about history learning. High school history classes are, for the most part, boring.1 In those classes there is an overemphasis on names and dates to the extent that many incoming freshmen believe that names of dead people and past dates are what compose history. One of the the uphill battles fought in college history classes is to draw connections and teach them that history has more to do with the connections, causation, and movements than about the name and the dates.
As the fashionability of studying old white men in positions of power has waned, history classes seem to increasingly deal with cultural movements (sometimes without concrete dates), social conditions, and ideas. If fed to a receptive audience, this type of class is more engaging than another dry history class where students are forced to memorize an interminable list of dates and names. At the same time, because this sort of class requires students to actively engage the material (ultimately the goal of history, in my opinion), it does run the risk of falling on deaf ears.
An even greater issue, though, is that for the marginally interested student–one willing to show up to lecture and to read primary documents, but not the textbook2–this sort of course runs the risk of confusion. One of the primary reasons, it seems, that professors assign textbooks is to relieve themselves of needing to provide a thorough, detailed narrative in lecture. Yet, to my as-of-yet limited experience, unless the students are demonstrably tested on the material from the textbook on a regular basis, they don’t read it. Textbooks are expensive, dense, and boring. As a TA and tutor I can only bring myself to look at them as a last resort. But if the instructor expects that the student is reading it on a regular basis to fill in the gaps of the lecture and to provide some sort of narrative then the students need to do the reading before class just in order to follow along.3
The immediate impetus for this discussion is that I gave a quiz today in which I was told that, in addition to the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might have taken place in the presidencies of Wilson, Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Nixon (and one Kennedy/Nixon). Kennedy and Nixon were at least in the right ballpark and Roosevelt had instituted an earlier liberal domestic agenda plan, but Wilson was president a half century earlier. Nor was this the only question that resulted in such a staggering uncertainty about chronology or dates. These results are just a small sample size and are likely as much due to people not showing up for class as anything, but the lack of concrete chronology cannot be helping.
One of my committee members mentioned to me in passing that if you are not assigning a book with a good narrative for the time period of your class, you need to make sure that you are providing one for the students. I am wondering if we shouldn’t go even a step further and return to providing a concrete narrative, making sure to draw out the chronology so that the students can see what order events took place in and how they overlapped–to go along with a healthy helping of geography. Ideas, cultural movements, and social issues are all well and good, but if the students confuse the chronology, confuse the causation, and confuse where they took place, none of that matters. As both a student and a discussion leader I prefer seminar style classes, but right now it seems that we need a better way to lay down a chronological foundation if we ever hope to actually engage ideas.
1 I say this recalling that some of my favorite high school teachers were history teachers. Then again, I am now a graduate student working towards a Ph.D. in history.
2 Who could blame this student? I hate textbooks, though I will admit that they are sometimes useful.
3 Nor are all textbooks are created equal.