Category Archives: Academia

Zinn in the Classroom

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.49.02 AMGreetings all – I recently conducted an informal poll on the usual social media sites asking for your general thoughts on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I asked because I am assigning it to my 10th grade advanced US history students next year as a counterpoint to more traditional history texts typical in advanced studies in the classroom. If you haven’t already come clean on Zinn elsewhere, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. So far, the (near) consensus is that the book is useful but not particularly great.

I tend to agree – Zinn’s obvious and admitted bias boarders on polemics. But such one-sided disputation notwithstanding, I think it is important that students become familiar with Zinn’s position. At the very least, the readings should both challenge students and inspire some lively debate.  And, to Zinn’s credit, his work avoids top-loaded esoteric language and dense academic nitwittery. It is a very accessible book…written about regular people for, I suppose, regular people. For this, I applaud him.

With compliments,

Keith

A Good Way to Use Colonel Ty Seidule’s Video

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.26.48 PMI am sure you have all by now seen West Point history professor Colonel Ty Seidule explain what caused the Civil War.

His answer: slavery. Unequivocally.

I think this is a first rate video because it takes on, in succinct fashion, the usual Confederate apologist arguments distancing their cause from the peculiar institution. I’ll admit that there were a couple of things I wish Colonel Seidule would have addressed, such as President Lincoln’s 1862 letter to Horace Greely explaining his official duty to save the Union (even if that meant leaving slavery intact) as well as the few slave states that remained loyal to the Union.

But these quibbles notwithstanding, I will still argue that the good professor executes his concise lesson in fine style. I suggest that we continue to spread his message. No doubt you have come across social media threads that descend into the usual Confederate flag flapping nonsense about slavery being incidental to the war. Why not attach this video – I mean…Colonel Seidule does not appear to be a proponent of the “revisionist liberal agenda,” so maybe folks who would generally dismiss tree-hugging Marxist members of academia such as myself will pay attention to an authoritative man in uniform.

Here is the link – just cut and and paste < https://www.facebook.com/prageru/videos/923232114386312/ > and post everywhere!

With compliments,

Keith

 

For My Adjunct Friends – Just a Suggestion…

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.27.47 AMA few days ago, poet Cameron Conaway published “An Open Letter from your Adjunct Professor.” In it he explained why, after warmly thanking his students, he left his position as an adjunct at Penn State Brandywine. You can read the piece for yourself. It will come as no shock to you (if you are familiar with my position on the hiring practices of our institutions of higher education) that I wholeheartedly endorse Conaway’s decision. In short, he felt morally obligated to leave an institution designed to generate profit while undervaluing talent, teaching, and by implication…learning.

As you may know, I turned my back on the life of an adjunct after a short stint at the University of California, Riverside. In the spirit of complete transparency, I will admit that I took the job in the first place as a feeble attempt to get a step closer to the elusive tenure track…pay my dues, so to speak, in hopes of better things to come.

But let’s be honest, the odds were stacked overwhelmingly against that ever happening. To make matters worse, after doing the calculations (which was an effort to be sure – math was never my strong suit) it turned out I was making less than minimum wage as an adjunct professor. They didn’t even pay for parking. Sheesh.

And the corporate university system has us all by the short hairs.  There is an abundance of highly qualified candidates and only a few positions available in any given year. Even the part-time non-tenure track adjunct type jobs are in short supply – so you can take what they offer or fuck off. Well…I decided to fuck off. And it was a wise decision. Like Conaway, I no longer felt like propping up a system while simultaneously being crushed by it.

Allow me to suggest something to those of you who are hanging on your adjunct edu-sweatshop teaching jobs. It is easy to place blame on the system. It’s easy to whine about having to seek secondary employment, go on public assistance, and eat ramen noodles when it is their fault. It is easy to lament your meager salary and zero benefits when the football players have climate-control lockers. But if you keep your pitiful soul-crushing wage-slave job you are just as much to blame as the corporation university itself. Here’s a novel idea for my adjunct colleagues: QUIT. Everybody. All of you. Just quit.

What will they do then?

With compliments and hasta la victoria siempre,

Keith

American History Untucked

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.05.45 PMGreetings all!

A few days ago I had the great honor of recording a podcast segment for Professor David Silkenat’s American History Untucked. Dr. Silkenat is a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and has been hosting this podcast for some time now.

We had a grand discussion about blogging, editing, academia, and some of my research projects. You can listen to my spot and those of many of my esteemed colleagues HERE.

With compliments,

Keith

Traditional.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.44.02 AMYesterday I came across this post on Kevin Levin’s blog and could not resist a little walk down the road to snarksville. Kevin had posted an excerpt by Civil War historian Earl J. Hess in a recent issue of Civil War History lamenting the dearth of knowledge concerning “traditional” military history when it comes to Civil War genre scholarship – in particular: memory studies. He is what Dr. Hess had to say:

In addition, despite the appearance of some top-quality memory studies by Carol Reardon, Brian Craig Miller, and Kevin Levin, a number of examples of this genre exhibit poor scholarship. Unfortunately, it is easy for a graduate student to research postwar newspapers and throw together a pale imitation of David Blight’s book. The most serious weakness is that the author, when writing the obligatory chapter or two about the war as background to their main effort, cannot get the larger story right. When encountering such manuscripts while reviewing them for university presses, I often compile a list of factual errors about the conflict, in addition to many conceptual errors about their subject. Ironically, many of these memory studies are focused on individuals whose sole claim to fame is that they commanded large armies in the field. Yet, the authors of these studies know next to nothing about what the general in question actually did during the war, and they know even less about how traditional military historians have interpreted his career. (pp. 391-92)

With my usual flair for biting one-liner commentary I noted that “graduate students throwing together a pale imitation of Blight’s book is so ten years ago.” But in all seriousness, considering the growing body of brilliant scholarship published over the last decade or so, I was disturbed by Hess’s dismissive comment. I also found the notion of the “traditional” troubling. Whenever I hear that word associated with scholarship, in the sense that one must adhere to something set and unchanging, I imagine a scholar mired hopelessly in analytical muck. Like many of my colleagues, some of whom study military history, I think this problematic “traditional” word should go away. if anything it suggests a lack of change. Let’s face it, abiding by the traditional in history scholarship is entirely ahistorical.

What do you think?

With compliments,

Keith

The Americanist Independent