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Chronicle of Higher Ed.


  • Originally published 08/23/2013

    Claire Potter: The Ten Commandments of Graduate School

    So you are starting graduate school, eh? Against all of our best advice here in the blogosphere, you are determined to embark on the scholarly life.  Well, you know what I have to say about that?Good luck and godspeed! Keep your feet dry and your spectacles up to date! Cover your head when the sun is too bright! Don’t fly with ballpoint pens in your luggage! Get a cat!

  • Originally published 08/15/2013

    A virtual Cotton Club rises, with an open-source engine

    Second Life, the virtual world many professors use for experiential learning, is no longer big enough for one University of Arizona professor.Bryan Carter, an assistant professor of Africana studies, has been using the virtual world to teach students about the Harlem Renaissance since 2005. But as technology has advanced, Mr. Carter has been looking to evolve his virtual city as well. Now the virtual-life company Utherverse is building a new digital replica of Harlem during the 1920s, based on a street grid Mr. Carter has provided. The company is relying on the Unity engine, a cross-platform game engine that employs open graphics standards.It’s “a huge step up” from Second Life, Mr. Carter said in an e-mail....

  • Originally published 08/14/2013

    Lincoln Mullen: How to Make Prudent Choices About Your Digital Tools

    Abraham Lincoln (almost certainly never) said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my ax.” Whoever came up with it, that bit of folksy wisdom neatly captures an ambiguity about work. You’d be a fool to work with a dull ax, but being shrewd about your preparations can quickly turn into being lazy about actually doing your work.

  • Originally published 08/09/2013

    L. Maren Wood: ‘The Afternoon I Decided to Leave Academe’–and What Happened Next

    L. Maren Wood earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the founder and lead researcher of Lilli Research Group, a small education-consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She will be blogging regularly for the Ph.D. Placement Project about nonacademic career issues for Ph.D.’s.Many Ph.D.’s who write about leaving academe knew it was not for them. I envy those people. I enjoyed being an academic, and I loved teaching. As a kid growing up, all I wanted to be was a teacher, and when I entered university, my career goal shifted to being a professor. When I decided to end my quest for a tenure-track job, I told a friend that, some day, I hoped I would enjoy whatever I ended up doing as much as I enjoyed teaching and being a historian.I will never forget the afternoon I decided to leave academe. I had just learned that I was second in line for a visiting assistant professorship, with a three-year contract and a 3-3 teaching load. We were well into the summer, and this was my last hope of a job for the following year. The pay was less than $40,000 a year; the hiring committee admitted to me that the salary was probably not enough to cover living expenses in the area.

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Peter Wood: Why Mitch Daniels Was Right About Howard Zinn

    Peter Wood is the president of the National Association of Scholars.The Associated Press broke a story on July 16 that Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, wrote e-mails while the governor of Indiana attacking the use of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, as “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.”My first response: good for Mr. Daniels. His comment, made on February 9, 2010—according to the date stamp on his e-mail—shows that he has a pretty clear grasp of both American history and Mr. Zinn’s book.But the Associated Press wasn’t interested in Daniels’s intellectual acumen.  Its story was headlined, “Mitch Daniels Looked to Censor Opponents,” and it was based on a Freedom of Information Act request.  If the four brief e-mails he sent to political allies over the course of 51 minutes in February 2010 are all the AP came up with, or an additional e-mail sent on April 11, 2009, we can best conclude that the governor was a busy man with little patience for academic bunkum....

  • Originally published 07/01/2013

    Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman: What a New Harvard Report on the Humanities Doesn't Tell Us

    Anthony T. Grafton is a professor of history at Princeton University and a former president of the American Historical Association. James Grossman is executive director of the association.Have you heard about the classics major who intends to be a military surgeon? Or the employers who think entry-level interviewees ought to show up having read the company history? No, of course you haven't.Those people are not just unmentionable, they're unthinkable—at least in the vast, buzzing worlds of the news media, the blogosphere, and the many TED Talks. No one who studies the humanities could possibly have a practical career in view, anymore than someone who has a practical career in view would ever bother studying the humanities, right? And in the corporate world, only the CEOs, not the HR people, value a liberal education. Why would a company like Enterprise Rent-A-Car care if a prospective employee took the initiative to read the company history? What could the study of the past contribute to a career in, say, medicine?

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    John Haddad: Avoiding ‘Cultural Arrogance’ With China

    John Haddad is an associate professor of American studies and popular culture at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg. He is the author of America’s First Adventure in China: Trade, Treaties, Opium, and Salvation.On a recent trip to China, I made a stop at Sias International University, in Xinzheng, Henan Province, to deliver a lecture on American popular culture. Sias is a relatively new private university that presents itself as an American-style college. Its founder, a local entrepreneur who made his fortune in the United States, believes in internationalism and in cooperation between China and the United States—so much so that he has infused the campus with this vision.The effect is striking: It feels like a world’s fair. Touring the campus, I passed New York Street, Red Square, European Street, and Spanish Square. I wound up at the administration building, a bizarre Sino-American hybrid. After entering through its neo-Classical front, modeled on the U.S. Capitol, I found upon exiting that the building had morphed into the Forbidden City.

  • Originally published 06/03/2013

    Jay Winter: Raphael Lemkin, a Prophet Without Honors

    Jay Winter is a professor of history at Yale University. His latest book, René Cassin and Human Rights, with Antoine Prost, is just out from Cambridge University Press.When did the Second World War end? In the absence of a formal peace treaty in 1945, we celebrate on the dates of military surrender—V-E Day (May 8), or V-J Day (August 15). But in a sense, it would be better to see December 9-10, 1948, as when the war came to an end. It was then that the United Nations, sitting in plenary session in Paris, voted for two major advances in international law, which together said to the world: "Never again." The last joint operation of the war against the Axis powers was to establish a human-rights regime to affirm everything the Nazis tried to destroy.The first law was the Genocide Convention; the second was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their passage in a 24-hour period was an astonishing achievement. Consider the moment. The Berlin blockade had been under way for six months. The bloodbath attending the end of British rule in India was continuing. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948 had ended, for the time being. Mao's army was approaching Beijing. Eight months later, the Soviet Union would explode its first atomic bomb. The cold war was well and truly on.

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    David Cannadine: Why Do Historians Insist on Dividing Us?

    Sir David Cannadine, a professor of history at Princeton University, has taught at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University. His most recent book, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, has just been published by Alfred A. Knopf.When Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1976, he concluded his acceptance speech with these wise, generous, and tolerant words: "There is no simple choice between the children of light and the children of darkness." But a quarter of a century later, Bellow's fellow American, President George W. Bush, took a very different view, insisting that there was, indeed, such a straightforward choice between good and evil. "When I was coming up," he opined, "it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them. Today we're not so sure who the they are, but we know they're still there." Here was a view of the world, of human association and of human nature, that assumes a polarized, Manichean division, built around collective identities that are internally coherent and homogeneous, and that are always latently or actually in conflict. The choice between them is, therefore, very simple and very clear.

  • Originally published 05/16/2013

    Penny Lewis: Hard Hats, Hippies, and the Real Antiwar Movement

    Penny Lewis is an assistant professor of labor studies at the Joseph P. Murphy Institute for Work Education and Labor Studies in the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York. This essay is adapted from her new book Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, published by Cornell University Press.Decades after its conclusion, the U.S. war in Vietnam remains an unsettled part of our collective memory. Members of the military, veterans, scholars, journalists, and artists continue to revisit and reinterpret the war, assessing its historical significance while seeking meaning for wars fought today. Despite the efforts of our political elites to put the ghosts of Vietnam to rest, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have prolonged these discussions. Books and articles with titles like "Is Afghanistan Another Vietnam?" abound. The economic and political imperatives that drive U.S. foreign policy, the appropriate use of force, the domestic costs of war, the treatment and trauma of veterans, whether today's wars are "winnable" or "worth it"—appropriate or not, those are some of the many points of comparison and concern.

  • Originally published 05/15/2013

    Jacques Barzun's grandson pens open letter to him in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

    Charles Barzun is an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia.Dear Grandfather,Not long after your death on October 25 of last year, friends and relatives wondered whether I might write something about you. They knew that we had corresponded and that I regularly visited you in San Antonio, so they felt I should put something on record. But when I tried my hand at it, I found it impossible to convey my thoughts or feelings. It then occurred to me that the best way to write about you would be to write to you, as I did for so many years.Naturally, I wasn't about to discuss your many accomplishments—the positions you held, the books you wrote—the obituaries and eulogies for the great Jacques Barzun took care of all that. You were touted as one of the last true public intellectuals: a cultural historian, a philosopher of education, an authority on the English language, a prophet of Western decline. The newspapers relished the fact that you were nearly 105 years old when you passed away.

  • Originally published 05/13/2013

    Robert Zaretsky: What’s at Stake With Grade Inflation?

    Robert Zaretsky, a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, is the author of Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (Cornell University Press, 2010). His next book, A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning, will be published this fall by Harvard University Press.Truth, we’re told, is the first casualty of war. But as I hunker in my office bunker, the dull thud of history term papers landing on my desk, columns of sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden students trudging past the door, I’m convinced that truth is also the first casualty of undergraduate paper writing. It is not only the historical truths trampled in the mangled and muddied papers written by my students. More insidiously, a deeper truth also suffers. Only tatters remain of the contract, implicit but immemorial, that teachers will grade student papers fairly and honestly. This shared conviction, that the students’ level of writing can be raised only if the teacher levels with them, now seems a historical artifact....

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    How scholars in Timbuktu protected medieval texts under an Islamist occupation

    Sidi Lamine gently opens the creaky wooden door that leads to his collection of manuscripts. Housed in a dark, windowless room, hundreds of medieval texts line handsome wooden bookshelves that reach to the ceiling. A musty smell lingers over everything. On an ornate table under dusty glass rest the rarest books in his collection, several of which he quietly mentions were written in 1010."I haven't visited this room in more than 10 months," he says, "because I was scared the Islamists would know that I have manuscripts like these, and they would destroy them. I thank God they are still OK."Mr. Lamine, who says he's at least 70 years old and has been helping to preserve the texts since he was 10, recounts how Islamist militants took over this city recently, threatening the precious works. "Under the occupation," he says, "Islamists found families with manuscripts, and those manuscripts have not been seen since."...

  • Originally published 05/01/2013

    Susan Matt and Luke Fernandez: Before MOOCs, ‘Colleges of the Air’

    Susan Matt is chair of the history department at Weber State University, and Luke Fernandez is Weber State’s manager for program and technology development. In 1937, as she lay ill in bed, Annie Oakes Huntington, a writer living in Maine, thought of ways to spend her time. She confided in a letter: “The radio has been a source of unfailing diversion this winter. I expect to enter all the courses at Harvard to be broadcasted.” Huntington was joining in an educational experiment sweeping the country in the 1920s and 30s: massive open on-air courses.As educators contemplate the MOOCs of our day—massive open online courses—they would do well to consider how earlier generations dealt with technology-enhanced education.

  • Originally published 04/18/2013

    Robert Darnton: Information, Free to All

    Robert Darnton is a professor and university librarian at Harvard University.Some have detected a revolutionary message behind the choice of today as the date to launch the Digital Public Library of America—a project to make the holdings of libraries, archives, and museums freely available in digital form to all Americans. They’re right.“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five,” as Longfellow put it in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” Paul Revere did not merely warn the farmers of Lexington and Concord that the redcoats were coming. His “midnight message” was a call for liberty. To free Americans’ access to knowledge may not be so dramatic, but it is equally important; for Revere and all the founding fathers knew that a republic could not flourish unless its citizens were educated and informed.Nor is it a coincidence that the launching pad of the Digital Public Library of America is the Boston Public Library, the first great public library in America, which proclaims in letters chiseled over its main entrance, “Free to All.” That is the revolutionary message of the DPLA. It will make our country’s heritage available to everyone and at no charge: “Free to All.”...

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Mark Kingwell: The Barbed Gift of Leisure

    Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. His most recent book is Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination (Biblioasis, 2012).A magazine ad campaign running in my hometown quotes a youngster who wants to study computer science, he says, so he can "invent a robot that will make his bed for him." I admire the focus of this future genius. I, too, remember how the enforced daily reconstruction of my bed—an order destined only for destruction later that very day—somehow combined the worst aspects of futility, drudgery, and boredom that attended all household chores. By comparison, doing the dishes or raking the yard stood out as tasks that glimmered with teleological energy, activities that, if not exactly creative, at least smacked of purpose.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Burton Bledstein's robo-skepticism

    ...If our destiny is to be freed from toil by robot helpers, what are we supposed to do with our days?To begin to tackle that existential question, I decided to invite along a scholar of work to the Automate trade show. And that's how my guest, Burton J. Bledstein, an expert on the history of professionalism and the growth of the modern middle class, got into an argument with the head of a robotics company.It happened at the booth for Adept Technology Inc., which makes a robot designed to roam the halls of hospitals and other facilities making deliveries. The latest model­—a foot-tall rolling platform that can be customized for a variety of tasks­—wandered around the booth, resembling something out of a Star Wars film except that it occasionally blasted techno music from its speakers. Bledstein was immediately wary of the contraption. The professor, who holds an emeritus position at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained that he has an artificial hip and didn't want the robot to accidentally knock him down. He needn't have worried, though; the robot is designed to sense nearby objects and keep a safe distance....

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    David Priestland: The Sun Sets on the Modern Merchant Class

    David Priestland teaches modern history at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A History of the World in Three Castes, new from the Penguin Press, as well as The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World (Penguin, 2009).As we struggle to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis, we may now have enough distance to understand its real significance.Immediate judgments were often very flawed. For example, then-president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, brandished a copy of Das Kapital before the press to show his deep, structural understanding of the catastrophic events in the international markets. The implied message: Capitalism is doomed, as anyone can see. But there was no Marxist revival, and capitalism has not collapsed. Indeed, in the global East it is positively flourishing. Capitalism seems to have an assured future, at least in the medium term.

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Carlin Romano: Reason, Emotion, and Hitler

    Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle, is a professor of philosophy and humanities at Ursinus College and author of America the Philosophical (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).Adolf Hitler loved books—that nasty bent for book burning notwithstanding—and the book industry loves him back. Type his name into Amazon, and while he doesn't trigger the English-language numbers of Jesus (186,740) or Lincoln (70,710), he registers a solid 18,597—a stunning figure for someone who died less than 70 years ago.

  • Originally published 03/11/2013

    The actual politics of professors

    Neil Gross is a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia and a visiting scholar at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge. His latest book, Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?, will be published next month by Harvard University Press....I analyzed data from surveys and interviews with professors, including a nationally-representative survey of the American professoriate, conducted in 2006 with the sociologist Solon Simmons. My research shows that only about 9 percent of professors are political radicals on the far left, on the basis of their opinions about a wide range of social and political matters, and their self-descriptions (for example, whether they describe themselves as radicals). More common in the professoriate—a left-leaning occupation, to be sure—are progressives, who account for roughly a third of the faculty (and whose redistributionism is more limited in scope), and academics in the center left, who make up an additional 14 percent of professors.

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    Lucinda Matthews-Jones: Facebooking the Past

    Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a lecturer in history at Liverpool John Moore (UK), where she teaches nineteenth-century British History. Details of her research can be found on her academia.edu profile. She also blogs and co-edits the Journal of Victorian Culture: www.victorianculture.com. She tweets from @luciejones83.Digital databases have provided scholars with new ways to access source material. Have we been quick enough to extend these benefits to our students? As a history lecturer, I am keen to encourage students to get their hands dirty by exploring a number of different kinds of primary source databases. Just before Christmas, I decided that I wanted to use digital sources in a different way. I wanted my students not just to find source material but also to use it, digitally, in ways that showed their understanding of lecture topics.There was also a practical reason for this change of gear. Having recently been appointed to a new lectureship, I was faced with a new challenge: how to devise a 28 week long nineteenth century gender history module that would not necessarily rely on the traditional lecture/seminar format that I had been used to.

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Stanley Karnow, Journalist and Historian of Vietnam, Dies at 87

    Stanley A. Karnow, a nationally acclaimed author and journalist whose seminal books about Vietnam and the Philippines during times of war have been taught in many college classrooms, died in Potomac, Md., on January 27. He was 87 and had been suffering from congestive heart failure.For more than a decade and a half, Mr. Karnow worked in Southeast Asia as a correspondent for Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The London Observer, The Washington Post, and NBC News.In 1983, Mr. Karnow published a 750-page book, Vietnam: A History, that focused primarily on the United States' role in that country. Mr. Karnow's work was praised for its straightforward and thoughtful account of a war that began with an attack on a French garrison in 1954 and ended in 1975, soon after the final withdrawal of U.S. service members....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Life as a Captive of the Job Market

    Eunice Williams is the pseudonym of a Ph.D. candidate in history at a Southern university. She is working as a writing fellow while she searches for her first tenure-track job or a postdoctoral appointment. Her first three columns in this series were "In Which the Academic Market Looms," "Going Rogue," and "In the Thick of It."The academic job market is an exercise in captivity, and I am still its prisoner.To some extent I've ensured my place in this life by acceding to the terms of academe. I've defended my dissertation, and so I've unofficially transformed myself from Eunice Williams, Ph.D. candidate, to Dr. Williams. Even if I'm befuddled by the job market, I've still agreed to abide by the rules of the game.The problem, I think, is that I'm still not sure that I've learned all of the rules. I had a campus interview in December that seemed to go well, but, alas, I got no offer out of it. It felt good to practice my job talk, to see what it was like to meet with potential colleagues, and to learn the etiquette of breaking bread with search-committee members....

  • Originally published 02/04/2013

    Visiting professorships take on new uses in changing market

    Stan Nadel sat with fellow historians around a lunch table as they introduced themselves one by one. His peers were greeted with warm nods and smiles, but when he stated his name, Mr. Nadel was met with surprise. The man across from him clapped his hand over his mouth."What the hell?" Mr. Nadel says he thought, recalling that moment. It was 1997, and he was attending a history conference in Oklahoma.The lunch mate had graduated from a Ph.D. program at the University of Hawaii, a place Mr. Nadel had never visited. Perhaps the young man was familiar with Mr. Nadel's publications, he thought. Maybe he was a former colleague or a student.It turned out, Mr. Nadel said, that the man had no connection to him at all. The stranger had recently accepted a one-year teaching appointment off the tenure track, which had prompted a colleague to warn him of Mr. Nadel's experience....

  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    James Grossman and Elaine Carey: An Undisciplined Report on the Teaching of History

    James Grossman is executive director of the American Historical Association. Elaine Carey is vice president for the Teaching Division of the association and chair of the history department at St. John's University, in New York.Historians welcome informed debate. It is precisely what attracted many of us to the discipline in the first place. Thus our initial reaction to a recent report by the National Association of Scholars, "Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?," was to engage the ideas, explore the research model, and open a conversation about different ways of understanding history. This report, however, does not contribute to informed debate.

  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    Richard Pells: The Obsession With Social History

    Richard Pells is professor of history emeritus at the University of Texas. He is the author of four books on modern American culture, most recently Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture (Yale University Press, 2011).The National Association of Scholars recently released a report excoriating the teaching of American history at the University of Texas at Austin and, to a lesser extent, at Texas A&M University at College Station.The report argues that there is an almost monomaniacal preoccupation in American-history courses withon the issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Meanwhile, it argues, not enough attention is being paid to the history of American politics, economics, and culture, and the military.The report has caused considerable fury among University of Texas historians,and it has apparently incensed American historians at other universities as well. Its critics have accused the association's writers of being conservative assailants who don't know what they're talking about.It's true that the NAS is a conservative organization. Yet being conservative does not by itself make an organization uninformed or invalidate its report....

  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    Taylor Branch, Prize-Winning Historian, to Teach MOOC on Civil-Rights Era

    The author and historian Taylor Branch spent nearly 25 years exploring and writing about the civil-rights era, and the result was a popular trilogy of books, America in the King Years, one of which won a Pulitzer Prize. This semester Mr. Branch will share his knowledge of the period by teaching a course at the University of Baltimore and opening it up to outsiders on the Web as a massive open online course, or MOOC.The course, which starts on January 23, is built around his new book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, and will include face-to-face instruction with 20 University of Baltimore students, along with up to 100 auditors who will tune in online at no charge.The idea for the course took shape as Mr. Branch worked on the new book, a 190-page distillation of his earlier 2,300-page trilogy. Mr. Branch said teachers and professors had told him that their students enjoyed learning about the civil-rights era but that they found the three heavy volumes to be too cumbersome. He said this was even the case in a course he had taught on the subject....

  • Originally published 01/28/2013

    Nell Irvin Painter Bids Farewell to the Past

    In 2005 the prize-winning historian Nell Irvin Painter put down her pen and picked up a paintbrush.After 17 years at Princeton University, the publication of seven groundbreaking books, and terms at the helms of two prestigious historical associations, Ms. Painter said goodbye to all that. She retired at 62 and spent $150,000 to pursue a bachelor-of-fine-arts degree from Rutgers University, followed by an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design, in 2011.And although she received a Centennial Medal that same year from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for her historical work, the former professor, once described by some peers as an imperious trouble­maker who refused to be boxed in, is not particularly interested in returning to the ivory tower.In an interview here at her art studio, a few blocks from Penn Station, Ms. Painter, who is now 70, describes having given away all the books in her library. She says she'll never write another word of history....