Friday, November 30, 2012

Teaching Religion and Technology

Wherein I wax about how great Tona Hangen's first book is, how helpful Shayne Lee and Phil Sinitiere's book is, and how much I love our Roku (hat tip to Matt Cromwell).

Teaching Religion and Technology

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grading - from the TA Corner


Essay #2 Notes – Jonathan Eng
As I finished up grading Essay #2 frantically over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to have it ready for my students by Friday morning in between spending it with friends and my Black Friday shopping, I spent the weekend reflecting on the quality of the essays while I spent the weekend on a camping and 16-mile hiking trip at the Grand Canyon in 30-degree temperature. Through the reflection and grading period, I was able to take a few good and bad things away from the essays.

Good:
  • Overall improvement: The overall grades of the essays were much higher than Essay #1. The quality was much better and they were easier to read and get through.
  • Better understanding of sources:  One of the main improvements was the understanding of what primary and secondary sources are. As we all know, primary sources are the recordings (letters, sound bytes, photos, speeches, posters, other documents, etc.)  of history and historical events by the people who were at the time there to witness it. Secondary sources are written by historians who take primary sources and write about them; historians use primary sources to form an argument so the history is from their perspective (a secondary one).
  •  Better understanding of directions of prompt: I had provided my students with a guideline of using 75% primary sources and 25% secondary sources to write their essay. They also seemed to better adhere to the page guideline although there were some who occasionally wrote too much. Following instructions for the paper makes it not only easier for the students to do well but it makes it much easier on the weary TA who has to grade all of them.


Bad:
  • Weak/vague thesis: Students still had a hard time coming up with a clear and concise thesis. I have told my students (and this makes sense from a grammatical and essay format perspective) that the purpose of the thesis is to outline what the rest of the essay will look like. A good thesis will be able to give a clear picture to the umbrella of what the essay will talk about. Under that umbrella of the thesis comes sub-points A, B, C, D, etc. Those sub-points are the body paragraphs that follow the introduction paragraph. Furthermore, those sub-points can be divided even further into the three examples the students were supposed to use to support their overall argument.
  • Examples and analysis still weak: Students still had a hard time picking good examples. Good analysis is only as good as the examples used. A good amount of students did not properly explain the significance of the example used and how they support the overall arguments.


Final verdict: The students have shown improvement and that makes me happy to see that. It seems the students are learning and growing with the information and are improving their writing skills. Also, their understanding of history is cemented in their improving ability to communicate it through their writing. Now that Essay #2 is behind us, onward to Essay #3!


Monday, November 26, 2012

teaching "Lincoln"

So I saw "Lincoln" last night.  I typically hate the saccharine sweetness of Steven Speilberg and the everything's-gonna-be-alright history lessons.  ET phone home already.  It makes teaching his movies--Amistad, Schindler's List--difficult without having to do a lot of unteaching.  But hey, it's Hollywood.

Toward that end, I've found a few sources helpful for those of us in the classroom.  My sense: it's a good but flawed movie that misses it's own main point (the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment). The inclusion of Thaddeus Stevens getting into bed with his maid/lover Lydia toward the end has no basis in historical fact and, while fine on a principled level, shows no historical awareness and indeed falls back into the tradition first malevolent promulgated by DW Griffith in "Birth of a Nation."

But anyway:

  • This fact-versus-fiction catalogue from slate.com is really good, if a bit thin.  But it gets a lot right.
  • Historian Corey Robin has an excellent post with many interesting links, and he basically agrees with my reading of the movie--that the movie doesn't really tell the story of "Lincoln" but instead the story of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and had Speilberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner remember that fact, they would have made a much better movie, one that wouldn't have had the awful ending and would have included the story of African Americans who were demanding to be heard.  Sometimes less-is-better, and, like all of us who have written books and articles well know, we've got to fight the urge to reveal everything we know.  I wish Kushner would have listened. 
  • Lincoln scholar (and "Lincoln" consultant) Harold Holzer holds court at the Daily Beast, finding many basic, not-terribly important errors, although ones that make the movie cringe-worthy, such as the implausible laughable opening scene when a collection of 18-year-old soldiers recite, line-by-line, the Gettysburg Address (oy).  
  • Aaron Bady over at Jacobin reads the movie as a tale of our times, about Obama as compromiser-in-chief, and as a tale of uplift that misses the whole final chapter of Reconstruction, which was the systematic and ultimately successful attempt of the South to lose the war but win the peace, thus leading to the Jim Crow era whose shadow still permeates.
  • Louis Masur offers a far more sympathetic account of the movie in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but places it in the historiography, as a piece of Lincoln reconstruction after the cut-downs of Lincoln as placid Negrophobe who acted only out of war necessity.
  • Eric Foner posted a nice informative response to David Brooks' silly column about the movie that succinctly fleshes out some of the larger historical problems with the film.  
  • James MacPherson added this basic Q&A in the LA Times.
That's a start. What else have you found useful?

And special thanks to friend-of-blog Tim Lacy for bringing the Robin piece to my attention and to generally piquing my interest.  (If you compile your facebook posts somewhere, let me know and I'll post those too.)  UPDATE: he has.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

SO quiet on the Southern Front

I've been rather quiet this semester - I've been taking classes myself, actually.  In theory, I should be so professionally developed right now that I could pass, in fact, as an actual professional!  All joking aside, I've been taking some MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) specifically looking at how we teach in the digital age.  And, I've been so inspired, I'm almost overwhelmed where to start using the approaches and technology I've been introduced to.

As a pedagogical reminder, students generally respond well to moments of play - and moments of creation within that play.  If we marry this simple principle with contemporary (and free) digital technology, there are some tools I'm hoping to institute both in and out of the classroom for individual and collaborative projects for the upcoming term (stay tuned!). 

We all know that history demands specificity - Dipity encourages students to develop digital timelines with narrative, images, URLs, video, audio, text, social media, and so on.  This can be done individually or collaboratively - I've started one here and am asking students to contribute to the timeline with (meaningful and hopefully unique) events that lead up to the Civil War.



Since history also demands crafting a solid narrative, students could use Posterus as a mobile app or Prezi on any computer to combine all sorts of digital technology and share it immediately with those in a group/class.

These three sites are by no means very comprehensive - but they offer us pretty interesting opportunities to better engage the work of some really wonderful historical websites!  


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ed and Terry Gross...Fresh Air!

TUSH.0 is going big time.

Blog co-creator Ed Blum has been called up to the bigs.  He's appearing tomorrow (Monday) on Terry Gross's wildly popular show, "Fresh Air."  He's going to talk about The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, which, I should add is getting great reviews.

Congrats to Ed!  Check your local listings!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jon Stewart as American historian...

Jon Stewart is very smart, but he's no historian.  He got little traction when he challenged David Barton on the history of Christian nationalism, and he messed up in describing the scenario wherein Mitt Romney could have become president and Joe Biden vice president (an electoral tie), thus potentially provoking a huge casting problem for Saturday Night Live (Jason Sudeikis plays both men).

But I was impressed last night when he used 18th- and 19th-century American history to slap down the gripe from Fox News that the recent election demonstrates "the decline of traditional America."


The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Best of Times
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


What say you, fellow historians?  A teachable moment?  A teachable clip?  Does Jon Stewart get it right?  Will your students get it?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Call for papers: CASA

The California American Studies Association annual conference is coming to sunny San Diego. It will be incredible; we will eat street tacos, over-analyze everything, and ride the famous trolley. Hope to hear from you (and please share with your students, graduate students, and colleagues):



CALL FOR PAPERS
California American Studies Association
2013 Annual Meeting
San Diego State University
April 26-27, 2013
The Program Committee for the California American Studies Association invites proposals for presentations to the 2013 Annual Meeting, to be held Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, hosted by San Diego State University. 
Proposals for individual papers, conference panels (usually 3 papers, a commentator and a chair), roundtables (4-5 participants maximum), field trips, and other special sessions (such as films or performances) are welcome.
Rather than announce a specific theme, the program committee invites panels and individual papers addressing all major aspects of the critical study of U.S. cultures. Submissions do not necessarily need to focus on California.  Possible topics include—but are not limited to—images of California in American culture; California and the world; regional identities; protest culture; carceral studies; borderland and diasporic communities; religion; race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; childhood and youth studies; material culture; ecological or environmental concerns; forms of oral or public history; the globalization of U.S. popular culture; academic and community-oriented collaborations; theoretical and methodological “keywords” in American Studies; the state of American Studies as a discipline in the context of the nation’s (and/or California’s) crisis in higher education.
CASA has a tradition of inclusiveness in representing American studies as practiced in multiple contexts; therefore we encourage proposals that highlight American Studies pedagogy and/or public engagement in K-12 and university classrooms, community settings, and other areas.
Proposals should include the organizer's name, contact information (including email), and a session title; a 250 word abstract for EACH paper or proposed contribution (and a session abstract if a panel is being proposed); and a brief (1-2 page) CV for EACH participant.  These materials should be forwarded electronically, as attachments (PDF preferred), no later than February 1, 2013 to:
casa.sdsu.2013@gmail.com
Inquiries may be directed to Ed Blum,
CASA Program Committee Chair,
The California American Studies Association, founded in 1982, is a chapter of the American Studies Association, and is dedicated to the promotion of collegial dialogue and dissemination of current research.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Update! The final version

Yesterday I put out a call for help, both here and on Facebook.  I needed help with the concluding paragraphs of the next edition of my American history textbook, HIST, and I had until noon after election day to summarize the results.  Thanks for your help with my first draft.  I unfortunately couldn't fit in all the great recommendations, but here's what I ended up with:

_______  
The campaign was filled with frustration and anger, reflecting the sullied economy and the continued political divides within the nation.  The country seemed to be having an open conversation about whether Obama's presidency was a failed attempt to rescue the economy from the 2008 crash or whether Obama had done the best he could, given the state of the economy when he first took office.  Many were equally frustrated that the "hope" and "change" promised by Obama in 2008 was still unfulfilled four years later.  Still others were uncomfortable with the prospect of having an African American lead the nation, even fifty years after the civil rights movement and 150 after the end of slavery.  Romney, meanwhile, was dismissed as a greedy oligarch akin to the robber barons of the early Industrial Age, concerned only with preserving his vast wealth, although his supporters argued that a successful businessman would do a better job of bringing the country back to a position of strength.

On election night, Obama's record of ending the war in Iraq and winding it down in Afghanistan, of locating and killing Osama bin Laden, of preserving the battered American car industry, and, perhaps most importantly, of overseeing several consecutive months of slow economic growth, led him to a relatively easy re-election, winning nearly all the battleground states in nearly every region of the nation.

Perhaps most tellingly, however, was how the changes of the previous 50 years had transformed the electorate, especially the transformations brought about by the 1965 Immigration Act and the increasing recognition of the diversity of the United States.  For instance, overwhelming numbers of ethnic and racial minorities voted for Obama (making up 45 percent of his total popular vote—a record), while white Americans supported Romney, 59 percent to 39 percent.  Meanwhile, more than 55 percent of women voted for Obama, while only 47 percent of men did. 

Reflecting similar trends, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.  Ballot initiatives allowing same-sex marriage passed in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, while Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional ban on the practice, opening up the possibility that same-sex marriage might be legalized there too.  Twenty women were elected to the Senate, a record, while a state like New Hampshire sent all women to Congress, elected a female governor, and chose a female-controlled state legislature.  The changing demographic trends led many Republican strategists to recognize that, from 2012 on, any political party could not appeal only to white male Christian heterosexuals and expect to win a national election.  As one pundit put it, “the era of our government being chosen by old white guys is, officially, over.”

But the nation remains politically divided.  Obama won only 50 percent of the popular vote to Romney's 48 percent, and Republicans maintained control of the House, while Democrats kept the Senate.  But as Obama said in his victory speech, “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.  We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.” 

And then, harkening back to his landmark keynote address before the 2004 Democratic Convention that first brought him to national political attention, he rejected the notion that the nation was as divided as it seems.  He highlighted the complicated and conflicted diversity of America's past and present when he declared, "It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight.  You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”  And he concluded in his typically optimistic vein: "I believe we can seize the future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Help! Election update needed!

Dear friends,

Help! The third edition of my textbook is coming out in a few weeks and they held the presses just so I could write the final paragraphs on the election.  It's due at noon.  Here's what I've got.  Help me with suggestions!

________________
The campaign was filled with frustration and anger, reflecting the sullied economy and continued political divides within the nation.  The plague of racism still hung around Obama, as mannequins of him were occasionally lynched in effigy, a vivid reminder of America's racist Jim Crow past.  And Romney was dismissed as a greedy oligarch akin to the robber barons of the early Industrial Age, concerned only with preserving his vast wealth.

On election night, Obama's record of ending the war in Iraq and winding it down in Afghanistan, of locating and killing Osama bin Laden, of preserving the battered American car industry, and, perhaps most importantly, of overseeing several consecutive months of slow economic growth, led him to a relatively easy re-election, winning nearly all the battleground states in nearly every region of the nation.

Perhaps most tellingly, however, was how the changes of the previous 50 years had transformed the electorate, especially the transformations brought about by the 1965 Immigration Act and the increasing recognition of the diversity of the United States.  For instance, a record number of ethnic and racial minorities voted for Obama (making up 45 percent of his total popular vote--a record), while white Americans overwhelming supported Romney (59 percent to 39 percent).  Meanwhile, more than 55 percent of women voted for Obama, while only 47 percent of men did.  Reflecting similar trends, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.  Ballot initiatives allowing same-sex marriage passed in Maine, Maryland, and Washington(?), while Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional ban on the practice opening up the possibility that same-sex marriage might be legalized there too.

But the nation remains politically divided.  Obama won only 50 percent of the popular vote to Romney's 48 percent(?), and Republicans maintained control of the House, while Democrats kept the Senate.  But as Obama said in his victory speech, "These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."  And then he rejected the notion that the nation was as divided as it seems: "I believe we can seize the future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."

Conference Call for Papers

The California American Studies Association annual conference is coming to sunny San Diego. It will be incredible; we will eat street tacos, over-analyze everything, and ride the famous trolley. Hope to hear from you (and please share with your students, graduate students, and colleagues):


CALL FOR PAPERS
California American Studies Association
2013 Annual Meeting
San Diego State University
April 26-27, 2013

The Program Committee for the California American Studies Association invites proposals for presentations to the 2013 Annual Meeting, to be held Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, hosted by San Diego State University. 

Proposals for individual papers, conference panels (usually 3 papers, a commentator and a chair), roundtables (4-5 participants maximum), field trips, and other special sessions (such as films or performances) are welcome.

Rather than announce a specific theme, the program committee invites panels and individual papers addressing all major aspects of the critical study of U.S. cultures. Submissions do not necessarily need to focus on California.  Possible topics include—but are not limited to—images of California in American culture; California and the world; regional identities; protest culture; carceral studies; borderland and diasporic communities; religion; race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; childhood and youth studies; material culture; ecological or environmental concerns; forms of oral or public history; the globalization of U.S. popular culture; academic and community-oriented collaborations; theoretical and methodological “keywords” in American Studies; the state of American Studies as a discipline in the context of the nation’s (and/or California’s) crisis in higher education.

CASA has a tradition of inclusiveness in representing American studies as practiced in multiple contexts; therefore we encourage proposals that highlight American Studies pedagogy and/or public engagement in K-12 and university classrooms, community settings, and other areas.

Proposals should include the organizer's name, contact information (including email), and a session title; a 250 word abstract for EACH paper or proposed contribution (and a session abstract if a panel is being proposed); and a brief (1-2 page) CV for EACH participant.  These materials should be forwarded electronically, as attachments (PDF preferred), no later than February 1, 2013 to:

casa.sdsu.2013@gmail.com



Inquiries may be directed to Ed Blum,
CASA Program Committee Chair,




The California American Studies Association, founded in 1982, is a chapter of the American Studies Association, and is dedicated to the promotion of collegial dialogue and dissemination of current research.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Favorite Year: 1830

After last week's lecture on "fright night, antebellum style," where we examined the new freakiness of pre-Civil War America, I was excited to follow it up with perhaps my favorite lecture: "1830 America". The lecture gives us some perspective on the development of the United States from the revolutionary era to the rise of the second-party system. After a look at the landscape (population, electoral college, manufacturing, cotton production, slave numbers), we turn to the new rage for "America" that seemed to dominate.

  • Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language
  • The establishment of the American Anti-Slavery Society
  • The earlier establishment of American Tract Society, American Sunday School Union ...
  • The later address of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar"
  • God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and other angels in America from upstate New York (Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon) to Virginia (Nat Turner and his "confessions")
  • James Fenimore Cooper's Leather-stocking novels (nostalgia with a political edge)
But of course, what defined "America" was still in question. Just as Garrison and others were naming their abolitionist society "American," South Carolinians were endeavoring to "nullify" federal laws. 1830ish showcased the end of one era (the making of "America" as a nation-state) and the beginning of a new one (the fracturing of "America" as a nation-state).

1830(ish) is far and away my favorite moment in time to teach. What's yours and why?

Friday, November 2, 2012

breaking up is hard to do

To report back on just one part of the brilliance of my co-blogger (a full report would be quite lengthy):

The other day I was teaching how to write an essay, a normal topic I've gone over a hundred times.  This time, I used an analogy first proffered in this space by Ed. 

He once told me and this blog that he teaches academic writing with a dating analogy.

The lesson goes like this: tell your students that when they write papers, pretend they are trying to convince their friend that their current significant other isn't all that great and they need to break up.  You can't just say, "break up with hir."  That's a start, but gets you nowhere if that's all you got.  To be compelling, you have to add, "s/he is mean-spirited, selfish, and generally no good for you." 

What's more, you have to provide evidence too: "Remember that time s/he kissed your mother a bit too open-mouthed and then patted her on the tush before winking suggestively at your dad.  That's just mean."

"And then there was that time s/he took the last sip of the Slurpee before handing it back to you throw away--and that was on your birthday!"

"And all this brings out the worst in you, making you insecure and weak and no fun to be around."

Then we suggested an outline:

Argument: Break up.
I. mean
    A.  open-mouthed kiss with your mother
II. selfish
    A. slurpee slurper
III. no good for you
   A.  you change when you're with hir
Conclusion: Break up.

This was all a bit silly in class, but it was effective at teaching beginners how to make an argument and rely on evidence to back up your points.  Truth be told, I've been shocked at how many students have talked to me about writing using this analogy.

And that's another lesson: to an extent, meet them where they are!