28 February 2006

Two Complaints and Some Acquisitions

Complaint #1: Why is it so darn cold? Now that it is the end of February, we should be easing into the mid-40s during the day. The air should start to have that fresh spring smell to it. The Charles should definitely not be iced over. I should be looking forward to the muck of mud season, and within a few weeks I should be seeing daffodils pushing their little heads up. Spring! Instead this morning I awoke to frigid temperatures (it was about 13 here in Cambridge) and I had to bundle myself into a heavy down coat, hat, scarf, hood, and ski gloves in order to comfortably leave the house. I marched like a penguin (although sadly without the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman narrating my every movement) to the library, a walk during which I was frequently buffeted by 20-mile-an-hour winds. I'm thinking fondly of warmer climes.

Complaint #2: Why is Widener so darn cold? Having reached the refuge of the library, I expected warmth. It is true that it is warmer in than out, but as I type this I realize my fingers are stiff and cold (not to mention dry and scaly) and that my nose is starting to run (as it does when it is cold). There's a fine filigree of frost starting on the interior of my carrel's window. So I ask: would it hurt to turn the heat up a few degrees?

Cold weather and the discomfort of walking in the cold hasn't prevented me from book shopping though. Without further ado, this week's acquisitions:

Francis J. Bremer, John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father (OUP, 2003)

Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (Penguin, 2004).

Both of these books were courtesy of the fabulous remainder table at Harvard Bookstore (that's not the COOP but the independent bookstore right across the street from Widener).

25 February 2006

Light Snow Falling

It's a beautiful afternoon here in Cambridge, with a light, fluffy snow falling and making the Yard outside my library carrel window lovely to behold. It's cold out but not windy, making this snowfall a pleasant contrast to the blizzard conditions of two weeks ago.

This seems like a great time to extend a heartfelt Congratulations! to Another Damned Medievalist, who has been offered a tenure-track job at a Small Liberal Arts College. You rock, ADM!

And, in this afternoon's reading, I discover that Honda will likely be offering an affordable hybrid in the United States next year. This makes me a little sad, actually. I'll be buying my first car this summer and I was interested in a hybrid, but I cannot afford the ones already on the market (which top $20,000). I also can't wait until next year to buy a car. Sigh.

I also read on the IRS's website that it is phasing out the tax credit for purchase of a hybrid vehicle in 2007. Lovely. So much for our collective commitment to lessening our dependence on fossil fuels.

23 February 2006

Student Emails

Hugo Schwyzer has a great post on student emails over at Cliopatria. I have to say, most of my interactions with students take place via email unless I require them to come and see me in office hours. To stem the flow of procedural emails, I've made my syllabi more detailed. I also now require students who want to talk about paper topics or have me look over drafts to do so during office hours or by appointment, in person. I also now respond to student complaint emails (which I never got very often but usually had something to do with grades and grading) with one line inviting the student to discuss his/her complaints in person. I find this approach lessens the volume of email in my inbox and leads to more personal relationships with students.

I've never been on the receiving end of a rude series of student emails like Scott Eric Kaufman has. As usual, Scott presents the exchange in a very humorous way. Enjoy!

22 February 2006

The Absent-Minded Almost-Professor

I've been very pleased with myself lately. I have been offered and I have accepted a tenure track job. This sort of job market success gives one a swelled head. One floats around on cloud nine, talking to oneself in the mirror and addressing oneself as "Assistant Professor Goetz." Despite the fact that I am now working frantically to finish my dissertation in anticipation of being a real, live, actual working adult this fall, I've still been having an extended zen moment of peace and contentment.

This evening I met a member of my dissertation committee for dinner. There were congratulatory glasses of champagne. Fine food. Giddy Rebecca extolling the virtues of new department and new colleagues. General excitement.

And as I came to my apartment door afterwards, still pleased with myself, I fished around in my pocket for my keys.

No keys.

I frowned (for the first time in days). I pawed through my purse (again, frantically).

No keys.

Re-searched pockets, purse, and other folds of cloth that might contain keys.

And, dimly, the conclusion reached into my brain: soon to be assistant professor Goetz has left her keys on her kitchen table. She has, in all her wisdom, locked herself out. Swelled head bursts with a pop and rapidly deflates as Rebecca contemplates her utter carelessness.

Half an hour and $50.00 later, I am back in my apartment. I'm really not so pleased with myself and more disgusted. And, I'm ready to do some serious dissertating.

16 February 2006

Thursday Links

The blog silence will likely continue since I have a good incentive now to finish up the Amazing Mr. Book. I can still provide links to good reads, however.

So, the new History Carnival is up at Philobiblon. I've enjoyed posts on Gender in Archaeology, which begins with a disagreement about the role of feminism and gender in archaeology and ends with an excellent point about how understanding gender as a concept has moved historians and archaeologists beyond "gender" and into a broader understanding of the role of difference in human society. The comments are thought-provoking too. Giornale Nuovo presents wonderful pictures and information about the beginnings of natural history. For fans of the American Revolution, read all about Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

Jonathan at Head Heeb posted the first online symposium on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online. This is a fantastic set of searchable collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century court papers, and the online "conference papers" about selected Old Bailey records are a great way to start a conversation about historical research, historical writing, and the internet. I'm just starting to read it, so I don't have particular recommendations, but they all look pretty good!

My colleague and fellow Cliopat Mark Grimsley will be posting a series of ruminations on the state and status of military history in the academy today. Here's the inaugural post, to be followed by more!

And now, for a dose of history humor, from a link generously donated by reader and fellow Batesie Mike D., The Onion's take on historians, comment cards, and Denny's:
On the card was written, "My bacon was crispy, and my waitress filled my coffee three times." Willeford rated his dining experience "good."

Historians have only just begun to unlock the secrets the cards hold, as there are over 270,000 to go through. According to Brayton, trends are already beginning to emerge.

"By examining these comment cards, we have unique insight into not just Denny's, but the tapestry of food-service heritage itself," Brayton said. "Here is a history writ large, with little yellow golf pencils."

The comment-card archive charts not only the quality of Denny's service over time, but also patrons' response to select menu items. Of particular interest to scholars is the nation's initial reaction to what would become Denny's most popular menu item, the Grand Slam Breakfast.

Said Brayton: "Many people at the time thought it was just too much breakfast."
Hee hee. Now, back to our regularly scheduled dissertation.

12 February 2006

Blizzard Update

at 3:49pm:

I measured between 8-10 inches of snow. Keep in mind the snow is light and fluffy and drifting, which causes depth variation.

Temp: at Peabody Terrace, 21.2F
at Logan Airport, 16.0F

Winds: at Logan Airport, sustained at 22mph, gusting to 35mph.

It's cold out there, folks! I'll go out later to remeasure and play with my snowshoes.

This Week's Acquisitions

The Commonplace Book of William Byrd of Westover Edited by Kevin Berland, Jan Kirsten Gilliam,and Kenneth Lockridge (UNC Press, 2001).

Exchanging our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South By Michael A. Gomez (UNC Press, 1998).

Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America Edited by Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute (UNC Press, 1997).

Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World By Jon E. Sensbach (Harvard University Press, 2005).

The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey By Randy J. Sparks (Harvard University Press, 2004).

The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume V: Historiography Edited by Robin W. Winks (Oxford University Press, 1999).

It's blizzarding out, and I'm reliably informed that I can expect thunder snow withing the next hour. So, instead of going outdoors to take in the blizzard, I plan to watch it out my front windows with a pot of tea and my new books, and possibly a draft of chapter two.

10 February 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

From today's Crimson:
University President Lawrence H. Summers will face a new no-confidence motion at the next full Faculty meeting, as Harvard plunges deeper into its second crisis of governance in less than a year.

Judith Ryan, the Weary professor of German and comparative literature, wrote in an e-mail last night that she is placing the motion on the agenda for the Feb. 28 session with the hope that it will force Summers to resign.

Summers lost a similar no-confidence vote last March by a 218–185 margin, but retained the support of the Harvard Corporation and has remained in office. The Corporation, the seven-member governing board of the University, is the only group that can fire Summers.

The Participation Trophy

When I sent off syllabi to search committees this past year, I included my grading rubric on each. I assigned percentages for written work, oral presentations, and exams, but not for class participation. I've never actually taught a class that didn't have a participation grade; such grades are pretty common and perhaps universal. But I've found (in my limited experience) that participation grades are a pain in the neck.

Why? Students wishing to protest a grade they don't like often latch onto it when they turn up in my office requesting (for example) that their B+s be raised to A-s. The dialogue will usually go something like this:

Student: I don't like my grade.
Rebecca: That's too bad. I'm not sure what I can do to help you like your grade, though.
Student: But I came to all the classes.
Rebecca: You did, but rarely did you speak.
Student: I spoke on October 3! I made two preplanned comments on Machiavelli!
Rebecca: Two comments on Machiavelli do not an A- make!
Student: I never turned in anything late!
Rebecca: No, you didn't.
Student: I showed up for the exam!
Rebecca: Yes, you did.
Student: I was always there! Why can't I have an A-? I'll never get into law school now!

So you see, the participation grade is so hard to quantify (what are two comments made in October about Machiavelli really *worth*?) that it becomes a vehicle for students who think that merely showing up and sitting in class somehow earns them a good (or better) grade in class. I was strongly reminded of this today when I read James Cox's essay at Inside Higher Ed:
...faculty members indicated that some students feel a sense of entitlement and that their attendance and meager participation and performance should be rewarded with at least a C in a course. I spoke up and termed this the youth soccer phenomenon. Although this is a broad generalization, some college students have never been challenged and want a trophy (a grade of C) for minimal effort and work because they were on the team (came to class).
In my case, students often want a grade of A- for merely having "been on the team."

So I saw designing my own syllabi as an opportunity to experiment with ways of raising expectations for students. My syllabi don't include percentages for participation, but they do contain this warning:
"You will note that there is no percentage for participation. This does not mean, however, that your presence in class and active involvement in our discussions is not expected. Many parts of your work rely on collaboration with your classmates, and so unexcused absences harm everyone in the class, not just you. I take attendance at each class; after three unexcused absences your final grade, based on the percentages listed above, will fall by one letter grade. Your grade will fall by another letter grade for each unexcused absence after the third. That means even the perfect A student will fail the course after six absences. So, the moral of the story is…come to class!"
I do of course allow exceptions for appropriately documented illnesses and personal emergencies, or college-sponsored events (such as travel for debate tournaments or athletics).

My brother, a college junior, pronounced this provision "kinda harsh." And, maybe it is. I'm honestly not sure that it would work in practice. Students have become so used to being rewarded just for showing up and warming a chair that the idea that coming to class and actively participating is expected but not actively rewarded might result in rebellion. On the other hand, it might prepare college students for life beyond the soccer field and the classroom. After all, can you imagine telling your boss that you shouldn't be fired for not being prepared for the big meeting, because at least you showed up?

State Provided Health Insurance for Graduate Students...

...won't include even medically necessary abortions, in a bill approved yesterday by the Kansas House.
Rep. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, amended the bill to deny coverage for abortions for student policyholders. The amendment was approved 72-50 on a roll-call vote. Later, the bill was advanced, 85-35, to final action, which is expected Wednesday. While abortion may be a legal procedure, Kelsey said, it is immoral and the state shouldn't be funding the procedure.
However, legislators said the bill could have implications for college students seeking affordable health coverage.
Assistant Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said the provision would likely be challenged in court and delay implementation of the insurance program at a time when students need more options, not fewer.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, sad, "This is not the time or the vehicle for this debate."
It seems to me the Kansas House is going at this from the wrong direction. Harvard's required insurance includes elective and medically necessary abortions, but students with a moral objection to the coverage can opt out of the abortion provision. Why couldn't Kansas do something along the same lines? That would provide graduate students with badly needed coverage and provide students with a strong moral objection to abortion with an out. Instead, the Kansas reps have turned a debate that should be about providing state university students with decent medical insurance into an abortion debate. What a shame.

07 February 2006

Tuesday Afternoon links

Dear readers, I do apologize for my long silence. Dissertation and job-related stuff always takes precedence over the blog!

The Elfin Ethicist hosted the Twenty-Fourth History Carnival last week and I've just now gotten around to looking it over. Great stuff, as always. Of particular interest to me were Nathanael Robinson's brief review and Colin Calloway's more extensive discussion of the PBS series The War that Made America about the Seven Years' War. I watched too, just a little bit, in between frantic bouts of dissertating, and I thought that most of the program was based closely on Fred Anderson's book The Crucible of War. (An excellent book, by the way, just leave yourself several weeks to read it.)

(I'll also note here the Oxford University Press group blog. Those who doubt the utility of academic blogging might enjoy taking a look at it. Also, reader Ian Best sends me his list of academic blogging resources.)

There's also a new Early Modern Carnivalesque. I'm making my way through it, slowly, but I've so far enjoyed this entry on a sixteenth-century reading machine. I'd pay good money for a twenty-first-century dissertation writing machine!

Today's Boston Globe has a column by Ellen Goodman on Betty Friedan.

Lastly, reader Joanne P. sent me an inquiry about an early eighteenth-century record in the Executive Journals of the Council of Virginia. I'm working on it!