18 August 2008

The Perils of the Academic Job Wiki

It was truly bewildering to follow our job search on the Academic Job Wiki last year. We advertised a tenure-track position in the long nineteenth century (United States). It generated a lot of discussion, none of which made sense to those of us in the department or on the committee.

The opening comment:
“the circles seem to inform that they want someone that has 20th century AFAM project/interests (9/11/07)”


Another poster asked, sensibly:
"What's "AFAM"?”

That would imply African American related.”

A request for another clarification:
“okay, what's a "circle"?”

“questions questions, meaning I heard! i am sure we ALL know the academic circles run small and are well connected. Not much more to add.”

At this point, I’m pretty puzzled. Circles? I’m in the department and I can’t think where this might be coming from. I’m actually here and I’m not aware of any circles of any type emphasizing anything in particular. I can certainly categorically state that it would be insane for us to advertise a nineteenth-century position if what we wanted was twentieth-century African-American history.

I must be in a different circle. It's my understanding that there will be a second position advertised. If you look at the chronology of this search and then observe what conspicuous fields are *not* represented currently on Rice's faculty (think kepis, funny beards, and hardtack), that should serve as some clue. Then again, maybe both circles are right. It wouldn't be the first time that a department had two circles, both with stong [sic] opinions for the type of person the department wants.”

Again, Huh?

Luckily, another reader requested some clarification there:

“When thinking about the fields not represented, what does this mean: "think kepis, funny beards, and hardtack." I'm just not following”

Good, because I’m not either.

“I'm not the OP [the person who made the original post], but I assume s/he meant Civil War”

So at this point, there are two rumors on the internet about our search: one that we want someone who does African-American history, and another that we want (or possibly don’t want? That wasn’t really clear) a Civil War historian. Neither of these two rumors are correct: we were looking for exactly what the ad said we were looking for: the long nineteenth century, subfield open. I was really bothered by this. It seemed to me that job seekers were on the wiki deliberately starting rumors about our search, possibly to limit the numbers or types of candidates. There was no such thing as the wiki a few short years ago when I was on the market; I used to think information was power, but the “information” being circulated here seems calculated to render competitors powerless.

OK, next:

“I received an email from someone on the search committee asking me to apply for the job before I had sent in my application. My specialty is not African American. They are running a second search for assoc./full professor in southern history”

Which prompts a crazy reply:
This comment could possible [sic] go below [under another topic heading], but I have to object to the practice of sending select invitations to apply. It creates the impression of cherry-picking a candidate under the guise of conducting a national search. That kind of thing smacks of old-boy club and the old guild. Thoughts?”

“I guess it does smack of the OBC [Old Boy Club], but I think there are so many variables in a search that an invite does not mean slam dunk. As a grad student, we had a national search that we all thought was a dog and pony show for one candidate who had a well received book in the field of our specialized PHD program. She didn't even get an offer because department members didn't like her next project. Anyway if the dept. is a fossil of the dinosaur era and is full of Good Ole Boys, do you or I really want to work there anyway? Just a though[t].”

Letters to colleagues pointing out the existence of a position are fairly common. Most search committees want to widen their applicant pool, rather than narrow it. If you are a job seeker and you receive one of these letters asking you to apply for a job, pat yourself on the back and send in the application. If you don’t receive a letter, send in your app anyway. I also wondered here: was the poster suggesting that Rice's history department "is a fossil of the dinosaur era?" Or that it is full of Good Ol' Boys? Not amusing!

And, don’t overthink the wiki. There’s a lot of emotional angst out there during the job season, which I totally understand, but it doesn’t seem to me that the wiki is really good for the delicate psyches of graduate students. Nor does it seem to provide accurate information beyond the scheduling of AHA interviews, etc. that help clarify the timeline of a particular search.


01 August 2008

The Survey, Again

I'm teaching America to 1848 again this fall, and I'm glad to be doing it again so soon. This way lessons learned can be more quickly applied.

I've made several changes:

  1. I've eliminated two sets of readings (one secondary and one primary) in favor of more dicussion on fewer readings. I've come to the conclusion that in the survey, less is more.

  2. I've rethought the relationship between reading and writing assignments. There will be two papers, one towards the beginning of the semester that allows students to work on interpreting a primary document they have read closely and that they have read a secondary interpretation of, and another that teaches them to identify primary sources in an online database and to interpret them on their own, using two secondary sources. So, a little research paper. I'm thinking of these as units, and the first unit will also involve a draft process. I can get away with this since surveys at Rice are small.

  3. I've kept the quiz structure, but regularized it (every Wednesday after the first week of class). I'd like to teach students to use these as a diagnostic tool for themselves.

  4. I've decided we'll have a primary source every lecture, one that relates to the lecture, which we'll discuss in the final ten-fifteen minutes of class. This will mean shorter lectures, but more meaningful engagement with material presented in the lecture.

  5. Though many people treat the survey as a content-driven class, this is fast becoming an experiment with making this a skills-based class: it is geared towards teaching freshmen basic skills they will need to function in a college environment: how to read effectively, how to interpret data (in this case, primary sources), how to listen to lectures and identify important points, how to study effectively for exams, how to write analytically, this list could go on. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this; I do believe American History is important, and that every citizen of this country should have a basic grasp of our history. I'm afraid that a more skills-driven course might make more successful students but less engaged citizens. But, this is an ongoing experiment, and we'll see how it goes.

I'm sticking with my no-textbook policy. This was, I think, successful, and I think other teachers are having some luck with it (most recently Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory).

Here's the syllabus:
America to 1848

This course examines the America’s colonial beginnings, the founding of the nation we now call the United States, and the early years of the Republic, as the United States sought to expand and cover the entire continent. The course will conclude at the end of the war between the United States and Mexico, and consider what it meant to be an American on the eve of the Civil War.


Draft of First Paper……………...5%
First Paper…...…………………..10%
Final Paper Proposal…..………...10%
Final Paper………………………25%
Wednesday quizzes……………...10%
Final Exam………………………25%

The first paper (5-7 pages) will deal with the first two books we read about Cabeza de Vaca. The final paper will be a research paper (8-10 pages) based upon either Rothman’s Slave Country or West’s Contested Plains. You will receive more detailed assignments for each paper later.

You’ll see in the syllabus that nine times in the semester we have a class period especially dedicated to “discussion.” In these sessions, you will be asked to participate in an in-depth analysis of our readings. Please come prepared: this means you must not only finish the reading but also spend some time thinking about it. Come to class ready to ask questions and make arguments!

There will be a quiz covering reading material and lectures every Wednesday starting September 3 and continuing through December 3, for a total of 14 quizzes. I will count the top 12 grades you earn. I do not give make-ups for these quizzes, so if you plan on being absent more that two Wednesdays, please see me immediately. Please note: there will be a quiz on November 26 (the day before Thanksgiving). Please plan any plane travel accordingly.

Required Readings:
• Alvar Nuñez Cabeva de Vaca, Castaways (California, 1993)
• Andrés Reséndez, A Land so Strange: The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century (Basic Books, 2007)
• Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, Fifth Edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007)
• Elizabeth Fenn, Pox Americana (Hill and Wang, 2001)
• Adam Rothman, Slave Country (Harvard, 2005)
• Elliott West, The Contested Plains (Kansas, 1998)

A copy of each of these books is available on reserve, or you may purchase them in our bookstore (or online if you prefer—be sure you get the right editions). I will also be handing out various primary sources in class. Make sure you keep these—I suspect some might turn up on exams. J You’ve probably noticed that I don’t use a textbook. I generally think textbooks are a huge waste of students’ money, so I don’t assign them. However, I have put a standard American history textbook on reserve at the library. If you feel like you need a refresher course on names, dates, places, facts, and figures, feel free to check it out. Nothing from the textbook will be discussed in class or on exams.


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 aspects of your work rely on collaboration with your classmates, and so unexcused absences harm everyone in the class, not just yourself. 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!

If you are sick, or if you have a personal emergency that requires your absence from class, please provide appropriate documentation and I will excuse you. You should come to my office hours or make an appointment with me to discuss material you missed.

As a matter of fairness, I do NOT accept late papers. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date (unless otherwise noted)…not halfway through the class, not at the end of class, not slipped under my office door sometime after the start of class. Only illness and personal emergency are suitable excuses for turning in a paper late with no penalty. Papers turned in late without verification of illness or personal emergency will receive a grade of ZERO.

If you are traveling on the day a paper is due for an athletic event or other college event, you must make arrangements with me to turn in your paper before you leave. I do not accept emailed papers (as we all know, attachments sometimes go astray—there is no substitute for a hard copy!).

All assignments in this course are covered by the honor code. You may NOT work together on writing assignments or on the final paper.

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations must speak with me during the first two weeks of class. All discussions will remain confidential. Students with disabilities should also contact Disabled Student Services in the Ley Student Center.

Week 1 Reading: Cabeza de Vaca, Castaways, xv-xxx, 1-45; Rampolla 1-10
Monday August 25: Introduction
Wednesday August 27: Native North America
Friday August 29: The Columbian Exchange

Week 2 Reading: Cabeza de Vaca, Castaways, 47-127.
Monday September 1: Labor Day (No Class)
Wednesday September 3: Three North American Beginnings
Friday September 5: Discussion: Castaways

Week 3 Reading: Resendez, A Land so Strange, 1-110; Rampolla, 14-16, 25-28.
Monday September 8: English North America
Wednesday September 10: Profits from the Wilderness
Friday September 12: Discussion: A Land so Strange

Week 4 Reading: Resendez, A Land so Strange, 111-225; Rampolla, 48-60, 88-94, 96-130.
Monday September 15: From Servitude to Slavery, part I
Wednesday September 17: From Servitude to Slavery, part II
Friday September 19: Discussion: A Land so Strange

Week 5 Reading: Fenn, Pox Americana, ix-91.
Monday September 22: Imperial Clashes
Wednesday September 24: The Empire Strikes Back
Draft of First Short Essay Due at the beginning of class (5% of your grade)
Friday September 26: Discussion of essays/please read Rampolla, 60-68.

Week 6 Reading: Fenn, Pox Americana, 92-184, Rampolla, 38-42.
Monday October 29: Declaring Independence
Wednesday October 1: Liberty & Tyranny, Part I
First Short Essay Due at the beginning of class (15% of your grade)
Friday October 3: Liberty & Tyranny, Part II

Week 7 Reading: Fenn, Pox Americana, 185-277.
Monday October 6: Republic
Wednesday October 8: Discussion: Pox Americana
Friday October 10: MIDTERM EXAM (Dr. Goetz in New Orleans)

Week 8 Reading: Rothman, Slave Country, ix-70.
Monday, October 13: Midterm Recess (no class)
Wednesday October 15: Politics in the New Republic
Friday October 17: NO CLASS (Dr. Goetz in Indianapolis)

Week 9 Reading: Rothman, Slave Country, 71-163.
Monday October 20: Jefferson and his United States
Wednesday October 22: Independence Confirmed
Friday October 24: The Cotton Frontier and the Prairie Frontier

Week 10 Reading: Rothman, Slave Country, 164-224.
Monday October 27: Discussion: Slave Country
Wednesday October 29: The United States, 1815-1848: Many Revolutions?
Friday October 31: Democratizing Politics

Week 11 Reading: Rampolla, 70-87.
Monday November 3: The Religious Republic
Wedneday November 5: From Awakening to Reform
Friday November 7: Meet in Fondren to learn how to use the America’s Historical Newspapers database

Week 12 Reading: West. The Contested Plains, xv-xxiv, 1-62.
Monday November 10: Slavery and Freedom in Jacksonian America
Wednesday November 12: Urbanization and Immigration
Friday November 14: A Market Revolution? An Industrial Revolution?

Week 13 Reading: West, The Contested Plains, 63-170.
Monday November 17: Technology and Communications (or: More Revolutions?
Wednesday November 19: Andrew Jackson and the Indians
Proposal for Final Paper Due at the beginning of class
Friday November 21: Discussion: The Contested Plains/Paper Proposals

Week 14 Reading: West, The Contested Plains, 171-271.
Monday November 24: Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion
Wednesday November 26: The Texas Revolution
Friday November 28: NO CLASS (Thanksgiving Recess)

Week 15 Reading: West, The Contested Plains, finish.
Monday December 1: War with Mexico
Wednesday December 3: Discussion: The Contested Plains
Friday December 5: The United States after 1848
Final Exam Information
Final paper due at the beginning of class, Friday, December 5