A guide to better living through cured pork products

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day... 2008

Its the ninetieth anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War One. The peace process would spin itself out into the summer of 1919, but November 11th became the day Europeans use to commemorate the end of the war. Americans used to celebrate Armistice day to, but in 1954 it became Veterans Day to honor all those who had served in the US military. In a sense, the American social memory of World War Two has eclipsed that of the Great War.

What is interesting is that the Europeans still choose to commemorate the First World War as a separate event. Arguably World War Two was a disaster of greater magnitude in terms of military and civilian casualties. Certainly, European social memory would be justified in reducing WWI to the status of a prologue or preview of WWII. But this is not the case. Instead, World War One has served to delineate the end of one era and the beginning of another. The 'long nineteenth century' begins in Paris in 1789 and ends on the Somme in 1914.

Due to World War One's status as a historical turning point, there are still scholarly debates about who started the war. It seems like the arguments boil down to the same propositions. One side suggests that a general European war was an accident sparked by nationalism in the Balkans facilitated by an interlocking system of alliances. In this explanation, a regional conflict between Serbia and Austria Hungary becomes exacerbated by a system of alliances that tied the diplomatic hands of the great powers. After 1918 some statesmen from both sides made this argument in their memoirs, perhaps because they were anxious to wash their hands of any responsibility for the preceding four years of indiscriminate slaughter. If you spread the guilt around nobody has to take too many lumps.

The other proposition is more straightforward and in a way its more emotionally satisfying in the Anglo-Saxon world: the Germans did it. This argument goes something like this: the Austrians would have never fought a preemptive war without the explicit backing of the German government. Kaiser Wilhelm II could have restrained Franz Joseph by refusing to declare war on Russia and her ally France. Instead the German government gave the Austrians a blank check. This version of history was written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Again, this explanation avoids examining the culpability of allied statesmen like Lloyd George and Clemenceau while dumping the problem in the lap of the fledgling Weimar Republic.

This question of World War One war guilt was even more important after WWII. It shaped the allied response to a defeated Nazi Germany and its allies. For example, the Moscow Declaration of 1943 declared that Austria was the first free country to fall to Nazi aggression and voided the Anschluss of 1938. This partially exonerated Austria of its participation in the war. The idea was to encourage the Austrians to throw off the Nazi yoke by promising them different treatment after the war. Similarly the allies planned on treating Italy differently after Mussolini had been overthrown in a coup. The assumption here was that the Germans were the main aggressors and that their partners in crime could be peeled off if given the right incentives.

The 4 D's (Denazification, Decartelization, Demilitarization and Democratization) of the German Occupation also reflected the Versailles interpretation of World War One. These policies placed an emphasis on curing the Germans of their autocratic and militaristic habits. The allies saw a continuity between Nazi and Wilhelmine war aims. Later, in the 1960s, a German historian named Fritz Fischer would develop this tacit assumption into a fully articulated historiographic argument in his book, Germany's Aims in the First World War. Fischer's book was revolutionary and provided an important jumping off point for a reinvigorated and more rigorous reappraisal of the Kaiserreich era (1870-1918).

There is a pretty good recapitulation of the "Germany Did It" argument to be found in a November 8th Guardian article by the British military historian, Gary Sheffield. Personally, there is a lot I like about the Sheffield article and his interpretation. But as a historian of the Habsburg Monarchy, I can't help but think blame should be allocated elsewhere. I have some sympathy for the 'accident thesis.' The system of alliances and the general atmosphere of competition between the great powers provided ample tinder for a general European conflagration, but it was the choice of Franz Joseph, the Austrian General Staff and the political leaders of the Dual Monarchy to wage a preemptive war on Serbia. Kaiser Wilhelm did not push the Austrians into war, they went there of their own accord. But frankly, that's another post for another day...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A few weeks ago, well back in October, I went over to my friend's Matt & Jeniffer's house to partake in bacon smoking and pancetta rolling. She has posted the results on her blog: Sew and Slow.

I got to take the bacon home that day, but the pancetta had to air cure for about four weeks, so the Sunday before the election, Jennifer stopped by and dropped off a hunk of the rolled porky goodness at the house. So far I have used it to make and omelet, pasta carbonara, and a BLT. The results were fantastic and rolling your own pancetta is pretty satisfying!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Surprise! The World Didn't End, but ...

It looks like the better part of Eastern Europe is going into IMF receivership. On Monday Hungary put in a request for financing with the IMF, followed by the Ukraine, Serbia and possibly the Baltic states in the last few days.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Iceland made a request to the IMF board for help in the financial crisis, over the weekend. A week earlier Iceland said it would seek a loan from Russia, but perhaps the terms were not so favorable. (I can imagine Putin/Medvedev demanding the air base at Keflavik and an annual tribute of sacrificial virgins.)

So the financial meltdown won't be a dramatic apocalypse, but rather a long, drawn-out, slide into austerity for the US and Western Europe. Eastern Europe and the rest of the semi-periphery will take it in the shorts in the form of lower consumption, lower pay and the drive to produce more exports to pay off the latest round of loans. The social safety net will also take another beating in the interest of cutting government debt at the behest of the IMF.

And I promise that the next post will be about food. Honest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is Rome Burning?

Well, yesterday I received my TIAA-Creff quarterly report. I haven't opened it yet. I am not so sure I want to. Granted, I have twenty-five or thirty years before I need to retire, but still its really disappointing to see my retirement savings take such a merciless shellacking. Worse still I am not sure what this means for my parents and their financial future. How are they supposed to get along?

What is more disappointing, and even downright alarming is that the response by the Bush Administration and even the states of the European Union, has been so disjointed. Check out the Paul Krugman editorial for thursday if you can stomach it. I suspect that this is one of those moments in History when the events make the men.

For months now the mainstream media has told us two things. One, that Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson are really smart. They have the technical knowledge and professional expertise to fend off financial catastrophe. (Recall the countless stories about Bernanke's academic credentials and expertise on the History of the Great Depression). If there is a problem, we were told, these men will know what to do and when to do it.

The second trope was that the next intervention will solve the problem. Think back to the fed sponsored buyout of Bear Sterns, the nationalization of Freddy Mac and Salley Mae, or the Bush plan to help home owners refinance their subprime mortgages. These interventions were supposed to stop the slide into a global financial crisis. The interventions may have slowed or deflected the slide, but it looks like we are in a global financial crisis and probably a deep recession.

The failure of these earlier interventions suggests that expertise of Bernanke and Paulson are proving irrelevant to the course of events. Whatever is decided by 'the wise men' from North America and Europe this weekend in Washington DC, it might all be too little too late.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Snark: Out of their Historiographic Depth

Go check out this post over on Edge of the American West about Niall Ferguson's comparison of Nazi and American laws on race and eugenics.

See the monster of American exceptionalism raise its ugly head!!!

Watch as Eric and the other Historians from the Edge walk a methodological tightrope... while blindfolded by an ignorance of German historiography ...without the benefit of a safety net or comparative framework!!!

Warning: This post might not be suitable for all audiences. Beware of flailing academics and parochial historiographic traditions.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


OK, so its a silly internet trick, but you can create a word picture of you blog, or just about any other text by using Wordle. Here is one for affop.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Egy francia krémes kérek szépen...

There are many fine cakes to be eaten in Hungary. Pastry shops offer many delicious deserts, treats and ice cream cones. But nothing compares to the francia krémes. Essentially it is a wonderful vanilla custard sandwiched between crispy sheets of flaky pastry dough. If there is one thing I would like to learn how to bake, it is the francia krémes from Auguszt cukrászda.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Remembering WWI in Budapest

Over Memorial Day weekend, I read a post over at Crooked Timber called, "The Great and Unremembered War,"about the different ways World War One is remembered in the United States and Europe. I think the World War One memorial around the corner from Yusaf's flat is a pretty good example of the way war is remembered here. So here are a couple of pictures and I'll post more on the flickr site later.

The history of Hungary in the twentieth century is pretty traumatic. Between 1867 and 1914, the Kingdom of Hungary had achieved a notable measure of political autonomy and economic growth, but things went down hill with WWI. The war itself was brutal, with over 2 million casualties out of 3.6 million Hungarian soldiers. After the war, between October 1918 and November 1919, the country underwent two revolutions, Romanian occupation and a right-wing counterrevolution. In the course of the peace negotiations Hungary lost significant territory to its neighbor Romania and the newly created Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The trauma of the First World War is reflected in local monuments all around Hungary. This one, near the corner of Baross utca and József körút, is a pretty typical example. It both shows the heroic, yet generic stern-faced Hungarian soldier advancing on the enemy trench, but the pedestal has a frieze showing the soldiers marching off to war and leaving behind loved ones. I am not sure about the exact history of this monument, but from what I understand some of these monuments were erected in the Horthy era and others were built under the Socialists, but I need to do more research on this.

After the 1989 Revolution, lots of monuments, especially those associated with World War Two and State Socialism were removed or repurposed (The Gellert Hill Freedom monument is a great example of this kind of landmark recycling). But the World War One monuments have remained, perhaps because there is some consensus on this part of twentieth century Hungarian history. It was downright awful and there is no political capital to be gained from removing or redecorating them, unlike say some of the commemorations of the 1956 Revolutions or World War Two.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One last Vienna post

hmm. Its been a while since I posted and I probably should be putting more stuff up about Budapest, since I leave in a week...

But I wanted to put up one last picture from Vienna. This is a place called Cafe Drexler and its across the street from the Nashmarkt, a open air food market during the week plus a flea market on the weekends. Last time I visited Vienna (seven years ago!) I had the afore mentioned Marillen Knödeln at the Drexler. It was the kind of place where the truck drivers would eat their breakfast after making the 4am delivery at the Nashmarkt. When I poked my head in this time, it looked like it had been refurbished and now the menu is kind of yuppiefied. Or at least they did not have any doughy-deep-fried-apricot-powdered-sugar goodness.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Obama has a posse in Vienna

I saw this poster on a street in Vienna near my hotel. It looks like a straight black and white copy of a poster Shepard Fairey did for Obama before Super Tuesday. He is the graffiti/street artist who created the "obey giant" stickers and posters that have been floating around the North American streetscape since the late 1990s.

When I first saw the Obama poster, I was kind of startled. I know people around the world follow US elections, especially Presidential elections with great interest. I was surprised that anyone would feel like they had to go put up posters in support of a candidate that they will never get a chance to vote for and not many American voters will see. I suppose this could be the work of American expats in Vienna, but I doubt it. Covering the hoardings with posters isn't typical expat political activity. Also, considering that the Neubau and Mariahilfer districts are near the Museums Quartier and the Art School I am guessing its the work of some of the art students.

This election means a lot to people both inside and outside the US. There are a lot of expectations for the next president of the United States to repair the failures of the last eight years. People in Europe and elsewhere expect a lot of the American voter, Obama and the Democratic Party in November 2008. I think those hopes are justified, but Obama and his supporters in the Democratic Party will not be able to deliver on everything. For example, ending the war in Iraq might very well destroy whatever chance we have of fixing health care and social security. It will be interesting to see if Obama can still be inspiring after he has lost a couple battles and made some tough compromises. I know he can do these things, he is a politician after all. But we'll see how long he will retain his status as a pop icon.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


I had a couple of good meals while I was in Vienna. The place I liked the most, in terms of atmosphere and cuisine was Amerlingbeisl. It had a fantastic courtyard seating area with a really beautiful arbor of hops (or some such vine). It was quiet and charming. The waitress was really nice and recommended a great glass of wine with the meal: asparagus wrapped in a farmers ham, and spuds swimming in butter( hell, I'd bet the potatoes were marinaded in butter the night before).

The best part is that this is all squirreled away in a two story Biedermeier style building in the heart of Vienna (probably from the early 1800s or late 1700s). The building also serves as a cultural center for the Spittelberg neighborhood. But the cultural center was a product of the 1970s, not the 1800s. Check out the pictures from the 1970s. Check out the courtyard panorama on the restaurant's home page too.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Vienna Municipal and State Archives

So the Vienna City Archives are just one metro stop further down the U3 than the National Archives. And they are housed in a much more interesting building. At the turn of the nineteenth century (you know, the other Fin-de-Siècle, 1900) the city of Vienna produced its own gas from coal. They stored it in four Gasometers near the town of Simmering. Liquid natural gas made them obsolete and the city government stopped using them in the 1980s. In 1995 it was decided to convert the historic landmark into multi-use buildings. They now contain a shopping mall, offices for city and government services, apartments and... the Vienna City Archives!

Here is a spiffy link to the Gasometer Community they have a nice gallery of pictures.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vienna: the breaded and the fried

Typically, Viennese cuisine involves three things: pork, breading and frying. The famous Wiener schnitzel is nothing but a charming slice of pork, pounded out flat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It is typically accompanied by some form of potato and slices of lemon. Sometimes there is a garnish of lettuce or sauerkraut to provide a fig leaf to cover up the utter lack of vegetables. The pleasure of this concept should be self-evident to everyone except the vegetarians.

Like Marxism, however, problems arise in the praxis of the thing: the meat can be overcooked and tough; the breading can be too heavy, and if it dwells too long in the deep fat fryer it tends to be really greasy. So finding a really great Wiener schnitzel is a joy to treasure. I haven't had one on this trip. In part I am afraid I will have a bad one, but also, there are many other things to try that aren't breaded and fried. Although that can surprise you too. The other day I ordered some Chevapi for lunch. Typically this Balkan dish is grilled not fried. But in Vienna, they roll those little guys around in the breadcrumbs and pop them into the fryer!

They also do this with apricots by the way... Marillen Knödeln – These are dumplings stuffed with apricots or maybe an apricot wrapped in dumping. Then they are deep fried and served with apricot jam and powdered sugar. Its Marillen season soon, so maybe I can score some.

A trip to the Archives

Not all archives are created equal, at least not in aesthetic terms. The Hungarian archives are squirreled away in a nice nineteenth century historicist building in the the Buda Castle. Great building, nice reading room, but a bit small, so bits and pieces of the archives are stashed in other parts of the city.

In Vienna, the Austrian State Archives are in a big modern building out near the suburban district of Simmering. The outside of the building is fantastically ugly. Its a terrific example of modernism gone wrong. The building is lumpy and white, and the windows have a gold reflective coating that is particular to Central Europe.

Best of all the reading room of the archive has this terrific institutional furniture made of wood laminate. Its light blond in color and has the same appeal as the "avocado" or "golden rod" colored appliances of the same era.

Of course, what the archives look like is besides the point. True beauty is what lies within. And in that respect the Austrian State Archives are great. The staff are unfailingly kind and helpful. They have graciously put up with my crummy German. Based on the finding aids and their advice, it turns out that there will be plenty of material for my projects. I can't wait until I get to visit again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Favorite 'commie modern' building in Bp

To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, "Commies love concrete." The era of "Socialist Construction" in Hungary was littered with gobs of prefabricated concrete apartment blocs and monumental office buildings in the 'neo-brutalist' style. But there were a few architectural gems built too. One of them is the central bus station on Elizabeth square (Erzsibet tér).

Here are two pictures of the mildly renovated bus station. There is a little bit of nostalgia involved. I used to take the bus to Vienna a lot back in the 1990s and in 2000-2001. Nowadays the central bus station is out at the Népstadion (People's Stadium) which I think has been renamed after Ferenc Puskás, the soccer player.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A freshly installed hole

One of the ongoing infrastructure projects in Budapest is Metro 4, the new subway line that connects the city center with South Western Buda. This summer I have been spotting various fenced off parts of the city that are part of the project. Here is a picture of the construction near the Freedom bridge and March 15th Square. They have shut down the bridge, part of the street and closed the #2 tram stop.

Budapest has a long history of holes. When I was here in 2000-2001 they were in the middle of the fight over where the national theater would be. So there was a gigantic, incomplete parking structure/hole in between Elizabeth and Déak Squares. The magyars eventually resolved the impasse between the city government (run by MSZP) and the national government (run by FIDESZ at the time... I think) by building a cultural center.

Monday, May 19, 2008


So, I am off on my research trip to Budapest. Here is a picture of the freedom monument on Gellert hill and the bridges over the Danube. You can find the higher resolution picture on Flikr.

Over the next few weeks I plan on documenting some of my important work in rétes/strudel studies, as well as the pastry techniques of the various Budapest cukraszdas/confectionery shops.

Cricket in Hungary

On Sunday I went with my buddy Yusaf to see a cricket match in Dunabogdány, a small town north of Budapest. Yus is the captain for the Dunabogdány team and invited me to play. It was a lot of fun, I didn't get to bat, but I had a great time fielding. Here is a picture of Andras, one of the Hungarian players, bowling. Its after the release, so you can see the red ball in the upper center part of the picture.

Cricket is a little odd from the American point of view. Its similar to baseball in that you have batters and people throwing balls, but cricket matches last longer and involve breaks for tea and sandwiches (I'd argue that this makes it a little more fun to play). But there are only two bases in cricket, and two batsmen, who switch places when they hit the ball. Its a little bit like baseball in the round. Cricket is more fun to play than it is to explain.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Things I read when I should be grading

An article by Clay Shirkey. I like the parallels with gin and the industrial revolution. Maybe that is because I am a bitter, elitist college professor clinging to Marxism, Guns, and Secular Humanism.

Textbooks: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Look, there is a problem with textbook prices and there is plenty of blame to go around. I am pretty sore about this topic, because I just had to turn in my book order this week and the publisher has come out with a new edition of my favorite textbook, only four years after the previous one!

I'm a history professor, and yes some of my colleagues do not take price into account when assigning textbooks. But I do. I try to cap the book budget at $100 for all my classes. If I can assign a cheaper book, I generally do. This takes a lot of time and it would make my life easier if I just picked a pre-packaged textbook and document reader set. This act of convenience on my part would easily cost the student 20-30% more than my current reading list. That said, I can see why people are mad at professors who don't take the time to think about the cost of class materials.

Publishers are capitalist bastards out to make money. Like the article in Slashdot and the NYTimes editorial said, the cycle of textbook revisions has accelerated. Publishers crank out glossy textbooks with worthless and vapid on-line features, which add needless costs and increase profit margins. The publishers do this because the Internet has made the used book market more efficient. As a result the publishers have more competition from used book wholesalers than in the past. So they resort to printing new versions with more throw away features like CD-ROMS and on-line study guides as fast as they can. This is the magic of the marketplace and no law requiring the ‘unbundling’ of course materials can change the fundamental logic at work.

Finally, some blame rests with the students. I teach classes that cover the last 200 years of European history. I could hand out a two or three page reading list of a dozen articles and books that are superior to the dull plodding summaries offered in most textbooks. Most of the common primary source documents are available on-line or in various document collections already owned by our university library. The students could read these materials by looking up the journal articles on-line and checking out the books from the library for free. But they don't. First of all, reading and synthesizing that information requires more time and hard work than just picking up a textbook. Second, they are eighteen years old and want the convenience of a textbook. (I have had students tell me this in course evaluations.)

I keep assigning textbooks, because, based on exams results, class discussions, and course evaluations, students seem to read the textbooks. If students are not interested in putting in the sweat equity to acquire knowledge through the library they should pay for the convenience of using a textbook. Under the present market system, the publishers dictate the price of convenience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chocolate Crostata

A quick food post: This Sunday "J" and I made a chocolate crostata recipe from Bon Appetite magazine (May 2008). The pastry recipe was pretty interesting. It had a couple egg yokes, a whole egg, and powdered sugar in addition to the usual suspects (flour & butter). It turned out great, except my tart pan was only a 9" diameter instead of the requisite 10. My bad, I should have measured.

It tasted delicious, mainly because of the 10 ounces of chocolate and two cups of whipping cream that went into the filling. (Who are we kidding, thats not filling, its a frosting, and a damn good one at that!) The recipe called for toasted pine nuts on top, but we used toasted hazelnuts instead. It tasted great and looked impressive. I will post a picture one of these days.

Friday, April 11, 2008

HNN Poll part II

Some other blogs have had interesting things to say about the HNN Poll on the George W. Bush Presidency and its historic legacy.

Larry Dewitt. Follies of Instant History: 4/7/2008

Interesting in his assessment of the actual comments made by historians: i.e. there is not a lot of history going on or valid historical comparisons being made. I am heartened to see that HNN gave a dissenting voice space on the front page, although it would have been better still if they had given it equal billing with the original survey.

Less interesting is Dewitt’s argument about how all this relates to a “postmodern residue” in the profession. First, what is a postmodern residue? It sounds like that white film left on your clothes after using a deodorant antiperspirant with a one-word two-syllable name like “degree” or “secret”…

Second, why does a discussion about the applicability of historical analysis to contemporary events have to involve the “objectivity question”? The only people exercised about the “objectivity question” are middle-aged white men who still practice presidential history. They clearly haven’t gotten the word: the war between the history profession and postmodernism is over. History won back in the 1990s. You can go back to doddering around the Truman archives without fear of being shived by Jacques Derrida in the men’s room.

Ari Kelman. Edge of the American West: 4/08/2008

The Edge of the American West is one of the best history blogs washing around the tubes on the Internets. Ari and Erich do a bang up job of using historical events to give insight into contemporary American life. They have several posts that have asked sophisticated questions about the role of historical comparison when assessing U.S. Presidents, past and present.

My one critique of their posts, however, is applicable to the original HNN Poll as well. The assessment has been strictly done from an American historical perspective. Aside from gripes about the Iraq War, I do not think anyone has seriously looked at the effects of American foreign policy on the rest of the world when weighing the relative merits of various presidents.

If the impact of a President’s foreign policy on the world at large were measured, then the rankings would be very different. The legacy of someone like FDR would probably remain the same, because defeating Nazi Germany and militarist Japan was undoubtedly a great good. But other presidents like Bill Clinton and Woodrow Wilson would have to be judged much more harshly. This would also require historians to be less flip about their assessments of George W. Bush. It should be obvious that his policies are the logical conclusion of several trends in American foreign policy that date back to McKinley, Wilson and more recently Reagan and Clinton.

Sara K Smith. Wonkette: 4/8/2008

Wonkette deals with the HNN poll a humorous and offhand manner commensurate with the silliness inherent to the subject matter. Who knew Doris Kearns Goodwin was such a potty mouth? Bad historians… no biscuit…

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The HNN Poll on the Bush Presidency: spleen

In general, it pays to be skeptical of Internet polls, and the HNN one is no exception. According to the poll, 61% of historians deemed George Bush's presidency the worst in history. The author of the poll, Robert S. McElvaine, admitted that it was not scientific and that it may be too soon to make an accurate historical assessment.

While the poll may not be scientific in terms of its sample, I would argue that it was made unreliable by the way the first question was framed: is the Bush Presidency a success or failure? Frankly, if you disagreed with the outcomes of the president's policies in Iraq, or FEMA's handling of Katrina you could only answer this either or question in one way: failure. This does not even take into account the partisan ways in which you can read the terms success and failure. Finally, it would be hard to assess any president's term in office as success or failure. This should have been a likert scale type of question.

I accept McElvaine's assertion that its OK for historians to weigh in on the present administration, because they are the best equipped to compare Bush 43's legacy with his predecessors. Certainly historians are well positioned to make more detailed comparisons with the past. That said, the article was short on exactly those kinds of nuanced comparisons. The comments provided by McElvaine consisted mainly of the same generic (liberal to moderate) carping that could be had on talk radio or the Daily Kos. There were some references to other presidents, but these were not especially illuminating and generally within the reach of any local tv news anchor who had passed the US History Survey class at Moo U.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a republican party member or a supporter of the present administration and I voted against them in every election I could. I have no sympathy for the aims of the Bush Administration, but I am appalled by the lack of historical perspective demonstrated by professional historians who should know better. To that end I will post my own appraisal on another day.

In the meantime, duty (teaching, service, & research) calls...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chocolate Souffle

This was my Valentine's Day baking project for my girlfriend "J." I finally figured out how to rotate the picture so it appears right side up.

The recipe came from epicurious.com and it did not have any flour. It was light and fluffy tasting like a mousse, but baked. "J" liked it even better than the flourless chocolate cake recipe we have been making since last summer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The meme from Historiann - Why I teach History

I cribbed this from Historiann and Edge of the American West. It also relates to Stanley Fish's column in the NYTimes about the use of the humanities.

I like reading history a lot and teaching history is one way to pay the bills while still indulging my interests. That said, historical knowledge cannot be easily monetized. Therefore it goes against the current in contemporary American life which says, "If you are so so smart, how come you aren't rich?"

It turns out I am pretty good at teaching history. Chances are I will keep getting better. That makes the teaching part almost as interesting as the history content. Teaching history is intriguing, because if you are the least bit self-reflexive, you can see how well you can hone your skills over time. Its sort of like improving your golf handicap, except that it actually benefits your students.

History, contrary to other posts in other places, can be a non-instrumental exercise of ones reason. I like it for its time tested and proven uselessness. History will not cure cancer, it will not make for a better car, and it will probably not save us from global warming. It clearly does not make for better public policy. History, when practiced conscientiously, fulfills the injunction, "first do no harm."

I like the people I work with on a daily basis in my department. The colleagues are great. They have all kinds of different views on politics, how to teach history, how to run the university (or department) and what constitutes a good desert or bottle of wine. The students are great too. I am an adviser for both our Phi Alpha Theta Chapter and our History Association and its been fun to learn about their historical interests and fascinations.

Long time no post

Whoops, I didn't post again in 2007. Sorry about that. Life got busy. I bought a house, a parent got sick, complications ensued. I'll try to be better this year. Cheers for now.