Announcing the Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History

Seminar series have been a popular facet of the early American history culture across the country, from Philadelphia and New York across to the Rocky Mountains and the Bay Area. In this post, we’re introducing another regional seminar to the mix, based around Missouri and the greater St Louis area (extending into central Illinois, and interest from eastern Kansas, southern Iowa, or northern Arkansas is most welcome). We’re hoping to foster a sense of community among those working on early American topics in the region, and to provide a supportive environment for graduate students and faculty to test out preliminary findings of their research. Continue reading

The Problem with Big Books; Or, Alan Taylor’s Biggest Sin

[Headlines are supposed to draw readers, right?]

TaylorOne of the first things I did after finishing my dissertation a couple of months back (other than sleeping for an entire week, of course), was reading Alan Taylor’s latest tome, An Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1776-1832 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), which recently won the Pulitzer Prize. (One could argue that Taylor’s biggest sin, other than the one I’m about to discuss, is hogging all the major book awards.) As one would expect given Taylor’s track record, I was floored by the book’s exhaustive research and lyrical prose. I made a mental note that this would be a great book to assign to students. Now that I’m prepping for this fall, when I’ll be teaching a Jeffersonian America course, I gave the idea more serious consideration. However, I soon realized the biggest problem, which more seasoned teachers probably already know.

The book is just too big.

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Herb Sloan’s Contributions to Scholarship on Jeffersonian America

Last Tuesday, May 13, the Columbia University Seminar on Early American History and Culture and the Department of History hosted an evening in honor of Professor Herb Sloan of Barnard College. Herb, who is retiring this spring after 28 years as a member of Barnard’s history faculty, was the guest of honor at an evening commemorating both his contributions to the field of early American history, as well as a roundtable discussion on “Jeffersonian America.” Continue reading

Grade Inflation or Compression?

Back in December, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard was quoted from a meeting of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences saying, “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.” This statistic was highly shocking to the general public (or at least the general media). Yale itself moved last year to address the problem when it turned out that 62% of grades given to undergraduates in a two-year period were A-minuses. Just a few weeks ago, the Teaching Center at Yale hosted a day-long seminar entitled, Are All Yale Students ‘A’ Students? A Forum on Grading.” Most recentlyRebecca Schuman published a piece on grading at Slate entitled, “Confessions of a Grade Inflator.” However, rather than only seeing what has happened as the inflation of individual students’ grades, we should also see it–from the instructor’s perspective–as a compressing of the grading scale itself. Doing so reveals multiple repercussions for both students and faculty that the individualized, student-centered notion of “grade inflation” misses. We need to keep in mind that grade inflation or compression doesn’t just benefit unworthy students; it actually has negative effects on both students and faculty, which should be the real causes for wanting to address the problem.

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Commencement in Early America: Pausing at the Portal

Columbia College Commencement, 1818This is commencement season in the United States. On weekend mornings, college towns around the country are being beset by billowing clouds of begowned bachelors, trailing various family members and friends in their newly distinguished wakes. University neighborhoods are full of rented trucks and vans. Sidewalks are littered with furniture. People are swarming into auditoriums, sports stadiums, gymnasiums, or (as in the case of some of my Texas cousins) livestock arenas to hear more or less famous people dispense advice for adulthood. And to me, it’s all very, very exciting.

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Is Blogging Scholarship? Reflections on the OAH Panel

On Sunday, at the 2014 OAH Annual Meeting, I was part of a roundtable discussion entitled “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Several other participants have posted their thoughts on the subject; there was also a great deal of live-tweeting, and our own Joe Adelman has also joined (and developed!) the conversation. The discussion itself was fantastic, and was videotaped for later broadcasting. But in reflecting on the panel, I’ve found there are some points I wish to re-emphasize, and some problems I have with the way the entire roundtable was framed. Continue reading

The Generation Game

The AHA recently announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to produce standard guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship. It is hoped that the guidelines will allow professional recognition of new scholarship in a way that can become codified within the tenure process. The committee is a veritable who’s who of digital humanities worthies—all with an excellent track record of traditional peer-reviewed scholarship and engagement with a variety of digital media. When this committee speaks, it will command attention.

This is an important step forward for the profession; having a rigorous set of guidelines for evaluation will serve as an important starting point for encouraging recalcitrant colleagues and administrators to take digital scholarship seriously. But there is one thing that is also notable about the committee—not to put too fine a point on it, it is rather old. All the scholars are safely tenured. Where are the voices of the new generation, of the digital natives? Continue reading

Preparing for Final Exams…Wait, What?

end of semesterI am still learning how things work in England. Prime example: a couple of months back, I referred to the place where one purchases delicious, delicious beer-battered cod and fries as a “fish and chippery” before a kind(?) soul on Twitter alerted me to the fact that it’s called a “chippy,” here. So perhaps it’s understandable that I still find it a little weird that my students are about to take their final exams. Continue reading