Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Campus rapes: Doumenting stories

So a friend sent me another campus rape culture story and it occurs to me I should put them all in one place.   My historian's instinct tells me that action comes from understanding and that if we compile these stories, we can see the patterns, ask the right questions, and come up with the right answers. 

The Campus Rape Culture Series Posts

Part 1

Part 2 

Part 3

I'll add more as I get them.  Leave links in the comments and I'll post to this page.

NB:  This list is about inadequate responses by administrators and/or struggles to get help.  




U of Chicago


Central College, Iowa 

UC Berkeley

Johns Hopkins    (featuring friend of the blog Carrie Andrews). 


Amherst (Similar to the U Chicago in many ways)


Change: Job one

So I’ve been thinking of the story I'm about to share a lot, what with being a Swattie (class of  ’89) and having taught there back in 1992-2000 and with Swat being in the news because of a certain Philadelphia magazine article. And as I mentioned, I’ve had former students and others contact me about their experiences on college campuses now. So, I share even though this isn’t totally my story.

I had an early morning departure for an ultimate frisbee tournament on Saturday and, leaving my girlfriend’s room, swung by my dorm room to pick up my cleats which I had forgotten. I walked in trying to be very quiet and discovered my roommate wide awake, dressed, showered, and studying while drinking a cup of coffee. Even for Swarthmore,  Satruday morning 7AM studying is unusual behavior.

“I had a night”, he said.

It turns out a guy on our co-ed hall, who, for the purposes of this story, we shall call the Viking, had drunk heavily the night before. Roommate had left the door unlocked (as many of us did) and awoke to the sound of running water. The Viking, stark naked, had opened our fridge and was peeing into it, under the impression perhaps, that anything white was a urinal. My roommate tried to dissuade the Viking from continuing to pee and was unsuccessful. My roommate then, I think, hid under the covers, hoping the Viking would go away. Instead, the stark naked Viking climbed into bed with the roommate, and declared “shut up and move over”. My roommate was out of the room like a shot, pounding on the RAs door. The RA, a woman, tried to wake the Viking who was now naked and passed out in my roommate’s bed. Eventually they found one of the Viking’s teammates who lived on our hall, said teammate physically carried the Viking back to the Valhalla (aka the Viking's room) and dumped him atop the bed.

Roomate filed charges with the college. The Viking, who was already in trouble for punching somebody at a party and some other things I'm not totally sure of, got kicked out.

Now this was 25 years ago but I think the incident is telling for a number of reasons. 1) My roommate knew that people would help him. 2) The college was ready to go after the Viking 3) My roommate was the kind of guy who had already cleaned the fridge by the time I got to the dorm that morning. And it was my fridge. Everybody was going to believe his version of events. 4) My roommate told people that I had left the night before for the tournament, because he didn’t think it was anybody’s business that I was at girlfriends’ dorm room all night.  I’m not still not sure if he was protecting her honor, mine, or just thought it was nobody’s business even though we'd been a serious couple for well over a year.

So the point is, as a guy, roommate felt pretty sure that a response would be quick, safe and effective. There are lots of women who are convinced that any response will be neither quick nor safe nor effective.  That would be Anonymous at Columbia and Anonymous at Harvard and Michaela Cross and so many others.  Too many others.  So sure, you can say “why are you letting him spoon?” but the answer is “because I thought it was the safest option because all other options looked like guaranteed horrible outcomes so I gambled hoping for the best not the worst.” Too many, do this because it's a rational decision.  So what is to be done?

 Changing the reality that (and the perception) that reporting is worse than surviving is job one right now.

This was originally published in slightly different form as a comment at Lawyers, Guns and Money.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Theory for high school teachers

Via twitter, I got a request for an annotated list on good theory/history books for high school teachers.  I've been hanging out in the Monday evening #sschat and I'm starting to realize that there aren't a lot of people whose teaching is informed by, what we used to call back in the 90s, Critical Theory.   I also realized I'm a name dropper, although twitter certainly encourages that because the character limitations means it's sometimes easier just to say Judith Butler than explain the social construction of gender.

So this is a highly personal list of history and theory works that have informed my teaching and historical practice.  I rarely teach these texts directly, but I often teach the concepts embedded in them.

The Social Construction Texts.

There are five of these that are really important to me, all of which I read in my first three years in grad school.  First was  Barbara Jean Fields' Slavery Race and Ideology in the United States of America and the related Ideology and Race in American History.  These two important articles helped establish the idea of the social construction of race in the US (although books like Degler's Neither Black nor White, and Gossett's Race the History of an Idea laid important groundwork towards that).  One of the money quotes is here at the end of Ideology and Race "
Race is neither the reflex of primordial attitudes nor a tragically recurring central theme. It became the ideological medium through which Americans confronted questions of sovereignty and power because the enslavement of Africans and their descendants constituted a massive exception to the rules of sovereignty and power that were increasingly taken for granted. And, despite the changes it has undergone along the way, race has remained a predominant ideological medium because the mannerof slavery's unraveling had lasting consequences for the relations of whites to other whites, no less than for those of whites to blacks.

Two other important works were on gender.  Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and Joan Scott's Gender:  A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.  The latter pointed out that gender is relational.  The former is a real tough read.  So, I'll summarize.  Gender is performative.  It is not the parts or the plumbing (that's sex).  It is both the ideas we have about the correct or appropriate ways of behaving for boys and girls, men and women, and the ways those ideas are put into practice via laws and customs and the ways they are enforced and resisted.  Gender is what turns a classroom of girls into preps, and hos, and jockettes.

Now when you combine race and gender you get Chela Sandoval's idea about the differential mode of consciousness as a strategy of resistance.  There's a couple of variations of this argument that Sandoval has made over the years, but it really doesn't matter which one you get your hands on.  Here's the most important take away:  identity for women of color operates like the clutch of an automobile.  Depending on context, women will engage whatever identity or identities seem most likely to produce the best result in context (this has been hipped up to be called code switching).  They might express their solidarity with white women one hour, and later, emphasize a shared blackness (or Mexicanness or whatever).  Although Sandoval was writing about women of color, I found something similar going on with men in my own dissertation and the notion of situational identity was profoundly lifechanging for me as a historian, a teacher, and in my day-to-day interactions.

The Space and Place Texts

A second set of influential texts came from Geography.  David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity is probably still a must read for understanding the conditions of what he optimistically calls late capitalism.  (I much preferred Harvey to Jameson's Postmodernism.)  Whether you agree with Harvey's politics, the argument he makes about the differences between Modernism and Postmodernism (including a handy little chart in the back) are very useful.  I also found his Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference to be very helpful for thinking through issues of space, place, and time.  But it's poorly edited and a bit of a rush job.  Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places is my other go to book on geography.  Basso shows how the Western Apache use storytelling to turn spaces into meaningful places.  Profoundly important for my own work on contested landscapes and something that's easily conveyed to students.

Texts by French Guys and Anthropologists.  Not necessarily in that order.

A third set of influential texts are classics in the Critical Theory genre.  First, the Americans.  Clifford Geertz on Balinese cockfight.  If you haven't read this, go read it right now.  It single handedly created what we call The Cultural Turn in history.  Barbara Babcock's notion that "what is socially marginal is often symbolically central" is pretty important here too, although I just spared you having to read anywhere that it came from.  I use this in class all the time.  Then there's James Clifford's Identity in Mashpee article which shows how identity and legal forms collided incoherently. 

So confession time, I haven't read a lot of Foucault.  But by the time I hit grad school a lot of Foucault had already been incorporated into history practice.  So I just skimmed a couple of texts (Discipline and Punish, the stuff on the panopticon) and thought "what's the big deal?"  Far more important to me are two other texts.  First there is Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life.   de Certeau argued that despite modern life's tendency to try to regiment and regulate humanity, individuals found creative ways to resist such regimentation.  After I read this, I paid far more attention to the dynamics of everyday interactions (can you see how this connects to Geertz?).  I started looking at patterns of movement and everyday economic and social exchanges and examining them for their multiple meanings.  In my own dissertation, it led to the insight that although roads were paved on the Navajo reservation to reach uranium, the same roads led to Navajos traveling to towns much more often.  Many of these insights were extended by radical anthropologist James C. Scott.  His magnificent Seeing Like a State points out the difference between learned or practical knowledge gained through experience and generalized knowledge.  Scott points out how "certain schemes to improve the human condition fail".  It's a great book, and it will help you understand your department chair and division head better. 

Another key text by a Frenchman is Bordieu's Distinction.  I don't really follow his argument strictly.  But the basic idea, that cultural performances (of race, gender, etc.) tie to class structures is an important one.  I pay a lot of attention to this in my teaching.  If we think about things like the rituals of party politics in antebellum America, Bordieu's insights become valuable. 

So that's the intellectual framework, I'm working from.  I'm sure there are things I'm missing here.  (Michael Taussig, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Edward Hall, and Walter Benjamin jump to mind, maybe I'll do a part 2 later). 

And as always, the single person who shaped me intellectually was my dissertation adviser, Susan Lee Johnson, who introduced me to most of these texts.  You should go read her award-winning book Roaring Camp.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Change (one little bit at a time).

Earlier this week, I noted in my Happy Bloggerversery to Me Post that my post on women dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses circulated somewhat widely on facebook driven largely by shares of my former students.  Someone who read that post wrote to me via a mutual acquaintance:

"I read it in my kitchen and just cried in the super cinematic way that happens to people, and I read it repeatedly, and I still do, but that made something un-stuck"

The question "why doesn't it change" led her write this article in the Columbia Spectator.  Anonymous describes the attempted sexual assault she escaped and her reaction:

I know the actions that are recommended for a student who’s been assaulted—I didn’t take them. I know I should have gone to Public Safety and had them lead me to the starting line with the police. I know I should have done something other than curl into a fetal position in my room and worry my roommate.
I couldn’t do it. 
At the time, I feared that going to the police would have made my already shitty day cataclysmic. I feared having to explain myself and live through the situation again, breaking more each time.
I knew I needed help, so I made an appointment at the Furman Center. I never said why—only that I was anxious and couldn’t sleep. But I hid the injured foot that needed treatment, and pretended it didn’t exist while I was there. I was asked questions that I didn’t answer and felt both compelled but unable to use my voice properly.
I stayed silent because it was safer. I cancelled my next appointment. I never came back, and I never want to. I ran away from it just as I ran away from him.
Go read the whole thing as they say.

Kudos you to Anonymous.  Keep up the good fight. Remember change isn't made by one big important person making one big important decision.  Change is made by lots and lots of people making lots and lots of decisions all the time.  Decide well, people. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

American Environmental History

I sometimes teach a course in American Environmental History.  The course syllabus is below.   It's getting a little long in the tooth.  Any ideas for a fix-up?

Honors American Environmental History



This course covers how Americans have interacted with the environment from the contact period through the present. The course is thematic and covers the following topics: land, animals, food, water, and energy. In each topic we ask the following questions: How did people interact with their environment? How did they change it? How did it change them? How did those changes lead to other changes? We seek to explore the cycle described by historian William de Buys, “in adapting to the environment,” he argues “societies change it both purposefully and by accident, and in turn adapt to the changes they have wrought - sometimes by changing the environment still further...”.

The course materials

There are three required books for this course that are available for purchase at the school store: Changes in the Land, by William Cronon, The Dust Bowl by Donald Worster, and The Organic Machine, by Richard White. In addition to these materials, there are numerous handouts and videos. Because of the large amount of supplemental materials, if you know you are going to be absent prior to a class, please let me know ASAP so that I may get the relevant materials to you prior to your absence. When possible, videos and such will be available on line. If you miss class unexpectedly, any handouts will have your name written on it and will be placed in “the box.” It is your responsibility to pick-up materials out of “the box” when you return. We will also hopefully be bringing a number of guest speakers to class. You are expected to have a notebook dedicated to this class for taking both reading notes and classroom notes. You should always bring your notebook and the day’s reading with you to class.

Course expectations

You will come to class each day having read the assigned reading and thought about it. You will have annotated the reading either in the text or in your notebook. During class discussions, you are expected to participate fully as a speaker and listener. All work should be handed in on-time. Extensions are granted only before the assignment is due. Please re-read the section of your school’s handbook regarding senior extensions. Unless otherwise stated, all work to be handed in should be typed. Essays and outlines may be handed in via paper or electronically. Some other assignments may only be handed in electronically. If you need to hand something into me and you can’t put it in my hands, please leave it in my mailbox in the faculty room (near the library). Never leave anything on my desk. Items left on my desk or chair will not be counted as handed in on time.

Classroom Etiquette

You are expected to be ready to start class at the proper time. Should you arrive late please take your seat quietly and save notes or explanations for the end of class so as not to interrupt others. You are expected to be a diligent listener as well as an active participant. While spirited debate is encouraged, you are reminded that it is the ideas under discussion and not the character of your classmates.
Avoid personal attacks. Sexist, homophobic, and racist language will not be tolerated except as dictated by primary source material.

Example, correct use: "In the document, the author repeatedly uses the terms 'Japs' and 'Slants' to refer to the enemy. I think he does this so as to make them more hateable and thus easier to kill."

Example, incorrect use: "The dropping of the Atomic Bombs forced the Japs to surrender."

A note on plagiarism

Please familiarize yourself with the plagiarism statement in your school’s handbook. Please note that Springside maintains a subscription to an anti-plagiarism software package and by enrolling in Springside or CHA and this class you give me permission to use it. In addition, please be aware that plagiarism takes many forms, whether it be copying from the internet, a book or article, or another student. Because we encourage collaboration, some students become confused as to where the line is between collaboration and plagiarism. Some examples are below:

Acceptable collaboration: Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2: “Sure…, I find your thesis statement confusing.”

Acceptable collaboration: Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2: “Sure…, your thesis statement should read ‘The market economy destroyed the buffalo’ rather than ‘The buffalo were destroyed by the market economy’ so that the actor is the subject of the sentence.”

Unacceptable collaboration Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2 “Sure…, Your thesis statement should be, ‘The market economy destroyed the buffalo’ not ‘The buffalo nickel destroyed the buffalo.’”

Note how in the two acceptable collaborations, the peer editor does not change the meaning of the author’s work.


Grading is on a total points system in each quarter. There will be at least 7 graded items in the quarter including class participation. Major graded items are announced in advance. Reading quizzes (aka surprise quizzes) may not be announced in advance. Major assignments include items such as quizzes, tests, idea maps, google tours, essay outlines, essays, graded discussions, and anything else I can think of.

Research Projects

There are two research projects.  One small research project on where do cities get their water from and a second more major project on where food comes from that you will work on over both quarters.  Details on both these projects will be given at the appropriate time. 

Course Outline

Introduction (1 week) What is Environmental History? What is a landscape? What do I see when I look around? What does it mean? Key terms: Landform, landscape.

• J. B. Jackson – “The Term Itself” from Landscape in Sight
Activities and Graded Items
• Map exercise
• Vocabulary quiz
• Walk in the Wissahickon and response paper

Land How did Indians and colonists perceive the landscape of New England differently. What changes did colonization bring?

• William Cronon Changes in the Land
• Primary documents of Puritan sermons on wilderness.
Activities and Graded Items
• Visual representation of Indian and puritan landscapes.

Animals What caused the extinction of the buffalo? Other species? How are species saved?

Isenberg and Flores on the Buffalo extinction
Manliness and Civilization selections
• Jenny Price “When Birds where Hats” in Flight Maps
Activities:  Graded discussion

Food The Dust Bowl

• Donald Worster, The Dust Bowl (selections)
• James Gregory American Exodus selections
• The Grapes of Wrath (selected movie scenes)
Activites and Graded Items
• Listening party Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl songs

Water What role has water played in the development of the American West? Who controls it and how?

• Marc Reisner Cadillac Desert (selections)
Activities and Graded Items
• Google tour:  where your water comes from.
• Policy position statement advising President Obama on water policy

Energy What work does nature do? What work should it do?

• Richard White The Organic Machine
• J. R. McNeil Something New Under the Sun (selections)
• Changes in the Landscape: Energy Development in Western New Mexico
• Richard White “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?” in
Activities and Graded Items
• Listening party Columbia River songs by Woody Guthrie
• Essay on The Organic Machine
Graded discussion. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Happy Bloggerversary to Me!

I started blogging a year ago.  Since then:

I've written 24 posts (2 a month give or take in any particular month). 

I've been linked to by an outside blog which quoted from one of my posts at length.  That post was read in whole or in part by around a thousand people.  It was largely spread via twitter and by an outside blog.  At this site, over three hundred people read it.

My second most popular post was spread primarily via facebook.  Here many of my former students were influential in making sure it got read.

My personal favorite was the first post on technofuturism and technoskepticism. 

In that first post, I also thought I'd be writing a lot on education and teaching.  But only about half the posts have been directly about teaching and the most widely read posts only indirectly so. 

And now, gentle readers, what do you want to read more of or see me mouth off on?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mandatory reading

We have to ask the difficult questions of technology, even those of us who consider ourselves advocates of technology.

Go read the whole thing.  Once young British guitar freaks covered the walls of London with "Clapton is God."  In a just internet, "Audrey is almighty" would be everywhere.