U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (2/7/2013)

I’m having trouble finding the time to sit down with Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to type up my notes into a coherent post. I’m two pages from completing the chapter on Vietnam (c-18, of 25 total in my copy), so great progress has been made. Anyway, until I can do that, please accept a little “light reading” to fill the time.

1 (of 3). History’s Babel

Robert TownsendRobert Townsend’s analysis of the history discipline/profession, from 1880-1940, is now available for reading. University of Chicago Press is his publisher, and the book has just come out. Here’s an interview with the author at Inside Higher Ed. I liked this provocative question and answer:

Q: What does it mean to say that “[f]ollowing World War II, the historical enterprise was irrevocably broken”? What was the cause, and what were the results?

A: In the late 19th and early 20th century, leaders of the discipline engaged quite broadly with the various activities of history, taking a direct part in the development of professional and content standards for the schools and the gathering of historical materials. At the same time, high school teachers, leaders of historical societies, and librarians could all rise to prominent positions within the AHA. By the 1940s, however, the various spheres of historical activity had broken off into separate spheres, each with their own distinct professional structures and idioms, leaving the AHA as the province of self-defined “research men.”

The net result is not entirely negative, as the professionalization of most aspects of history led to significant improvements in the way history is taught and historical records are maintained and made available to the public. Nevertheless, the differences often generate friction across the various areas of history work when we could potentially work collaboratively. As a result, the academics are often viewed as an object of scorn for many who perceive themselves as excluded, and academics find they have little standing to intervene in questions that closely affect the public’s window into the discipline, such as teaching of history at the K-12 level and the presentation of history in a variety of cultural institutions.

Check out the rest of the interview. This will likely make it onto my reading list.

2. Teaching Introverts

I’ve had conversations, sometimes pretty intense, about how much participation should factor in a student’s overall grade for a course. For a long time—from the start actually—I’ve weighted participation heavily. An overly shy or uncommunicative student will never get an ‘A’ in my course—no matter how great they “show” in writing. This is a hard pill for some of students, and colleagues, to swallow. But my philosophy is somewhat confirmed by this piece from Jessica Lahey. Here’s a passage of interest (bolds mine):

Thankfully, there’s more information on introverts out there than ever before. I tapped into my amazing personal learning network of educators and gathered a towering pile of books on my nightstand, topped by Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In her book, Cain champions the often-overlooked talents and gifts of introverts, and offers parents and educators strategies for communication and evaluation. This year, I drew on this advice and made a number of changes to my classroom in order to improve learning opportunities for my introverted students.

In the end, I have decided to retain my class participation requirement. As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary, and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in — a world where most people won’t stop talking. If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.

Dr. Kendall Hoyt — introvert, assistant professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School — agrees. “You don’t get a pass for your personality type. I understand that social anxiety is a real thing – I am an introvert, and my mother used to actually faint if she had to do public speaking – but part of my job as a teacher is to teach people how to articulate and be heard.”

What say you? What do you do with participation in your syllabus? How do you handle introverts and shy students?

3. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: Or, The History of the Lying in Post-Civil War American History

With apologies to Al Franken, who has nothing to do with what follows, today I present to you a short piece by Michael Pettit. Pettit’s little essay appears as a guest post in Tenured Radical’s regular Chronicle blog spot. His piece is based on his book titled The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America (University of Chicago, 2013). Here are some interesting passages from the post:

Lies loom large over the historian’s craft. Historians devote considerable time to parsing the tensions among words, intentions, and behaviours. Reconstructing the inner lives of those who lived in the past is a notoriously difficult task. It is doubly so when you know your informants are deliberately leading you astray. And yet deception hasn’t really figured as a category of historical analysis. My recent book asks, to what extent do our conceptions of lying, fraud, and deception have a history? What would such a history entail?

From the 1880s to 1910s, America’s early psychologists possessed a genuine optimism about a more honest public culture modeled on science. In their pursuit of deception, psychologists invited stage magicians into their laboratories, hid under tables to examine spiritualists in the field, and experimented on the recognition of commercial brands. Early clinical psychologists attached the juvenile courts thought they had detected a new type, pathological liars, among Chicago’s female delinquents. The lie detector – that dubious truth machine – is probably the most visible product of this moment.

The 1920s was an important historical pivot in how we have come to live with deception today. Paying attention to talk about honesty and deception, I think puts the so-called revolt of the moderns in a new light.

I want to be cautious about offering an overly simple or homogeneous history of lying and deception, however. It is important to always ask, deception for whom? Nevertheless, I think this history reveals the paradoxical nature of our relationship with lies. The American middle class of the nineteenth century defined an “honest” person as someone who followed the rules of decorum and politeness. Socially sanctioned white lies were the glue that kept things together. To a certain extent we remain heirs that this tradition, but there is also an important shift. Since the 1920s, there has been greater latitude about the occasional need to lie, cheat, or steal depending on the situation.

I really want to read this book.


That’s it for today. Tune in next week for my next post on Zinn’s book—I PROMISE!! I’m going to start it tonight so that I’ll for sure have something. – TL