Next week I will write about the apocalypse; today let’s just talk about 2016, which is – what? – the fifth seal? the sixth trumpet? the abomination of desolation?*
This has been a long, stressful, difficult year, and instead of looking ahead to 2017 with hope, many of us – many more of us than is usually the case, I’d wager — are approaching the New Year with dread. As bad as 2016 has been, many of us feel that Things Are About to Get Worse. Not Get Worse Before They Get Better – just Get Worse.
Observations of this kind – about a year being good, or bad, or worse, or (in the case of 2016) downright evil – often inspire a chorus of well-actuallying. “Well, actually, a calendar year is just an arbitrary division of time; there’s no real difference between December 31 and January 1.” “Well, actually, people are always dying; 2016 is no different than any other year.” “Well, actually, 2016 hasn’t been the worst year ever; in the aggregate, there’s less violence and death on the planet this year than any prior year in history.” “Well, actually, ascribing malevolent agency to a year is an example magical thinking.”
Well, actually, that’s not a helpful response right now – not helpful to those of us who are in the 2016-is-just-the-worst frame of mind, anyhow. On the other hand, well-actuallying probably helps the well-actuallyers, so if you need to “well, actually” in the comments, go ahead. We’re all in this together, and we must try to be patient with one another.
But here’s something that might help all of us: reflecting on some of the good things that happened this year. If good things could happen in 2016, good things can happen in 2017 as well.
Here’s a brief recap of some Good Things That Happened Around Here in 2016:
We have had the pleasure and privilege of publishing several fantastic guest posts / guest series. Our thanks to Anthony Chaney, Bethany Nagle, Mark Edwards, John McCaa, Jon Lauck, Timothy K. Minella, Holly Genovese, Randall Stephens, Christopher Cameron, Paul Murphy, Michele Rosen, Jeremy C. Young, Emily Rutherford, David Weinfeld, David Steigerwald, Stephen J. Whitfield, Timothy Nunan (interviewing Robert Vitalis), Matthew D. Linton, Ruben Flores, Wesley R. Bishop, Christian Olaf Christiansen, Drew Starling and Sean Nadel, Michael Schapira, Louise W. Knight, Clancy Smith, Timothy Messer-Kruse, Ravynn Stringfield, Jeremy C. Young (encore), Kahlil Chaar-Pérez, Michael Todd Landis, Mattie Fitch, Kerry Candaele, Kahlil Chaar Pérez (for his series of posts on Lin-Manuel Miranda), Holly Genovese (for her ongoing series of guest posts), Daniel Oppenheimer, Drew Maciag, Mark Thompson, and Jeremy C. Young (hat trick).
I think that’s everybody – but if I somehow missed a guest blogger, please let us know in the comments below.
I know that I speak for all of us regulars at the blog when I say that we are always and truly grateful for the opportunity to share your work with a broader audience and to include as many voices and views in conversation here. And in all honesty, we’re also grateful to be able to take a break from our own deadlines here and give someone else our spot on the roster for a day. The rewards of being a “staff blogger” here at USIH are not material but they are certainly real, and we are all glad to be here. But deadlines are deadlines, and they can weigh on a feller. So thanks to our larger community of writers and readers for helping us keep the conversation going here.
There were a lot of good real-world, real-time USIH conversations that happened in 2016. This year was the first year that USIH was eligible to sponsor a panel at the OAH conference. We ended up sponsoring two panels, a milestone in the history of our young but growing organization.
(On a personal note, at the OAH 2016 conference, I not only had the opportunity to hang out with two of my most esteemed mentors in the profession, but I had the privilege of introducing them to each other. Claire Potter and Heather Richardson had not met in person before, and it was fun to be on hand and help make that connection. And now that they have met in person – well, look out, world!)
Many of us in the society had the chance to meet and mingle at the well-planned and wonderfully-done S-USIH 2016 conference at Stanford in October. If you were not able to join us there, we encourage you to submit a panel or a paper for the 2017 conference here in the Dallas “Metroplex.” We have already received a few submissions, and we are looking forward to seeing all the wonderful proposals that will be coming in. (Don’t delay; send yours today!)
So 2016 was a Good Year for the S-USIH as a group of colleagues. And I know 2016 was also a Good Year for many of us individually, in our professional lives and our personal lives and in the overlap between them. I know lots of you have had great successes and have accomplished some wonderful things in the past year, and it would be mighty fine if you would take to the comments here to share that good news with our readers. Don’t be shy; let us celebrate with you. (I know, I know: academics as a social type all desperately long for recognition but must never appear to want it, never mind to seek it. Y’all, do yourselves a favor and leave that nonsense in 2016.)
In my professional life, 2016 has been a good year.
In February, not two months after I graduated from my PhD program, I signed a contract with UNC press for a book enlarging upon my dissertation research. I am mighty pleased with that turnaround, glad that I was able to pivot quickly from “former grad student” to “professional scholar.” For various reasons that I will elide for now, I have not found it easy or natural to regard my intellectual labor as real work, or as valuable work. That was true right through the PhD program. (I reckon I’m not alone in this.) So being able to negotiate that contract, including a modest advance – the first time I’ve been paid to write something of my own – was not just a professional but a personal validation for me, a validation that has been a long time coming.
I published three pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education / The Chronicle Review – one in May, one in August, and one in November. (They also pay, and I have a good relationship with my editor, and I’d be more than happy to help you connect if you are looking for a writing opportunity there.)
And I received two gracious invitations to be a guest speaker at a couple of universities in 2017.
On the teaching front, I can say that I successfully survived a trial by fire as a full-time part-time professor: I taught five sections (three preps), on three different campuses, for two different employers. As much as I love teaching, I will never work that kind of schedule again — never, ever. Not for love nor money, as my granddad would say. I know that many of my colleagues and friends carry heavier, tougher teaching loads than mine was — and not by preference. Adjunctification — the casualization of academic labor — devalues education and destroys livelihoods and demoralizes people. I don’t know how to fight it while I’m in it – maybe I can’t. But somehow I’ve got to try; we’ve got to try.
Anyway, looking back on 2016 as the Year Everything Went to Hell in a Handbasket is an understandable perspective here on the last day of the year in what feels like the Last Days. But there are some lights that still shine in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome them yet.
If you have some good news from your own life this past year that you’d like to share, please do so. We would be happy to celebrate with you. And if you’re too shy or self-conscious or worried about offending academic norms of modesty to share some of your own shining accomplishments from the past year, please consider using the comments to call our attention to other good things happening in the field, the profession, the wider world of thought and culture.
Go for it; we could all use a good word. And maybe, when the clock strikes midnight, we can find the last word of the year in this one:
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