Touring the 18C in Pittsburgh: A Quick #ASECS16 Guide

My father was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but I’m relatively new to the city. In exploring Pittsburgh, I’ve been looking into the eighteenth century side of things. With the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies meeting coming up soon, I thought I’d write a quick post highlighting some of the eighteenth century related things to see in Pittsburgh. The ASECS conference hotel, the Omni William Penn, is located downtown and is in close proximity to some sites related to the eighteenth century that are worth checking out if you have some time.

Pittsburgh: A Transatlantic Black and Gold City

2015-12-13 10.50.09.jpgA cool thing to do while in Pittsburgh is to think of the city and its history in a transatlantic context. I’ve spent a lot of time as of late driving between western and eastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a big state and driving gives me a lot of time to think. One thing that has helped make the drive a little more interesting is thinking about Pittsburgh, and that big swath of in-between Pennsylvania, as a transatlantic contact zone between indigenous peoples, the British, the French, and many diverse groups. Maybe it is just me, but thinking of Pittsburgh as a transatlantic location helps in looking past the skyscrapers, the sports teams, and all of the black and gold.

Speaking of black and gold: You might be wondering what is up with all the black and gold in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has a long and complex history. The city is defined by many things, but black and gold is the most visual manifestation of the city’s identity and the color scheme is rooted in the eighteenth century and the city’s connection to William Pitt. Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams– Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins—all feature black and gold as their team colors. Black and gold is also an important part of the city’s civic identity, too. A recent article delves succinctly into this black and gold history and I recommend it as a crash course to the black and gold.

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#transatlantic

Things to See and Do Near the Conference Hotel

Be sure to check out Point State Park which is also home to the Fort Pitt Block House, and the Fort Pitt Museum, all within a 20 minute walk of the conference hotel. Known as The Point, it is the site of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt. The park features some interpretive information. Visitors can also walk the footprints of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt.

While at The Point, check out the Fort Pitt Block House, the only confirmed remaining remnant of Pittsburgh’s eighteenth century built past. There is no admission fee to the Block House. It is an interesting site that is run by the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Allegheny County. The Block House isn’t just a site of interest for its connection to Fort Pitt, it is also worth a visit if you’re interested in history and memory. The site includes a small commemorative garden celebrating the efforts of women in the early twentieth century to save the site from being turned into a stockyard.

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Fort Pitt Museum

If you have some extra time at Point State Park, I’d encourage you to visit the Fort Pitt Museum. The museum is part of the Heinz History Center and is not affiliated with the Fort Pitt Society. The museum introduces visitors the history of western Pennsylvania, focusing on the struggle for the region during the French and Indian War. Currently, the Fort Pitt Museum features a special exhibit called Captured by Indians where visitors can “[t]ake an epic journey to the heart of the early American frontier as the Fort Pitt Museum explores the practice of Indian captivity.” This is an interesting exhibit and is worth the museum’s nominal fee. The Capture by Indians exhibit is now closed, but Fort Pitt is still worth a visit for an 18C fix.

Visiting The Strip: The Heinz History Center and More

The  Heinz History Center, which is about a 20 minute walk from the conference hotel, is worth checking out, too. The Heinz History Center covers the entire history of Pittsburgh. Exhibits of note include Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, 1754-1763 and From Slavery to Freedom. The Heinz History Center features other interesting exhibits, such as their Visible Storage. Plus you can see items related to Mister Rogers, too! The Heinz History Center is also the home of the Detre Library & Archives.

If you are at then Heinz History Center, then you are not far from many of the shops and restaurants in  The Strip. If you’re interested in Italian specialty foods, then The Strip is worth a visit. The Strip is also the home of Primanti Bros and their famous sandwiches. People have strong feelings about Primanti Bros. The sandwiches aren’t too expensive. I think the sandwiches are best when nice and hot. I recommend sitting at the bar to ensure a hot sandwich.

In this post I wanted to focus on some of the eighteenth century related things that Pittsburgh has to offer. If you have some more time you might want to check out the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which include Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is also a fun time. Lastly, if you like baseball, the Pirates home opener against the Cardinals is on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 PM.

November 2017 Update: During my last visit to the Carnegie Museum of Art they were updating their exhibit area of 18C pieces. I think the update was supposed to be completed at the end of October or early November.

I’m still learning a lot about Pittsburgh and all the things to do and see. And eat. If you have questions don’t hesitate to shoot me an email (specterg at DUQ dot EDU) or contact me on Twitter: @GregSpecter.

Note: Here is an updated section based on my scant food knowledge in Pittsburgh.

Several folks on Twitter have posted regarding food options for Pittsburgh. I’ve only been in Pittsburgh since August and can’t speak in great detail as to places to eat in Pittsburgh beyond a small sample set. However, I’ll share what I know.

There is a high concentration of restaurants in The Strip, which isn’t too far from the conference hotel. I can only speak to Primanti Brothers. However, you can find a restaurant guide to The Strip here.

I’m more familiar with the restaurants on Bryant Street. Bryant Street is located in Highland Park, which is a short ride from downtown. Many of the restaurants on Bryant Street are frequently featured in local newspapers and best of guides.

Applewood Smoke Burger Company is located in the Park Side Pub. Their burgers feature locally sourced ingredients. Prices range from $9 to $14. I’ve had nearly every burger they serve. Each one has been excellent. Their wings are also excellent. They do serve salads. I usually get my burgers done medium-well which tends to be medium at most other places. If you go, just order the doneness of your burger one step up.

Park Bruges serves mostly Belgian inspired food. They are well-known for their mussels and frites. I do recommend getting those. They also serve poutine, which is very good, too. The bar is nice with a decent selection of foreign beers, but it does tend be expensive. The food can be expensive depending on what you order. It is also very popular and tends to get very busy. Point Brugge is a sister restaurant located near Bakery Square. I’ve heard positive things about it, but I have not been there.

Smiling Banana Leaf serves Thai food. It is fine for a neighborhood place. I wouldn’t say to travel all the way to Highland Park to dine here.

Joseph Tembellini Restaurant and Teppanyaki Kyoto are also on Bryant Street. I’ve not been to either restaurant, but people seem to like both of them.

If you go the Carnegie Museum or Natural History / Art, then you might want to check out Union Grill, which is nearby. They serve burgers, sandwiches, and other things. I’ve been there a few times and enjoy it. It is like an everyday kind of establishment. It doesn’t seem to get too busy. There are other restaurants on the same street, but I’ve not been to them.

Here is a best of guide from Pittsburgh Magazine. You’ll see that many of the locations on Bryant Street make the list.

November 1, 2017 Edit and Update:

I was still new to Pittsburgh when I originally created this quick guide. I’ve had a chance to explore more of the city since then, especially the area around Market Square. The Market Square area is a quick walk from the Duquesne University campus—just around 15 minutes. There are several restaurants and shops in the area. There is a Primanti Brothers location here; it isn’t the original location, but it has the same vibe. I still recommend sitting at the bar in order to get the hottest sandwiches. I’ve also eaten at Pizzaiolo Primo—a nice Italian restaurant the in pizzas. I enjoyed the food here, but it is on the expensive side, but not unreasonable. Check out the menu here. Many of the restaurants are busy for lunch and dinner.

 

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Revolution, Marketing, & the Legacy of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies

I’ve been working on a project examining poetry at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies since the fall of 2014. Of course, when I began this exploration I had many questions. I had the big research questions.

And I also had logistical questions: Was there an archival record? Where was this archival record?

Looking for an archival record of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies naturally led me to the potential of exploring materials related to Moravian College. Was there a connection? Did they have materials? Information on the webpages for the library and the school archives seemed to indicate an avenue of pursuit, but it wasn’t screaming “hey, look here! Hey, start here!” Additionally, there was the issue of access. Library websites made it clear that there was not a full-time archivist available.

Eventually, I sorted out my archive questions out and have since spent a lot of time at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem.

The connection between the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies and Moravian College wasn’t exactly clear when I began exploring this project in the fall of 2014. On the surface, however, that connection seems to be clearer today. Sort of. Or, at least, the connection Moravian College wants to make to the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies and a revolutionary past has become clearer.

Moravian College’s embracing of its historic past is interesting to me as someone involved in higher education. My composition classes in the spring of 2015 and the fall of 2015 addressed on higher education. In class we frequently explored the marketing of colleges. Together we took a critical eye to the marketing rhetoric of colleges and universities. One of my classes in the spring of 2015 was a dual enrollment class. We often focused on Lehigh Valley colleges and universities since many of the students were going to schools in the area. A local focus also made sense since we could frequently use local media coverage of area schools as a jumping off point for discussion. The online presence of Moravian College was something we explored often.

The above paragraph is an attempt to build my ethos. I remember what the website for Moravian College looked like a year or so ago. It certainly doesn’t look like it does at this moment. Just trust me: it was a rather typical website of a small liberal arts college in a nice community. When I began initially exploring the website of Moravian College in the fall of 2014, there wasn’t anything distinctive about it. It was what one expected from the website of a small liberal arts college in a bucolic setting.

Last fall, I found myself again visiting the webpage of Moravian College. Things had changed.

Navigating to Moravian College’s website forces the viewer to confront immediately a revolutionary past. It isn’t subtle.

Moravian Splash Page

When a viewer of the website scrolls down, the call to “Be a Little Revolutionary” recedes and they’re confronted with a very short history of the origins of Moravian College.

Scroll Down Moravian Website

The “16-year-old girl” mentioned in the short history blurb is Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf, daughter of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

Moravian Revolutionary in Your Blood

Taking ownership of that “revolutionary” claim.

When I visited the Moravian Archives in the fall of 2015, I noticed that the streetlights surrounding the campus of Moravian College featured flags proclaiming their motto for all to see. “Be a Little Revolutionary” is a marketing campaign that seems to be everywhere. Again, these streetlight flags were not something that I saw present in the summer of 2015 when I first visited the Moravian Archives.

a lot of revolution now and then

wow much revolution such colonial past wow

The new list of best places to work in the Lehigh Valley came out recently and there was a profile of the award winners in the local newspaper. Each workplace profiled is listed with a little bit of information, including the founding date. The local paper, The Morning Call, lists the founding of Moravian College as 1742 and in another article, featuring factoids, lists the claim of “the sixth oldest college in America and the first school to educate women.”

best place to work

Competition for students is difficult. I understand the drive of colleges and universities to undertake attention-grabbing ad campaigns and to develop buzz phrases for marketing purposes. I do know that the history of education in American, especially women’s education, is complicated. It is far too nuanced for sloganeering. I’ve not delved too far beyond the #18C in tracing the connection between the schools. It is certainly much more complicated than what a marketing campaign tries to make it. This use of the idea of revolution, The Revolution, and a historical past is driven by marketing. It is a clever and organized campaign.

market

#Brand

This isn’t an all-inclusive post about the history of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies and it isn’t a post about the history of Moravian College. It is a post drawing attention to branding and marketing of higher education today. I think this post is a starting point for highlighting the collapsing and simplification of a rather complex historical past, not just of the boarding school and Moravian College, but also American history and the history of women’s education in the United States.

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Ending 24/7 Finals Culture

Finals time is here again and with it, at many schools, comes 24/7 study culture. Student lounges and campus buildings give up the late regular semester hours and throw the doors open to a 24/7 study atmosphere. The apparatus of the university goes into overdrive as food courts and libraries are kept open. All the while students scramble for space at the various tables across campus.

The 24/7 mode of finals has to stop because it isn’t healthy. And we, of all people, should know better.

As educators, scholars, and researchers we should know that the 24/7 finals culture isn’t good for students. Read Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education with enough regularity and you’ll see plenty of content focused on work and life balance. As educators in higher education we know that letting our work overrule us is bad for our work, our health (both mental and physical), our relationships, and myriad of other individual factors.

Throughout the semester many of us extol the virtues of working and researching in chunks. Many of us teach writing as a process. Our bible of graduate school was Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. We subscribe to the slow and steady wins the race pace of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks with its methodical chipping away at an article over a period of time. (Side note: Wendy Laura Belcher deserves props for including a section on mental and physical wellbeing in her book.)

Still, we are complicit in the 24/7 finals culture just as much as the midnight-make-your-own-waffle-bars and 24/7 library hours that normalize such a culture. Our courses cram everything into the syllabus. Massive projects, papers, and exams on the last day of class that are then followed by final exams. For some students the message of accepting 24/7 final culture isn’t only codified in the syllabus, but it is made clear in messages that students should work every day of Thanksgiving break, except for the day of the actual day of Thanksgiving. The messaging is the same for fall breaks, Easter Breaks, spring breaks, and so on.

And why shouldn’t they receive that message about working all the time? For every column in an academic newspaper about work and life balance there are pieces extolling the virtues of working on a day off or a holiday. And let’s not even say anything about the comments to such pieces. As humans we should know better and as educators we should know even better. Cramming isn’t learning. The diminishing returns on learning that occur when students cram is steep. All-nighters to finish a paper or a project don’t represent true learning or intellectual pursuit.

While students are bombarded with the messaging of 24/7 finals culture there are voices on many campuses trying to push back. Student health centers, mental health centers, and wellbeing centers share messages of rest, extol the virtues of self-care, and showcase the diminishing returns of cramming. With the increased focus on the role mental and physical health on campuses, we should be mindful of these messages. This is especially the case given the large number of academics that have struggled with depression and mental health issues in graduate school or in their current positions. The connection between physical and health and depression is well known. Sleep deprivation, not eating right, not socializing, and not exercising are triggers to bouts of depression. The 24/7 finals culture is a perfect cocktail to exacerbate the triggers for depression.

As educators we have a great deal of power to shape the approach to work that students develop and within our small circle of control our own syllabi represent a great place to start. We can choose to not have projects due on the last day of class. We can make the decision not to have an exam on the last day of class and a final exam a few days later. We can schedule and stagger heavy reading loads during the semester. We can make substantial changes to our approach and still maintain the academic rigor we desire. We do not have to be beholden to the academic calendar of midterm exam weeks and where school breaks fall. And, at a smaller scale, we don’t have to assign due dates for submission of assignments that cap at 11:59 PM.

In many cases we have little control of shaping the culture of our campus, but when it comes to modeling healthy modes of academic work we do have an opportunity to do so. And we should certainly make use of that opportunity.

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Reading and Rereading Charlotte Temple

Looking back there are only a few very vivid times that I can remember starting or ending a book. I remember during one Christmas break, after a very trying time as a sophomore, picking up On the Road and starting to read it in the den of the family manse. I tried to read On the Road during high school, but it really wasn’t my thing. This time, however, was very different.

I remember during my junior year of college the moment that I finished reading Charlotte Temple. It was assigned out of the Norton Anthology. That was no small feat reading such a tiny book out of a massive anthology.

But read Charlotte Temple I did.

Wow, did I hate reading Charlotte Temple. All that damn crying. And Charlotte certainly did nothing to help herself out of the situations that she found herself confronting.

I was a good student, not great, but I did my reading and generally I read ahead when I could. I knew that Charlotte Temple was a longish work compared to what we had read so far that semester. I started to read it and I finished it in the early evening.

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Title page from an 1814 printing of Charlotte Temple, by Susanna Rowson. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

When I finished reading Charlotte Temple, the phone rang. A family friend was calling to suggest that I come home because my mom wasn’t feeling great. So I did. My new school was not far from home. It wouldn’t be trouble to come home for the evening and the next day.

Over the next few days my mom’s condition worsened. She was taken to the hospital. She was in septic shock due to an infection in her hip. She was in grave condition and needed immediate emergency surgery. Everything eventually turned out fine. The surgery was successful. She convalesced in the hospital and was eventually moved to a short-term care facility and made a full recovery after many months.

At some point I must have emailed my professors early on during this experience. I was an okay student, like I said. I was probably home for a week or more. Given the circumstances, I didn’t keep up with email, not there was any, and I didn’t keep up with my reading.

Good thing I read Charlotte Temple, right? I would have less reading to catch up with when I returned to school.

When I returned to class I complained to a friend about the injustice of reading Charlotte Temple and missing the class periods devoted to such a wretched book.

It was then, in those moments before class, that I learned my reading Charlotte Temple was all for naught. Alas, poor, Charlotte, was cut from the readings. The announcement was made in class during the early part of my absence.

The first time I read Charlotte Temple, gentle reader, and it turns out that I wasn’t required to read Charlotte Temple.

Six years would pass until a moment arrived when I actually needed to read Charlotte Temple. It was for a book history seminar in early American literature. I knew a lot more about sentimentality and early American literature when I read Charlotte Temple for the second time. It was, of course, a different reading experience.

I thought a lot about Charlotte Temple in the years between my first and second reading of the novel. I do not have anything profound to say about the years between my readings of Charlotte Temple. No deep thoughts in the style of an Umberto Eco or an Alberto Manguel. I cannot say my reading of Charlotte Temple was the germ of what became my interest in American women writers. Charlotte Temple was the bad book I read, but ended up not having to read.

However, I was excited to see an early edition of Charlotte Temple at some point during the semester in which I reread the novel. It was such a tiny thing. It seemed even smaller than the Oxford Press edition we used in class. Of course, that first edition was smaller than the anthology version that I motored through as an undergraduate. It was odd to me that something so tiny took up so much of my thoughts for many years.

I remember vividly another moment of reading Charlotte Temple. I was on the couch in my partner’s apartment. I was, again, rereading Charlotte Temple, but this time it was for my first literature class. Yes, Charlotte Temple was the first novel I assigned in my very first literature class. While I was sitting on the couch, I was trying to figure out the number of times that I read Charlotte Temple. It would be my third reading of the novel. Granted, Charlotte Temple is short, and lends itself to multiple readings, but for someone that really never reread novels, this was a big deal.

Charlotte Temple remains the novel I’ve read the most. I think I’ve read it five or six times now. I will be reading Charlotte Temple again since I’ve assigned the novel for the spring semester.

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Susanna Rowson. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t have anything profound to say about my experience with Charlotte Temple. Maybe my early and longstanding disdain of the novel makes me better prepared to teach it. I am tuned into the challenges students will face and can be prepared to guide them through it. That, on the surface, seems a positive takeaway, but it is actually negative. It assumes that students will not like it.

I would prefer to believe students have the opportunity, not to be shepherded through a book, but to be challenged and even surprised. Perhaps it will occur over the course of the semester, but maybe it will be delayed, like in my case, for a few years.

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A Novel Approach to Marginal Notes

As an undergraduate when I was given a free choice to write about a work I often wrote about poetry. Writing about poetry was an easy thing because in a time-crunched-world poetry’s brevity allowed for rereading. When it came to novels I often felt I didn’t notice patterns until well into a book and I wasn’t about to reread an entire novel for a five page paper.

I’ve become a better reader over the years. I’ve also figured out my interests and those interests pop a lot more when I read. The rise of searchable online texts also makes the search for evidence a lot easier. What a time to be alive!

While in graduate school I developed a model of reading and note taking that relied heavily on a system of abbreviated tagging. This was a response to the time crunch, reading for specific class themes, reading for comps, and reading for teaching. I eventually codified many of my abbreviations into a handy chart. As my classes changed each semester and my research interests evolved, so too would the chart evolve.

Abbr Chart Sample

Behold! The Chart! Well, one version of the chart from many years ago.

As you can see, it is made up of a lot of scholarly buzzwords and an abbreviation for the words. As I read, I tagged things I see in the text with an abbreviation in the margins. If what I read in the text was an outstanding example, bizarre, or noteworthy in some other way, then I also tagged it with an exclamation point. Regarding characters or plot, I used the blank space on my chart to record page numbers of note corresponding to those folks and/or plot points. If I was inspired to add additional tag to the chart, then I’d also record that, too.

 

After I was done reading, or as a break from

Portion of the chart filled out

A filled out version of the chart.

reading, I’d go through my book’s tags and fill out the chart with the corresponding page numbers. I recommend filling in the chart as you go and not waiting to do an entire novel!

I can see the time crunch and exhaustion of the spring coming down the pike. My thoughts turn to my chart. I’m not one to meticulously plan out every detail of my classes, which are discussion based since I try to keep lecture to a minimum. The chart helps as a reference point in class when it comes to discussing specific topics. If I want an example, then I consult my chart, and refer to the tagged section of the book. No searching through minuscule notes or bookmarks. It saves time in the classroom.

One positive about the chart is that it allows for a safety net when students want to lead discussion to unlikely directions. Like I said, I don’t like planning out my classes in excruciating detail. I’ve had far too many experiences where students became animated about an aspect of the text and want to go in a different direction. The notetaking system I’ve developed, in most cases, allows me to follow my students and have a stable of examples or instances from the text that fit their thrust of discussion.

One notable abbreviation is the “T.” That stands for teaching. Those include passages that offer significant opportunities for the classroom. Those might be substantial moments in the text. They might be unusual. They might fit with the theme. You know these moments when you see them. The nice thing about the chart is that the “T” moments can be easily cross-referenced with other parts of the list since everything is recorded in numerical order.

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Sample pages with abbreviated notes.

Using abbreviations in my reading has many practical aspects beyond the ease of notetaking. First, my handwriting is not very good. It is large and sloppy. The abbreviations can be small and neat. The ease of writing helps with the arthritis in my hands. Additionally, when we read we often read through a particular lens geared towards our class or research interests. The abbreviated note taking allows for a marking of the text that isn’t obtrusive. Because the notes are scant there will be plenty of space remaining for future rereading from different perspectives that geared towards other themes.

Over my scant semester break I’m planning to reread the texts for my classes. I’ll be breaking in new versions of texts I’ve read before for other classes. I want to have good notes and references on these works. This model of note taking may not work for you, but I wanted to offer it since many of us will be pressed for time and will reread works over the break—works we might not get to teach until well into the spring semester. Over the break, I’ll be using my chart to take and organize my notes. I’ll also try working with my phone’s native dictation feature to save some time on notetaking. For a more traditional take on notetaking, but with a technological twist, I recommend reading about the dictation/research/notetaking approach used by Kevin Gannon.

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Some thoughts on my time teaching at #Mizzou

In light of the events happening at the University of Missouri over the past few weeks, and especially this past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my time there, especially in the classroom.

As many of you know, from the Fall of 2011 until my last teaching semester at Mizzou in Spring of 2014, I taught a composition course themed around the American Civil War. Over that span, I had the opportunity to speak with my students about a variety of issues that related to the legacy of the Civil War. Since we read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic and spent much of our time focused on the legacy of the Civil War, we spent much of our time in class discussing contemporary issues affecting the state of Missouri, the city of Columbia, and the University of Missouri campus itself. We talked about incidents of racism on campus, Confederate Rock, race relations on campus, and the advocacy of African American students on campus over the past 50 years. You can find a few reflections on my time teaching the Civil War course here.

Often such discussions were difficult. Often they were wide-ranging.

I wonder if these class discussions mattered. Did they stick? I’m thinking about those discussions now, but are the students that took my classes thinking about those discussions? The first sets of students enrolled in my classes have likely graduated by now. Those that remain are juniors and seniors. How do they process that experience now in the context of what is happening on campus right now?

Prior to my class on the Civil War I taught composition classes themed around campus and places on campus. Students wrote about a variety of locations from the Rec Center to the Art Museum to the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. Students discussed campus places, decorations, and how Mizzou represented the history of the student body. Students talked about the people included and the people left out. The students in these classes on campus places are likely long-gone and hopefully have graduated. Do they think about those times in class? Does how they think about the places that they saw everyday and discussed in class change now that these are also scenes of protest and struggles for recognition?

In addition to teaching composition at Missouri, I taught several introductions to American literature. I’ve been thinking a lot about those courses, too. I think especially about a curious and frequent comment in my course evaluations. I often received comments that my courses were depressing. They were depressing because of the works we read dealing with slavery and the African American experience. I received other comments that my class focused too much on race and African American authors. Now I wonder if those students think back on those classes. Does the story we tried to tell in those classes make sense to them now? I don’t know.

I hope I did the right things in all of my classes. By saying I hope I did the right things I think I mean I’m hopeful that I did things that mattered. We write in our job letters and teaching philosophies about the transformative experiences of our classrooms. We depict our classrooms as places of change and as locations for difficult discussions. In our classes we like to think we are grappling with important issues. Am I really doing that? Are the students doing that? I think we did many of those things in the moment of an individual class. But do those moments come back now?

How much did the experiences of students in my classes matter? Did the conversations matter and did they linger long after the semester ended? Do those conversations awaken now in light of everything that has happened the past few weeks?

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Not your typical University Commerical

The genre conventions for a 30 second TV spot used by major colleges and universities, especial R1 institutions with bigtime sports, are rather conventional. Nondescript inspiring music accompanies well-known images of the campus, vague highlights of award-winning research faculty (often in science and technology), and students often enjoying life far from the classroom. And there are sports.

Last night I saw a university commercial that exploded nearly all of these well-known higher education advertising conventions. This commercial for the University of Minnesota aired during their game against the University of Michigan:

The Minnesota commercial features Keith Mayes, a scholar of 20C African American history, at Minnesota. It is clear from the opening words that this commercial is going to do something different. The commercial opens right up with a big, bold claim. It is certainly a claim familiar to many scholars of American history and life, but it lays a foundation for an argument largely unfamiliar to the general public. This is not going to be your typical university commercial. It is going to have substance. It is going to have an argument. It is going to keep going on this line. And it is going to pack a punch in 30 seconds.

Given my usual audience I’m not going to go into detail with this advertisement. Watch it yourself.

This particular ad from the University of Minnesota is from a series of similar ads. Many of them feature tough issues ranging from global warming and the environment to medical research. However, for me at least, this one stands out for how it focuses attention on teaching while it also highlights race, social justice issues, and the achievement gap. And, of course, the humanities, especially our relationship to history, has a prominent role.

I think this commercial will resonate with many of you.

The University of Minnesota did a good thing for all of us, especially humanities scholars at bigtime research and sports institutions. The ad provides an example to help ask the question to departments, school divisions, and administration of why the PR department doesn’t create advertisements like this.

I think the ad also raises a larger question. The work done by Mayes represents a nexus of history and curriculum development designed to ensure the long-term academic success of minority students. We often advocate for the ability of the humanities to do relevant cultural work that matters today.

I am not a fan of “the humanities matter argument” because it rings as a rather vapid platitude. I think the best way to defend or justify the humanities is to not talk about it, but do it. But how many of us in the humanities do scholarship that could be featured in a commercial like this one? I think that is question we need to grapple with and not rely simply on the claim that humanities matter.
PS: I watched last night’s game on my Xbox via the ESPN ap. The world of commercials works differently in that context. I do not know if this commercial was broadcast on cable or satellite feeds. However, millions of people have cut the cable and watch ESPN online. I still imagine a significant population saw this advertisement.

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