You should really go read Jeremy Adelman dissect his own World History MOOC over at the Princeton Alumni Weekly. As an added bonus, you can read me say the exact same things I’ve been writing here for almost a year now.
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Categories : MOOCs, Personal, World History MOOC
When I mentioned yesterday that I was hoping to hear about a very interesting tour date very soon, I never imagined that I would hear that very day. Yet I got the e-mail from the American Historical Association yesterday. The panel I organized, “How Should Historians Respond to MOOCs?,” will be on the program for their annual convention this January in D.C.
It will feature me, Ann Little of Colorado State in Fort Collins (a.k.a. Historiann), Philip Zelikow of the University of Virginia and Jeremy Adelman of Princeton. I remain amazed that Jeremy is willing to put up with me, let alone use some of his credibility to help get this panel off the ground. The moderator will be Elaine Carey of St. John’s, the head of the AHA’s Teaching Division (which is sponsoring the roundtable).
When I wrote the original proposal, I invited Daphne Koller of Coursera to join us. She was interested, but couldn’t commit that far out. You’ll have to check out the final conference program to see if she accepts.
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Categories : MOOCs, Personal
Cheap Trick is big in Japan. I’m told that I’m big in Connecticut. This would explain why the Connecticut AAUP invited me to be the speaker at their annual spring meeting on May 17th in New Haven. Looking at the registration form, it appears that today is the last day for that. Therefore, if you’re in that area and want to come by you should let them know immediately.
Stop #2 will be on Thursday, June 13th at 2PM at the national AAUP’s annual conference in DC. My topic for both presentations will be the same, “Should Professors Be Afraid of MOOCs?” In the interests of drama, I will not reveal my answer to that question. You’ll have to come by and hear it from me directly.
Following a longstanding principle, I promise I will not read my speech/conference paper like a script. I do, however, need to write something, so if you don’t see as many missives as usual in this space during the next few weeks you’ll know why. Indeed, since I might actually want to write some history this summer, I’m hoping the number of posts here goes way down for the length of the season.
Nonetheless, I’ve gone and gotten myself a cause so I’d like to help by more than just blogging about it. If you represent an impoverished academic organization that wants to help me add dates to my “Down With MOOCs” World Tour, I’ll go just about anywhere in exchange for expenses. If your worthy organization isn’t impoverished, I’ll still work cheap as I’m in the humanities (so very little money looks like a lot to me). Just e-mail me at the address in the right column of this page. I’ll announce more dates here as they come by (and I’m hoping to hear about a very interesting one very soon).
Image courtesy of the Connecticut AAUP.
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Categories : AAUP, MOOCs, Personal
From the same interview as last time, I’m also in this half hour on the history of the infamous Ludlow Massacre:
This one is close to my heart as I do a lot more with this subject than just talk about it on TV.
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Categories : Labor History, Personal
I’m told that I make my debut as a talking head on this Rocky Mountain PBS program about the history of my adopted hometown of Pueblo, Colorado:
I’ve also been told that I didn’t bring shame upon my university and my family name, but I’d still rather watch these Talking Heads than watch me.
You are welcome to take either option. We all stopped making sense a long time ago.
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Categories : Personal, TV
Just a short note to any historians out there who’ll be in NOLA at the AHA convention next week. I’m going in my capacity as Milestone Documents Course Editor for US History II, pitching in to help sell a great product that I started using long before they hired me to help make it better.
I’ll be at the Milestones booth on Friday and Saturday mornings (January 4th and 5th). Stop by and say hello if you’re around. Just don’t make me talk about the “M” word again.
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Categories : Personal, Teaching
I have a new favorite museum in America. It used to be the National Museum of American History, but I really think they’ve shot themselves in the foot in the course of remodeling and I’ll never forgive them for destroying their bookstore. The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, however, keeps getting better every time I see it.
I went back last Friday while I was in Detroit for the North American Labor History Conference. You go to the Henry Ford for the cars and their collection really is quite amazing.
When I first went during the 90s, the museum just had lines and lines of cars with almost no explanation. Now, the cars are not only explained, they have some of the best computer enhancements to any museum exhibit that I have ever seen.
For example, there’s a station where you can simulate driving a Model “T’ as if it were a driving game. What it does is illustrate all the steps you have to take to get a Model “T” running and moving forward, including getting out of the car at one point. I knew all these things, but I never quite realized how hard it was until I played the game. Now I’ll never forget.
The museum’s “Driving America” exhibit, however, is a lot more than just cars:
It really is the social history of the car as well, which I find much more interesting than just car after car. The film in the middle of the exhibit was particularly good. To paraphrase one of the curators in that film, he said, “In order for a new technology to take hold, people have to be convinced to do something in an entirely different way.” That was really easy when cars became relatively cheap.
It also seems quite clear that I have completely geeked out when I get excited over a McCormick Reaper and early steam engines. But then again, look at what I’ve been publishing lately.
PS You should all order that book one way or another as I’ve pitched writing a prequel to that book to the same publisher, and they’re looking at how early sales and requests go before deciding whether they’re going to give me a contract.
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Categories : Books, History of Technology, Personal, Photos
I can’t get the widget to work on this blog, but this link seems to do the trick.
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Categories : Books, Other Writings, Personal
My book is out! [Not this one, this one.] It’s called Industrialization and the Transformation of American Life: A Brief Introduction and it comes out of my experience teaching the second half of the US History Survey. In fact, it’s designed specifically for the second half of the US Survey because it’s short (128 pages), clear and hopefully interesting.
To show you what I mean, here’s the beginning of the Introduction (sans footnotes):
In 1869, two psychologists working independently coined the term “neurasthenia,” a new ailment that they attributed to the fast pace of modern life. In 1881, one of those psychologists, George Beard, wrote a book called American Nervousness. Beard’s work, a mostly scientific treatise, actually popularized the condition. Beard suggested that Americans were more likely to get “certain physical forms of hysteria,” including “hay fever, sick headache[s]…and some forms of insanity” because of this ailment. In Beard’s estimation, “No age, no country, and no form of civilization, not Greece, nor Rome, nor Spain, nor the Netherlands, in the days of their glory, possessed such maladies.” Modern industry played a particularly important role in causing neurasthenia, Beard explained. “Manufacturers, under the impulses of steam power and invention,” he wrote, “have multiplied the burdens of mankind; and railways, telegraphs, canals, steamships, and the utilization of steam power in agriculture, and in handling and preparing materials for transportation, have made it possible to transact a hundred-fold more business in a limited time than even in the eighteenth century.” To many this was progress, but Beard described the costs that this kind of progress inflicted on many Americans.
While Beard was not the only late-nineteenth century observer to lament the substantial changes that permeated daily life in this era, what separated his conception of American nervousness from other critiques was his emphasis on the physical manifestations of modernization. So much was changing so fast in the United States that other critics simply did not know where to start when trying to understand the toll that economic progress inflicted upon people. Beard and other psychologists, on the other hand, did not try to define the exact nature of these changes on the wider world. They looked only at how these changes affected individuals rather than society as a whole. To these scientists and many others, the human body itself was a machine, and their job was to fix it. They thought that machine ran on “nervous energy.” Neurasthenia was a sign that that energy had been entirely expended while trying to cope with the other machines that came to define the age.
Like Beard, a few historians have tried to examine the effects of industrialization during the nineteenth century. Yet despite its extraordinary impact, industrialization remains a very abstract concept to most scholars because it is harder to imagine that process than to describe its many effects. This might explain why industrialization does not get much space in many American history textbooks. Since the late nineteenth century was not rife with strong political or military leaders, fewer traditional subjects from this time period exist for historians to write about. The sharp increase in immigration, the growth of large cities and an acceleration of the movement to the American West – trends like these are harder to explain than laws or wars. Industrialization underlay all the general developments of this era, yet it is harder to appreciate precisely how that process affected these developments because the impacts of industrialization were so broad. With hindsight, we can examine one trend at a time. By doing this, connections between the better-examined aspects of this era and the phenomenon of industrialization become clear.
The goal of what follows is to show how industrialization was at the center of the major historical developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This book describes precisely how industrialization occurred on the shop floor of American workplaces and the many impacts that it had at those workplaces and in the society at large. This is not a book about why industrialization occurred, which is an interesting question well worth answering, but that would require a closer examination of an earlier period, before the impact of industrialization became completely clear. Answering that question would also require an international perspective, while this book concentrates upon the impact of this phenomenon on just American history. While such restrictions might seem unduly limiting for the study of such a monumental global phenomenon, these conditions are crucial in order to examine such a complex process. Too much context, and there will be no space for detail in what follows. Too much detail, and there will be no space for context.
If you want to read more, you should deal with the nice folks at M.E. Sharpe. Here’s the book’s page on their web site (from which they’ll send out to all countries). Here’s their page for exam copies. You can also try a well-known Internet book dealer whose e-reading machines have been the subject of many posts on this blog by visiting here (although as I write this they seem to have only one copy on hand). Yes, an e-book is coming too. I, however, will be assigning the paper copies.
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Categories : Books, Personal
…which explains why I want to write about publishing academic history from the author’s point of view. Normally, I save my history blogging for the nice folks at the Historical Society, but this is going to be too personal for there. However, I promise what follows will be more than just a victory lap as I think I’ve actually learned a few things during this very long project which I want to share.
Seven publishers rejected my revised dissertation. My evenlual publisher required me to buy ninety-five copies (at $34.95 a pop that’s quite a hit) in order for them to put the book out. This alone was enough for me to get tenure, so it was a good investment. Still, I was deeply ashamed for a long time even after I found out that this has become increasingly common practice in academic publishing.
I started the book I just got a contract for in 2000, while I was waiting for something to come together on the dissertation. [Yes, you read that date right, but to be fair I have published two other books in the interim, including one you can pre-order right now.] This newest one is a history of the American ice and refrigeration industries, tentatively titled Refrigeration Nation: How America Learned to Control the Cold.* The publisher will be the Johns Hopkins University Press. The Johns Hopkins University Press was one of the seven publishers that rejected my revised dissertation. Since the manuscript is done and has survived peer review, I suspect it will come out sometime early next year.
So what changed between then and now?:
1) Topics matter. My dissertation was on labor policy in the American steel industry. It’s an interesting subject, but it is hardly empty historiographic space. In contrast, the last monograph on refrigeration in America came out in 1953. Even then, that book was a business history. I spent years reading old trade journals so that I could learn the details of different refrigeration technologies. As a result, my book should be close to unique. For a technology this historically important, I still find that fact amazing.
2) Learning by doing. While there was merit in my dissertation (particularly the research) I wrote myself into a corner early on and couldn’t get out. What does that mean? I structured the entire book before I finished my research and couldn’t adapt it well when the peer reviews came in. To make matters worse, I kept trying to change that manuscript to meet the demands of the last review anyway. This time, I took lots of time to decide exactly how I wanted to organize the manuscript, and tried to be flexible. I think this is one of those lessons you just have to learn by doing it wrong the first time so that you never forget its importance going forward.
3) I took it on the road. Some people think that conferences are just glorified vacations. Sure, we all sneak out for a few hours at some point during the weekend sometimes to see something historical, but I’ve been giving parts of this manuscript as conference papers since around 2006 and I can’t tell you how much that’s helped. A Hagley conference in 2006 is where I figured out my argumett for the first time. It was at a food studies conference at UC-Davis in 2009 that I realized that I needed to include a global perspective in order to demonstrate the fact that America is particularly refrigeration crazy. That took about three extra years, but it’s a much better book as a result. Most importantly, it was at the Society for the History of Technology meeting three years ago that I got recruited by the JHU Press straight out of my session. All they knew was the subject of the book and the contents of the paper I had just given, but that proved to be enough (See change #1).
4) Arguments matter. The problem with my dissertation was that I wrote it story first, argument afterward. As a result, my argument was overly simplistic. When I started this project, I actually thought describing a dead industry (I started with just ice, but then went forward to the present) would be enough to justify publication. That might be true if the book were just for refrigerating engineers, but it’s not. An argument shouldn’t overwhelm a story, but it needs to be there nonetheless in order to make your expertise interesting to people who wouldn’t care otherwise. It’s sad that I didn’t figure that out while I was still in grad school, but I’m glad I at least figured it out now while I’m still young enough to have a few more books in me.
Speaking of more books, I get to use my sabbatical this semester to start a biography of Harvey Wiley, the guy who was the first head of what would eventually become the Food and Drug Administration. I want to use his life as a way to discuss the adulteration of foods of all kinds. This will include meat, bread, sugar, whiskey – even Coca-Cola.
Continuing my uphill climb, my plan this time is to get an agent and a contract with an advance from a trade press. If you happen to have an agent – or even better, if you happen to be an agent – you know how I write if you read this blog regularly. Any interested parties should use my contact info on the right.
PS Regular snarky technoskeptical blogging will resume with my next post.
* Yes, I know the “nation” title formulation is now cliché, but it really fits the argument. Also, it rhymes! How many other historians do you know have books with titles that rhyme?
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Categories : Books, Personal, Research, Writing