Tuesday, August 30, 2005


The fund that Academic Coach opened to help the Badger family will remain open. Let's not forget it when the first of the month comes along. Badger and her son have a rough road to hoe ahead of them. If you want to send a paper card, Academic Coach has explained how to get it to Badger.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I'm not going to get all reporterly about text books on y'all because I don't have the energy or the time. Our classes started this week and all of that Taoism stuff is not quite working as well as it should. But it's nice to wish, and to try to be calmer than usual (and if beginning to get that distant, depressed feeling counts as being "calm", then maybe I'm getting calm with every new day of the nascent semester).

For years I've been fuming about textbook prices and book prices in general. It pisses me off that my students --who are working class-- have to pay 100-150 $ a semester on my literature classes. Granted they are spending at least that if not more in their non-literary disciplines, but it sucks. I have a fantasy about creating a network of PDF "freeware" on-line, where faculty from across this "great" nation could post scanned in, copy-right free texts for classroom use, or just write them and provide them on-line.

I understand that this would not be good for publishers (and what satisfaction or possible reward could there be for faculty who edit content for release on internet or who write original materials?).But the pricing of books is ridiculous. A 250 page small-sized paperback textbook for 70$? A book that no second hand bookstore will want to buy. A book that's crummy like most "textbooks." 70$ That's a crime. It makes my blood boil.

So now enterprising minds are getting on the publish on demand craze, marketing cheap editions of public domain texts for faculty. But why should I line the pockets of those people when I can do the same thing? (Albeit without a shiny cover and such.) I have begun to scan in copy-right free primary texts for my students to use. No bookstore shenanigans. No publisher shenanigans. No copyright persecutions. No nobody getting unfair profits.

But damn it, wait a minute... what hurts academic publishers hurts publishing faculty. I really don't know why I go down these roads. Time for some Taoism.

Friday, August 19, 2005


If anyone has used courseblogs in their courses, please let me know. I'm looking for tips. I'm sick of dealing with our department server, and don't have the time to learn dreamweaver. I know how to manipulate the template settings in blogger to establish stable links to particular pages, such as a syllabus page, and I've already generated several blogs that look nice. But now I need to figure out whether I will integrate them into my teaching or merely use them in a marginal way to post syllabi and publicize my classes. I've looked for courseblogs online, but they are hard to find. If anyone who reads this has experimented with a course blog, let me know what you found out!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Here are some reflections sparked by What Now's impending trip to interview a living author for a project.

I think one of the reasons I was drawn to nineteenth-century studies was because I found the theoretical back-and-forth in contemporary literary studies to be too exhausting for my taste. I always felt like I had to elbow twelve theories out of the way to get to what I might want to say. Moreover, in my area, contemporary studies is always intertwined with travel and current events, and I simply could not afford to be jetting off to exotic locales to "stay current." I wasn't comfortable acting like a foreign correspondent and tracking down a bunch of native informants to make me feel authorized to have half a clue. I didn't want to spend every waking hour feeling like I had to be somewhere else, out of the country, to stay current. Don't get me wrong-- I did this for a few years, and got by. But it was too expensive. Too exhausting. Too uncertain. I always felt like I was behind. I guess I'm not cut out for that kind of scholarship anymore.

But as challenging as nineteenth-century studies are, I find that they are much less of a moving target. Everyone I'm dealing with is DEAD! In a manner of speaking, the playing field is more level. I can work from home through a variety of astonishing full-text on-line databases, interlibrary loan and less frequent trips to archives out of the country (which has helped my finances). Because nineteenth-century studies demands a historicist sensibility, no matter how theoretical you may want to be, I found that with determination, and patience, I could reconstruct the landscapes of the past and arrive at some level of expertise that would authorize my voice as a scholar. I also felt like I could grow, become knowledgeable in something. Before, in Contemporary Studies, I always felt like there was no common ground, just dueling theories firing away at each other.

But there's something else that drew me to nineteenth century studies. It's the same thing that drives my love of collecting nineteenth-century photographs: reviving, if only fleetingly, the dead. Taking their vestiges and trying to arrive at some understanding of their world and their lives. I'm as wary as anyone here about essentialism in scholarship but there is great pleasure in experiencing a kind of insight into the past that allows you to feel it as something real, and not as something distant and expired. That experience informs my scholarship and gives it life, even as I remain critical in what I put down on paper. In other words, I am talking about flashes of insight that you may not be able to quantify in your scholarship but which feel more...dare I write this damn word? But which feel more transcendent. (Ok, so shoot me for saying it.)

Like I said in my comment to What Now, I work on dead authors because they won't show up to conferences to tell me I'm full of crap. Or because people who have talked to them in person will not be able to stand up and tell me I'm full of crap. But I also dance with the dead because I treasure the intimacy of defeating death and time, if only for a fleeting moment, poring over an old newspaper or an old diary. An illusion perhaps, but a beautiful one worth making your life's work.

(Photo: Detail from a nineteenth-century cabinet card of Camicao's Polish Great Great Grandmother. I think her name was Magdalena Szampanier.)