Blogs > Cliopatria > IHE on MLA

Dec 29, 2005 9:32 pm


Today's IHE has a depressing story on the current MLA convention, as presenters blame everyone but themselves for the diminishing public financial support for the academy. The chief villain? The" corporate" university--a concept that critics denounce with vehemence but never quite seem to define.

Anyhow, Ohio State professor Francis Donoghue contends that the" corporate" nature of colleges explains why people “no longer trust college as a place for intellectual broadening.” I can think of several other reasons why people no longer trust many humanities and social science departments for"intellectual broadening"--I would place little trust in, say, the UCLA History Department for broadening the horizons of its students intellects.

Trinity's Paul Lauter calls for a kind of guerrilla professoriate, one that thinks"of ways we can intervene to make governing or living untenable for” so-called corporate administrators. In the words of IHE reporter David Epstein,"Lauter railed against the labor practices of private institutions that deny graduate student unions."

An insufficient number of graduate student unions and a unwarranted loss of trust that faculty are committed to intellectually broadening their students' horizons. Very perceptive analysis at the MLA.

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Jonathan Rees - 12/31/2005

I'm on sabbatical and I STILL haven't finished Wilentz's book, but I marked the relevent quote for this discussion from pp. xx-xxi in the Preface:

"Featuring Jefferson and Lincoln in the subtitle is a shorthand way of insisting on what ought to be a truism: that some individuals have more influence on history than others. The title, by referring to a broader history, insists that they cannot make history just as they please, constrained as they are by a host of forces, persons, and popular movements beyond their control and anticipation."

Who in the UCLA History Department is going to disagree with that? And by the way, this is coming from a guy who started his career as a labor historian.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/30/2005

I've been hesitant to enter this discussion, in part because it became so overheated. I suspect it is overheated, in part because it is so repeated. Nonetheless, here are some suggestions, for whatever they're worth:
1) I'd guess that KC is perfectly well aware of the fact that Michigan, Princeton, UCLA are not normative of the experience of teaching history in the United States;
2) I'd guess that Chris and Tim know perfectly well that KC focusses on the Michigans, Princetons, and UCLAs -- not on the assumption that they are normative -- but because they are the training grounds for historians who will teach in institutions that are more normative;
3) I'd guess that KC knows that if the Michigans, Princetons, and UCLAs do not include professors of serious constitutional, diplomatic, legal, military, and political history in their cohort of American historians, there will be no one there to prepare a)young historians to teach those fields in the more normative institutions; and b) their own successors in those fields.
4) All of that said, I've been a little disappointed that the publication of _The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln_ by Sean Wilentz (Princeton, guys!) seems to have done _nothing_ to shift the terms of this on-going discussion. Both Caleb McDaniel and I have been critical of some of its apparent agenda, but it's a blockbuster of a book and it's aimed slant at this discussion. Here's one of our foremost American historians, who made his reputation as a practicioner of the new social history -- and he builds _from_ it to a new _political_ synthesis. It suggests that Wilentz knows that the central narrative in American history is a political one -- but a political one that broadens the definition of "the political" to one that takes full accounting of the political actions of the disfranchised.
5) In a somewhat similar vein, who among us doubts that Princeton or Michigan or UCLA would be improved by hiring Mark Grimsley to teach military history. They'd be improved, not simply by the restoration of a field they've recently neglected, which is KC's point, but because Mark's redefining what military history is -- which gets at the points that I think Chris and Tim have been making in response to KC.

Timothy James Burke - 12/30/2005

I don't think it's rare: I think that's what has commonly happened in academic politics at least since the advent of tenure. Particular orthodoxies do their best to push other specializations out to the margins, and they do so through institutional rather than intellectual mechanisms, typically. So for example it's pretty hard to find a dominant social historian making a serious on-the-page argument about the unimportance of political history, but as you rightfully suggest, not so hard to find some important representatives of the field sneering at political or diplomatic history at a meeting or in a casual conversation--or even when it's time to conduct a job search.

I just don't think you can say this is a new phenomenon or one invented by social historians. The generation of social historians just entering into retirement can tell you a good deal about the hostility that a previous generation of political and diplomatic historians greeted them with, and display various battle scars from that era.

This is why I think you need to avoid waging your argument through innuendo and broad-brush strokes, why that just looks like more of the same. I think arguments about the proper balance of specializations need to be made within the "official transcript" of scholarly work, as detailed and intellectually substantive arguments about the character of historical knowledge which make positive assertions about what should be rather than negative insinuations about this or that institution. That in part is how social history became an orthodoxy in the first place: not by suborning the mechanisms of institutional reproduction (that came much later) but by being genuinely creative and exciting as a methodology and as a substantive, empirical form of historical writing. EP Thompson made social historians by writing scholarship (including writing famous critiques of some kinds of methodology and theory), not by a whispering campaign to his department chair. The bad institutional work is done later by small and frightened intellects whose instincts run to the bureaucratic rather than the intellectual. To counter them you have to do the better kind of work: offer actual political histories whose virtues are intrinsic and powerful, or substantive critiques of the historiographies you oppose.

You also have to envision how we break the cycle of rising-orthodoxy-that-pushes others-out. Because in fact we do have a zero-sum problem: investing in one area means less of another area. This is always, always a hard argument to make for both intellectual and emotional reasons. To make it successfully requires both generosity and it requires putting your own programmatic neck on the chopping block, so to speak: one's own specialization has to be exposed to the same tests of value and challenge. In my own institutional context, for example, I'd be fully willing to argue that we ought to consider investing some resources we have now committed to the study of Africa to the study of the Middle East instead, if and when a retirement offers us that chance. It's not that I think my own field of study unimportant: it's that I think there's a compelling argument at this time that some reallocation is appropriate.

Chris Bray - 12/30/2005

Insert own joke here about drunks looking for car keys under streetlamps; two of your reasons for focusing on UCLA for a symbol of a closed and narrow history department have to do with that department's transparency and breadth.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/30/2005

I agree with you completely on the dangers of invoking a public "expectation" of history--and think it's relevant only to a very limited extent--that for those of us at public institutions, who are reliant on public funding, we wholly ignore public conceptions of our disciplines at our own peril. I think you're absolutely right that the public as a whole has a broad conception of history--bio/diplomatic/military/constitutional and social/cultural. But that vision of what constitutes "history" is very different than the vision of history at most large public departments. This doesn't mean that we should allow the public to dictate to us what "history" is--but we also shouldn't be surprised that when we redefine fields in dramatic ways, public support drops.

A sometimes commenter on Cliopatria is Jim Williams, the chair of the History Department at SUNY-Geneseo. This is a somewhat typical department--11 members overall. He posted a response sometime this spring on a search Geneseo did, where they were hoping to find good political historians, and were disappointed. The larger public universities and the elite private universities aren't typical, you're right--but they are the people who are training the next generation of professors more generally. So, to the extent that they are restricting the kinds of questions that the American side of the discipline explores, they will have a ripple effect in staffing decisions nationally over the next 10-15 years.

Administrations, it seems to me, have to play a key role here. A few years ago, in Historically Speaking, Marc Trachtenberg lamented that adherents of the “new social history” seemed “interested in pushing fields like diplomatic history—and to a certain extent even political history as a whole, not to mention a whole series of other fields—to the margins of the profession." One job of administrations--since they do award the new faculty lines--is to ensure that departments retain some sort of disciplinary balance. Administrations might require a history department to explain why a new line request will enhance the department's pedagogical diversity, and ask some hard questions on the matter. This is an imperfect model, but the alternative--allowing departments carte blanche like we saw in UCLA's new line this year--hardly seems promising.

This argument could be interpreted as territorial--but, to me, one element of a territorial argument is that both sides possess "territory." That's not quite what I see existing in the larger departments. Rather, there seems to be an attempt not merely to redefine the discipline (that, of course, happens all the time), but to narrow the discipline by abandoning certain sub-fields altogether. Perhaps that's occurred before in the development of History in US universities, but it certainly is a rare occurrence.

Timothy James Burke - 12/30/2005

One of my own criticisms of social history over the span of its existence has been that its practicioners frequently assumed its own transparent worth, that its attention to history from below would be self-evidently valued by a wider public who would see that as a corrective to the exclusions of top-down history.

So there is an important and valid discussion to be had about whether and how social history could explain itself to various publics. To some extent, its explanations can rest on rather traditional ideas of historical knowledge rather than some polemical or political understanding, because social history has unmistakeably broadened and deepened what we concretely know about the past.

In that, I suspect you both underrate and caricature what the wider public expects a department of history to teach or study, that you overlook the degree to which social history, broadly construed, has had a major impact on public consciousness in the United States and Europe, and has become an important part of what people expect from historians. Cultural history, too, for that matter, both in the narrow sense of the "history of cultural forms" and in the wider sense that someone like Robert Darnton practices. Take a look at what kind of historical books sell relatively well: there's military and political history at the top, but just below that a pretty rich mix of well-written social, cultural and intellectual histories. Look at Ken Burns' Civil War series, which pretty much defined what a broad public thought history was or could be: it was a pretty good integration of social, cultural, political and economic history.

But you're correct I think in asserting that even if students and parents and the wider public expect social and cultural history to have their place in a university curriculum, they also expect that there should be classes on the Civil War or the history of the Constitution. And you're right to suggest that at least at some of the more elite universities, such courses might be harder to come by than that public would expect. But again, I caution you: Michigan and Princeton and UCLA aren't typical or normal within the world of the university. Look at a wider range of higher education and you'll see plenty of those courses. Hell, virtually every private and public university in the the US South still has departments of history that are heavily, heavily invested in Southern political and social history, including the Civil War.

There's also another problem with invoking what the public at large expects history to be--a problem you potentially share with some thinkers on the left. If history should be taught just as the public imagines history to be, then what is the distinction between scholarship and public knowledge? If the public already knows what history is, then what does the public have to learn from scholarship save that which it already knows? What would be the point of a scholarly enterprise? There is a necesary tension between the idea of scholarly knowledge and public knowledge: for the former to have any worth whatsoever, it has to know things which are not generally known. Which could potentially in this case include suggesting to the public that what they think is important about the past is not actually what is important (or what they think is true about the past is not actually what is true). This strikes me as especially important given that the American public routinely voices antipathy towards history as a subject of study in their own educations in polls, and has done so consistently whether the dominant pedagogy was "traditional" political and diplomatic history or more recent "social studies"-oriented history. Whatever Americans encounter as "history" in school, they don't tend to like it much. If that sensibility was the final word about what we should do as scholars, we'd either have to junk scholarly history completely or completely rethink every existing form of it, your kind of political history and your antagonists' kind of social history combined.

There's a legitimate point somewhere in your complaints, but it's a precise point, a subtle point, one that calls for care--especially if you mean it to be the platform from which you reach for a new model of intellectual pluralism. Right now, you again read more to me like someone making ordinary territorial special pleading for your specializations as measured against other specializations: academic business as usual rather than some kind of genuinely new institutional vision. In that respect, I don't see much distinction between you and the social historians you criticize: you both seem to be playing the same games, by the same rules, rather than offering a foundation for some other normative vision of what the proper balance of specializations might be.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/30/2005

If that's the case, then why not rename these departments "Department of Social and Cultural History"? One issue I have pushed strongly is greater transparency in broad personnel matters--i.e., having college administrations publicly post the intellectual rationale for each new line awarded. (I did a piece on this for Inside Higher Ed.)

My sense is that most people outside the academy--legislators, parents, alumni--have a far different sense of what the likely staffing pattern in a History Department would be than do people inside the academy. To get back to the thrust of the original post, I agree with Lamar Alexander's recent comment, that one reason why public universities have struggled to maintain funding levels is a perception that we are defining our teaching topics in ways radically different than what's expected by those who fund us. If, in fact, there's an intellectually compelling justification for a department with the staffing pattern of a UCLA to use a US line for cultural, environmental, or labor history rather than to plug one of its holes, let's see it publicly. If this justification is, in fact, intellectually compelling, (and if such justifications in other departments--say English or Sociology--that also move away from more "traditional topics" are also compelling) than the academy will have a way to respond to legislative critics that our product isn't worth funding.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/30/2005

As I've said previously, I've used the UCLA setting as a symbol for a broader trend for a few reasons: (1) I've tried to focus on larger public universities--departments with 10 or more Americanists--because such departments both hire in sub-discipline specific lines (rather than, say, just "20th century US history") and because such departments, as they are public and theoretically must keep in mind the need to maintain legislative support, are less likely than private universities to be pedagogically skewed; (2) UCLA has made no pretense of staffing a pedagogically diverse department, with its Americanist faculty all but ignoring diplomatic and legal history and radically redefining political history to make it interchangeable from social history; and (3) UCLA posts syllabi on the internet, so we can get a better sense of what's taught.

But any assistance you want to provide in documenting the imbalance in departmental staffing policies is more than welcome . . .

Chris Bray - 12/30/2005

I'm losing the energy to care, but I'll second Timothy James Burke's comments here -- and offer to help you find a new MacGuffin, so you can offer a second ill-considered and reflexive example in support of your untenable argument. How about something in a nice liberal arts college? Or a fine Ivy League model? Lots of social history in those settings. Let me know, and I'll google something up for you.

Timothy James Burke - 12/30/2005

Look, think about the Ocaam's Razor explanation of the problem you perceive. In the mid-1960s, history departments heavily, strongly, favored the kind of political and diplomatic history you prefer. The social historians were on the outside looking in at the beginning of their ascendancy. Then they became the orthodoxy, but only slowly and complicatedly and in part because their methodology was persuasive and powerful and truth-finding in important ways--and "traditional" political historians fought tooth and nail against that ascendancy. Having become the orthodoxy, many social historians proceeded to forget the intellectual conditions against which they struggled, or drew the wrong lesson from them--not that one should always value intellectual pluralism, but that "traditional" political and diplomatic history always would bear them ill will and fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of their own method. (The social historians also often proceeded to mistreat cultural historians who they saw as apostates from their own camp...)

The challenge to you and anyone else who wants to correct that is to offer a model of intellectual pluralism as actual practice in history departments: to show how it might work, what it might consist of, how we might recognize the strengths of various methodological models, how we might acknowledge the heuristic power of various ways of writing and studying history. The central pillar of rising to that challenge is intellectual generosity, however, at least in my reading. If you want to argue FOR intellectual pluralism, rather than just appear to be a partisan for your own preferred methodology, you've got to exhibit that generosity whether or not you feel it deep down--it's got to be a pillar of your public persona, your default approach to the choices that others make. It may not be--in fact, it certainly will not be--that others meet you in the same spirit, but you can't clearly make that be their failing rather than your own until you refuse to play the game by those rules.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/29/2005

I did not say that the argument that "a university should not have people who can teach about American government, the legal system and US-foreign relations" was not mainstream. I said that the idea that "a good department of history will offer students the opportunity to take classes from specialists in the history of their own country's government, legal structure, and interaction with the world community" is not mainstream. There's a very substantial difference between the two statements.

I admire the work of people doing American political development in poli. sci. But the same argument that you made above could be applied to US social history--i.e., since most universities have people in American studies departments, or ethnic/gender studies departments, or sociology departments who address many of the same issues as do social historians, why should we bother to hire US social historians? Political scientists ask different questions than do historians; they have different professional norms and tend to use sources in a different way. I'm not comfortable in saying that it's OK to lop off a good portion of US history to be covered by political scientists. It seems to me that the default position of history should be as a pedagogically diverse field--i.e., it adds new sub-disciplines, but rarely subtracts anything, even as these older sub-disciplines ask different questions and use newly available sources.

I'm sure that many social historians bring matters of political history into their classes (much less diplomatic or most types of legal history) and scholarship, just as many political historians do the reverse. But, at the end of the day, larger departments hire US historians not as generalists but in subfields. As you know, I see no legitimate intellectual rationale for the kind of imbalanced hiring patterns we've seen in the US contingents at schools like UCLA and Michigan. And as larger, prominent departments are the ones training the next generation of US historians and with the hgihest public profile, their hiring patterns matter.

I have not tried to argue a "left-baiting" approach that the pedagogically dominant factions in the contemporary have excluded people on the basis of their ideology. Instead, I have tried to suggest that one explanation for the yawning (and growing) ideological imbalance in the contemporary academy has been the decision to exclude from hiring sub-fields that are perceived as more "traditional" and do seem to be more diverse ideologically. The problem, it seems to me, is not the ideological imbalance, but what's causing the ideological imbalance.

On the more general issue, we've obviously been over this before. I see no compelling intellectual rationale for the staffing patterns of departments like UCLA or Michigan, departments top-heavy with social or cultural historians and virtually no representation from specialists in political, diplomatic, or constitutional history. It seems to me that administrations need to step in--as has been done, to some extent, at Columbia and Brown--and compel such departments to cover their entire disciplines within their US contingents. Obviously, few schools have the resources to be as pedagogically broad on non-American hirings.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/29/2005

Thanks for catching the typo.

There seems to be a remarkably broad definition of what constitutes the "corporate university": in this piece alone, we hear from professors equating it with students thinking about their post-college job prospects; administrators demanding that professors demonstrate their accountability; and opposition to grad. student labor unions.

(1) certainly isn't new; (2) might be a change, but the idea of powerful administrators certainly is not the product of the last 15 years or so; and (3) is new, but the activism has come from those who seek to establish grad school unions, not from those imposing a "corporate university."

Timothy James Burke - 12/29/2005

So, that's a much more limited claim. And it ought to be voiced in that limited fashion. Put in that form, moreover, it's silly to say that this is not a "mainstream view": I doubt you'd find very many historians who with a straight face would say to you that a university should not have people who can teach about American government, the legal system and US-foreign relations. For you to make a claim against this a "mainstream view" requires multiple acts of sleight-of-hand.

It requires, for example, making UCLA and Michigan into "mainstream", e.g., typical and common, rather than "exceptional". This is a general problem with arguments about what is normal in academia. Numerically, what's normal is community colleges, less-selective private universities, and secondary state universities, not Michigan, Harvard, Yale, UCLA, Berkeley. Or if you're talking sales of historical scholarship, what's normal is McCullough, not Nash. Now there is an argument about what influences the profession in terms of top-down authority, and that's an important argument. But it's a nuanced claim and requires continual attention to nuance to make.

As I've observed before, your habitual argument also requires you to essentially dismiss the existence of historically-focused political science as a meaningful way to deliver what you think is important. You've never had a really satisfying answer about why an Americanist political scientist who primarily researches and teaches in a historical frame of reference is an inadequate way to deliver the curricular and intellectual goods that you prize, about why it's important to also have people with the same intellectual frame-of-reference in history departments.

You've never really been able to explain why political history has to be delivered in the highly specific form that you prize--why, for example, curricular attention to American government and laws from a social historian's perspective is definitionally an inadequate way to teach those subjects. The most you usually do when this comes up is insinuate that all social historians are by definition extreme leftists incapable of provisioning any sort of intellectually balanced or open-minded arguments. That insinuation won't fly unless you're willing to roll up your sleeves and really do a thorough critique of Americanist social history and the way it canonically approaches the history of American government, laws and diplomatic relations. Which for now you have not provided. At the very least, I would say that there are plenty of social historians who incorporate significant amounts of what you would regard as canonical political history into their work, and vice-versa. This is something you acknowledge every time I raise it, but it seems to have absolutely no effect on your willingness to paint whole departments and schools of thought with careless strokes. What's Gordon Wood, in your view? Part of the mainstream that can't be trusted to "broaden horizons"? How about James McPherson? Both of them have plenty of political narrative in their works, but they also both incorporate, extensively, the insights of social historians.

I think you've got plenty of legitimate reason to voice concern about the methodological monoculture of many departments, and to make strong arguments for the importance of political and diplomatic history as you understand them. But you've got to constrain your arguments to some actual specifics, both in terms of what the profession actually *is* and in terms of defining and supporting what you regard as relatively excluded from the canon. I think there's no more room for the nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean left-baiting in this line of argument, or even for picking off weak extremists that you want to dismiss. You want to keep hammering on UCLA or anywhere else, roll up your sleeves and get into the guts of the historiography as well as the specifics of curricular choices that major departments make.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/29/2005

I think the loss of state support for higher education is a terrible thing, and apologize if I implied otherwise. That said, I think that the academy has been unwilling to recognize that its own actions have played into the hands of its critics. And so we can complain about the loss of state funding and public support, but if all we're willing to do is to blame the situation on everyone else, we have little chance of reversing the pattern.

On the TWU strike, I admit that I could not put myself in the shoes of a union leadership that casually broke the law--without even making a serious attempt to avoid a strike. I think we've seen from the ease with which the mediators reached a settlement that there was no reason the union had to break the law to reach its goals.

On the grad student strikers, I was in their shoes a little over a decade ago, when I was a grad student during an abortive attempt to unionize Harvard grad students. My belief on the value of grad student unions is unchanged from then. I believe that people who want to enter the academy walking out in the middle of a semester, an action that caused direct harm to their own students, is worthy of contempt.

Robert KC Johnson - 12/29/2005

The comment was a response to the Donoghue claim that the "corporate" nature of colleges explains why people “no longer trust college as a place for intellectual broadening.” In my post, I said that I could think of "several other reasons" why people seem to have lost trust in humanities and social science departments that have nothing to do with the "corporate" university. With UCLA, I should have said the Americanist wing of the department, and also have made it clear that I was using UCLA as a symbol for the broader academy. In one of my earlier posts on this subject, in fact, I noted that UCLA was hardly "atypical."

I consider it self-evident that a good department of history will offer students the opportunity to take classes from specialists in the history of their own country's government, legal structure, and interaction with the world community. That is obviously not a mainstream view in the contemporary academy.

Joseph Duemer - 12/29/2005

Weird, I clicked through to see what people had to say about the MLA & get a debate about the UCLA History department. There is a serious logical disconnect in the original post.

Barry DeCicco - 12/29/2005

Chris, it's the opposite of random, IMHO, when a writer brings up a pet peeve in a marginally-related post.

Timothy James Burke - 12/29/2005

I've worried that some of your criticisms of academic historians are based on thin sourcing, on just reading off the top of what is readily available to you by quickly skimming the Web. But your obsession with UCLA's history department goes beyond that. It's an excessive remark in the context of a piece that's supposed to focus on the MLA, in any event, but it's also a really careless broad brush. You wouldn't trust the <em>entire department</em> to do any teaching that might broaden <em>any</em> student's horizons? Come on. That's really unfair, particularly because you're basing that opinion largely on a quick (and not terribly attentive) survey of the balance of specializations in that department, on a passing familiarity with the curricular offerings of a single professor, and on your habitual overreading of the pedagogical and intellectual significance of strongly favoring social history over political history. You know nothing of what the rest of that department actually does in the classroom; I'm guessing you've read no more than a miniscule fraction of the scholarly output of the faculty in that department; you probably haven't even seen the syllabi of most of the courses they offer. You don't put yourself in much of a position to criticize the intellectual probity of most of the rest of the profession with these kinds of fly-by attacks.

Chris Bray - 12/29/2005

Hammered this out at work while trying to pay attention to other things. So, yeah, for the record, I know how to spell "aggressively," and I owe those "students horizons" an apostrophe. Sooooo frustrating.

Chris Bray - 12/29/2005

I love that this piece takes a shot at the history department at the middle of a piece about the MLA. How aggressively random do you intend to be, here?

Chris Bray - 12/29/2005

MOTHER OF GOD, here we go again with the UCLA History Department and its fantasy narrowness.

And I say yet again: Here are the UCLA History Department's course offerings for the upcoming quarter. Look for yourself. What's on the menu?

History of India. History of Western Civilization. History of medicine. Of the scientific revolution. Of religions. Of Latin American economic development. Of Southeast Asia. Of China. Of colonial America. Of genocide. Of the museum. Of Darfur. Of the Russian Revolution. Of 16th-century Spain. Of French nationalism. Of mid-Victorian Britain. Of U.S. foreign aid. Of ancient Egypt. Of the Middle East. Of modern Armenia. Of Iran. Of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of ancient Greece. Of ancient Rome. Of medieval Europe. Of World War II in Europe. Of late-modern France. Of German nationalism. Of imperial Russia. Of Marxist theory and history. Of the economic history of Europe. Of European exploration and conquest. Of modern Britain. Of the 20th-century U.S. Of the American economy. Of American architecture. Of American women. Of African-American nationalism. Of chicanos. Of whiteness. Of West Africa. Of southern Africa. Of early modern and late modern Japan. Of the Philippines. Of Jewish intellectual history. Of the Sephardic diaspora. Of the Third Reich. Annnnnnnd the list goes on, beyond my patience for further typing.

Of course, all of this is very radical and narrow, and aggresively excludes political history. Which explains the presence, on the list of course offerings, of a class called "Abraham Lincoln's Historical Legacy."

Evidence versus nonsense, here. Sneering that the history department at UCLA is unlikely to broaden its students horizons is like attacking an all-you-can-eat restaurant for sending people home hungry. Any even marginally fair consideration of readily available evidence would show you that the opposite is true.

Scott Eric Kaufman - 12/29/2005

If I believed in a God he would insert a "basing" between "and" and "of." Ugh.

Scott Eric Kaufman - 12/29/2005

For what it's worth, I haven't attended a panel of that sort to date. I'm my MLA experience in as honest a fashion as humanly possible, and of the 14 panels and/or talks I've attended I've heard one complaint about the corporate university. Not to say that it isn't a dominant theme in other panels, but at least among the jounalistic and historicist panels I've attend that anxiety doesn't seem to rise to the level of mention.

Adam Kotsko - 12/29/2005

For instance, if you want a decidedly non-MLA take, you could take a look at Richard H. Roberts, Religion, Theology, and the Social Sciences, which contains an account of the impact of Thatcherism on British universities that may not be entirely unrelated to similar phenomena in the US. Simply because the MLA presenters might be annoying on a personal level, they're not necessarily just making stuff up when they talk about the corporatization of the university.

Also, I believe that the plural of "horizon" is spelled with s rather than z.

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/28/2005

"I would place little trust in, say, the UCLA History Department for broadening the horizons of its students intellects."

KC, I know you have had some rotten experiences in academia, and yes, there are some fools and dictatorial types in some highly visble places who don't know how off putting they are. And that is part of the problem with funding.

I was going to move next to comment on your almost Horowitzian assumption that MLA and UCLA=the whole academic world--and some other time I may do that.

But more and more it seems to me that you are moving in the direction of the bitterness of Thomas Reeves. So much of what you say seems so bitter that, quite honestly, I'm beginning to discount your judgement in these matters. I find myself wondering if you can see the good in the academic world. Instead, my impression is that you think the loss of state support for higher education is on the border of being good, despite the harm it is doing to the lives of thousands of students.

As another example, your comments on strikers--both grad student and NYC transit--increased my sympathy for both groups. Not because they were wise or without fault. Some of your criticisms have merit. But because it seemed that you made no effort whatsoever to put yourself in their shoes. The only emotion you showed for either group was contempt.

It's one thing after long experience to feel contempt for an individual, but you broad-stroked that emotion over thousands of people. And that's just wrong. And, practically speaking, it's not a very good way to win an argument.

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