Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Update: The Duke Conservative Union replies to the University's reactions.
Further update: It's Kevin Drum at Calpundit v Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.
Meanwhile, at Penn State-Altoona, Erin O’Connor has reported on how the administration now seems to be launching a smear campaign against Professor Nona Gerard. (My Cliopatria colleague Ralph Luker has recently written about the Gerard case here.) The campus administration has countered in a form-lette response: “You should also know that when five members of the University community who heard over 40 hours of testimony in what was a quasi-legal proceeding would vote unanimously that the faculty member was guilty of grave misconduct, there is not just smoke but a lot of fire.”
In his blog, Brian Leiter has observed that this response is what one would have expected from an administration faced with such an apparently indefensible position. (Leiter adds that the statement itself is deceptive, because the vote to dismiss Gerard was only 3-2, with 2 of the 3 votes coming from administrators.) Altoona is, essentially, asking the outside world to believe that its administrators elected, for reasons unknown, to ensure that the least damaging charges against Gerard made it into the public arena, but that, because of their commitment to the “integrity” of the university’s judicial process, chose to keep secret the most serious of those allegations. Not exactly the most credible claim.
The important Woodson/ASAALH collection joins an increasingly rich collection of resources in African American history and African American art and imprints in the University's collections. Much of its strength is due to the remarkable work of my friend, Randall Burkett, who is just extraordinarily skillful at developing a major archive in African American material.
The National Book Circle Critics Awards were handed out in New York on Thursday evening. They went to two of my favorite candidates. Edward P. Jones's The Known World took the prize in fiction; and Paul Hendrickson's Sons of Mississippi won for non-fiction.
Liberty & Power's David Beito hasn't sent me a cigar yet, but he's a new grandfather. One of his former students, Reid McKee, did some guestblogging over at L & P. Now, McKee has launched his own new group blog, Moteworthy. Check it out.
Finally, this personal note: I've been out of the classroom for a couple of years and had almost forgotten how draining it is. Two hour-long workshops yesterday with CoreKnowledge K-12 teachers and I was thoroughly wiped out. So, here's a tip of the hat to the multi-tasking Cliopatriarchs (and other academic bloggers, too) who advise, blog, committee-serve, publish, teach, and hold administrators at bay all at once.
The worst the Anti-Defamation League has posted is Extremists Latch on to"The Passion of the Christ", which makes it clear that the folks quoted were rabid antisemites before they saw Mad Max, let alone The Passion.
It's been out for a week. Am I missing something, or is the punditocracy due the usual respect for its ability to predict the future?
By the way, if you think I'm an antisemite for thinking that the film (which I still haven't seen) won't produce a pogrom, I'm not talking about Mel or Christian theology -- I'm talking about America, the movie critics, and the professoriate. I think we public intellectuals are pretty bad at providing value for money when we offer paid predictions. Remember the mass mosque burnings in the last quarter of 2001? I live a county away from the Sikh Temple that got firebombed, so I don't underestimate the things that did occur. On the other hand, I also keep up with French synagogue burnings.
Let me offer a prediction -- The Passion of the Christ will not cause any large, medium, or small-scale outburst of antisemitism in America. I predict there will be tiny, isolated, quickly condemned, and thoroughly prosecuted incidents of antisemitism. If I'm wrong, I'll be happy to stand corrected.
FURTHER: Here's a New York Post story about the current level of antisemitic incidents in NYC as a baseline, by the way, though comments from those interviewed are contradictory.
Doing these workshops set me to thinking about the fairly large divide between the professorate and K-12 faculty. There was a time when it wasn't so. A faculty member at Louisville's Male High School was deferentially called"Prof Smith" in our local church there and the University of Louisville's David Maurer was well known to us in high school because his wife, Barbara, ruled the Latin roost at Fern Creek High School. The woman was a genius of a teacher and knew just where the boundaries were. When last I talked to her by telephone on a brief flight through Louisville, I called Mrs. Maurer. Many years had passed and she didn't altogether even remember me, but I wanted to pay tribute to her stern authority as a teacher. She cut me off."Oh, I was a bitch," she said.
In the meantime, I had done student teaching as an undergraduate at Duke. I was assigned to an eighth grade class in a white junior high school and ended up even leading girls p. e. I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with that. But I was also participating in civil rights demonstrations in downtown Durham. After my picture appeared on local television, one of my students was found drawing a picture of me in his notebook."Nigger lover," it said under the drawing. I wasn't allowed to teach the unit on African history that I had planned for that semester. My teaching supervisor threatened to withdraw me from student teaching. The threat was a serious one because had I not successfully completed student teaching, I would have lost credit for all of the other courses I had taken that semester. A whole semester's work lost and graduation delayed. I survived by not getting arrested until my student teaching was completed and all requirements for graduation met.
It's all so ironic. Engagement in the civil rights movement is now valued. As I told a friend several years ago,"I'm a bloody relic." He wasn't too impressed with that, but I'm also a scholar of the movement and knowledge of it is" core knowledge." I hope Mrs. Maurer would be proud of me. I only wish the supervisors of my student teaching could be with us tomorrow.
I happened on an interesting show on tv last night, by way of that dreaded vice of idly flicking through some channels without any particular goal in mind. I thought it was Nova, but upon going to the Nova page to find a link and being unable to, discovered that it was something called Secrets of the Dead. Not a very alluring title. Sounds like something on one of those odd channels, one of those channels full of cop chases and other lurid items. But in fact it was quite good, and I ended up watching though I had thought I was going to wander off again after a few minutes. It was about the 1918 flu. There were some mildly irritating aspects, such as unnecessary re-enactments to supplement the archival photos and film, but that's a small point.
The most interesting part, to me at least, was toward the end, when questions of evidence and how to think about them and what to decide came to the fore, and we were presented with two scientists, both apparently quite reasonable and sensible, drawing rather different conclusions from the same evidence. Nothing remarkable in that, it happens all the time, and that's why it's so interesting. It was a very good little lesson in how both science and history actually work, there on our tv screens.
One researcher, an Oxford virologist (whose name I've forgotten), had and has an idea that the flu originated earlier and elsewhere than the generally-believed spring of 1918 in US military camps. So he searched the literature, and found a contemporary article in the Lancet by several military doctors about a virulent respiratory outbreak in a military camp in Etaples, in northern France. The doctors said it was not quite like ordinary bronchitis nor like ordinary pneumonia; they called it 'purulent bronchitis.' It was frequently fatal, and it produced the same 'heliotrope cyanosis' that the 1918 flu did. The Oxford virologist looked for three enabling conditions for a flu like the 1918 strain: pigs, live birds that humans have contact with, and crowded conditions; he found all three.
But that's all the evidence there is. He and others have been looking in permafrost for genetic material that would clinch it, but so far they have not found any. And that's where the two different takes come in. The Oxford virologist is convinced that the Etaples outbreak was the origin of the 1918 flu. But part of his argument for why he thinks so and we should think so too was a little bit odd (and, so, interesting as part of as it were epistemological psychology). He said something like 'How can we just ignore the findings of the doctors who wrote the Lancet article, who risked their lives to do the research? We can't just say they were wrong, we can't just dismiss them.' That's an odd thing to say because it's not necessary to say they were wrong, surely, and even if it were that would not be an argument! Obviously enough.
The virologist then went on to say that the preponderance of the evidence was in favour of the Etaples idea; that it wasn't proven, but the evidence was heavily in favour. His colleague Jeffrey Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist, put it quite differently. He simply said we don't have the evidence, and that's that.
Clearly the two are considering different kinds of things to be evidence, and it's also somewhat clear that the virologist is letting himself persuade himself. That he's taking what one might call circumstantial evidence to be firmer than it really is, and not being tentative enough. And that in itself is quite interesting. The difference between the two is a nice illustration of what lab technicians, journalists, detectives, historians, molecular pathologists and virologists do every day, all over the planet. Figuring things out.
How many goals does a basketball court have? [ans: 2]Apparently the print edition of the Washington Post publishes the whole exam, but it is not on-line. Thanks to David Post at The Volokh Conspiracy for the one-pointer.
How many halves are there in a basketball game? [ans: 2]
How many points is a three-point goal worth? [ans: 3]
You could do that sort of thing in a history class. Is there anything that cannot be corrupted?
What did the Declaration of Independence declare?But, wait, Groucho Marx already did that one.
When did the War of 1812 begin?
Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?
Europeans rank the 'scientific" content of these fields --
Here's a link to the pdf version -- the sad, sad chart is on page 27. I wonder what a comparable ranking in America would reveal?
I'm happy to have been invited to join the Cliopatria group.
Derek Catsam is from New Hampshire and, bear with us, he is a Red Sox fan. Williams College and Catsam agree that he ill-spent his youth there, majoring in history and political science, captaining its championship track and field team, and singing in the Williams Octet, an a cappella group. He continues to sing with a DC group, Fair Game. Derek did graduate work at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Rhodes University in South Africa, and Ohio University in American and South African history. Catsam is a fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, finishing a book on the Freedom Rides for Louisiana State University Press. An associate editor of Safundi: The Journal of South African & American Comparative Studies, Derek is well known at HNN both for his fine articles and spirited engagements on the comment boards. He places himself somewhere to"the left of the New Republic but to the right of the Nation". Being a historian does not save him from illusions: he believes the Red Sox will do it this year and joins Cliopatria"to set that &*#%$@ Luker straight on a few matters." Do, someone, buy the poor man a webpage. We have no netlink for him.
Fortunately, Michael Tinkler will maintain some sense of balance at Cliopatria. Better known on the net as the Cranky Professor, Tinkler teaches Art History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. He is, however, a man of the South, a native of Tennessee, and graduate in Classics from Rice University. Unwittingly, he absorbed wisdom by walking past Atlanta's Luker estate 10 or 12 times a week while pursuing his doctorate at Emory University. Tinkler's teaching and research interests are in ancient and medieval art history, Islamic art and architecture, and women and art in the middle ages. And, shh, the Cranky One is said to be a" conservative."
We have so lost the habit in this country of reading history and teaching it to our children that we simply have no context in which to place the"realistic" epics of Gibson or Spielberg. They are dangerous not because they dramatize or alter historical events -- something great novelists have been doing for centuries -- but because there isn't anything else. In this sense, Gibson's film is actually less worrisome than others. Most of the people who go to see"The Passion of the Christ" will at least have a pretty good idea of the plot. Most of the people who saw"Saving Private Ryan," by contrast, knew very little about D-Day, aside from what they saw on the screen.
Which is hardly surprising: There are many states that don't require children to study American history, let alone European history, before graduating from high school. Fundamental though it is to any real understanding of Western culture, the subject of New Testament history would utterly terrify most public schools, which long ago sacrificed history to"social studies." Unless and until that changes, Mel Gibson's interpretation will indeed matter, and will indeed require public debate. Hollywood's power does not lie merely in its ability to distort. Hollywood's power lies in the fact that it distorts in a vacuum.
Don't put a lot of stock in my opinion, but I am more confident that Spanier and Penn State are in error because Eugene Volokh believes it is so. Being obnoxious is not grounds for dismissing a tenured professor. If that were so, most people I've known in academic life might have been dismissed at some point or other. My friends on the left at Crooked Timber disappoint me. Kieran Healy takes aim at Eric Rasmussen's known biases and weak reasoning about the case. The issue is not Rasmussen's irrationality and prejudice, Kieran. Nor is it Erin O'Connor's literary taste, Henry. Tenured professors are neither brussel sprouts nor are they abusive students and the issue is academic freedom. We need to be quite clear about that.
I'm officially done with discussion about Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ, though I'll still selectively join in discussions of early Christian, Roman, Jewish history, etc. In spite of the vast quantities of verbiage, there is really no"debate" over the movie. There are two monologues: concerned" critics" who question Gibson's narrative, historical and aesthetic choices, and the narrowness of both his theological and secular vision; oblivious"defenders" who argue, correctly, that Gibson's movie is based on the Gospels, that Gibson has a right to think, pray and express himself, and that history is often a matter of interpretation. The problem with the oblivious freedom-worshiping literalists is that us critics have as much of a right to differ and to express ourselves and that some interpretations are more valid than others. Gibson's supporters have clearly and repeatedly refused to engage with the critical issues, and there's really no point in thinking that there's anything like a debate or discussion going on.
p.s. There's about only one exception, at least on HNN: Richard Henry Morgan, who has consistently engaged both sides of the discussion critically and substantially. One person.
p.p.s. And HNN just posted (literally minutes after I posted this message) Juan Cole's vigorously argued defense of Gibson's critics along with a few criticisms of his own. It's quite energetic writing, and as much as I'd like to be wrong, I very much doubt that it'll change anyone's mind on the subject.
Helibrun (aka Amanda Cross for academic mystery fans) was not ill and not unhappy. She simply decided that this was her time and that taking longer would, in words of one of her books, be" dangerous, lest we live past both the right point and our chance to die." The note she left said, “The journey is over. Love to all."
Disturbing. And the first question I raise here is a simple one. Is there a decent history of suicide? Long ago I read a book by A. Alvarez called The Savage God, but I think the tour he offered was intended more as an exploration of his (and Sylvia Plath’s) demons than as a careful consideration.
But the article raised other troubling questions. One is, “What is moral?” Is rational suicide morally wrong, as some hold. Or is it the last free act of a free life?
The question that concerned me more is “What is sanity?” One psychologist suggested that someone like Heilbrun is, almost by definition, a victim of an underlying psychological disorder.
Maybe that is true. Maybe therapy would have given Heilbrun another decade of life well spent.
Or maybe the worst thing you could do to someone is to have them spend their last years proving that they are not mentally ill because they want to die.
Sibyls in a most helpful cage.
Via Patrick Belton of Oxblog and the Yale Daily News comes word that Jon Butler, who has chaired both history and American Studies and holds an appointment in Religious Studies at the university, has been named Dean of the Graduate School at Yale. [Someobservers (scroll down) see the appointment as a function of the university's unrelenting opposition to unionizing its graduate instructors.] Gad! To think that I once touched the hem of his garment ...
And congratulations to a reader from the University of Tulsa, who was the 25,000th person to touch the hem of Cliopatria's garment ...