Thursday, January 31, 2008

Online Peer Review

Does online peer review outrank print review? Here's some food for thought.

One issue not addressed, however, is the audience of each publication. It doesn't matter whether it's print distribution or online hits - although the latter is probably much more likely to mean a piece was actually read by someone - the actual audience does play a role here.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back on Track

Some blowing snow was a great backdrop for working on the laptop late this morning and most of the afternoon. I spent some time outside in it rearranging the firewood so none of it was touching the ground anymore. Late this afternoon, I took a walk/jog all the way around the next section (4 miles) to get in just over an hour of exercise in the cold but bright sunshine.

Grading went well today and handling odds and ends seemed to take most of the day - some days are just like that but it all has to be done.

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Profgrrrrl is an inspiration!

Profgrrrrl's most recent entry details her early successes with asserting control over her schedule. Previous posts detailed her feelings of being overwhelmed by meetings requests from both university colleagues and students. It's hard to get much done when you're constantly having to stop to go to a meeting. She's quickly finding that others adjust to your not being available in person 24/7 - esp. given the ease of email. I still find that most students who can never find a convenient time and finally do just want to go on and on about how busy they are, etc., instead of discussing something I can actually do anything about as a professor.

And, on a related note, I allowed students 3 weeks to get there books before having an assignment due specifically over a book (one of the best ways to get them to read historical monographs!) and there's still a complaint that the student doesn't have the money. At least this time I was able to come back with how I had so many financial problems of my own that I couldn't possibly take on the numerous financial problems of all my students. Luckily, that moved the conversation on to something else - esp. as I moved into the computer lab to help this student with a blog introduction assignment.

There's one very energetic group of grad students that are presenting a good challenge - constantly answering all the questions. They are a nice change from the apathetic group last semester and definitely an easier challenge to handle (give them another week or so and my constantly reinforcing how well I think they are doing so they won't feel as much need to prove themselves) than no participation at all. And that helps guide some of the future assignments. The main challenge is ensuring that this small group doesn't alienate the rest of the group. And the larger group is sitting near the front instead of gravitating toward the back - another plus!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

It's Monday Already!

How did it get to be Monday again already?

We had a candidate on campus Thursday and Friday and, as expected, that consumed most of the non-student time and also provided for some much-needed social interaction.

I attended a reception at the Truman Library Institute in Independence, MO, last week that was quite worthwhile in many aspects. It was also great to spend some much-needed time with relatives. They found a little 15-lb lab puppy in a storm drain this summer and it's now challenging for them to deal with a 50-lb lab with lots of energy. But it was good exercise for me to walk/job with him.

Mom needed help cleaning out the attic - the plan was in the works but the furnace failure expedited the process.

Most importantly, my dining room table (aka work table) is all cleared off so I can use it for more than piling on more papers. (We'll leave the office for a bit later.)

Our unusual almost 60 degree weather yesterday allowed time for some outdoor work to be continued - mulching and pulling up errant plants that grew from limbs that had grown beyond my ability to keep up with triming them. Now, to get rid of the 3 oak trees in inconvenient places thanks to our very busy squirrels.

My Modern America, 1941-68 class meets for the first time this afternoon - it's always good to get the first class meeting completed to get a better feel for them.

Back to other work . . . .

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ready to Teach

Enrollment was last Wednesday and classes started on Thursday with a day off for MLK Day yesterday. That means I see my first F2F students on Monday. This morning I woke up ready to teach - all kinds of ideas swirling in my head about how to approach the new semester. I have a course release to work on a book project and am doing the usual teaching one class online, Modern America, 1912-41, and supervising student teachers. The latter varies from 3 students in nearby towns to 15 that may be spread around 250 miles in two directions. (I don't mind being dragged to Kansas City, though . . . )

My F2F class is Modern America, 1941-1968. I took a different approach to the narrative text and made it optional since they can also utilize a survey text from a previous class to get the background. Hopefully that means less complaining about textbook costs - which I find difficult given that if I require a text, they use it and are tested on it. Winkler's Homefront USA from Harlan Davidson, a nice compact discussion of the topic, is one of the other texts along with Lizabeth Cohen's Consumer's Republic. It's my first time using Cohen and I've already found the graduate student notes that summarize it in 3 pages that shows up on the first page of a Google search. Wonder how long it will take students to find that. But, forewarned is forearmed.

Another facet of the class will be studying Jack Kerouac's On the Road. I think it's important that students read some of the literature of the period so that they better understand it. in the past, I've used Peyton Place for this class but it's not longer available for the last publisher and I don't want to encourage the used book market. Plus, I can still show the Peyton Place film and accomplish some of the same results in student learning. What always amazed me about using Peyton Place was how the men enjoyed reading it. And, of course, a "banned book" is such a foreign concept in today's culture.

The anniversary of the publication of On the Road was one motivation to use it along with my visiting a Kerouac exhibit in Lowell, MA, when we had teachers there to tour the mills last summer. Getting to view the scroll of On the Road was interesting as well as the modern exhibit interpreting his life. This was in contrast to the Lowell exhibits that are in need of updating once they get more funding - the machinery was intriguing but not anything I hadn't seen before.

I found a book in our university library about the "women in black" - the females who have often been overlooked in regard to their contribution to the Beats - not only psychologically and physically supporting the men when they weren't doing so for each other but their actual artistic contributions. So it should be a fun exploration for all of us.

One of the first things students will do is examine and debate the causes of World War II. That will be a good way to review how we arrived in 1941. And, of course, it's obvious to highlight the drama surrounding Pearl Harbor with some comparisons to what our intelligence services could tell us then and how we still have some of the same coordination problems in this century. The next challenge is how to "review" the New Deal without getting lost in that massive topic while emphasizing that World War II ended the Great Depression and not the New Deal. Taking a close look at FDR and Eleanor will also be fun.

The online Modern America, 1912-41, class will focus first on Woodrow Wilson as a person and as a president before we jump into World War I. In that course, students are reading Willa Cather's One of Ours. Cather spent a great deal of time just across our northern border - that's the Nebrasks she describes in her book and much of it isn't that different in psyche than the Kansas we know down here except that we are closer to larger population centers - especially in modern times.

Another change I made this semester is just having the graduate students write the analytical papers over the Major Problems texts from Houghton Mifflin. By confining it to that group, I can expect a higher level of achievement given that they are supposed to be surrounding by historiography and not just being introduced to it.

Here we go . . . . .

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Just for Fun

Via Profgrrrrl with same caveat about politics . . .

80% Mitt Romney
77% John McCain
74% Fred Thompson
73% Tom Tancredo
70% Rudy Giuliani
68% Mike Huckabee
50% Ron Paul
38% John Edwards
38% Hillary Clinton
37% Bill Richardson
35% Barack Obama
35% Chris Dodd
33% Joe Biden
27% Mike Gravel
20% Dennis Kucinich

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

Teaching About What Humans Do

Education Historian Sherm Dorn has tagged me to discuss why I do what I do so I am snagging his post title and running with it. Finally meeting Sherm in person was one of the highlights of going to the Social Science History Association meeting last November. Sherm discusses how his work allows him the opportunity to "navel gaze" and puts his teaching into the larger context of his students' higher education.

I've taught at five distinct types of state institutions and now teach at a former normal school in a rural area. Many of our students are first generation college and are still learning what it takes to do well in school. As with students everywhere, many are still doing more work to try to avoid doing the consistent and thorough work usually required to be a successful student. In many cases, students are so busy with their jobs and/or families, that most studying takes place late at night right before the exam or paper is due. The change I've noticed in the last few years is that students are more willing to overtly to assign outside blame when they do not do well - missing a deadline or not fulfilling the minimum requirements is somehow irrelevant. On the other hand, there are numerous students working really hard and trying to fit quite a bit into their busy, overscheduled lives.

Working with pre-service and in-service teachers allows me some unique opportunities to explore a wider variety of topics than my stated doctoral fields (20th century US political, diplomatic, Borderlands, oral, and local history, and teacher education) and explore new research options that overlap into my scholarship. Our 12-hour teaching load means that teaching dominates our lives and finding research and focus time is especially critical. One of the ways I've managed this is by teaching online and teaching 3-hour classes instead of a 3-hour class one-hour slice at a time. I find we get much more done and students have plenty of time to fit in the reading given the week between classes or the usual two weeks between online assignment due dates.

My primary mission is helping my students - many of whom are already teachers themselves or will soon be - become lifelong learners and enhance their quest for new knowledge. And, as with most other humans, those who are the busiest are the most likely to find time to do this. There's always something new to learn around the next corner and hopefully I inspire students to keep finding their own paths to discover their own learning.

Another important facet of what I hope to instill in students is the ability to trasncend the facts and dates of history (not ignore or forget but actually build on them as a foundation) to develop their own theories and analysis of the history of the world aroudn them to better inform them about their world and what part in it they want to play.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Presidential Records, Part II

To continue yesterday's post, I wanted to underscore one of the most important points underlying all the controversy over the timely release of presidential records - there just simply aren't enough people and resources to process any faster. Here's Fawcett's quote explaining how she would like NARA to be able to approach the process:

I would try to do the processing more comprehensively. If you think of an intersecting line, the FoIA requests would eventually start to intersect with the records that have already been systematically processed, so they would be open and available. That would mean there would be a continuing decline in what people would have to FoIA, and the staff could get the records out in a more timely fashion.

We are making some modifications to our system in that we take a look at our FoIA requests, and we attempt to bundle them, so that if we have a number of FoIA requests on a specific related subject, we will bring them together.

For example, say we had a lot of requests on Afghanistan, but they cover different aspects of Afghanistan, we'd probably try to identify the majority of files that would cover that subject and let researchers know that we're processing that systematically, and then process it that way and notify all the FoIA requesters at the same time when the material is done. They are likely to get the material much more quickly that way. But again, it depends on the subject interest of the FoIAs, and FoIAs really come in based on what's happening. You know, Hillary Clinton is running for president, so we have FoIA requests asking for her records.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Presidential Records and the National Archives

I was surfing around the Truman Library site this morning and in exploring the work of the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries Sharon Fawcett, I discovered an interview with her that discusses the role of the National Archives in both preserving and providing access to the presidential papers. As can be expected, the short news blurbs don't usually tell the "rest of the story".

As a scholar, I first began doing research at presidential libraries while I was researching my dissertation on Harry Truman as a former president. Truman was the president most responsible for the preserving presidential records in the presidential library format as well as helping to enact legislation to provide former presidents with a pension. To my knowledge, Truman was the first president who went home to Independence, Missouri, after leaving the presidency and had no options but to live with his mother-in-law given that he had no "reserve" funds or existing income to support him in his retirement. Both are controversial, especially among some members of Congress, but this blog entry is going to focus on access to presidential records.

Even before electronic records became a part of the picture, presidential administrations produced voluminous amounts of records. And, from the beginning, the personal and the public has always been a blurred line because much of what the president does is something he discusses with friends and family members. And, especially with the advent of email and some recent administration officials' unwillingness to use it so that there is no record, some public leaders are quite afraid that their thoughts and ideas and communications can be too easily miscommunicated. So, it's a given that many presidential libraries will be surrounded by controversy.

Because Truman was the president in focus of this topic and his post-presidential papers are also at the Truman Library, I spent most of my research time in Independence. Luckily, I have relatives there who invite me to stay with them and thus significantly cut down my research costs - especially now that I am primarily scanning instead of making paper copies of documents. I still remember how welcoming Librarian Liz Safly is and was to any researcher. She always introduces everyone and also welcomes them to the break room to interact with other staff at the library. In part, this reflects Truman's own openness that he displayed in the decade he spent going to the library almost every day after his presidency. Only a fall in the bathtub in the early 1960s slowed him down prior to his death in the early 1970s. Liz was the Truman Library staff member who discovered the Truman journal written in a real estate book that had been sitting unnoticed in a desk for decades and provides a treasure trove of insight into Truman the man.

Phil Lagerquist was still working full time when I was first doing my research and he was the primary archivist who helped Truman move his papers to Independence and organize the library. Dennis Bilger was also a huge help and once commented that, at the time, I had done the most thorough job of looking through all of the relevant files.

Professor Jim Giglio of Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) had written an article for Presidential Studies Quarterly about the Truman post-presidency and suggested the topic when I met him at a regional history conference in Springfield at his university - The Mid-America Conference on History. Jim is also the author of the University Press of Kansas presidential series book on John F. Kennedy and has published a book about Stan Musial and is now working on a Missouri politician in his retirement.

As I traveled to other presidential libraries to find out if they had any Truman-related records because of any interaction or discussions they may have had relevant to any interactions they had with former presidents, including Truman. Partisanship, of course, played a pivotal role. And a significant number of records deal primarily with Secret Service protection of former presidents and their families.

Truman's records are full of references to various offers from the private sector that he says he refused to take because doing so with be undignified for a former president. Most of Truman's predecessors, however, did not agree with Truman and were more than willing to accept private funds for speaking and other official duties on behalf of particular companies and/or organizations.

Much of my early research was in the dark ages before the internet made not only finding aids but actual records more readily available online. So, even talking with archivists, I rarely knew much about what I might or might not find. One of the crucial factors was whether or not the records had been processed.

This points to one of the most important points that the press often doesn't have time to reference in its blurbs about access to presidential records- the sheer number of them just take lots of people and a great deal of time to preserve, organize, and make accessible. It may not be that a particular president or spouse or government official is trying to block records being available, it's quite often just not enough people and not enough time - especially as federal funding does not increase to match the increasing volume of records to process and the increasing demands for faster and more immediate access to the records.

Driving through the recent ice storm in Oklahoma reminded me of my trip to the Kennedy Library during the Blizzard of 96. I started the morning in Hartford, CT, having driven my Grand Am from my relatives in Youngstown, OH, to get to Boston. Snow had been predicted but the blizzard was not something I expected. After surviving a snow plow pouring icy snow over the overpass onto my windshield, I arrived at the door of the Kennedy Library to a mostly empty parking lot. I was greeted by a security guard who wanted to know what I wanted. My reply - "to research, of course". I didn't realize the whole city was virtually shut down - I naively thought that Boston could handle any amount of snow. So, I stayed nearby and did some reading (remember, no internet or email yet!) until they were opened the next day. I did find a great Italian deli within walking distance of the motel.

I was also caught in a blizzard when I researched at the Hoover Library in Iowa. Hoover had careers both before and after his presidency and Hoover and Truman had a good relationship and kept in contact with one another.

The Johnson Library held the most records primarily because of that president's being a Democrat and knowing that Truman's increasing "popularity index" could only help him. Truman's limited physical capacity at the time, however, limited actual interaction. The Republican Eisenhower administration was not as interested in a former Democratic president, especially given the animosity between the two men that most likely resulted from Truman's claim that he asked Eisenhower 'first' to run as a Democrat. Most of the relevant records at the Kennedy Library had not been processed.

Since that time, I've visited the Bush 41 Library in College Station and spent some time at the FDR Library when I was researching Eleanor Roosevelt for another project.

Until only recently, the Nixon Library was not part of the NARA Presidential Library system but I did visit Yorba Linda during a National Council for the Social Studies meeting in the late 1980s and also did some work at the Ford Library in Michigan.

At a recent Oral History Association meeting, I visited the Clinton Library and became aware of the vast amounts of emails the Archives staff have to effectively manage. Most striking was the fact that records are being processed according to the specific interests of lawsuits. This approach determined by current laws and policies means that archivists cannot systematically process records in the most efficient way and instead have to fish through a diverse group of records and handle records they can't process according to the dictates of a particular lawsuits, thus violating the "efficient desk" rule of limiting the number of times you touch a piece of paper before you are done with it. And, I still wish that the Clinton had chosen the Fayetteville instead of Little Rock as the home for their library given its closer proximity to my physical location. . . .

Obviously, Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency puts a new focus on the activities of post-presidents as well as the functions of their libraries.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Starting a New Semester

Starting a new semester, no matter how much pre-planning, is always a bit hectic. It's good to have students back around and am looking forward to working with them on learning more about Modern America and about teaching history in the schools.

And, we even had a light dusting of snow last night.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Playing with Fire

I'm almost ready for the new semester to start but have spent a few days at the farm "building my base".

It's still difficult without Shadow but I did a lot of things today that would have been harder with him here given all the back and forth and his propensity to take off. I am quite frustrated I can't get the 4wheeler to start. Dad put in a new battery at Thanksgiving and I didn't think about seeing if I could get it to start while he was here given that I've never had trouble before. So although I couldn't get to all the brush/downed wood that I wanted to but I DID get a lot of exercise.

The sunsets yesterday and today were just gorgeous and I was in the perfect spot to watch them and watch the fire. I'm also gradually (and finally) making headway on cleaning the garage.

Tomorrow is enrollment and there are numerous appointments over the next few days. The hotel site was finally straightened out for the OAH so I will be in New York right at a week in late March - I'm also going to the AERA meeting. The week before that is spring break and I'm thinking about going out west. Discovering that the Southwest Social Science Association meeting is in Vegas right before our break (I could go and not miss class) is a bonus - not only in timing but because it's also on the way to where I'm thinking of going for vacation out west!

I can't believe it's 2008!

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Faculty Time and Accreditation Resopnsibilities

Dean Dad has an interesting question about what students expect from faculty and faculty's other demands. My response which is just the tip of the iceberg of a longer post follows:

As a faculty member who's been involved in both North Central re-accreditation and NCATE (teacher ed) re-accreditation, I have seen it so overwhelm faculty that it prevents them from doing the other parts of their job while it is going on. Depending on how often that is determines whether it is a good or bad thing.

The most challenging aspect was the resentment of other faculty who didn't want anything to do with it toward those who believed it was part of what they had to do - esp. to keep a particular program viable in the age of budget cuts. There are still too many within higher education (primarily faculty) who think, "I have tenure, I know what I need to do" without understanding we do need to at least keep some binoculars handy to keep an eye on what is going on in the rest of the world - esp. the world we are preparing students to enter that is much different than the world in which we were students.

Sherm makes an excellent point about accountability and it would be interesting if another read can place current events within the historical framework for us.

There's also another interesting point - in some cases (and definitely not in others), having Grad Student or Adjunct X teach a course gets more actual teaching done than is automatically done by a group of professors - esp. those who see teaching as the least of their responsibilities. As usual, a whole multitude of issues in the question asked

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

AHA Round-up

The AHA was an engaging experience all the way around this year. I met with a colleague from Baltimore and we spend some much needed time catching up like you can only do face to face. The book exhibits were full of their usual intrigue and scholarly interactivity. Talking to the folks at Inside Higher Ed was also insightful.

Dinner with my major professor on Thursday and dinner with two colleagues on Friday meant great food at 1789 and Nora's. I don't know whether or not Nora's claim to being the first certified organic restaurant in the nation is true but the food is innovatively prepared and always worth a return visit.

Mornings came too early but meeting with colleagues and publishers made it worthwhile.

The H-Net reception meant ADM and I were able to touch base and discuss mutual interests. Congrats on your most recent accomplishments!

Sessions - especially those with an emphasis on teaching - were well-attended.

Other highlights included the great group at the Purdue University reception and dinner with big name Latin Americanist along with important book editor.

Next year's meeting in New York only promises to be more fun and engaging!

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bloggers at AHA

There will be a blogger meet-up for any blogger interested in attending who will be at AHA or lives in DC:

7am Saturday: Cafe International, 2633 Connecticut Ave, just across Connecticut from the Woodley Park metro entrance

Thanks for organizing this, ADM!

See you there!

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