Category Archives: our thing

February 15, 2012, 2:01 pm

Fleece and exist.

Yesterday in the Aggie one read,

The UC sent cease-and-desist letters to on Nov. 10, 2010, a note-sharing website owned by the Santa Clara company Chegg, as well as on Jan. 10, 2011, appealing to the websites to stop encouraging students to post notes on their sites. They remained in negotiations for several months before the sites removed the content.

Today, I received an email from someone named Tracy King, Content Administrator, reading

Hi there,

Thanks for being part of the Notehall family. We are working hard to expand our services at UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS and need your help.

Apply to be a Note Taker this term.

The Position:
The job is a flexible semester long position. Depending on the class you cover you can earn up to $450.

The responsibilities:
• Take notes for a class you’re currently enrolled in
• Create study guide…

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February 13, 2012, 8:07 am

The Warren Buffett University in California.

Michael Bérubé runs the numbers on Penn State:

In 1985, the state provided 45 percent of Penn State’s budget; in 2011 it provided 6 percent. In 1985, in-state tuition was just over $2,500; today it is over $16,000. Over the past twenty-five years, the cost of a public college education has increasingly been offloaded onto individual students and their families, as education has been redefined from a public good to a private investment.

And he concludes:

A fully privatized Penn State no longer has any reason to call itself “Penn State.” Indeed, the name would amount almost to false advertising, since there would be nothing “State” about us. And that means a whole new vista would be open to us – and in different ways, to Temple and to Pitt. In two words: naming rights … Let the bidding begin.

My hopes are in the title.

January 15, 2012, 10:59 am

Higher learning.

Mitt Romney is flacking for his campaign donor’s business, “Full Sail University.” I eagerly await even one of our leaders sending his children to such an outfit.

January 10, 2012, 2:10 pm


The biggest changes in my research since I became a historian have come about because of the usefulness of laptops and digital cameras. When I started doing scholarly research, note-taking was still done using pen and paper (or pencil and paper for particularly careful archives). In the 1990s, however, computers suddenly became really portable, and could be carried into the archive and used to take notes. Suddenly, my high school typing class really started to pay off: ten fingers of typing madness.

My first real research workhorse was a PowerBook 160, 7 lbs and 25 MHz of raw computing power. Allied with a homebrewed Filemaker Pro database, this laptop carried me through a large chunk of my dissertation research. The main limitations on the PowerBook were its battery life (circa two hours) and the range of restrictions that archives put on the use of laptops. The former meant…

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December 30, 2011, 1:16 pm

As Tevye would say, “on the other hand …”

Some excellent advice.

  • It is best to go on the job market your last ABD year, so that you’ll appear fresh AND it’s preferable to have your degree in hand and a few years of teaching experience.
  • One should publish aggressively in field-leading journals and seek to publish one’s dissertation as soon as practicable in order to stand out AND it’s best to go the more traditional route and hold back on publishing one’s research so as to save it for the tenure probationary period.
  • One should cultivate as wide a teaching competence as possible so as to serve a variety of departmental needs AND one needs to have a clear, narrow specialization.
  • One should jump at the opportunity to do adjunct work in order to stay in the field and develop one’s teaching portfolio AND one should be cautious about doing adjunct work lest it leave you with the taint of being a second-rater.

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December 20, 2011, 1:11 pm

It’s called “in defense of history,” not “in defense of the historical profession.”

I’ve taught the introductory historiography and methods seminar to incoming graduate students three times, and each time I’ve assigned Richard Evans’s Telling Lies About Hitler. Originally, the point in assigning it was to draw a line beyond which respectable historians must not go; together with Ari I had picked a number of other books that showed acceptable, even laudable, creativity in interpreting and extrapolating from sources – Return of Martin Guerre, Unredeemed Captive, others – and I wanted one that showed an unarguably inexcusable abuse of sources, so that we might know the difference. And what better choice than a tale about Holocaust denial?


December 10, 2011, 1:19 pm

The system works.

Shorter Obama administration: yes, we will preserve acknowledged social ills against which we’ve inveighed when prevailed upon by massive expenditures of money and influence. No, I guess this is not so much reason for hope or evidence of change.

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.

But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power…

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November 27, 2011, 4:18 pm

Lest we forget.

Under the title, “Watch this man,” the London Review of Books publishes Pankaj Mishra’s review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. The essay opens with a riff on the “this man Goddard” scene from The Great Gatsby, in which Tom Buchanan rails against the decline of the white man’s West. Noting that “Goddard” stood in for Lothrop Stoddard, the real-life racist, Mishra refers to the arguments of Ferguson’s first major book, The Pity of War, as “Stoddardesque laments about the needless emasculation of Anglo-Saxon power.” Mishra refers also to Ferguson’s “bluster about the white man’s burden.”

November 21, 2011, 8:50 am

It ain’t me, babe.

If you want to know why tuitions at American universities are rising, don’t look at the likes of me: faculty compensation isn’t going up. Felix Salmon explains what you might guess:

spending on faculty compensation is never more than 40% of total spending, and “has remained steady or decreased slightly over time”. Then have a look at the numbers.

Overall, if we exclude for-profit schools, which were a tiny part of the landscape in 1999, we have seen tuition fees rise by 32% between 1999 and 2009. Over the same period, instruction costs rose just 5.6% — the lowest rate of inflation of any of the components of education services. (“Student services costs” and “operations and maintenance costs” saw the greatest inflation, at 15.2% and 18.1% respectively, but even that is only half the rate that tuition increased.)

The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has…

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November 14, 2011, 11:40 pm

The hay is in the barn.

Because there’s no petition like repetition, and it’s that most wonderful time of the year again, here’s an oldie, from four years ago when the world and this blog were young and pulling the gowans fine. It’s still the first blog post that comes up when you google my name (don’t google my name), so we might as well run it again. For the rust is on the leaves and the rime is on the meadow, and autumn breezes are blowing into our mailboxes the inquiries of would-be graduate students – so many more than there are spaces for. Here then is an avuncular saying, as from a sadder and a wiser man.

Every year I want to write this post, and every year I think of it too late — which is to say, after we’re in the thick of hiring and graduate school applications. And I wouldn’t want to post it then, because if I did, people would think I was breaking the rules of discretion and referring to some …

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November 5, 2011, 10:22 pm

Stop digging.

Anthony Grafton on the crisis (“if there is a crisis,” as 1984-era Hal Riney would say) in higher education. One thing that’s sure: the effort to crack into the top athletic tier isn’t the right answer. At least, it’s not the answer if the question is, “how do you make colleges better?”

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The system runs, in part, on its failures. Administrators count on the tuition paid, from borrowed money, by undergraduates who they know will drop out before they use up many services. To provide teaching they exploit instructors still in graduate school, many of whom they know will also drop out and not demand tenure-track jobs. Faculty, once they have found a berth, often become blind to the problems and deaf to the cries of their own indentured students. And even where the will to do better is present, the means are often used for very different ends.

In many…

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November 1, 2011, 10:23 am

Strunk and who?

This advice on business writing, although pitched against academic writing, actually seems like pretty sound advice for academics, except maybe for the advice to use “I” and “you”. But: don’t assume a captive audience, get to the point, cut, especially cut fancy words, and it’s okay to begin sentences with conjunctions—all of that sounds pretty good.

December 9, 2010, 1:10 pm

“Bad day.”

In Britain, a rise in university tuition sparks riots.

November 2, 2010, 1:49 pm

Cliopatria Awards

The nominations are now open for this year’s Cliopatria Awards:

Bloggers, blogs and posts may be nominated in multiple categories. Individuals may nominate any number of specific blogs, bloggers or posts, even in a single category, as long as the nominations include all the necessary information (names, titles, URLs, etc).

The categories are Best Group Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writer.

September 28, 2010, 11:18 am

Speaking of Christmas.

The National Research Council’s 2010 rankings of research-doctorate programs arrived today. (There is, or was, a webcast.) It is the first version of the rankings compiled since 1995 and relies on data collected in 2005-2006. already has the new data on their site, so you can punch up rankings—or rather, ranges of rankings; they won’t, or can’t, provide a singular rank—based on your own criteria. Here, for the sake of fun and games, is the ranking of history departments based on an overall quality measure.