Newsflash: Students Underwhelmed by Lecture

Today, I gave a truly great lecture on the first half of the Civil War.  At least, I thought it was pretty great.  But judging from the students’ faces (oh,  how I wish I could have a camera catching each look of confusion!), the lecture wasn’t anything special.  Same sighs of boredom, same crossed-arms-instead-of-note-taking (what the hell is that about?  Do you know this already?  Am I boring you?  Then get the fuck out!), same packing up early (seriously: there’s nothing that pisses me off more).  Grr.

But the real conundrum is this: I really enjoyed prepping the lecture.  I made a potentially fateful decision: I put lecture prep before “my work” (reading for prelims, finishing minor field, etc.).  Usually, I try to spend my morning hours working on PhD stuff, then save class prep for the evening, when my brain is admittedly a little fuzzier and when I’m more likely to phone it in.  But not this time.  I had just read McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and decided that I wanted to do that.  So I threw myself into the lecture, spending at least 6 hours on the damn thing.  And I thought it was cracking good: battle stories, broad historical themes, portraits of leaders, the full meal deal.

And what’s the payoff?  Glass eyes and expressionless faces.  I’m not sure what I was expecting: applause?  Students literally on the edge of their seats?  Stupid.  Of course, I now know way more about the Civil War than before I wrote the lecture, and that’s not nothing.  But it’s an important lesson, I suppose: students in a lecture course might not be the best source for gratification for a scholar’s hard work.

Music in head, book before eyes

A quick conundrum: why must something else always be going through my head whilst I read? Right now, I’ve got Ravel’s “Bolero” playing on my brain’s ghetto blaster while I’m reading one of McPherson’s Civil War epics. At least “Bolero” doesn’t have words…that’s what really gets me. Plus, it’s got a martial rhythm, so it fits the material.

Dun, dun-dun-dun, dun, dun….

Facebook and Academic Networking

I’ve done it, finally: I’ve joined Facebook.  So friend me or whatever it is (shouldn’t it be “befriend”?  Perhaps not, since we’re already, presumably, “friends”).  Anyway, I took the plunge for two reasons:

1) I had three “friend requests” sitting in my e-mail in-box, and I’ll do just about anything to clean out my inbox.  Go ahead, blackmail me.

2) A friend (and brilliant historian) suggested on his blog that Facebook was a good academic networking tool.

Okay, I’ll bite: how is Facebook good for academic network building, exactly?  Right now, I’m just trying to avoid friend requests from high school classmates and avoid embarrassing photos.  Am I supposed to be posting my latest book reviews?  Or should I try to “friend” hot-shot academics?  “Dear Professor Wilentz, will you be my friend?”  (He’d probably decline the offer).

Bring me into the early 21st century, people.


As I ate my lunch on Monday, I thought to myself: “Why am I doing this?”  Not, “Why am I eating lunch?”–it was PBJ, chips, cookie, and milk, so duh, I was eating because it’s the perfect meal–but “Why am I busting my ass with all of this work?”  A short list of things I’m trying to accomplish: finish my minor field, prepare for prelims, revise an article, stay up on blog reading/writing (sorry about that, by the way), stay up on journal reading, and teach three classes.  I’m not whining here–this isn’t real work; it’s reading, writing, and teaching, and it’s pretty awesome that I get to spend my time doing it.

But why, exactly, am I doing it?  The “because I love it” routine wasn’t working for me on Monday, because, frankly, on Monday I wasn’t loving it.  Instead, I started to wonder whether I have noble or selfish reasons for doing this.  Noble: to affect positive change in the world, no matter how small (i.e. help a student think critically about the past and thereby make good [frankly, leftist, and that’s where things get tricky] decisions in the present].  Selfish: get a tenure-track J-O-B for the stability and sabbatical.  Lately, it seems like I’ve been doing things for the purpose of my career.  Of course, the idea is that if I can establish myself in the profession, then I’ll be able to do that noble stuff.  But neck-deep in work and far from the end of the grad school tunnel, that explanation sometimes just isn’t satisfying.

That’s it.  What, you expected resolution?