6.01.2009

It Ain't Easy

I may have mentioned that I'm teaching my first 100% me, 100% of the time classes this summer. On the docket we've got European Intellectual History, from Kant and the enlightenment through Gorz, Habermas, and postmodern political conundrums. During the second session, we switch gears to straight-up nineteenth-century European history, from the French Revolution to World War I. I'm responsible for lecturing on everything from German Idealism in the 1830s to the aftermath of the Crimean War to why Roland Barthes was not a very good semiologist.

Of the various things this makes me realize is how and why professors routinely crib so much of their stuff from really specific sources. My adviser regularly informs the students in his classes about which books he's used for that day's lecture, sometimes narrowing it down to a single definitive biography or study (last term's action-packed lecture on the Napoleonic Wars was from one crotchety old French military historian.) The root of the issue is the contrast between the hyper-specialization of research and the vast breadth of teaching survey courses: academics are supposed to focus like nerdy lasers on tiny little morsels of material in their research, but we're also supposed to be able to cover huge gallumphing swaths in our teaching. Thus, I think most of us find ourselves needing to power-read a single good book on a subject and teach from it, lacking the time or energy to read more broadly.

Mostly, what I wish I had more of are juicy anecdotes. Kids love anecdotes in history (Kant was short and only ate once a day, on the first Christmas during WWI French and German soldiers fraternized in between the trenches, Sartre had terrible personal hygiene, etc.), but historians often forget to include them. Here's hoping I come up with a few more zingers before I start the classes in three weeks...

6 comments:

noncoupable said...

Wittgenstein was an odd-ball. I have an article assigned from a class at UCSC all about bodies of great men that I should pass on to you... some juicy personal life stuff in there... Did you know Issac Newton was severely obese?

noncoupable said...

Also, famous people during the Romantic movement thought having TB was fashionable.

ransom said...

I've often thought that one of the things I hope you do at some point is to write a book (or several) on whatever historical eras or personalities you'd care to with your particular collection of anecdotes and observations.

Also, it's apparently been an interesting few days that I've been mostly off the Internet... Congrats on the grant! I'm still retroactively bummed that I got so close to your part of the world and didn't see you guys, but it was a good trip. And thanks for posting all those pics, even if I almost didn't recognize myself in a couple (or maybe because I didn't).

clumsygirl said...

I love telling my art kids about Van Gogh's ear, Edvard Munsch's depression and agoraphobia, and Picasso's way with the ladies.

hardcori said...

Dude, I'm impressed. You must really like this sh*t.

Trust in Steel said...

Sounds like you are doing well enough - that is good!