Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blog LXVII (67): The AHA is Coming3

Session 3 at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association looks to be interesting, to say the least. Who are the people that will make up this panel, entitled "Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession"? Glad you asked. The pannelists are the following:

Steven Luckert is a curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum . He holds a BA, MA, and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. He is the author of The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk.

Robert B. Kane holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California at Los Angeles. He served in the U.S. Air Force, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He then served as the deputy historian for the Air Armament Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Kane now works in the Organizational History Branch at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, located at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He is the author of Disobedience and Conspiracy in the German Army, 1918-45.

Megan Sniffin-Marinoff is the University Archivist of Harvard University. She holds a BS and MA from Boston University, and another MA from New York University. Before coming to Harvard, she was the head of special collections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was at Simmons College where she was the college archivist and then the director of the archives programs at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She is a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists. This distinction is the highest honor the organization bestows on individual members.

C. James Taylor is the Editor-in-Chief of the Adams Paper Project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Before that he served as co-editor of The Papers of Henry Laurens and was an associate research professor at the University of South Carolina.

Nicholas Evan Sarantakes is an associate professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California. He is the author of four books. He has also won five writing awards for his article work. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is currently finishing work on a book about the making of the film Patton.

Kevin Allen lives in Somerville, Massachussets and manages the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Curatorship Program, a long-term leasing public-private partnership program. Allen received a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Film Production from the University of Colorado in 1994, and a Masters in History/Historic Preservation from the University of South Carolina in 1999. He currently serves on the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. He has worked in the public history field for 14 years, having previously worked at the Smithsonian Institution, in the Planning Department for the City of Columbia, South Carolina, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, and Wake County, North Carolina’s preservation Non-Profit.

Aaron W. Marrs is a historian at the U.S. Department of State. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and is the author of Railroads in the Old South: Pursuing Progress in a Slave Society. He is currently the chair of the American Historical Association's Graduate and Early Career Committee.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blog LXVI (66): Honors to the Blog, Part III

This blog continues to perform its mission in ways large and small. The people at AHA headquarters continue top appreciate the work done here. The "What We’re Reading" section of the blog referenced "In the Service of Clio" on December 9, 2010: A number of history departments have been king to this blog and have recommend this site as either a link on their website or on the page that their library staffs maintain for their history majors. These schools include: Ambrose University College, Temple University, University of Memphis, the Villanova University public history program, Villanova University, the Intute consortium (a combination of seven British universities: University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Nottingham, and the University of Oxford), Kean University, Miami University, and Tulane University.

In December, 2009 Michael Creswell had his essay “Navigating the Graduate Admissions Process" published in the American Historical Association's newsletter, Perspectives on History. This article originally appeared as a "guest column" for "In the Service of Clio" back on April 16, 2009 as Blog VI. It has become something of a hit. A number of departments are linking to this essay on their web sites. Although these links are to the AHA's site rather than this blog, it is still a recognition for the work that this blog is doing. These history departments recognizing Creswell include the ones at: American University, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of North Carolina, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, Rhodes College, Taiwan Historian Network, University of South Florida, Florida State University, Texas Tech University, California State University at Fullerton, Park University, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. is providing statistics for blog operators. According to their charting, which only goes back to May of this year, this blog has had an international audience. The map below documents some the origins of many visitors to this blog:

Blog LXI: The AHA is Coming Nicholas Evan Sarantakes gears up for the AHA’s 125th Annual Meeting and for session 3, “Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession,” profiled earlier this week on AHA today, and which he will be participating in.

According to their statistics, most of the visitors come from the United States, but they are coming from many other places as well:
  • United States 5176
  • United Kingdom 737
  • Netherlands 614
  • Germany 47
  • Canada 44
  • India 278
  • Russia 256
  • Turkey 126
  • Latvia 84
  • Ukraine 43

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blog LXV (65): The AHA is Coming, The AHA is Coming

Some one at AHA central must like me. Last week the people that run the AHA blog designated my panel at the annual meeting as the "Session of the Week." I must say, they have good taste. You can find the essay on their blog site. I have also included the blog entry in its entirety, including links and graphics on this posting:

December 06, 2010

Session of the Week: Careers in History

What can you dowith a history degree? More importantly, what can youdo with a history degree if you don’t want to teach?

History majors have diverse job options outside of academia. Learn from history professionals in a range of fields in session 3, Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession. This roundtable session, sponsored by the Graduate and Early Career Committee, brings together historians who work in preservation, documentary editing, museums, archives, and the military to speak about both specific aspects of their jobs as well as general advice for job seekers.

See below for the complete session information, and check out the other “Session of the Week” posts that have appeared on the blog, pulled from the content of the Program of the 125th Annual Meeting.

Careers in History: The Variety of the ProfessionAHA Session 3
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 302 (Hynes Convention Center)

Chair: Aaron W. Marrs, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State

  • Kevin Allen, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Robert B. Kane, U.S. Air Force
  • Steven Luckert, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, U.S. Naval War College
  • C. James Taylor, Papers of John Adams, Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, Harvard University Archives

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blog LXIV (64): Another Question

Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend. He had a manuscript that he was trying to get published. He had originally thought about publishing it as an article, but got an offer to publish it as a chapter in an edited volume. That got the two of us to thinking about what would be better from a professional point of view an article or a chapter? If it were a question between a book and an article there would be no question. The book would win. But, what is better for your career an article or a chapter? I would love to hear the views of those that read this blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog LXIII (63): Teaching Effectiveness

Are your students really learning what you are teaching them? How do you know? Why? Why not? Those are simple questions, but ones that are very difficult for historians, and many other professors to answer.

A little while back two professors in the University of California system (Philip Babcock at the Santa Barbara campus and Mindy Marks at the Riverside campus) published an article that shows that college students are devoting less and less time to studying than they did forty years ago. The average student at a regular four-year college in 1961 put in roughly 24 hours a week of study. Today the average student devotes only 14 hours.

That study has created a lot of consternation in higher education as people debate why? Any number of culperits have been found responsible for the decline in study: the rise of the computer, interactive media, and changing demographics. Some people have asked related questions about teaching effectiveness and wondered if it is a bad thing that students are studying less. Maybe modern students are better at using their time more effectively.

Babcock and Marks, for their part, believe the decline is due to what I called in Blog LX “the student vote.” They argue that a major reason for the decline in study hours is a breakdown in the relationship between the professor and the student. Instead of a situation where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, they claim that the more common outcome is a scenario in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.

“No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class,” Marks told The Boston Globe. “To make a tough assignment, you have to write it, grade it. Kids come into office hours and want help on it. If you make it too hard, they complain. Other than the sheer love for knowledge and the desire to pass it on to the next generation, there is no incentive in the system to encourage effort.”

Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the graduate school of education at the Berkeley branch of the University of California, blames teaching evaluations. The original idea behind evaluation was a noble one. Students got a chance to express their opinions about their classes, but the whole concept has backfired. Course evaluations have created a sort of “nonaggression pact,” Sperber explained to The Globe. Professors—particularly those seeking tenure—tread lightly on assignments and students reciprocate with glowing course evaluations.

I disagree with this assessment for two reasons. First, my personal assessment is that factors external to higher education are responsible for the decline in study hours. The big drop took place in the 1960s and 1970s. So the reasonable question to ask is what happened during this period? What were college students doing with this extra time? Two things: television and sex. Television, it is true, became a major cultural phenomenon in the 1950s before this drop, but college students in the early 1960s would have developed as high school students and, in some cases, college students before the television came to dominate American society. Also, there is a real possibility that their families could not have afforded to give them a television when they went off to college. Nor would there have been room for them in college dorm rooms. So television had less impact in 1961 than it did in 1969 or 1971.

The second reason is due to the development of the birth control pill. College students had sex long before the 1960s, but it became far more common after the pill gave women the power to control their fertility. As the chances of having sex increased, students (male and female) often found the pursuit of the other more interesting than studying accounting, political science, astronomy, or any of a number of other fields.

The other reason I disagree with this assessment is that it accords the students too much influence. As I discussed in Blog LX, student evaluations are not that influential. Now, in preparing to write this blog, I came across a number of news stories about professors being denied tenure. For one reason or another these stories, made it into the local media. The professor often claimed they were rejected because of teaching evaluations that complained of heavy study obligations. While those evaluations might indeed support the professor's claim, there usually is something else at work—like a failure to publish or publishing in mediocre venues unworthy of tenure. Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, got to the point when she told The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Faculty rewards have nothing to do with the ability to assess student learning. I get promoted for writing lots of articles, not for demonstrating learning outcomes.”

The Babcock/Marks study is important because it is forcing some people to ask if students studying less is a good thing or a bad thing, and it is also getting people to ask how you assess student learning, which is no easy thing. Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of political science at the City University of New York's Queens College, who has been teaching for over fifty years admitted to The Chronicle that he has no way of knowing what type of impact he is having. “I couldn't say objectively or reliably what I do for students.”

I will repeat what I said in Blog LX, the student vote is important, but mainly in indirect ways. It is also important to consider that faculty have different stages of their careers in the classroom just as they do in publishing. Scott E. Carrell, an assistant professor of economics at the Davis branch of the University of California, explored learning at the U.S. Air Force Academy. What he found is interesting. The cadets that took introductory calculus from experienced professors failed to do as well in these introductory class as the cadets that took the course from more junior instructors. On the other hand, the cadets that had an experienced professors did better in higher-level courses than did students who had inexperienced teachers for introductory calculus.

A good professor should pay attention to those approaches that work with students and those that do not. “What do you think we’ve all been doing for 100 years?” Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, asked a reporter from The Chronicle. “Classes are like organic things: Not every one is the same. If you are a good professor, you are responding to what students are getting and what they’re not. If you try and mechanize that, it can be a problem.”

He is right. A good teacher can only do so much with the raw material they have to work with, which is to say the intellectual ability of the students. A 2008 survey of undergraduates in the University of California system made that point. Students were asked to list what interferes most with their academic success. The number one reason, according to 33 percent, was that they simply did not know how to sit down and study.

With that point made, it might be a good thing for a new faculty member to be able to document their effectiveness with something more than teaching evaluations. Here at the Naval War College a lot of that is done for the faculty by our staff. Now, there is a difference between teaching mid-career professionals and teenagers. I also keep a diary to document what is working and not working in the classroom. Another simple way to document teaching effectiveness is to give students the same multiple-choice assignment at the beginning and end of the class. Use it as a diagnostic tool rather than a grading mechanism. Someday someone is going to question your teaching effectiveness and having this material might prove very useful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blog LXII (62): A Question

I have a question, and I hope readers of this blog will answer it for me. What is the biggest issue facing the history profession right now? I would like to get your feedback and use it at the session I will be doing at the AHA in January. I will also use the information for a future blog essay.

Feel free to respond in the comment section of this blog, on Facebook, or via a note to my personal e-mail address. To get my address all you have to do is google "Sarantakes." It is not that common a name.

I will tabulate the answers in early January.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blog LXI (61): The AHA is Coming

In a few weeks, I will be part of a panel at the 2011 meeting of the American Historical Association. The session is: "Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession." The session will be on the first day of the conference: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 3 pm. The focus of this panel will be as on using your Ph.D. when you cannot get a job in a conventional history department. The conference program committee is expecting a heavy turnout, and has put us in a big room. C-Span has asked for permission to record the session. In an ironic twist, the AHA put this panel in a central location next to the job center. (It is ironic in that most of those interviews will be for jobs in history departments, otherwise the location would seem approrpriate.) The room is also near the messaging center. So that will encourage additional foot traffic.

Here is an excerpt from page 39 of the 2011 conference program:

Since this AHA session will be discussing many of the issues that I have tried to examine with this blog, I would like to invite all of you to attend. This panel will be far more productive if we have interested people. So please come. This session has the potential to be very interesting--and informative.