Academia Deserves Its Crisis

I was recently invited to be part of a student panel to welcome all new Ph.D. students to the large research university I am currently attending and to share with them my words of “wisdom,” so they can learn more about the upcoming challenges of graduate student life. The student panel was the last on the hierarchy of speakers, so we had to wait for and listen to people with big titles—titles like “provost”, “associate” with this, “assistant” for that, “co-director” of this center, and “under-secretary” for such and such affairs. It was clear from these presentations that graduate students are being encouraged to think of themselves as at-will employees who are expected to do the job “well,” … [Read more...]

Let’s Talk about Comps Exams

When I read @philommeides_’s tweet about grad-school comps, my heart sank.  The author expressed how her extremely difficult experience with PhD exams had caused her anguish and self-doubt.  The tweet elicited a large number of responses from people in academia about their own bitter encounters with the hazing ritual of exams, as well as thoughts about how to reform a broken system. And it’s no surprise: hardly anyone likes the way that PhD students (in the humanities at least) are tested on their field knowledge before moving on to the dissertation.  My own experience with the process was, frankly, traumatic, though perhaps not as bad as what others have gone through.  And as a faculty … [Read more...]

Introducing Doomed to Repeat, the Podcast with a Toothache in Its Heel

Listen to episode one, on the promise and pitfalls of school desegregation, here. Why, hello there! Glad you could check in! Have you ever wanted to hear what this blog would sound like in audio form? Have you wanted to hear experts talk about what they know best, but brought into a conversational style? Aren’t you at least a little curious about what editor Alex Cummings sounds like? It’s not as awkward as you might think! (Editor's note: it is.) Over the past few months Alex and I have been developing a podcast companion to Tropics of Meta that we are calling Doomed to Repeat. My name is Nic Hoffmann. You may have seen me on this blog before, and now I am here to talk in a much more … [Read more...]

The Last Lecture of My First Semester: My Daughter, Pocahontas

For the past semester, I’ve taught California Studies, a course primarily designed for non-history majors and future K-6 teachers. I ended our time together by sharing the following story: Every other Thursday, I bring my five-year-old to campus. Her mother drops her off, we play in my office for a bit and eventually we make our way to the Madden Library. We’ve done this so much that she knows the exact floor and location of her favorite author: Mo Willems. She carefully selects four, sometimes five books from the stacks and then insists that we read each and every single story about Piggie and Geraldo the Elephant…She is only allowed to take two books home, but I tend to concede to her … [Read more...]

Beyond the Bakesale: PTAs, Education Reform, & the Best of UHA 2014, Part 1

Several times a year, the intrepid reporters of Tropics of Meta follow the academic conference beat, checking out panels on everything from the Illuminati to Asian American basketball leagues and sissy rap. At their best, conferences offer a window into the freshest and most innovative historical scholarship, and our reports on panels aim to give readers an early look at the groundbreaking articles and books of tomorrow.  This year's Urban History Association conference was the organization's eighth biennial meeting, and the world's hardest working urbanists braved the persistent drizzle of "always sunny" Philadelphia to attend panels and plenaries on the campus of the University of … [Read more...]

Why Fracture? The Problem of Causation in Rodgers’s Book

I’ve written before at ToM about how Dan Rodgers's work influenced me as an undergrad at UNC-Charlotte.  In his 1987 book Contested Truths, the Princeton historian explored the ways that American thought about “the state,” “the people,” “liberty” and other fundamental political terms changed over time.  The book opened my eyes to the study of political culture, and the ways that language and rhetoric shape the implicit norms and values that inform all of our debates about public policy.  Like the work of linguist George Lakoff, it showed how we frame issues in ways that often matter much more than actual facts or figures. So where does that leave us with Age of Fracture, Rodgers’s epic … [Read more...]