An Investment in You!

There are numerous theories about why the rate of increase in university tuition fees has outstripped the rate of inflation for the past thirty or so years:

• State legislators have cut back universities’ budgets, and the universities have to make it up by charging more in fees. This is a favorite of liberal friends of mine.

• Easy credit and government grants encouraged universities to grab as much of it as they can. Why leave money on the table?

• Higher education “expanded” (both in terms of numbers of students and of campuses) – and at the first drop in the number of warm bodies they needed to make up the shortfall.

• “Baumol’s cost disease,” i.e. “costs in industries without much productivity growth tend to rise, because they have to compete for labor with more productive industries.”

• From Dartblog: Many universities have succumbed to bureaucratization, that is, they are being run, not for their ostensible purpose, but for the sake of their staffers:

As any competent manager will tell you, the very nature of a bureaucracy is to grow, unless restrained by vigilant leaders. Bureaucrats always want to manage more people (the better to justify salary increases), and dismissing non-productive employees is against the ethos of these sprawling offices. In fact, each time a mistake is made in hiring, extra hiring takes place beyond it to compensate for the low productivity of the mistaken hire. And so it goes.

In industry, the pressure of competition obliges companies to run as leanly as possible; at the College, a surging endowment and the ability to raise tuition at rates far above inflation have ensured that there is no need to exercise any budget discipline at all — except after the market crash in 2008. Of course, private sector companies are not immune to such temptations: America’s car companies were so rich in the 1960s and 1970s that the size of their head offices and administrative functions soared. The same thing occurred at market-dominating IBM in the same period. Only after punishing competition hurt these behemoths did they put their houses in order.

• My personal favorite, as much as I hate it: the market has in fact spoken. Universities don’t compete on price, they compete on prestige. So if you run a university, you’re practically compelled to charge and arm and a leg (which itself signals prestige), and then furnish in return the lazy river, the rock-climbing wall, the beautiful campus with extensive plantings and sculpture, luxury dorms, gourmet food, and constant propaganda burnishing the university’s image in order to assure the customers that their purchase has been a wise one.

• Related to this: technology, regulation and fear of lawsuits. In 1970, no university needed an office of ten people whose sole job was to keep the Internet going. No university needed an institutional researcher (making more than any faculty member) to keep it in compliance with the accrediting agency. No university needed a psychologist and an army of hand-holding student life busybodies and academic advisors, because people seemed a little more mentally resourceful and robust (and less willing to sue the place if things didn’t work out). All of these people cost money.

• Related to the last two points: the expansion of the administration. Time was when faculty were expected to serve as dean for a couple of years. Now the university hires full-time deans. This suits the faculty just fine, because who wants to serve as dean? So not only are there more employees, they all have to be paid enough to entice people to take on the work. (You’d have to pay me a lot of scratch to become provost!) So now there is a class of full-time administrators for whom demand might outstrip supply, the complete inverse of tenure-track faculty positions.

But whatever the cause, I really hate it (especially as it does not seem to have had much effect on my salary!). I am certainly not looking forward to paying university fees for my own kids in the next few years. And the more that it costs, the more that university necessarily becomes a purely functional career preparation service (viz. the QEP that we have recently selected, which is all about making students “job-ready”). How can a university charge so much without explicitly promising that gainful employment shall surely follow? And how can an instructor possibly fail anyone who has “paid for this,” no matter how indifferent their performance? It saddens me that the idea that a university education should encourage critical thinking, informed citizenship, elegant composition, familiarity with great art and literature, and the development of a meaningful life philosophy, sounds more and more quaint with each passing year.

Hocus Pocus

I told my students the other day that they should not say “hocus-pocus,” because it’s anti-Catholic, a mockery of “hoc est corpus meum,” the words a Catholic priest uses to transubstantiate the bread into the actual flesh of Jesus. (Actually, I see now that this is only one of several possible explanations of this phrase.) They then asked what words were used to transubstantiate the wine. After explaining just why blood is optional when you’re consuming flesh, I said that it would be “hoc est sanguis…” and balked at the gender of the pronoun. I asked what the gender of “sangre” was, and a Hispanic student said that it was feminine, “la sangre.” But then an Ivorian student pointed out that it’s “le sang” in French, i.e. masculine – and of course she’s right, as the line from the “Marseillaise” is “qu’un sang impur,” not “qu’une sang impure.” This prompted me to look up “sanguis” online, and to discover that in Latin it’s indeed masculine. So the expression logically would be “hic est sanguis meus.” But I have never seen an example of genders shifting like this from Latin to one of its Romance descendants. I wonder what caused this, and how many other words have undergone such gender-bending.

(Of course, I have also discovered in the meantime that my Latin may be logical, but it’s not what was actually said. According to the Medieval Sourcebook, the two Latin rite sentences are:




that is, “for this is my body,” and “for this is the cup of my blood.”)

Thoughts I have had while lecturing

I. An interesting shift: at one point African-American slaves took inspiration from Moses leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt, hence the spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go!
Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land;
Tell old Pharaoh To let My people go!

But of course Egypt is African, or judged to be representative of Africa, so starting in the twentieth century African-Americans began to look back with admiration on ancient Egypt, partly as a riposte to the European idealization of Ancient Greece (this is where the Afrocentric charge that the latter “stole” everything from the former comes from). Thus, for example, Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s first black fraternity, founded at Cornell in 1906 and which:

utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization…. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha’s constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha’s mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage.

(This despite the fact that they use Greek letters to identify themselves – why not a couple of hieroglyphs?)

I suppose the fall of slavery in the United States lessened the appeal of the ancient Hebrews, allowing the shift toward sympathizing with the Egyptians.

II. One of my favorite records when I was in college features the novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” which dates from the 1950s and is (I suppose) a celebration of the rise of nationalist Turkey. By way of explaining the name change of that county’s most famous city, the song points out a parallel situation:

Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam.
Why they changed it I can’t say, people just liked it better that way.

But perhaps a more accurate assessment of this name change is that the British defeated their continental rivals the Dutch and took possession of the New Netherlands in 1664, and promptly changed the names of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange to New York and Albany respectively, after the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Fort Orange was so called, of course, on account of “Orange” being the name of the ruling house of the Netherlands.

What’s ironic is that James II was a Catholic, and didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself, and provoked the Glorious Revolution of 1688, whereby Parliament invited his daughter Mary Stuart to become queen, and her husband to become king… that husband being none other than William of Orange, king of the Netherlands. These two reigned as co-monarchs, hence the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

So an Orange was replaced by an Albany, who was replaced by another Orange (who opened up Ireland for Protestant settlement, hence the Orange Order, and Orangeman’s Day).

More From Hamilton

Some good advice on the writing of a competent history paper:

Get off to a good start. Avoid pretentious, vapid beginnings. If you are writing a paper on, say, British responses to the rebellion in India in 1857, don’t open with a statement like this: “Throughout human history people in all cultures everywhere in the world have engaged in many and long-running conflicts about numerous aspects of government policy and diplomatic issues, which have much interested historians and generated historical theories in many areas.” This is pure garbage, bores the reader, and is a sure sign that you have nothing substantive to say. Get to the point. Here’s a better start: “The rebellion in 1857 compelled the British to rethink their colonial administration in India.” This sentence tells the reader what your paper is actually about and clears the way for you to state your thesis in the rest of the opening paragraph. For example, you might go on to argue that greater British sensitivity to Indian customs was hypocritical.

State a clear thesis. Whether you are writing an exam essay or a senior thesis, you need to have a thesis. Don’t just repeat the assignment or start writing down everything that you know about the subject. Ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to prove?” Your thesis is your take on the subject, your perspective, your explanation—that is, the case that you’re going to argue. “Famine struck Ireland in the 1840s” is a true statement, but it is not a thesis. “The English were responsible for famine in Ireland in the 1840s” is a thesis (whether defensible or not is another matter). A good thesis answers an important research question about how or why something happened. (“Who was responsible for the famine in Ireland in the 1840s?”) Once you have laid out your thesis, don’t forget about it. Develop your thesis logically from paragraph to paragraph. Your reader should always know where your argument has come from, where it is now, and where it is going.

Use evidence critically. Like good detectives, historians are critical of their sources and cross-check them for reliability. You wouldn’t think much of a detective who relied solely on a suspect’s archenemy to check an alibi. Likewise, you wouldn’t think much of a historian who relied solely on the French to explain the origins of World War I. Consider the following two statements on the origin of World War I: 1) “For the catastrophe of 1914 the Germans are responsible. Only a professional liar would deny this…” 2) “It is not true that Germany is guilty of having caused this war. Neither the people, the government, nor the Kaiser wanted war….” They can’t both be right, so you have to do some detective work. As always, the best approach is to ask: Who wrote the source? Why? When? Under what circumstances? For whom? The first statement comes from a book by the French politician Georges Clemenceau, which he wrote in 1929 at the very end of his life. In 1871, Clemenceau had vowed revenge against Germany for its defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War. As premier of France from 1917 to 1920, he represented France at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He was obviously not a disinterested observer. The second statement comes from a manifesto published by ninety-three prominent German intellectuals in the fall of 1914. They were defending Germany against charges of aggression and brutality. They too were obviously not disinterested observers. Now, rarely do you encounter such extreme bias and passionate disagreement, but the principle of criticizing and cross-checking sources always applies. In general, the more sources you can use, and the more varied they are, the more likely you are to make a sound historical judgment, especially when passions and self-interests are engaged. You don’t need to be cynical as a historian (self-interest does not explain everything), but you do need to be critical and skeptical. Competent historians may offer different interpretations of the same evidence or choose to stress different evidence. You will not find a single historical Truth with a capital “T” on any matter of significance. You can, however, learn to discriminate among conflicting interpretations, not all of which are created equal.

Be precise. Vague statements and empty generalizations suggest that you haven’t put in the time to learn the material. Consider these two sentences: “During the French Revolution, the government was overthrown by the people. The Revolution is important because it shows that people need freedom.” What people? Landless peasants? Urban journeymen? Wealthy lawyers? Which government? When? How? Who exactly needed freedom, and what did they mean by freedom? Here is a more precise statement about the French Revolution: “Threatened by rising prices and food shortages in 1793, the Parisian sans-culottes pressured the Convention to institute price controls.” This statement is more limited than the grandiose generalizations about the Revolution, but unlike them, it can open the door to a real analysis of the Revolution. Be careful when you use grand abstractions like people, society, freedom, and government, especially when you further distance yourself from the concrete by using these words as the apparent antecedents for the pronouns they and it. Always pay attention to cause and effect. Abstractions do not cause or need anything; particular people or particular groups of people cause or need things. Avoid grandiose trans-historical generalizations that you can’t support. When in doubt about the appropriate level of precision or detail, err on the side of adding “too much” precision and detail.

Watch the chronology. Anchor your thesis in a clear chronological framework and don’t jump around confusingly. Take care to avoid both anachronisms and vagueness about dates. If you write, “Napoleon abandoned his Grand Army in Russia and caught the redeye back to Paris,” the problem is obvious. If you write, “Despite the Watergate scandal, Nixon easily won reelection in 1972,” the problem is more subtle, but still serious. (The scandal did not become public until after the election.) If you write, “The revolution in China finally succeeded in the twentieth century,” your professor may suspect that you haven’t studied. Which revolution? When in the twentieth century? Remember that chronology is the backbone of history. What would you think of a biographer who wrote that you graduated from college in the 1950s?

Cite sources carefully. Your professor may allow parenthetical citations in a short paper with one or two sources, but you should use footnotes for any research paper in history. Parenthetical citations are unaesthetic; they scar the text and break the flow of reading. Worse still, they are simply inadequate to capture the richness of historical sources. Historians take justifiable pride in the immense variety of their sources. Parenthetical citations such as (Jones 1994) may be fine for most of the social sciences and humanities, where the source base is usually limited to recent books and articles in English. Historians, however, need the flexibility of the full footnote. Try to imagine this typical footnote (pulled at random from a classic work of German history) squeezed into parentheses in the body of the text: DZA Potsdam, RdI, Frieden 5, Erzgebiet von Longwy-Briey, Bd. I, Nr. 19305, gedruckte Denkschrift für OHL und Reichsleitung, Dezember 1917, und in RWA, Frieden Frankreich Nr. 1883. The abbreviations are already in this footnote; its information cannot be further reduced. For footnotes and bibliography, historians usually use Chicago style. (The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.)… RefWorks will convert your citations to Chicago style.

Avoid abusing your sources. Many potentially valuable sources are easy to abuse. Be especially alert for these five abuses:

Web abuse. The Web is a wonderful and improving resource for indexes and catalogs. But as a source for primary and secondary material for the historian, the Web is of limited value. Anyone with the right software can post something on the Web without having to get past trained editors, peer reviewers, or librarians. As a result, there is a great deal of garbage on the Web. If you use a primary source from the Web, make sure that a respected intellectual institution stands behind the site. Be especially wary of secondary articles on the Web, unless they appear in electronic versions of established print journals (e.g., The Journal of Asian Studies in JSTOR). Many articles on the Web are little more than third-rate encyclopedia entries. When in doubt, check with your professor. With a few rare exceptions, you will not find scholarly monographs in history (even recent ones) on the Web. You may have heard of Google’s plans to digitize the entire collections of some of the world’s major libraries and to make those collections available on the Web. Don’t hold your breath. Your days in college will be long over by the time the project is finished. Besides, your training as a historian should give you a healthy skepticism of the giddy claims of technophiles. Most of the time and effort of doing history goes into reading, note-taking, pondering, and writing. Finding a chapter of a book on the Web (as opposed to getting the physical book through interlibrary loan) might be a convenience, but it doesn’t change the basics for the historian. Moreover, there is a subtle, but serious, drawback with digitized old books: They break the historian’s sensual link to the past. And of course, virtually none of the literally trillions of pages of archival material is available on the Web. For the foreseeable future, the library and the archive will remain the natural habitats of the historian.

Thesaurus abuse. How tempting it is to ask your computer’s thesaurus to suggest a more erudite-sounding word for the common one that popped into your mind! Resist the temptation. Consider this example (admittedly, a bit heavy-handed, but it drives the point home): You’re writing about the EPA’s programs to clean up impure water supplies. Impure seems too simple and boring a word, so you bring up your thesaurus, which offers you everything from incontinent to meretricious. “How about meretricious water?” you think to yourself. “That will impress the professor.” The problem is that you don’t know exactly what meretricious means, so you don’t realize that meretricious is absurdly inappropriate in this context and makes you look foolish and immature. Use only those words that come to you naturally. Don’t try to write beyond your vocabulary. Don’t try to impress with big words. Use a thesaurus only for those annoying tip-of-the-tongue problems (you know the word and will recognize it instantly when you see it, but at the moment you just can’t think of it).

Quotation book abuse. This is similar to thesaurus abuse. Let’s say you are writing a paper on Alexander Hamilton’s banking policies, and you want to get off to a snappy start that will make you seem effortlessly learned. How about a quotation on money? You click on the index of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and before you know it, you’ve begun your paper with, “As Samuel Butler wrote in Hudibras, ‘For what is worth in anything/ But so much money as ’t will bring?’” Face it, you’re faking it. You don’t know who Samuel Butler is, and you’ve certainly never heard of Hudibras, let alone read it. Your professor is not fooled. You sound like an insecure after-dinner speaker. Forget Bartlett’s, unless you’re confirming the wording of a quotation that came to you spontaneously and relates to your paper.

Encyclopedia abuse. General encyclopedias like Britannica are useful for checking facts (“Wait a sec, am I right about which countries sent troops to crush the Boxer Rebellion in China? Better check.”). But if you are footnoting encyclopedias in your papers, you are not doing collegelevel research.

Dictionary abuse. The dictionary is your friend. Keep it by your side as you write, but do not abuse it by starting papers with a definition. You may be most tempted to start this way when you are writing on a complex, controversial, or elusive subject. (“According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, liberalism is defined as…”). Actually, the dictionary 8 does you little good in such cases and makes you sound like a conscientious but dull high-school student. Save in the rare case that competing dictionary definitions are the subject at hand, keep dictionary quotations out of your paper.

Avoid cheap, anachronistic moralizing. Many of the people and institutions of the past appear unenlightened, ignorant, misguided, or bigoted by today’s values. Resist the temptation to condemn or to get self-righteous. (“Martin Luther was blind to the sexism and class prejudice of sixteenth-century German society.”) Like you, people in the past were creatures of their time; like you, they deserve to be judged by the standards of their time. If you judge the past by today’s standards (an error historians call “presentism”), you will never understand why people thought or acted as they did. Yes, Hitler was a bad guy, but he was bad not only by today’s standards, but also by the commonly accepted standards of his own time. Someday you’re going to look pretty foolish and ignorant yourself. (“Early twenty-first century college students failed to see the shocking inderdosherism [that’s right, you don’t recognize the concept because it doesn’t yet exist] implicit in their career plans.”)


From the Hamilton College History Department:

Top Ten Reasons for Negative Comments on History Papers

10. You engage in cheap, anachronistic moralizing.

9. You are sloppy with the chronology.

8. You quote excessively or improperly.

7. You have written a careless “one-draft wonder.”

6. You are vague or have empty, unsupported generalizations.

5. You write too much in the passive voice.

4. You use inappropriate sources.

3. You use evidence uncritically.

2. You are wordy.

1. You have no clear thesis and little analysis.

Top Ten Signs that you may be Writing a Weak History Paper

10. You’re overjoyed to find that you can fill the required pages by widening all margins.

9. You haven’t mentioned any facts or cited any sources for several paragraphs.

8. You find yourself using the phrase “throughout history mankind has…”

7. You just pasted in another 100 words of quotations.

6. You haven’t a clue about the content of your next paragraph.

5. You’re constantly clicking on The Britannica, Webster’s, and Bartlett’s.

4. Your writing tutor sneaks another look at her watch as she reminds you for the third time to clarify your thesis.

3. Your main historical actors are this, it, they, the people, and society, and they are all involved with factors, aspects, impacts, and issues.

2. You just realize that you don’t understand the assignment, but it’s 3:00 A.M, the paper is due at 9:00, and you don’t dare call your professor.

1. You’re relieved that the paper counts for only 20 percent of the course grade.

Academic Freedom

I’m going to abuse my position as keeper of this blog, to endorse an opinion I’ve long agreed with. A friend of mine thinks that this issue is not a real threat to academic freedom (unlike, say, the erosion of tenure), but I say it describes a real phenomenon and is contrary to good pedagogy. It even, I regret to say, describes life at Reinhardt, insofar as people are sometimes more concerned with a “supportive environment” than an intellectual one. I firmly believe that we do our students well when we give them the mental and emotional equipment to face adversity, rather than trying to rearrange the world for the sake of their precious sensibilities.


Princeton Votes for Academic Freedom


At Chicago and Princeton, at least, academic freedom lives!

At campuses across the country, traditional ideals of freedom of expression and the right to dissent have been deeply compromised or even abandoned as college and university faculties and administrators have capitulated to demands for language and even thought policing. Academic freedom, once understood to be vitally necessary to the truth-seeking mission of institutions of higher learning, has been pushed to the back of the bus in an age of “trigger warnings,” “micro-aggressions,” mandatory sensitivity training, and grievance politics.  It was therefore refreshing to see the University of Chicago, one of the academic world’s most eminent and highly respected institutions, issue a report ringingly reaffirming the most robust conception of academic freedom.  The question was whether other institutions would follow suit

Yesterday, the Princeton faculty, led by the distinguished mathematician Sergiu Klainerman, who grew up under communist oppression in Romania and knows a thing or two about the importance of freedom of expression, formally adopted the principles of the University of Chicago report.  They are now the official policy of Princeton University.  I am immensely grateful to Professor Klainerman for his leadership, and I am proud of my colleagues, the vast majority of whom voted in support of his motion.

At Chicago and Princeton, at least, academic freedom lives!

Here are the principles we adopted:

‘Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.  Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.’ .  .  .  Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.  Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community ‘to discuss any problem that presents itself.’ Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict.  But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.  Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.  The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.  In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.  But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.  In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.  It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.

Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.  As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression.  Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.  To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

Bayeux Tapestry Pictures

As promised, photographs of the Bayeux Tapestry reception at the University of North Georgia this past Friday. They were all taken on my iPhone; apologies for the general lack of quality.

Here is the obligatory picture of Price Memorial Hall:

The whole tapestry is pretty much to scale, although it is not embroidered, but painted with acrylic paint in colors closely matching the original.

It is a pleasure to see the whole thing as a continuous frieze, rather than the discrete chunks that publishers must break it into in order to publish it in a book.

The Tapestry is some 230 feet long; it continued on the outside of the U:

In this format, one certainly notices details that one may have previously missed.

Participants included Christopher Jespersen, Dean of Arts and Letters, as MC:

Judge Edd Wheeler, sponsor of this reproduction:

Theresa Jespersen of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, who spoke about the Bayeux Tapestry (and other artifacts) as teaching tools:

Kelly DeVries of Loyola University, Maryland, who spoke about military technology on display in the tapestry:

Glen Kyle of the Northeast Georgia History Center in period costume, and Tim May, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters:

At the end of the evening the reproduction was rolled up into a specially designed box:


From David Parker:


Most members of the Georgia Association of Historians no doubt know and are concerned about Georgia Senate Resolution 80 (SR 80). This is the resolution that criticizes the Advanced Placement US History (APUSH) course for “minimiz[ing] discussion of America’s Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history, and many other critical topics” and for “present[ing] a biased and inaccurate view of many important themes and events in American history, including the motivations and actions of seventeenth to nineteenth century settlers, the nature of the American free enterprise system, the course and resolution of the Great Depression, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.” The resolution threatens to remove state support for AP classes if the College Board does not revise the APUSH course. Richard Woods, the state school superintendent, seems to support the resolution with his call for education standards that are “Georgia-owned and Georgia-grown.”

At its annual meeting last weekend, the GAH approved a resolution opposing SR80. That resolution is posted on the GAH’s website.  Members may feel free to refer to the resolution and to circulate it as they wish.

SR 80 may be seen here.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods’s comments are available here.

The Christian Nation (and the AP Test)

One of the ongoing issues in America’s blue state-red state culture war (along with evolution, abortion, and gay marriage) is the notion that the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation. I suppose I should state here that I stand on the “liberal” side of all of these issues, although I respect the sincerity of those who don’t, and I can’t stand the condescension regularly served to them by the vast majority of my colleagues in the humanities and social sciences. Still, any fair examination of the primary sources indicates that the founders of this country were for the most part Enlightenment Deists, trusting in providence to guide them, but in no way motivated by the earlier, Puritan notion of a City on a Hill, or any resurrected idea of a sacred covenant between God and his people. (I remember flipping through television channels once and pausing briefly on a religious one; the show being aired suggested that we needed to “look beyond” the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, to some backwoods New England preacher who claimed that God’s blessing was upon the new American enterprise, presumably because Jefferson and Paine were effete cultural elites while the Rev. Backwoods represented “the people.”) But what can you do? I suppose that if you’re really religious you need to explain America’s power somehow – nothing happens without God letting it, so how else could the US have gotten this way? (The reverse of: Something bad happened to you? What did you do to deserve it?) On a more mundane level Christians surely take comfort in the idea that their faith is endorsed by the history and the government of their own country. But as a historian I am compelled to follow primary sources and not any theological ideas about what is supposed to have happened, and as a Christian, I think that government endorsement of Christianity is generally a bad idea, ultimately corrupting and enervating it.

So I must say that I am not particularly thrilled to read that “Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly To Ban Advanced Placement U.S. History”:

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

This article, from Think Progress, is definitely written in an unsympathetic spirit, and I would be interested in reading what exactly Fisher objects to in the AP curriculum, and what he proposes replacing it with. But if this article is essentially true, it’s rather depressing. Yes, professional historians have their own biases and blind spots. But I trust them more than I trust the Black Robe Regiment, whose use of the word “indoctrinating” is a shining example of the word “projection.”

(Although, I will say that they do have one thing right, if for the wrong reasons. It’s not that AP courses are “liberal,” it’s that they exist in the first place. From the article:

Advanced Placement courses are actually developed by a private group, the College Board, and are not required of any student or high school. They are the primary way that student can earn college credit in high school. Taking advanced placement course can save students money and are generally seen as a prerequisite to admission to elite colleges.

In my day, and in my country, high school courses were high school courses, and university courses were university courses. If you got credit for one, you didn’t get credit for the other. You could place out of a university course if you had mastered the material, for sure, but there were no opportunities for double-dipping. Alas, each university is compelled to participate in this system, because all the other ones do.)