Friday, February 13, 2009

Busy week and Ridiculous Students

This week has been insanely productive. Starting from Saturday, I've read the following:

A. Owen Aldridge, The Ibero-American Enlightenment
Alice Clark, Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century
Richard Herr, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain
Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918
Lloyd Kramer, "Intellectual History and Philosophy," Modern Intellectual History (2004)
George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology
George Mosse, Nazi Culture
George Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism
Thomas Munck, The Enlightenment: A Comparative Social History, 1721-1794

I also had a good meeting with my advisor talking about the Herr book and the Enlightenment in Spain, and then had a really positive meeting with another committee member yesterday morning about my intellectual history/collective memory list. She doesn't think I'm completely useless, and can tell that I am doing better. She was in a really good mood, too, so I didn't feel half as intimidated as normal.

Only 3 of my 40-odd students decided to write this first paper on Rousseau. At least one of them is probably going to get a D, if not lower, since the only citations are from wikipedia (after I expressly told them not to do that, and said the only citations should be from Rousseau, the textbook, and class lectures), the paper is 2 pages too long, and most of it is simply a plot summary (which I also told them not to do). Ugh. Not good.

Today I made my students compete a little and debate whether 1789 brought more change, or if continuity was in fact more prominent. The first two classes did brilliantly. Both sides came up with a ton of examples for their case, and even debated each other sometimes over the grey areas. I was so proud. The third class, though... oy. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love them, but they're probably going to fail. Three of the 10 did wonderfully, and really put in a ton of work. The others... either just followed along or honestly knew nothing. My Continuity group in that class couldn't figure anything out on their own. They obviously had done no work... I was really disappointed with them.

* * * * *
Oh yeah - one of my students who failed my class last semester has sunk to new lows. From what we can figure out, it is highly likely that the student forged my advisor's signature in order to add our class to his schedule *last Friday*. The story has been complicated more and more, but the story as we know it right now is that he originally was in another freshman-level core class - one not run by our department - but was administratively dropped. (The only reason this would happen would be if he didn't attend the first two weeks' classes.) Then he *claims* that he signed into "Section 16" of our class. But we don't have a section 16. The class with the same number and a section 16 is another course run by our department - but I spoke with some of the grads who teach that class, and they never saw this kid, either. Then the kid *claims* that he signed into section 25 of our course, and that my advisor signed the drop/add sheet last Friday. So the numerous problems with this last statement are:

1) My advisor has made it a policy not to sign in anyone for the course. Since there are 5 graduate TAs and 15 sections, he didn't want to screw with our rosters without our OK. Therefore, he has been sending any and all students who would like to come into the class to us, and gives us full authority to decide whether or not to allow anyone else in to the class. So the claim that my advisor "signed him in" is bogus.

2) My advisor... whom I know very, very well... doesn't come to campus on Fridays. :-)

3) Finally, we asked him, and he denies signing any forms.

So now the department is in the process of trying to get the form from the Registrar's office so my advisor can see for himself what the signature looks like. And then... well, in my mind the Dean of Students and the police should probably be called. But we'll see....

* * * * *

We also had a student come in to the office today looking, generically, for "my ta..." We asked whom she was looking for - she didn't know. She vaguely knew that her class was about Latin American, so I knew which 5 people it could be. But I wasn't in the mood to deal with oblivious and ignorant students, so I just sat there. She finally said it was a guy, and she thought he "might" be Canadian. There's only one guy who fit that, so I asked if it was him - first name, then added his last name after a pause. She asked, "Are those two different guys?" "No," I replied, "that's his name: ___ _____." She just looked dumbly back at me. The the other grad asked what her TA looks like. She hemmed and hawed and finally said that he had darkish hair... and was tall... He also asked if her TA wore glasses, and she said no.

At this point, I just started to laugh. The girl - still completely oblivious and a bit vacuous in her responses - didn't seem to understand. I finally said that we don't have anyone in our department who fits that description - tall, dark, un-bespectacled, and Canadian. The other grad was chuckling, too. I explained that the person whose name I had offered is Canadian, but he is short and wears glasses. He's maybe 5'5", if that. The girl still didn't understand. She continued to say that her TA is quite tall and doesn't wear glasses. She sat down to wait "in case" whomever she was waiting for showed up. I couldn't take it - I finally said that the next time she came it probably would be helpful is she could tell us the name of the person she wanted to meet. Her reply - "I've only been in class for, like, three weeks." [As if that explains it????} I gave up.

When her TA - the one whom I said it was to begin with - came in, she exclaimed that she had never noticed his glasses.... He remarked that she should pay more attention, since he wears them all of the time. From the rest of their conversation, I think she's been missing more than just what her TA looks like....

Gah. Students.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I learned this weekend...

1. That short-term study carrels rock. I practically lived in one this weekend at the library. You get it for 6 hours, and it is a really nice change from my office.

2. That reading three books about Nazism, Nazi ideology, and European racism is enough to depress anyone.

3. That the Enlightenment, if discussed in the right way, can actually be fun to discuss.

4. That Spain DID have an Enlightenment!!!

5. That the banning of a specific kind of hat led to the dissolution of the entire Jesuit order in 1767. Only Spain, baby, only Spain.

6. That I get a little frustrated when professors ignore my email for multiple days...

7. That I have the ability, if I'm not having migraines, to actually get work done. I read 5 books between Saturday and Sunday, and am reading a major work in my field today (and so am going slower because it is the classic work on the 18th century in Spain).

8. That weather shifts of 50 degrees are annoying. It was 80 degrees the middle of last week; they're predicting SNOW, even down here in the metro valley, tonight. Blah. I want my desert heat back.

Tomorrow I have another meeting with my advisor, and I was hoping that on Thursday I could meet with the one committee member whom I know doesn't think I'm doing well for her list. But since she hasn't replied, I'm not sure yet. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can. I have made it two weeks without migraines, and have basically been at work every day for those two weeks. Even on the last two Sundays, I've gone to church and then headed to work after lunch. It kind of stinks, but I don't have a choice if I'm going to pass comps.

One month. *shudders*

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I feel a little less stupid

I met with my advisor to talk about Spain, and therefore talk about comps, this afternoon. We haven't done this for a very, very long time. We're talking months. I was petrified. I walked in feeling like I knew nothing about Spain, and he was going to tell me that I have no right being here. Our meeting went very differently.

* He first asked me if I could talk about what I thought were recent trends in the historiography. So I thought for a while, trying to orient myself and put the large amount of crap in my head in chronological order, and finally started talking about questions of identity and complex relations between class, gender, regionalism, and the state.

* He was happy with that as a starting point, and so asked what historical reasons there would be for that trend popping up when it did. I thought, and came up with an answer that seemed utterly too simple. As I thought, I finally said aloud that normally when I think that an answer is too simple and overthink it, David usually tells me that was what he was looking for in the first place. So I gave him my simple answer. And he said, "Absolutely!"

* Then he embarked on what should have been a very simple question, but he wanted to make it obtuse. So, of course, I looked at him like he was insane and had no idea what he was talking about. After about 3 minutes of him continuing to ask the question in different ways, I finally figured out what he was talking about, answered it - again, the really basic answer - and we went on.

* After that stop-start-stop-start beginning, we proceeded to talk for 2 good hours about the historiography. I found that I could legitimately talk about the holes in the field, why I thought some of the holes were there, where the major trends seemed to be, when the major trends seemed to pop up, perhaps why they seemed to pop up, etc.

* He also explained his thoughts on potential exam questions. Right now there are five potentials for writtens and orals:

--Historiography question - asking some broad question about historiographic trends, akin to what we did today, or perhaps focusing in on a more specific topic, not sure yet

--Teaching question - asking how to teach Spain in the context of either an Atlantic World or a World history course - so I would have to have a plan for how to design and teach an entire course, complete with readings and strategies in mind

--Eighteenth century - question on the Spanish Enlightenment and how it connects or compares to the Enlightenment in the rest of Europe

--Nineteenth century - perhaps a broader question on the Spanish 19th century; we talked about maybe giving me a broader question here to let me play with it a bit more

--Twentieth century - a question on the impact of the end of the Franco regime and the transition era - though he told me that he's not leaning toward this question. For which I would be glad. Though I did have to ask for more books if he has any hope of making me discuss the Spanish Enlightenment, because he neglected to give me any readings that so much as discuss it even a little. So, ack, I had to add more books today. On the bright side, he said that means I can cut out three books in exchange. Yay!

When I finally got out of the meeting, I actually felt *not* stupid about my specialization. Woo-hoo!!

So, maybe I do know something about Spain... Now I just have to get the other 4 committee members to feel this good about me (and vice versa).