So, why am I writing this book again??

To be clear, I’ve known why; however, someone looking at my vita and seeing where I teach now and where I’ve taught before, and how long it’s been since I obtained my doctorate, might wonder.  Why now, after all this time?  So, I’d like to point that person to this essay by David Perry (thanks to my FB friend Kendra Leonard for linking to it), and in particular to this paragraph:

For me, the key was realizing that I was writing this book solely for myself. I believed I knew some things about history that were important and would contribute to a field of study to which I have dedicated much of my life. I believed that the best way to communicate my findings was via a long-form monograph, rather than chopped into discrete articles. I did not, and do not, expect this book to transform my career. A new study shows that perceptions of prestige matter at least as much as quality of work in terms of hiring at top jobs, so no matter what I write, those perceptions are static.
In addition to Perry’s discussion of the academic and professional aspects of things, I would add two things.  One, it’s been immensely gratifying to do some reading of recent work on culture in Latin America and find that, on the whole, my arguments that I’d made way back when in the diss.  seem germane to these recent discussions (when, I confess, I had my doubts as I was writing the thing).  This is important to me because, given the nature of the classes I teach at Butler, I get little space in the classroom to explore these ideas, and I really need that intellectual outlet.  The other thing I would add that has been true for me is I tell my students: they will be more engaged, if not happier writers if, whenever possible, they can think of their academic writing as a creative act, as a form of self-expression.  To put things delicately, because I’m not up against a deadline, it’s been easy to, um, become distracted from the task; when I am working diligently, though, I’m learning things I hadn’t known I believed about New World writing, and I’m having a pretty good time in the process (even when, as now, I’m in the middle of unsnarling a rather tangled section of the Columbus chapter).  I’d also add as a corollary that if we’re regularly engaged in writing and researching, we can speak from those experiences as we teach, counsel, and advise our students regarding their own writing.
So.  I’m doing this because, as Perry says of his own book,  I think I have something to contribute to discussions about the literatures and cultures of the Americas, and–just as importantly–I want to have some intellectual fun.  I would hope that others of you who find yourselves in similar circumstances can see your way clear to say the same thing about your work.

Teaching Idea: Build Your Own Micronation


18th-century map that serves as the basis for the territorial claims of the micronation of the Dominion of British West Florida. Image via the “History” page of the Dominion’s website, here.

Note: Occasionally, as happens with all teachers, I’ll read something that will lead me to think, “With a little pushing/pulling/mulling over, that just might make for a good writing assignment for my students.”  So, some of those will appear here under the “Teaching Idea” category that you’ll see over in the right-hand gutter.  I don’t pretend that these are in any way finished; rather, these are more like my thinking “out loud” in this space, with a tacit invitation to whoever might be interested to weigh in with comments.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this article on micronations in Motherboard and immediately thought it might have potential for a research project for my Comp II students (that is the “research paper” composition class we teach at Butler).  Almost immediately, other things came up that claimed my attention, and I didn’t do anything more with the idea until yesterday when an article on the Dominion of British West Florida popped up in my Facebook feed, and the next thing you know, I found myself adding some links to micronation websites over on the right-hand side of my blog as a future resource for my students.  We in our department are moving toward demanding more research from our students throughout the Comp sequence, and I think that, at least as this half-formed thing looks in my head at the moment, it would certainly fulfill that goal.  Also, I want to give those so inclined the opportunity to be creative and/or learn more about a topic or issue they think is important; the Motherboard article’s mention of Westarctica‘s serving primarily as a site to inform people of conservation issues and climate change made me see that this project could be serious as well as fun.  Finally, the idea of micronations dovetails in interesting ways with my academic interests in the idea of place and, in conjunction with the book project, with the idea I’ve been writing about regarding the New World as a heterotopic space.

So here’s a tentative list of elements that I will require my students to address in this project.

Teaching/Academic blogs and resources

I have been busy adding links to colleagues’ own blogs as well as ones they’ve suggested over in the sidebar.  It’s a short list, as you can see, but I want to grow it; so, if you have a teaching or academic blog, or you sometimes visit such a place for ideas or inspiration, I hope you will include links to them here in the comments or on Facebook.

Also, for anyone interested: under the new tab titled “Domestic Issue–Online Resources,” I have some links to sites that may be of interest to people doing research in “literature of the Americas”-type stuff.  Again, the list is short (over time, some truly valuable sites have been taken down); but, again, I hope that if you have some suggestions, you’ll let me know here in comments.

Content now up under “Teaching”

The Most Interesting English Department in the World

A few years ago, our department meeting was graced by two luminaries: Rebecca Moore Howard (author of Writing Matters, our department’s grammar text), and the ever-mysterious, ever-fascinating Most Interesting Man in the World.

In case anyone is interested, on the “Teaching” page I now have a round-up of assignments I’m especially pleased with, along with a narrative that talks about how some of them, at least, came into being.  I hope you will enjoy what you find there.