Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read for Banned Books Week!

I'm a little late, but there's still plenty of time for us all to pick up some Challenged Books.

This, from the American Library Association Website:

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

September 25−October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

You can read more about it here.

I perused the list of some of the top challenged or banned classics and this list of books challenged or censored in the past decade. Due to scholarly duties I decided to focus on one of my longtime favorites, To Kill a Mockingbird. The ALA reports that this book is most frequently challenged for racism, offensive language, and being inappropriate for the age group.

Remember yesterday how I said I try to rein myself in sometimes? Yeah, well, not today.

First off, I am absolutely against these challenges. I love books rather mightily, as you might have guessed from my photo. But often these challenges don't even make sense. One of the reasons people consider To Kill A Mockingbird an important piece of literature is because of Harper Lee's treatment of rabid racism and the various methods of defiance of the racist regime employed by the Finches. The "offensive language", namely the n-word, is absolutely in context and used purposefully. And it is only inappropriate for the age group if there is no guidance from adults. With a teacher in the classroom, this should not be a problem.

I think many of us in academia take freedom of reading and of book choice for granted, but clearly that is a mistake. If you decide to read or reread a book on this list, leave the title in the comments. I'm always looking for recommendations and these lists are as good a place as any to start.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Nation-State Do You Live In?

The two-a-day posts happen so rarely, but this is TOO GOOD to make you wait until tomorrow, folkses. Behold the Ultimate Map Quiz!

Double points to anyone from Ecuador actually living in "Equador".

Do I Have The Fear?

I sometimes am asked somewhat serious questions about this blog, including "are you a real grad student?", which I hoped would be an obvious yes. Usually I tip-toe around them, as after spending my day answering roughly one million questions I'm seldom in the mood for more. But lately, several people have asked me if I'm concerned that writing this blog will come back to haunt me later. That during my interviews at the Job Center, one of my interviewers will hold up the picture of me in the Tilt-o-Whirl and say, "What do you have to say about this?".

This question I feel deserves an answer. Here's what I have to say about this.

There is a lot of information one can glean from my writings here. I'm a woman. I have lived in several parts of the country. I like to read academic tomes, old-timey fiction, and online comics. I have an insatiable appetite for gummy candy. I have broken many bones. I have pets. I like to attend academic conferences. I love Shark Week. All of this information, I wear on my sleeve, and it wouldn't take reading this blog for prospective employers to figure out.

Information about others, I guard closely. I always ask people if I can use their first names and if they say no, I make up a title for them. Insofar as I have a personal life outside of my studies, I keep it quite private. And I never mention any professors or students by name (and they're all named Alex anyway, so you wouldn't even know who I meant if I did!). So this blog will hardly create enemies for me or the people who contribute to it.

Occasionally I post things of a political nature, on topics like higher education reform. I do this to spark debate, not rag on anyone, and I try to obscure my political views. Oddly enough, the posts that are most likely to get me "in trouble" are those which describe what being a graduate student is like (for me, at least), that existence which to many is shrouded in mystery. Applications, requirements, and the day-to-day experience. Which usually involves Auto-Tune the News and XKCD.

Prospective employers who might read this blog will know that I love when song lyrics meet historical art:

They might also like to know that I think this is awesome:

Anything else they want to know, they'll have to go back through the older posts, or ask me, since I'll admit to all of this...except this little episode of utter mania. That wasn't me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Requirement File: Language Exams

Let me begin today by stating the obvious: graduate programs have a lot of requirements. To put it simply, you have to do a lot of stuff before you can get a degree. And rightly so. But more requirements = more stress, which = more demand for me to find ways to make these things palatable, if not hilarious.

Other graduate students are often shocked to find out that many history graduate programs require proficiency in a language other than English. I once deployed this knowledge bomb on a pretentious freak who tried to tell me that by studying American history I was making myself more narrow-minded. He was then forced to eat his shoe when it was revealed that he could only read English and OH OH OH the history graduate student habla EspaƱol! Who's narrow-minded now?

...and, I'm back. Anyway, the way departments test this proficiency varies, but usually is accomplished through a little thing called The Language Exam, where you have to translate somewhere between a hundred and a bajillion words into English. Now when I think of the language exam, this comes to mind:

On any given day I remember the weirdest words in Portuguese ("lagarto" means lizard!) but not the words particularly useful for historical endeavors like, say, "century" or "old". This is the reason The Language Exam drums up such fear: because as children we spent years learning how to ask for a red tee-shirt or "where is the discoteque", but never did we learn what "the history of the fur trade is especially challenging due to the lack of preserved documents" might look like in French.

Nonetheless, languages are important to the study of history, and so we make new flash cards. No longer interested in the word for duck (pato!), we instead turn our attention to what I like to call "history words" -- author, argument, sources, American Revolution, demonstrate, and 'flesh out'.

So here's to everyone going through The Language Exam! Frankly, as long as you don't write "pregnant" when you mean "embarrassed", you're doing okay!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What do Cosmo and the Constitution Center have in Common?

They both have quizzes that will tell you who you are.

NewsFeed procrastination strikes again! I saw this on grad student superwoman Sarah's wall and got so ridiculously excited, I obviously had to stop what I was doing to find out which founding father I would be! Much better than reading Cosmo to find out which shade of lipstick I should wear to attract the man who is my best astrological match.

Now...which founding father are YOU?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Day of Fall, My Rumpus

So, allegedly today is the first day of fall. I respectfully disagree.

"Fall" started for me when my email inbox was filled with "FALL SEMESTER" messages from the registrar ("fall semester registration, do it or we'll get you!"), students ("Dear Professor, I need to take your fall semester class..."), and business services ("fall semester bill, pay up now fool!"). Summer was usurped by the early coming of fake-school-induced fall.

And so summer gets its revenge. It is 85 degrees here. In New England. A few days ago I was swimming in a lake. Autumn in the northeast is the nice little period of time where you put on a sweater and drink hot cider while the leaves turn pretty colors, as opposed to winter when you wear 3 sweaters and a parka, drink numerous hot toddies in rapid succession and watch the snow turn from brown to black. I.e., not swimming times.

So either way, I'm challenging this fall thing. When I start seeing copious amounts of candy corn, pumpkins, and leaf peepers, I'll reconsider the issue.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tricia's Corner

Sometimes fellow graduate students dig up gems in such rapid succession that I give them their own sounding board here (I just don't tell them -- surprise!). This week, history grad student and dissertation sorceress Tricia delivers the goods!

If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses

Three Books for Surviving Graduate School

Tricia also loves Married to the Sea, so here's a bonus entry that will speak to all you grad studenty types:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Learn Something Every Day. Sometimes.

Three things I've already learned from being a teaching assistant.

1. You begin to have a deep understanding of naming trends. 40% of the students in my sections are named Alex, split about 60-40 between boys and girls. The "power names" of the 80's, like Ashley, Christopher, and Kevin, are, as a grad student friend put it, "nowhere to be found". Instead I have more Kaylies, Gabbys, Dustins, and Aidens than I can keep track of, and I did not know a single person with any of those names before today.

2. You get really good at repeating yourself. I've mastered the trick of using many different phrases that mean the same thing. You must write two papers. Two papers are required. There will be two paper assignments. Por favor, dame dos papeles. Gracias.

3. You take on multiple identities. "Professor", "Hey you", and "Mrs. Teacher" all = me. I tried to explain to them that I am, in fact, not married, and not married to someone whose last name is Teacher, but they aren't having it.