busy, busy

(the Connecticut River is quite low this fall)

I did a talk last week, at the Ashfield Historical Society’s annual meeting. Told them a little about my research in their archives. People were pretty interested in the project, and I got good feedback. My parents were visiting, so I took my father up to see the talk. And I met with one of my advisors, and talked about putting together a Global Environmental History reading list. And, I found out that a seminar was being offered at Mount Holyoke College, on environmental history and GIS, and I got myself into that. Just trying to keep busy...next week, hopefully I’ll get back to blacksmithing.

One week in

So the semester has been underway for about a week now. The days are getting more fall-like, and the classes and discussion sections have changed the character of time on campus. I’m having a lot more contact with people, and a lot fewer big unbroken blocks of time to read and write. Not a bad thing, just something to get used to.

My field reading seems to be getting tighter; more focused. There’s a time limit, and I’ve actually started thinking past the comprehensive exams and even the PhD. Telling myself, I’ll get to this or that book later, but not right now. I suppose that’s also my way of admitting that I can’t read
everything ever written on my field topics, before the exams.

After exams, I’ll be “legal” to teach UMass continuing education classes, and I’ll feel somehow more “authorized” to offer my services at community and state colleges. With luck, I’ll pick up some teaching work while I’m writing my dissertation. Another good reason to have it half done when I take the exams.

This fall I’m TA-ing American History (Colonial to 1877). There should be lots of material in here for me to think about. I want to watch how the instructor does her thing, get a sense of how the students are responding, and think really hard about what I’d want to be saying in each of these lectures, if it was my class. And of course, I can test out some of those ideas in my sections. At the first one, I went a little deeper into the background of these conquistadors we started with. I think being acquainted with just a tiny bit of European history (at least the
reconquista) helps the students have a little better sense of who these guys were, and why they behaved the way they did toward the natives. And details like the 30-generation christian/muslim war in Spain and military technologies that let the Spaniards stand out of range of their enemies and mow them down, give a really contemporary feel to the material -- and suggest reasons why we’re interested in this history in the first place.

$50 billion in infrastructure

This thought started as I was thinking about the stuff I was reading yesterday. In the fight over the Obama infrastructure boondoggle, does the $50 billion that goes to pork barrel jobs really matter, in the face of the nearly Trillion dollars that went to “bail out” the richest corporations in America? Maybe, if you’ve given up on the Trillion dollars, and feel like the only thing left to fight for is the $50 billion. So maybe what we should be trying to do is stop fighting over the $50 billion of crumbs the elite was willing to throw to the workers, and refocus ourselves on that Trillion dollars they just stole from us.

But that’s the thing. Too often, the liberal intellectuals talk as if anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid or evil. They’re not convincing anybody, and they’re not generating a lot of good will with that approach. What if the liberals assumed, instead, that a lot of the people they write off as tea-party cranks are honestly concerned about the way things are going in America. But they’ve given up on fighting the corporations and their lobbies. They’re making a sensible decision and choosing their battles.

Ultimately, the guys I talked with didn’t disagree that the bailout was robbery. They just apparently don’t feel that we can get any traction on that issue. And I don’t disagree that the infrastructure bill is probably a boondoggle. I just think we’re wasting our time over pennies if we fight about that, and losing sight of the dollars. Rather than fighting each other for the leftovers, maybe we could all go after our common enemy.