Retrenchment, Day 45

It's day 45 of my retrenchment journey. I'm wearing my BSU t-shirt. My daughter had absconded with it but I noticed it as my wife was folding their laundry this morning. I said, "maybe I'll wear it ironically for my book club meeting and video". She said, "you were a college professor. How many people get to do that, even for a little while?"

That's a good point, and I appreciate the insight. When I met my wife, I was a retired high tech guy. I wasn't interested in working in technology again, so she suggested when we were living in Mankato that I should go over to the university and take some classes, like I had at the University of Minnesota when we had lived in the Cities. I went and got a Masters Degree in Latin American History and practiced writing in workshops led by novelist Terry Davis. Then, when we failed at living in South America and moved to New Hampshire, I went back to my original alma mater, UMass Amherst. I took a biography writing course because I was planning to write a biography. Then I sort-of forced my way into the PhD program. They actually rejected me at first, but I wouldn't take no for an answer.

At UMass I finished my coursework and my comprehensive exams fairly quickly and had my dissertation prospectus accepted in 2012. I worked as a teaching assistant and then got a chance to teach my own course for the Honors College. When we moved back to (northern) Minnesota, I taught American Environmental History online for a couple of years and wrote a textbook for that course while I was ABD and theoretically working on my dissertation.

I wasn't really working that hard on my dissertation, because I had been advised to slow down. In retrospect, I think that advice had been self-serving, for the person who gave it to me. She was preparing to leave UMass and didn't need the distraction. I got a new dissertation chair and, after a health scare convinced me I really ought to finish it, I completed
Peppermint Kings in 2017. Just afterward, I got an email from a friend in Mankato who had been my historiography professor, alerting me that BSU might be looking for a historian.

I had been sending applications to schools all over the US, looking for a teaching position. The competition, even in 2017, was insane and I suspected that in many cases there was probably an "internal" candidate. Someone who had already paid their dues at the place, but they were forced to do a national search anyway. I was extremely lucky that a spot opened up for me at the university five miles from my home, as soon as I had an actual PhD.

I taught at BSU for six years. At first, I had to scramble a bit because the person I was taking over for (due to illness and retirement) had the non-western world portfolio and taught courses like History of World Religions and Women in World History. I've taught both those courses several times now, as well as East Asia, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Decolonization. Also Latin American History and Modern World History, Environmental History, and finally the US History surveys. Along the way, I also had an opportunity to design my own "experimental" courses, like Gilded Age and Populism, History of High Tech, and Intro to Equity.

I worked with two talented and generous historians, who were always supportive and who made me a full partner even when I was an temporary, emergency instructor. As I developed an interest in open education and creating free textbooks, they gradually got on board. I'm not sure how they're going to keep the history program going once there are only two of them, but I hope they manage it.

"Without BSU, the next greatest thing wouldn't have happened," my wife said. She's talking about the next thing I end up doing. I think teaching at BSU has been a good step along that path, even if it turns out not to be the place I retire from. It's exactly the type of "platform" I knew I needed, when I wanted to communicate directly with the world via the web. So now I have it. Time to get busy.

So here’s a Thank You to Steph, who pointed this out to me this morning. And to Chris Corley at Mankato who told me about the job at Bemidji State. And to Brendan McManus and John Ellis who were great colleagues at BSU. I don’t know what the next thing is, but I’ll keep talking about it here until it becomes real. Thanks for your interest!

Link to YouTube: