Letters to the Editor, September 2014
Having read Jan Goldstein’s article on young professionals having to take unusual positions to start their careers (Perspectives on History, March 2014), I was reminded of the beginning of my own career almost forty years ago. In 1975 I received my MA in history and was immediately confronted with the reduction of history requirements in colleges and universities across the United States. Following this development, I was faced with an employment odyssey that has never been easy. Not only did academe stop hiring people with MAs, but PhDs were being laid off.
Undaunted, I began sending out resumes with the hope someone would notice I had studied under some of the top historians of the Civil War and southern history. Three hundred resumes and eight or ten unsuccessful interviews later, I was still slinging dough in a local pizzeria. Finally, I received a call from Dr. Edwin P. Ledvina from Old Dominion University, who offered me a position teaching history in the Program Afloat for College Education (PACE). He wanted me to teach the US survey aboard the USS South Carolina during her deployment to the Caribbean. I kissed my wife and son good-bye and set sail for southern waters. I taught on ships for two years (“two years before the mast”) and realized I was going to a lot of interesting places but was not furthering my career, and I was neglecting my family. When my second son was born while I was teaching in the Mediterranean, I realized I had to make a living that was more secure and closer to home, so I signed up for secondary teacher certification at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
The job market was still tight for teachers of secondary-level social studies, but I managed to secure a position in the Guilford County Schools and stayed there for 20 years. I probably should have gotten my doctorate, but instead I tried to make myself indispensable by teaching a full load and coaching football and track (I learned to do this on the job). Later I became a fairly successful debate coach after taking a policy debate seminar at Wake Forest University. My whole career was based on being as indispensable as possible. The doctorate and a career in higher education never came, but I was always able to teach history, usually to bright, interested students, while many of my peers had to sell insurance or real estate. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need” (Rolling Stones).
Charles A. Newell, Jr.
Greensboro, North Carolina
On "The Revolution Takes a Turn"
To the Editor:
I enjoyed reading Carolyn Eastman’s article “The Revolution Takes a Turn: AMC’s Drama about Washington’s Spies Aims for Moral Complexity” about movie and television depictions of the American Revolution in the April 2014 issue of Perspectives on History. Hopefully Turn will get more students (and the general public) excited about this era.
I’d like to recommend, too, the 1985 movie Revolution, which stars Al Pacino as a fur trapper who gets caught up in the Revolutionary War. When teaching the American Revolution I like to discuss this film with my students since it broaches class issues, women’s roles in the American Revolution, slavery, Native Americans who sided with the British, and Native Americans who sided with the patriots.
It seems that this film is largely forgotten now, probably because it tanked at the box office—but I think it was just ahead of its time! Revolution was finally released on DVD in 2009. I keep my fingers crossed that more historians will rediscover this fantastic film and share it with their students!
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Readers Reflect on Teaching History with Video Games and Editing Wikipedia
Stephen Campbell’s article “Improving Wikipedia: Notes from an Informed Skeptic” and Nicolas Trépanier’s article “The Assassin’s Perspective: Teaching History with Video Games,” both in the May 2014 issue of Perspectives on History, have sparked engaging discussions on our website. We’ve quoted from these comments below.
On “The Assassin’s Perspective”
Joseph November: “It’s thrilling to see someone make such a great case for incorporating video games into university history courses. Questions raised in the course of playing historically oriented games provide many students with the motivation to learn about history, and historians would do well to harness that motivation. There is strong evidence that there is tremendous demand for courses that tap into young people’s game-inspired historical thinking.”
John Padula: “Two years ago, Assassins’ Creed 3 was all the rage. The era and content depicted were both a perfect match for my class. I do not have the game, so I watched many of the walkthroughs and got a sense of what scenes the game decided to include. In-class references to the game had the effect of gaining the attention of almost every student in the room. I found there were even times when I would mention a historical character and a student would chime in with 'Oh ya, he helped Washington at the Battle of . . .'! Kids who had been silent and uninterested suddenly perked up. One student even offered to bring in his Xbox so those who didn’t have the game could see what he was talking about. I regret that I didn’t take him up on his offer.”
Read the full comments and join the discussion at bit.ly/1n5vRwu.
On “Improving Wikipedia”
John Byrne: “The huge reach of Wikipedia is ultimately the principal reason why academics should contribute. ‘Panic of 1837’ exists in nine other language versions of Wikipedia, and over time you are likely to see your material appearing in them and new versions.”
Tobias Higbie: “The idea of counting contributions for tenure and promotion will likely generate groans among AHA members. But it’s worth noting that some scientists have developed a platform that aims to do this. The online peer-reviewed journal PLOS Computational Biology has developed 'Topics' pages that are a way to give peer review to material that can then be easily migrated to or shared with Wikipedia. These pages are designed to summarize state-of-the-field information, rather than break new research ground.”
Mascaret: “I have a problem with the suggestion that [Wikipedia entries] 'be credited [for tenure] if Wikipedia maintains their corrections.' Since the decisions to remove Wikipedia edits are made by other pseudonymous or numbered editors, this unfortunately suggests a way to sabotage the careers of one’s colleagues anonymously. I think it would be preferable to have the edits or corrections made by a candidate for tenure evaluated by a committee at that candidate’s institution, independently of what Wikipedia does.”
Jami Mathewson: “Another way academics can engage with Wikipedia is to assign their students to edit as a part of their course work. I work at the Wiki Education Foundation, where we support instructors doing just that. As you can imagine from your own experience, the student editors learn a lot about neutrality, bias, and information literacy.”
Visit bit.ly/1q88FPm to read the full posts.
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