roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Important Announcement: We Are Now Post-History

with 6 comments

I haven’t written in awhile because it’s been a struggle to think of  blog posts that weren’t me just complaining.  Then I realized if my criteria for posts was so narrow, I wouldn’t have a blog, would I?

So here’s an interesting thing that happened in class the other day.  Before looking

Steampunk Abraham Lincoln’s Advice: screw history! and don’t go to the theater.

at a new text, I give a brief background/introduction to the genre and author, providing historical context where needed.  I mean, you wouldn’t get too far with When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d if you said nothing about Abraham Lincoln, right?

So before I began, a student asks me the following:

Student:  Why do you always tell us stuff about the writer’s background and the history stuff? Isn’t this going to bias us when we are looking at the text? Like, we are going to be thinking about the writer’s life experience and what was going on and thinking about that too much?

I responded by saying that I thought it was important and sometimes necessary to know a bit about the writer and what was going on in the world when the text was created.  And you can take that information or leave it, but it’s  a good idea to be aware because it usually helps you understand more about the text itself  (of course I was ‘trained’ by new historicists, but there you go).  And then ze was either satisfied by that answer or did not give a shit- the blank stare I got in response was all Angela Lansbury wrote.

But my student’s comment is indicative of a more general attitude towards history that I’ve noticed.  If it isn’t happening to them and it isn’t on facebook, it didn’t happen.  I guess if you aren’t interested in the news, history is going to be even more irrelevant.  I’m not a history teacher and I’m certainly not an expert, and I know it isn’t my job to preach or brainwash or do gymnastics in a risque outfit to lead them to whatever the hell I think the ‘right’ answer is.  But I do find it depressing.  How could it be a bad thing to be armed with more information?

Also, I’m saying, “consider this,” not THIS IS THE ONLY RIGHT WAY TO INTERPRET SAID STORY/POEM/PLAY/WHATEVS.  I encourage my students to come up with new interpretations and as long as what they say is supported in some way by the text, I am all for it.

(Also, I do realize that the whole ‘this generation is the dumbest/worst/most evil thing evar!!! is not exactly a new complaint.)

So I will keep on keepin on with my pointless historical context.  As long as I’m having a good time, amirite?

6 Responses

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  1. Ahh about the student’s question since it does sound as if they don’t want to know the context in which what you’re teaching was written. They absolutely need to know the context in order to understand what’s written. It reminds me of meeting people (usually tech geeks) prior to Y2K who thought that history didn’t matter and was irrelevelant. Ah! I’m so sorry about your students…it sounds as if you’re having a hard time.


    October 2, 2012 at 18:55

  2. I think students don’t really understand that things happen at different times in the past even if they do understand “The Past” as something vaguely called “historical context.” This is the only way that I can imagine in which several of my students could possibly have believed that someone with an Anglophone last name wrote the Code of Hammurabi in 1904.


    October 4, 2012 at 04:36

    • excellent point! and what a horrifying example!
      If it ain’t on the fb feed, it didn’t happen.


      October 23, 2012 at 20:22

  3. It really concerns me that we seem to be creating a world in which nothing has context.

    Leslie Robinson

    December 29, 2012 at 02:26

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