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Year: 2008

Is College Worth It?

In “America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree,” Marty Nemko argues, “College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it.” Looking at my plagiarism rate from last semester and considering the number of students at George Mason University who fail the mandatory History 100 survey simply because they do not show up or turn in their work, I have to admit that he has a point. He argues that high school students in the bottom half of their class should think twice before… Read more Is College Worth It?

A Christmas Short Film from 1898

The British Film Institute has a YouTube channel that offers a lot of historic films. Here is “Santa Claus’ by G. A. Smith in 1898. Apparently the special effects were quite a feat 110 years ago. For something longer and more in tune with this blog’s recurring theme of war and society, see “Christmas Under Fire” (1941), which looks at Britain at war on Christmas Eve. This film from the Ministry of Information has an American narrator for an American audience. It was made before Pearl Harbor, when the American… Read more A Christmas Short Film from 1898

A New Personal Record in Plagiarism Cases

I had a new personal record in plagiarism cases this semester: eight. With ninety-seven students total on my rolls at the end of the semester, that makes a little over 8%. To be absolutely clear, I am talking about open-and-shut cases. The burden of proof is on the professor, as it should be, so I never report any honor system violations based merely on my suspicions, no matter how strong they might be. Some of the cases stem from this semester’s new bibliography project. In the past I had tried… Read more A New Personal Record in Plagiarism Cases

Language Study Tip: Daily Practice

The following piece originally appeared on Language for You (now closed) on this date under a slightly different title. When learning a foreign language, it is important to practice daily or even more frequently than that. Many readers will say, “But I don’t have time for that!” Sure you do! Really. You just have to let go of the habit of doing a lot of homework and studying all in one long weekly session. Do many short sessions instead. If you only have two hours a week to devote to… Read more Language Study Tip: Daily Practice

Online Forums: Blackboard and Wikispaces

My Western Civ courses last winter and spring had some mandatory discussion components. Students had to visit the Holocaust Museum and talk about their experience online. I had them do the same with two old movies as well. (They chose from a list I had given them.) Both assignments went pretty well, except for a couple students who thought they only needed to copy and paste someone’s words from an online movie review. The other downside to the assignment was assessment. Blackboard gives precise statistics for each user, so it… Read more Online Forums: Blackboard and Wikispaces

Lessons from the Classroom

Last winter and spring I had my students write Wikipedia articles and then monitor those articles to see what edits other people made. The point was to give them a firmer appreciation of how this online resource works, so that they would understand its strengths and limitations. The Wikipedia projects were of varying quality, but I wasn’t unhappy with them. The student feedback at the end of the semester also showed that most of them learned the lesson, though a few were excited to be exposed to this resource for… Read more Lessons from the Classroom

The Most Famous Closed Trial with Secret Evidence

Sometimes history just leaps off the pages and proclaims its relevance for our own times. On December 24, 1894, The Times of London published a long editorial about the first trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for alleged treason. “We must point out that, the more odious and unpopular a crime is, the more necessary is it that its proof and its punishment should be surrounded by all the safeguards of public justice. Of these, the most indispensable is publicity. . . . It may be important for the French people… Read more The Most Famous Closed Trial with Secret Evidence

Blogging and Myth-Busting

Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory has posted good material to his academic blog under the category, myth of black Confederates. Several recent posts include criticism of efforts by modern-day Confederate patriots and would-be historians who want to appropriate Weary Clyburn, a slave, as a defender of Southern liberty. In one he points out that writing good books to debunk myths is all well and good, but on the subject of black Confederates “the real fight must take place on the web.” In the same post he points to an… Read more Blogging and Myth-Busting

Authors of Interrogation Handbook Abuse Their Sources

In a piece called “Mind Games: Remembering Brainwashing” from today’s New York Times, Tim Wiener points to one of the more irresponsible uses of historical documents that I have seen this summer. Apparently “American military and intelligence officers” (he is not more specific) decided in 2002 to examine Cold War CIA studies of Chinese interrogation methods during the Korean War. After all, these Communists were the supposed masters who fed the kinds of fears that later gave rise to a movie like “The Manchurian Candidate.” In one major study the… Read more Authors of Interrogation Handbook Abuse Their Sources

Summer Term

The summer term is upon me. Here is this summer’s version of “Western Civ” at George Mason University and “Euro Civ I” at Georgetown University. Both courses are thematically organized. Neither has electronic assignments due to the compressed time period in which everything has to be done. Euro Civ I has only papers. Western Civ has papers and source analysis homework. In the latter case I figure the additional structure might be helpful, because the course has to bring students right up to the present. Of course, some students are… Read more Summer Term

Do You Link to Your Sources?

This short piece appeared on this day on Blog Catalog’s blog. At the time the site was a hybrid blog portal – social networking site with an active community. Instead of reproducing the whole piece here, I link to the version saved on the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine for the sake of context. (June 2018) Too often I come across an interesting piece of information on a blog that does not contain links to the author’s sources. That’s too bad. All I can do at that point is shrug my… Read more Do You Link to Your Sources?

Ignorance or Deliberate Abuse?

I can’t decide whether the White House is deliberately insulting our intelligence with Bush’s recent appeasement accusations or if they really don’t know anything about Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement. Chamberlain isn’t criticized in history for talking to Hitler, but rather for giving away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and with it that country’s means to defend itself against Germany. The difference is not trivial. And what does McCain’s echoing of Bush’s remarks tell us about him? Did he also not learn this bit of history? Or is this just politics? Be that… Read more Ignorance or Deliberate Abuse?

Human Rights in the History Survey

I have been teaching History 100, the one-semester survey of Western Civilization that is required for all students at George Mason University. Yes, really. One semester. As I mentioned earlier, this semester I decided to abandon the old chronological approach and follow a thematic one instead. I organized the course into six major themes, plus an introductory unit on historical thinking. One of those themes was “Politics and Human Rights.” If one looks at Western Civ textbooks or the reading lists from my days as a graduate student, human rights… Read more Human Rights in the History Survey

Textbook Costs

I heard a report on Marketplace this evening about the high cost of textbooks and how Congress wants to force publishers to reveal to professors the costs of books they require in their courses. I find it strange that such a measure should be necessary. Is it that hard to figure out what books cost? I use Amazon when writing a syllabus. So do many other cost-conscious professors. And who is this professor they quoted who talked about being courted by publishing representatives with good chocolate in the mailroom and… Read more Textbook Costs

Spring Break and Teaching

It’s spring break at George Mason University (GMU), and, starting tomorrow, I will have the apartment to myself during the day. Of course, there is a mountain of student work to correct and classes to prepare, but I think I will be able to resume blogging here again. For starters, I do not have to spend three hours a day in busses and trains between Northwest DC and Fairfax, VA. Excuses aside, I sure do admire those of you who are able to teach and blog at the same time,… Read more Spring Break and Teaching