井底之蛙

4/19/2014

Digital History and teaching

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:12 pm Print

Yoni Applebaum has apparently taken a break from filming The Matrix 4 to record a clip on The Historian in The Digital Age. For those of you don’t know him, Yoni is a grad student in history who managed to parlay some blog comments into a gig at the Atlantic. In the clip he talks about Digital History as being able to work with the various digital sources that now exist, will exist in the future, and which will become obsolete. He talks more, however, about finding new places to put your stuff, and finding new audiences to talk about the past with. He stresses that most of what he he does for the Atlantic is the same type of thing he does in his academic work. “synthesize the existing scholarly literature, blend it with new primary research and come to a conclusion.” On the other hand with his Atlantic audience he does not have to do a full-blown scholarly treatment of something. He also does not have to be a real expert in the sense you would need to be to publish academic stuff on these topics. I assume he is a fine academic historian, but pretty much anyone who knows the literature can add a lot to most American/internet discussions of…anything.

Listening to this makes me think about a couple things.

-Feedback. He mentions that you get quicker feedback doing digital history. That is true, but not really the most interesting point. How does an academic historian get feedback? Some of it is book reviews and snide footnotes and lack of job interviews, but all of that is very slow. I think it helps a bit to think of Digital History (which to me is mostly blogging) as a form of teaching. Thus feedback is reading the comment section, checking your website traffic, etc.  Or, of course, grading papers. Neither of these are normally listed among the joys of the job, but they really are important. Grading can be unpleasant, but it is far, far, far, more useful in helping you think about what you are doing than student evaluations or peer observations. Grading is better than a comment section because you have a captive audience that you have power over.1 If students are not answering questions the way you would like maybe you are asking the wrong questions, giving them the wrong sources, or not teaching them how to think about the sources the way you would like. Everyone who teaches had gotten halfway though a pile of student writing and asked themselves what went wrong.

With blogging, or any other forms of digital/public2 history the feedback loop is a lot…loopier. Anyone can show up and say anything, and their agendas may not be yours. Heck, some of them may not even have done the reading!  Some of them are telling you that you are the cat’s pyjamas, which is nice, but does not help much. The ones who have engaged with what you are teaching but are not entirely satisfied are the ones you think the most about. Who is your audience? What do you want them to come away with? Sadly, in order to get enough feedback to really think about, you have to ramp things up to the point where you are also getting a lot of crud. You could deploy some sort of moderation system (run by avid readers/TA’s) but that turns it into a whole different sort of thing.

Applebaum talks about all the places you can put things, but it might help to think more about who the audience is, and why were are doing this, and how we assess (that word!) how well we have done it. Is it just hit count? I know it is for the Atlantic, but I suspect Yoni cares about more than that. Getting some citations in paper? Kind e-mails? I would like to think that digital history, like teaching, is a craft that we practice in part because it satisfies us personally, besides pleasing the powers that be, but a blog needs to go beyond a personal intellectual diary if you want to claim that you are really doing history. I am really not sure to think about all the digital stuff people are doing. It it just the old model, only not on paper? Or something else? Why bother having a site like Frog In A Well?3

-It’s really sad how little historical awareness the historical profession has. Applebaum is, like all the digital history people, filled with the spirit and trying to convert people. But writing about the past actually goes farther back than the birth of the modern research university and the modern Great Wall dividing academic and popular history.4 In China, to choose just one place, there were all sorts of ways of writing and talking about the past (or other things) and even in the West and the gatekeeper role of modern academic credentialing/publishing is pretty recent. Obviously lots of people are aware of this, but I would like to imagine that historians would be -more- aware. Not happening, from what I can see. A historical change is happening, and historians as a group are less aware than others about how to deal with it.

Via Coates

  1. Be as fun-loving and interesting as you want, but when you teach you are The Man. []
  2. no, they are not the same []
  3. One nice thing about the new model is that if this were an article a nasty editor would tell me I have not yet figured out what to say about this. In the new digital world I can just hit post, and either people will help me figure this out, or it will just vanish []
  4. I call it a Great Wall because it is supposed to be a sharp line, visible from space, that clearly divides the two, but in reality nobody is sure why it is there, it is often not there, and the people on each side are obsessed with what those on the other side are up to. []

4/5/2014

I made tea eggs today

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:29 pm Print

TeaEggsApparently this makes me both a multi-millionaire and part of cross-straits relations. I have not kept up as much as I should with the current Taiwan protests, but Offbeat China has. and they claim that tea eggs are one of the things that both sides are using as a symbol (both real and snarky) of Taiwan.

Admittedly, mine are not real tea eggs, since

1. I did not meet Dr. Who, steal the Tardis, go back to the Shang dynasty and build a 7-11 and then put the eggs in a crockpot and let them simmer for 3,000 years. That would be a proper Taiwan tea egg.

2. I only made them because we had too many eggs and everyone I know likes tea eggs. No rhetorical points about China, Taiwan, democracy, identity, etc. Just eggs. And tea.

3. They taste good, but maybe I should have used one more star anise. Always hard to judge that.

http://offbeatchina.com/what-a-humble-tea-egg-tells-about-the-gap-between-mainland-china-and-taiwan

3/8/2014

Contradictions among the critics

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:12 pm Print

The Maoist International Movement’s movie archives are on-line. They are really fun. You feel kind of silly when you realize that you have never thought of the opening bit of Conan the Destroyer as an example of the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, although of course it is. I think their review of A Bug’s Life could have done more to emphasize the film’s Maoist roots. Yes the ants are the oppressed peasantry, (and thus Flick is Mao) but MLM don’t point out that the ants succeed only when they realize the iron necessity of creating a untied front with the urban proletariat represented, obviously, by the the circus bugs. Maybe they see this as Li Lisan-ism? One can also quibble with them aesthetically on occasion. They claim that the film should make it more clear that the grasshoppers represent U.S. imperialism, but that seems so obvious as to go without saying.

Its an enjoyable read that in general reminds me of being an undergraduate. We had a lot of Marxist history professors, and you actually can get a lot from listening to people who think totally differently from you.

via LGM who link this to Jonah Goldberg, who I find is someone who thinks differently than me but is never interesting and never makes me look at anything differently.

3/4/2014

When China was a Great Power

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am Print

Recently I was Google-ing to find a picture of the statue of Liang Qichao that is, I think, in his hometown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No better way to show that someone made it big than to show a shot of their statue. I found the picture as part of an essay entitled “Superpower Empire” which looks at the fall of the Qing Dynasty and its replacement by the Qian Dynasty, tracing the history of China down to the outbreak of war with Japan in 1933. It’s a well-sourced essay that draws on such important works as

-“A Revisionist Assessment of China’s Modern Political Myths” by Geraldine Brandt, Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 55:3, 1995
-The Accidental Revolution: The Collapse of the Qing Dynasty and its Aftermath by Jonathan Spence, 1979 -Lucian Bianco’s 1967 book Revolution and Reform in China 1895-1947

As you might have guessed, it is an alternative history, where Kang Youwei became the emperor Jianguo in 1912, Liang Qichao was his wily Prime Minister, Xu Jinqin, instead of being known only as the first Chinese woman to give a political speech was also the head of the Society of the Daughters of the Yellow Emperor, the intelligence agents/prostitutes who held the empire together (see Gail Hershatter’s work for details) and T.V. Soong had to content himself with being the Shanghai businessman who created China’s first airship line.

It is a lot of fun to read because it is quite good. It is written by David Hendryk, a civil servant from France who has read a lot of Chinese history. Given how plausible much of it is, I am somewhat surprised that nothing from this has turned up in my student’s work.

11/25/2013

Pan-Asianism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:32 am Print

Hey, I published something! It is a course reader entitled “Japan, China and Pan-Asianism” I did not write much of it, but it does have my name on it. The reason I bring it up is to call attention to Asia-Pacific Journal (formerly Japan Focus.) Over the years they have published a tremendous amount of interesting stuff, in part because they are one of few on-line journals that takes advantage of the form. Most on-line journals are just the same scholarly research articles that you could find in a dead tree journal. Asia Pacific Journal does those, but also lots of other types of things. They have stuff on current events, translations, interviews, historiographical essays etc.  The idea behind their series of course readers was that there was a lot of good stuff in their archive that could be used to teach with. Rather than have people dig through the archive and figure out what they wanted to use they have been asking people to pull together sets of readings around a particular theme. I did the relationship between modern China and Japan as seen through the lens of Pan-Asianism.

For this one I was able to collect a bunch of interesting stuff that APJ had published that you would not find anywhere else. If you are interested in Pan-Asianism the holy grail is Saaler and Szpilman’s Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History. Instead of trying to get your students to read both volumes of that why not have them read APJ’s summary of it1 written by….Saaler and Szpilman. There has been a lot of research in Europe on the impact of the Russo-Japanese War on Japan’s global standing. Instead of having your students learn German why not have them read Gerhard Krebs, “World War Zero? New Literature on the Russo-Japanese War 1904/05,”2  It’s always good to have them read some primary sources so why not have them read a series of letters between Rabindranath Tagore and the Japanese intellectual Yone Noguchi on the meaning of Pan-Asianism?3 Yes, you could summarize the recent work on the Japanese invasion of China, but why not have Diana Lary do it for you instead?4  All this and a lot more! All free!

  1. Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, “Pan-Asianism as an Ideal of Asian  Identity  and  Solidarity,  1850–Present,”  The  Asia-Pacific  Journal 9.17.1, April 25, 2011. []
  2. The Asia-Pacific Journal 10.21.2, May 21, 2012. []
  3. Zeljko Cipris, “Seduced by Nationalism: Yone Noguchi’s ‘Terrible Mistake’: Debating the China-Japan War With Tagore,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, November 17, 2007. []
  4. Diana Lary, “China and Japan at War: Suffering and Survival, 1937-1945,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 10.48.2, November 29, 2010. []

11/13/2013

Happy birthday Dunhuang Project

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:32 pm Print

Did you know that this is the 20th anniversary of the International Dunhuang Project? Neither did I. They grow up so quick these international scholarly projects. In honor of the occasion they are posting a lot of things from their collection

They will also let you Sponsor A Sutra. Just as patrons used to get their name attached to a sutra they had copied, you can have your name (or your organization’s name) attached to the digitization of a sutra. They don’t seem to have anything available in my price range right now, but I am definitely going to get some. I think it would make a great Chanukah gift as well.

What interested me most was that they have beefed up their educational section since last time I was there and there is some great stuff. Two that I noted from the Cultural Dialogue on the Silk Road page were

a collection of mudras

mudras

Which is neat if you want to talk about the mass production of Buddhist art and the physical dissemination of religion. These look to me a lot like models for someone doing Buddhist paintings or sculptures.

letter

Along the same lines we have a model letter to apologize for getting drunk. As the site points out things like books of model letters or etiquette books really only make sense in a time or place of rapid social change or intercultural contact. Otherwise why bother to write down how to behave in a book? For more advanced students this will also help to show how weird Dunhuang Chinese was. Here is the text, for any of our readers who may need it.

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was so intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and course language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame. It was due to a vessel of small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologize in person, but meanwhile I beg to send this written communication for your kind inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.

10/30/2013

說曹操,曹操到

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:38 am Print

Now is the time in my Early China class when I get to the Three Kingdoms. This is usually a time some of the students have been waiting for, since they know the Three Kingdoms, having reunified China themselves, playing on hard level, as the ruler of Shu, Wei, AND Wu

68You might think that I don’t like having lots of kids come to my classes because of a video game,1 but you would be wrong. Part of it is that I like anyone who is interested in history to come to my classes and help feed my kids. A bigger part is that the Three Kingdoms types are usually pretty good. One thing that stinks about teaching Asian History is that there is not that much popular history in English that is any good.  There are a few exceptions. Next semester I will be using Toni Andrade’s The Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West which is a good book written by a fine scholar who realized that in addition to being an important part of Chinese and Asian history the story of Koxinga is also a ripping yarn that people would like to read. My Americanist colleagues have lots of stuff like this to draw on, plus some pretty serious stuff written by non-academics, plus lots of primary sources on-line. We Asianists mostly have to teach with academic stuff or rubbish about ninjas.

I bring this up because as I was looking around for an English-language translation of the biography of Cao Cao for a student I found Kongming Archives They have lots of video game stuff, but also English-language translations of the biographies from 三國志! They don’t look too bad either. I suspect that as Americans get more interested in China (and the internet makes this stuff easier to find) there will be more and more of these type of things.

For an explanation of the post title go here

 

 

 

  1. yes, the card is not from the video game []

10/9/2013

Chinese philosophy: The wild goose gradually draws near the tree

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:53 pm Print

Update-The wild goose is getting closer to the tree

Apparently we are experiencing a Chinese Philosophy Fever. The Atlantic has an article up on Michael Puett’s Harvard class on Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory, as described at Warp, Weft, and Way.

In general I would agree with WWW commenter Bill Haines that “I think it makes sense that a course taught this way would be taught by a historian rather than a philosophy prof.” In part this is because I am a historian, but also because I think it fits better with reasons for kids to come to a class like this. A while back I read something (Chronicle?) about a Renaissance history guy who was ordered to come up with some sort of mass-market class that drew on his period. He came up with something like “How to be a corporate toady and suck-up: Kissing the asses of the rich and powerful in a profoundly unequal society” drawing primarily on Michel de Montaigne

Needless to say the class was a huge hit, and he was horrified by both how many students wanted to take it and how many sections of it the administration wanted him to teach and how useful the class was for student who wanted to find a place in our society.

I don’t think Puett created this class out of spite, but I do think  a historian is in a good place to help students understand how philosophical or self-help texts1 help those who are reading them figure out how they fit into society. The society of Warring States China is a good analogue for ours today, where we like to talk about how the old rules no longer apply, but are still worth thinking about.2 Harvard students in particular are shi, members of the elite who can’t go wrong (in the sense of starving) whatever they do. Plus there are books like Finnegrete’s Secular as Sacred that may not be very strong as sinology or philosophy,3 but do help you make the connection.

So my point here is that if you want to teach a class like Puett’s, which uses examples from the past to explain how you should fit into society now (i.e. get a liberal education) then Warring States China is a good place to look, and a historian is an excellent guide.

 

Old post

I may eventually post more on this, but better than anything I might add, you should go read this article on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. (from the Chronicle)

The thing that struck me is that the academic study of Philosophy seems to be broadening out in a way that Religious Studies (which they mention) did a long time ago, as did History. I don’t know of any nice short introductions to the struggle to get Chinese history accepted as history in American colleges, but maybe someone else does. The process seems somewhat different in Philosophy, but there are a lot of parallels.

Via Warp, Weft, and Way

  1. Analects, Zhuangzi, and most of the classical texts are self-help books that really belong on the shelf with Dr. Phil []
  2. I’m not sure how unique this really is, but  undergrads like believing that we live in an unprecedented age of change. []
  3. I am neither a philosopher or a ancient China person, so I can’t say for sure []

3/19/2013

When the Chinese went out for Jews

For the benefit of our Chinese readers, as well as anyone else who has not seen this excellent piece, I would like to introduce Scott Seligman’s “The Night New York’s Chinese Went Out for Jews: How a 1903 Chinatown fundraiser for pogrom victims united two persecuted peoples.” For our Chinese readers I suppose I should explain the joke in the title. Americans went out for Chinese a lot. Chinese restaurants were popular in the U.S. for a long time. Jews in particular went out for Chinese on Christmas. Christmas was the day that every single goy in America had a family meal, and so Jews were left all alone, like Americans in China at Spring Festival. I suppose Jews could have stayed in and had a family meal of their own, but they tended to make a point of going out, and the only place that would be open was a Chinese restaurant.1Not as a rule a place that non-Jews would visit on Christmas, but a place where Jews and Chinese could commiserate on their common lack of American-ness.

Given this bond between Jews and Chinese, it is maybe less surprising than it seems that a sort of Pan-Asian solidarity led Chinese to mobilize in support of the victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Chinese donated money, marched through the streets, and attended “a Chinese-language drama entitled The 10 Lost Tribes. Its subject, however, was not the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times, but rather the subjugation of the Chinese by the Manchus in the early years of the Ch’ing Dynasty.” It’s a very good article, and rather than my summarizing it, you should go read it.

 

 

  1. Yes, the connection between Jews and Chinese restaurants goes beyond Christmas. It’s just a blog post. []

7/13/2011

Names and Dates In English and Chinese

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:15 pm Print

I recently discovered Beijing Time Machine, run  by Jared Hall. His recent piece Time over Place: Naming Historical Events in Chinese (ironically, it is not dated), is a striking and useful observation:

In English, we generally recall important turning points in terms of where they unfolded. Simple place names conjure up entire historical epochs. “Pearl Harbor” marks the American entrance into the Second World War and the global struggle against fascism. “Bandung,” the conference in of newly independent African and Asian nations that pledged to stand together in 1955 against imperialism and Cold War division. And then, of course, there is “Tian’anmen.” It is doubtful that mention of the square here in China would, by itself, raise any eyebrows. But try “6-4″ (六四) and you are can expect quite a different reaction.

There is also a useful chart of name years in the sixty year cycle, which you can download to put on your desk calendar or refrigerator door.

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