My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, December 31, 2022

December 31, 2022-January 1, 2023: December 2022 Recap

 [A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]

December 5: Constitutional Contexts: The Articles of Confederation: A series for the 235th anniversary of Delaware’s ratification kicks off with what was and wasn’t different in the new nation’s first unifying documents.

December 6: Constitutional Contexts: Anti-Federalists: The series continues with three equally significant ways to frame the Constitution’s opposition.

December 7: Constitutional Contexts: Delaware: On that historic anniversary, three relevant contexts for “The First State.”

December 8: Constitutional Contexts: The Bill of Rights: The history, significance, and limitations of the Constitution’s first evolution, as the series drafts on.

December 9: Constitutional Contexts: The 1790 Naturalization Act: The series concludes with why a more frustrating Framing document has to be remembered alongside the Constitution.

December 10-11: Constitutional Contexts: 2022: A special weekend post on one more frustrating and one more hopeful trend when it comes to the Constitution in 2022.

December 12: Fall Semester Moments: Du Bois and Public Education: My annual semester recaps series kicks off with an inspiring student response from my 19C African American Lit course.

December 13: Fall Semester Moments: J. Cole and Me: The series continues with how lifelong learning also happens at the front of the classroom.

December 14: Fall Semester Moments: Crane, Activism, and the American Dream: Truly, inspiringly multi-layered and multi-vocal class discussions, as the series teaches on.

December 15: Fall Semester Moments: Hughes and the Blues: A student paper from my online class that quite simply blues me away.

December 16: Fall Semester Moments: Adult Ed Challenges: The series concludes with two important kinds of challenging questions from adult ed students that will help push my ideas forward.

December 17-18: Signs of Spring (Semester): A special weekend post on a few Spring 2023 courses to which I’m greatly looking forward.

December 19-25: A Defining Wish: Just one multi-part wish for the AmericanStudies Elves this year, on two things I hope to help us do, and one defining reason why.

December 26: 2022 in Review: Top Gun and Sequels: My annual year-end series kicks off with one problem and one possibility with our cultural moment of ubiquitous sequels.

December 27: 2022 in Review: “Woke” Marvel: The series continues with why complaints about Marvel’s new phase are silly, and why they’re more destructive than that.

December 28: 2022 in Review: Hot Girl Music: On the birthday of one of the most badass women I know, the less and more radical layers to a renaissance in badass women artists.

December 29: 2022 in Review: Baseball and Race: One inspiring and one frustrating side of baseball’s diversity in 2022, as the series reflects on.

December 30: 2022 in Review: The Big Lie: The series and the year conclude with what’s not new about the latest attacks on our elections, and what dangerously is.

New Year’s series starts Monday,


PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, December 30, 2022

December 30, 2022: 2022 in Review: The Big Lie

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On what’s not new about the latest attacks on our elections, and what is.

As I traced in this Saturday Evening Post Considering History column, white supremacists and reactionaries in America have long—if not indeed always—sought to suppress the vote and interfere with free and fair elections. Not sure I need to say much more about that—that column is very much the tip of the iceberg (and only focused on violent suppression, which of course has been complemented by so many other forms over the centuries, as well as right freaking now), but I hope it makes clear just how much both the right to vote and the practice of democracy itself have been consistently threatened and targeted throughout American history. An thus, as I wrote in another recent Saturday Evening Post column, how much the activists and communities that have struggled and sacrificed to secure, keep, and practice those rights deserve our collective memory and celebration.

So the fact that both the 2020 election specifically and our electoral process more broadly have been under assault throughout the last two years, and certainly throughout 2022 and the lead-up to the midterm elections, is not in and of itself new nor particularly surprising. But I would argue that there are a few key components of this specific attack, the Big Lie, that are in fact both new and hugely destructive. That starts with the fact that the attack originated with an elected official, and the most prominent and powerful elected official in the country at that. As a direct result, many of those who have continued to propagate this attack are themselves either already elected officials or have been seeking office at the time, with many of them seeking precisely roles that would allow them to influence future elections. And as a corollary to those factors, but I would argue as the most striking and destructive element of all, these attacks have not been nearly as couched in the usual fake narratives (worries about voter fraud, for example), but have been far more overtly and directly dismissive of the very idea or goal of free and fair elections themselves.

So yeah, the Big Lie is both an echo of the worst of American history and some brand new devilry. Fortunately, many of its advocates were defeated in those midterm elections; but of course its most famous advocate has announced that he is once again running for office, seeking to participate in the same system and democracy that he and his allies and supporters have worked so tirelessly to undermine and destroy. Which is to say, as I transition to next week’s New Year’s series, politics and America in 2023 are likely to be just as dominated by the Big Lie as was 2022. La lucha continua, my friends.

December Recap this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29, 2022: 2022 in Review: Baseball and Race

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On one inspiring and one frustrating side of baseball’s diversity in 2022.

As I did with the week’s first two posts, in lieu of an opening paragraph here I’m gonna ask you to check out a prior post, this one on Cuban and Japanese players in Major League Baseball. Then come on back for today’s thoughts if you would!

Welcome back! That diversification of the ranks of MLB players has been one of the most striking American sports stories of the last few decades, and has continued apace, with a particular emphasis in recent years on the prominence and to a significant degree the dominance of Latin American (and specifically Afro-Latin) players. No moment has ever exemplified (nor could more powerfully exemplify) that trend than one from this season’s Roberto Clemente Day (September 15th), when the Tampa Bay Rays fielded a lineup in which all nine hitters were born in Latin American countries (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, y Mexico). Given how difficult and often painful it was for the early generations of Latin American stars like Roberto Clemente to make their way to and become part of the Major Leagues, that groundbreaking moment—apparently a truly accidental one, which reflects quite clearly this central presence of Latin American players—was a genuinely moving and important one, and makes this lifelong baseball fan and DiverseAmericaStudier very happy indeed.

On the other hand, a very different baseball story from less than two months later made that same dude a lot less happy. As the 2022 World Series got underway in early November, we learned that the two contending teams, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, had no American-born Black players on their respective rosters. Obviously every individual athlete has to make their own choices about their careers and futures, and of course it’s impossible to separate a baseball story like that one from (among other factors) the amazing breadth and depth of African American athletes in the NBA and NFL. But at the same time, there’s no way to tell the story of baseball (and thus, I would argue, the story of 20th century America as a whole) without including both individual, groundbreaking Black players and the overarching community of Black players, and so for both a baseball fan and an AmericanStudier this was a really sad thing to learn about the final two teams in this year’s season. I don’t know what the answers are necessarily, but I know that until and unless Major League Baseball can feature a lot more Black players again, it won’t be nearly as diverse nor as American as it could or should be.

Last 2022 reflection tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

December 28, 2022: 2022 in Review: Hot Girl Music

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On the birthday of one of the most badass women I know, the less and more radical layers to a renaissance in badass women artists.

From Adele and Beyoncé to the ever-ubiquitous Taylor Swift (among many others of course), it’s fair to say that for some time now a high percentage of the biggest, most successful, and most influential pop music artists and songwriters have been women. Two of those three artists likewise dominated the pop charts and conversations across much of 2022—with Beyoncé’s Renaissance claiming the summer (make sure to read that awesome hyperlinked Guest Post on the album from my friend Hettie Williams) and T-Swift’s Midnights really really taking over the fall. (And for that matter, Adele had the first #1 song of 2022, so I guess it was a clean trifecta.) But based on my sons’ and my extensive research (listening to SiriusXM’s Hits 1 station in the car all year, that is), I would say that the 2022 pop music dominance of both women overall and badass women in particular went way beyond that longstanding trio of all-time greats, and that any narrative of the year in pop music would likewise have to include (again among others) Lizzo, Latto, Gayle, Leah Kate, Ava Max, Jax, Megan Thee Stallion, and the triumphant return of Nicki Minaj.

Super Freaky Girl,” the first new single in many many years from that last artist, Nicki Minaj, reflects what I’d call the significantly less radical side of this focus on fierce females. To be as clear as I possibly can be (thanks for nothing as always, Ben Shapiro), I don’t have the slightest problem with highly, graphically sexual songs, of which Minaj’s is a particularly overt example (maybe even more so than the current leader in the clubhouse, “WAP”). And I get why women making such songs about themselves represents a step toward greater musical and artistic (and perhaps even social) equality, compared to the long history of male artists making songs that similarly sexualized women (something Minaj herself is at least partly commenting on by sampling Rick James’ “Superfreak” for her own song). But at the end of the day, Minaj’s song, like “WAP” and many others in this sub-genre, still defines badass largely through the lens of the effects that the speaker can have on men, and to my mind that’s a relatively limited and certainly more traditional vision of what it means to be a badass woman.

That’s one of a number of reasons why I’d join the chorus celebrating Lizzo and her particular brand of badassery (the fact that she can whip out and then rock out on a 200 year old flute in concert is another big reason). While it hadn’t been nearly as long since she had released new music, Lizzo did have a comeback album of her own this year; and the first single, the mega-hit “About Damn Time,” nicely reflects this distinct and more radical sub-genre. The song’s first two lines set that stage perfectly: “It’s bad bitch o’clock, yeah it’s thick-thirty/I’ve been through a lot but I’m still flirty.” Of course flirtation is part of this identity, as it is for just about any of us—but it’s one layer to a more overarching sense of hard-earned self-esteem, one for which the speaker continues to fight even in the face of the kinds of challenges that can temper even the most badass of us. Another repeated part of the song extends those ideas beautifully: “I’ve been so down and under pressure/I’m way too fine to be this stressed, yeah/I’m not the girl I was or used to be/Uh, bitch, I might be better.” I’m pretty sure in that final line Lizzo is calling out both herself and, y’know, every single damn thing in 2022, and modeling in the process what it means to be a badass artist, woman, and human. Now that’s a renaissance worth celebrating!

Next 2022 reflection tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

December 27, 2022: 2022 in Review: “Woke” Marvel

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On why the complaints about Marvel’s new phase are silly, and why they’re a lot worse than that.

As was the case with yesterday’s post, a good bit of what I’d want to say about the question of whether Marvel shows and films have become too “woke” was addressed in a prior post, this one from last year’s Year in Review series, on the TV show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So check that out if you would and then come on back.

Welcome back! As I hope that post made clear, I think the idea that Marvels shows or films can’t be simultaneously entertaining as hell and engaged with social and political issues is profoundly silly, and not at all borne out by the actual evidence provided by works like Falcon. Indeed, I would go further—if you go back to the film that launched this entire run of Marvel stories, Iron Man (2008), you find a film about a weapons manufacturer and arms dealer coming to grips with the global as well as personal realities and effects of his work and life, and doing so first and foremost in one of the most conflicted global hotspots (Afghanistan) to boot. Obviously Marvel films and shows haven’t always been so directly tied to social and political issues—but I would argue that most of them (and certainly the best of them) have dealt with complex themes alongside the entertaining superhero storytelling, and those themes have included such contemporary issues alongside lots of other (and interconnected) questions of identity, heroism, community, and more. Folks are certainly entitled to their own opinions about the current slate of Marvel stories, but to criticize them as suddenly “woke” is to reveal at least a limited perspective on the entire series to date.

I say “at least a limited perspective” to give those folks the benefit of the doubt. But the truth is, when someone uses “woke” as a criticism of an individual cultural work, they’re playing into a much broader and more destructive political narrative (whether they realize or like it or not). I haven’t yet performed the scientific research on this phenomenon, so this is simply an estimate at the moment (if an educated one to be sure), but I believe something like 97.4% of the time, the descriptor “woke” means “featuring main characters and storylines that aren’t predominantly white and male.” (This is quite similar to what “politically correct” meant in an earlier iteration of these arguments; plus ça change and all that.) Of course diverse characters and stories aren’t immune from criticism, any more than any artistic choices are or should be—but when the diversity itself is the basis (or at least the starting point) for that criticism, that reveals a great deal more about the perspective of the critic than it does about the text being criticized. For a long time, the powers that be at studios like Marvel genuinely doubted whether characters like Black Panther or Black Widow could carry their own film—if it’s “woke” that we’ve learned not only that they can do so, but that diversification leads to infinitely more enjoyable storytelling, then let’s never go back to sleep.

Next 2022 reflection tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

Monday, December 26, 2022

December 26, 2022: 2022 in Review: Top Gun and Sequels

[2022 has been a lot. A lot a lot. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to focus mostly on somewhat lighter, pop culture kinds of topics, with just one much more serious exception. Here’s to a better year to come!]

On a problem and a possibility with our cultural moment of ubiquitous sequels.

A good bit of the frame for today’s post is parallel to write I wrote in this prior post about The Force Awakens (2015), nostalgia, and multi-generational storytelling. So if you don’t mind checking out that post and then coming back here, I’d appreciate it!

Welcome back! I haven’t had a chance to see the biggest blockbuster film of the year, Top Gun: Maverick, and I don’t know that I will as I believe the original Top Gun (1986) is one of the worst blockbuster films ever made. That’s a personal opinion, of course (although as that hyperlinked article reflects, I’m not alone in holding it), but I do think it illustrates a larger problem with the genuinely ubiquitous presence of sequels, prequels, reboots, and other uses of existing intellectual properties in our current pop culture zeitgeist. The more this kind of cultural product dominates the landscape, the more of these existing/prior works filmmakers and creators will have to return to—and there quite simply aren’t that many 1980s films (or works from any decade/moment) that have enough going on to make a sequel or reboot worthwhile or meaningful. I don’t think it’s my Star Wars fandom alone that distinguishes that film franchise, and its truly imaginative and culture-changing storytelling across so many decades and so many different media (into all of which a sequel like The Force Awakens slotted thoughtfully, as I argued in that prior post), from a simplistic and vapid individual blockbuster film like Top Gun.

So no, I don’t think we needed another Top Gun film. But from what I can tell (and again, haven’t seen it, so as always I welcome responses and challenges in comments!), Maverick does do one really interesting thing that is a positive possibility when it comes to these ubiquitous sequels (and that does link it to Force Awakens and the entire recent Star Wars trilogy): it actively thinks about time. That is, despite star Tom Cruise’s seeming agelessness, he is of course three and a half decades older than he was in the original film, and thus his character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is likewise. Much like the smash hit TV show Cobra Kai (which I also haven’t seen, outside of clips here and there, but when does that stop an AmericanStudier?!), Maverick is thus able to not just continue the original story, but to reflect actively on the passage of time, on themes of continuity and change, on the relationships (limiting and enriching alike) between the past and the present. Maybe I’m biased because those are the kinds of questions that define every part of my work and career, but I believe we all can benefit from asking them, of our pop culture stories and our own identities and everything in between. If even silly blockbusters can help us do so, then count me in!

Next 2022 reflection tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other parts of 2022 you’d reflect on?

Monday, December 19, 2022

December 19-25, 2022: A Defining Wish

[Every year since 2011 I’ve shared wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves in a holiday series. This year, I’ve really got just one wish that I want to highlight in a single, weeklong post, but I’d say it’s a pretty darn important one.]

On two things I very much hope to help us do, and the one defining reason why.

For a long time now, including I’m sure many times in this space (that’s just one example I found at random), I’ve defined my career goals as “expanding our collective memories.” I still believe there is so much of American history that we collectively don’t remember well (if at all), and that so, so much of it is both painful in ways we need to engage and yet inspiring we ways we need to feel (often, if not always, at exactly the same time). Day in and day out, I’d say that goal of expanding our collective memories continues to motivate what I write about on this blog and in my online pieces such as my Saturday Evening Post Considering History columns (which turns five this coming January!), what I teach about at FSU and for adult learning programs, what I choose to focus on in book projects, what I bend the ears of my sons with, and more, and I can’t really imagine that changing.

Speaking of my sons, earlier this year they were performing a parody of their Dad (something they’ve gotten better and better at in recent years), and kept returning to a single phrase that they claim is my most commonly spoken one: “Let’s keep the conversation going!” I knew it was a frequent AmericanStudier utterance, but since they called me out on it I’ve caught myself saying it again and again and again, so yeah, they nailed it. Every one of those times I’ve mentally paused for a moment and wondered if I was becoming a self-parody, but then I’ve realized that the phrase captured exactly what I was trying to say and request, so have just leaned into it. Because here’s the thing: collective memories exist in lots of places and spaces, including history books and pop culture and government documents and historic sites and many more; but I don’t think they get created and contested and expanded anywhere more regularly or importantly than they do in our conversations. If I can through all areas of my career help us keep such conversations going, I’ll feel that I’ve done quite a bit indeed.

I suppose that might already seem like two wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves, and fair enough; they are large and can receive multitudes of wishes. But what I want to focus on in this final paragraph is at the very least the wish at the heart of those other two, the most defining content that I’ve gradually discovered I want to add to our collective memories and conversations alike. Despite so much that has happened in our educational and historical and cultural and social communities over the last half-century, I believe that we still, far too often and too fully, use “American” as a short-hand for white, English-speaking, Christian, and other components of one particular culture on the American landscape (and of course not even close to everyone who is part of that one particular culture either, says this atheist and multi-ethnic white dude). So if I could make one wish for the AmericanStudies Elves, it would be that in the year and years to come we get better at using “American” to mean both all the cultures that are centrally and essentially part of this place and, especially, the complex and crucial community we have always created and continue to create out of the combination of all of them. As I always say, once more (and not for the last time) with feeling, ain’t that America?

Year in review series starts Monday,


PS. Happy holidays! Wishes you’d share?

Saturday, December 17, 2022

December 17-18, 2022: Signs of Spring (Semester)

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ve highlighted one such moment from each class—leading up to this weekend post on a few things I’m looking forward to in Spring 2023!]

Winter’s just getting started, but here are a few signs of Spring (semester) I’m still excited about:

1)      Sci Fi/Fantasy: I get to teach the Intro to Science Fiction and Fantasy course I created back in 2007 about every three years, so every section of it feels like the welcome return of an old friend. But that rotation means that the last time I taught it was the semester that turned into SPRING FREAKING 2020, so let’s just say it didn’t end up being everything it could have been (and/or felt like as the semester went along we descended directly into one of the dystopias about which we were reading). So I’m even more stoked for my Spring semester section of this class, one for which I’ve added a contemporary novel I haven’t had the chance to read and am thus equally excited to read and teach: Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (2011)!

2)      The American Novel to 1950: I believe the Spring 2017 section about which I wrote in that hyperlinked post was the last time I got to teach this upper-level American literature seminar, so this Spring’s section will offer an even more overdue and welcome return to an old friend (which I taught in my very first Spring semester at FSU). It’s a class where I get to teach some of my all-time favorite American novels, from The House of the Seven Gables to The Marrow of Tradition to My Ántonia. And it’s a class that ends with the most challenging book I teach in any FSU class, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Can’t beat that with a golf club!

3)      A New (to Me) Grad Class: For the last year and a bit I’ve had the chance to serve as the Chair of our Graduate English Studies program, which has been its own super fun way to get more connected to our amazing grad students. But nothing beats teaching a Grad class, which is why I try to do one every year; sometimes in our condensed Summer sessions, but sometimes, as this coming Spring, during regular semesters. For this Spring’s, I get to teach for the first time something that’s been on the books but (I believe) not taught for a while, Multiethnic American Literatures. I haven’t finalized what I want to teach in there yet, but I’m leaning toward voices and stories of individuals who are themselves multiethnic, representing that cross-cultural identity and community I’ve been thinking about since at least my second book. That means I have plenty of starting points for texts we might read, but as always I’m very open to and appreciative of suggestions for more!

Holiday series starts Monday,


PS. What are you looking forward to?

Friday, December 16, 2022

December 16, 2022: Fall Semester Moments: Adult Ed Challenges

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]

On two important types of challenging questions that will help push my ideas forward.

There are lots of reasons why I love teaching in adult learning programs—so much so that I’ve remained connected to four such programs over the last decade, teaching consistently in two (ALFA and WISE) and always looking for further opportunities to work with the other two (BOLLI and Beacon Hill Seminars)—but if I had to boil it down, I would definitely emphasize the incredible perspectives, experiences, voices, knowledge and ideas that adult ed students bring to our conversations together. That includes them offering something I understandably don’t get quite as often from undergraduate students but always appreciate whenever and however I get it: direct, probing challenges to my own ideas, and even to the frames for the classes themselves. As I wrote in this Fall semester preview post, I decided to focus my WISE and ALFA classes this semester on a preliminary idea for a future book project; and as a result, the students’ challenging questions will be even more helpful as I continue to think through these ideas and that potential future project.

As I wrote in that preview post, the basic (but somewhat complicated) idea for this project is that while white supremacist voices and forces have consistently claimed to love and uphold various American ideals, in truth they have worked to undermine those ideals, not only for other American communities but ultimately for all of us and the nation as a whole. Some of the challenging questions I got in these courses came from those who disagreed with my ideas, including for example the self-identified “one conservative plant” in my WISE course who made the case both for the American ideals themselves and for my arguments as comprising the true underminings of those ideals; those perspectives are very important for me to recognize and engage, not least as potential future readers and audiences. But to my mind the most important challenging questions I got were those which offered complications to my overarching frame, such as the students who questioned whether the American ideals are worth working to uphold at all (or, alternatively, if they have always been limiting and/or exclusionary). If I’m going to keep developing my critical patriotism and critical optimism, I’ll have to do so in direct conversation with perspectives like that one, and as ever these adult learning classes will be a vital resource as I work to complicate, refine, and strengthen my own ideas and voice.

Weekend post on what’s next drops tomorrow,


PS. Fall moments you’d share?

Thursday, December 15, 2022

December 15, 2022: Fall Semester Moments: Hughes and the Blues

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]

On a student paper that quite simply blues me away (sorrynotsorry).

As part of this same semester recaps series four years ago, I wrote about a particularly excellent student paper produced in that semester’s section of American Literature II online. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten a lot better as an online teacher over the years and sections since (I teach one online class every semester, alternating between that survey and The Short Story), but the bottom line has remained roughly the same: a great deal of my goal in these online courses, more so than in in-person classes where collective discussions are far more possible, is to help the students produce the best individual work they can. That means every student and every assignment, to be sure, but if I can get even one paper a semester that rivals the Sui Sin Far one about which I wrote in that 2018 post, I’ll feel pretty darn good. And I’m happy to say that in this semester’s section of American Lit II online I got one of the very best student papers I’ve received, a stunning close reading of Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” as an expression of 1920s African American community.

Honestly, I don’t have too much more to say about that, so in lieu of a second paragraph I’ll ask you to check out this amazing video of Hughes reciting his poem accompanied by a blues band. The enjoyment that video provides parallels quite closely how much I loved reading this student paper—if I can get that feeling just once in every online course, you best believe I’ll keep volunteering to be one of our department faculty who teach them.

Last semester moment tomorrow,


PS. Fall moments you’d share?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

December 14, 2022: Fall Semester Moments: Crane, Activism, and the American Dream

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]

On truly, inspiringly multi-layered and multi-vocal class discussions.

There are lots of reasons why I keep using the same America in the Gilded Age syllabus for my annual section of our Honors Literature Seminar (I might not always get to teach this course and work with these amazing community of students every Fall, but as long as I have the chance I’ll most definitely keep taking it!), including the presence of favorite individual texts as I discussed in that hyperlinked post. But high on the list is how much this syllabus, especially as I’ve gradually honed it over nearly ten iterations by now, allows us to do multiple AmericanStudies things (maybe the trio of Most AmericanStudies Things, even) at once: discussing and close reading complex literary texts and other genres of primary sources at length; considering through them and those conversations broader questions about the relationships between literature, culture, society, and history; and, when appropriate and always thoughtfully, connecting those various discussions and threads to issues in our contemporary moment and world.

Generally those multiple layers happen gradually and across the semester as a whole; but sometimes, when things are really cooking, they are featured simultaneously in individual, inspiringly multi-vocal class discussions. This semester we had one such amazing class conversation on the last day of Unit 3, the Unit focused on themes of work, class, and wealth/poverty and in which our main readings are four texts by the great Stephen Crane. With the table having been set pitch-perfectly by a couple excellent student panel presentations, we moved into a class-wide discussion that truly balanced close readings of Crane’s works, debates over whether and how such literary texts can be activist when it comes to issues like poverty and homelessness, and connections to economic and social inequalities and injustices and the possibilities and limits of the American Dream in our present moment and society. My voice was part of the mix for sure, but mostly in the “following up great student comments, framing some of their main ideas, and helping get us to the next voice and idea” kind of way. Quite simply, discussions and days like that are why I do what I do.

Next semester moment tomorrow,


PS. Fall moments you’d share?

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

December 13, 2022: Fall Semester Moments: J. Cole and Me

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]

On the lifelong learning that happens at the front of the room as well.

First-Year Writing I was one of the classes I taught in my very first semester at Fitchburg State, back in Fall 2005 (two sections of it that semester, in fact!), and I’ve taught at least one section of it every year since. A great deal of the syllabus has of course changed and evolved over those years and sections, but one thing that has stayed the same across them all is the 4th paper, an assignment I stole (like all good teachers do) from a favorite teacher of mine, my 8th grade English teacher Mr. Hickerson: close reading the lyrics to a song of their choice to practice that literary and textual analysis skill. But even those aspects of my classes and teaching that have remained more constant throughout my career have nonetheless greatly changed over time, thanks to how much I continue learning not only from the experiences themselves, but also and especially from my students and their perspectives, voices, ideas, and work.

I had a wonderful moment of such professorial learning as we moved into that Paper 4 work in one of my Writing I sections this semester. I start by sharing three sample songs of mine so we can practice the paper’s skills together; the first has always been the same song I worked with for Mr. Hickerson, Bruce’s “The River,” but the second and third have shifted over time. For the last few years the third sample song has been J. Cole’s “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” and one of the areas we’ve discussed in every section are the striking shifts in that song’s final verse. As part of those discussions I’ve always said what I believed to be the case, that that final verse was sung by a different performer, a youthful singer; but this semester, two thoughtful students (and, I believe, longtime J. Cole fans) remarked that they believe the change is one of production rather than performer, that the singer is still Cole but with his voice changed to sound more like his younger self. The more I’ve thought about it the more I’m convinced by their analysis, and that idea has significantly shifted my perspective on that last verse and thus on the song as a whole (which, again, I had discussed and analyzed with at least 6-7 prior sections by this point). Lifelong learning for the win!

Next semester moment tomorrow,


PS. Fall moments you’d share?

Monday, December 12, 2022

December 12, 2022: Fall Semester Moments: Du Bois and Public Education

[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]

On a moment that embodies the best of public education.

I’ve been in the world of public education for almost my entire life, from my 13 years as an elementary and secondary student to my 4.5 as a grad student to my 21 (going on 22!) as a public university professor. While of course I wasn’t always as aware of broader issues and trends during all those years (yes, it’s sadly true, 5 year old AmericanStudier was slightly less of an AmericanStudier), I have to believe that at none of those earlier moments has public education been under as sustained and aggressive attack as it is here in 2022. There are many layers to those attacks, but if I had to boil them down, I’d say that they consistently comprise both false narratives about teachers and the work we do and purposeful misunderstandings of controversial topics and themes such as race and anti-racism (along with attempts to censor and ban texts about such issues).

Challenging and countering those narratives, misunderstandings, and attacks needs to be a similarly multi-layered and consistent process, of course. But sometimes there are individual moments that just exemplify the important and inspiring realities of public education, and I experienced one in my 19th Century African American Literature course this semester. We had read excerpts from W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903), and one of my most thoughtful and impressive students, a young man in our English Studies Secondary Education concentration, reflected at length in his weekly email reading response on that book’s concept of double consciousness and what it helped him continue to understand about both his own life and identity as an American of color and his goals for working with his future students of color. Besides being one of the best weekly emails I’ve ever received, this moment truly embodied to me what public education can include and offer—in my public university class, in this student’s future classes, and for our society as a whole. May we all get better at recognizing and supporting such moments and goals.

Next semester moment tomorrow,


PS. Fall moments you’d share?

Saturday, December 10, 2022

December 10-11, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: 2022

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ve AmericanStudied a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to this special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On one frustrating and one hopeful trend when it comes to the Constitution in 2022.

Just over three years ago, I ended a different series on the Constitution with a special weekend post on three types of current challenges and threats facing that document and our government and society alike. I’d say that the first and third remain particularly relevant today, so would ask you to check out that post and then come on back if you would.

Welcome back! On that first topic of originalism and evolution, I’ve grown only ever more frustrated with how our collective conversations have developed in recent years. When it comes to something as complex in its origins as the 2nd Amendment, we’re told that it’s almost impossible to challenge even an iota of current gun freedoms or expand reasonable gun laws, if not indeed that we seem to be further doing away with the latter in favor of a heavily, terrifyingly armed society that bears no resemblance to anything the Framers could have imagined. But when it comes to something much more overtly present and clear in the body of the Constitution, the separation of church and state and entire absence of religion from our government, we see nothing less than a Supreme Court Justice arguing that “religious freedom” means increasing the presence of religion in our governmental and public spaces, a reality that the Framers argued against consistently and passionately. I believe it’s important to see the Constitution as a living document that can and should continue to evolve, and that means I’m willing to have debates about every part of our Constitutional government and identity—but the level of hypocrisy in those who profess “originalism” makes it very hard to even begin such arguments in good faith.

That frustration affects debates at the highest Constitutional level, in cases and arguments before the Supreme Court, which can make it seem particularly influential to be sure. But at the same time, the Constitution created a system of government that truly depends on countless individuals participating at the much more local level, both by running for offices of all types and by voting in those elections of all types. That certainly means that the engaged and passionate young voters about whom I wrote in my Thanksgiving series are a very hopeful sign when it comes to the survival and strengthening of our Constitutional democracy. But I’d also note how many historic candidates ran in and won elections during this cycle, including the first Gen Z member of Congress, a new transgender state senator in New Hampshire, Maryland’s first Black governor, and many more. That aforementioned “no religious test” clause in the Constitution wasn’t just about separating church and state (although yes)—it was also about insuring that our officeholders would be as diverse as our community. There’s nothing more Constitutional than continuing to diversity our government, although as many people as possible voting for all those diverse candidates is pretty close.

Semester Recaps start Monday,


PS. What do you think?

Friday, December 9, 2022

December 9, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: The 1790 Naturalization Act

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to a special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On why a more forgotten and profoundly frustrating Framing document has to be remembered alongside the Constitution.

In September 2020, I had the honor of delivering the (virtual, obvi) 2020 Constitution Day Lecture at Pennsylvania’s King’s College (one responded to by my friend, King’s College English Professor, and AmericanStudier Guest Poster Robin Field!). I chose as my topic a follow-up to but also extension of my 2019 book We The People: “Debating and Constituting ‘We the People’: The Constitution, the 1790 Naturalization Act, and the Idea of America.” The extension of the book was my argument, first really developed for and in that talk, that while the Constitution certainly contained both the inclusive and exclusionary ideas of America (of how we define that originating “We the People”) on which my book overall focuses, the 1790 Naturalization Act represented a much more overtly exclusionary step in that Framing period, an immediate post-Constitution creation (one passed in March 1790, just a year after the Constitution went into full effect in March 1789) of an exclusionary vision of American identity and community. Here I wants to think briefly about one way that Act built on the Constitution, and one way I’d argue it significantly shifted the national conversation toward exclusion.

As I’ve been arguing since both my third book and my first truly viral piece of online writing, the Constitution is importantly, entirely silent on the issue of immigration laws. But while it doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility of such laws nor grant the power to make them to Congress, the Constitution does grant Congress a related power: Article I Section 8, “Powers of Congress,” includes a clause granting Congress the power “To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.” On the one hand, I think this inclusion makes even more striking and significant the fact that the Constitution doesn’t grant any power to make immigration laws—clearly the document and its framers were well aware of immigrant communities in the new United States, but had no sense that there would or should be laws regulating their immigration and arrival. But on the other hand, this clause does make clear that whether and how those immigrants will become citizens is both an issue and a power that the federal government should maintain (as opposed to a state-by-state question, for example, which it very well could have been and in some ways has been at times in our history). While the Constitution itself is entirely ambiguous on what those naturalization rules and requirements should be, it does overtly allow for the possibility and creation of a law like the 1790 Naturalization Act.

But there’s still a world of difference between generally granting a power to Congress and that body using that power to make one of the most overtly discriminatory and exclusionary federal laws in American history (a sadly competitive list to be sure). And make no mistake, that’s what the 1790 Naturalization Act was, through the use in its opening sentence of one very specific and targeted phrase to describe those who could become U.S. citizens: “any Alien, being a free white person…” Citizenship isn’t the only way to be part of a national community, of course, and I’ve spent the better part of my career to date arguing for all the ways in which every American culture and community—perhaps especially those too often formally or legally excluded by laws such as this one—have always been and remain fully and centrally part of “We the People.” But there’s no way around the fact that this Framing era law, one of the first passed by the newly created U.S. Congress under the newly ratified U.S. Constitution, defined those who could join “We the People” through an incredibly narrow, racist, exclusionary lens. That’s not part of the Constitution itself, but it’s an inescapable context for remembering that founding document and its moment.

Special weekend post tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2022

December 8, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: The Bill of Rights

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to a special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On the history, significance, and limitations of the Constitution’s first evolution.

One of the most striking things about the Constitution that was finally, fully ratified on June 21, 1788—when New Hampshire became the necessary 9th state to ratify—is that it was already different from the document that was created on September 17, 1787. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates about which I wrote in Tuesday’s post spilled over into the ratification debates throughout state legislatures, and eventually necessitated the February 1788 deal that became known as the Massachusetts Compromise: that the group of Amendments drafted by George Mason and known as the Bill of Rights would be immediately added to the Constitution. (There were initially twelve proposed Amendments, but only ten of course made it into the final version.) It was only after that compromise that the legislatures of four states—Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire—ratified the Constitution, so in a very real sense the document would not exist (not as anything other than a statement of principles, at least) without the Bill of Rights.

I would argue that the true significance of the Bill of Rights lies not just in that necessary role, however, nor even in the important and often ground-breaking specific concepts and guarantees that it includes. To my mind, the Bill of Rights was and is so significant because it immediately and permanently established the Constitution as a living document. That is, while the body of the Constitution had laid out (in Article Five) the process by which the document could be amended, there was no guarantee that it would be so altered; and I believe that the longer it had existed in a static form, the more it might have seemed to be set and unchangeable as a result. But instead, before that document was even ratified, and more than a year before it and the government it created took effect as the law of the land (on March 4, 1789), it was amended. Those amendments were the result of a messy set of debates and compromises, but that too was precisely the point, on multiple levels: they remind us that the Constitution likewise was produced through a process; and they make clear that it was designed to allow for that process to continue, and through that process to change the document (and thus the laws and nation).

Of course, the messy process that created the Constitution was also frustratingly and prominently racist, and the Bill of Rights (perhaps unsurprisingly, drafted as it was by a slave-owner) in no way escaped that all-too central element. After all, virtually every individual and collective right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights was at the same time legally denied to enslaved African Americans, who could not assemble in protest nor (in most cases) practice their religion of choice (that is, while of course many enslaved African Americans converted to and practiced Christianity, they hardly ever had any individual choice in the matter), who certainly had no right to a trial by jury nor to resist the authorities, and who day in and day out were subject to the most cruel and unusual punishments. While the 3/5s clause is the Constitution’s most overt and shocking illustration of the fundamental place of slavery and racism in the nation’s founding, I would argue that the gap between the Bill of Rights and the individual and collective experiences of enslaved African Americans is the document’s most engrained discrimination. This evolution was so important that the Constitution might not exist at all without it, but for hundreds of thousands of Americans, it was one more set of illusory and false promises.

Last Constitutional context tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

December 7, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: Delaware

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to a special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On three relevant contexts for Delaware’s historic ratification.

1)      The 1776 Constitution of Delaware: Delaware wasn’t just “The First State” to ratify the U.S. Constitution; it was also the first to create its own state constitution after the Continental Congress requested that the newly independent states do so, with a Constitutional Convention convening in August 1776 and the resulting Constitution (hyperlinked above) proclaimed in September. That 1776 Constitution was of course specific and distinct, from those of other new states and from the national Constitution a decade later. But it certainly foreshadowed all those later documents (see for example the “no religious test” clause, very similar to the radical one featured in the U.S. Constitution’s Article VI), and indeed helped push both the states and the nation forward toward the idea of Constitutional governments on all those levels. Makes sense that Delaware would quickly convene a U.S. Constitution ratification convention eleven years later, doesn’t it?

2)      The Penman of the Revolution”: A significant participant in all those moments and steps was John Dickinson, the Delaware planter and politician (and, yes, slaveowner—a truly ubiquitous issue across the community of Founders/Framers) who became known by this nickname for his pre-Revolutionary writings challenging the British and urging his fellow Americans to move toward Revolution. Dickinson would remain active in, indeed central to, Delaware and national politics alike throughout the Revolutionary and Framing periods, eventually serving as one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention and becoming one of the main advocates (both in his home state and throughout the country) for ratifying that Constitution.

3)      The Ongoing Ratification Process: As the last hyperlinked piece in that prior paragraph illustrates, Dickinson continued to use his pen to argue for ratification, publishing a series of letters under the pseudonym Fabius that echoed and extended the arguments and perspectives of the Federalist Papers. But while Delaware’s ratification convention was incredibly smooth and harmonious—the convention began on December 3rd and its delegates voted 30-0 to ratify the U.S. Constitution just four days later—the national ratification process and debate was anything but. It took many stages and steps to get to full ratification, including the addition of the Bill of Rights about which I’ll blog in tomorrow’s post. But none of that means that Delaware’s early and enthusiastic ratification wasn’t an important ongoing influence, just as the state and its own Framers had been since those first Revolutionary moments.

Next Constitutional context tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

December 6, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: Anti-Federalists

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to a special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On three equally significant ways to frame the Constitution’s opposition.

1)      Revolutionary Radicals: It’s no coincidence that two of the most prominent Anti-Federalists (a label which, to be fair, was imposed by the Constitution’s advocates and generally rejected by the group themselves, but which I’ll use in this post as a shorthand for the Constitution’s critics) were also two of the Revolution’s most famous firebrands, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. The Revolution itself can be reductively but not inaccurately divided into more radical and more conservative camps, as exemplified by Samuel and his second cousin John Adams. Moreover, as illustrated by John’s critique of the Boston Massacre’s participants, the proto-federalists tended to be a bit more suspicious of populism, while radicals like Sam and the Sons of Liberty encouraged and amplified popular passions. Again, all those issues are more nuanced than these couple of sentences can allow, but they do help explain how men like Adams and Patrick Henry ended up in the Anti-Federalist camp.

2)      Advocates for Rights: Perhaps the single most important Anti-Federalist text was George Mason’s Objections to this Constitution of Government (1787). Mason’s objections were strong enough that he became one of three Constitutional Convention delegates not to sign the final document, but he ironically would eventually turn those objections into the impetus for drafting one of the Constitution’s most famous sections, the Bill of Rights (about which I’ll write more in Thursday’s post). An emphasis on individual rights had been part of the American Revolution since its origins, as illustrated by another document of Mason’s (and predecessor to the Bill of Rights), the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights. Thanks to Mason and other Anti-Federalists, those emphases were carried forward into not just the debates over the Constitution, but also its final, ratified form. (It’s also important to note, as I’ll discuss Thursday as well, that Mason, like many of these advocates for rights, was a slave-owner.)

3)      Future Democratic-Republicans: Despite the expressed desire on the part of many of the founding generation (George Washington in particular) to avoid the creation of political parties, the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debate was certainly also an origin point for the development of such parties in the U.S. Declaration author Thomas Jefferson was not present at the Constitutional Convention, but he was definitely in the Anti-Federalist camp, and would continue developing that perspective during his conflicts with Alexander Hamilton throughout Washington’s terms as President. That arc culminated in Jefferson’s creation of the Democratic-Republican Party, in the contested and crucial presidential election of 1800, and in the origins of a two-party system that (with many evolutions of course) has endured to this day. All of which, like so much else, can and should be linked to the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates.

Next Constitutional context tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?