Never Plan Ahead
I’ve always made it a practice to read ahead but planning ahead has never worked. Classes went really well this morning. I started yesterday trying to sketch out what readings I was going to give and when, but I gave up. I’m glad I did. Unlike the massive crop of nursing students and jocks I had last time, this time I actually have some bona-fide English, Art, and Rhetoric candidates! I can use literature without feeling like I’m signing to the deaf. While it’s a fairly small percentage, it’s enough to shift the syllabus a little more that way. I’ve also got a dyslexic student, and one with some sort of motor function problem. New challenges. I love it.
I made the rounds to discuss my project with some friends/experts. Dr. Levernier, the 18c Americanist, and Dr. Murphy, the Modernist, were thrilled that I’m coming over to their team. Dr. Murphy sits on some NEH committees, and he told me that my project has good funding potential in the current research climate. Dr. Levernier, who also specializes in African American lit hinted at some great leads regarding the Centennial Exposition of 1876, and the way that black people were represented to the public in the later 19th century. I set up a meeting with him for Thursday.
I went by to talk to Dr. Parins, the Victorianist and 19th century Native American specialist, and he liked the project as well. He suggested that I talk to Dr. Littlefield, the 20th century Native specialist and I am glad I did. Another thread comes together. The Omaha Exposition of 1898 sounds like a real side-show, deeply documented by another photographer/ethnographer F. A. Rinehart. The parade of “Expositions” in the US from 1876-1916 is an interesting bridge from the spectacle of the minstrel shows, to the public relations ministry of the 20th century. Of course, there are a million splinters to this to get lost in but it seems to me that the “entertainment value” of the other, be they an ethnic other or an economic other walks hand in hand with these developments. I get the feeling that I’ll be doing primarily 19th century stuff for a while, but since there is a great Native American archive here, I want to take advantage of it.
One thing I want to figure out is the Native response to Roosevelt’s New Deal. According to Dr. Littlefield, almost all Native American presses were bankrupted and shut down in the 30s. There are a few things available though, I’ll just have to dig deep for them. One book on the sharecropper’s plight was published by the University of Oklahoma press in 1938; I ran across that a while ago. But it will take some deep digging to figure out what the real effect of the depression was on Native American peoples.
After all that, I went to my Queer Theory class. It felt so weird, after all the other introductions to come out and say: “Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m straight.” Everyone else had a declaration of one sort or another, so I felt like I should declare my sexuality. It bolstered the confidence of the only other straight person in the room to go ahead and admit it too. The role reversal involved was just hilarious. This class is perhaps only tangential to my other research, but I wanted to read more of the theory since it does deal with marginalized people. Gender issues are definitely in play in the modern re-issues of some classic documentary books. Dr. Barb and I were talking about the problem of writing histories after the class. She made the observation that though you have to use narrative threads to weave histories, it is impossible to stitch in another thread after a history is written to maintain a sense of completeness.
I can tell this is going to be a really fun semester, already! Having a good crop of students to experiment on will help keep my spirits up. But at this stage, I really can’t plan ahead. There are too many possible discoveries out there to have much of a clue.