Managing Work

In less than week, I will give a paper at the Newberry Library.  This paper in question is not ready.  I know it will be, but it is not now.  More tinkering to do.

The paper I will give Saturday looks at the Chicago Sisters of Mercy, their charism, and education ministry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Basically from when they set up shop in Chicago in 1846 to the decade after Amalgamation (1929).  I enjoy this period in women’s history and American Catholic history.  The nineteenth century proper and the Progressive Era are my history touchstones.  Since I took on the Mercy history project, I have found myself in the twentieth century much more.  The fifties, sixties, and seventies in particular are exciting decades to study for Catholic women’s history right now, which throws the traditional American women’s history narrative a curve ball. (Did I just use a sports metaphor? I think my students’ writing is getting to me.)

I am teaching a US history survey this semester and over the last couple weeks we have explored the fifties and sixties, first in consumer culture, then Civil Rights Movement, and lately the Student Movement.  This week we will tackle second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement.  Should be interesting.  I fear I will spend more time correcting the historical narrative provided by the course textbook.  If you need any indication of what I am up against, here’s this little nugget from the textbook:

Betty Friedan, a forty-two-year-old mother of three from Peoria, Illinois, led the mainstream of the women’s movement.

There’s more, but that is enough. There is nothing “wrong” about that sentence, but it is hardly the whole story.  Yes, Friedan was from Peoria, but she wasn’t living there when she wrote The Feminine Mystique.  Yes, she was a mother of three, but that wasn’t the sum of who she was. Yes, was a leader of the mainstream women’s movement, but she wasn’t the only one.  I can see me now, droning on about what is missing from this passage and about the importance of understanding the full context of women’s lives – not just the little snippets we get in the textbook.  (I better not go on too much, we are already behind and we are supposed to get to the 1980s before we are all said and done.)

Why does the context and the nuances of history matter?  Everyday, there is a story about what we as a society don’t know about the past.  My students have holes the size of a Mac Truck in their understanding of American history and one semester won’t do nearly enough to make up for that.  (It will help, Gosh Darn it! It has to.) As I think about my presentation on Saturday, I hope that I relate the correct and full history, as I provide just a snippet of the larger whole Chicago Mercy history.

There is more I could say, but really, the tinkering on my paper won’t take care of itself.


A New Resource for American Catholic History Available: Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale and the Santa Maria Institute

Sometimes a project can come together very quickly.  An article is with some efficiency.  That book review is only one month late.  Book projects, of course, take longer.  Much longer.  And then sometimes, certain labors of love take a very long time to be released into the wild that is the community of scholars and teachers of history.  Yesterday, I am pleased to announce my labor of love (shared with M. Christine Anderson and Judith Metz, SC) that is The Journal of Sister Justina and the Santa Maria Institute, a new American Catholic History Classroom hosted by American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at Catholic University, went online.

Well, our American Catholic History Classroom featuring Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale (Sisters of Charity and biological sisters) and the Santa Maria Institute (a social settlement house established to aid Italian immigrants in Cincinnati, OH) is available for teachers and scholars everywhere!

And, better yet! I got to talk about why this exhibit and working with everyone at CUA’s archives are so wonderful as a guest contributor to the archives’ blog: The Archivist’s Nook.  Go see what I said.  Check out other posts (subscribe to it even).  And while you’re at it, explore the wonderful resource that is the American Catholic History Classroom!


When I began my Phd studies, I also became more acquainted with other side of historical research – archives and preservation of history.  I had already made the connection to the importance of having primary sources in my masters work, but it really sunk in when I began work in my university’s archives as a part-time job and eventually when I did more archival work for my dissertation.  Sifting through documents, especially holding them in my hands, I wondered what we did not know because one thing or another was not preserved.  What could I and others learn from the odd item, like a church bulletin, a telegram, or an advertisement for perfume in a lady’s magazine?  From reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale, I knew I could learn a lot from little things.  The day to day accounts of things, the scraps of things pulled together, could reveal something larger about the past, if only I looked at them from the right perspective.

This I learned and this I tried to employ as I researched and wrote my dissertation and then the Mercy project.  Americanists are not nearly as hampered by the lack of preservation as say Medievalists, but that doesn’t mean that everything isn’t universally preserved either.

GFraser Sketch 1916
A sketch drawn by my grandfather, 1916

I have been thinking about preservation of history, specifically of manuscript records and material culture, recently because I recently lost my uncle. He passed away and we are left to do something with his papers.  He didn’t save everything, but he did hold on to a few interesting bits of material culture that is very relevant to my family’s history.  This has prompted the question of what is relevant beyond my personal connection.  Is my uncle’s life of interest to the larger narrative of twentieth century America?

What’s more, he is the last of his generation of our family (my father passed away over a decade ago) and with both a historian’s eye and a member of a family, I am keen to preserve connections to our family’s history.  What am I to do with this material culture that has meaning for me?  Can this pen and ink sketch drawn by my grandfather when he was a teenager reveal something important?  Or am I just touched by the fact that it was preserved at all, from father to son, to us?

This of course prompts a question about genealogy and the study of Family History as a subfield.  In the past I have used my own family history in the classroom to help my students understand everything from how to research, what’s the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how the questions we ask about our sources can reveal a fresh perspective on the past.  What’s more, we have other microhistories that deal with subjects other than my family (shocking, but true).  Can my personal family documents contribute to a large discussion of the past?  Should they?

Ultimately, what do we (my siblings and I) do with these things?  I am not an unrepentant hoarder if I wish to save these papers, pictures, Zippo tape measure, or Thrift Card from WWI.  No, not really.

Semester Beginnings

If I am not mistaken, I have not posted since June.  I have had a long summer and it involved a lot of travel for work.  If there were a time that underscores the upside-down-ness of my affiliation with academia, it would be my summers.  Don’t get me wrong, an administrative position in a organization dedicated to higher education housed in an institution of higher learning is slightly bottom side up all year round, but the summers… The only remotely summery feeling I get is that I don’t have to dress as professionally as I do during the Fall and Spring terms.  Starting in April, I am up to my eyeballs in conference planning.  Then I spend May – August pulling them off, which involves traveling to them. I am getting very good at picking people up at the airport and then returning them there at the appointed time.

But, this is not a What I Did Over My Summer Vacation report.  (Partly because I really didn’t have one.) No, the semester is beginning – classes begin Tuesday! – and I am teaching a Freshmen Gen Ed course again this term.  I am excited to get back to the classroom and to teach this class for a second time.  The first was such a new experience on so many levels, I often felt I was barely keeping my head above water all semester long.  It was fun and exciting and I think my students made it through the chaos fairly well, but I am glad I will have some past experience from which to draw this time.

This week I have gotten a chance to be a “faculty member” albeit an adjunct faculty.  Today I joined the larger faculty workshop and heard about the futures of MOOCs.  Apparently the bubble hasn’t burst just yet on them.  Neither has the use of business language when discussing the future of higher education.  Earlier in the week, I sat through two-days of workshops for this Freshmen course and we talked about learning outcomes, rubrics, and writing assessments.  Sadly we have agreed to require MLA formatting for all writing assignments.  I don’t want to get into any arguments about style manuals, but frankly Chicago Manual of Style is far superior.  But, I was a part of a conversation with other teachers about teaching and learning.  It was a wonderful two days, where I could draw straight lines between my work and, well, the learning outcomes.   That is one of the wrinkles with administrative work – it is harder to see the connections.  They are there, but you have to look at the world differently and think creatively about your place in the universe.  I mean University.

And while I was off playing – because it must be play, for I had such fun – my day job was still waiting for me.  And here is something that is not foreign to anyone juggling personal interests and work responsibilities – I had to return to my office and tackle my administrative tasks.  Faculty members – you know the ones with full time positions on their way or already with tenure – have menial tasks or at the very least stuff they don’t like doing.  They will, like I will, spend their weekends preparing for their classes, setting up their Blackboards, maybe doing their own scholarly work (I have copy-edits for my book to go through!), and possibly, if there is time, vacuuming their carpets and hang out with family.  Maybe.

Multiple Identities or Split Personality?

Well, the fall semester started and I started teaching again.  (I am teaching a class! she said with an enormous grin on her face.)  It’s a new class to me, a new prep, and there will be a lot of work and time that goes into this, but, honesty, I do not care.  (At the moment.  I reserve the right to complain later.)  I am enjoying every minute of it.  Even when they look like they are bored senseless.  Or confused.  Yes, I get a lot of bored and confused looks.

I am teaching A class and the rest of my time is devoted to my day job as an assistant director of this program. And then there are the revisions of my manuscript due to the publisher a lot sooner than I would think.  Consequently I am wearing many hats.  The funny thing is that, while I am teaching just the one class, it has risen in importance in my mind.  It is what I think about most of the time (even when I am thinking about my day job, or the revisions) and I have given it a place of importance in what I do.

The fun part of it all is that while I am concerned about doing the best job I can in this class, it isn’t freaking me out.  I was concerned that I would forget how to teach after my two-year hiatus.  Or that teaching methods would so radically change that I would be behind the curve.  The challenging thing about this experience is figuring out the culture of teaching at this institution.  What are the expectations of the students; how high (or low) are the standards?  How can I work well with my fellow teachers?  How can I be of help to others; or better how can I accept help when I need it?

And, meanwhile, I still have to effectively do my day job.  And my history job.   The tricky thing is when I have to shift gears from the classroom to my office.  I need to put away my concerns for class prep (temporarily) and students and take out the list of tasks that I need to do that are equally important, albeit different.  At the moment, my biggest concern is getting my job done.  What has been remarkable is that how the teaching is seeping into my day job and helping me think about that work in a better way.  I did not expect that.  Teaching involves effectively communicating with students, considering how and when one presents information, and gauging the reaction and understanding of those individuals.   Effective listening skills apply here, but they also apply in my daily work in administration.  I knew those there parallels existed, but I think I needed reminding.  Apparently I was wrong.

All this to say that I am currently operating with many identities.  I am hardly alone in that, but what I intended to with this multiple identities should be interesting.

The First Day of Class

There is nothing that I enjoy more than the first day of school.  I remember it fondly (and most-likely incorrectly).  If I look closely at my memories of elementary and high school, I remember nervousness, uncertainty, and a large does of shyness.  If I look to my undergraduate and graduate experiences, the first days of the first years of both were challenging, but I managed to work through the utter terror of the unknown.

I think about the new first years, the freshmen, who I now will come to know as I teach a class this semester.  There is so much they don’t know and will hopefully learn.  And I think that is what I “fondly remember” about the first day of class.  But they are all new and to a certain degree uncertain.  I hope they enjoy their experiences this year and the years to come.