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January 31, 2006



I'm imagining you standing with a large knife over a sci-fi timeline, with people arguing and jumping back and forth across brightly marked dates, wondering where exactly the hatchet is going to fall!

And I saw the photo before reading the post and said, Helsinki! Don't I have a photo like that?


Heh. It's surprisingly hard! And so political! Apparently, too, on more levels than I ever thought!


Not to mention that the prez's own policies aren't helping matters. It's become much, much harder for foreign students (who make up the bulk of science and engineering students at many schools) to get visas. The impact of this is going to be huge.

I was talking to somebody the other day who had been to a conference where academic scientists complained about some of the insane effects export-control regulations were having on them. All labs and buildings and libraries that might have information or research related to export-controlled work would have to be locked and admission restricted to US citizens and other acceptable individuals.

Then a clown from Homeland security got up and answered these concerns by reading from scripted talking points and bragging that 5 years ago there were (all numbers for entertainment purposes only here), say, 800,000 foreign students in the US and the whereabouts of 2,000 of them were unknown. Now there are 400,000, but the whereabouts of only 6 are unknown. And thus we are successfully waging the WoT...

I'd say that somebody needs to ask the prez some tough questions, I but I don't think it would do a bit of good...


Colin Rust

Some no doubt dumb questions from someone who knows little to nothing about history...

It seems a bit strange to me that as time passes, the dividing point should move earlier rather than later! I suppose in a sense new history is continually being added pre-1917 by research, but that's not the same as adding new history from the passage of time. Maybe the point is that the Soviet era now seems less important/relevant than it did pre-1989 and therefore deserves less time.

Also why is it necessary to split at a natural turning point anyway? Why not just determine roughly how long you want to talk about each period and then split at the rough halfway point? If you are worried that this sends an implict message that the splitting event is more important that it really is then you could just pick a transparently arbitrary round number, say 1900.


Hey Colin!

The tendency to shift earlier does certainly have a lot to do with the sense that the Soviet period is maybe not exactly *less* important than before, but is a discrete period that needs to be better integrated with earlier (and later) history. There's been a lot of effort at finding continuities between the Imperial and Soviet eras, for example, which means that it makes sense to start a discussion well before 1917.

Of course it's also complicated by the fact that there's more and more work being done on post WWII Soviet history; really, when I first took a Soviet history class, as I remember we spent most of the time on the first two decades of the Soviet period, and only a relatively short time on the last fifty years. That's partially because that latter period was more the realm of political scientists, not historians, for a big chunk of time. So that's been changing, too.

There's certainly, too, a case to be made for picking an arbitrary date to divide sections. You can make the case that for most people, the big events are less important than the essential continuities of private lives, for example. Personally, though, I do like my lectures, all together, to have at least a bit of "plot," for lack of a better word. I try to discuss certain issues over and over again as they change through the time period I'm covering. And when, in the last lecture, you can say something like "remember all that stuff I said about x? Well, here's where it all comes to a head," it helps tie the course together into a narrative that's easier to understand. Not everyone teaches that way, of course, but I like to think, at least, that it's helpful in getting students to think beyond dates and names.

Also, this question turns out to be relevant, because I will indeed be changing jobs, and starting to teach a general two term survey. At your alma mater. It's VERY EXCITING. And kind of scary.

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