Waiting for Wonder Woman

I don’t remember the first time I met Wonder Woman. I remember her presence in my childhood as a sense of wanting to be her (or Princess Leia, or She-Ra…).  I have vague impressions of Lynda Carter on my television screen, and maybe even my own moments of pretending to be Wonder Woman. It’s hazy, but she was there.

I forgot about her for a long time. This was easy to do, since she went a bit underground after the TV series (or it seemed that way, in my world). My dad, a long-time comics collector and sci-fi fan, helped me grow up with a healthy dose of superheroes and Star Trek, but somewhere along the way, Star Trek overcame the rest. (I never did get into comics myself until I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman while in college.)

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The Research Connection

Think back: when did you learn how to do research?

You know, that process of going to the library sometime in your elementary or secondary or college education to learn about some topic so you could write a paper about it. I remember my first research paper ever, in Miss M’s third-grade classroom. She listed all the available topics on one of those clear sheets she could display with the overhead projector, then went around the room allowing us the chance to choose.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to study someone who dressed like that and had red hair? I wanted red hair and a dress like that.

I reallyreallyreallyreally wanted Elizabeth the First, but either my last name was too late in the alphabet or I wasn’t listening well that day (probably both), so I was out of luck. Fortunately, there was also an Elizabeth II, so my luck hadn’t entirely run out, even if this one didn’t have the neat-looking dresses.

Ironically, the next research process I remember well, the one where I think maybe I started to get the hang of “research,” finally took me back to Elizabeth I, or more accurately to her older half-sister. (It’s almost shocking I didn’t become an early modern British historian, right?)

I’ve spent countless more hours, days, and weeks doing research since then. In grad school, I wrote a lot about my research and note-taking process, but it’s only been in the past year or two that I’ve begun thinking about an even larger question: how do you teach someone to do research?

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To Chapters, New and Old

TasselOne of the nice things about social media is that you never forget an important date, like the one when you defended your dissertation. In the six years since then, so much has changed, but not everything. For example, I haven’t entirely left grad school behind – or at least, I’m still working on what once was my dissertation project. Only now, I have a little more to show for it.

Before I finished the dissertation, before I took my teaching job, I was part of a panel proposal for the 2012 American Historical Association meeting.I didn’t know in February 2011 – when the proposals were due – whether I would even have a job the following school year. I hoped, at the time, that having this as a forthcoming talk would look good to a prospective employer.

Almost a year later, I flew to Chicago for a quick weekend, making sure I didn’t miss any teaching obligations. I hung out with old friends and enjoyed conference sessions on my terms. I hit up the Art Institute in Chicago (and had an unfortunate run-in with a light pole while walking down the street). That Sunday morning, our panel convened in the final hours of the conference in front of a small audience of people. (The panel focused the military’s experiences of integrating women and minorities as a way to manage the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.)
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Meeting yourself where you are


Eighteen years later, I still remember the moment I first told someone I wanted to be a writer. The certainty of that idea developed over a year I will always hold close. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, but it was also the year I learned what it felt like to achieve a dream.

A year earlier, I had been uncertain of what I wanted out of college and unwilling to take out loans without more direction. I left school after my freshman year, and by late October, I was flying east to be a nanny for a family I’d never seen. It was one of the scariest and most thrilling decisions I’d ever made.

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The History of Us All


eleanor_roosevelt_at_united_nations“I became more of a feminist than I ever imagined.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The more I learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, the more I like her. I also like to think we could have been BFFs, but I think that’s how it goes with heroes. Like good old ER, I haven’t always identified as a feminist, nor have I always been a women’s historian, but today those are two integral parts of my identity. For people who think like me in those regards, every month may be Women’s History Month, but March is the designated month of observation. I suspect that I know more than a few people who probably wonder “Why do we need Women’s History Month?” I still tend to think, “Why not?”

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Facing the Fake


In the last six months, I’ve had frequent flashbacks to my early college years. Those were the days when the university still had computer labs all over campus (including mini-labs on every other floor of my dorm building), and almost no one brought a computer with them to school. In my freshman year, I practically lived in the computer lab on my floor, often hunkering down with a Subway sandwich in hand and a bottle of soda. I spent hours online and refreshing my inbox in those days before social media. Who could forget all those hilarious email forwards that went around before we could simply link to something funny or interesting in our Facebook feeds?

In the last 19 years, I’ve managed to forget the content of most of those forwards, except for certain ones that had to do with the Profound Meaning of certain words. I thought such emails were long dead, replaced by online memes and 140 characters on Twitter.

I thought wrong.

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Last month, we were all a little obsessed with beginnings. New year, new presidency – it’s all been a little crazy. It still is. Here in my little corner of the universe, though, I have an ending in sight: my sophomore history course ends in 9 days.

This year, I’ve had a total blast teaching two sections of Accelerated 20th Century World History, a course I’d only taught once before. 20th Century World History is one of my favorite topics, and it’s one I’ve taught nearly every year since I started my job. The content is a blast, and one of the things I love about it is that it’s pretty much all still relevant. If you want students to understand how the past continues to be present, then take a look at 20th Century World History.

All of my 20th Century World courses have been fun over the years, but this year was something special for me. It’s been a fabulous run, and I’m sad that the course is already coming to an end. A month ago, it felt like we were just getting started: we’d finally moved past the basics and were starting to apply our knowledge to trying to understand more recent events, such as the Syrian conflict.

Right now, I’m sort of stuck in this moment. It feels like limbo; I’m eager to see my students produce their culminating projects (documentaries with oral history interviews), and I’m looking forward to these final class sessions. At the same time, I wish we could just keep going, and I’m sad that two weeks from Tuesday we’ll start our third term of the year and everything will be different. I know it will be good, in its own way, but I’m going to miss this.

I’m trying to remind myself that this must be the mark of a successful course: that when you reach the end of something and feel sad that it’s ending, it must mean it was good, right?

Mother: Well.

Tateh: You say that often, ‘well’.

Mother: It’s because I don’t know what else to say.

Ragtime the Musical

Right now, I really don’t. I’ve spent the past month alternately overwhelmed by non-stop grading and non-stop political news and non-stop personal life changes. I’ve written about my class today because it’s something that’s on my mind that is neither political nor writing related – two things I either don’t want to write about right now, or can’t (since I’ve done no writing in weeks).

But this is where I am. A few weeks into the new year, I’m nostalgic for a class that I’m about to leave behind, and feeling not quite ready for the new adventures that lay ahead.

I will be. And you’ll hear about them soon.