Unexpected Journey

Unexpected Journey

If you’d asked me a year ago or five years ago if I’d like to travel to Taiwan, I’d have told you it’s not something I’d thought about. In the past decade, my travel fantasies have increasingly turned toward Asia, but until this autumn, the tiny island of Taiwan was nothing more than that – an island I could identify, thanks to many years of geography bees, and something I mention once each year in my classroom.

Despite all this, I ended 2019 and began 2020 with a journey to Taiwan – an unexpected journey that began several years ago.

The First Leg: Understanding East Asian History

Asian history never interested me until I became a teacher. Suddenly I found my 20th century Cold War history very incomplete, centered as I was on Europe, the U.S., and even African history. As I began teaching 20th Century World History (and now, The World Since 1900), I quickly realized I needed to learn a lot more about East Asia.

I don’t know how I discovered the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA), but somehow I found it, and about four years ago, I began taking their free online courses. First there was a course on Mao, then one on Japan after World War II. These courses, and others, led to a chance to write for a special issue of Education about Asia , and since one thing leads to something more, I’ve continued to enroll in NCTA courses periodically, including this past fall (and one that starts next week).

The Second Leg: A Surprise Study Tour Opportunity

I’ve been dreaming of NCTA and other study tours for awhile, to be honest, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity for one. This one came to me out of the blue, with an email in October: for the second year in a row, the Republic of China (Taiwan government) wanted to sponsor American teachers for a study tour of Taiwan. Was I interested in this opportunity?

Was I interested? Was I ever! The next week was a flurry of paperwork, with the proviso that things might not work out. I braced myself against hope at the idea of getting to travel to Asia for the first time, and bemoaned how little I knew about Taiwan. (It was a little embarrassing to write that my teaching about Taiwan literally begins and ends with “And then the Nationalists fled to Taiwan when Mao declared the People’s Republic of China”.)

Despite – or perhaps because of – my glaring ignorance of Taiwanese history, everything came together. By mid-November I had plane tickets that would take me out of my home city on Christmas night, with a return on January 2. My first trip to Asia and my first trans-Pacific flight were really going to happen.

The Trip: Adventures, Discoveries, and Kindred Spirits

The goal of a study tour is only partially to sight-see. In this trip to Taiwan, we traveled up and down the island nation, visiting as many places as we could, but it’s also about experiencing the place and the people and expanding your knowledge in the process. At least, that’s how I experienced this study tour. Everything we did helped me understand Taiwan and its history and people a bit more, and left me eager to go further.

For six days, we traveled up and down Taiwan, beginning in Taipei, spending new year’s eve in Kaohsiung, and returning to Taipei before we went home. In the weeks ahead, I hope to put together a story map that more accurately captures all these great experiences, but for now I’ll share some highlights.

Day 1: Arrival in Taipei, call at Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn about US-Taiwan relationship, and visit Affiliated High School to speak with students. Dinner: Din Tai Fung dumplings

Day 2 to Day 3: high speed train to Taichung, bus to Sun Moon Lake. We spent the day touring the lake and visiting the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village (not pictured). On the morning of Day 3, I walked with several others to the Wen Wu temple (in the dark before dawn, in the rain) and we all went to Hugosum Tea Garden.

Day 3-5: Our time at Sun Moon Lake seemed far too short, but new adventures awaited in Tainan: we spent two nights there exploring the city and its history, which has ties to the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Chinese.

From there, we traveled to Kaohsiung, where we finished 2019 with a visit to the (former) British Consulate, the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center (where I got to play the piano), a visit to a night market, and watching fireworks from the hotel window with new friends.

The only bad thing about this trip was that it ended too soon. Just as we adjusted to the jet lag (14-hour time change for me!), and really began feeling like we were getting to know this beautiful country, it was time to fly home.

From start to finish, it was an amazing experience. I’m only starting to mentally unpack all I saw and learned and felt, partly the consequence of coming back and jumping back into my life here.

After trips like this, things are never really quite the same again – they’ve changed because you change, usually for the better, or so I like to think. Moving into 2020, I’m excited to learn more about how this unexpected journey changed me and how I see the world.

The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 1

Summer is in full swing and the Smart Women want to talk about what each of their summers looks like.

Mine?

I’ve already had a full summer’s worth of life crammed into my summer so far, but why not live in the fast lane?

I just got back from Barbados, where I presented on the Caribbean holdings of the Slave Societies Digital Archive at the Association of Caribbean Historians’ annual meeting. Let me tell you, this group of scholars is amazing. About half come from institutions in the Caribbean itself, and the rest from everywhere else. They do simultaneous translation so that people who don’t speak English, Spanish, and French can hear the latest scholarship of the full region and ask questions of people a language barrier would prevent them from asking. And they are the only scholarly organization that I know of, that has a end-of-conference fete written directly into the constitution. Our right to party is constitutional! And what a fete. You haven’t lived until you’ve been part of a group of scholars who can both bachata and whine. Continue reading “The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 1”

Teacher As Student: Resources

pexels-photo-953430.jpegFive weeks. Just five weeks from now, my students will pack up their bags, drop off their laptops at the Help Desk, and clear out from campus for other exciting adventures. A week later, I’ll have grades in and be sitting on the cusp of the promised land of summer.

If that sounds like I’m waiting for the next great thing, I promise I’m not. These next five weeks are full of many exciting new things, such as wrapping up my Atlantic World History course and Contemporary Global Issues research course (for the last time ever, as we’re changing curriculum next year). More than ever, my students are coming into their own as thinkers and writers, the culmination of a long year of hard work, and it’s exciting to see the pieces fall into place.

Sure, there are plenty of moments when I think everyone is ready to be done – our seniors walk out the door at the end of next week, and that always signals the beginning of the end, the feeling of “Oh, can’t WE have time for ourselves, too, please?”

Let’s not jump too far ahead, though. I look forward to summer because it gives me all that time for myself and for dreaming of the next course coming up, but also because summer gives me a chance to learn and be.

A lot of educators use the summer for professional development, but it’s also something many of us do year-round. Since the summer of 2011, my summer opportunities have included all sorts of fun things, like:

It’s been fabulous, but that’s just been the start. I learned pretty early on that there are also a lot of options for professional development during the school year, if you can manage to swing it along with everything else. I haven’t done it every year, but every couple of years I somehow find myself trying something new, just for kicks and to fill in some of my knowledge gaps.

There are so many options out there. I’ve gathered some ideas below based on my own experiences, in case these ideas help others get started. If you have additional resources to share, add them to the comments!

National Consortium for Teaching about Asia
This is my top resource, hands-down, for anything you ever wanted to learn about Asian history. Asian history has never been my strong suit, but when you teach 20th Century World and World History in general, it’s amazing to have an organization like this around to help you out. Since I discovered the NCTA a few years ago, I’ve taken three online courses: Mao’s China, Japan since 1945, and China’s Dynasties (currently wrapping that up now). The instructors are amazing, the resources phenomenal – you can’t go wrong with anything here.

Virginia Geographic Alliance
While I don’t think the course is currently running, two years ago a colleague got me connected with Virginia Geographic Alliance’s “Putting Social Studies in its Place,” a 5-week online course that got me back into GIS (geographic information systems) for the first time since grad school (and working with ArcGIS in a way that didn’t make me crazy for the first time EVER). Last fall, I got to get more training with their follow-up course for those of us who’d done the first one. I’m still so much of a newbie when it comes to integrating GIS like I’d like to, but I’ve come huge distances thanks to the team here. (Now they’ve even got me thinking about how to design my own Geoinquiries like the ones here.)

Facebook group: Scholarships, Grants and Summer Institutes for Teachers
Teachers in the know KNOW this group. Want to find any sort of program? You’ll find it here, along with feedback from people who have done it, and occasionally people who pick the participants in any given program. This group is a great way to stay on top of opportunities as they arise throughout the year, in addition to the larger slate of summer PD opportunities that are out there.

Other programs that offer PD throughout the year:

It’s just a start, but if you or someone you know is looking for future study opportunities like these (and they’re often free and/or funded) – check these out and share other ones you might know!

Where History is Alive

I know, I’m sorry, I’m late!

Actually, I’m not sorry. I’m late with my post because I am on the beautiful Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius for work, and it is so heart-breakingly breathtaking that I needed a minute to just appreciate being here and learning.

SWW2You see, the formerly Dutch island is also a location in the nonfiction history book I’m writing. Known as the “Golden Rock,” it was the center of Atlantic Commerce in the 1700s, and a lot of that was deemed illicit by the other European superpowers of the time. It was filled to the gills with pirates, and plunder, and esoteric objects from around the world.

The island isn’t a big tourist destination (outside of a small and devoted group of returning diving and nature enthusiasts), and doesn’t have a place for larger cruise ships to dock, so much of the material remnants of this history remain. Down every alley, over every cliff, is evidence of corrupt governors, the enslaved, plantations, merchant homes, warehouses, etc. Yellow bricks imported from the Ijssel River regions in the sww4Netherlands comprise some of the most important ruins. Sherds of blue and white Delftware can be seen embedded in the runoff from several forts and plantations. Divers still regularly find glass beads used in trading in the sand. Many residents live in or on top of historically important buildings and sites. Everything is free and open to be viewed by anyone who cares enough to look. Every breath you take, is saltwater and history.

Thankfully this island also has people who appreciate all they have, and work hard to keep it safe for the future. I had the fortune of meeting them, and seeing the history through their eyes.  And you know what happened? I discovered that several of the things historians like to repeat about this island in the literature, had to have been written in error if they weren’t outright falsification.  When you can tangibly step into a place that you only before knew from the documents, a whole new truth unfolds right in front of your eyes.

This happened to me when I visited Ghana in 2010: many of the slave forts I wrote about, I had discovered in documents in The Hague, where most Dutch imperial materials are kept. From reading them, I had an idea in my head about what it must have been like. But actually going there, showed me that many of the things people wrote about would have been impossible. I walked several of the trails mentioned in the documents to see how long it took. I looked at the distances between forts, and how far away they were from the ocean, to see which cannon shots claimed in the literature could have made it, and which wouldn’t have. I saw the way the vegetation grew. I looked at how ruins were positioned. I realized at what points of the day which way the shadows would lie. I made note of the directions the wind blew. All of the sudden, a whole new world of what would have been possible and what wouldn’t opened up.

SWW1It’s the same here. Seeing the bays makes it obvious which could have sustained ships, and which would have wrecked them against the rocks. Seeing the plantation setups allows me to make guesses as to how many enslaved workers there could have been at any one time. Seeing the steep immensity of the inactive volcano known as the Quill (pictured above) makes it clear that no planting could have happened on its sides without some serious twenty-first century landscape architecture. Going to the ruins of the governor’s mansion helped me to see the types of things he could and could not see from his desk. All of these facts are incredibly helpful, and will breathe life into my book that I wasn’t even aware was missing.

I’m living the dream, folx.

Creation & Curation: The Fort Negley Oral History Archive

Drinking from the rooftops of certain honky tonks in downtown Nashville, you can spot one of the nation’s most important, yet underappreciated sites for African American history: Fort Negley, the Union Civil War fortification on St. Cloud Hill. Many tourists have no idea what it is they are looking at.

The fort was built in 1862, using a combination of forced labor of enslaved Africans which the Union army in Nashville had rounded up from nearby plantations, and free blacks of Nashville and the surrounding areas, who offered their services in exchange for payment (much of which never materialized). There were also contraband workers- people from all over the South who fled their enslavement and sought out the protection of the Union forces on St. Cloud Hill through volunteering their labor. Once built, the fortification was defended by various regiments of the United States Colored Troops against the Confederate forces. Both builders and defenders died in record numbers at Fort Negley in the defense of our union.  Recent ground-penetrating radar reports have indicated a high likelihood that their remains still lie on the grounds of Fort Negley Park.

After the war, those who survived settled the nearby historically black neighborhoods of

Reenactors2017
Reenactors Bill Radcliffe and Gary Burke, descendants of soldiers who fought with the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War, stand at the base of Fort Negley, December 2017.

Chestnut Hill, Wedgewood Houston, historic Edgefield, and Edgehill. At the turn of the century, several prominent families from these neighborhoods founded North Nashville and all of the prestigious black institutions residing there- the historically black colleges, businesses, and churches. In the 1950s, these same institutions trained and supported some of the sharpest minds of the Civil Rights movement. There is a long and unbroken connection between the builders and defenders of Fort Negley, and Nashville’s current African-American population. Many members of this population see the fort as sacred, and they memorialize it with ceremonies, oral traditions, and historic reenactments.

Recently, Fort Negley has received national coverage due to a highly controversial development plan that would jeopardize the site and disturb the final resting place of the builders and defenders of the fort. Many take exception to the development for a wide variety of reasons beyond historic (questions concerning who was granted the development and why, the ethics of selling off city land to private developers who stand to profit from it,  how it exacerbates unfettered gentrification in a rapidly-expanding city, etc.) Continue reading “Creation & Curation: The Fort Negley Oral History Archive”

A Post-Ac Parent’s Reflections on Traveling Abroad

The week before Thanksgiving I was in Tokyo, Japan, with my husband and son. My husband had been invited to speak at a conference, and we joined along (free flight for him, free hotel for most of the time for all of us!). This was the first time since my son was born – and the first time since leaving academia – that that I have traveled abroad. In this post I want to spend a little time reflecting on how different my experiences were this time around.

Continue reading “A Post-Ac Parent’s Reflections on Traveling Abroad”