Belated Blog Post Pimping: Playful Historical Thinking

Talk about dropping the ball on this. Earlier this fall, I wrote a guest blog post at the Play the Past group blog on an experiment I’m conducting in a couple of my European civilizations courses this semester. It’s entitled “Experimenting with Playful Historical Thinking in the Classroom” and is worth your time to check out, I think. The post went live more than a month ago, and I twittered the crap out of it, to be sure, but didn’t remember to post a link here (partly because my blogging here dropped off as the semester ramped up…).

Well, now I have. Enjoy.

Personal Kitsch: My 7th Grade Michigan Leaves Report

While poking through some boxes my mom had yanked out of one of her giant walk-in closets the other day, I stumbled across an amusing piece of historical kitsch from my life: a tree leaves report I did for my 7th grade science class (way back in 1987).

Looking at it, I’m amused to see quirks of my personality today in evidence that far back (e.g. the obsessive attention to pretentious detail that is the credits page at the beginning, like I actually was writing a book or something). The Wife was also tickled by this, but, being the English instructor she is, basically accused my 12 year old ass of plagiarism (does this sound like language a 12 year would use naturally: “It prefers rich, well-drained, loamy soils. … It is an important timber tree; also used for street and ornamental planting.” I say maybe…).

But my next thought, after looking at it, was: “Hey, I should put this on the internet.” Because that’s how I roll.

So here it is, in all its embedded pdf glory (give it a moment to load; it’s a big pdf). Enjoy the kitschiness of it all:

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Summer of Fitness 10: My Kingdom for a Coke!

Last week was the 4th of July, so there was no SoF post, although let’s be honest, detailing progress is not what these are about any more, yeah? On with it then…

I am in Day 11 of my soda pop challenge, and I hate you all. I have not had a sugared pop since June 30, and every fiber of my being screams “This is wrong!” Such is life, I guess. I was forced to make one change to the requirements of the challenge, a necessary one lest you find me in the corner choking kittens or something. I have had a few diet pops during this time (Coke Zero mainly). I broke down on the sugared vs. diet distinction mainly because I didn’t want to suffer the agony of caffeine withdrawal along with my own mental sugar demons. Doing so has made me less irritable to those around me, and this is a good thing.

One interesting behavioral tic I have manifested since I started this hell is the fact that without some sort of distraction, I spend a lot of mental energy wishing I had a Coke. The answer to that, which I developed these eleven days without actually realizing it, has been my aggressive playing of video games lately (bouncing mostly between Assassin’s Creed II and Europa Universalis III w/ the Divine Wind expansion). I am not, for the most part, an addictive personality (ha!), so this sort of behavior is interesting to me, like mixing a random gaming binge (which I have had from time to time, but always walked away from) with a diet plan. So bizarre.

Whether this has any demonstrable health benefit remains to be seen (e.g. weight loss), but it’s still early, and the longer I go, the less acute the sugared pop craving gets. Pushing on…


So, Andrew, what about that whole Summer of Fitness thing? Losing any weight?

Nope. Still trapped in the plateau upper range of where I started a couple of months ago. It’s largely a function of lack of discipline at key moments killing momentum. In other words, I still eat too much crap food. Getting hurt a few weeks ago really messed up my back, which ground the exercise regimen to a halt, and the pop thing weakened my resolve for resisting other bad choices. Here’s the stats:

  • Today’s Weigh-In: 248.6 lbs
  • Last Weigh-In: 247.6 lbs
  • Weight Change: +1 lb
  • Overall SoF Weigh Change after 10 Weeks: -3 lbs
  • Average Calories Eaten per Day: 3267

Here’s the visual progress (or lack thereof):

Regardless, I plan to keep struggling with this and documenting it. I feel pretty good about July going forward, my back is relatively healed again, and the pop cravings are slowly shrinking. Hopefully next week will see some better progress.

But hey, at least I haven’t gained weight over where I started. I mean, fuck…

Summer of Fitness 8: Coke Will Be the Death of Me

Okay, first things first. You’re probably asking yourself: “SoF 8? What in the Blue Hell happened to SoF 7?” I have no easy answer for this. It’s a complex mix of annoyance, lack of time, and shame over what I thought was going to be a really bad weigh-in last week. In the end, I decided to skip the weigh-in altogether, which meant I really had nothing to write about it. Such is life. But here we are, back again. Let’s dispense with the perfunctory first.

Much to my surprise, the stats this week are not atrocious, so perhaps I have weathered the storm of shit eating these last two weeks.

  • Today’s Weigh-In: 247.6 lbs
  • Last Weigh-In: 248.4 lbs
  • Weight Change: -0.8 lb
  • Overall SoF Weigh Change after 8 Weeks: -4 lbs
  • Average Calories Eaten per Day: 3264

Here’s the visual progress (or lack thereof):

Something needs to give here. Either I get my calorie intake back under control or I should just give up now. In the end, I have decided to give the Summer of Fitness a radical jolt, a challenge of will power and self-discipline that can focus my energies on something other than obsessing over daily calorie intake.

Starting this Friday, July 1, 2011, I will be taking a challenge. What is it? To give up soda pop (regular and diet) and caffeine for the month of July (a thirty-one day challenge). My main Achilles Heel throughout my fitness endeavors in the last few years has been my inability to curtail or cut out pop from my diet. I have sucked down Coke, Mountain Dew, and Mello Yello my whole life. It’s encoded in my DNA as my drink of choice (don’t care for coffee, tea, alcohol, and so on). If anything is going to give me diabetes and kill me, it will be fucking Coca-Cola. Time to do something about that then.

This challenge will be rather difficult for me, especially the caffeine withdrawal. Anyone who comes in contact with me in meatspace or cyberspace next week, I apologize in advance because I’m going to be one irritable, obnoxious motherfucker.

If I make it through the challenge month, what happens after that depends on how I feel about the whole experience. Since it’s only a challenge, if I so choose to suck on the soda teat again, I can. Perhaps I won’t want to? Who knows? Let’s see what next week is like, shall we?

Brainstorm Notes: Constructing the Ancien Regime

The following is connected to the Can’t Stop Thinking About Teaching post I made last week or so. It’s a scanned snapshot of a work in progress, namely my sketching out of new, interactive modules for my HST 102 Intro to European Civilizations course in the fall. This one focuses on the first module of the course, dealing with the Ancien Regime. The numbers (1.1, 2.3, etc) stand for, respectively, week and class session. Other shorthand comments and such may not make much sense to people other than me. Ask if you are curious.

The thinking behind this is fairly straightforward. I’m scaffolding the historical skills I want my students to be exposed to in an introductory module before we get into the full immersion experience of researching, aggregating, ordering, narrating, and “publishing” their own history (on their course wiki). As such, this first module needs, in a structured fashion, to introduce them to concepts and skills they will be using independently later on in the course while also setting the stage, so to speak, for engaging with the broad thematic scope of the course of modern European history (i.e. establishing the old order, which we will then blow the fuck up over the next few modules — French and Industrial Revolutions and all that).

Ultimately, I’m posting this for those interested in the method behind my teaching madness. Thoughts?

Organizational brainstorm notes for the Ancien Regime module in my HST 102 courses for the fall of 2011.

Summer of Fitness 6: Treading Water

Well it’s clear at this point in the Summer of Fitness that I won’t be reaching my goal weight by the end of the summer. It’s been six weeks, and I have yet to break out of the upper 240s in weight. This week’s weigh-in was no exception:

  • Today’s Weigh-In: 248.4 lbs
  • Last Week’s Weigh-In: 247.4 lbs
  • Weight Change: +1 lb
  • Overall SoF Weigh Change after 6 Weeks: -3.2 lbs
  • Average Calories Eaten per Day: 3339

Here’s the weight goal chart in all its annoying glory:

The only solace (slim as it is) that one can find in this is the fact that my Wife claims my upper chest looks more toned (I don’t see it, but then, I never see it), so perhaps I’m adding muscle as well. Frankly, it’s not exercise that is my problem, it’s the amount and kinds of food I eat. Clearly I need to focus myself if I’m going to get down at least into the 230s by the end of summer.

Since I promised this last week, I’ve included a narrative about my weight-lifting program below, for those that are curious or interested. For those not, you can skip it. Cheers.


The fitness routine I use was designed by a former student fitness trainer at Central Michigan University’s Student Activity Center back in 2009. It’s a program built, so far as I can tell, around consistently varying the reps and weight of sets during lifting to overcome plateauing and build in variety (from day to day and week to week I am never doing the exact same exercise). The specific exercises are also interchangeable with other similar ones, so if I ever do get bored with one exercise, I can substitute another. In the close to two years I’ve been working with this program, I’ve never gotten bored of it, so I guess that’s a testament to…something.

My little black workout book, in which I keep track of the weights, reps during sets, length, and other data that amuses me. Yes, I'm a historian, and I'm anal. Deal with it.

Having used it so long, I also have some fairly detailed records on what kind of progress I’ve made (or not made, depending upon your point of view). Looking in my little black exercise book, I can see for instance that when I first started, I could only do 65-75 lbs on the Front Pulldown machine at the highest reps (12-15). Earlier this week, it was around 100 lbs.

The lifting consists of four targeted days, each with a specific focus on a set of muscles, and each session is supposed to be followed by cardio of some sort (I don’t always do this, depending on time constraints). As such, these workouts take me about 1.5 hours, give or take. On off days, I am supposed to do more cardio by itself (this, as well, I don’t always do…). In total, the program is on a fourteen week cycle. Weeks 1-4, the reps are set at 12-15 per set. For weeks 5-9, the reps are 8-12 per set. And for weeks 10-14, the reps are 6-8 per set. Weight is increased during individual sets (with three sets per exercise) and also with each jump in reps. If you’re curious, I have transcribed the program below. If you have any questions, I’m happy to help (keeping in mind that I’m not a fitness trainer whatsoever). A notation of (m) means that exercise is done on a machine, not free-weight.

Day 1: Back and Biceps

  1. Front Pulldown (m)
  2. Standing Bicep Curl
  3. Dumbbell Rows
  4. Seated Incline Curl
  5. Cable Rows or High Row (m)
  6. Cable Curl or Machine Curl (m)
  7. Crunches (started w/ 100)
  8. Leg Raises (started w/ 30)

Day 2: Shoulders and Triceps

  1. Seated Shoulder Press
  2. Skull Crushers (EZ Curl or DB)
  3. Seated Lateral Raises
  4. Flat Dumbbell Extensions
  5. Bent Over Rear Lateral Raises
  6. Rope Press Downs (m)
  7. Rope Crunches (m)
  8. Decline Leg Lifts (started w/ 30)

Day 3: Legs

  1. Squats of V-Squat (m)
  2. Leg Press (m)
  3. Seated Leg Curls (m)
  4. Straight Leg Dead Lifts
  5. Leg Extensions (m)
  6. Standing or Seated Calf Raises
  7. Leg Press Calf Raises (m)
  8. Rope Side Crunches (m)
  9. Cybex Side Crunches (m)

Day 4: Chest

  1. Incline Bench Press
  2. Hammer Curls
  3. Flat Dumbbell Press or Dips
  4. Pronated Wrist Curls
  5. Flat Dumbbell Flyes
  6. Supinated Wrist Curls
  7. Decline Twist w/ Ball
  8. Single Arm Top Cable Crunch (m)

Can’t Stop Thinking About Teaching

I am in the process of blowing up the structure and organization for my various classes over the next school year at GVSU. This despite the fact that it is summer, and I should be laying out in the sun in my backyard re-reading George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. This is a horrible sickness that I have whereby I get burned out from teaching so much, but spend my off-time thinking of ways to increase my work the next time I teach. Painful.

Unlike past revisions, I have decided to rebuild the courses from the ground up. This involves more clearly articulating course objectives and explicitly linking them to the assignments and tasks (this is a process akin to scaffolding in education, I believe). You might at this point be thinking, “Dude, isn’t this what you should be doing anyway?” Yes, yes, it is, but I’ve never constructed my classes this way before. One of the dirty little secrets of the academy is that the training mechanisms for future faculty (that is to say, graduate school) do not encourage innovation and change. Instead, it is a lot of copying the good bits of what your advisers, professors, and mentors do. In other words, replicating future colleagues who use methods and approaches that were cutting edge in 1991 in 2011. This basically means that much of how I built my courses came from me emulating the style and approach of my graduate school mentors.

But I am not here to get off on a “Higher Ed is History” rant. I have drafted some new general course objectives that I can adapt for different courses, and I want feedback. Here it is so far:

The learning objectives of this course are divided into two broad categories. These are historical skills and content knowledge.

For historical skills, students will gain experience in:
  • Reading, interpreting, and evaluating primary and secondary sources;
  • Developing and framing historical questions and arguments;
  • Integrating primary and secondary sources, historical data, and historical arguments into narratives that interpret, evaluate, and impart meaning upon past events;
  • Attributing source materials properly in your historical narratives;
  • Conforming to the standards and conventions of written expression;
  • Collaborating with peers in the analysis and production of historical narratives;
  • Presenting information through oral expression; and
  • Exploring the intersection of history and new media through the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, podcasts, and blogging.
For content knowledge, students will learn:
  • (Here the objectives would be more specific to a particular course; we’ll leave them blank for now)

Thoughts? Is using the phrase “Web 2.0″ too twee nowadays?

Summer of Fitness 5: A Quickie

I’ve been a bit too busy the last few days to think about a developed piece for this week’s Summer of Fitness post, so instead, I’m going to give you all a quickie.

It seems that since last week’s gut punch of a weigh-in I was able to right the ship, so to speak, and restore order to the weight-loss universe. Here’s the relevant stats:

  • Today’s Weigh-In: 247.4 lbs
  • Last Week’s Weigh-In: 248.4 lbs
  • Weight Change: -1 lb
  • Overall SoF Weigh Change after 5 Weeks: -4.2 lbs

Now, this jumping up and down movement is surely a case of recalibration, water weight, and a whole host of other factors, but who gives a shit. The goal in the end is to reach a downward slope to the arc. Here’s the muddle of progress in chart form:

Quick and dirty, people. Hope it was good for you. Think I’m going to go for a walk now.

The June 2011 History Carnival: Eclectic World

Welcome to the June 2011 edition of the History Carnival, a monthly showcase of history blog writing at its finest. My name is Andrew D. Devenney, and it is my honor and privilege to host this month’s edition at my eponymously named website. Many thanks to Sharon Howard, the History Carnival coordinator, for allowing me to play around in her sandbox.

For this edition, my selection is rather eclectic. I received a variety of nominations, most of which I included and a few of which I did not, and have supplemented that further with posts that I stumbled upon during the month of May. Although there is no particular theme beyond the eclectic mix itself, certain sub-themes made themselves apparent as I was compiling this. Thus we travel from Dallas-watching communists, archaeologists digging in dirt, and London mobs to book fetishization, historical kitsch photography and cartography, and meta-discussions about historians at work. Some selections come from old hats at the Carnival while others come from farther afield. Please give the writers linked below some well-deserved attention and kudos. Now on with the show!

(Unless otherwise indicated, all images come from the respective blogs)

The Host’s Picks

To start, I want to highlight a couple of personal selections. This is my prerogative, of course, but these are also excellent posts you should take a look at.

David Hasselhoff, Fur-tacular!

David Hasselhoff, bringing down communism with furry pecs!

First, a post that caught my eye when it filtered through my Twitter feed last week (and which I immediately knew I wanted to include in the Carnival) was Kelly Hignett’s discussion at The View East of the role popular culture may or may not have played in helping to bring down communism in Eastern Europe. Her post, “Video May Have Killed The Radio Star, But Did Popular Culture Kill Communism?” is certainly worth your time, as well as a perfect opportunity to post a semi-shirtless picture of David Hasselhoff to drive traffic from Germany.

Second, at The Pasha and the Gypsy, Gordon Taylor offers a nice little piece of historical detective work about locating and identifying a Roman fortress in Eastern Turkey (long a historically contested borderland between peoples, nations, and empires) in his post “South of Van (I): Diocletian’s Castle.”

The Elite Eight

The next eight selections vary in time and place; I have organized them somewhat chronologically by time period.

Dead Sasanian Warrior

Dead Sasanian Warrior from Dura-Europos

At Zenobia: Empress of the East, Judith Weingarten offers up another quality post (“The Death of Dura-Europos“), this time exploring an archaeological and international politics bruhaha over interpreting the remains of dead Roman soldiers who may have died in a deliberate gas attack at the ruined fortress-city of Dura-Europos (along the Euphrates river in Syria today).

At Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist shows off some post-conservation pictures of a Viking drinking bowl that are pretty amazing looking considering they’re of a thousand year old piece of wood.

At Medieval Woman, author Susan Higginbotham in her post “Lady Jane Grey, the Abused Child?” incorporates multiple period sources to challenge historical characterizations of Lady Jane Grey as “a pathetic young girl, viciously abused at worst and emotionally deprived at best by her cruel parents.”

Over at The Renaissance Mathematicus, Thony Christie explores the intersection of “Nations, Nationality, Nationalism, History and Historiography” in the cultural and political battles over the nationalist claiming of early modern scientists and thinkers like Nicolaus Copernicus and Gemma Frisius.

At Georgian London, Lucy Inglis examines the development of London protest movements throughout British history and how this became connected with May 1, the International Workers Day, in her post “On May Day, the London Mob.”

In the area of historical anecdotes, the Idle Historian offers up a favorite from the Battle of Waterloo, namely the story of Lord Uxbridge’s lost leg.

HMHS Britannic as a hospital ship (Wikipedia).

Jumping into the 20th century, Alan Flower at History and the Sock Merchant talks about various engineering and safety changes White Star Line made to the HMHS Britannic in response to the 1912 Titanic disaster in his post “What Britannic learned from Titanic.”

Lastly, Natalie Bennett at Philobiblon reviews Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, which uses case studies of dueling in Britain, footbinding of women in China, the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, and the honor killing of women in contemporary Pakistan to explore how shifts in conceptions of honor can affect moral change. Her review, entitled “Using historical examples to consider how to end ‘honour’ killings of women,” offers some thoughts on the use of history to bring about social change.

Images of the Past

In the batch of nominations this month there were a few image-heavy selections that caught my eye, so I hunted down a few more to fill out the section, and here you are.

California - Lumbermen conversing among fallen giant redwood trees, Scotia

California - Lumbermen conversing among fallen giant redwood trees, Scotia

Over at How to be a Retronaut, Chris Wild has posted a massive collection of stunning color photographs of the United States in the interwar years (“America, 1920s-30s, in Color“) drawn from National Geographic’s Stock Image Collection. There are tons of amazing images showing all manner of people, places, and things from across the US.

Shifting our gaze arossing the Atlantic, Caroline Rance, at her blog The Quack Doctor, digs up some amusing early 20th century newspaper advertisements related to the quack curing of hernial ruptures: “Dr W. S. Rice’s Rupture Method.”

At Irish History Podcast, the man known only as Fin has posted a selection of images (photographs and newspaper drawings) showing contemporary representations of the late 19th century Land War in Ireland. This is a companion piece to a nice post on the history of the Land War in general, which is also worth your time.

Figured we needed some cheesecake balance from Bad Postcards after shirtless Hasselhoff above.

The last two in this group aren’t so much specific posts as they are the websites in general. First up is Bad Postcards, which I only recently stumbled across, but has been around since April 2010. It’s stated purpose is to post vintage Americana postcards from the 1950s-60s-70s in all their kitschy glory. “Dolphin Rapture” is probably my favorite of the May postings, but head on over and look around some more.

Finally, we have Strange Maps, run by Frank Jacobs, which posts what it labels “cartographic curiosities” whether they be real, fictional, or pie-in-the-sky maps. Again this is another example of a blog with all manner of excellent and amusing posts. In May, my favorite is “514 – Britain Telling Off Ireland,” but again, use that as your spring board to explore further.

The World is a Book

There were a number of good nominations focused on book history and manuscript analysis in this month’s batch.

First up, at ThinkShop, we have P.M. Doolan’s “Oeroeg — a novel that is a site of memory,” which explores how the Dutch-language novella Oeroeg — about a friendship between a Dutch boy and an Indonesian boy in the Dutch East Indies before and during the decolonization violence of the late 1940s — has become in the Netherlands more than a book. Instead, it has become a site of memory “where national memory has become anchored and embodied, while at the same time, it remains the site of battles and conflicts regarding national memory and, ironically, national forgetfulness.”

William Eamon, at his Labyrinth of Nature blog, reflects on the rise up of so-called “books of secrets” — essentially how-to and self-help manuals for all sorts of crafts and activities — in Europe during the early modern era in his post “The Age of How-To.”

Over at Not Even Past, a collaborative website developed by the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, Maria Jose Afanador Llach discusses and showcases images of the Codice de la Cruz-Badiano, considered the “first illustrated survey of Mexican nature produced in the New World,” in her post “Naming and Picturing New World Nature.”

History in the Trenches

Lastly, we have a few nominations this month that discuss and consider aspects of the broader historical profession and are worth your time.

First, Katrina Gulliver, at her blog Notes from the Field, has announced the forthcoming publication of and issued a call for papers for her new academic journal, Transnational Subjects: History, Society and Culture, a peer-reviewed journal published by Gylphi focusing on transnational and cultural history since 1500. Additionally, the website for the new journal just went live yesterday (you can check it out here) and will have more content added to as the weeks go by.

Neo-Babylonian legal document from Persepolis.

At Tehran Bureau, a virtual news service dedicated to covering stories about the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranians living abroad, we have a report from Arash Karami that isn’t so much a history piece as it is a report about historical evidence caught up in legal disputes and international incidents. The article, entitled, “Ancient Persian Treasures in American Courts,” talks about legal disputes over a collection of Persian tablets — discovered at Persepolis in 1930 and now held at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago — that could have far-reaching implications for the international lending of cultural artifacts.

Finally, at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Bill Caraher, in his post “Twitter, Curation, and the UnMuseum,” considers the potential role of Twitter as a curation medium for the physical and virtual environments of a place (or non-place), while also musing on how one “could use Twitter to develop a curated space of in situ graffiti art.”

La Fin de l’Histoire

Well, as Porky Pig might say:

Thanks for visiting. Stop by anytime.

Next month’s History Carnival (the 100th edition it seems) will be hosted by Walking the Berkshires. If you would like more information about the History Carnival, you can find it online at, or follow the Carnival on Twitter (@historycarnival).