Academic Life

Looking something to give me?  How about the digital collection of personal papers of Heinrich Böll, lost in the collapse of the Historical Municipal Archives of Cologne.   You may place the document images in a new iPod , and sent Express Mail to Puzzler Tower.

Donations to the Digital Historical Archives of Cologne are also accepted.


… Vacation Homes!  That’s what I’ve decided after reading this article in the NY Times.  Here’s what disturbed me:

This year, many of these colleges say they are more inclined to accept students who do not apply for aid, or whom they judge to be less needy based on other factors, like ZIP code or parents’ background.

Zip Code is a meaningful indicator of socio-economic status?  Here again, our effort to enumerate space will produce disastrous results.  Zip codes, like congressional districts and area codes, aren’t designed to represent the existence of a community or a homogeneous social group.  They delineate a useful area for delivering the mail.  But colleges will use them as a measure for ability to pay tuition?

My concerns are many.  First, zip codes will cut across populations, across complex social hierarchies without actually containing them.  Poor and rich may well be contained therein–unless social forces have pushed out the poor, especially minorities (or conversely, concentrated them).  So either it won’t represent what the college admissions committees are looking for, or it will double the deprivation of opportunity that comes from processes like gentrification.

Second, areas with high incomes are notoriously expensive to live in, and high income may go into paying high mortgages, high tuition, high taxes, etc.  A families financial reality might not be reflected by the income statistics of the area, and they may be less capable of paying tuition expenses out of pocket.  Conversely, success in a less affluent area may be ignored.  Such a family might be more resourceful when it comes to affording education.

Finally, there will be those areas in which the effects of poverty will be magnified.  Growing up in a poor household, going to a poor public school, now branded by applying from a poor zip.

Why vacation homes?  Because it will be the only true marker of disposable income that colleges can measure.  It has the advantages of geographic discrimination, but it would also measure families’ financial resources and resourcefulness.

(I wonder if people will fight to be included in particular zip codes–appealing to the Postal Service–as a way of increasing their social mobility.)

Baby flipping switch on power strip=lost Zotero records.  Painful.

Speaking of “change you can xerox”: for the third or fourth time in the last six months, I’ve seen a discussion on an H-Net channel oddly timed to a similar discussion on academic blogs and forums–without attribution, and introduced by major historians. I won’t name names, but it is a bit disingenuous to take ideas from the blogosphere and accept the kudos of one’s colleagues, especially in matters related to new technologies. Or has academia always been this way, the internet making it more apparent? Do academics fail to attribute ideas to the internet in the same way as students?

[Edited 2/24]

How could this happen? Rejecting pages of material, I still don’t feel close to finishing my AHA paper (see panel abstracts here). I have ten single-spaced pages with more to write, too much for the allotted time. If you don’t know, I’m looking at Adenauer’s role in defining regional memory of the Rhineland and its implementation in Germany’s western orientation (Westbindung or Westintegration). How local or regional history becomes national memory is a favorite topic of mine, and here is an opportunity to discuss how this transaction becomes problematic in the long run. At least on part of the paper is giving me some trouble. Here is what I’m asserting:

  1. Adenauer offered a vision of the West in which Germany looked like the Rhineland.
  2. Immediately after WWII, not only did people refuse to remember the past, they were incapable of remembering. This extended beyond Nazi crimes to the imagination of a unified German history.
  3. Germany was difficult to imagine as a physical or geographic entity.
  4. German memory was pliant.
  5. The regional memory of the Rhineland may not have been consistent with German memory.
  6. The dissonance between regional and national memory was less important in the short term.
  7. What regional memory provided was a paradigm of an alternative Germany, one positioned within western European religious (Catholic) and political (Enlightenment) values.
  8. Reconciling united Germany with Germany of the West would wait for later generations.

I feel comfortable with all these assertions, except #2, 3, and 4. It’s true that Germans had difficulty relating to their history, it may be a conceptual jump to claim that they were truly open to anything. On the one hand, this attempts to describe the mass psychology of Germans. On the other, it flies in the face of critical interpretations of the western integration. Like many on the left, Habermas believes Adenauer wished to contain socialist influence in his Germany, subsequently pandering to a desire among Germans to avoid confronting their participation in Nazism. (Heinrich Böll did him one better: a fellow Cologner, he felt Adenauer betrayed Germany by founding democracy on Nazi institutions.) On both left and right, there has been a tendency to overemphasize Adenauer’s pragmatism, seeing western integration only in terms of strategic and economic alliance with the United States in the Atlantic system.  In both instances, the state of German memory following the war is only given partial consideration.

These politicized conclusions have become less important in recent years. Robert Möller and Jay Gellar have put more emphasis on dispersed guilt helped move Germans along in developing democracy. Möller, in particular, points out that the discussion about guilt and memory was actually quite lively in the ten years following the war. Moreover, Germans did not resent defeat as they did following WWI (Dolchstoss). Time provided opportunity to reconsider the past more thoroughly. Ronald Granieri has put the western orientation into a different light, noting that it always meant two things: the Atlantic system, which was strategic, and the European, which was moral.

How could, then, this alternative Germany that looked like the Rhineland temporarily find a place in the German imagination only to be rejected? Was it self-deception or self-confidence? Am I depending too much on the notion of pliancy?

When did I start considering holidays a hassle? My work has been thrown into disarray with Columbus Day (really a useless holiday), especially since daycare closed for one of the two days each week that we send Elias. Rather than enjoying and relaxing, I have less time to accomplish things. And I have less time for substantive posts, which is too bad because I want to raise some issues about the use of “Weimar” in the description of nascent or troubled democracy, as well as some more thoughts about sacred texts.

One cool thing I added to the sidebar is All Consuming. I saw it over at Air Pollution, and since I lost my password for Library Thing, I needed a new way to list the books I own and read. I just finished Suite Française. The first half, though well written, seemed very familiar, not just from Forbidden Games, but also Wiesel’s Night. Hermann Kruk’s The Last Days of Jerusalem of Lithuania has a similar, perhaps more effective, description of the mass exodus caused by modern warfare in 1939 Poland. The second part, Dolce, is brilliant. Not only does it explore the grayness of collaboration and resistance, it puts gender front and center. Too bad this roman-fleuve (if Némirovsky intended one) could not outlive the war. She would have produced a stellar novel about the retribution against collaborators that target women disproportionately.

I’ve been feeling a bit down the last few days. Being sick again hasn’t helped (the recurring gift of daycare!), but I have been at a loss to find, budget or make more time to get work done.

Oh, how I wanted to like the extension to the Arp Museum in Rolandseck, dedicated to the greatest Alsatian surrealist, Jean/Hans Arp. I think Arp was “Rhenish” enough that the fact he wasn’t German should be looked. The extension is somehow related to Bonn’s losses when Berlin became the federal capital, even though Rolandseck is in a different state. For whatever reason it was built, it’s kind of an eyesore. My wife compared it to a riverboat. It dominates the environment in an unkind manner (sorry, Richard Maier).

Jurek Becker’s Jacob the Liar made a poor film in English, but it is a wonderful novel and film in German. It marked the beginning of new trends in Holocaust literature. Die Welt is carrying Louis Begley’s afterward to the new Suhrkampf edition (cruelly for us, translated from English into German). Begley stresses how Becker came out of the Holocaust with only piecemeal memories of the ghetto, that he had fear and anxiety as his greatest mementos. Becker used the novel to find a new vehicle for his memories, placing them into the form of a fairy tale.

Jedenfalls war Jurek wahrscheinlich höchstens sieben oder acht Jahre alt, als er wieder mit seinem Vater zusammenkam. Er war ein Kind, mit den Erinnerungen eines Kindes. Sehr dramatische und sehr erschreckende Momente können sich dem Gedächtnis von Kindern mit eisiger Genauigkeit einprägen – wenn sie nicht verdrängt werden –, und Jurek muss viele verdrängt haben.

Von der düsteren alltäglichen Realität des Ghettolebens wird ihm jedoch eine allgemeine diffuse Erinnerung an Angst und Verlust geblieben sein, aus der sich natürlich sehr dramatische Momente und andere für ihn besonders wichtige Ereignisse punktuell heraushoben.

Dass Jurek Becker 1962/63, als er die erste Version von Jakob Heyms Geschichte schrieb – das Exposé für einen Film, den Frank Beyer machen sollte –, und kurz danach, als er das Drehbuch in den Roman „Jakob der Lügner“ umarbeitete, den Eindruck hatte, seine Erinnerungen würden nicht genügend Stoff für Memoiren hergeben, kann man sich deshalb gut vorstellen.

Aber als er die Handlung und die Personen mit ihrem Zauber erfunden hatte, konnte er eine erdichtete Geschichte schreiben, seine eigenen Erinnerungen so nutzen und umwandeln, wie es für die Erzählung notwendig war, und durch Informationen ergänzen, die er von seinem Vater und anderen älteren Überlebenden gehört oder sich lesend angeeignet hatte.

Auch dieses Material wurde durch seine Phantasie verändert. Vielleicht entdeckte er erst in diesem Umwandlungsprozess den Ton der Erzählung, der den richtigen Klang für ihn hatte: die Stimme seines schwermütigen, manchmal stockenden Erzählers, der ein in der Hölle spielendes Märchen erzählt.

Vielleicht hatte er den Erzähler aber auch von Anfang an im Kopf. In jedem Fall aber müssen ihn beim Schreiben quälende Fragen verfolgt haben: War er den Erinnerungen an das Ghetto gerecht geworden, die er sich bewahrt hatte und denen er trauen konnte? Hatte er den Toten die Achtung erwiesen, die ihnen gebührte? War seine Arbeit authentisch und in emotionaler Wahrheit verankert?


Joel at Far Outliers calls attention to Sam Quinones’ True Tales from Another Mexico. It explains much about migration, especially the attitudes of elites toward the poor (especially natives).

[ETA:] Two things to check out: first, Bronislaw Geremek speaks about the future of Europe and its constitution in an interview in L’Express; and  Françoise-Hélène Jourda in Le Monde speaking about ‘green’ architecture.

Next Page »