Posts Tagged ‘Memory’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

There is a specter haunting the world of academia, and college professors are wailing with fear and frustration. Every few months, the opinion pages of such diverse publications as The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoan this specter.  50 year old college professors fill the pages of these prestigious productions with 6a6151155fbde50cec7b9616661c1448d3374fa7op-eds categorically stating that today’s ‘college students can’t write.’  If you don’t believe me, the weblink attached takes you to 78 million screeds lamenting the lost art of the sentence, the paragraph and the essay. Peruse your pick, and fear for the future.

Personally, I find such concerns to be generally overstated and misplaced. I read thousands of student journals and papers every year, and I have seen very little decline in the standard and quality of student work.(In fact, it has generally been the opposite) Some students are good writers, some are not so good writers. Some are good because they try hard at it, edit furiously and understand how to analyze ideas. For those who are not so good, I find it often comes down to simple laziness.  A proofreading here and there never hurt anyone, but there are some students who can’t take the time.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means they have no problem turning in mediocre work. That is their prerogative.

Most concerns about the lost art of writing feel there is more to this issue than just laziness. However, these concerns are often based upon misguided notions. For one thing, there seems to be a belief that college students in the past wrote Dickensian prose and essays that would put Virginia Woolf to shame. This is ludicrous.  The conservative linguist John McWhorter illustrated this in his intriguing 2013 TED talk ‘Txting is Killing Language. JK!!’ About halfway through his 13 minute lecture, McWhorter illustrated that our concern about the lost art of writing is by no means novel.  In 6 quick examples, McWhorter quotes professors and educators from the past 2000 years that sound incredibly like the Cassandras of today. See the queued up clip below:

So it seems that  professors have  always complained about their younger charges’ writing skills. As McWhorter displays, this has much to do with the simple fact that language and linguistics change over time.  But, I think there is something more to it. It’s difficult for humans to believe that what they know now, they have not always known. Ask a professor or teacher about their undergrad writing skills. I guarantee most believe their writing ability at 19 compares favorably to their abilities today. After all, if you are a good writer at 40, you must have been a good writer at 19….right?

Just recently, I was reminded of the much messier reality. When I think back on my undergrad writings it is with rose-tinted glasses.  I mean, I got a bunch of A’s on my college papers after-all!  So, imagine how flummoxed I was the other day when I stumbled upon on old box of 20 year old papers I had written as a junior in college.  Woah!  Pretty ugly!  The work was not terrible by any means, but it was not quite as magical as I recalled. In fact, most of the writing looks pretty similar to what my own students produce today.  To be honest, many of the papers I grade are much better than what I did 20 years ago.  There is no shame in this.  As a 20 year old college student,  I was a different person than my present day self. In college I was just starting to develop many skills in life. Writing was just one of those skills.  The college students that I see today are in the same boat.  They’re 20 years old, and still learning.  It is ridiculously inane to profess an absolutist belief about their abilities at this point in their life.  To say they ‘can’t write’ is at best a misplaced prejudice. At worst it is a sign of outrageous egotism.  Unfortunately, those 78 million Google hits fall under both categories.

My suggestion to the writers and readers of that litany of op-eds?  Before getting too concerned about the end of writing as we know it, look back at your own work from college. You may be in for a surprise.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I’ve always been a nostalgic kind of guy. I enjoy romanticizing the previous iterations of my life.  There is irony in this.  I am a history professor that loves to preach to my students that ‘THERE WAS NEVER A GOOD OL’ DAYS’  It is not much different in my own personal history. Yet, I often romanticize time periods of my own past that I realize were not necessarily good times. Evidently I’m a paradox.

Let’s venture into this strange nostalgia.

  1. Though I was undoubtedly nostalgic at an earlier period in my life, I would say my 9390178-largeoddest nostalgia occurred when I was in college.  Inexplicably at 19, I began to view my high school days through rose-tinted glasses. This made absolutely no sense.  When I was living high school, I hated high school.  I deeply romanticized a time that should not have been nostalgic.
  2. After college was graduate school.  Surprise, surprise; at 23 I could not get enough of college memories. Now, this made more sense. College was a great time; much better than high school! Plus, in comparison to undergrad, graduate school was trying. My desire to succeed began to really take over my life. The pressures of grad school just made any blemishes on my college experience pale in comparison.
  3. I got my advanced degree in 2002. I went looking for a job. Then I found a job.  Oh boy.  My student loans needed to be paid back.  Hmmm… maybe grad school, with it’s bookishness, it’s intellectual stimulation, it’s trips to the library and wide-open schedule wasn’t all that bad after-all. At 27, as a working stiff, the thought of once-stressful grad school made me nostalgic.

From 1999 (grad school) to 2008 (career),  Chicago was my home. Though my university was by no means small, the big city was a bit of a culture shock. My initial nostalgia chicago-image-1for college probably  had as much to do with the location of my university as it did with parties, classes and social life.   The entity of Chicago just added to the stress of school and career life.  Chicago was bills. Chicago was truly being independent for the first time.  Chicago was living with my fiance, paying rent on time, dealing with bad landlords and constantly  taking in stray cats.  All the eras of my life seemed simple compared to Chicago.

Then, in 2008, my wife and I left Chicago. We moved to Oak Park, just to the west of the city.  We bought a  house one block over the Chicago city limits.  My two small daughters were born, and then they started day-care (that bill was like a second mortgage!) Oak Park hasn’t been utopia. Taxes, house repairs and play-dates keep us busy and sweating. Still, I would not want to live anywhere else.  I love our community, our neighbors and our friends. Oak Park is much more home than Chicago ever was.

But, just because a place isn’t home doesn’t mean I can’t be nostalgic for it.

A couple  months ago, I turned a Chicago nostalgia corner. I was given the opportunity to teach the ‘Chicago Urban Experience’ course at RMU, and began to really think about Chicago.  What is the identity of Chicago? How does Chicago shape you? I wanted my students to think about these questions. So it only made sense for me to ask the same questions of myself.

One day, I was on the train reading Neal Steinberg’s memoir about his life in Chicago. Then, GR-Ashland2-10it hit me: That feeling of nostalgia. The feeling put a silly smile on my face. All of a sudden, I find myself doing something unexpected: I am looking around and absorbing Chicago. I look at the faces on the train. I look out the window on the El at the neighborhoods going by.  I pay attention to the beautiful architecture of the loop. Heck, I even enjoyed a Chicago hot dog the other day. The people, the culture, the history of Chicago are wonderful!  This class reminded me that when I lived in Chicago, it wasn’t just stressful, it was also incredibly exciting!  The restaurants, the friends, the unknown. These things are now my romantic past, and the thought of them warms the cockles of my heart.

‘Sweet Home Chicago’. Yeah, I guess it really was that.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Americans cherish freedom.  When I ask my students what they think of, or what they think others think of, when they hear the word ‘America’,  ‘Freedom’ is almost invariably the first answer given.  From a young age, we are taught that freedom is the life-blood of America, and hence, of American history. Our founding stories are the beginning, and heart of this narrative.

National foundations have the habit to intertwine history and mythology; the American tale is no different.  From our Republic’s earliest days, the hagiography of the founders was central.  Some of this was self-created by theweems founders themselves, such as Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Autobiography’; some was conjured by the second generation of Americans who just missed the romance of the Revolution. As the Revolutionary generation began to die off, the younger men and women of post-Revolutionary America lionized the lives and accomplishments of their forebears.  Most famously, in the decade after the death of Washington in 1799, the little known Parson Weems produced a heroic biography of our first President that depicted the man as moral exemplar and ethical sage. Weems’ book became an American ‘bestseller’.

Today, Americans are generally less naive about the founders.  Washington did not ever say ‘I cannot tell a lie,’ and he most definitely is not a moral model for the 21st century. Most realize that Washington, and many other founders, were slave-owners. This paradox encapsulates American history. As the founders crafted our Constitution, their worldview was crafted by their slave society.  Jefferson, Madison, Monroe: denizens of freedom; owners of human beings.  Conversely, John Adams did not own any slaves.  But, American slave society did not draw distinctions between slave-drivers imagesand those who simply lived along side.  When Adams was in Philadelphia in 1776, calling for revolutionary independence, his wife Abigail wrote him to ‘remind him’ about the possibility of women’s rights.  Sounding like a 21st century woman, Abigail wrote ” I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.”

But, Abigail was living in the 18th century, and her husband was an 18th century man.  He wrote back in response that her concern for women’s rights made him ‘laugh’. He said he had been warned that the American,

‘Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient — that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent — that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.’

Here Adams was stating the Revolution was really only for a few.  Women, Indians, children and, of course, Negroes need not apply.

But, Adams was blind.  Even as his revolution was rocking the world, his world was being rocked by those ‘insolent negroes.’ They were making their own freedom.


How can we understand what most African-Americans thought about the American Revolution and the new American government?  Since most African-Americans were in bondage in 1776, their thoughts and words have been lost to the ages. However, their actions were recorded and these actions proved these people were revolutionaries in their own right. Thousands of men, women and children rebelled by grabbing freedom with their own hands. For these African-American revolutionaries, the British did not mean oppression; the British were a tool for liberty.  In his 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, the historian Alan Taylor pointed out that African-Americans repeatedly fled for freedom in the early Republic. In 1812, when the United States declared war on Great Britain for a second time, slaves from the south fled to British ships, and British lines, yet again.  In other words, the slaves were not helpless victims. Like the patriots who fought for freedom against the British in 1776, these enslaved Americans were fighting a revolution for their own freedom.

The War of 1812 ended in 1815, and with it, British presence in America. Slaves now had few options for freedom. They could rise up with violence; or they could run away to a gradually emancipating north. Neither of these options held great promise. Northern states were by no means the land of freedom for African-Americans. Whereas in the South, the unjust system of American slavery was becoming more entrenched, and more caustic as the years went by. After Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, the world of the slave was obsessively monitored by white society.  Freedom was curtailed more and more as the Civil War drew nearer. What was needed in these dark days was a clarion call for freedom that illustrated American hypocrisy. The little remembered David Walker was the man who took the necessary stand. He would be one our nation’s most important moral voices. In 1829, he published his ‘Appeal’ and that work would inspire later radical abolitionists such as Garrison, the Grimke sisters and Frederick Douglass.  In walkers-appealincredibly upfront language for 1829, Walker’s ‘Appeal’ accused white Americans of the greatest, most horrific hypocrisy.  He wrote,

‘See your Declaration Americans! ! ! Do you understand your own language? Hear your languages, proclaimed to the world, July 4th, 1776 — “We hold these truths to be self evident — that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL! ! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! !” Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us — men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation’

Because of such truthtelling, Walker became public enemy number 1 in the south. He was not much liked in the north either.  In 1830, as Walker’s ‘Appeal’ was being burned in effigy, Walker was found dead in Boston of Tuberculous. It was a tragic end of an under appreciated American freedom fighter. But, Walker had opened eyes. He helped those who followed him see that slavery would not go quietly.  In April 1861, all of America came to the same realization.

The Civil War has largely been understood through the actions and memorializations of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln has been portrayed as an American martyr for freedom; the wiseman that America needed to save the union and end slavery.  For most Americans, he is the Great Emancipator.  Steven Spielberg’s saccrahine biopic of ol’ Abe does nothing to dispel this notion. Ken Burns famous Civil War documentaries lionized the railsplitter as a stirring genius. But, the story of the Civil War, Lincoln, slavery and emancipation is more complicated than people like Spielberg or Burns lead us to believe.

As most serious historians now agree, African-Americans, and slaves specifically, were constantly forcing Abe’s 5.6.contraband-in-williamsport-camp-of-13th-MA-from-Mollushand, pushing him in a more radical direction than he hoped, or planned, on going. As soon as the war started, and as soon as Union troops invaded the south, slaves fled to Union lines. These enslaved American men, women and children wanted freedom, and just like the English army and navy in 1776 and 1812, the Union military provided an obvious opportunity.  For some racist Union leaders, these runaways were simply annoyances that should have been returned to their ‘rightful owners.’ But, for the savvier officers, the slaves were crucial to defeating the Confederacy. Not only would the runaways help the Union war effort as laborers, they simultaneously crippled the rebels fighting ability. African Americans had created the south; they produced the wealth, the food and the identity of Dixie.  Without them, the rebels would find that the war would be much harder to win on the battlefield and the homefront. Lincoln was not on board initially, and was troubled regarding these people who were taking freedom for themselves.  In 1861, he said, ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists…I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”  However, as the trickle of African Americans taking their freedom became a flood, and as it became clear that these men and women would not be turned away, Lincoln finally took pragmatic action.  By 1863, he was ready to proclaim that the war was being fought for a ‘new birth of freedom.’ African-Americans understood this long before he did.

In 1776, 1812, 1829, 1831, 1861, and many other years in-between and after, African-Americans changed the way America understood freedom. Thousands of forgotten, and quite literally nameless men and women took revolutionary action for ideals Americans hold sacred. The freedom they fought for, and died for, should be bigger than one day in July, or one month each winter. Their actions should be celebrated all year long.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Martin Luther King, a rabble-rousing civil disobedient, is now an American national hero.  This statement is obvious.  It is fact.  But, the lionization of MLK in America today elevates him beyond simply the level of hero. For the vast majority of the country, he is part of a even more exclusive pantheon of great Americans.   Paradoxically, we can see this by the use, and misuse, of MLK’s name and memory.

Watch the news.  Listen to the political talk-show hacks.  Use C-Span to spy on Congress as they argue over some arcane issue.  If Martin Luther King’s name comes up in any of these arenas, it is usually because someone12583152-standard is calling upon his memory to harden their argument into a moral imperative.  Or, alternatively, MLK’s memory and beliefs will be used to differentiate a political enemy’s ideals from those of the great Civil Rights leader. In other words, a sanitized, sanctified version of Martin Luther King has become a political weapon.  ‘What Would MLK say/think about this?” constantly gets thrown out into the public realm, leading to such ridiculously unanswerable questions as “what would MLK think about assault weapon bans?,’ or, ‘what would MLK believe about the Chick-Fil-A boycott’!  The best question, but the one that is never asked is, ‘What would Martin Luther King think about all these ‘What Would MLK think’ queries?”

Though sometimes absurd, or even distasteful, this usage of MLK’s message and life places him into exclusive company.  Only a handful of American historical figures are appropriated by the political left and right in this way. In fact, only the nation’s ‘founders’ are called upon as often as King and his legacy.

FoundersWhen the moniker ‘the founders’ gets thrown around in today’s political culture, it usually refers to a small sampling of men who signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the Revolution, and created the Constitution. Though usually not stated outright, it is safe to assume Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin are the big six.  Though historians will tell you that these men disagreed constantly and vociferously about the the meaning of America, twenty-first century Americans gloss over such complexities.  When ‘the founders’ are spoken of as a homogeneous bunch, it is usually to justify our political proclivities, or attack political enemies.  “What would the founders say about Obamacare?” “What would the founders think about waterboarding?” Picking and choosing the quotes of Jefferson, or Franklin that suit their needs, media personalities and political figures utilize ‘the founders’ to fight today’s political battles.

MLK is now part of this national pantheon. But, in one way at least, MLK is an even more evocative symbol than Jefferson, Adams or Washington. King’s image and visage resonates so brightly not just because of his life, but also his death.  Unlike ‘the founders’, MLK is a national martyr.  He died for what we understand today as being the best of American ideals.  Though ‘the founders’ fought to create the nation, and their lives were often in danger, none of them made the greatest sacrifice for the new republic.  (Of course, Hamilton is the exception. He died a martin-luther-king-jr-in-front-of-lincoln-memorialrelatively young man in a violent manner, killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. But, to our twenty-first century eyes, this death, though romantic, was not for the nation, but only for Hamilton’s individual pride and honor.) Most of the first generation of American heroes passed away quietly in their beds. They had cleared their own, and the nation’s hurdles, while alive.  They lived to see their dreams made real. MLK died before he reached his ‘promised land.’

But, martyrs die so that others may live.  Martyrology means that King’s death caused our collective rebirth. This places MLK in an even more exclusive club.  It could be argued there is only one other member: Abraham Lincoln.  Both King and Lincoln fit the definition of martyrs as they both died so that others could thrive and survive.  Both American heroes foresaw the future far before their contemporaries, and died for this prescience.

As our nation is at fault for the death of these two men, the least we can do is celebrate their births. 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Every national community has its dates of remembrance.  In the secular religion that is nationalism, these are the high-holy days of each year.  They may be days of celebration, or they may be days of mourning. They are always to be days of reflection. The American calendar is marked with a number of such dates. July 4th is a date of great joy, whereas December 7th is a date that has, most assuredly, lived in infamy.  The only thing that can overshadow a day of tragedy is a more recent example of national pain.  Thus, for most Americans today, December 7th has slowly given up its power to September 11th.

Do notice that these dates need no year to jog our collective national memory.  July 4th goes hand in hand with 1776.  That infamous December 7th took place in 1941.  September 11th will always, in some way, be a Tuesday morning in 2001.

Of course, I write this on a day that is an American holiday. November 11th is Veteran’s Day, but, I think it is safe to assume that the particular date rings few, if any, national memory bells.  Though few Americans realize it, however, November 11th was not chosen at random to recognize our veterans.  As many Europeans will relate, the 11th day of November should always be equated with one particular year; 1918.  On that day, the armistice ending the “Great War” came into effect.

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But, here is a question to ponder.  What if one day marked numerous events in one people’s history, both positive and negative, that were markers of national significance?  Which year would a nation equate with the particular date? You may need to ask a German to discover an answer.  You see, November 9th is a recurring date of significance for the German nation. This date marked turning points in German, and, quite honestly, world history, in the years 1918, 1923, 1938, and 1989.

On November 9th, 1918, after four years of war, Kaiser Wilhelm, the emperor of Germany, abdicated his throne.  For many Germans, this political transformation was a surprising revelation that the war was all but lost.  09112012_Schicksalstag_grFor the Social Democrats, the abdication was an opportunity to create radical liberal reforms, in the hopes of making a new Germany.  For those on the left, November 9th was the symbolic first day of the Weimar Republic. To those on the radical right, this date would also mark the first instance of leftist (read oftentimes Jewish) betrayal against the nation’s war effort.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-00344A,_München,_nach_Hitler-Ludendorff_ProzessOn November 9th, 1923, a racist, militaristic political party known as the NSDAP, or Nazis, attempted to forcefully overthrow the Weimar government.  The so-called ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ was largely conceived and directed by Adolf Hitler, the young leader of the Nazis. Of course, the putsch was not successful. Hitler was sentenced to jail for a couple years. But, while in prison, the ex-corporal would restructure the Nazi party, hoping for another national crisis that would lead to electoral victories for his organization.

On November 9th, 1938, the now ‘Fuhrer’ Adolf Hitler, with his Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, orchestrated a massive state sanctioned pogrom against the German Jewish community.  During the evening of November 9th, and into November 10th, hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground, roughly 100 German Jews were murdered or committed suicide, thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were ransacked and destroyed, and about 6000 German Jews were sent to concentration camps.  In the weeks afterwards, the German Jewish community was ordered to pay a 1 billion dollar fine to repair the damages.  Kristallnacht was a symbol of the ever increasing radicalism of Nazi anti-Jewish measures that would eventually culminate in the Holocaust.

kristallnacht2

On November 9th, 1989, it seemed that the German people had enough of the tragedies associated with this day.  24 years ago, thousands of West and East Berliners took to the streets, meeting at the Berlin Wall and started to dismantle the concrete symbol of Communist repression.  The world was amazed as young and old alike took sledge hammers to the physical border between east and west. If you so chose, November 9th could now be a date that would represent friendship and freedom.

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German historian Michael Sturmer has labeled the 20th century, ‘the German century’.  If this is the case,  no date on the calender formed and transformed our previous century of tragedy and triumph like November 9th.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Thinking back to my college days, many of my memories aren’t about academics. I have countless stories about friends, family, dating, working. I’m not as quick to spring a story about a lecture that changed my life or a reading from a textbook that shook my world. This doesn’t make me different; if anything, I suspect this places me firmly in the norm. But, after all the time and energy invested in school, what about the academic moments? Do we remember them?

This was on my mind after what took place last week.

I had the pleasure….nay, the HONOR of doing a brief, improvised guest lecture in Dr. Peter Stern’s World Views class. My previous Flaneur’s Turtle post about Disney’s Paperman was just published, and Dr. Stern’s class was covering the topic of romance. The two subjects were a natural fit.

The class watched the short film and we discussed theme, metaphor, and symbolism. After my 15 minutes on stage, I headed for the door. As I was leaving, Dr. Stern transitioned back into the topic the class was writing about before my guest spot:

What effect does gender have on romance?

Jerry Springer

I said, “Oh, this is going to be good” and took a seat.

Within two minutes, the room looked like a classic episode of Jerry Springer: desks were overturned, chairs were broken over people’s backs, one person was in the corner sobbing, two people were bitten. And at the end of it all, Dr. Stern took a seat, looked directly into the camera, and gave his Final Thought.

anchorman trident

(Sidenote: It got so heated that I think the students organized into news teams after class and had it out Anchorman-style in the alley behind the Chicago campus. Thankfully, I’ve heard no reports of any trident injuries.)

I embellish (slightly) but the students really were riled up and arguing and trying to get their points across. Partially that is just what Dr. Stern does to all of us, students and faculty alike. Yet, therein lies his mad genius: the class was engaged and invested in the argument, even if they were getting frustrated and angry. And Dr. Stern said something quite quotable. As things got more heated, one student said, “I’m not having fun anymore,” to which Dr. Stern replied, “Who said discussions have to be fun?”

Brilliant.

I will probably never forget that class period and that comment. At least not until tequila steals a few more of my brain cells.

As a teacher, and when I was a student, I feel like 99% of the class periods run together in an indistinguishable blur. After a few weeks, and definitely after a few terms, I can’t tell you what we did, what was learned, who was there. Nothing.

But that class with Dr. Stern reminded me that there are those moments, as a student and now as a teacher, that have stayed with me. When I push past all of the “life” stories from my college years, what truly academic moments stick out? Here are a few:

  1. When I wrote jokes into a paper I had to read in front of a class and all of the jokes failed miserably. Ever since, I’ve known what it’s like to be Jay Leno.
  2. When I gave my speeches in Introduction to Communications, all of which went terribly. (And now I stand in front of classes for a living. Ironic. Though maybe I’m still doing terribly in front of class….)
  3. When my creative writing professor wrote on a paper that I was always “laconic” in class. I had to look up the word to figure out if I was being complimented or insulted.
  4. When I finally understood “The Dead” by James Joyce and talked to my professor after class about how the ending of the story affected me because I could (in ways) relate to it.
  5. When I first read “Notes from the Underground” by Fyodor Dostovesky and talked to that same professor about how I empathized with the protagonist.

The more I think, the more memories I could list.

I teach two classes today. The overwhelming odds are that they will be of the 99% variety. And, frankly, not every day, nor every moment, can be “special” and memorable. But, what if today is when one the 1% moments take place? That is something for all of us, students and teachers alike, to be excited about and hopeful for as we go to class.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m thinking today about Facebook and unflattering pictures. Yes, someone I know from high school posted one this morning. Actually, the photo isn’t unflattering, it’s just old, and I look young and innocent and earnest and rather different than how I typically imagine my younger self. That’s the problem with pictures, they combat truth. But they don’t offer a new truth, either. Pictures are just one moment’s truth, which can alter perception and memory.

The picture posted was taken in the age before wide-spread digital camera use, a different era altogether. Honestly, I clung to my non-digital camera much longer than other people did. I am not the sort of person who rushes to buy the next new gadget, what is known in technological circles as an “early adopter,” quite the opposite. I like cameras with actual film because it is impossible to predict what might come out the other side. Sure, some pictures look terrible, but others are incredible and surprising and magnificent.

Now that most people take a lot (a lot) of pictures, they are better at looking good, and only saving and posting the best. Within my friend group there is a code known as the “be a pal” rule.  If a person looks bad in a photo, don’t post it. Some friends are better at following this rule than others (I’m talking to you, Sarah Frink). Why does it matter how good we do or don’t look in one photograph? Alas, it seems to matter a great deal.

A good photo can change the interpretation of an event just as powerfully as a bad one. Take, for example, a picture of me that is quite flattering. I look damn near gorgeous in it, but it was taken on a day that I thought rather irksome.  I hadn’t slept at all (my friends and I were on an over-night road trip). Although I enjoyed the day, I recall feeling tired and grimy. However, here’s this artifact that offers an alternate view.

Is a good photo enough to supplant memory? Certainly not. It is only a moment, like the one I spent inexplicably lined up with other high school girls, many of whom I knew only vaguely, attempting to strike an adorable pose and failing miserably. This photograph has little evocative power since it does not contain a memory. What is remembered, even if not wholly accurate, is a better memento of the past. Most of the fun I have (we all have) isn’t documented because it can’t be captured—good times are too complex, too nuanced, too enmeshed with not just the way we look but what we smell, taste, touch, feel, hear, and see. My best memories are of conversations, laughter, my friends and I talking long into the night. There are few pictures of these good times, and if pictures did exist, they would be poor imitations of the real thing.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Adolf.  What an evocative name. The name itself is almost a taboo.  I feel dirty writing it. It is not used in polite company. At a time when ‘old-fashioned’ names are making a comeback, Adolf is an antiquated name that doesn’t have much hope.   It is marred by darkness, hatred and murder.  Of course, the surname we associate with it is Hitler; our next thought is Nazism; lastly, the Holocaust.

A boy named Adolf.

Why has Adolf retained such a negative aura 70 years after the end of the war that he began?  Other members of the Nazi party who were just as guilty don’t have first names that live in infamy.  If you wanted to name your child Heinrich, not many people would instantly think of Himmler. What about Hermann? Our minds don’t automatically race to Goering.  Well, you may say, Hitler was the face of the Nazi party, and, hence, the face of murder. But, what about Josef (Joseph) or Vladimir?  If you met little boys by those names, most wouldn’t think of Stalin (who killed more people than Hitler) or Lenin.   So, why is Adolf so different? Why can there only be one Adolf?

First of all, the name is still ‘owned’ by white supremacists, and has never been ‘appropriated’ by rational folks. This was shown tragically in 2007, when two white supremacist parents living in New Jersey named their child Adolf Hitler Campbell.  I write ‘tragically’ because it is easy to foresee that child being brainwashed into a world of hatred and violence.  The government of New Jersey agreed with this assessment, and took the young boy away from his parents in 2011.  Though the state’s reasoning was based upon more than simply the name he was given, the moniker was obviously a frightening omen.

Second, the period and ideology we associate with Adolf is still fresh in our historical memory.  This is a good thing. The fact that Adolf is a name off-limits illustrates that people appreciate the evil of genocide and the Holocaust.  Americans are notorious for forgetting things that happened 7 years ago, much less 70, but the horror that Adolf represents is understood as being something that we can never allow again.

This seems all well and good, but perhaps there is a danger here.  Adolf as the symbol for the evil of Nazi Germany distorts and simplifies our understanding of history.  Adolf was not a one man wrecking crew who made some nasty speeches, barked orders, and physically forced Europeans to kill 10-12 million innocents.  His were not the only hands covered with blood.  The attempt to make him into the devil incarnate has actually been utilized by Europeans for decades to separate themselves from what happened in Nazi Germany.  The reason: Making Hitler the lone evil exculpates millions who were also guilty, and hence, buries the most important lesson to be learned from the Holocaust. The moral horror of the Holocaust was not simply Hitler’s ideas; it was that millions of ‘good’ Germans, and ‘ordinary’ Europeans saw little reason to fight against them.  Depressingly large numbers of people idly stood by, pulled levers, pushed buttons, and signed papers that fired the engines of mass death. When apathy and acceptance was the response to Nazi ideas and policies, Adolf had won a significant victory.  By avoiding his name for 70 years, people have tried to make sure Adolf didn’t win the war.