Monthly Archives: November 2008

Dog Days of November

I still don’t have very much to report about Mabbott.  We’ve been in the middle of some very dangerous fires.  Why fires are still burning in November is beyond me, but this last week has been very bad.  The Tea Fire in Montecito was quite scary, and a number of faculty and students were displaced.  Some lost their homes.  Westmont College suffered a lot of damage.  The evacuation zone even entered well into Santa Barbara.

Now I’m in Pasadena; my girlfriend and I were going to run in the Pasadena Marathon, but it was cancelled due to poor air quality.  The entire area is covered in smoke and ash; it’s making me nauseous.  I’m not sure what they’re calling this fire, but it is very big.  I swear, the whole state of California is going to go up in smoke.

It’s very hot here.

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Thoughts on education

I haven’t had the time to do any work on Mabbott this week, so I don’t have much on him to report.  I’ve been doing grading for a class I am TAing on the History of Latin America.  The material is interesting, but of course some students can engage with it and others cannot.  To me, these lower-division courses repeatedly reveal significant weaknesses in our primary education and the fact that they are not remedied in any systematic way in higher education.  Our students are not, and even less now thanks to No Child Left Behind, taught how to think critically about historical sources.  They read primary sources like textbooks, and become confused when the two do not match.  How can we expect them to be responsible citizens when they cannot decipher what they are reading?  I do not speak of the students I have this quarter in particular; in fact, the papers I am reading right now are of somewhat higher quality than usual.

I am frustrated that I cannot focus on teaching them how to read critically.  I took a section to do a close reading exercise a week or two ago, and they were generally quite pleased with it.  However, I cannot do so very often, and certainly not frequently enough to retrain their thinking.

Even harder is trying to teach them how to integrate that kind of thinking into their writing.  They cannot explain themselves in an understandable fashion without following the textbook as a guide.  Frequently, I am frustrated at the kinds of errors that people learn in lower education.  The fact that many still do not understand where to use an apostrophe appropriately is indicative, as well as the persistence of the “five-paragraph essay,” even when the paper is six to seven pages long.

Some of my frustrations could possibly be solved by a course on historical methodology. How many students think that history is memorizing a textbook?  That is at the heart of the problem.  History is a discipline, and should be taught as such.  Can you imagine a chemistry class which skipped the scientific method and ignored the laboratory?  The course could make a habit of reading exercises and analysis, integrated with writing exercises.  A really adventurous instructor could give oral history a try.

Perhaps these are the ordinary gripes of an instructor.  Certainly, I’ve heard them from others before.  But I still have to believe that we are here to teach our students how to think, and that we are failing.  If we cannot teach them how to analyze the constant barrage of information that is thrown at them from advertisements, politicians, their friends, and even us, how can we expect them to be thoughtful, intelligent members of society?  Perhaps it is the recent political campaigns that have made so pensive; it is frightening to hear the things that people say and are so ready to believe.  To me, being a citizen is the one area in which the study of history, any kind of history, is so important.  It teaches the skills that people need to be citizens, and to make reasonable choices.  In the end, isn’t that the most important thing?

Anyway, I’m starting to feel like a Ranter now, so I’ll stop.  I am tempted to reread The Historian’s Craft.

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Newsletters finis

I finally finished transcribing the Mabbott-Hull newsletters a little while ago.  I thought I would take a little time to think about what I found in them, and since it’s time for a new post, to discuss them here.

I suppose the more general comments should go first.  Unsurprisingly, it seems obvious that Mabbott was writing a lot of these newsletters.  Some of them survive both in Hull and in the Clarke Papers, and the daily updates suggest that he wrote the letters one day at a time.  There are occasional changes in hand, indicating that he had help in writing all of them.  At least in one case, where he made a special ps to discuss business he was carrying out for Hull, he wrote “(Hull)” in the bottom left of the page.  I would imagine that it was intended to remind him to send the letter to the correct recipient, which would not be terribly necessary with only a handful of correspondents.

These letters would be useful for someone studying the Anglo-Dutch war, the Jamaica expedition, or the period’s politics more generally.  They focus on parliament, military engagements, and foreign affairs.  It is clear that he had access to the Commons Journal, and he had numerous contacts in parliament that he used to try to prosecute Hull’s business.

I’ve found evidence suggesting that Mabbott clearly took his position as agent to the army as superior to his employment with the Hull corporation.  I found one case in which he appears to have been using his correspondence with Hull to spread a little printed army propaganda (yes, I know that isn’t the right word), as well as possibly tried to repurpose one of Lilburne’s pamphlets.

He mentions a few printed works that were supressed.  One, Sportive Wit, caught my eye as being singled out.  I took a brief look, and although it seemed rather bawdy, I didn’t think it deserved quite the treatment that it received.  However, near the end of the book, there is an epitaph to none other than John Taylor.  There was also a strange line on the title page, “Semel in anno ridet Apollo,” which translates as Apollo laughs once a year.  Does anybody know the reference?

My favorite part is still where he refers to the Speaker being “modestly” pulled out of his chair at the dissolution of the Rump.

Well, that’s not everything, but those are some of the more important (or more interesting) things I’ve discovered by looking at his newsletters.

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