Fall 2022 Update

Friends,

What a wild few months it has been since I last posted! A new academic year has begun, a new soccer season has commenced (both for my 5-year-old son and for Liverpool, whom I follow in the English Premier League), and a new college course I’ve been working on has developed nicely. Now that things have settled down in this transition period of my year, I can talk at length about a few things…

Work-in-Progress Manuscript

I’ll begin with news on my story. I worked over the summer on the rough draft, finalizing it as best as I thought it could be within the time frame I had. Just before the new school year started, my draft hit 66,000 words, of which 5,000-8,000 will likely be eliminated in a solid revision. I have initiated the process of utilizing a professional editing service on this project, which hopefully will render a better quality manuscript in comparison to my previous books. Depending on the timeline on which the editor and I agree, I hope to have the finished manuscript uploaded into Amazon for a spring or summer 2023 release, though it could be sooner. Either way, I will likely wait until at least January 2023 to officially publish so I can enter my book into a writing contest or two; those things usually require publication earlier in the given year of the contest. The Kindle version will be available for pre-order, and I may even look into getting my book produced in hardback in addition to paperback. Lastly, there are two details of the book that I want to share prior to its release, with one of those details being the story blurb below:

In the fall of 1959, Fabian Loxley hosts a masquerade dinner party at his rural New York manor. The revelry is halted by a series of developments that forces Fabian into a corner, makes his guests ask questions, and brings revelations about the host and his guests to the surface in the process. What will the end of the night bring for them all and how will it change Fabian?

The other detail is the story’s title: The Ivory Obelisk. As I’ve mentioned before, this story is different in terms of how I approached its creation and how it’s told, but I’m very excited to polish it off and share it with you next year!

College Course-Writing

The next bit of news is the progress I’ve made on writing the Early Modern Europe college course. I finished compiling information included in the shorthand notes that I provide the students, which allowed me to then start recording the video lectures using those notes. In the spirit of student accessibility, the school encouraged professors to amend their online lectures to be broken down into multiple videos of shorter length instead of one long lecture video. That being the case, I have 50 lecture videos to create in total; between the time I started and when I got sick with a sore throat and cold, I had recorded 16 lecture videos. This week at the time of this posting, I have resumed recording lectures and hope to finish them before Halloween; this will afford me plenty of time to upload all the lecture videos and other course content into the online course platform and get it finalized and approved before Thanksgiving. Then it’ll just be a matter of finishing reading the few books I’ve earmarked for that course so I’m ready to start it when the spring semester commences in January 2023.

In addition to the Early Modern Europe course, I’ve been green-lighted (green-lit?) to develop new versions of the Western Civilization I course for summer 2023 as well as Revolutionary Europe for fall 2023. This will occupy most of my time in terms of working on college course materials between November 2022 and July 2023, at which time I’ll transition into working on the Western Civilization II, Medieval Europe, and Ancient Greece and Rome courses. I am excited to dive deeper into these courses and their historical periods, reading more on them as I work on their content and thus cementing my understanding of their developments.

Amended Reading List

I’m a planner, and it oftentimes serves me well. However, things don’t always go to plan and so we must adapt and rearrange variables in the equation. Part of that includes the books I decide to read. Most times, I set out with high expectations and perhaps even lofty reading goals, only to change my plan in accordance with other factors that require me to shift gears in what I’m aiming to do. That being said, I’m already banking on including a tentative reading list for 2023 in my New Year’s post just a few months away. For now, though, I’ll expound on some of the year’s remaining reads as well as others I plan to read in 2023 as they relate to the aforementioned college courses I’m working on.

The first pair of books is for the Early Modern Europe course, of which I’ve already talked about in my last post:

  • Europe’s Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Antwerp’s Golden Age by Michael Pye (Amazon
  • London and the Seventeenth Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City by Margarette Lincoln (Amazon

After that, I aim to read two books that I’ll use for the Ancient Greece and Rome course as well as the Medieval Europe course, but which will also aid in my revisiting content for the summer Western Civilization I course:

  • The Story of Greece and Rome by Tony Spawforth (Amazon
  • Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham (Amazon)

Then, into the summer I aim to read two books in prep for the Revolutionary Europe course next fall:

  • The Wars of German Unification by Showalter and Strachan (Amazon
  • Blood and Iron by Katja Hoyer (Amazon)

There are other books I intend to read next year, but as I said — I will reserve those for a later post.

Lastly, I just finished reading all the way through Masters of Death, a book on the Einsatzgruppen — the mobile killing squads attached to the German army (Wehrmacht) as it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 — as part of my self-guided professional development this year for my full-time teaching job. It is a grim account of the gruesome mass killings of Jews and others in the occupied East that was the realization of Nazi racial policies aimed at obtaining the much-desired Lebensraum for future German settlement and colonization. I concede that it’s a tough read, and certainly not something of the everyday reading type that most people would consider, but for anyone at all interested in this significant and pivotal component of the process of the Holocaust, I highly recommend this book.

Family News

In closing, I will add that my son, Everett, has started kindergarten and has loved it so far; he goes to school every day and comes home with stories each afternoon. My daughter, Marin, has also started school this year, but she’s in twice-a-week preschool for half a day and then goes to daycare (through the school) for the other half of the day; she’s home with me or at work with mom on the off days. Each and every day, though, I have my other son, Adler, at home with me while I work; he plays and enjoys the little things, then takes a good nap while I teach. It’s definitely not the routine I thought teaching would entail when I declared 7-12 Social Studies as my minor way back in 2009, but times change and I wouldn’t change it for the world. As I alluded to earlier, we have started another outdoor soccer season and Everett has shown improvement from last year already. He enjoys it but still has much to learn. Marin and Adler like cheering him on from the sidelines; I can only imagine what sports and organizations all our kids will eventually get involved in over the coming years…but I can’t wait for it.

That’s all for now, so in case I don’t see you…good afternoon, good evening, and good night!

Mike/”Eli”

Summer 2022 Update

Friends,

I hope the last few months have treated you well! Despite my best intentions to consistently post each month, the daily grind and routines at home and work take precedence. My last blog post in February came right before the busy season of my school year — when state testing begins, followed quickly by the chaos of the closing weeks of the school year (not to mention the whole family getting sick amid all that) — and I’m just now finding time to sit down and check back in with you. However, I do have some pieces of news to share.

East Europe College Course

If you’ve been following along with me over the past two plus years, you’re aware that I’ve been writing and teaching college courses online. In particular, I wrote a course on East Europe and offered it this past fall semester. I never tied up that loose end by sharing how the course ended up doing and what my general reflection of it was after it was finished.

I completed the preparation for that course over the summer of 2021, in plenty of time to start the new academic year in August. My course roster ended up containing between 12-15 students (a few dropped and one added early on), most of whom did well in the course; the majority ended up with final grades of B or better. Only a few of them completed course evaluations in the last week of the semester before Winter Break, but that’s to be expected. The good thing from my perspective was that they were generally positive reviews with helpful feedback for me.

As for the course itself, it was fascinating for me to see the students work through what I had created, consuming the history of eastern Europe through readings, discussions, an examination, and finally their research paper (an academic book review, in this case). At the start, I had given them a list of books from which to choose one, all of which pertained to various countries/sub-regions of East Europe; the one I read beforehand, Borderland, was mentioned in a blog post from May 2021…I really enjoyed that book! Many of the students said they appreciated having the ability to choose what they read, and that they subsequently enjoyed their chosen book more. This is something I’m applying to the Early Modern Europe course I’m currently writing, which I’ll get to shortly.

For me, the course was a success and something I’m extremely proud of creating. This is bittersweet, however, because in the few weeks following the start of the spring semester in 2022, I learned that the East Europe course was no longer being offered and that portions of it were being covered in political science courses, especially more recent historical developments (e.g., the development of Soviet communism, the Eastern Bloc, and their legacies). I had spent many months and a good deal of energy writing a course that was to be offered only once. Of course, these are things that fall into the category of ‘changes in education’ that are all too familiar to me at the secondary level; I just never thought such an important history course would be removed from the course catalogue completely. Alas, I am grateful for the opportunity to write that course, teach it, and learn more about the histories therein in the process; it gives me a greater appreciation of that region and its developments over time, not to mention it allowed me to fine-tune my scholarship skills.

Early Modern Europe College Course

Taking what I learned and experienced from the East Europe course, I set about writing the Early Modern Europe course that is to be next offered in Spring 2023. Given that this course has been designated as a core sequence course, it is very unlikely that it will be removed from the curriculum. Furthermore, my university has instituted a course development program where the online presence of each course is placed into a university-wide template course so students can easily navigate and access their courses when not in the physical classroom (which all of my courses currently are not). That being said, I have some general security and optimism regarding the future of this course.

I started working on this course in earnest the week of April 25, with the aim of completing everything for the course by the start of the 2022-23 school year. This is mostly due to my OCD and desire to have sensible timelines; continuing to work on something while starting something else is a no-no for me. As of this writing, I am on track to at least get the bulk of coursework finished by the start of school. This includes the lecture notes, their recordings, and the key documents for the course (i.e., writing assignment prompt, syllabus). Because of things out of my control, I will have to work on the course into September after school begins, so with that I won’t fret too much. By mid-September, though, I should have this course pretty much wrapped up and can move on to (or rather, back to) writing the Revolutionary Europe course, which I’ll offer in the Fall 2023 semester.

As with the East Europe course, I’m thoroughly enjoying revisiting this time period in history as I read more about the developments of the period from roughly the 1550s to the 1780s. This was a class I took in college but it didn’t evoke a great deal of excitement or wonder from me. I think I was more preoccupied with the Contemporary Europe course and its content; I would eventually go on to write my undergrad senior thesis on Hitler and the Third Reich. Perhaps when I first learned about the early modern period, there was too much for me to process or maybe the content just wasn’t engaging enough for me; whatever the reason, I’m warming up to it now and am enjoying it. To reinforce this, I have changed my 2022 reading list for the remainder of the year so that I can read a handful of the books I’m requiring for this course; that way when the course begins in January 2023, I am much more in tune with the history and the readings from which students will choose.

These readings are set up in this way: five books are required (a lot, I know, but there’s a new program at my university where course textbooks are included in the cost of the semester, so the students don’t readily see the cost in front of them like I did when I physically went to the bookstore each semester) from which students will pick according to a research prompt associated with the book(s):

  • Early Modern Europe, An Oxford History by Euan Cameron (Amazon
  • Europe’s Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Antwerp’s Golden Age by Michael Pye (Amazon
  • London and the Seventeenth Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City by Margarette Lincoln (Amazon
  • The Secular Enlightenment by Margaret Jacob (Amazon
  • The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment by Alexander Bevilacqua (Amazon)

The first book, Early Modern Europe by Cameron, is more of a general survey of the period from which students will choose one main topic to research and write about; this is the option with the most latitude for student choice but there’s less structure in how students go about it. I intend this approach more for students who already have a handle on or feel comfortable with their knowledge of the time period (more or less).

The second two books, Europe’s Babylon and London and the Seventeenth Century, look at the history of the period through the a comparative lens where the cities of London and Antwerp illustrate the wider history of the period. Using these two sources as a starting point, students will explore this ‘wider history’ idea in a way they deem appropriate.

The last two books, The Secular Enlightenment and The Republic of Arabic Letters, explore the intellectual movement in the latter third of the period under study, taking developments of the European Enlightenment and the contributions of the Arabs as the central theme of this research option. Students will address the idea of how these two intellectual processes contributed to developments in Europe, and whether they can be considered the culmination of the early modern period.

I am excited to dive into these books and to see how they pan out once I get the course underway come January!

One Final Bit of News

As I have alluded to before, I have had a manuscript in progress for my next book for a while now, since September 2017 to be exact. I reached the point of feeling comfortable with saying “this is my rough draft” only about a couple of weeks ago, at which point the MS was hovering around 65,000 words. A few literary-minded friends have graciously offered to beta read this early draft for me, with the hope that I can have their feedback in hand by this September in order to revise as necessary and tweak in general as needed. With me, I always feel like things I create or work on could be improved, so hopefully that trait doesn’t plague me too much in this process.

Without giving away hints of the story still at this point, I will say that I intend on hiring a professional editor once I have my draft as polished as I think I can make it before handing it off to a stranger; I haven’t done that with my previous books, mainly because I didn’t have the money at the time, but now I’d like to think that this book will reflect not only growth in my writing abilities (i.e., the story itself) but also the expanded caliber of professionalism and literary seriousness in how that story is produced and presented. I hope I’m not risking too much in saying that if things go how I’ve planned, then I should have this book launched and live for sale by Fall 2023. Of course, I will keep you apprised of its progress and what the release date ends up being for certain over the coming year. I am very proud of this story and the work I’ve put into it, and I can’t wait to share it with you all when it’s ready.

That’s it for now, so I wish you well and look forward to my next post (hopefully next month, but we’ll see)!

Mike/”Eli”

“Another Year Older, Another Year…Wiser?”

Friends,

I come to you now in my February post with some thoughts and musings on the eve of my 33rd birthday; I will admit that I am writing this in a sort of stream-of-consciousness manner. While this is by no means an occasion to reflect ‘on a long life well lived’ (for hopefully I have quite some time still to go), I do think birthdays offer an opportune moment to reflect and hold an inner dialogue with yourself. In this instance, though, I’m bringing you along for the ride.

Something that has gradually made itself clear to me over the past few months is that I think and do too much. Those who know me know that I like to plan, and to follow that plan because I know it will lead me where I want to go in order to achieve or obtain something I need or want. However, for whatever reason, my mental capacity – and to some extent my physical stamina to complement it – has lately felt strained and overwhelmed. At times I feel pulled in too many directions to be able to meaningfully function and think: ideas for my PhD pull me this way; things needing done for my college courses tugging me that way; the ever-present feeling of the need to be doing something productive pushing me over the edge. In the words of a worldly hobbit, “I feel thin…sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” And though I may need a holiday, even a long one, I know that I can’t really have one right now. So that leaves me with the choice of either pressing on with everything I fill my plate with, or to take my foot off the gas and risk the internal battle of knowing I’m not being productive but that it’s probably better for my health. The choice seems clear and obvious, but therein lies the dilemma.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on myself on the one hand. After all, I have always thrived on seeing out my plans and productively doing what I need to do. I know 33 is a good deal beyond conventionally conceptualized ‘youth,’ but at the same time I am equipped with life experience and a clearer understanding of things which I study and teach about on a weekly basis. Logic would tell me, then, that minor adjustments here and there will help me alleviate unneeded pressure I place on myself. However, I have been making minor adjustments ever since I can remember; it’s part of how I’ve gotten to where I am. At the end of the day, though, I still come back to the idea that when I devote time within the context of my work and academics, it should be executed meaningfully and without waste. How, then, can I justify taking my foot off the gas? How would I feel about myself if I looked back ten years from now and saw clear signs that I could’ve read more, wrote more, enriched myself more…anything more? I don’t like wasting time on something when it could be better used for productivity, but perhaps that mindset has run me aground on Burnout Reef. That has brought me to thinking that I should set about my new year of birth in a healthier and less high-strung manner.

Stepping away from all the humdrum of that notion for a moment, let me put a positive spin on it by focusing on a couple of things. First, as fate would have it, I won’t be teaching any college courses over the summer, and my fall semester course load went down by a class. My wife optimistically pointed out that ‘this is a blessing in disguise’ because she knows my struggle with keeping productively busy. This reduction in professional responsibilities can afford me more breathing space in which to write the next college course I’ll be teaching next spring (Early Modern Europe, spanning from roughly the 1550s through the 1780s). Second, I have come back around to feeling motivated to work more on the manuscript of my current work in progress (called a WIP by all my writer friends out there). I haven’t talked much about this — in fact, I may not have let on before that I’ve been slowly chipping away at a new project — but I will certainly do so in a future post. For the time being, just know that the story I’m developing stemmed from an idea that I had shelved back while I was writing Needless, it doesn’t relate to my “Faces of the War” stories set during WWII, and it is a very different approach to my storytelling in comparison to what I’ve already published.

Though it doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, following current events has proven helpful in expressing worry and doubt from my mind. At the time of this writing, there is a situation that has been developing in Ukraine regarding a potential Russian invasion. This, of course, has historical significance over many centuries, with the most recent example manifesting in the 2014 invasion of the Crimea and the ensuing chaos involving Russian-backed separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in the eastern region of the country. For anyone interested in following along with events as they unfold, check out this Conflict Tracker from the Council on Foreign Relations. For me, I would like to think that full-scale warfare won’t break out between an invading Russian force and NATO-led Western forces, but there are too many factors at play that are either unpredictable or unknown, especially to me.

Something that I can say does bring me joy is a number of new films coming out this year. I don’t consider myself a pure cinephile in a critical or philosophical sense (I am too much of an optimist to consistently point out the flaws and errors of movies; instead I just like to be entertained for the most part), but I do hold affinities for certain films or genres. For example, Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile just came out this past week; I read the book and have anxiously awaited the film adaptation. After having read the book and watched the film of Murder on the Orient Express, I was keen to do the same with this next installment. Furthermore, the Super Bowl was just a couple of days ago and a few more more trailers were released: the Amazon Prime show The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which excites me due to my love for the LOTR and Hobbit books/films; the new Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie, which taps into my cultivated love for the Marvel films; and the third Jurassic World: Dominion movie, which looks awesome as it encapsulates the hypothetical situation of dinosaurs among us today that I dreamed about while watching the movies as a kid. Though the trailers aren’t out yet, the third season of The Mandalorian as well as the new Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi both will have my attention when they arrive. I surely hope that over the coming months I can learn to relax by enjoying the simple pleasures of things like new films.

Watch Obi-Wan Kenobi | Disney+

In closing, I will say that I don’t not look forward to turning 33. Sure, I’d love to have the athletic stamina of my early 20s, but I wouldn’t trade Early 20s Mike for who I am today. Part of growing up is figuring out the how to life; I’m just glad that I have loving family members — namely my wife and kids — that support me every day and provide me with constant reminders that no matter how many books I read, or classes I write curriculum for, or whatever else I try to plan to do…they will always be there and I will always come home to them at the end of the day. For anyone else who might be struggling in similar ways to me, I encourage you to do what you can, how you can, when you can. In the words of Bob Wiley, “Baby steps…”

Until next time, I wish you all a very fond farewell!

Mike/”Eli”

Something New for the New Year

Friends,

After some months off during a surprisingly busier summer and start of the school year, I have found time and a rejuvenated aspiration to bring you another blog post. With the New Year just begun, I wanted to write about something new. I hope that this effort both helps me stay accountable and perhaps helps inspire others to follow suit.

A Surge in Reading

I’ve never been a strong reader. Part of this stems from my childhood, where I never read as much as I probably should have; this created a lower literacy in me, hampered somewhat by mild dyslexia and an average reading comprehension. Another side of this issue is that I never thought of reading as something that could bring enjoyment; it was always because I had to for one reason or another. This lack of reading was compounded in my undergraduate studies by added page volume, which was even more the case during my master’s program. I had to resort to merely skimming the books I read in order to find a sweet spot of efficiency.

Since I finished my master’s program in March 2020, I have read far more books than I ever did in all the years before. I’m not entirely sure what got me going, but I’m to the point now where I’m lining up books to read and planning on applying that information to the work I do. So what does all this have to do with ‘something new for the new year?’ A friend of mine who recently finished her master’s program did something pretty cool: she laid out all the books and printed articles she read for her degree and snapped a picture, using it as part of her celebratory social media post for completing her studies and achieving the goal which she set out to achieve. That’s what I’m aiming to do here, for the books I’ve read in the past 21 months since the pandemic started and I finished my own master’s program.

Now given that I didn’t set out with this goal in mind when I read all the books I did – and therefore didn’t list them out beforehand for the sake of accountability – this post will only partially address this endeavor. However, at the end of this post I will list out the books I aim to read in the coming year, and will then follow up with a post next December/January – and will therefore make the circle complete. And so, here is the picture of the books I’ve read since March 2020:

In an effort to not draw out this post longer than it needs to be, I will simply make note of a few books that really stuck out to me and have made an impact on me and the way I think about history one way or another. The first is The Politics of Our Time by John B. Judis, which is a 2021 publication that combines three books he wrote on populism, nationalism, and socialism between 2016-2020. I had actually read the second of the three books and used it for my Contemporary Europe class in the fall of 2020, then read the other two parts after purchasing the combined edition – finding it all very enlightening if not always agreeable. If you’re someone who wants to understand the overarching reasons why current political trends developed the way they have in the last 30+ years in both the US and Europe, this book offers some great insights into that phenomenon and also provides some commentary on future implications on both the national and global levels. I’ve never been one to get wrapped up in politics, especially in election years, but this read has proven relevant and helpful, and I’d recommend it to anyone hoping to find a similar understanding of our world today.

The second book that made an impact on me, even if to a lesser extent than the Judis book, was How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley, originally published in 2018. Having studied the Nazi Third Reich more extensively than the average individual, I have read my fair share of information and commentary relating to National Socialism and the ‘us versus them’ mentality that saturates fascist politics. Using that as my baseline of knowledge, listening to this audio book really aided in broadening my understanding of and appreciation for the nuances that characterize fascism both historically and in contemporary contexts. I think when people hear the word “fascism,” their minds immediately conjure up images of the Hitler salute and the Nazis’ nationalistic attempt to overpower their European neighbors in the name of cultural domination; by extension, thoughts of Mussolini giving fervent speeches from a balcony in central Rome may also be conjured. Either way, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many other contexts in which fascism rears its ugly face. This book illustrates those contexts and the general structure and thinking of fascist politics down in a very understandable and relatable manner.

Some of the other books opened my eyes to the history of their subjects in a more general sense. The books Why Nationalism, Neo-Nationalism, Borderland, and The Twilight of Democracy all lent insight into the world of European nationalism – and even populism, in some parts of some books – that has defined the last 10+ years of European history and continues to inform the present decade. This also reinforces what I’ve already read and learned about contemporary Europe, as well as how I teach it at the college level. This Sovereign Isle and Britain and Europe in a Troubled World provided me with clarity and detail regarding the UK, Brexit, and the implications of the whole ordeal on the UK and Europe in political, economic, and even social terms. For anyone looking to better understand Brexit, why it happened, and what it means, these books would be my reads of choice.

Here are the books above put into list form:

Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah
The Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum
Borderland by Anna Reid (on Kindle)
This Sovereign Isle by Robert Tombs
Britain and Europe in a Troubled World by Vernon Bogdanor
Nations and Nationalism by Eric Hobsbawm
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir
Neo-Nationalism by Eirikur Bergmann
How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley (on Audible)
Disputed Histories by Omer Bartov
Lessons of the Holocaust by Michael R. Marrus
The Politics of Our Time by John B. Judis

If any of you have read or plan to read any of these on the list, I’d love to connect and discuss your thoughts and reactions to the arguments included in what you read.

Reading List for 2022

Building off of much that I read in the list above, here is my list for 2022:

Nineteenth-Century Europe by Michael Rapport
The Bright Ages by Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry
The Enlightenment by Dorinda Outram
Lost Kingdom by Serhii Plokhy
The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray (on Audible)
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick J. Deneen
The Idea of Europe by Shane Weller
The Future of the Holocaust: Between History and Memory by Berel Lang
In Defense of History by Richard J. Evans
Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt
The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony
The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder

The first four books are intended for use in future college classes that I’ll offer over the coming semesters (like Revolutionary Europe, Medieval Europe, and Early Modern Europe), but the rest of the list is comprised of books that interest me both personally and academically. My plan is to read through a class-related book alongside one of the others; this is my attempt to stay sharp mentally as I read but to also ensure that I work through all the books I can. Of course, things may come up through my jobs or personal life that will force me to alter my plans, but I at least have something concrete in place moving forward. In the short run, I look forward to learning more and further honing my reading skills and literacy rate; in the long run, I hope to build up my reading stamina, so to speak, in preparation for my PhD program.

That is all for now. I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to connecting with you again soon!

Take care,


Mike/”Eli”

May Blog: East Europe and “Borderland”

Friends,

I hope this message finds you well and ready for summer to arrive in earnest. The weather has been beautiful lately, which is exciting!

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to blend the themes of ‘books I’ve ready recently’ and ‘curricular development of the East Europe college course’ that I’ve been elaborating on over the past few months. Some of you have told me that you’re enjoying seeing into this side of my academic life; on the same token, I’m happy to share. So let’s dive on in…

Borderland by Anna Reid

I first saw this Ukrainian history book pop up on Amazon sometime in early 2020. After having added it to a wish list and finally purchasing it just after Christmas 2020, I came to find myself thrown into the evolving history of Ukraine as told by correspondent-author Anne Reid. In this updated version, she juxtaposes her contemporary travels to different cities and towns in Ukraine back in the 1990s, where she gained invaluable firsthand information from Ukrainians themselves (and others), against historical accounts years and sometimes centuries before her interviewing and writing. For me, this style of writing – journalism with history – is engaging and enlightening. Anyone interested in Ukrainian history in general and even more recent events (such as the Crimean crisis of 2014 that is still ongoing) in particular should check out this book.

As I read and highlighted passages of text, I was concurrently working on developing the East Europe course to which I’ve alluded here and there since January 2021. Specifically, I worked on a lecture that addressed the Crimean crisis directly as a more recent/current event; the main goal in doing this was to show that, as the title of Reid’s book implies, Ukraine is still something of a borderland between the Western-European sphere of influence and that of the Russian-Eastern world. Certainly, Ukraine has strived to mold itself in its own right and shape its own destiny, but as history shows us there are still external factors that play into the equation – Russian influence under Putin being one of them.

Borderland by Anna Reid | Basic Books
Borderland (Amazon)

The basic gist, for anyone who doesn’t know or isn’t aware, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich did an about-face on orienting Ukraine toward Europe (namely the EU and NATO) in 2014, and when popular protests erupted in Kiev and other cities, Yanukovich felt his power was slipping and he fled to Russia. A provisional government then formed, upon which Vladimir Putin declared it illegitimate and ordered an invasion of the Crimea ‘to protect ethnic Russians living there,’ after which he had it declared independent and then annexed to Russia. This was a clearly illegal move, which explicitly broke a 1994 agreement that Russia would respect Ukraine’s national boundaries. Soon after the invasion, which the Ukrainian army or new government in Kiev could do little about, another crisis broke out in the Donbas – the easternmost region of the country with more or less Russian-leaning separatists (though there are also those there who wish to separate from Ukraine but also not fall into the Russian sphere). Since then, the conflict has produced a stalemate that has not seen the Ukrainian or Russian governments give way to major changes or resolutions. This article details what has gone on in the past six years since the invasion and annexation.

This string of events, which actually have many of their roots in the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, acts as an important and salient lesson in modern European history in general, and in Eastern European diplomacy and history in particular. That is why I chose to focus half of a lecture on the topic; and hopefully being a current event, students will more likely connect and engage with it. Furthermore, it illustrates older historical trends and norms, especially in that region of the world, by illuminating them in a new light – making the study of history more relevant to the students. That’s the theory and hope, anyway.

Currently, the course sits close to 80% finished. I have two full lectures to write still, along with two half-lectures. Each week of the course, I include supplemental resources (articles, videos, etc.) to help round out the information the students receive, so it’s not all coming from me. The vast majority of that is done, as is the writing assignment prompt and most of the discussion forum prompts for each week. It certainly is a process that takes time and dedication, but in the end is totally worth it. I don’t yet know when I’ll offer this course again after Fall 2021 – perhaps by 2023 – but I’ll have a good deal less work to do that time around by developing the course now. My goal now is to complete this course in its entirety by July 4, then taking a month or so to read through some books in preparation for the new academic year.

That is all for now, so I wish you all a happy rest of May until we meet again in the June blog post!

Mike/”Eli”

Commentary on Recent Readings, Pt. 2

Friends,

I hope this post finds you well and that spring has sprung for you. The weather has been beautiful lately, and it’s feeling more like weather that calls us to enjoy the outdoors more and more! This month’s post is picking up where we left off in February’s post as part of the mini series I’m writing regarding various books I’ve read and their application to both history and the here and now.

At the end of February’s post, the parting thought was that I would elaborate on two ideas: the first is the in-group/out-group mentality, and the second is toleration. Additionally, I said that these two concepts are symbiotic toward each other, and they can act as a sort of framework through which we can understand the history that has delivered us into the world we know today.

Furthermore, I wanted to reiterate the three-point breakdown of the premise we established in February’s post to help reorient our thinking:

  1. Everyday life is indeed not black and white, not absolute or finite, but rather a complex mix of intricate nuances.
  2. Those nuances are made from all of our own values and beliefs based on our individual life experiences.
  3. Communicating with each other to understand and tolerate those values and beliefs will lend to the spread of positive universal values and beliefs, creating a better global society.

Given how we utilized Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism to arrive at these three points, I believe addressing the in-group/out-group concept along with that of toleration in the context of society at large (as opposed to personal levels of community) is the best approach – at least for now. So having established the method for this post, let’s dive in…

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The first of our two aforementioned concepts for exploration here is that of in-group/out-group. Simply put, these terms of the social psychology discipline refer to how we perceive ourselves, others like us, and others unlike us. If you read the February post, you hopefully will have recognized this idea as an underlying support of the framework of cosmopolitanism. In essence, subscribing to the ideas of cosmopolitanism is sort of like a key to unlocking the in-group/out-group dichotomy in an attempt to remove the barriers between oneself and others that are different (e.g., skin color, language, ethnic background, socio-economic status, education level, etc.). This certainly makes for ready discussion on a personal level, but let us first explore this on a macro level; we will return to in-group/out-group when we get into toleration.

In 2015, “more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe…sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.” The ensuing crisis, which had fizzled out by spring 2019 according to the European Commission, illustrates the notion of in-group/out-group perfectly. According to the BBC, the top three countries from which migrants sought asylum in the EU were Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq – all of which exhibit Muslim majority populations. This ran contradictory to the widely held and highly propagandized notion of “a Christian Europe” being “in danger” from non-Christian immigrants and refugees. Despite this being a generalization, all of this lay at the very heart of many of the agendas of resurgent nationalist regimes in Europe. In the words of author John B. Judis in his 2018 book The Nationalist Revival:

“A Pew poll in July 2016 found that large majorities in Hungary, Poland, Germany, Italy, the Netherland, the UK, Sweden, and Greece thought that admitting refugees would ‘increase domestic terrorism.’ Majorities in Greece and Italy and pluralities in Hungary and Poland thought diversity was making their country ‘a worse place to live.’ A Gallup poll in 2017 asked whether people in fourteen European countries thought ‘acts of terrorism’ by migrants were ‘a serious problem.’ Huge majorities in France, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, and the Netherlands thought they were; the median across the fourteen countries was 66 percent. Respondents from the same countries that that ‘current immigration levels’ were a ‘serious problem.'”

The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against  Globalization: Judis, John B.: 9780999745403: Amazon.com: Books
The Nationalist Revival

As populist parties across Europe tapped into the emotion and sentiment tied with the influx of new people of different backgrounds, support increased vertically (within a given country) and therefore horizontally (across national borders) for tighter border control and policies that regulate population flow. The catch to this, as Judis states, is that “(anti-immigrant) protests were grounded in genuine grievances, but in the hands of nationalist politicians, they descended into vilification.” Such vilification is exhibited in things like election/re-election advertisements, campaign slogans, social media movements, and even day-to-day interactions between individuals. One argument made by these types of people/groups is that Muslims can’t or won’t assimilate into local European society and culture. (This topic, among others, is given great attention by historian Rita Chin in her book The Crisis of Multiculturalism.) This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; however, it gets compounded by incidents involving radical or fringe elements that don’t represent the median majority of migrants (e.g., the New Year’s Eve gang assaults in Cologne, Germany). I don’t know if there is any one right answer or way to go about finding a solution that satisfies the most people, but all of this certainly gives many individuals pause for considering what matters on a national scale. (The notion of rising authoritarianism-as-populism is given ample attention by historian Anne Applebaum in her book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.)

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: Applebaum,  Anne: 9780385545808: Amazon.com: Books
Twilight of Democracy

Something that should matter, however, is the notion of toleration. Looking beyond the (oftentimes) falsified or exaggerated facts and figures presented in the media, and certainly beyond the usually ill-informed opinions on social media, the overwhelming majority of individuals in a given out-group deserve a fair shot at fitting in and living a life free from persecution and hate. On a micro level, it’s easy to see this play out in public from day to day: whether it’s between white and black Americans or Muslims in a given European country, far too many hateful actions occur between people groups.

A key component of toleration is empathy, which is something that is indeed lacking in many societies at the moment. According to the 2011 research paper “Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy” from Princeton University:

“Empathy is generally recognized as a central component of the human condition; because it promotes prosocial behavior, it is an essential aspect of human social life. Beginning in infancy, people are affected by another’s suffering: they ‘step into the other person’s shoes’, ‘feel their pain’ and are motivated to help (Batson, 2009). One popular theory suggests that (in the absence of pathology), empathic responses arise out of an automatic, universal mechanism in the human brain that detects another person’s experience and activates a matching experience in the observer (Preston & de Waal, 2002). In this view, shared neural circuits provide a direct functional bridge between first- and second-person experiences (Decety & Ickes, 2009). Seeing another human being in pain, observers must feel the other’s pain. We know, however, that adults with normal empathic capacity also frequently fail to respond to another’s suffering. This may be because people are less likely to detect and attend to another’s suffering when the victim is distant in space, time, kinship, or across racial, political, or social group boundaries (Batson & Ahmad, 2009). Empathy is even fragile between minimal groups—groups in which the boundary is arbitrary—such that children randomly assigned to groups (e.g., the ‘red team’ or the ‘blue team’) show greater empathy for ingroup members than for outgroup members who are socially rejected (Masten, Gillen-O’Neel, & Brown, 2010).”

If we assume that space and time are the key factors described above, then theoretically it is easier for us to experience and cultivate empathy when we are able to exercise it “up close and personal.” By extension, then, we are (and should be) more able to practice toleration with those with whom we interact and see in our daily lives. Reading or hearing about Muslim refugees traveling from Syria to Germany in 2016 won’t elicit nearly the same emotion as a neighbor (or in my case, a student I have this semester) living on your street who is dealing with prejudice in the here and now.

I am not saying that everyone is perfect, nor that any one person is above or below another, but I am saying that the world would be a far better place if we stepped into the shoes of ‘the Other’ for a moment. Tune ourselves out from the media, unplug from our Facebooks and Twitters, and simply observe those around us whom we view as different. For if this can be done on a micro level, then it would not appear as such an issue on the macro level – and then we wouldn’t see worrying political movements like the Alternativ für Deutschland or parties like Fidesz or Law and Justice implement such hateful and intolerant policies and objectives. If we communicate with each other to understand and tolerate each other’s values and beliefs, we contribute to the wider positive development and spread of universal values and beliefs, thus creating a better global society. After all – you are in the out-group of someone else, too.

Thank you friends!

Mike/”Eli”

A Look into College Course Development

Friends,

Another month, another post! This time around I’ll talk a little about the current status of some of my writing and planning for college courses I teach. I mentioned in my New Year’s post in January that I was about to begin writing an East Europe course. In addition to that, I’ll talk a little bit about other courses that will eventually come through the rotation that I’m excited to research and write for future semesters.

A Look at My Development of the East Europe Course

I will teach this course online in the Fall ’21 semester, so I wanted to devote enough time and care to writing the course as I did for the Contemporary Europe course in early 2020. Upon receiving feedback from that course, which was offered in the Fall ’20 semester, students liked the setup of the course, namely the variety of resources to offer alternative perspectives on various subjects and topics, as well as the availability of typed lectures and video recordings of me lecturing on shorthand notes drawn from those typed lectures. Students also appreciated my quick turnaround on grading and feedback for questions they had, as well as how accessible I was. I pride myself on these things, which I’ll continue to do in subsequent courses.

As for the lectures, it is a drawn out process. Particularly for the East Europe course, I started by investing in audio lectures from The Great Courses, which has a vast array of topics that anyone can invest in learning. The course I purchased addressed the history of Eastern Europe from Antiquity to the present day, which is the exact scope and time frame of the course I’m offering. The professor who gave these lectures offered insightful and helpful paths toward understanding the content; it made tying what I was learning to my prior knowledge much easier.

After taking notes on those lectures, I gather various sources (library books, online journal articles, documentaries on YouTube, etc.) to then mine them for passages of text or audio to weave into the narrative of the typed lecture. For this East Europe, I’m structuring it in a spiraled format, where the first four lectures establish the general history and illustrative concepts from Antiquity to the present day, followed by another four lectures that each address a particular theme in Eastern Europe history (empire, nationalism, communism, post-communism), which is then followed by the final four lectures that address case studies in specific countries or regions to further illustrate the history learned on a deeper level. This spiraled method allows for students to really learn the history through repetition by engaging the history through different contexts, lenses, and perspectives.

After a given lecture has taken shape and covers the desired content, I draw up shorthand notes from it into another document. I then record myself lecturing on these shorthand notes and post the recording in the system for the students to view in the corresponding week of the semester. Once all the lectures are recorded and the shorthand notes document is completed, I make a copy accessible to the students so they can utilize it for notes to study and keep (both for and after the class, especially for history majors), which students in the past have told me that they greatly appreciate. These lectures and the notes/recordings that stem from them take up the bulk of my time, but as with anything at this level it is a labor of love.

In addition to the lecture work, I read through a book or two that I’ll have the students read during the semester and then use when writing their research paper. In the case of the East Europe course, I’m actually trying something different by having a list of about ten books from which the students will choose one to read and write about by semester’s end. This method offers students some choice and variety, but also gets them engaging with rigorous reading and historical content; the written assignment is then the synthesis of their efforts, hopefully making them stronger students of history in the end. Given that there are way more books than usual, I chose to read one book from the list so I’m at least familiar with that book; at present I’m about halfway through Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine, and it has been fascinating thus far. As part of the reading, I normally offer a guided reading of the book, so in this case I’ll offer a generic list of questions to consider for note-taking while reading.

I alluded before to the fact that I offer supplemental resources for students to work through in a given week. This normally is constituted by videos on YouTube (documentaries, Crash Course videos, interviews and roundtables, etc.), scholarly articles (oftentimes free sources from places like JSTOR or Google Scholar), and newspaper articles where appropriate (like from The Guardian, New York Times, or other credible outlets, some of which I try to pull from other countries to offer an unbiased perspective). In addition to these, I also try to include longer or more tertiary resources (like full 50-minute lectures from places like Yale University where they have a repository of free lectures in the archives) that students can really dig into if they’d like. When it comes down to it, students will get more out of the course the deeper they go…so I try to at least equip them to be able to do so.

File:Eastern Europe Map.jpg - Wikipedia
Map of Eastern Europe (Source: Wikipedia)

Once all of that work is complete (and the course is made available to me in the system), I upload and link all the needed documents and resources into the course so it’s ready for the students on Day 1 of the semester. Being that I’m working with college students, they tend to be more organized and self-sufficient in their interactions with the course and with me, but I try to make the layout of the course as streamlined and simple as possible so students can easily navigate and complete their work.

As it stands right now, I’m just about one-third of the way through the writing of the East Europe course. My goal is to be done by August 15 and then finalize everything in the system by August 20. I don’t yet know for sure when the first day of school is in the fall, but I’m guessing it’ll be August 23. At that point, I can dive into the semester and start to see the students learn what I had spent many months preparing and creating.

My plan after the semester starts is to circle back around to fine-tune some of the Western Civilization II coursework I had made for the summer offerings last year, but adjust them to fit into a semester-long course. But I’m sure I’ll address that in a later blog post, or at least I’ll address further developments in my college courses at a later time.

For those interested in a fun little trivia game about Eastern Europe, check out this trivia article from The Guardian. I hope you enjoyed getting a little insight into my course development process. Like I said, it is something I thoroughly enjoy and want to one day make my full-time job as a university professor.

Until next time,

Mike/”Eli”

Commentary on Recent Readings, Pt. 1

Friends,

I wanted to take time early this year to address a few books I’ve read recently (in the last year or so), something which a number of family members and friends have taken an interest in discussing with me. By the way it’s looking as I’m drafting this post, this endeavor will occupy a few posts. I want to give proper attention to my thoughts and the text I’ve read. Given the political climate of not just our own country (especially in the recent election season) but also in Europe, I thought it apropos to openly commentate on the concepts and ideas in these books as they illustrate and oftentimes explain events happening around us. This is intended for my own historical posterity to perhaps read/reference in the future, but it’s also intended to help anyone interested in understanding some of the theoretical and philosophical reasons why and how events of the recent past have unfolded the way they have.

Let us begin with a basic premise on which the rest of this post can build:

Everyday life and the “stuff” that composes it – the ideas we have, the decisions we make, the events we witness, the conclusions we draw, the emotions we feel – is indeed not black and white, not absolute or finite, but rather a complex mix of intricate nuances.

In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah elaborates on the notion that we all live by beliefs and desires – the former reflecting how the world is, the latter illustrating how we’d like the world to be. These two psychological states drive what people do, and it is in that action of doing that we find a litany of differences that stoke the fires of intoleration and prejudice. On the same token, it must be said, we also are drawn to one another through the myriad of commonalities and like-minded notions that strengthen the bonds of an understanding community.

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time): Appiah,  Kwame Anthony: 8601405100320: Amazon.com: Books
The cover image of Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism

If you’re unsure of what cosmopolitanism means, let me try to explain it to you. Reaching back as far as Antiquity and as recently as the 21st-century, one can see “cosmopolitanism” develop and take on various attributes that define its nature. The idea that we humans share this one globe facilitates the assumption that it is in our own best interest to preserve not only the globe but ourselves as a race. Appiah quotes the German scholar Christoph Martin Wieland to characterize cosmopolitanism in this way:

“Cosmopolitans…regard all the people of the earth as so many branches of a single family, and the universe as a state, of which they, with innumerable other rational beings, are citizens, promoting together under the general laws of nature the perfection of the whole, while each in his own fashion is busy about his own well-being.”

He further points out that the French philosophe Voltaire spoke of “the obligation to understand those with whom we share the planet, linking that need explicitly with our global economic interdependence.” What this boils down to, then, is whether or not an individual chooses to subscribe to the idea that not only do we have a degree of obligation toward others, but that we also take some degree of interest in the values of those others. This concept intrinsically means that we exhibit a genuine respect for our legitimate differences, that we acknowledge the values of others both universally and locally.

When it comes to our beliefs and the values that underlie them, we must start from where we are in understanding and interpreting the world (this is ‘the local’). Appiah states that “what it’s reasonable for you to think, faced with a particular experience, depends on what ideas you already have…and on what ideas you’ve been introduced to.” The concept of reason is age-old, but its proper application hasn’t always been seen throughout history. “The advance of reason in the industrialized world is not the product of greater individual powers of reasoning. It is the result of the fact that we have developed institutions that can allow ordinary human beings to develop, test, and refine their ideas.” It is through our own individual life experience – as well as through the societal experience of collective memory and accepted conventions – that such development, testing, and refining occurs. Depending on an individual’s experiences, the beliefs of others may seem unreasonable, irrational, or even false at face value. And in a world of social media and broad generalizations (i.e., black and white conclusions based on thinly developed and understood ideas), that usually makes for a very fragile fabric holding society together.

To put all of this in perspective, I think a good way to illustrate this is to relate it to you through the concept of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Off the cuff, we tend to think that just because we’d like something done to us (or conversely, to not have something done to us), that means we do (or don’t do) the same thing to another person. That is not always the right way to think about it. Appiah elaborates on various ideas (social customs and practices, cultural taboos, and the fact that not everyone is tapped into understanding these things on a local level), culminating in the notion that for the Golden Rule to work, we have to know not just why we’re doing what we’re doing to others but also how what we do will strike those others. This boils down to perception: how they perceive your action and how you think you perceive their values and beliefs. The struggle, then, is not necessarily to agree on those values, but to understand them. This is where disagreement and conflict enter the scene.

Appiah elaborates on three different degrees or types of disagreement: “we can fail to share a vocabulary of evaluation (on values), we can give the same vocabulary different interpretations, and we can give the same values different weights.” Value language helps shape common responses of thought, feeling, and action; by extension, communication in general helps strengthen the bridge between individuals, groups, and societies – because it leads to understanding, which (for its own sake, and not necessarily for the sake of believing) is key. “The points of entry to cross-cultural conversations are things that are shared by those who are in the conversation” (just as it’s done in a conversation between a group of close friends). The hard part is the often present unfamiliarity or even fear of the unknown when trying to strike up those conversations. However, the “possibility of discovering things we do not yet share is one of the payoffs of cosmopolitan curiosity: we can learn from one another, or we can simply be intrigued by alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.”

If we engage in communication and the subsequent understanding of each other on the local level, and then carry that over across state lines, national borders, and ultimately throughout the world, a degree of universalism would characterize some of our values and beliefs that we share globally (while still maintaining our particular ones locally). This, of course, negates the idea of cultural purity in the context of a world order (Appiah goes into detail on the problems with a global state) – “cultural purity” is oxymoronic, and the diversity that stems from the plethora of local values and beliefs that comprise a society’s culture is nothing but helpful in allowing an individual to take stock of themselves and grow through an eclectic life experience. The vehicle of universal value systems is great when used positively and for good; the linchpin to this, though, is toleration. “Universalism without toleration easily turns to murder.” From the French wars of religion, the Thirty Years’ War, the Inquisition, the Nazis, al-Qaeda, and many other cases, history has provided us with a multitude of examples where attempts at universal value systems went wrong.

One common thread to all of these examples is the idea of singularity: for example, the Nazis used the phrase “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (one people, one nation, one leader). Monolithic singularity is the opposite of toleration, which “requires a concept of the intolerable”…and the intolerable in a cosmopolitan’s mind is the insistence by one group or people of their superiority over all others in more aspects than one. Appiah states that one distinctively cosmopolitan commitment is to pluralism, but he also includes the commitment to fallibilism (the notion of our knowledge being imperfect and subject to change in the face of new evidence). If an individual can indulge the perspectives of others and admit to being fallible, then they are headed in the right direction toward a better society where the ills we face today that stem from the in-group/out-group mentality would be vastly fewer in number.

So to bring us back to the premise established at the start of this post…

  1. Everyday life is indeed not black and white, not absolute or finite, but rather a complex mix of intricate nuances.
  2. Those nuances are made from all of our own values and beliefs based on our individual life experiences.
  3. Communicating with each other to understand and tolerate those values and beliefs will lend to the spread of positive universal values and beliefs, creating a better global society.

I truly think that if more people subscribed to the ideas of pluralism and fallibilism, and followed that action up with the action of reaching beyond their shell, their clique, their complacent mindsets, then we would see a great deal of progress in social relations as well as the discourse relating to the causality of problems that correspond to the politico-economic machinations we see transpire around us.

As I wrap up this first post in what I suppose we can call a short series, I will point to two ideas already included here that I will elaborate on further in the next post. The first is the in-group/out-group mentality, and the second is toleration. These two concepts are symbiotic toward each other, and they can act as a sort of framework through which we can understand the history that has delivered us into the world we know today.

Thank you, friends!

Mike/”Eli”

Happy New Year, 2021!

Well, well…it’s been a moment or two since I’ve written to you. Very much has changed since May 2018, and of course coming off the tails of 2020 means we just closed out a very chaotic and unique year. I simply wanted to use this post to bring my followers, friends, and family up to speed on life, career, and writing.

What Has Changed at Home

When I wrote my last post in May 2018, my son Everett was just over a year old, I was about halfway through my master’s degree, and I was on the cusp of finishing my third year of online teaching (during which I implemented a World History curriculum that I had spent the previous two years or so developing). For whatever reason, that summer brought about a lot of stuff that seemed to consume my personal time. It didn’t help that I wasn’t actively writing anything new – at least not consistently working on a manuscript day in, day out – but my time at home was taken up by things that I made a higher priority.

As that year progressed, Sarah’s pregnancy with our daughter became more of our focus. We spent time nesting for a girl instead of a boy, the latter of which we moved into his big boy bed and own room around Thanksgiving. Knowing that we would be welcoming a girl into the world excited us, but boy is she a spitfire now! Marin Verona is independent, fiery, loves her cuddles, and speaks her mind even in her limited vocabulary. She was born the day after Christmas (after Sarah got induced) and right away we knew she would further round out our family.

Not too long after that, Everett turned two years old, followed by my 30th birthday. It surprisingly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though Sarah didn’t refrain from reminding me that she was still in her twenties and I was not. Throughout the rest of 2019 we enjoyed family time at home with two kids, both of whom loved on each other and gradually played well together. One less happy thing sticks out in 2019, and that was the sudden and unexpected passing of our dog Nika the week before Thanksgiving. The kids of course were too young (especially Marin) to really know what happened; Sarah and I weren’t even 100% sure why Nika passed away. I think it had something to do with her heart, but I was too distraught to have the vet look into it. I still haven’t taken Nika’s leash down from the hook behind the door. Everett brings her up every now and then, and at times we have to remind him that she died and she’s not just “gone” from the house somewhere. It’s been over a year at this point, and I’m finally moving on internally – but there will always be a part of me that wishes we could’ve had more time with her as she lived out the rest of her life.

Developments in My Academic Life

In the spring of 2019, I went to the campus of my alma mater – the University of Mount Union – to give a guest lecture in one of my history professor’s classes. While there, the department chair and I talked about the potential need of adjunct professors in the history department. I told her that it is my academic dream to teach at Mount Union, and that I’d keep in touch as I neared the end of my master’s degree.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2020, by which time I had completed my master’s program courses and was awarded an “A with Honors” designation for my master’s thesis paper I submitted in February of that year, and that’s when things got interesting: COVID hit and changed everyone’s lives and daily routine as they knew it. In the transition from in-person classes to online instruction, the history department needed someone tech savvy with online teaching experience and the proper credentials. Long story short, I was thankful to be given the opportunity to teach the remainder of the Western Civilization II course for the spring semester after an expedient onboarding and orientation process during my spring break of that year.

I went on to teach two summer sessions of the same course, which I had already been developing hoping that the opportunity would eventually present itself. As summer edged toward fall, I finished developing the last components of the Contemporary Europe course that I had also been working on since the spring, which I taught as my first full semester course in the fall of 2020. I ultimately had six students when it was all said and done, all of whom did well and helped make my first full semester course memorable. During that course, I spent my off time developing a Renaissance and Reformation course, which I am offering this spring (2021) and am excited to take a crack at teaching. It was a course I enjoyed learning about when I was a student, and I’ve since cultivated that enjoyment in reading and writing the course. As of the time of this posting, I am about to begin developing an Eastern Europe course that I will offer in the fall of 2021, which I am very much looking forward to doing.

Where Does That Leave Me with Writing?

At the moment, as you can see, I am rather preoccupied with putting my new degree to great use in diving into the world of higher education through online adjunct teaching – and through Mount Union, at that! I do, however, feel the bug to get back to writing. I currently have a manuscript of over 40,000 words on my virtual shelf, but it’s in need of another 20-25,000 words before I can say the rough draft is complete. This story is not related to the World War II stories of the Faces of the War collection, but is its own story. It also is rather different from how I’ve written historical fiction in the past. The best way I can describe this story without giving away details is by providing this hybrid genre name: “mystorical thriction.” It’s a little bit of a mystery, a little bit of a thriller, all mixed into historical fiction.

I don’t yet know when I will be able to get to writing on this manuscript in earnest, but I’d like to think that after the new school year gets underway and I’m done writing the Eastern Europe course is when it might occur. In that case, if I can utilize my time effectively in the fall, I could have a final draft published by the end of 2022. I really want to do this story well, give it a solid writing effort (as well as have it thoroughly edited by a professional), and make it a clear improvement on my writing from my WWII project of more than a few years ago.

Lastly, given that this post was published on the release date anniversary of my fourth book, Needless, I am offering a discount on the Kindle version of that book between January 5-11. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app and read it on your phone or other device. You can access the book’s sales page here if you’d like to get your copy. In addition to that book, I’m running discounts on the other three books throughout all of January – but they’re only scheduled for discount at certain times, so pay attention! You can get your hands on my third book, Imminent, discounted between January 12-18; on my second book, Unguarded, discounted between January 19-25; and on my first book, Resistant, discounted for FREE between January 26-30. And if you’re looking for a shorter read instead, check out my first and second short story volumes on Kindle for FREE between January 26-30 as well. I’d greatly appreciate if you left a review when you finish a book. Thanks!

That is all for now, so I thank you for your time and attention to read up on what I’ve been up to over the last two and a half years. I’m excited to see what the year has in store and I truly hope I can get back into a rhythm of posting here and keeping you all in tune with what’s going on – as I know a good number of my family and friends read this to stay in touch.

Until next time!

Mike/”Eli”

Curriculum Development: Reflecting on a Whirlwind Year

Friends,

I hope this post finds you well and, if you’re a teacher like a me, ready for summer to arrive. Even if you’re not a teacher, I’m sure you’re anticipating summer anyway. This week marked the penultimate week of the 2017-18 school year for me, with today specifically marking my ten-year anniversary since graduating high school. It seems like so long ago, but as a history teacher I know that ten years is not that long. A lot has happened in my life since May 25, 2008, with becoming a teacher and educating young minds being a highlight. Part of that, at least over the past two years, has involved developing my own curriculum.

The Spiraled Approach

Around the New Year of 2017 I decided that I wanted to develop my own Modern World History curriculum, mostly out of necessity. The curriculum with which I worked at my online school was of poor quality – a reflection not of the school but of the company through whom we purchased the curriculum. Upon taking stock of what needed done, an idea came to me: I should spiral my teaching so as to visit the topics multiple times. This materialized as a solution to the problem of students enrolling later into the semester and missing the content from the beginning. Spiraling, in theory, would solve that issue. I would introduce the topic from a broad perspective, hitting the basics; after introducing all the topics, I would revisit them all again but get into more depth this second time around; the third time through involved even deeper learning of the topics, getting very specific with the points I taught to illustrate the concepts and ideas within the standards.

All in all, I would say those students who were enrolled since Day 1 and went through the whole curriculum learned more and were better off than my students last year who learned World History in the traditional manner (straight up chronology, one time through). I don’t have the data off-hand to back this up, but I feel confident in stating it. A large part of why this worked, in my opinion, is because of repetition. They say that repetition is a good way to help make a learned idea “stick,” so it was my hope that we’d more effectively learn something if we hit it a couple of times. If I were to have the choice, I still would have done it this year. And I plan to do it again next year, hopefully – having gone through it once – with a better grasp on what worked, what didn’t, and how I can keep my teaching fresh and the content relevant.

More Curriculum

In addition to wrapping up my first year of spiraled curriculum, I took on the opportunity (along with another social studies teacher) to co-develop a curriculum for a new World Geography course that we’re offering next school year. We tossed the idea around last year but it never came to anything; this year it’s on. The biggest reason for wanting this course was due to the fact that geography skills are very lacking in our (and most likely many other) students. A cringe-worthy example came last year when a student of mine thought France was in South America. I don’t expect students to know where every country is on the map, but at least know the general location or where the ‘big ones’ are. I don’t yet have the details, but my hope is that the course won’t be offered until the spring semester so my colleague and I have some solid time in which to write a good course. I think I should mention, too, that it’s not just maps; a lot of it actually deals with the geography of people (i.e. mass migrations and demographic implications on the environment). In any case, I’m excited to add this to my experience and to teach students about modern world geography.

As I look back on this year (sighing only a little at the fact that I still have four more instruction days), I am glad to have had the opportunity to try out something new by teaching what I love. Things have been crazy in the meantime – rogue students, an influx of students due to a major school closing, and other minute challenges in the every day – but nothing that has made me go mad. I look forward to summer break to give my mind a rest from the daily grind, and to work on next year’s material. I’ll also be finishing up my current grad class, writing my next book when I have time, and of course watching the World Cup. But I’ll get to those things in later posts.

Until next time,

Eli

P.S. – Here’s a throwback of my graduation day in 2008 (I’m on the right)!

graduation