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”

Reflections: Writing My First Four Books

Friends,

I hope this post finds you well and (hopefully) enjoying the early signs of an approaching spring! In this post, I wanted to offer some reflection on writing my first four books, which constitute my Faces of the War collection set during WWII. There will also be a special announcement at the end of this post regarding the collection.

Book One: Resistant

When I set out to write my first book in the fall of 2013, I had no idea it would lead to a collection. I figured it would be a standalone book. But as the early stages went on, I thought on the possibility more and more of expanding it. And that’s how I arrived at the idea of a collection, not a series — separate stories set during the same time period but focusing on different characters facing different struggles. The idea seemed solid, so I moved forward with it.

For the writing itself, the majority of it took place while I was long-term substituting for In-School Suspension at my high school. Needless to say, every day was quiet and long, which gave me plenty of time to work on my manuscript. Within about four months, I had finished my rough draft and was ready to have it edited. I reached out to a friend of mine who is a big reader and holds an English degree, and she agreed to edit it for me. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of money so I was (and still am) very gracious to her for helping me get my first project off the ground. From the birth of the manuscript to the release of my book, which was handled by a third-party company (for cover design and book distribution), the whole process took about six months. A little brief most might say, but it was a fun and enlightening ride.

Resistant - Front Cover

Looking back on the whole experience, the one biggest thing I learned was to not be afraid to write. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that people won’t like your work, or think your ideas don’t make sense…or that what you’re trying to do is just plain stupid. Nevermind all that. Writing quickly became something of a passion for me – something that was an outlet, an escape, a way to express myself. Since then, I’ve never cared what people think.

Book Two: Unguarded

Coming off the euphoria of having a published book to my (pen) name, I immediately set out planning and writing my second book. I wanted to approach WWII from a fresh angle, so I figured what was opposite of Book One? The answer was: instead of a French woman fighting on the ground, it was a British man fighting in the sky. All right – I now had my basic story premise. Now, what should the title be? I had worked up the idea of having a subliminal message within the titles of these books, which of course is not so subliminal now that I’m elaborating on it. When put in order, the first letters of each title spells RUIN, which is what is brought on by war and conflict. So what “U” word could go with an RAF pilot? I won’t delve any deeper so as to not spoil the story, but the process of developing the story based on the title was challenging and fun.

From the summer of 2014 through the fall and early winter up to late December, the manuscript was developed and edited (again by another English degree-possessing friend) in time for a January 2015 release. At this point in my life, I was married for almost a year, had been working a part-time job for about four months, and was already looking forward to writing the next book!

Cover - Round 2

The one biggest thing I learned from this experience was how to self-publish in the truest sense of the term. On the first book, I used the services of a third-party company to help get my book off the ground. This time around, and on the subsequent projects, I went about the whole process myself via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace (for hard copy). Through quite a bit of research, trial and error, and some asking around, I figured out the process of KDP and Createspace relatively quickly. Heading into my third project, I knew I was prepared to tackle it – both on the writing side and the logistics side.

Book Three: Imminent

In the spring of 2015, I began working on my third WWII story. Part of this story spawned out of a book I read (as do a lot of tiny details of my stories) the previous year: Ortona Street Fight by Mark Zuehlke. It was a very vivid and engaging read for me, and it showed me a side of the Italian campaign that I hadn’t known up to that point. The rest of the story, though, was formed mostly from my own creation with bits of external inspiration thrown in here and there.

By the time the fall of 2015 rolled around, the manuscript was in pretty good shape with the help of a few editor friends. Thinking of a release date, I wanted to keep in line with the ‘one book per year’ idea if doable, so I aimed for January again. This time, it was earlier in the month than Book Two’s release. Christmas came and went, and I had the pre-order confirmed through Amazon KDP. The release date arrived and I was even more excited to see my newest creation on the virtual bookshelf of Amazon than I was for Book Two. I had done it – I had written three books.

cover_6

Something valuable I learned with this project was the importance of balancing action and movement in the plot with character development. It’s still something I’m working on, but this is where it really started to pick up (with the early inklings of improvement being felt in Book Two). Establishing solid characters with believable and sensible backgrounds and motives helps make for a great story. I’m sure it will be one of those things that I look back on years from now and wish I could rewrite these stories with the writing talent I’ll have developed when I’m older. I knew the collection was drawing to a close with the final letter of RUIN on deck for Book Four. So I buckled down and tried to approach the genre and time period from an angle I had not yet explored.

Book Four: Needless

Shortly after releasing Book Three, I began work on the final installment of my collection (at least as far as the RUIN acronym goes). The spring of 2016 was a hectic one for me, especially with my wife and I (and our pets) moving into a new house. I had also been teaching online full time for about six months. Once the planning process got underway, though, my gears were churning out some interesting plot ideas.

I wanted this fourth story to be bold, different, and fresh, but also familiar to readers of the previous stories. This was a challenge, but it made the writing process that much more engaging and intriguing. How do I write this or that character differently from others who came before? How do I describe this place or those people without using the same phrases and descriptors as before? How do I keep my reader guessing? All valid questions that perpetually raced through my mind into the summer and fall of 2016. As time went on, the writing came fluidly and the ideas became more concrete. With my eyes set on Christmas as the final deadline for wrapping up the process, I pushed as hard as I could to finish the story and get it ready for yet another January release. This time, I chose January 5 – the due date of my wife’s and my first child. Though he didn’t come until five days later, it was still an exciting end to the process!

pratt_needless-final-front-cover-ebook

Something meaningful that I took away from this writing experience was the idea that I was writing something I enjoyed, yes, but that also my writing could be used to educate. Historical fiction can sometimes become a hairy genre in that facts are skewed and the liberties writers take with the fact-and-fiction balance are usually liberal. With that in mind, I told myself that from then on I would write as close to fact as possible so that my stories could be utilized as tools to educate, and to not only entertain.

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I am so happy that I was able to embark on such a fun, enlightening, and at times exhilarating journey almost five years ago…not because I get to say that “I’m a writer” but because the journey has changed me. And because of that change, I am inspired to write more. It’s a type of process that develops you as a person, unleashing your mind to the world at large.

Since I completed this Faces of the War project in what has come to be an average of ‘four books in four years,’ I wanted to do something special for my current readers but also for ones who perhaps are looking at my work with growing interest. On this, the four-year anniversary of the release of Resistant, I am lowering the Kindle prices of my WWII books in all markets through Amazon. They should be changed within three days’ time of this posting.

As a ‘thank-you’ to everyone who has read my work, has encouraged me along the way, and in general has just been awesome, my work is even more available than it was before. I enjoy writing just as readers enjoy reading, and so I want to make my stories readable to more people. For the convenience of the majority of those reading this blog, I’m including the links to the US and UK markets below:

Eli Kale on Amazon.com  ~  Eli Kale on Amazon.co.uk

~  Resistant on Amazon.com.au  ~

I am truly grateful to have such wonderful people in my life – even ones whom I have not met but with whom I’ve connected through my books. At the core of an author’s work is the people who make it worthwhile. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In addition to this discount celebration, if you will, I am linking a guest post below from a colleague’s blog. It’s just a little something extra that was fun – you’ll see why when you read it. I not only enjoy writing but also networking and building relationships with others in the craft.

Eli Kale Guest Post on Kate Foster’s Blog

Until next time,

EK

After a Year’s Hiatus

Friends,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Having not blogged in a year, I’m feeling the rust as I type this message to you. If you are new to my site, or perhaps you’ve been around but need a refresher as to why I was M.I.A., let me explain. I released my most recent book, Needless, on January 5 of last year and within a week I was a new father to a beautiful baby boy that my wife and I named Everett. He is now going on thirteen months old, which is a sign of the times flying by. A lot has happened in that year, which I’ll talk a little bit about now.

 

Heading into the week of my wife’s due date (and really, even before that time), I had already made up my mind that I was going to take a break from writing and blogging for a while to focus on my newborn son and the crazy transition that ensued. If you’re a parent, you know. With Needless being the last (for now) book in my WWII collection, I didn’t have pressing plans to write and publish anything in the immediate future. So I artificially bookended that chapter of my life as an author, knowing that I’d begin a new chapter eventually…and hopefully be in a better position to write and work on my projects. I would like to think that that time has arrived, or at least is nearly upon us.

Over the past handful of months, I’ve worked sparingly on a project about which I’m very excited – and for various reasons. I won’t go into much detail right now, as I want this post to be one that gets me back into the routine of blogging and sharing my writing life (and other stuff) with you. I will say, though, that this next project is not WWII-related, and it is something very different from what I’ve written before. And I think it is a ‘good’ different. I will have more on this in the future, as my focus is on many things. The publication goal for this project is very rough – a few years or so out from release – so I’m in no rush to divulge story details and the like.

To wrap things up here, I’d like to list a small number of things I’ve done or that have changed since I last blogged:

  • I have taken and passed two more graduate courses for my MA in European History program (Graduate Seminar in European History and Modern European History)
  • I have started my third year teaching high school social studies in 2017-2018; the highlight so far this year has been seeing the curriculum I wrote over the past year come to life and bear fruit – spiraled curriculum is seemingly helping my students better grasp the information they’re being taught
  • I went to New York in July ’17 to watch a professional football (soccer) match between the Italian team Juventus and the Catalan giants Barcelona, the highlight of which was definitely seeing many big names play live – notably Lionel Messi
  • I lost a net weight of 12 pounds since January ’17 when I made it a personal goal to start getting serious about my health; I’m one week into my next year’s cycle and I’ve already dropped two pounds and am feeling much better than I had been
  • And of course, the last year has been amazingly wonderful as I got to watch my son grow into a budding one-year-old with such a great personality (minus the random screams)…all with my wife by my side!

I hope that things have been well for you, my readers, over the past year, and I pray that you can understand my desire to take a break after three years straight of writing and living life. My plan moving forward is this: I will start out slow so I can effectively get back into a blogging groove and not burn out after a month, and to do this I will post once a month as we get into the summer season. I’ll make each post about a certain topic or interest of mine (with education, writing, and traveling being key inclusions), so that way it’s not just about the status of my current project.

Thank you again for reading, and if you’re new – welcome and feel free to subscribe to my blog. I appreciate having people who take an interest in what I do, even if it’s just through a quick blog post once a month.

Until next time,

Eli

Needless Book Release Details!

Friends,

I hope this post finds you well in these early days of the new year, and that you are well on your way to accomplishing your goals – whether in your work or personal life! There has been much excitement on my end, as my new book Needless just released today. Let’s dive on into today’s post…

The Faces of the War Collection

If you’ve been following along with me for a while, you know that this book has been in the making since I released my last book, Imminent, last January. I blitzed the rough draft this past summer, knocking out around 40K words in about ten weeks or so. After some fine tuning and tweaking in the autumn months, the book was made ready for pre-order. The day has finally arrived, and my story is now available to the world!

You can check out what Needless is all about and, if you’d like, get a copy from Amazon here.

As part of the process of releasing a new book in a collection or series, I spent this morning going through and updating the eBook and print manuscript files to reflect the new book. When it comes to this, mostly for the Kindle books, it’s best to ensure any links you have in your front or back matter work and are formatted correctly. And even though there aren’t links in a print book, it’s still a good practice to ensure the wording is how you want it and that it best directs your reader to your other work and/or website.

So now that this fourth book is complete and out in the world, I will take a little break from writing, as mentioned in my last post. My wife and I are still expecting our first child – whose due date is actually today – so I want to devote my energy and focus toward that when the time comes. I anticipate that in the summer months I’ll write here and there, but I don’t expect to release anything new in the near future. But fret not, for I do have a handful of project ideas that I can work on and turn into stories…but when the time is right.

I’d like to close by giving a word of gratitude to all those who have supported this passion of mine, who have lent me their opinions and insights, and those who have encouraged me to come as far as I have. Without you, I wouldn’t have grown in the ways that I have, nor become the writer I am – still needing improvements here and there, but a writer nonetheless. I look forward to what the coming months bring as I set out on this new adventure in life, and I can’t wait to see what writing I get into when I fully return to it.

Until next time,

-Eli

Holiday 2016 Update

Friends,

With 2016 nearing its end and my fourth WWII historical fiction book almost ready to launch on Amazon, I wanted to send one final update regarding a few things.

First, we are in full baby mode! Sarah and I have gotten just about everything squared away in preparation for the arrival of our first child, due January 5. The nursery looks great, and it’s setting in that there will be a third addition to the family very soon (aside from Nika and Zazu, of course). Needless to say, things are getting exciting around here!

Coinciding with this nesting phase is the second course in my graduate program. At this point, I have everything done except a book to read and a paper to write on it, which I plan to knock out this week. I strive to be on top of my work and to get as much done as I can early on, which will hopefully make these final weeks easier on myself. After this course, I’ll take a few months’ break before beginning my next course (probably in April).

In addition to taking a break from graduate work, I’ll be taking a break from writing (at least any major writing) in order to devote time and energy to being a new parent. I’m also writing my own curriculum for the Modern World History class that I teach, which is to go into effect next school year, so I’ll be piecing on that as well over the months. All in all, I think this new chapter in life will be an adventure, and I can’t wait to begin it!

That’s about it for personal stuff. Below are the details for the pre-order of my upcoming book as well as discounts and deals going on with previous titles. Much of it was in the last blog post, so it might be familiar to some of you. But still, check it out if you’re interested in getting your hands on any of my books over the holiday season!

For anyone new to my work, I am on the cusp of releasing my fourth book in a collection (not a series) of stories set during the Second World War. Each story is told from the perspective of someone different from the story preceding it, covering different events altogether. My first book, Resistant, was released in April of 2014; my second book, Unguarded, was released in January of 2015; my third book, Imminent, was released in January 2016; and this fourth book will have a Kindle pre-order release date of January 5, 2017. The print version of the book will release within a day or two after the Kindle version; there is a Kindle version and a print version for my previous books as well.

This story, entitled Needless, is told from the perspective of Ben – a young man working in the U.S. Consulate-General in Barcelona in 1942 – and follows his experience in the war from there. This book is admittedly different from its predecessors in some ways, yet familiar enough for returning readers to associate it with the other three books in the collection. It was written in bulk over this past summer, but received nothing less than the usual editing rundown since then. It came in at about 80 words shy of the word count in Imminent. I had fun researching and writing this story; if I had to rank it, this storytelling experience comes in behind (but pretty close to even with) Unguarded.

Here is the cover:

pratt_needless-final-front-cover-ebook

If you’d like to pre-order this story for your Amazon Kindle, you can do so here:

Needless Pre-Order on Amazon

If you’d like to see the first draft version of the story’s Prologue, you can find it here:

Needless Prologue (First Draft, February ’16)

I am very excited to bring this story to you, and I hope that you are just as excited to read it! Over the next month, I’ll post updates on social media to remind about the pre-order. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for these deals on my others books in the lead-up to the Needless release:

Resistant – Only $0.99 on the Amazon Kindle

Unguarded – Free on the Amazon Kindle from December 22-26

Imminent – Amazon Countdown Deal from December 27 – January 2

As always, thank you for reading my post and for supporting me! To my family and close friends, I truly appreciate the love and support you all give me, inspiring me to do something I love and for which I have a passion.

I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Holiday season, and to cherish the time you have with the ones that mean so much to you. I know Sarah and I will cherish our final days as a childless couple, but will cherish time with our baby boy when he arrives. I plan to make a formal announcement through social media (as well as on my website here) when the book goes live, so keep your eyes peeled for that information.

Until next time,

-Eli

New Book Pre-Order Details

Friends,

I hope this post finds you well and that you are eager to hear more about my new book that’s on it’s way to you right now! If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably have an idea of what’s going on. If you’re new, let me explain…

I am on the cusp of releasing my fourth book in a collection (not a series) of stories set during the Second World War. Each story is told from the perspective of someone different from the story preceding it, covering different events altogether. My first book, Resistant, was released in April of 2014; my second book, Unguarded, was released in January of 2015; my third book, Imminent, was released in January 2016; and this fourth book will have a Kindle pre-order release date of January 5, 2017. The print version of the book will release within a day or two after the Kindle version; there is a Kindle version and a print version for my previous books as well.

This story, entitled Needless, is told from the perspective of Ben – a young man working in the U.S. Consulate-General in Barcelona in 1942 – and follows his experience in the war from there. This book is admittedly different from its predecessors in some ways, yet familiar enough for returning readers to associate it with the other three books in the collection. It was written in bulk over this past summer, but received nothing less than the usual editing rundown since then. It came in at about 80 words shy of the word count in Imminent. I had fun researching and writing this story; if I had to rank it, this storytelling experience comes in behind (but pretty close to even with) Unguarded.

Here is the cover:

pratt_needless-final-front-cover-ebook

If you’d like to pre-order this story for your Amazon Kindle, you can do so here:

Needless Pre-Order on Amazon

If you’d like to see the first draft version of the story’s Prologue, you can find it here:

Needless Prologue (First Draft, February ’16)

I am very excited to bring this story to you, and I hope that you are just as excited to read it! Over the next two months, I’ll post updates on social media to remind about the pre-order. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for these deals on my others books in the lead-up to the Needless release:

Resistant – Only $0.99 on the Amazon Kindle

Unguarded – Free on the Amazon Kindle from December 22-26

Imminent – Amazon Countdown Deal from December 27 – January 2

As always, thank you for reading my post and for supporting me! To my family and close friends, I truly appreciate the love and support you all give me, inspiring me to do something I love and for which I have a passion.

Until next time,

-Eli