Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring Returns

In the past week, Ann Arbor has erupted into a verdant sea of nature, made twice as idyllic by the absence of tens of thousands of undergrads. And with that, I feel I should make my long-negligent return to the internet.

I have a lot to show for my absence. I wrote what will be my last academic class paper. This class, which I've probably raved about already, was fantastic. Ostensibly on film historiography, it presented a lot of theory and practice, dos and donts for any type of academic research. The class had 8 students, all of us with historiographic archival projects. Our penultimate and antepenultimate classes were devoted to workshopping our papers, and the last class to general musings about what else we'd like to learn, suggestions for the course, and good cheer- and it was held at a bar. This I approve. And I think the course helped me concretely, not to mention really pushed my research skills. The result, a 54 page paper. A paper I felt invested in, one I hope to convince my committee should be in my dissertation, and one that left me pondering what next. Writing and researching it was hell, hours and hours of microfilms, keeping track of over a hundred film reviews. But it's that energy, that feeling like your writing isn't just an exercise or the final step to dump whatever you've read but a process of continuing discovery.

Also, the end of the semester means grading. You know, I put on three Gene Kelly musicals, and just sat there grading essays until I finished. The exams are the sticking point here. I loved teaching, I loved the engagement with the students. We had plenty of great in-class discussions, and I felt like they not only grasped things, but could offer their own ideas and felt safe and encouraged to do so. That's a major victory. But the exams sink back to mediocrity- playing it safe by regurgitating ideas, convoluted and unengaged writing, and the occasional bizarre leap or interpretation that only builds my excitement for something daring but never delivered. And so I continue mulling over how to design an exam or paper that doesn't just challenge but encourages students to really engage personally. (Actually, I do like much of the exams and the papers, but it needs work as always).

But these things are past. It's spring, I can enjoy the weather. I had a lovely lunch today with three of my undergrad friends. And I'm making progress on my first chapter draft, which I started Monday and have found a nice, relaxed, productive pace to start the summer. Later there will be a conference, friends in distant cities, archival moments, and the usual. But for now, it's enough to enjoy that walk to the library through the green campus, and the satisfying walk back in the afternoon and put the computer and books away.


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