Why PubClassroom?

Why Pub Classroom?

Dreaming in Translation

Academics harbor a lot of learning. But all that knowledge and insight often remains unused in the public. In an odd parallel with the old story about Las Vegas, what’s learned in colleges and universities often stays there. Part of the reason for this is that citizens outside academia are too busy with their own work to follow scholarly publications or attend college classes; and many don’t have the time or money for academic training, or even notice why anyone needs this kind of work.

But another reason for this disconnect of “town and gown” is that academics often speak with more intricacy and complexity than most people have patience for—and sometime analyze with more elaboration than is immediately necessary for the understanding how to steer through key issues and problems. Using academic learning for understanding direction would actually be helpful to the average person. True confessions: I live the professor type, ready to elaborate in detail; I thank my children for warning me about too much “complexifying.”

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Back in the Classroom

Historians, the Columbos of Our Cultural Life

similar versions of this essay have appeared in History News Network, August 27, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166629, in The Huffington Post, August 28, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59a48a7ae4b0d6cf7f404fa5, and in the Society for US Intellectual History Blog, September 16, 2017, https://s-usih.org/2017/09/historians-the-columbos-of-our-cultural-life-guest-post-by-paul-croce/

You don’t have to like the people you study and teach, but as with the TV private investigator Frank Columbo, get to know them.

The death of Thomas Haskell is sad news and a loss to the field of history.  James Kloppenberg, a friend of Haskell’s since their days together as fellow PhD students in History at Stanford University, offers a fine tribute to his great work by highlighting the twin peaks of historical insight that Haskell practiced, “To Understand and to Judge,” https://s-usih.org/2013/05/to-understand-and-to-judge-kloppenberg-on-haskell/.  On first reading Haskell’s Emergence of Professional Social Science and “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility,” I found orienting understanding of modern American cultural and intellectual history, about how we think and how we feel.  These lessons are also good reminders that as historians, we don’t have to like what we learn.  Learning the worlds of our study is the mission of the historian.

Kloppenberg offers good practical advice about the importance of reticence; in an era of information overload that is also an act of charity.  And even more valuable than saying fewer words is the ability to choose words carefully.  This is particularly significant these days with a public culture featuring more heat than light on so many issues.  Historians have the gift of careful thought and abundant awareness of contexts.  We can offer these lights to the raging contemporary cultural scene.

Jim Kloppenberg’s words, and Thomas Haskell’s example offer good platforms for these public roles.  As they show, the good understanding that history can provide is built on both thorough research and seeing the topics of our stories from multiple points of view.  That will result in not only reporting on the historical record, but also both “respect[ing] the record,” as Kloppenberg points out, and also understanding the record even more deeply than would be possible with fewer angles of vision.

I first learned these historical lessons in my own historical studies of the psychologist and philosopher William James.  He advocates what I call an “unblinking” approach to experience.  Selective attention to comfortable slices of the world, to ideas and behaviors where we feel “at home” are so common, but perpetually distorting.  He urges keeping open to different “sentiments of rationality,” and he quickly adds that listening to diverse points of view does not mean abandoning one’s own.  It might even enrich them, and it will surely help in dealing with those strange “others” who disagree.

Openness to what the historical record has to teach is the first art of the historian.  Addressing it with both diligence and humility is the best way to maintain “truthfulness to it,” as Kloppenberg says of Haskell.  And James’s unblinking approach can continue to illuminate for our time, to coach toward our goals of fidelity to the historical record.

I offer an example of this unblinking approach to the recent historical record in this essay on “What We Can Learn From Fake News,” https://pubclassroom.com/2017/07/24/what-we-can-learn-from-fake-news/.  Historians can enrich public discourse not just by critiquing fake news stories, but also by attempting to learn how they appeal.

Historians can become like the Columbos of our public life.  In Peter Falk’s memorable role as the private investigator Lieutenant Frank Columbo (http://www.metv.com/lists/16-fascinating-facts-about-peter-falk-and-columbo), he would solve crimes by getting to know the suspects.  In the same way, historians let us get to know the producers and consumers of fake new, and the whole array of characters, from heroes to villains, in our cultural dramas.   That understanding of how we think and feel can help all citizens be better judges of the worlds around them.

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Popular Thinking in Political Campaigns

What We Can Learn from Fake News

FakeNewsAn earlier version of this article appeared in History News Network, July 23, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166400 , and in The Huffington Post, July 25, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-we-can-learn-from-fake-news_us_597764e7e4b0940189700cd0

False facts provide clues about the stories that make the fakery seem true.

Fake news has both producers and consumers.  Stories like the one about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump for president are eye catching, but fake news can really only generate much power when a lot of people believe it.  Without that, it is just so much sputtering, and can even backfire on the perpetrators by smearing them with a reputation for dishonesty or for being just plain crazy.  Continue reading

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William James Coming of Age…Between Childhood and Fame

A Coming-of-Age Story, Young William James Thinking

How did William James (1842-1910), a chief founder of American psychology and of the philosophy of pragmatism, come of age?  How do any of us develop from young adulthood, with all its choices and confusions, to maturity?  How did young William James become the William James of fame and influence?

While researching and writing Young William James Thinking, I discovered that in the formative years of his youth adulthood, James engaged in deep learning even through his painful struggles.  During his times of “weakness [and]…exhilaration,” as he put it, he developed a “decisive ambivalence,” which would establish the basis for many connecting threads in his far-flung life work.  During these years, he established his commitment to mediating contrasting points of view, and to finding the relation of material and immaterial dimensions of life, such as science and religion, body and mind, and objective and subjective experiences.

Find snippets of stories from the book at https://youngwilliamjamesthinking.tumblr.com/.

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After Election Quake 2016

The 100-Day Barometer: Republicans Governing in Purple Times

The article originally appeared in The Huffington Post, April 25, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58feb26be4b0f420ad99cb55

Looking at a Florida Congressman to read the tea leaves of Republican next steps.

To get a sense of the anxieties and tensions Washington, you need go no further than Daytona Beach, Florida, in a purple part of a purple state in a purple nation.  After November’s Republican sweep, and 100 days into the administration of President Donald Trump, with accompanying Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and most state offices, members of the GOP are in the awkward position of governing a nation that is much more split than the red maps of their dominant positions would indicate.  The representative in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, Ron DeSantis, a Republican loyalist, is at the center of this tide, which is showing the strains that emerge when outsiders gain power, especially when surrounded by all those who don’t support them.

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Uncategorized

The Many Stories of DAT

Attention becomes more important when there is more to pay attention to.  The information explosion of the modern world has put attention front and center as the gatekeeper of a flood of information, misinformation, and different interpretations about all those facts and claims.  Even the simple acronym, DAT, used on this page for Deficit Attention Tweets, points to oceans of input on many fronts. Continue reading

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Uncategorized

Halloween 2016

Paul Croce, Halloween Night: Window to Fantasy.

Fantasy ruled the night.

I’m not referring to election night, but to MegaHalloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand.  I met about 1000 festive and creepy characters, and there must have been at least that many more on the street, making it a carnival.  From my random sampling, as the social scientists say, I got a hint of the taste for fantasy among the outfits with people who graced my front yard.  And fantasy-fueled imagination also meant a lot of characters crossing over into all kinds of combinations.

People dress in outfits from the world around them, like the 4 Doctors including 1 Dr. Decay (how does this one stay in practice?), 1 Tacky Tourist, 6 Football Players and 5 Cheerleaders (including 1 Gothic Cheerleader), 5 Police Officers (one was “Buff”) but only 4 Robbers (1 had his “gun ready” and another was also a Nun!), and 1 Overweight Gen Xer.  They tap long spans of history such as with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, a Renaissance Woman, Bob Marley, 4 Native American Indians, including 1 Pocahontas, and 2 Flappers; and the natural world with 4 Butterflies, 3 Foxes, including 1 with a sword and 1 downright “Foxy Fox,” 2 Cheetahs, 1 Bunny, and of course 2 Spiders. Continue reading

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Uncategorized

2-2016 Election Quake II: Five Lessons from Recent History

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 21, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/2016-election-quake-ii-fi_b_13126268.html

The Trump Phenom and Republican sweep have roots that go even deeper than the inaccurate polls.  The recent past tells the story of the rising strength of sentiments that would lead to this election quake. 

An air of shock and awe still hovers around the election results.  Donald J. Trump declared war on the federal government, on big business, on military and foreign policy leaders, on words that work in campaigning, even on his fellow Republicans, and of course on Democrats.  Few expected these results, from respected polling professionals to Republicans themselves—even as that party benefitted in Congress and state houses.  Recent history shows that these surprises have been building for years.

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