Spring may seem distant in a year in which 49 states have snow on the ground, but those coming up for their step-one tenure reviews are probably already starting to sweat, and mid-year hires are just now settling into a (semi-) comfortable groove. It’s not too early to start contemplating your campus karma. Here are a few ways to do some impression management.
Over the years I’ve often taught Edward Bellamy’s classic 19th century utopian novel Looking Backward. It’s a blistering critique of Gilded Age America and a creative imagining of a future in which work, social class, gender relations, and the political economy have been radically reconfigured. The novel is provocative and rich in ideas, and its premises spark great debate. What it’s not is a page-turner. Most of the book is an extended lecture interspersed with occasional questions and a contrived (and mawkish) romance.
As many of you recall, one of the first professional tasks you undertook was to write a scholarly review of a book, article, exhibition, symposium, performance, research breakthrough, or new discovery. What we academics now do as a matter of course is use a skill we ought to teach our undergraduate and graduate students: critical engagement with secondary sources. In many respects, teaching students to think critically about work that has already been done is one of the more pragmatic things we can impart.
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