End of the semester wrap up: Teaching Genocide

Good timing is a funny thing. This semester I developed and taught a class called “Politics of Genocide”. I didn’t plan for it to coincide with the Armenian genocide’s 100th anniversary, but today’s Remembrance Day may help to reinforce what they have learned. I haven’t reflected much on the class because it has been a whirlwind semester for many reasons. But I thought it would be good to write out my thoughts.

To give you a bit of background, this class was based in the political science department, but it had an international and global studies marker to encourage students from IGS to take it. Most were political science majors, but I had a few English, history and psychology majors too. Because it was a higher-level class, most were juniors and seniors. Many of them were also former students from my introduction to international relations class. It was supposed to be a smaller group, but I ended up with 38 students in the end. A bit larger than I would have liked.

My goal was an interdisciplinary experience with a good amount of history and political science, but then a smattering of psychology and anthropology. I had guest lecturers for some parts, mostly from history.  I decided to use a case study approach borrowed from Scott Straus for my structure, which meant there was A LOT of history. At some points the amount caused frustration for my political science majors, especially when we discussed Yugoslavia, but they persevered. I don’t usually say this, but it was definitely good for them.

Why did I develop this course? My background in Yugoslavia was the starting point. I also knew that there would be quite a few professors around campus who specialize in different areas (Rwanda, Nuremberg, the Holocaust, Cambodia, etc) and that I could potentially draw on their expertise. Ultimately, we don’t have a course like this at UNCG. We each teach in our own little areas, but no one is doing a broad cross-country comparison of genocide. Plus I thought it would be fun. Because I’m insane like that.

Why a librarian teaching a course? Um, why not is my sarcastic answer. I have the qualifications, I have the interest, and I am willing to spend my time grading. But seriously, teaching this course as a librarian has helped me have a deeper understanding of what resources we have and what holes are in our collections. One of those holes was early scholarship on the Armenian genocide. I don’t think this was an intentional oversight, but came from a lack of awareness and assumptions about research interests on our campus. Teaching a course in my subject area and being a librarian are complementary roles and I am a better librarian and instructor because of it.

What have been the major outcomes? The most interesting one is the awareness factor. Most of my students had never heard of the Armenian genocide. As they read the news today about the Armenian genocide, they can approach the topic and the debate with more awareness and knowledge. Most of them hadn’t understood the limitations of the Genocide Convention or the lack of US response to most of the major atrocities (Rwanda, Cambodia, etc). Many of them understand better that gaining a position of power means you have “interests” that interfere (you can hide behind) with ideals (President Obama and Ambassador Power). In short, they’ve learned some depressing realities. But they’ve also learned the world is more complex than our media portrays and our politicians acknowledge. My goal is that they will stand up the next time a Clinton claims ignorance of genocide and say NO. STOP. LYING.

How does it end? Here is what I plan to tell them next week when we say good bye:

By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If you think that nothing can be done and all is hopeless, then you haven’t been paying attention. I hope you’ve learned that the world is complex and you can’t take for granted the official stories or myths. You need to approach what we are told with a critical eye, especially regarding the U.S.’s engagement with the world.
Also there is lots to be done. These are some activist organizations you can work with. Letter writing for Darfur is ongoing.  The local public library works closely with refugee communities and others fleeing atrocities. You can teach English, you can provide child care, you can help them apply for jobs.
Finally you can spread awareness of our history and the history  of the world around you. Tell people these stories. Let them know the definition of genocide. Keep educating yourselves and help educate others.
I think that is a good way to end it. I can’t wait to watch their research presentations. Hopefully I can remember to jot down some notes and blog a bit on them. So, more to come next week …

New NCLA GRS Help! Webinar

The NCLA Government Resources Section runs a webinar series on government-related topics, and all the recordings are free and available on our website. Our next webinar is in March. Just in time for Sunshine Week, we will have the National Institute on Money in State Politics with us! Join us!

Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian presents … National Institute on Money in State Politics

The Government Resources Section of the North Carolina Library Association welcomes you to a series of webinars designed to help us all do better reference work by increasing our familiarity with government information resources, and by discovering the best strategies for navigating them.

Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, has been connecting the dots between campaign finance and public policy for more than a decade. He promotes the free use of the Institute’s comprehensive, highly credentialed political donor information by investigative journalists, scholars examining state elections and public-policy processes, and attorneys involved in campaign-finance litigation—and is now focused on empowering librarians across the country.

What could YOU do with $2 billion? That’s the amount contributed to candidates and committees for 2014 state races. And why would there be so much monetary interest in these races? Sometimes legislators vote in obvious ways—and sometimes constituents wonder what may have prompted a certain vote. Ditto for governors and, now more than ever, our elected judiciary. Join Ed to learn how to research a state candidate’s donor base, the top-giving industries, and possible connections between contributors, proposed legislation, and lobbyists.

We will meet together for Session #45, online on March 18 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (Eastern). Please RSVP for the Session by March 18 using this link: http://tinyurl.com/grs-session45

Technical requirements: We will be using collaborative software called Blackboard Collaborate. It requires that you be able to download Java onto your computer, but you do not need any special software. After you RSVP, we will send you a link that you can use to test the software. If you have any questions, please contact Lynda Kellam (lmkellam@uncg.edu). You do not need a microphone as a chat system is available in the software, but you do need speakers or headphones.

The session will be recorded and made available after the live session, linked from the NCLA GRS web page (http://www.nclaonline.org/government-resources).

Empirical Librarians Unite! #emplib15

Today I participated in the first Empirical Librarians Symposium at NC A&T. The goal of the symposium was to showcase librarians conducting research and librarians supporting (mostly high-level) researchers. The organizer, Nina Exner, said it best that these two tracks mutually reinforce each other. As we support high-level research, we learn more about the research process thereby helping us to create our own research agendas. These are the highlights in my notes from the session. I hope the Power Points will go online because there was great information in them.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Diane Kelly from SILS at UNC Chapel Hill. Her talk was entitled “Why Empirical Librarianship?” and gave an excellent overview of empiricism and empirical research. A few points that stood out to me as reminders:

  • Empirical research tends to be associated with quantitative methods, but empirical research does not have to be quantitative. The goal is to use observation in order to inform what we know about the world. This can be done with qualitative methods.
  • She also had a great breakdown of the different empirical approaches (surveys, interviews, and why you would do them). Nice reminder that surveys are not the only way!
  • She also gave some readings that sound great including Lincoln and Guba’s Naturalistic Methods.

The Lightning Talks covered a range of topics. Here are the highlights:

  • Jess Bellemer at Hood Theological Seminary talked about supporting the research needs of commuter students. They shaped a thoughtful approach to supporting the unique needs of this population. I especially like that they email a summary of interaction after each consultation. I’m not sure I could scale that for my consultations, but I might be able to create a template that I could cut and paste into. Something to consider.
  • Mary Scanlon from WFU talked about business datasets and the unique considerations for those sources. She did a fabulous job discussing the differences between free and for-pay data sources and when researchers might need each type.
  • Jahala Simuel at Shaw University presented on a faculty workshop called “Copyright Law in the Digital Age”.  They got a grant to create the workshop and hire an outside expert in copyright law. It sounded really cool and I wish we could do something like that.

I also talked about supporting the patron’s research life cycle. Mostly theoretical musings but fun to put together.  

I also presented on supporting research data management on a shoestring. Most of the resources I discussed are available on our library’s Research Data Management website.

Finally Chris Eaker of the University of Tennessee and Chelcie Juliet Rowell of Wake Forest University talked about their experiences supporting data curation through a research-driven approach. In other words, their decision-making about data curation is being driven by their research into the data curation practices of peer institutions or specific user groups. They developed their projects through the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship, which sounds like a great opportunity! Definitely fun to meet some more folks interested in data issues!

Overall great symposium. Looking forward to #2!

what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger #alamw15

what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger #alamw15

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I know blogging is dead (long live blogging), but in a few years it will probably be considered retro cool and those of us who kept up will be … oh whatever. So, I’m heading to Chicago in the winter for ALA midwinter 2015. Despite the cold it will be a good time. Rather than a schedule (because I never stick to it and really, who cares), here are my highlights. What are yours? Got time for a coffee with the lyndamk in that hectic weekend? If so, dm me.

  • Stumping for JP Porcaro for ALA President! JP is an old friend and a good guy with the charisma and care for leadership. Want to know more about his agenda for Pres? Stop by the booth. I’ll be there Friday after the exhibit opening (I think)
  • Writing for Against the Grain! Oh yeah, I’m press again this year. I love to write and I get to learn all about collections and stuff I would never learn on my own. Plus people see my press credentials and tell me their life stories. It’s a hoot.
  • My first ALA Awards Committee meeting! Very excited to award some awesome people. But I can’t say much more because it is all secret
  • Seeing old friends. Lots of old friends. And eating lots of good Chicago food
  • Superbowl! I’m not really excited about this, but it’ll be fun to hang with people who care. And I’m rooting for the Seahawks … Who are they playing?
  • Chicago in the winter! Januarys in the mid-west are why I fled Wisconsin. So good to be back for a short visit though.

Those are the highlights. What’s your plan for ALA?

Cocky author writes a book #cbr6

The book is hard to write about without giving away some of the plot. Because that is the main attraction of the book, I’ll try not to reveal much. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was written by Joël Dicker, a Swiss writer, and won the 2012 Grand Prix du Roman de l’Academie Francaise. The French apparently LOVE this book. I thought it was fine when reading, but after a week of thinking about it … well…9780143126683_custom-eefd5935dbbad9ac94e138162eb68bde28d24bcb-s6-c30

Two stories are interwoven throughout the book. The first is a young successful author’s attempt to write his second great novel. While he’s trying to write and consistently failing he visits an old college professor and friend in a small New England town to help him “find his story”. In the meantime, his friend becomes the primary suspect in a decades old murder after a young woman’s bones are found in his yard (they are found while digging up an area for some bushes, which made me wonder how far you have to dig in the ground for bushes, but whatever). This brings in the second story of the the fifteen year old girl’s disappearance and, surprise!, her statutory rape-tinged romance with the author’s friend (hello, pedobear!). The author decides to help his former professor, because obviously he isn’t guilty if he was in love with the 15 year old, and in the process ends up writing his next great novel based on the case.

The book is definitely a decent mystery with a thousand twists and turns in the plot. The twists aren’t that hard to see coming though, and you realize that basically everyone in this small New England town is guilty of something, everything. It reminded me so much of some film or TV show I’ve seen where basically everyone ends up trying to kill a guy who is already dead (If you can think of what the show is, let me know). There are actual clues to what is happening in the story, which is kind of clever, but made me think I was making up a different story in my head while I was reading (keep a close eye on the mother).

In the US its translation has been getting mixed reviews. On Goodreads people seem to either LOVE IT or HATE IT. Admittedly, there were two things about this book I started to hate. First he begins his chapters with cliched writing advice (from the professor to the author), most of which sounds like it came from the pages of The Artist’s Way (writing is like boxing and more blah, blah, blah). Also, for whatever reason Dicker sets the novel during the 2008 Presidential primaries. I can’t really understand why except that he wants characters to spout off random inane political comments. Purpose? Maybe to show that this is a truly American novel. Or to make it more realistic? I did hear a lot of inane political commentary in that period. Anyway, it just seems misplaced and a waste of words.

But in the end, I thought the book was fine. Despite the main character’s over the top confidence in his abilities and tendency to mansplain to everyone (even male cops), I enjoyed the story. It is a good page-turner, but at the end of the day so are Dan Brown’s books (which is why I curse myself the entire time I’m greedily reading those dumb dumb books). And at least Dan Brown doesn’t have the pretension of being, you know, award-winning literature.

Serena Serena

Serena is one scary, scary woman. serena

I loved Serena by Ron Rash except on the nights after binge reading when I woke up from nightmares about jaguars and eagles and death. Yeah, not so much fun that. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a brutal story, but not one that feels gratuitous like Game of Thrones can at times (After watching the Red Wedding I felt completely punk’d, but that’s a story for another day). It is a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense and, beyond its literary allusions, it is a gripping story.

Set in the Depression era North Carolina mountains, it is the story of a timber empire led by Serena and her new husband, Pemberton, and their machinations to become the most powerful (and frightening) couple in the forest. In so doing they compete with interests that would like to preserve the forests, as well as the surrounding impoverished community that is simultaneously beholden to the Pembertons for income and repulsed by their brutality. From the literary angle, there is a Greek chorus timber crew that comments on the action throughout while simultaneously trying to survive under horrific conditions (cold, falling limbs, death) where nature is an adversary and rarely a friend.

While it is almost impossible (for me at least) to relate to Serena, her husband is a much more sympathetic character. When he attempts to help his illegitimate child, he unfortunately stirs the ire of Serena, which leads the plot to its closing. At the same time that I can’t relate to her as a character, I absolutely loved reading this book and count it as one of my recent favorites. I can’t image Jennifer Lawrence as Serena in the upcoming film, but I will definitely be one of the first to see it. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book.