[NOTE: I launched Retired But Not Shy: Doing History After Leaving the Classroom a couple of weeks following my retirement, in May 2010, from nearly four decades teaching History in an Atlanta prep school. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but, as the months—and years—rolled by, I got a firmer grasp of what I might be able to accomplish with the blog, as I strove to “do History” after leaving the classroom. To remind myself—and my readers—of what I had originally hoped to do, and of what I believed I had accomplished, I have taken time periodically to summarize the previous year or so at Retired But Not Shy. This is another of those posts.]
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In the 1970s and 1980s, British journalist Alistair Cooke hosted PBS’s signature program, Masterpiece Theatre. Each week, the show’s introduction featured a classical music theme and, among other pictures, a montage of flags. And, each Sunday night at about 9:00, just when the Willowy Bride and I had decided that our boys should be in bed, here came the familiar Masterpiece Theatre theme (we were big fans of the program) and images of those waving flags. Our guys had seen at least the beginning of Masterpiece Theatre often enough that they knew the music and connected it with the flags, so we’d hear, wafting on the breeze from the boys’ bedroom, “the flags, Daddy, the flags!” In response, we’d tell them, lovingly of course, “go to sleep, guys,” which actually worked for at least the first few years.
Anyhow, as I’ve been preparing this annual homage to wordpress.com and Retired But Not Shy, I’ve been thinking about those flags on Masterpiece Theatre, largely because the most recent version of wordpress.com’s “stats” page includes a review of the blog’s traffic, including the countries from which “views” have come. Each national roundup, situated below a world map color-keyed to the countries from which “visits” have emanated, is accompanied by pictures of the flags of those nations.
I guess when you’re “retired but not shy,” it doesn’t take much to grab your interest!
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From June 2015 through May 2016, my blog received almost 3700 views from approximately 2700 visitors. I noticed that, in addition to “visitors” from the United States, I also attracted hits from nearly 50 other nations, including Brazil; the UK; France; Italy; Canada; Russia; Colombia; Ireland; and Australia, among the “Top Ten.” Now, you may wonder, why would a blog produced in the United States by a historian of the American South draw visitors from such varied parts of the world?
The biggest “draws” from among the 120 or so posts I’ve put up since June 2010 are those about teaching History in a prep school with a PhD; teaching History “backwards”; and various posts on the history of the Blues. It’s not like I intended (let alone believed) that essays on those topics would have “legs” that would both make them popular in the United States and take them beyond our borders, but that’s what has happened.
A lot of the interest in teaching History in prep school with a PhD, I’m convinced, is directly related to the relative scarcity of college and university-level teaching jobs in the United States for new History PhDs. Some desperate, frustrated, perhaps even angry, new holders of History doctorates may have taken “temporary” positions abroad in hopes of burnishing their vitas; then, while trolling the Internet looking for hope, they have come upon my post about transforming one’s History PhD, once upon a time the ticket to the ranks of college professors, into a productive career on the secondary school level, in a private, or “prep,” school. Another likely source of interest in this post is from graduate schools themselves: trying to be “proactive” in what they realize will be a stressful, perhaps unfulfilling job search for their PhD candidates, grad schools have begun to emphasize that there can be a life–and a career–“beyond the professoriate,” as My Old Grad School likes to say. (In fact, this popular post originated as just such a talk, which I delivered to History grad students at MOGS a few years ago, then decided to post on this blog.)
As far as “teaching History backwards” is concerned, I confess that the title is, at least in some ways, misleading. It was mainly a response to remarks by our junior high school principal at the time—and, as an Economics teacher, a member of the History Department at my school—about how much fun it might be to “teach History backwards.” Eventually, I took him up on the challenge and published the results in the History Department Newsletter, which I then edited. However, the only course I actually was able to teach “backwards” was a fairly narrow one, the History of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement. So, those who click on that link in hopes of discovering a sort of “cosmic” plan to “teach History backwards” throughout the curriculum will be disappointed, and I apologize for that.
As for the Blues, I’ve pointed out in other posts that in some ways the Blues (and, I suppose, my posts on them) apparently have been of greater interest to the worldwide fraternity of Blues aficionados than to Blues fans in the United States. Virtually every month, a number of visitors, quite a few from outside the U.S., sample posts on various aspects of the Blues. Though what I’m about to say is imprecise, it seems likely that many of those who visit the Blues posts are folks, in Europe and South America mainly, who love the Blues and have discovered that Retired But Not Shy is a place where they can “feed their habit.” Thank you, one and all!
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Between June 2015 and May 2016, I continued to push my “agenda” at Retired But Not Shy, pursuing “dead Georgians” in eight of the twenty-six posts; the history of the Blues, Southern history, and the Civil Rights Movement in others. In addition, I completed a series of posts on the History of American “republicanism”; offered suggestions for those wishing to “pursue dead Georgian” on the Internet; published an appreciation of my best friend in graduate school, Dr. Arnold M. Shankman, who died of cancer in 1983; and continued to reflect on relations between Georgia and the Creeks and Cherokees, who lived within her boundaries, but whom the white population in the state was eager to evict.
Five of the top fifteen posts over the past year were on the Blues. Of course, “Teaching in a Prep School with a PhD: Is It for You?” was numero uno yet again, the gift that keeps on giving at Retired But Not Shy. Two of the top ten posts were in the “Dead Georgians” series (sketches of antebellum Governors Wilson Lumpkin and George R. Gilmer). Again, I’m amazed at the popularity of these essays. I keep thinking that I owe a vote of thanks to Georgia History teachers throughout the state who send their students to the Internet looking for information on Cherokee Removal.
And then there was number 10, “High School—Now and Then—Reflections on a Fiftieth Reunion,” the popularity of which remains a mystery to me. The post grew out of my attendance at the fiftieth reunion of Newark (Delaware) High School’s Class of 1962, coupled with reflections on my employment at a very different, private high school in Atlanta, Georgia, between 1973 and 2010. I can see how people of a certain age facing their fiftieth high school reunions might click on the link, but I wonder how many of them actually read the piece through to the end. Still, thank all of you who visited that post; I hope you enjoyed what you read, because it’s one of my favorites!
I also decided that this year I would offer my readers an “historical problem.” The idea, which certainly should resonate with the veterans of my AP United States History course at “Atlanta’s Finest Prep School,” was to create a sort of “Documents-Based Essay Question [DBQ]” on steroids. My target was a pamphlet, Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, by “A Citizen” (1784). This project required that I revisit material I’d abandoned while working on my dissertation more than four decades ago. I wondered whether any of my readers would be willing to “play along” with me and try to identify the author of Cursory Remarks. The answer thus far: not all that many.
Regardless of the interest of my readers in that “historical problem,” working through it for the blog led me finally, after more than forty years, to decide on, at least tentatively, the identity of the pamphlet’s author, a step I had been unable to take while working on my dissertation. I’m still not sure my answer is correct, but I feel more certain about it now than I did in the 1970s, so that’s something, I guess.
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One other memory from an earlier time seems relevant to this post: During my first stint in the Chair of the History Department at “Atlanta’s Finest Prep School,” I decided to revive the electronic department newsletter. Aided by our IT folks, I had a great time learning how to use Microsoft Publisher to turn out a pretty neat looking (if I do say so myself!) newsletter every month or so—but there was a problem. Our school apparently had a sort of “wimpy” computer network. So, I’d send out a new issue of the History newsletter, wait for responses, and finally learn that a number of the recipients on my “subscription list” had been unable to open my monthly offering! In fact, trying to do so had “frozen” their computers. Oops! So, I’d apologize profusely and drop off a hard copy of the newsletter to those who wanted to receive one.
That isn’t a problem now for me as a blogmeister: I prepare a post; e-mail folks on my “subscription list” to tell them it’s coming; then publish the thing. Since Retired But Not Shy is also linked to Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, word of the new post appears on those sites as well. And, at least to my knowledge, no recipient has been unable to open one of my posts. Once I’ve sent my latest essay into cyber space, I sit back and wait for the “stats” page at wordpress.com to show me how many visitors I’ve had, and from whence they’ve come.
And, as I contemplate the statistics and look at those flags, once more I hear, faintly, my sons calling from their bedroom, “the Flags, Daddy, the Flags!”
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For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)