Home Sweet Home

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by Marcel Haas

All good things must eventually come to an end. As academics, perhaps more than anyone else, we live in a world of short terms. We leave home after High School, start undergrad educations that lead us across country and back, only to take up further education, different courses, shorter stays. We travel abroad, circle back, leave again, always searching for the next degree, the next completion of projects. Each of those projects seem to be the ultimate undertaking, until they’re over and done with, every time. After graduate courses loom PhDs and post-docs. They are followed by yet more short-term employments. Great projects, new funding, renewed fascination? Maybe along the way we lost hope, faith in ourselves, a belief that there will be an end to uncertain project jumping. Maybe we regained those hopes, faiths, beliefs somewhere as well. In any case, the wheel moves on, and we with it.

What I wanted to say was that there is no end, although we promise our families every time we come home for the holidays that exactly this end is so very near. The next degree, that next project, those last publications… Of course, in all this uncertainty and enforced flexibility, we can strive. We don’t have to fail the tests that are thrown in our paths periodically. And so we march on, homeward bound.

With this post, time has come for me to acknowledge the end of my tenure as editor of this blog. It also is time, however, to say goodbye to nearly six years of CMU, of living in Mount Pleasant, flying in to MBS Airport, and taking the Indian Trails bus South. It is goodbye to taking and teaching classes, grading and being graded, learning, studying, and editing side by side with fellow undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students, as well as professors. We had a good run, didn’t we?

The end is no such thing. For a couple of days I have sat around my temporary house back in Germany, thinking of how to say goodbye to America, six months after actually leaving the country. In truth, I had said goodbye then and there, subconsciously dragging it out until today. Of course, I haven’t yet finished my dissertation, not defended, not published my book. Therefore, we could argue that nothing really has come to an end. I just live somewhere else now. Like everyone else I have met along the way, I have also now moved on, back across the Atlantic, back home.

I’m not completely sure what the future will hold for me. I know that I will move to a different city in Germany, get married, find a new job… at the same time as still thinking about my Indigenous travellers, who, a little like me, went on journeys across the ocean to find out what was beyond. Like me, they also came back. To say it in the words of the immortal Mötley Crüe, “I’m on my way, Home Sweet Home.”

……….

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I want to end at least this post on saying thank you. Thank you to all those professors, assistants, custodians, and guardian angels of Central Michigan University who have made my last five years worth living in Mount Pleasant. Thank you to my friends and fellow travellers. You know who you are. Thank you to my students who listened patiently while my English became gradually better and worse again. Thank you for late emails, early reminders, the occasional criticism, advice, and praise. It was all appreciated and I will miss it and all of you dearly. I’ll see you when I see you.

Wrapping it up with Thomas Aquinas

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As the semester and year come to a close sadly so does my time as the editor of [Re]collection.  Though there are still a few weeks before the end of the year, this is the last time that I will write a personal post on this blog.  Therefore thought I ought to give a few words of salutations before passing the torch to the more-than-capable Marcel Haas.  I have learned a lot in my six months as editor and have greatly appreciated all of the authors and readers that make this blog a point of interest. I could spend the rest of this post describing the mechanics that go into editing and managing a blog:  copy editing, working with peers and senior colleagues, managing deadlines, keeping an eye out for tone of writing, scrambling to get the final touches on a post, and much more.  But I am sure that many of you are familiar with this process already; in fact, I can imagine a great deal of our readers are academics themselves and are therefore all too familiar with these processes (and more).  So rather than spend any more time on these matters, I have decided I am going to share a parting story from my own research and teaching interests.  My hope is that this story will be interesting and serve properly as parting words for my time as editor.

In May of 1244, Thomas Aquinas decided to leave his cushy life assured of future ecclesiastical appointments and to join the Dominican order.  Perhaps this change of heart is all too close to some of our own lives – leaving a life of potential financial and professional success for headier pursuits (i.e. signing up to spend half a decade of your life getting a PhD).  As he left, Thomas utterly stunned his family who worked so hard to set him off on the right track.  Regardless, Thomas followed his calling and trudged on.  In fact, he did not trudge at all – he became one of the most prolific writers in medieval European history.  Historians estimate that, during his prime, he was producing two to three novel-length volumes per month.  Most readers will likely recognize Thomas’s name from his life’s work, Summa theologiae– a tome that addresses over 4,500 theological questions and was meant to replace the outdated Sentencesof Peter Lombard. Curiously, though, Thomas never finished his magnum opus.  This fact is curious because Thomas simply decided to stop writing seemingly out of the blue.

On December 6, 1273 (not that long from today’s date, albeit 745 years later), Aquinas is reported to have said, “After what I have seen today, I can write no more, for all that I have written is straw”. Historians are not sure exactly what it was that Thomas saw and why exactly he had such a dramatic change in perspective.  Dying three short months later in March 1274, some speculate whether it was some sort of medical diagnosis.  Nevertheless, Thomas stepped away from his enormously productive career at the height of his powers.  More critically though, he did not finish what seemed to be his life’s work. Thomas’s halt in writing has fascinated historians and theologians for years, and it remains puzzling to this day.

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I share this story not to draw any parallels between the theological giant Thomas Aquinas and my own time at [Re]collection. Nor do I plan to offer any new answers as to Thomas’s sudden stoppage of writing.  What I find most fascinating about this whole story is how Thomas continually displays what he thinks is a realistic perspective on his own legacy.  He is reflective and even self-deprecating as he halts his projects to engage in more contemplative pursuits.  This is especially true if he did not know that he would soon pass away just a few months after ceasing writing.  A general point of application that I draw from this story, and, by extension, offer to you as readers is to have the proper perspective as you reach the end of the year.  Whether it is with professional goals, writing projects, grading, or end-of-year holiday hustle, be sure to not overestimate how critical every detail is. Remember that you will always experience a mix of failure and success – perfectly embodied, I believe, in my time here as the editor.  If even Thomas Aquinas gives himself a thoughtful critique and reflection, so can you too.  So, as I wrap things up in the next few weeks, I hope that the posts over the past few months have been a little more than “straw”.  At the same time, I know that it has been a productive season.  Thank you all for all of your support – especially former editor Chiara Ziletti and everyone in the History Department at Central Michigan University.  Finally, I wish my colleague and future editor Marcel Haas all the best in the coming year – viel Glück mein Freund!

Thank You for the Music

The Little Prince  by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

By Chiara Ziletti

In the past six months, my weeks have been rhythmed by the publishing of a blog post here every Tuesday. I still remember how nervous I was when I published my first blog post: “Will people like it? Have I done everything correctly?” As an anxious novice editor, these and many other doubts crossed my mind, but little by little I became more and more self-confident. However, with the beginning of July my appointment as the editor comes to an end. It is time to pass the baton to our new editor, David Papendorf. I am sure he will do great, and I cannot wait to read the new blog posts that he will publish. However, I have to admit that now that the time has come to leave this position I have bittersweet feelings. Indeed, the time I spent being the editor of [Re]collection has meant a lot to me. As the fox says to the Little Prince: “It is the time you spent for your rose that makes your rose so important.” For these six months the blog has been my rose, and I leave this position with the same mixed feelings that a parent would have when seeing off his own grown child. You know your child is going to be fine, but you cannot avoid being nostalgic. Therefore, in this last blog post that I get to publish, I would like to reflect on what being an editor means to me, what I have learned, and express my gratitude for this wonderful opportunity that I had.

As I mentioned, the first times I was publishing a post, I was quite nervous because there is more work behind the scenes than one would expect. Being an editor means that you are the one responsible for the content published on the blog, but this does not mean that you merely have to copy and paste what the authors send you. In my time as the editor of [Re]collection, I had, for example, to keep contact with the authors, think of possible interesting topics for future posts, decide what to publish and when, edit (and rarely write) blog posts, fight with technology (indeed, who does not fight with the computer’s programs, the printer, or else occasionally?), manage the social media accounts, and refresh my knowledge of copyright laws and what fair use is (especially when it comes to images posting). All this requires organizational skills, decision-making, relational skills, a good amount of resourcefulness and initiative, attention to the details, consistency, a more than good command of grammar and style, critical thinking, keeping an eye on current events that might make for a good blog post, and much more. Therefore, I am glad that I had the opportunity of being the editor of [Re]collection because it has allowed me to grow professionally and strengthen my proficiency in all these fields.

However, an editor does not go too far without his authors. Therefore, I want to thank every person who wrote something for the blog, you are what makes this blog alive and so interesting. I loved to meet and work with you, be it in person or just via email. Thank you for cooperating with me, writing your posts, and patiently complying with my suggestions and edits. I enjoyed reading you posts, and I learned something from all of you. Indeed, getting to read from different authors is one of the best things of this job because not only you discover new thigs on several topics that otherwise you might not know or think about, but you give the authors the opportunity to reach out other people with their work.

Lastly, I want to thank the history department for giving me the opportunity to be the editor of [Re]collection. Similarly to the conference (IGHSC) that our PhD students organize, I believe that [Re]collection is a great opportunity that not so many other history departments offers yet. Indeed, organizing conferences and being responsible for a publication are as much part of the academic world as reading, teaching, and writing. Alongside the transnational program, the conference and the blog are what makes our PhD program truly exceptional. Having the opportunity to get out of our bubble by meeting other international students and scholars, becoming good friends, and having the possibility to reach out to the wider public and showing what we do is, indeed, invaluable. I am happy that we get to build bridges and connections.

I hope those who have been reading the blog so far have been enjoying it and finding good content. I, for sure, leave this position with much more than I started with, both professionally and as a person. Even if it is time for me to move on to a new adventure, [Re]collection will always have a special place into my heart. For this reason, I beg your pardon for this final, oversentimental post. I would like to give my final thanks to Jennifer Vannette. Thank you for training me, your suggestions, and support, they meant a lot to me. To Dave, “in bocca al lupo!” And as always, we welcome your submissions. (^_^)

Beginnings and Endings

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By Jennifer Vannette

“In our everyday life we are so busy moving on to the next task or the next interaction with someone that it can feel like we never finish one thing before starting the next. A mindful goodbye allows you to fully absorb your experience so that it can become part of your learning.” -- Gretchen Schmelzer

Graduations mark both beginnings and ends. We are told in numerous speeches that we will go out an make our mark on the world, that we should venture forth with hope and confidence. That's all well and good, but perhaps it's just as important to consider what is ending. Saturday evening marked my last milestone as a grad student at Central Michigan University. I graduated, and I have to say, the view from the front row was rather nice. The view looking back at my time here is bittersweet. I'm ready to move on, and yet saying goodbye is never easy.

I've been in limbo since my dissertation defense -- not quite a grad student anymore but not yet gone. As annoying as that was at times -- what do I call myself anyway? what am I doing besides blogging occasionally? -- it was a nice to have time to transition. I began to detach myself from the program without having to quit cold turkey. But the nature of academia is to say goodbye. I've been thinking about that quite a bit lately. We leave behind schools as we progress, and if we reach the other side and teach, we say goodbye to class after class. We don't often talk about it, and yet to be an academic is to practice saying farewell a lot.

I'm not going to share anything particularly personal or profound in this brief post. I'm just going to offer that in the rush of going from one semester to the next, we might reflect about how to teach something better or what course to take next or where the next research trip will take us, but we can easily avoid being introspective. The transition time between defense and graduation allowed me to think more deeply about who I became in my time at CMU and what parts of that person matter most to me. That has helped sharpen my focus as I plan my next steps in an uncertain job market. Because I've had the limbo time, I've been able to evaluate my experience and consider more deeply how that experience will apply to my life moving forward. And, so, I've come to value this transition time. It sort of seemed like a waste to have so much time between defense and graduation, but now I'm grateful, and I hope others will find value in the limbo-space as well.

So, my time as editor of [Re]collection also draws to a close. I've enjoyed serving you, the readers, and the history department in this capacity this past year. I am honored that I was trusted to shape this early phase of the project, and I trust you all will continue to submit and participate as the years go on. I will be leaving the blog in the more than capable hands of our new editor, Chiara Ziletti.

I've also discovered that there is virtually no way to write a goodbye without it sounding cheesy in the end, and I don't want that. So, even though it's not night, I'll borrow from Edward R. Murrow and say, "Good night and good luck."