Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grading Final Exams

I have 27 more final exams left to grade. I got through a big pile last night. I am definitely going to try and finish them all this week.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Today I learned that Pizza Inn makes lousy pizza. I had been craving pizza for days and decided to try the South African based chain since the burger at the related Chicken Inn is not bad. I am sorry that I did. The pizza crust was flavorless and as far as I could tell there was no sauce on it.

Today I also learned that Ghana has delicious avocados. I should have just skipped the pizza and gone for the avocados. For the price of a medium pizza and coke I could have bought 10 large avocados.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thoughts on the end of the semester

My first semester at the University of Ghana went pretty fast. I still have exams to grade, but I should be finished before the end of next week. The British style set up of one lecture a week and one or two tests a semester for each class is a lot less work intensive for instructors than the American system. It appears that it also may be more effective in getting students to learn. They have to do the assigned reading if they want to pass the class.

It is now raining on an almost daily basis. Thankfully, I have not seen many mosquitoes come out yet. Since most students are done with their exams, a lot of them are leaving campus. Every day there seems to be a constant exodus of students for the summer break.

Since I taught a 400 level class full of final year students I will probably not see most of my former students again. They will be going on to do other things. But, I am pretty confident that they left my class with more knowledge than they had in January.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Is there a Neo-Colonialism?

If colonialism is primarily a system of economic exploitation rather than political domination then the creation of independent states does not necessarily end colonial relationships. The situation of continuing colonial economic relationships between former colonies and European powers like the UK and France is generally referred to as neocolonialism. This relationship is characterized by the export of raw materials to the former colonizing powers in Europe and the importation of finished goods from those same countries. Yet, without any political control to enforce this relationship I fail to see how it is truly colonial. A lot of former colonies in Asia have managed to move away from such trade patterns first by engaging in import substitution and then the export of manufactured goods. A move away from the export of raw materials to the use of those materials to produce finished goods is certainly also possible in Africa. There already is a lot more manufacturing in Africa than I think most people outside the continent realize.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grading Exams

I have now graded 15 out of 85 final exams. Most of them are pretty good. I have not come across any that were absolutely horrible yet.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Today it rained really hard. But, I managed to avoid getting soaked. Fortunately, the few times I needed to go out, the rain had relented.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Africa Unity Day and the Decline of Pan-Africanism

Tomorrow is Africa Unity Day. But, the university has scheduled my exam on that morning. I know that the university would not schedule an exam on certain other holidays such as Christmas. Indeed my lecture on Good Friday was cancelled due to the holiday. So I am wondering if the fact that my exam is on Africa Unity Day is indicative of the general decline in recent decades of Pan-Africanism as an ideology with an actual goal rather than just something people give lip service to?

Given the success of the European Union, a lot of aspects of Pan-Africanism would appear to be quite beneficial not only to Africans, but other people as well. An African version of a Schengen visa for instance would make travel easier for people from outside Africa as well as increasing tourist revenue for African countries. The costs of goods would also decrease within Africa as it became cheaper to move them within Africa due to the elimination of trade barriers. Yet, despite the benefits of greater economic cooperation, the ideology of Pan-Africanism seems to have declined in direct proportion to the rise of Pan-Europeanism in the form of the EU during the last fifty years.

I do not think political unification of Africa was ever a realistic goal. The continent is too large and diverse. But, there certainly could be a lot more unity than there is currently. A lot of artificial barriers to the movement of people and goods still exist in Africa. A greater commitment to actually realizing Pan-African goals could substantially reduce these barriers.


Tomorrow my students take their final exam. I hope I can get all 85 of them graded before Monday. Then I am officially done with the semester. I do not teach again until August.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gender, Geography, and Genre

I have noticed that a lot of the mystery writers I have been reading lately are both women and write about the US South. The success of women mystery writers using the South as a setting seems to have taken off some time in the 1990s. But, it does seem odd that so many mysteries written in the last two decades take place in the former Confederate states. The Midwest in contrast is greatly underrepresented.


I finally feel I have made real head way in taking care of what should be rather routine matters, but caused me great difficulty. Now that those problems are solved, I can look forward to grading final exams on Wednesday. After I finish grading the exams I will be done for the semester.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daily Life in Ghana

To be honest I never thought until recently that I would live and work in Africa. But, as I have noted the experience has been very positive in a number of ways. I will say that life here in Ghana is a lot more similar to that in the US than I would have thought several years ago. Globalization has made the technological basis of life similar across formerly very dissimilar countries. When combined with the fact the official language here is English, Ghana has not been a really great culture shock for me. I have not encountered anything that strikes me as really strange here. Mostly the people here are polite, friendly and helpful. That is not always the case in the US.  But,daily life here is not radically different from that in the US.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Day

Today was hectic despite being a Saturday. On the plus side I found my bank account had more money in it than I thought. I also did get to walk through Accra today. On the negative side I dropped my phone and the thing finally died. Then I locked myself out of my house. After getting back into my house I decided to buy another phone rather than try and get the old one repaired again. Had I known how little a new mobile phone actually costs I would have gotten a new one a while ago. The phone was 42 cedi to replace. Getting the old one repaired had taken me days and cost 27 cedi. The new phone works fine.

Giving Thanks

It looks like some major problems I have recently encountered are almost solved. I would like to thank all those people who have helped me recently. I am truly grateful and hope that some day I will be able to pay it forward.

Weekend Plans

Tomorrow I am hoping that it does not rain all morning like it did last Saturday. I would like to see a little bit more of Accra before I have to grade 85 final exams on Wednesday. I am hoping a long walk in the city will help me relax.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Human Rights

It seems to me that if human rights are to mean anything they have to be universal. Winning the war does not make all of ones actions moral. Hence I am very disturbed by the recent rehabilitation of Stalin in Russia on the basis that all his crimes are justified by the victory over the Nazis. This is one of the reasons why I have always been puzzled about why do people who otherwise oppose discrimination and human rights violations in places like South Africa during apartheid support similar Israeli practices against the Palestinians? This seems to be based upon judging people on the basis of their identity rather than on the basis of their actions. Just because a government calls itself democratic does not give it the right to engage in ethnic cleansing, torture and other human rights violations.

Looking on the Bright Side

The more academic blogs out of the US I read the better my own situation looks. I have a job teaching university students, my students are overall quite good,  I have time to do research, and I have medical coverage. Ghana is politically stable and violent crime seems to be quite rare. I certainly could do a lot worse.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

More on Colonialism

Like most of my opinions, my belief that colonialism refers primarily to a system of political domination rather than economic exploitation of less prosperous nations by more prosperous ones appears to be a minority in the scholarly world. To me it seems that there are four distinguishing features of colonialism and not all of them have to be present for a colonial relationship to exist. For instance point four was largely absent in the Gold Coast during colonial rule. The features of colonialism are listed below.

1. Political control of an ethnically distinct territory by a state dominated by a different ethnicity.

2. Widespread articulated and often violent resistance to that political control by the dominated people.

3. Economic exploitation of the the dominated territory by the dominating power resulting in a net economic loss for the controlled territory and a net economic gain for the controlling power.

4. The settlement of the ethnically dominant group from the controlling power into the controlled territory.

For some reason it appears most people emphasize point number three as being most important. This was the Soviet regime's argument for why Central Asia was not under colonial rule even though points one and four did apply. It is an argument that a lot of non-communists seem to support as well. But, it should be noted that this does not get the USSR off the hook for being an empire. All four of these points applied to the Baltic States and Ukraine, especially western Ukraine. The situation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in the years after World War II until the restoration of independence fit the classical colonial model in all aspects.

Today there are not too many cases that fit all four points. Tibet and East Turkestan seem to fit points one, two, and four, but not point three. Since for some reason most scholars think point three is the most important feature of colonialism this makes the status of China as a colonial power ambiguous. Israel's control over the West Bank meets all four criteria, but it may be the only such case left. However, there are a number of cases such as Tibet where points one and four and even two are all met. If these cases are not colonialism, then what term should be used to describe them?

More on the Crimean Tatars

Last year the International Committee for Crimea published my paper, "The False Charges of Treason Against the Crimean Tatars." You can read the article in PDF form here.

Update: The link should work now. If not the address is listed below.


If that does not work you can find it under the title "The False Charges of Treason Against the Crimean Tatars" on a Google search.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

67th Anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars

This is a follow up to my last post. One nationality in the USSR that lost all semblance of the right to national self-determination were the Crimean Tatars. The Soviet government attempted to forcibly liquidate the Crimean Tatars as a national entity on 18 May 1944. The Stalin regime ruthlessly deported them from their homeland in Crimea to special settlement restrictions in Uzbekistan and the Urals. They lost the right to live in their ancestral homeland, their national-state formation in the form of the Crimean ASSR, almost all of their collective and private property, all institutions in their native language, and tens of thousands of lives as a result of this act of ethnic cleansing. I have a lot more detailed posts from years pasts remembering this horrible tragedy. If you look up posts made on 17 May 2009,  18 May2007, and 18 May 2006  you can get a more detailed summary of the deportations and their horrific aftermath.

Questions on Colonialism

There is a an old debate as to whether the USSR was an empire and ruled Central Asia and other areas outside the ethnic Russian core as colonies. One of the main arguments made against the USSR being a colonial empire was that the less developed areas of the USSR such as Central Asia received far more in economic terms than they lost. This argument seems strange to me. It seems to argue that colonialism is primarily an economic rather than a political relationship. I am not sure if this is the case. If a larger power bribes the population of a smaller territory with an increased standard of living in exchange for giving up its political independence what is it called? The USSR was not unique in this policy, so I am not so sure it is not a type of colonial rule based upon carrots rather sticks.

First, while Central Asia and the Caucasus had a far higher material standard of living as a result of being part of the USSR than they would have otherwise this was not true of all areas under Soviet rule. The Baltic States, particularly Estonia and Latvia had a far lower material standard of living as a result of being occupied by the USSR than they would have had otherwise. Were Latvia and Estonia colonies as a result of this economic relationship in addition to being illegally occupied? While the Central Asian republics were not colonies as well as being legally part of the USSR? Must the colonized territory be a net loser and the colonial power a net beneficiary economically for a colonial relationship to exist?

Second, the Soviet definition of national self determination seems odd here. For the most part Central Asians were satisfied with the political and economic situation under Soviet rule. There was very little dissent among these nationalities. National dissent in the USSR was largely limited to Germans, Jews, Crimean Tatars, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Georgians and Armenians. But, surely lack of opposition and satisfaction due to receiving a high standard of living as a result of the transfer of wealth from other regions of the USSR is not the same as popular participation. Central Asians, particularly the Communist Party elite who benefited most from being part of the USSR viewed their political participation and economic benefits from the system as satisfactory, but they did not have any real control over most important issues of policy making. Did this satisfaction with the status-quo in fact translate into national self-determination? It seems that the Soviet policy towards Central Asia had a lot in common with US policy towards Puerto Rico and other territories. The economic benefits of remaining under the control of a larger power far outweigh the benefits of political independence.  Is Puerto Rico not a colony because most of the population consents to being a Commonwealth of the US?

I think part of the problem is the negative connotations of the word colonialism. But, not all colonial relationships were alike. Traditionally colonialism has involved an economic transfer from the dominated to the dominant power and popular opposition by the colonized people. However, are these the defining definitions of colonial rule? It seems to me that political rule not just the direction of economic transfer should be a consideration in whether a colonial relationship exists. This would mean, however,admitting to the existence of relatively benign forms of colonial rule such as the US currently exercises over places like Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Somoa.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why I work in Africa and not the US

Russell Arben Fox has a recent post up on the path he has travelled since getting his PhD. My own path has also required a lot of physical moving. On the perennial question of whether one should get a PhD especially in a field like history, my own personal view is that you should not expect to work in the US as an academic. But, if you are willing to work in a place like Ghana then it is possible to get a good academic job.

Teaching university students is great. However, the job market has been bad in the US for a long time and it does not look like it is getting better any time soon. So if you want to work as a history lecturer then go ahead and get the PhD. But, be prepared to work in Africa or someplace outside of North America or Europe. It will definitely be a number of years before you get back to the US permanently. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that you need to consider. I did not initially intend to work first in Kyrgyzstan and then Ghana. However, during the first three years after I received my PhD I found it impossible to find an academic job even as an adjunct in the US. Below I speculate on the reasons for this failure.

My experience is probably different than other peoples, but a lot of the common wisdom is bunk. Publications do not seem to help at all  in applying for jobs in the US. What American universities are looking for is teaching experience not published monographs or peer reviewed journal articles. I had two scholarly books and several journal articles published at the time I started looking for a university of job and applied to hundreds of jobs without receiving any interviews. I was told on a number of occasions that they would not even consider me because I had no teaching experience. On a number of occasions these institutions ended up hiring people who not only had no publications, but were ABD. One would think that having a PhD, not being a TA was the minimal requirement for being an assistant professor, but one would be wrong. It was only after teaching in Central Asia that any US universities even suggested that they were interested in interviewing me. So the claim that publications are the most important element in hiring at US universities is largely a lie. Publications are of little importance when applying to the vast majority of university positions in the US compared to teaching experience and where you did your degree. I did my PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. Having a British degree from any place other than Oxford, Cambridge or LSE is a serious disadvantage in the US job market. So I had two strikes against me in the US. On the other hand having a degree from SOAS helped me get my present job. The institution is as respected here as it is unknown in the US.

That said, working abroad has advantages. The students here at the University of Ghana appear to be much better than what I read about on American academic blogs. They work hard and are respectful. I am also in a much better position in every respect than I would be working as an adjunct in the US. I work less for more than appears to be the case with American adjuncts. My compensation and benefits are actually quite good here.

My feeling is that my own path will become more common in the future. Academia will increasingly become more migratory. In many ways this is good. I think Americans including academics are far too isolated from the rest of the world. But, the dream of being able to work as an academic in your home country is going to be increasingly difficult for newly minted American PhDs to obtain. The options may very well be working abroad in places like Ghana or working outside of academia.

Monday, May 16, 2011

University Benefits

My job has some nice benefits. One of which I just discovered is free computer repair. Well it is not totally free, I have to pay for the parts. But, the university provides the labor to fix my personal lap top. Since I use the lap top for work this makes good sense, but a lot of other universities seem to be totally lacking in any sense when it comes to accomadating faculty. At any rate the fan in my lap top needs to be replaced and it is nice not to have to run all over Accra looking for a reliable and affordable repair shop.

Another nice benefit is health care. I understand a lot of people lecturing at US universities do not have health coverage provided by their employer. Certainly there was no such thing where I worked in Bishkek. The University Hospital serves Legon  and gives me free access to doctors and most lab work. The exceptions are X-rays and EKGs which cost 15 cedis ($10) each. The quality of the medical care is comparable to what I have experienced in the UK and US. That is the doctors are quite good. Today I had to go get a prescription changed. I left my house a little after ten and got back a little before one. So the total time at the hospital including all the wait time was less than two hours. I think that is pretty good for a busy Monday morning. Unfortunately, medicine is not covered and is not that cheap. There are no $4 generics like you can get at Wallmart. I paid 10 cedis ($6.50) for three weeks of pills. But, still overall the system here is a lot better than what a lot of people have in the US.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My job is easy. It is the rest of life that is hard

Right now I have no academic work to do. Instead I am overwhelmed with taking care of things that are causing me far more stress than they should. I hope I can get most of the important items on my agenda done this week. If I am persistent and do not freak out too much I think I will be okay. Trust me people, first world problems are a lot easier to handle than third world problems.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Blog Direction

It appears I do have some readers other than my mother. This blog is in a transition period like everything else in my life. My academic writing is still focused on the former Soviet Union, but now it appears I may be living and working in Africa for some time. So for the last six months or so the blog has become a mixture of observations of life in Ghana based upon very little background knowledge and a few posts on Russian-Germans during the Stalin era. It will probably continue in this direction for a while. But, ultimately I would like to be able to write more in depth about some issues of African history, particularly as they intersect with other issues I have researched. I am going to start trying to move a little bit in this direction soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Again any advice on teaching very large classes?

This semester I only taught one class and I was told it was a small one by local standards. It had 85 students. Next semester I will teach two sections each of three classes. Two of the classes or four sections will probably be much, much larger than anything I have taught before. They are going to introduce a cap of 300 students per a class soon, but for me anything over 100 is simply huge. Does anybody have any advice for managing class sections this large? In particular how do you grade tests? We have to grade the final exams ourselves without TA assistance.

Invitation to Delurk

If you are reading this blog and not directly related to me by blood please let me know. I am thinking I must have some readers other than my family. But, I have no idea who other than my family actually reads this thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A few more days to the clock

Well it looks like I am not as close to being finished as I thought. My final exam has been moved from May 12 at 7:30 am to May 25 at 11:30 am. At least I do not have to wake up as early.

Final countdown

The semester is almost completely over. My final exam is on Thursday morning. Then I just have to grade the exams. I am going to try and finish grading before Monday.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Kids are Allright

For the last couple of days I have had students coming to my office to ask questions before they take the final exam next week. Even though it is technically work I really enjoy talking to students. I am pretty sure that I am accomplishing some small measure of information transfer. My general impression of the students that took my class is that they are very good. I do not feel that my teaching is being wasted on people too lazy to take advantage of it. Reading blogs by lecturers based in the US I often get the sense that many American students fall into this category. On the contrary I feel that many of my students are very motivated, hard working, young men and women with very good study habits. I am not sure if this is something that can be generalized to university students in Ghana or is more specific to the University of Ghana or even more narrowly to the history department or even just my class. There is a certain degree of self selection here and I did make it clear to the students that the class would have a lot of reading and not be easy. It appears that most of them have risen to the challenge. I will know for certain after they take the final exam next Thursday.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Writing Progress

This week is revision week. That is students have one week between the end of classes and final exams to study. This also means apart from office hours from ten in the morning until noon that I do not have any class related work this week. So I have instead started again seriously working on my book manuscript regarding the Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Last night I cranked out five pages double spaced and the current draft is currently up to around 46,000 words. That is 170 pages double spaced. I am aiming for a completed manuscript of around 80,000 words which seems to be the length many academic publishers now want for monographs. I still wish there was some median between the very short 8,000 word journal article and the fairly lengthy 80,000 word book. It seems to me that something between 20,000 to 50,000 words would fill a much needed gap between these two extremes.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review of the Semester

Friday I taught my last class of the semester. I think I accomplished my primary teaching goal of transferring some knowledge to some students. How much knowledge and how many students I do not know for certain yet. But, judging on the basis of the mid-term exam I believe that most students should be able to demonstrate evidence of learning on the final exam. I am also very happy that I did not have any problems with students using cell phones or laptops in class.