Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt and CNN

CNN International has been devoted almost exclusively to the protests in Egypt all week. Despite 24 hour coverage the pundits on CNN have managed to completely avoid any type of real in depth examination of the situation. Missing almost entirely from the news is any serious consideration of the history of modern Egypt. As an historian I would like to think this means there are unexploited job opportunities for the profession. But, I fear all it means is that nobody working at CNN knows or cares about what happened in the past.

Foods of Ghana

I have found the local cuisine in Ghana to be quite tasty. Among the staples are fufu and goat in ground nut soup, okra stew with banku, fried fish with kenkey, and red red. Fufu is made from cassava and plantains and banku  and kenkey are made from fermented maize and cassava. Kenkey is served with a wickedly spicy green sauce. Red red is a dish of beans cooked in palm oil and fried plantains. It is usually served with either fried fish or chicken.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The University of Ghana

The University of Ghana is huge. It takes up the entire city of Legon. I have walked miles and miles past endless white colonial era style buildings without reaching the perimeter of the campus. Fortunately, my current and future lodgings are both near the history department and the library. The history department has a small two story building located next to the English department,  not too far away from the much larger sociology department. My office is on the first floor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Now in Ghana

I am now in Ghana. I arrived two days ago after a 15 hour flight to Dubai followed by a 12 hour layover and then another 9 hour flight to Accra. It is  hot and humid here, but other than that things are great. I really like the food which is hot and spicy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Down to the Wire

I finished typing up my two syllabi. I have also got most of my packing done. In a few days I will be in Ghana. Given the continuing litany of horror stories about the academic job market in North America I am very glad to have a job at the University of Ghana. When I get the chance I will record my observations about living and working in Legon on this blog.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Today I am going to try and get my syllabi for Ghana finished. After that I should be ready to start teaching once I get to Legon. Again any suggestions regarding the teaching of world history, teaching big classes or living in Ghana would be greatly appreciated.


I am now packing for my trip to Ghana in a couple of days. I have never been to Africa before so if anybody has any advice about living in the region please let me know. Also if anybody knows of any blogs dealing with Ghana let me know. In the very near future this blog is going to have a lot more on West Africa and Ghana in particular than it has in the past.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Any Advice on Teaching Large Classes?

Most of the classes I have taught in the past were fairly small. Usually they averaged between 15 and 30 students. The largest class I taught was under 50 students. Next semester I have two classes to teach. One of them will be significantly larger than what I have taught in the past. Does anybody have any advice on teaching large classes? Are there any specific techniques that are better geared towards large classes? Any advice anybody could give me on effectively teaching a large class would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It is warm and sunny

Southern California has been unseasonably warm and sunny the last couple of days. It is hard to believe it is January when it is 80 F outside. I hear it is quite cold right now in Kyrgyzstan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Return to Malaise?

Maybe I am just getting old, but it seems like there were a lot more more political leaders in the world with vision in the 1980s than there are today. Back then there was Reagan, Gorbachev, Thatcher, Mitterrand, Kohl, and Pope John Paul II. Today it seems like most world leaders are rather mediocre and lack any type of larger vision. There do not even seem to be any type of visionary opposition figures today. Back in the 1980s there was Walesa, Havel, and Mandela. Who is there today? Sometimes I think we are returning to the malaise of the 1970s. I hope I can regain my optimism about humanity once I get to Africa. Does anybody else feel there is a general lack of political leadership in the world or is it just me?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Last Week in the US

This is my last week in the US before going to Ghana. I have finished most of my preparations for the trip. Yesterday I got my anti-malaria drugs from the pharmacy. I still have to go buy mosquito repellent.

I got a little bit more written on my book manuscript last night. It is now up to 140 pages double spaced. I am thinking of a provisional title of Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan and Central Asia: A Century of Prosperity, Persecution and Perseverance. But, I am open to suggestions that would point to its emphasis on the life of the nationality in Kyrgyzstan.

I have two syllabi on world history to write up this week. I have been working on them since I arrived in California. But, I still have to type them up.

The food in California is definitely different than in Bishkek. Despite an absence of two years, the best fast food burger both in quality and value for the money is still In and Out Burger. I have yet to find anything comparable in any foreign country.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting Ready to Go to Ghana

I now have all my immunizations, my visa, and my airplane ticket for Ghana. I also have classes to teach. I am very excited about starting this new job.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Teaching History

If everything goes as planned I will start teaching history as opposed to politics at the end of January. One of the many advantages history has over disciplines like IR and various "studies" is that its basic methodology lends itself to clarity rather than obfuscation. Instead of focusing on abstract theories history anchors itself in a coherent narrative of what we think happened in the past on the basis of the best available evidence. This also makes history generally less pretentious than a lot of other academic subjects. We do not pretend to be a science like political science, sociology or economics. History is instead a craft like fine cooking or boat building.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Invitation to my Readers

I do not get very many comments so I am not exactly sure who reads this blog. It would be interesting to know something about my small audience. So now is an opportunity to introduce yourself in the comments in order to improve my blogging in 2011. Please introduce or reintroduce yourself and tell me what you would like to see more of in this blog.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

I am hoping that 2011 is less stressful for me than 2010. I am also hoping that my academic career can now flourish at my new place of employment, the University of Ghana. Getting the job in Ghana is the second best thing that happened to me in an otherwise very bad 2010. The best thing to happen to me in 2010 of course was the birth of my daughter Mary Lynn. It is actually the best thing to ever happen to me. Unfortunately, I will be physically separated from her and her mother for the time being. I hope to be able to rectify this sooner rather than later.

Imagination and Emancipation

Among other things I am currently reading John Lewis Gaddis The Cold War: A Short History (NY: Penguin, 2005). He notes that both Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan had been actors and that their ability to imagine and dramatize an alternative to the status quo helped lead to the end of the Cold War (pp. 192-197). This is close to an idea I have been mulling over for a while. But, one which is certainly not new with me. I have become convinced that the most important step in the successful construction of civil society is for citizens to view themselves as free men responsible for their own future. Unfortunately, I do not think that this emancipation from mental slavery has yet occurred in much of the former Soviet Union. In fact I believe it is actually historically too late for a number of former republics of the USSR to ever develop this mind set. The struggle for liberation has to come before actual independence not decades later.