Like Dan, I'm back from SEALs--lots of fun, as always, thanks to the leadership of Russ Weaver and the rest of the SEALs board. I think there are two really positive things about SEALs--first, it's very welcoming to junior faculty. Second, it's a low-key conference, so it's a good place to workshop early drafts. And because it's always at some vacation spot, families tag along. People who usually couldn't attend because of family responsibilities show up and that makes for a better conference for everyone. Then, on the heels of SEALs, I went out to my old home, Oklahoma City, for a CLE presentation. I hadn't been back in five years, so I had the sense of all the building's that's been going on. OKC's about to get a professional basketball team, which is great for them (lousy for Seattle, of course). And their riverwalk area (Bricktown) looks great. Also, my old school, Oklahoma City University, has been doing a lot of building. There's a huge new dormitory, a new business school building, and a new music school building. Plus, a really distinctive bank building (the "Gold Dome") is now a bar and restaurant, The Prohibition Room. So life chugs along well there. And, of course, the old landmarks are still around, too.
Getting there wasn't the easiest. Because of some mechanical problems and then terrible weather in Atlanta, my flight from Raleigh Durham got in hours late and I missed the last flight out to OKC. The best Delta could do for me the next day was to put me on a flight to Tulsa, where I rented a Prius. (And after a few minutes with the owner's manual, I figured out how to start it, get it into gear, and get going.) So I approached Oklahoma City via I-44, the same way I did almost exactly fourteen years ago when I drove out there from Boston to start my teaching career. Pretty exciting for a historian to see the world again, years later, through the eyes of that excited new teacher. And now the signs for places like Greenwood and Chandler meant something to me. I drove right through Greenwood; the highway goes over the spot where the Dreamland Theater stood.
As I say, it's exiting to see again the places that hold so much meaning for me and a lot of colleagues, too. Though I've taught at a lot schools and had many terrific colleagues, I don't think I've ever been as close as I was to the people who taught me so much about teaching and scholarship at OCU. I carry the lessons of teaching, scholarship, and friendship--as well as my affection for Oklahoma and OCU--with me wherever I go. There are a lot of other things that I want to talk about on the trip--including Ralph Ellison's Shadow and Act, which I picked up in the AWESOME used bookstore (Second Edition) in the Raleigh Durham airport. I thought I'd read a couple of his essays, but because of the delays, I read all of it, as well as had some other experiences on the trip. More on those later.
Anyway, enough of reminiscences. I returned to a mailbox full of emails, including a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the recent "Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill," which has just left Congress. Among other things, the bill includes a requirement that area studies programs explain how they "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views" when they apply for federal grants. This is most interesting to me, as a student of the connections of government and higher education. I'll be most interested to see how that plays out. Also, the bill expresses the "sense of Congress" that schools should "facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas." I'm happy to see this--I'll be most interested in seeing how schools respond to this.
But the thing that put the biggest smile on my face is a new grant program that will finance the establishment and strengthening of programs in "traditional American history," "the history and nature of, and threats to, free institutions," and "the history and achievements of Western civilization." Now, this is something I need to look into. Because the people I study are as traditional in American history as you can get--dead, white, conservative, and, yes, Christian, men. I think it's important to talk about the nature--and I'd say challenges to--free institutions and the achievements of western civilization. Get ready for some really great and interesting conversations!