A New Look for a New Year

After a little over one year of being online, I felt it was time to give this page a new look. It offered a nice, quick break from a summer full of writing, planning PhD career workshops for the fall, and class prep. Let me know what you think of the new layout, and best wishes for the remainder of the summer!


History Researcher Combs Cuba for Records

This is a nice story on Assistant Professor David LaFevor’s work with digitizing manuscripts in Cuba.


The Endangered Archives Programme endeavors to digitize deteriorating documents within communities across the globe. Assistant Professor David LaFevor is part of a team funded by the British Library to work in Latin and South America. View pictures of a recent trip and worship in São João do Carirí, Brazil. (Photo by David LaFevor) The Endangered Archives Programme endeavors to digitize deteriorating documents within communities across the globe. Assistant Professor David LaFevor is part of a team funded by the British Library to work in Latin and South America. View pictures of a recent trip and workshop in São João do Carirí, Brazil. (Photo by David LaFevor)

A UT Arlington history researcher will spend part of his summer in Cuba, rummaging through dusty church vaults in search of records for millions of Africans forced into the Caribbean region more than 400 years ago.

Assistant Professor David LaFevor (History) is spending three weeks in Cuba and the surrounding area as part of a grant (up to 10,000 pounds or $15,500) from the British Library. He will identify, digitize and catalog documents as part of the Endangered Archives Programme, a project that includes graduate students and professors from universities across the globe.

“We know there are documents…

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Gaining Time, Losing Structure: Hello, Summer

Finding time to write in the midst of teaching presents a number of challenges. This always makes the time between semesters seem especially appealing – oh, the things I could accomplish with that much time! The end of the semester, though, brings with it a loss of structure. For me, this makes establishing a routine crucial to ensuring stead progress over the summer months. Normally, I try to find some means of employment over the summer, but as my goal is to defend my dissertation in the fall (!!), I need as much time as possible to write and revise.

How to do this?

I’ve heard others discuss an array of strategies; some treat writing like a 9-5 job. They “clock in,” get to work, and when five o’clock hits, they “clock out.” I tried this approach for a few weeks, and I would categorize my success at this approach as mediocre (at best). Others have told me they have set days and a set location to work. For the three or four days that worked best for their schedule, they wrote as much as they possibly could. Again, I attempted to adopt aspects of this approach, but any interruptions to the schedule proved frustrating.

What I do need, though, is structure. I like to self-impose deadlines (finish drafting X chapter by X date; revise by X; submit – wash, rinse, repeat). I also agree that having a set location to work is crucial. Whether it be a coffee shop (which are just too noisy for me), a campus office (which are usually too busy with socializing), or a home office (my preferred setup), an established place to work is key. For awhile, I found myself bouncing between work stations, and it was a very unproductive experience.

One thing I did learn about myself when I attempted the 9-5 writing schedule is what hours proved to be the most productive. For me, 10-2 is ‘prime time’; for some reason, writing comes easier within that time block. Others have said that writing late at night or early in the morning is best for them. Finding that time that works for you can be tricky, but once it is established, stick with it.

Two o’clock is the true doldrums of the day. (Image credit: “*head-desk*,” [insert nifty phrase])

With time and place nailed down, it’s just a matter of doing it. My goal is to write every day; it doesn’t always happen, because life doesn’t necessarily fit with my schedule. Still, to write something each day is a way to hold myself accountable. When I do write, I aim to reach 500 words. This is something that resulted from a post written by LD Burnett on her blog, “Saved By History.” In what she called “The Grafton Line,” Burnett found that setting a word count goal that was manageable for every day writing resulted in great progress. After reading that post I determined to try to write 500 words per day; that roughly translate to a chapter per month. If I stick to this goal throughout the summer, there is no reason why I should not be in a good place to defend in the fall. Hopefully, it will also result in a steadier stream of blog posts, but only if dissertation progress occurs.

This is simply my take on ways to find structure in what can be structure-less time. What tactics do you use to research or write in-between or during teaching assignments?

Twitter Meets the Academy

Today, I am presenting at UTA on how historians and other scholars use Twitter to share resources, connect at conferences, and engage in discourse. I am also covering how I have used Twitter as an assignment in the classroom. Below is a list of resources connected to these topics.

Getting Started on Twitter
“10 Must-Learn Lessons for Twitter Newbies” (New to Twitter? Don’t sweat it. Here is a good guide to help you learn the basics.)

“Twitter Dictionary: A Guide to Understanding Twitter Lingo” (Twitter is full of its own kind of slang. Don’t feel shy about referring to a guide like this to figure out what some abbreviations/phrases mean.)

Teaching with Twitter
“How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement”

“60 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom by Category”

“How Twitter Saved My Literature Class: A Case Study with Discussion”

Using Twitter as an Historian
“Why Historians Should Use Twitter: An Interview with Katrina Gulliver” (An interview with Katrina Gulliver, the person responsible for creating the #twitterstorians hashtag. This is one of – if not the – most popular hashtags historians use to communicate on Twitter.)

“Twitter for Historians” (Rachel Herrmann presents her take on the benefits of historians using Twitter.)

“History Hashtags” (This list initiated by Liz Covart features many of the hastags historians use to connect and communicate with each other.)

Using Twitter at a Conference
“16 Ways to Use Twitter to Improve Your Next Conference” (This includes advice for those planning and/or attending conferences.)

“Conference Season is Here. Don’t Stink at Twitter.”

“Twitter in the U.S. History Classroom: A Roundtable Discussion, OAH 2015” (Shameless plug, but here is the Storify of the roundtable discussion I participated in at the 2015 OAH Annual Meeting in St. Louis. This is a good example of how people live-tweet a conference presentation.)

Again, I will post a followup with more details on how I use Twitter in and out of the classroom, but in the meantime feel free to check out these links. Maybe consider setting up a new account, if you don’t have one already!

Twitter Q&A with James Nicholls

This evening, my Alcohol in the Atlantic World class held a Q&A with James Nicholls, author of The Politics of Alcohol. Dr. Nicholls generously agreed to stay up to midnight (GMT) to chat with my class. This was a new experience for many in the class, myself included, but it ended up being both entertaining and insightful. You can follow the conversation via Storify HERE.

politics of alcohol

On Cotton, Slavery, and Capitalism

Recently, Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History at Harvard University, spoke at UTA about his new book, Empire of Cotton: A Global History. I was asked to write a guest post about Beckert’s talk for the USIH Blog, and the post became available earlier today. Here is an excerpt:

“The global,” Beckert stated, “cannot be understood without the local.” This emphasis placed on connections not only revealed the significance of specific regions to a worldwide industry, but it also unveiled the necessity of moving beyond restrictive timeframes. Beckert explained in the presentation how the events of the eighteenth century cannot be separated from what happened in the nineteenth century, or the world we live in today. Broad timeframes and a global perspective help reveal the complex connections that continue to shape modern behaviors, living conditions, and ideologies.

Read the full post over at the USIH Blog here: “Understanding ‘the Unity of the Diverse’: Sven Beckert on the Entangled History of Cotton, Slavery, and Capitalism”

UTA Hosts Texas Digital Humanities Conference


The second annual Texas Digital Humanities Conference, co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and the UT Arlington Libraries, will be held April 9-11 at the Central Library.

The three-day event will focus on a better understanding of the history and future of digital humanities in Texas, specifically addressing issues related to secondary and higher education. The departments of Art & Art History, English, History and Linguistics & TESOL, as well as the Honors College, are also sponsors.

“This conference comes out of group of researchers who were interested in setting up a regional network of scholars at different Texas universities who all worked in the interdisciplinary area of digital humanities,” said Associate Professor and Department Chair Laurel Smith Stvan (Linguistics & TESOL). “Often these researchers have been scattered across different departments on a campus, even though they might be using some of the same…

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Advance Praise for Choctaw-Apache Foodways

Take a look at UTA PhD student, Robert B. Caldwell’s forthcoming book!

Robert B. Caldwell

Choctaw-Apache Foodways explores the rich and complex food history and culture of the Choctaw-Apache Community of Ebarb in western Louisiana. The book is published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press and will be distributed by Texas A&M Press/ Texas Book Consortium. It will be available in 2015.


Choctaw-Apache Foodways provides a fascinating look at the distinctive history, culture, and foods of one of Louisiana’s Native peoples.  Robert Caldwell seamlessly incorporates his tribe’s culinary traditions within an absorbing ethnohistorical narrative that feeds your intellectual hunger, but leaves you craving some of that delicious food.  Luckily, there are recipes included—for food and for food sovereignty. -Brian Klopotek, author of Recognition Odysseys: Indigeneity, Race, and Federal Tribal Recognition Policy in Three Louisiana Indian Communities

Robert Caldwell’s book Choctaw-Apache Foodways fills in a gap in the documentation of Louisiana traditional cultures. From the garden to the table, it explores the importance of foodways as…

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Alt-Ac Panel at UTA: Starting the Conversation

On February 17, the College of Liberal Arts at UTA held the first in a series of panel discussions and workshops on alternative-academic careers (commonly referred to as “alt-ac”) for PhD students. Much credit goes to Dr. Les Riding-In, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, for organizing this panel and establishing the College’s interest in helping students find success post-graduation. The purpose of this first panel discussion was, in essence, to begin the conversation between COLA and PhD students about career opportunities that exist beyond the tenure-track. The panel consisted of three presenters: Dr. Brenda Davis, Student Development Specialist at the UTA Office of Graduate Studies; Dr. Eric Bolsterli, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts; and myself, ABD doctoral candidate in the transatlantic history PhD program.

alt-ac panel UTA
From left to right: Dr. Bolsterli, Dr. Davis, and myself.

The panel discussed a wide spectrum of topics; I presented on the necessity of learning what career opportunities exist beyond tenure-track positions, Eric Bolsterli recounted his experience following the completion of his degree and how he managed to find work as an administrator, and Brenda Davis covered the different strategies PhD students can use to find and apply for non-faculty positions. As the panel presented, Les Riding-In gathered questions written by those in attendance regarding their biggest fears in facing the job market, or life after graduation.

In my presentation, I emphasized why it is necessary for PhD students to consider options beyond the traditional career objective of a full-time, tenure-track position. While students across disciplines, and especially in the liberal arts, continue to see TT jobs as the “golden ticket” in terms of employment, the state of the job market shows that such an outcome is no longer a possibility for most PhDs. Overwhelmingly, most teaching positions in universities do not go to full-time, tenure-track employees; rather, 76% of jobs go to part-time, contingent labor known as adjuncts. A 2012 survey released by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that, out of 20,000 adjunct respondents, 54% were under the age of 35, and 52% reported earning less than $35,000 per year. You can read the full report HERE.

This has made an already competitive academic job market even more daunting for new PhDs. Still, most who enter the job market have one goal in mind: secure a tenure-track position. This is what PhD students are trained to prepare for, because it is the career academic mentors know. This has made TT jobs the marker of success after graduation, and alternative career options appear, instead, as a form of failure.

This should not be the case!

It is important for PhD students to be aware of their options; the post-PhD road does not exclusively run toward a tenure-track position. A multitude of career options exist both within and without academia. While many PhD students pursue a higher-level degree because they love what they do, it is still possible to put that passion and inspiration toward other careers. Tenure-track jobs are not the be all and end all in academia.

I encouraged those attending to do research on what jobs exist within the university system that may appear to be a good fit. Once they find alt-ac positions that seem interesting, PhD students should talk to the people in those positions to see what the job requires. Ultimately, it is crucial for PhDs and PhD students to recognize they have transferable skills that they can use to secure a career that is feasible and sustainable.

Following my presentation, Dr. Eric Bolsterli gave an account of his experience after grad school and how he ended up in his current position in the university administration. In his presentation, Dr. Bolsterli emphasized a number of points: first, the ability to build a reputation as capable employee is fundamental. For him, this meant construction a reputation as a good teacher. This helped him develop connections among UTA faculty, which led to a job offer to work as an advisor for the History Department. After applying for jobs and receiving no response, Dr. Bolsterli decided to focus instead on work in the administration.

Dr. Bolsterli stressed the importance of networking. He networked across campus; he became involved in orientation and recruiting. Once a position opened in the College of Liberal Arts focused on working with undergraduates in University Affairs, Dr. Bolsterli recognized that, based on his past experience and his reputation, it was not a stretch for him to move into this position.

Key points from Eric Bolsterli’s presentation:
– Networking is incredibly important.
– If you wish to stay in an academic environment, you have to be able to work effectively with students.
– Learn as much as you can about on-campus opportunities, and – again – network as much as you can.
– Don’t pigeon-hole yourself as “just” a PhD student.
– Communicate with professionals and students of all ages.

The final presentation came from Dr. Brenda Davis, who stated she followed the alt-ac path “in its totality.” After she obtained her PhD from TCU, she found that so few jobs were available, she had no choice but to explore other options. She worked with local museums and the administration office at TCU, in addition to teaching. She kept her eye out for jobs, but she acknowledged that she did not know at the time how to market herself or sell her skills. Eventually, she saw the job opening at UTA’s Office of Graduate Studies, and she described landing on her feet out of “dumb luck.”

Based on her experience after graduation, she now seeks to help PhD students pursue alt-ac, not just fall into it. She stressed the skills PhD students acquire and hone throughout grad school. She said PhD students develop skills that are much more advanced than the undergrads who are applying for the same non-academic jobs. Job candidates with undergraduate degrees simply have an upper hand in knowing how to market themselves. Dr. Davis stated that, as grad students, we too easily dissect what we can and cannot do; yet, that should not interfere with our ability to find steady work.

Even though Dr. Davis did not land the supposed “golden ticket” job, she said that she loves her career. She still gets to teach, challenge her skills (which she does through web development), and work with people.

Key points from Brenda Davis’s presentation:
– Figure out what you want to do, and find the corresponding skills.
– You should do something you love, just keep in mind that it may be in a different career.
– Think about why you love academia.
– Determine what skills you have and focus on that. If you have a hard time determining what skills you have, talk to someone and see what they notice about your skills and what you are passionate about.
– It is important for PhD students to know that alt-ac careers are becoming the norm.

Dr. Davis concluded by giving a tutorial on using Versatile PhD. This is an incredible resource for those looking to broaden their career options. If you have access to Versatile PhD, do not hesitate to make use of it.

During the Q&A session that followed, in which Dr. Riding-In read the questions written by the attendees, the following points came up:

– Career choices are not limited to choosing between community colleges and tenure track jobs. It is important to keep options open.
– Finishing a project on the magnitude of a dissertation forces the development of very transferable skills. Writing a dissertation requires massive organizational skills, the ability to research, and integrate that research in a cohesive, readable way. Underlining all of these is the fine-tuning of critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to handle criticism. It also forces one to adapt to problems and persevere. These skills are highly desired in positions outside of academia.
– One cannot pursue a doctoral degree because they expect to get a job as a professor. You have to love what you do; you have to want to do it.
– It is possible that a TT job is not the right job for you. Be prepared to shift your path as needed.
– Finally, it is important to take the first step – start thinking about and researching alternative career options now. Recognize that you have skills most people do not have.

Pending student interest, this series will continue with workshops to help students become familiar with the resources available through Versatile PhD, learn how to turn a CV into a resume, in addition to other professional development training for alt-ac and post-ac careers.