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Life after coal. Imagine it.

Originally posted on Colliery Communities:

An American documentary film-maker is to release a documentary next year which will look at the Welsh experience adapting to life after coal.

Film-maker Tom Hansell also teaches Appalachian Studies and Documentary Studies at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and has 20 years experience helping people create media about their communities through the Appalshop media arts centre.

Documentary film-maker Tom Hansell (
Documentary film-maker Tom Hansell (Used with permission of Tom Hansell).

In his new project, After Coal: Welsh and Appalachian Mining Communities, Tom looks to Wales for lessons which he hopes can be applied nearly 4,000 miles away in Eastern Kentucky where coal mining communities are experiencing mine closures, causing deprivation not dissimilar to that experienced in Welsh communities in the 80s, 90s and even today.

Tom kindly agreed to speak to Colliery Communities about the project.

“After Coal is a documentary and community engagement project that looks at the Welsh…

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Writing Ethnography

As the fall semester winds down I find myself looking forward to the spring semester and teaching Writing Ethnography-and advanced undergraduate class that teaches students the ethnographic process and how to write a ethnographic account. Unlike the field school, students will pick their own research sites and spend 10 weeks doing ethnographic observations.  Their final products will be an ethnographic account (usually 30-45 pages) and an public oral presentation of their findings.

I’ve been working on a student textbook to use in this class and the field school. My plan is to pilot the text next semester, so I’m busy writing and editing a digital text that will include supplemental readings and assignments and links to real student projects.

I’ll be posting regular updates here during the semester.


Speech, Civility, and Guns

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When the Second Amendment stops citizens from exercising the First Amendment.

Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

A few days ago Marty Kich posted an item on this blog that reported an effort by gun-rights advocates in Oklahoma to pass legislation that will allow guns to be brought onto the state’s 25 public college and university campuses.  An officer of the state’s Second Amendment Association promotes the legislation in these terms: “’Anywhere you can carry your Bible, which is your First Amendment right, you should be able to carry your gun, which is your Second Amendment right.”

Now an incident in Utah demonstrates a different sort of connection between the first two amendments.  Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and the creator of the popular Tropes versus Women video series, was scheduled to speak at Utah State University’s Center for Women and Gender.  Along with several others, however, she received an ominous and serious death threat.  Claiming to be a student, the writer promised “the deadliest school shooting…

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Fifty Shades of Censorship, or How We Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Let Kids Read by Rosemary Hathaway

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From my folklore colleague Rosemary Hathaway.

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

Sometime in mid-July, I got a text from an English teacher friend at a local high school. She’d just heard, via her principal, that a parent had complained about The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s brilliant short-story collection based in part on his own experiences fighting in Vietnam.

The book was assigned as summer reading for the student’s upcoming AP language and composition class, and the parent—having looked through it—asked for an alternate text. My friend texted to ask for ideas about what she might suggest. I made several recommendations—Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels among them—but the parent rejected all of our candidates and made her own choice, John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

Given that we’re just coming out of Banned Books Week, I’d like to use my Reading Lives moment to address not the dramatic cases of book challenges, like the ongoing battle over The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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The Science of Reading Actual Books

One of the things I love about living in the 21st Century is the watching tech fads come and go. Three years ago there were predictions that brick and mortar schools were going to be replaced by Khan Academy and other on-line options, that low income students could forego the diploma for internet badges. I still imagine how silly that would look on a resume or CV. Still, serious people, smart people, tried to build academic visions around such nonsense.

The problem with tech hype is that it is hype. Slapping the adjective digital in front of an idea doesn’t make it better, or what it replaces obsolete. Think of digital music, then consider the booming vinyl industry, and how it’s comeback is shaking the music industry. It’s the same with digital books. I love books and I love my Kindle, but it seems that our brains process the experience of reading physical books in significantly different ways.  Consider this excerpt from Arts.mic:

It’s no secret that reading is good for you. Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. But not all forms of reading are created equal.

The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007. Most arguments have been about the sentimental versus the practical, between people who prefer how paper pages feel in their hands and people who argue for the practicality of e-readers. But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books.

Reading in print helps with comprehension. 

A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.

The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. Mangen hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers “might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”

It turns out reading on screens change the way we read. The article goes on to say:

As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning. A 2006 study found that people read on screens in an “F” pattern, reading the entire top line but then only scanning through the text along the left side of the page. This sort of nonlinear reading reduces comprehension and actually makes it more difficult to focus the next time you sit down with a longer piece of text.

The more you read on a screen, the harder it is to focus on longer texts and maintain concentration.  The answer, according to some, is to return to slow reading, to dedicate 30-45 minutes a day to reading away from technology.  Slow reading increases empathy and also helps with sleep patterns.

There are many good reasons to pick up a good book. As our world become more complex, we need a society of people who can engage with social problems in-depth. Now my guilty pleasure of reading fiction has a higher purpose. Happy reading!

Consulting Costs: The “Other Kind” of Administrative Bloat

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On administrative bloat in universities.

Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Although the number of administrators and of administrative staff, as well as the levels of administrative compensation, have continued to increase inexorably, those are hardly the only elements of administrative bloat. Paradoxically, although one would think that, at some point, there would be enough administrators to cover almost any administrative need, the “need” to contract with outside consultants seems to have more than kept pace with the growth of other administrative costs.

At my own institution, we have now allocated $2.3 million to hire a consultant with expertise in institutional branding. I believe that the budget allocation is for the consulting work: that is, it seems to be covering the cost of a plan and not any implementation of the plan.

But a group of universities in Iowa seems to have done us one better. In a recent article for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Vanessa Miller reports that three…

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