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Why So Serious? Hulu’s Catch-22

You have never, or will never, read a book quite like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. It is by turns perplexing and enlightening, high satire and vulgar comedy, deeply tragic and profoundly hopeful. It is the one book, in my experience, most likely to become a student’s favorite of all time after being required for English class, and it one of a handful of written works that I (and many others) consider nearly impossible to adapt to any kind of visual media. Then, I saw the trailer for Hulu’s miniseries and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store. I was at once supremely impressed and profoundly disappointed.... Read More
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The Principal Purpose of Education: Dwight D. Eisenhower at Commencement

In this most unusual of commencement seasons, I found myself looking back through Dwight Eisenhower’s speeches to college graduates, searching for some inspiring words as tribute for the remarkable cohorts of students graduating this spring. Like many speakers, Eisenhower had a tendency to begin with a light-hearted introduction, sometimes poking fun at himself or his […]... Read More
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A Tale of Two Empires: Stephen R. Platt’s Imperial Twilight

In my studies of history, there are generally two kinds of wars. There are wars that one might be tempted to call inevitable; wars that are not so much a result of the decisions of men, but the clash of two indomitably opposed forces bearing down upon one another. Then there are the wars that seem eminently avoidable; wars that could only have come down to the whims and fancies of individual historical actors and, if anyone else would have occupied their position, conflict might have been avoided. Before reading Stephen Platt’s Imperial Twilight, I had always thought of the Britain’s infamous Opium Wars with Qing Dynasty China as somewhere on the spectrum between the two, a policy-driven war that would become just one of many manifestations of Britain’s growing global might in the nineteenth century. While some symbolism still exists, however, Platt’s magnificent work has thoroughly convinced me that the Opium Wars fall firmly into the camp of avoidable human tragedy.... Read More
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History as Horror: HBO’s Chernobyl

As we watched the final season of Game of Thrones during the late spring of 2019 (or rather, as Bryan watched and Heather made occasional sarcastic comments in between crossword puzzles), we began seeing commercials for a curious new show on HBO. A new miniseries, it promised a dramatic telling of the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Neither of us were very familiar with the event, other than general knowledge of location and legacy, but something about the commercials looked intriguing. Bryan asked Heather if she was interested, Heather replied that she’d be willing to give it a shot, and so we tuned in to the first episode. Little did we know the saga we were about to become invested in.... Read More
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Making History, Marking History III: The Great Anniversaries of 2020

The third year of Concerning History has come to a close, and in what has become our longstanding tradition (do we get to use ‘long standing’ now? I think so!), our indomitable staff reflected on the noteworthy anniversaries that have come and will come this year. As this year also hosts the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, we've decided to focus on some other anniversaries that are not guaranteed that same level of surely ubiquitous coverage. As always, we can only expose the tip of the iceberg here, so if there are any commemorations we couldn’t discuss, feel free to add your own in the comments below!... Read More
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Look at that Renaissance! Netflix’s Medici

As if to emphasize to myself how rusty I am on early modern Italian history, I began my watch-through of Netflix’s various period shows with The Borgias (reviewed here on Concerning History) before moving on to Netflix’s original production Medici. Those of you in the know would have readily advised me that the golden age of Florence and the Medici family in fact preceded the Borgia papacy by decades. Laughing at myself, I then proceeded to watch in Netflix’s automatic order...which showed me the second season before the first. No matter! Despite my erstwhile beginnings, I eagerly dove into this melodrama set in the heart of the Renaissance.... Read More
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Hilariously Informative: Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail

Buck, Rinker. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. In 2011, writer Rinker Buck and his brother Nick embarked on an epic journey to cross the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon, staying true to the original route(s) whenever possible. Part history, part travel guide, and part personal introspective, his […]... Read More
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Charging into a Minefield: Reflections on High School Humanities Writing in 2020

The other day, as we were planning out the course of her most recent English essay, one of my students mused “You know, Bryan, I don’t know if I like writing essays.” Fair enough! Every person certainly does not need to love the often-torturous process of writing. Yet as I talked with my student about the difference between writing essays for class and writing for yourself, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the ways I’ve seen students struggle with writing over my past three years as an educational coach. There are of course the usual pitfalls of bad grammar and syntax (it’s an epidemic), writer’s block, and never having read enough to internalize good examples, but the more I work with students, the more I’m noticing bad writing habits baked into their very instruction. Sometimes it feels like students are charging into a minefield laid out for them by their teachers. Needless to say, I’ve become concerned with the state of secondary humanities instruction, and indeed for these students once they arrive at college and experience an inevitable, painful re-wiring of their writing process they thought they were just beginning to figure out. If you will indulge me, then, what follows is a reflection on the actively bad writing instructions I have seen students receive from the very people who are supposed to be teaching them best practices.... Read More