Today, Tuesday, January 16, 2007, things really got underway.
My first class, Romantics (Blake, Byron, Keats) went from 11:30 to 12:20.
My second class, Shakespeare, went from 3:30- 4:20. Not a bad schedule.
At 4:30, Ashok took us seven faculty to get our library cards.
We then ate and drank in the senior common room,
while Alex and Ashok filled us in on more that we needed to know.
The lecture by Wendy Stokes, preceded
by announcements, went from about 6 to 8:30.
On Wednesday, we went on our tour of the Museum of London,
in which I bought
some gifts for Linda Moser, Frost, and the flat. Here's my 500-word write-up,
which I sent out to my students as an example.
To my students in Shakespeare, Romantics, and BLC (if you're in more than one
of those groups, you may receive this message more than once): Here is what
I might write for BLC if I were a student; it contains about 500 words (2 typical
pages). This piece states some of my observations, opinions, and evaluations
concerning Wendy Stokes's lecture and the Museum of London. Notice how I formulate
overall ideas and back them up with particular examples and reasoning. I hope
that I convey some of my excitement, intellectual eagerness, and gratitude for
this London program. I encourage all of you to write in your own individual
voices, including strong statements backed up by various kinds of evidence.
Remember that you may, if you wish, submit your journal entries to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will acknowledge receipt.
On Tuesday, January 16, 2007, we attended the first BLC lecture, delivered by Wendy Stokes. She began her dynamic presentation by emphasizing differences between Britons and Americans. In fact, though, the similarities are much more important. First, although Ms. Stokes spoke with a British accent, we Americans had no problem understanding every word. Second, if she walked down the street of any American street, she wouldn't receive a second glance. (Well, she would receive second glances, but not because she looked particularly British.) She even wore blue jeans, one of USA's most successful exports. If I remember correctly, the only important difference she mentioned was that she turns off light switches, but then so do I.
The primary similarity between us and the English that she talked about (although she didn't exactly admit that these similarities are more fundamental than our differences) is our countries' shared love of independence and freedom from government interference, combined with an apparently contradictory fondness for a socialist welfare state. University students in UK pay very little for higher education, but then students at state universities like Missouri State University don't pay even half their costs, which are subsidized by taxpayers. British citizens receive free medical care, but many Americans receive taxpayer help for medical costs, including Medicare. When she tried to make a distinction between Tory (conservative) party in UK and Republican party in US, by asserting that Tories agree with the concept of big government, whereas Republicans do not, she distorted the facts. Instead, US Republicans support Social Security (notice that its name is even socialist) and other forms of government spending. George W. Bush has presided over the greatest expansion of the federal government in history, bigger even that that under supposedly more liberal Bill Clinton.
Our visit to the Museum of London led my thoughts among parallel trains of similarity and difference. All of human culture is a combination of continuing traditions and creating innovations. London, in particular, has combined preserving the past (some of us most enjoyed the portion of Roman wall that has stood in the same place for 2000 years) with imaginative new constructions. Often, there is conflict between the builders and the archaeologists; for example, how long can construction be delayed while Roman coins are dug up?
The most memorable fact in the Museum for me was a solution to 19th-century sewage problems. In 1858 the "Great Stink" revealed a crisis in pollution caused by human excrement in the river. A visionary architect, whose name I neglected to record, pushed through a controversial idea to narrow the Thames from 300 feet to 100 feet with embankments, allowing enough room for sewer pipes that could shoot out sewage into the ocean at high tide.
That concern with ecology, with green politics, with carbon reduction, is the most striking trend to me here: humans have always polluted their environments. Will we find ways to prevent ourselves from destroying ourselves? Like similarities and differences in human societies, humans' building on what we have produced or instead getting rid of it, destroying or keeping, dominates our thinking lives. What do we preserve and what do we throw away?