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5 Things to Think About with Wake Forest University Associate Professor, Stephanie Kosack

On distracting oneself from the summer heat
Published onJul 31, 2023
5 Things to Think About with Wake Forest University Associate Professor, Stephanie Kosack

July is nearly over. The North Carolina summer heat is stifling and cicadas scream from the trees, but the new school year is on the horizon and students will be arriving on campus in a few weeks. Does everyone else feel a similar sense of excitement and dread as the dog days of summer inevitably end? Just teachers? In the melodic words of Simon & Garfunkel, “August, die she must.” Brief sigh. As we weather one of the hottest Julys on record, here are five things I’ve been thinking about as I plan for the fall and enjoy the final days of summer.

1 // Barbie (2023)

Whether you love Barbie, hate Barbie, don’t much care about Barbie, or are interested in how writer and director Greta Gerwig subtly navigates the politics of media, gender, corporate oversight, and consumer marketing in her first blockbuster film, you should go see Barbie. Watching the movie in a sold-out viewing at our local independent cinema with two Women & Gender Studies colleagues on opening weekend was quite the experience: the audience (mostly women, the majority in pink) laughed, clapped, cheered, and cried as Barbie and Ken — just Ken, as he’s known in the film — come to grips with the realities of patriarchy and women’s subordination. Sure, the film suggests that just pointing out the existence of patriarchal expectations about women (including those held by women) and turning them into a joke to be laughed at is enough to disempower the patriarchy.

Side note (and slight spoiler): Gerwig makes hysterical use of Matchbox Twenty’s song, Push, linking it to bro culture, masculine fragility, and the ever-present threat of misogyny, as the Ken dolls awkwardly stare into their Barbies’ eyes across artificial campfires while earnestly singing “I wanna push you around” over and over and over again. As a ‘90s teenager, this hit home. I also snickered when the Ken dolls mansplained the Godfather and the musical importance of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus to the Barbies.

But in poking-fun at patriarchy, the film does ask us to think about the realities of gender and power, and as Susan Faludi notes, it might provide an escape and a “genuine catharsis” for women and femmes who have seen their rights to healthcare and making decisions about their bodies under threat since 2016. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say the pink outfits worn to see Barbie echo the pink pussyhats (with all their complications and contradictions) worn at the 2017 Women’s March. On the other hand, maybe a multinational toy and entertainment company whose dolls promote unrealistic body expectations for women shouldn’t be making a film about contemporary feminist politics.

2 // Coll Thrush’s Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (Yale, 2016)

This fall, I am leading a group of fourteen Wake Forest University undergraduates who will be spending the semester abroad in London. I will teach a new class on the global history of the capital since the early modern period. One of the books that a friend suggested I read when I started designing this course is Coll Thrush’s Indigenous London. Thrush reexamines the history of the city as a global metropolis from the perspective of indigenous travelers since the sixteenth century, including emissaries, captives, and performers from North America, New Zealand, and Australia, demonstrating that London’s urban history is deeply entangled with colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.

Despite the narrative and analytical separation between Indigenous and urban history in contemporary scholarship, Thrush argues that Indigenous peoples who came to London were highly visible, fundamentally shaping the city’s cultural and social fabric, and he shows how this presence has been commemorated, contested, marginalized, and mobilized politically. Not only will this book appeal to readers interested in a more honest and expansive history of London’s colonial past and postcolonial present, but it includes an appendix with three self-guided walking tours of Indigenous London. These tours “ask the reader to imagine not only Indigenous presences within the urban landscape but the landscape’s own pasts” (245). I’m very much looking forward to following these walking routes with students.

3 // ChatGPT & the Classroom

I can’t envision the new school year without, once again, thinking about the impact of AI on the college classroom — about threats to academic integrity, how tempting it is to students, how impossible it is to detect, and the labor implications for faculty (do we need to redesign all of our assignments to make them “AI-proof” or to help students to use AI in responsible, appropriate ways?). As a longtime follower of Dr. Kate Denial’s writing on history pedagogy and her “Pedagogy of Kindness”—which distills down to two classroom practices, “believing people, and believing in people”—I am reluctant to institute new types of surveillance or oversight in my courses. I also don’t want to bury my head in the sand. I’m currently listening to the Tea for Teaching podcast interview about ChatGPT with Dr. Betsy Barre, Executive Director of the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University. I really appreciate some of the low-key suggestions and support discussed in the episode, as well as the question about how this might change (in potentially positive ways?) the economic model and future of higher education.

ChatGPT Chat with Dr. Betsy Barre

Discussing how faculty might promote authentic learning opportunities in class and evaluate evidence of student learning outside of essays or term papers (which might be partly authored by AI…), Barre comments: “I think I can imagine a world in which, if we really want to see process, we need to be with our students more than three hours a week, and we need fewer students in our courses. But that would be such a radical change to the economic model of higher education.” Much to think about!

4 // Being Outside

I’ve been soaking up as much hiking and outdoor time with my husky mix, Tilly, as I can this summer, since she obviously can’t travel to England with me in the fall. She was recently diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder, GME, and I’ve spent a lot of my time over the past few months caring for her, taking her to the neurologist, and monitoring her for any sign of relapse. Since she’s been doing well, we’ve been spending our weekends escaping some of the heat and hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia — Doughton Recreation Area is one of our favorite spots. I’m hoping all the walking might prepare me to hike parts of the breathtaking Southwest Coastal Path this fall, England’s longest long-distance footpath that winds along the coast of England from Somerset to Dorset. I’ve also been reading Katharine May’s The Electricity of Every Living Thing (2021), about her own journey along this path leading up to her 40th birthday.

5 // Historic Recipes

Stephanie teaches a course on this topic herself!
Check out Domestick Knowledge on PubPub.

I frame my courses on early modern women and gender around manuscript recipes and receipt books—not only do these sources help reveal the lives of early modern women and the learning communities and family networks to which they belonged, but reading, transcribing, and re-creating historic recipes experiences helps students learn skills of paleography and digital preservation and offers a window onto the society and culture of a particular historical moment. If you have similar interests, I highly recommend the blog Cooking in the Archives, created by Marissa Nicosia and Alyssa Connell. Their site includes discussions and transcriptions of early modern manuscript cookery recipes held at various archives, updated modern recipes to recreate at home, and suggestions for further reading. One of my favorite recipes is their heartsease cordial, from the recipe book of Thomas Sheppey held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

~ Stephanie

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