Monthly Archives: December 2016

Decline and Fall during decline and fall?

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Spotted in Verona in 2009. “Guasto” is another word for “broken”

Oh yeah. This blog. It still exists, I promise. Between working full time, teaching online, and proofreading on the side, plus…um…this election season, many things have fallen by the wayside.

Fall semester 2016 is the fifth time I have taught Roman Civilization online for the University of Massachusetts, and I must say it has been the most interesting semester to teach ancient politics and government. My course content is already created at this point, my schedule is set for what we read, our discussion topics, our assignment questions, etc., and I did not look ahead at all to see where particular content was going to fall in the calendar, relative to what would be going on: the three presidential debates, the actual election, etc.

Our discussion topic for the week that included Election Day? Women in ancient Rome. Did not realize that was paired up. On Monday November 7th when the discussion board opened, I saw the conversation going a particular way because I’d assumed, like mainstream media and the majority of my friends, family, and colleagues assumed, that we would have our first female president. On the morning of the 9th, I was reeling (as was a lot of the country) and then immediately nervous about the course. How was the discussion board going to go?  Posts are not moderated before they appear, so was I going to wake up to an angry mess I would need to untangle, to somehow keep us focused on the ancient material and remain neutral in terms modern politics so that all my students would feel comfortable posting?

In an online course like mine, you don’t meet your students in person, and they don’t meet each other. Spontaneous interaction doesn’t really happen, as our only real interactive component, the discussion board, is a highly edited, mediated form of communication. And I’m not always there to moderate right away.

Were there some angry posts? Sure. Did I need to intervene a couple of times? Yes I did, but it wasn’t because anyone was being disrespectful or unprofessional. Rather it was to elaborate on touchy subjects, like abortion, so that they could see that ancient understandings are not necessarily the same as modern views. They all stuck to the ancient material, but made fantastic connections with the modern world, and this continued for the rest of our discussion boards.

This past week was our last discussion, which included, of course, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. And again, I couldn’t have planned this if I tried, but the modern and the ancient lined up perfectly. Mary Beard’s Twitter interactions with UKIP supporter Arron Banks and her blog summary of the situation was PERFECT. My discussion topic was, essentially, Why study ancient Rome? Could not have driven the point home any better.

I feel guasto (broken) these days and am terrified for what the next four years are going to bring. Decline and fall? Quite possibly. But what we do here in the Humanities and Social Sciences is more relevant than ever. Even Twitter will tell you that.

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