Thursday, September 30, 2010

Puritans: Social Status as Shown through Land Ownership

In an excerpt from Stilgoe's writing, he states "The amount of land owned by an individual was usually proportionate to his social and religious raink; "saints" lived on large lots near the meetinghouse, and the unregenerate owned only a few acres away from the village center." (56).

In this way the Puritans associated both the size of their land and it's proximity to the church or meetinghouse, the center of their community with their social status and religious rank.

It's much like the way people often do today. Its often expensive to live in the heart of a large city, such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Typically it's also often impossible to find anything other than an apartment in the middle of city as well. Thus many people live in the suburbs or surrounding areas. However, in today's day and age it's viewed as a sort of luxury to live in places such as these, and one's living situation might be deemed 'better' by one's self and others if one lives in the city itself.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Modern House and the Origins of the American Campus

In the reading I thought it was intriguing how one of the articles discussed how the modern house was based upon the farmhouses of the past. I hadn't thought about it before, but it makes sense--the luxurious yards representing the farmlands and the white picket fence surrounding it.

I also enjoyed the Campus reading, by Paul Turner. I particularly liked the following excerpt. "A basic trait of American higher education from the colonial period to the twentieth century: the conception of colleges and universities as communities in themselves--in effect, as cities in microcosm" (3). In my mind this quote is especially true of St. Olaf. Set back upon a hill, it is in effect a city all to it's own. There is a bookstore where one can buy books or other items, several "restaurants" where one can go to eat, libraries, a gym and more. It runs similarly to a small city.

It was interesting too how American universities have followed the English collegiate system, rather than the European one. In many ways it mirrors the English system. However, they made it their own when they separated many colleges from the cities, placing them in the wilderness. As Turner says, "the romantic notion of a college in nature, removed from the corrupting forces of the city, became an American ideal" (4). 

I enjoyed reading about the origins of the American college, and it was interesting to see how it had been modeled off of the English system, and it's differences from that of Europe's.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Different Perspectives on Anne Hutchinson

When reading about Anne Hutchinson for homework this weekend, I was surprised by how differently people viewed her. Some people saw her as a heretic, while still others saw her as the rare outspoken women in the male-dominated society of her time. Still others thought that she paved the way for religious and political freedom, speaking out against the rules of Puritan society.

In particular I liked the points Marilyn Westerkamp made about Hutchinson on the final page (496) of the article "Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order".
 As she says, "By her actions Anne Hutchinson challenged John Winthrop's authority over his people; in her mysticism she challenged his sense of order. The added quality of her femaleness challenged his relationship with God. Winthrop saw before him a woman who refused to accept passively the restrictions that patriarchal society had placed upon her, refused merely to play the roles of wife, housekeeper, mother" (296).
In this way Hutchinson challenged Winthrop on many different levels: challenging his ideas about order in society, relationships with God and women's roles in society. He felt threatened by her in a big way.

In particular I thought it was interesting how "the very nature of female mysicism radically challenged the substructure of Protestant culture. Woman was no longer an outsider, a reflection, an object. In her union with God she had become a new creature, a self" (496). Since Hutchinson claimed to talk with God and have a personal relationship with him, she essentially suggested that anyone could have a personal relationship with God, and did not need the Church (which was integral to Winthrop's power) to do it. This was a very controversial idea at the time, as Puritans believed that people who said that they had had a direct revelation from God were lying or crazy.

Ever Wondered What Makes People Happy? Or What Makes People Sad?

I found some interesting studies recently about happiness, and thought I'd write a post about it. 

Correlation between Happiness and Genetics?

According to psychologists from Edinburgh University, half of the personality traits that make a person happy are due to inherited genes. After studying 1000  pairs of twins with researchers from Australia and looking at each person's personality in regards to factors such as how "sociable or outgoing" he or she was, or how "anxious or angry they feel" (1). Through their research they discovered that and didn't worry as much those who were more outgoing tended to be happier, and that these characteristics were due partially (about fifty percent) to one's genes. They found that the remaining fifty percent was due to other factors found in daily life, such as one's health, work, relationships, etc.

Ever wondered about a possible link between money and happiness? 

According to a survey of Forbes, 400 most affluent Americans and another group of less wealthy Americans the group found that the wealthier group was "only modestly happier" (2). Another interesting thing they found was that "37% of the Forbes 400 respondents reported less happiness than the average non-wealthy American" (2). Interesting research, huh?

Hours of Sleep and Teen Depression? 

Another study which came out recently in the media was on the relationship between how much sleep a teen gets and likelihood of depression. One might find the results a little surprising... See below.

According to a study done in New York of 15,659 teenagers (ages 12 through 18), Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that those who went to sleep after midnight were much more likely to be depressed than those whose parents made them go to bed by 10 p.m. In fact, teens who stayed up until midnight or after were 42% more likely to be depressed. Furthermore, teens who are permitted to have later bedtimes were 30% more likely to have considered suicide this year.

As James Gangswitch, head of the Columbia University research team said, "We feel like we can just eat into our sleep time, but we pay for it in many different ways." One of the things he believed about the results of his team's study was that in comparison to the past he felt that one sees a greater difference between teens who have a required bedtime and those who don't today due to new technological distractions such as Facebook or texting.

What do you think about these studies? Any thoughts?

The National Post. "Money Can't Buy Happiness. Really." 23 Jan. 2010. 7 Feb. 2010.
The Daily Record:
BBC News:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Idea of Divine Providence

In my reading Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647 by William Bradford I was surprised by how frequently God was cited in thanks for the way a course of events occured.

When a man is struck with a serious illness and dies at-sea on the journey God is credited for his death, which was seen as fair since he wanted to throw many others overboard while they were at sea. Later on God's providence is credited with their escape from the storm at sea.

Later on when the Puritans arrived in Cape Harbor they "fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable ground, their proper element" (69).  Throughout their journey they thank God. Another thing that struck me while reading parts of this book was how treacherous the journey really was. At every turn it seemed there was another potential situation to deal with. However, the Puritans ultimately made it to their destination, though trouble with the Indians, food shortages and other things continued to plague them as they tried to set up life in a new country.

Learning to Love America

When reading the poems assigned for homework I particularly enjoyed "Learning to Love America" by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim. I liked how she structured the poem: using the word 'because' to start each line, like the subject was trying to convince herself (or remind herself) of why she did appreciate the place she was. I hadn't ever seen that repetition of a single word in a poem before.

Another thing I liked about the poem was that though the wording was simple and concise, the author was able to convey a lot of meaning in each of the words. In a way it made each of the words all the more powerful.

I also thought Geok-Lin Lim ended the poem in a very strong way, with the lines
"because it is late and too late to change my mind
because it is time"
acknowledging the subject's regret in coming to America, though she admits she needed to do it for her son.

Musings on the Great Textbook War

One of the readings recently that really stood out to me was the one about the Great Textbook War. I hadn't heard of the controversy before and found the reading really interesting. In particular I thought it was interesting how there was a clear division between the two groups: you were either for the textbooks or you were against them. There was no middle ground.

However, people in each group had very different reasons for their beliefs. Among those against using the new books in schools cited several very different reasons: some said they didn't want their children exposed to language that was not grammatically correct, others wanted to preserve childhood innocence.Still others felt the writings were anti-Christian or unpatriotic. At the heart of their argument was the idea that the books led children to question their parents and community's values and decisions.

In the end though, it seems that the whole thing spun completely out of control. People ended up choosing sides, grew steadily more angry and the whole thing erupted when a  plan came to light to plant bombs in a car which would explode when it started to move (and when children were likely inside). Only then did people calm down.

And in the end it wasn't even clear who the winner even was of the war: schools were allowed to use the books, but many opted not to.

Seemingly Conflicting Puritan Beliefs?

Heading into class yesterday I was confused about the seemingly conflicting Puritan beliefs I had read about in Cullen's book The American Dream.

As he writes, "On the one hand the Puritans believed and acted as if a person could make a difference in making the world a better place--indeed, had an obligation to do so. On the other, they believed they were powerless to do anything but follow the dictates of God's inscrutable will" (Cullen 19).

At first this line confused me. Why would they believe they were obligated to do good, yet their actions were dictated by God and couldn't impact whether they went to heaven or hell? It seemed crazy to me that regardless of the life one had lived (whether good or bad), one could have no impact upon God's final judgment of whether one went to Heaven or Hell. Why not provide motivation for people to do good? I felt that with this viewpoint people would see no reprecussions for their actions, and that this would thus likely be problematic in society at large.

However, talking about it in-class and re-reading portions of the chapter again helped to clarify these Puritan beliefs and made me reconsider my thinking. In particular a sentence in Cullen's book helped to clear things up for me. As Cullen writes, "In theory one could live a life of amoral excess, but even articulating a desire to do so would not seem like an especially encouraging sign one was on the right track" (Cullen 19). In other words, people's desire to sin or do wrong was kept in check because Puritans believed the way one lived one's life was indicative that one was likely headed towards Heaven. Furthermore, that God was the cause of one's charitable actions suggested that he would likely later lead one to Heaven.

The Meaning of the American Dream

As Cullen writes in his book The American Dream, "amid the greatest surge of immigration in our history, one that brings more people from more of the world than ever before, we don't always speak the same language. At a time like this, the American Dream becomes a kind of lingua franca, an idiom that everyone--from corporate executives to hip-hop artists--can presumably understand" (Cullen 6).

I found this quote to be very thought-provoking, and I appreciate it's relevance to today. America is a country filled with people who vary by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, occupation, socio-economic status, level of education, political beliefs and more. However, the one thing that can tie all of us together is the American dream. As Cullen says, the American dream becomes "a kind of lingua franca, an idiom that everyone--from corporate executives to hip-hop artists--can presumably understand". I love the wording of this, and the imagery it evokes.

However, what is the American dream? It means different things to different people. Thus the reality is that there is no one American Dream. As Cullen says, "When James Truslow Adams called in the epilogue of The Epic of America 'that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man' (7). However, the vagueness of this statement can lead to many interpretations. It could be in context not only to the economy but also to politics, religion, education, artistic expression--virtually any part of life in America.

Thus can we truly define the American Dream in its entirety? Is any one definition better than another? These are thought-provoking questions I look forward to discussing further in American Conversation classes throughout this semester.

The Freedom to Fight for What You Believe In

This picture depicts a recent protest in our country, with protesters fighting against the bailout of Wall Street. One freedom that is integral to the American lifestyle is the ability to protest. Naturally it is not portrayed in Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Franklin Roosevelt's speech, as it would run counter to Roosevelt'spersuasive argument to call the American people into arms to fight for their country and to provide American freedoms around the world. In essence Roosevelt's goal was to unite the people behind his beliefs, while protesting is naturally a divisive action, separating the criticizers from those they critique. 
Nonetheless, protesting is a key component of the American lifestyle. If Americans did not have the right to protest, where would we be as a country? It is an invaluable freedom to be able to question one's government. It is also one I feel is essential. The individual must have his voice in democracy, no matter how big or small of an impact it ultimately creates. In many countries around the world the freedom to protest is not something that is guaranteed. People can live in constant fear of the government, unwilling (or afraid) to voice their issues with the government's policies as they feel it could jeopardize their lives.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poem Recreation

"Flying/Driving/Biking to St. Olaf"

The clothes had been boxed up, ready to ship
While my little sister stares wide-eyed
And I step into the taxi
Driving away, I see the ferry to Vashon Island
Leaving the dock, headed out into the fog
After many red lights, we arrive at the airport
Dashing to the terminal, we almost miss the flight
But make it on just in time
As my parents quickly find their seats
Their excitement engulfs the place
And we're off

After what seemed like forever, we're here
It is a crazy Tetris game of minivans
I am at camp, bunkbeds and all
The Awkward Dance lived up to its title
And it would take me a long time before
I'd ever remember what my own bed felt like
As I head out to dinner with my advisor
My mom calls "goodbye!" out of the crowd

-by Karin Lubanovic & Kate Chrisinger