Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Characteristics of a Good Conversation

Here are some of the elements I believe are key to a good conversation. Do you agree? Disagree? Have anything else to add? Let me know!

Elements of a Good Conversation:
o All have opportunity to participate if they desire (people aren’t talking over one another or dominating)
o Friendly dialogue (rather than a debate)
o Points of View/Opinions are questioned even if everyone agrees
o Ideas are discussed in detail when possible, rather than jumping around to many different ideas quickly
o Questions are asked, comments are made, people also make reference to the passages or specific quotations if applicable
o People take steps to begin the conversation, synthesize it, play devil’s advocate when needed, promote further learning, etc.
o Conversation is steered back towards topic at-hand if the discussion gets off-topic

These are the characteristics that I thought of in relation to our AmCon class. Obviously it's a little different for different situations (such as a dinner party, etc.) but after spending time in discussion during AmCon this semester I think these things are important to our conversations in-class.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The American Paradox

Slavery and the American Revolution. Two so seemingly contradictory things.
As is written in the Challenge of the American Revolution, "the American paradox of slavery and freedom, intertwined and interdependent, the rights of Englishmen supported on the wrongs of Africans. The American Revolution only made the contradictions more glaring, as the slave holding colonists proclaimed to a candid world the rights not simply of Englishmen but of all men" (21). Personally I find this so hard to understand. True, Jefferson and others felt that slaves were not worth as much as others, but at the same time this just seems so contradictory to me today. I guess in a way it was just a different way of thinking back then. As in the article, "that people in the lowest condition, the dregs of society, generally arrived at that position through their own vice and misconduct, whether in ancient Rome or modern Britain, was an unexamined article of faith among eighteenth-century Republicans. And the vice that was thought to afflict the lower ranks most severly was idleness" (147). In this way it sounds that it was just a different mentality, or a different perspective on slavery. The concept that slaves had gotten what they deserved. Afterall, they were lazy. However, nonetheless this is still inconceivable in my own mind today. For this reason slavery and the American Revolution were seen as the American Paradox, and in my mind rightly so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Quest for Identity through Consumerism

As it is written in the American Icon article, "..consumption is a quest for identity through sensual means. We buy what we think we see in an object, grasping at the physical to get at the intangible, buying the commodity to obtain the unsaleable quality. The catch, however, is that the longing for identity is diffuse, unfocused, and not described by any specific missing quality, so no particular commodity can satisfy. We desire, we buy, we are inevitably disappointed, and we buy again, and again" (33).
Personally I identified with this quote considering how incredibly accurate I think it is today. So often we (myself included, at times) buy something, thinking it is absolutely necessary to have or will make our lives better in some major way.
Ultimately, we are frequently disappointed. The thing doesn't bring us greater happiness over time. Perhaps it makes us happier at the moment of purchase, the so-called 'buyer's euphoria', but it doesn't really contribute to our lives or our image. Does it really matter to have the Mercedes Benz that everyone drives? Plus, does buying it really formulate your identity if everyone else has one too? That is one of the many questions that this excerpt brought to my mind...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Architecture and Education Intermix

I found it incredibly inspiring to read David Orr's article about collegiate buildings and an emphasis upon environmental awareness, which so often are contradictory issues. It can leave students feeling like environmental issues such as climate change or viotic impoverishment "are unreal or that they are unsolvable in any practical way, or that they occur somewhere else" (2). I know I have to admit that I've often felt the same way myself: that environmental awareness is great, but isn't really something that's feasible in the large buildings on a college campus.

However, Orr challenged me to re-think that assumption. As he questions, "Is it possible to design buildings and entire campuses in ways that promote ecological competence and mindfulness? Through better design, is it possible to teahc our students that our problems are solvable and that we are connected to the larger community of life?" (2). These are the questions he sets out to answer. I think they are very good ones, and was impressed by the project that he and others took on in creating such an environmentally-conscious building, which "did not impair human or ecological health somewhere else or at some later time" (2).

He goes into the different components of the process taken: the building process, technology, materials and the team-like approach in it's creation.

The project cost more than a 'normal' building would, but in the end "it is designed to instruct students and faculty in... the possibilities of ecological design applied to buildings", which is now a part of the college's curriculum. Furthermore, in the end students who devoted time and energy to working on the building started to feel that it was their legacy to the college. Still others said that they learned more about ecological design and acquired problem-solving skills than they otherwise ever would have before.

All in all it seemed to be a great success, despite all of the work and money involved and provided much inspiration to me for the future in sustainable and environmentally-friendly architecture. However, where this leads to in the future remains to be seen: will buildings such as this or Regents hall on our campus become the norm in college architecture? Or is it too much work and expense? Hopefully this will become the norm overtime, but only time shall tell.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thomas Jefferson: A Jack of (Seemingly) All Trades!

When learning about Thomas Jefferson through our readings, I've been surprised to find how diverse his accomplishments really were. As is written in the "NAmerican Neoclassicism, The Idealistic Phase" article, "Seen in their broadest aspects, Jefferson's achievements were humanistic and egalitarian; his methods were those of a disciplined lawyer and a shrewd politician. He was an idealist and perfectionist, whose aspirations found their most substantial embodiment in the institution of American democracy..." (286). This quote did a great job of summing up Thomas Jefferson. It describes his achievements, personality and ideals.

Furthermore, these ideals translated into his architecture. As "for him architecture was both an expressive and a functional means toward the fulfillment of his ideals" (286). Surprising as it was for me to learn, "his role in the evolution of American architecture was as decisive as his role in the formation of American democracy" (286). I found this incredible, as I hadn't ever realized he had designed his own house, the Monticello, let alone a college!

Additionally I found Jefferson's vision impressive. Throughout his life he was dedicated to his goals, and though it proved difficult to create the "academic village" he hoped for in a collegiate setting, he managed to gain support for it over-time and get it built. In this way he also played a powerful role in the sphere of education as well, helping to both create the physical landscape of his college but also the curriculum found within it.

Jefferson wore many hats throughout history. As it's stated, "he was not only a politician, statesmna, lawyer , scholar, author, educator, farmer, archaeologist, musician...and architect" (286). What hat didn't he wear?! Was there anything he didn't seem to accomplish? As I soon learned from this article, Jefferson wasn't just the author of the Declaration of Independence as I had previously thought.

Image From:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stylistic Components of the Declaration of Independence: Breaking it Down For Analysis

I really enjoyed Stephen E. Lucas's article, "The Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence". I have read the Declaration of Independence before many times, in American History classes in High School but hadn't ever really looked at the wording of it in an in-depth manner.

As Lucas states, "The text of the Declaration can be divided into five sections--the introduction, the preamble, the indictment of George III, the denunciation of the British people, and the conclusion" (1). Furthermore, he goes into depth about the specific wording of many components of the Declaration.

In particular, when looking at 'the Indictment of George III' part of the Declaration, Lucas says, "The ambiguity of the grievances also made them more difficult to refute. In order to build a convincing case against the grievances, defenders of the king had to clarify each charge and what specific act or events it referred to, and then explain why the charge was not true. Thus it took John Lind, who composed the most sustained British response to the Declaration, 110 pages to answer the charges set forth by the Continental Congress in fewer than two dozen sentences. Although Lind deftly exposed many of the charges to be flimsy at best, his detailed and complex rebuttal did not stand a chance against the Declaration as a propaganda document" (7).  It was an important and interesting point to make, and one I hadn't thought of: the grievances listed are in this way purposefully vague, in order to make them harder to refute.

Furthermore, the way they are stated makes it appear that "each charge referred not to a particular piece of legislation or to an isolated act in a single colony, but to a violation of the constitution that had been repeated on many occasions throughout America" (7).

This is one of the many cases in which the wording of the Constitution was key to it's success.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Trumbull's Painting "Signing of the Declaration of Independence": Not Quite an Accurate Tale

Here is depicted John Trumbull's painting of the supposed signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, upon closer inspection in our "Declaration of Independence" reading, one finds that in reality "all of the signers never met together in the same room at one time" (61). Furthermore, rather than declaring independence on July 4th, as it is commonly assumed, Congress actually declared independence on July 2nd. And "most members officially signed the engrossed parchment only on the second of August" (61). In this way one finds out that this depiction of the signing was not quite accurate on several counts.

This reminds me of the so-called "myths" that my partner Liza and I sought to dispel in our partner paper about Pocahontas. A cultural icon in today's day and age, the few known facts about her have been lost as she is exploited for commercial value. For example, when looking at historical documents one finds that when John Smith and the others arrived in America she was really only a young girl of 10 or 12, rather than the young woman that many modern-day accounts portray her to be. Furthermore, in real-life she married John Rolfe, not John Smith as the Disney movie portrays. 

Many paintings, movies, and other forms of artistic expression steer away from the truth in order to tell a good tale or in the name of artistic expression. That's all fine and good, but it's important to remember to distinguish between fact and fiction when looking at representations of people or events throughout time. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Colonial Cities: Places of Boundless Opportunity, Countless Walls and Radical Change

As Author Benjamin Carp states, "For some, the city represented boundless opportunities" (3). If one was wealthy or had an esteemed position (such as a lawyer or merchant), one could view the city as a place for advancement and a place where almost anything was possible. He could go virtually anywhere in the town and take advantage of things such as the library, playhouse or gardens.
However, it's important to remember that at in colonial times that was not the reality for everyone. As Carp later states, "For others, the city was divided up into walls, locked doors, and restricted areas" (4). For these people, the poor (or even the middle-class), opportunity was not so visible within the city. When one fell behind in one's payment or resorted to stealing in order to get food and survive many found themselves in prison or in the workhouse, which raised even more walls and barriers around them. For these people "the city was divided up into walls, locked doors, and restricted areas" (4). A laborer would often rent small rooms of basic homes, work at the docks and spend time in a dingy bar on their off-time.
In this way one's perspectives regarding the colonial cities were based upon one's economic and social status.
However, as Carp later points out, the rebellion allowed for some unity of the classes in the commonly sought goal of freedom from British rule. Furthermore, it is interesting to note the ways in which the colonial cities were key to the revolution. As Carp states, "the American cities were undeniably important as sites of radical change" (9). They provided a populace which could be mobilized and organized. The dock workers in particular were key to the rebellion. They were able to unite and agree to stop importing British goods, and united as a common front against British impressment of seamen. Furthermore they provided the chain of news, which passed through the ports as goods and travelers entered and exited the bay. These people were integral to the rebellion.
Carp points out many key aspects of colonial cities during the rebellion against the British, and provides great insight into the attributes which helped to foster the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Naming of the 'Boston Tea Party': Who named it Anyhow? And What did it Mean?

It's interesting how we often don't think about how names of things came to be. I know I at least didn't before reading the "Recovery of the Tea Party" article. As the author, Alfred F. Young himself states, "When did they begin calling it the Boston Tea Party?" (Young 155-156). However, I found it an interesting article, and something to think about.

The idea that perhaps those of higher status called it "the destruction of the tea", in it's serious, or more 'proper' form was an intriguing one to me. Nonetheless, in the end "the Tea Party" was seen to have several different meanings, and even implied a parody of the tea ritual of the upper class.

From the reading of Young's article one comes to the understanding that "the Tea Party" is a term that has much more meaning and history than one might have initially thought.