Acadia 1973-1990

Because I started teaching (in 1973) after one year of fieldwork, and because I returned to Stanford (in 1975) only to defend the dissertation, my day-to-day energies went mostly into contriving and teaching courses, and agricultural transformation was only a minor component of my attention. Almost nothing in graduate training prepares one for teaching, and the fledgeling Lecturer pretty much has to make it up on the fly. As the only anthropologist in a sociology department, I was very fortunate to have carte blanche to define what anthropology would be at Acadia. I began with a list of courses to teach (Intro Sociology, Kinship and Family Studies, upper level courses in Anthropology and Population Studies) and a class schedule. I did have the advantage of a year of research in the surrounding region, so I was pretty well prepared to base many classes on local examples. The first year I wrote out the material for my lectures, but then used the text as a basis for improvised exposition with digressions. I enjoyed complete freedom to teach what and as I liked, and from the very first I eschewed textbooks in favor of handout materials (mimeographed, cyclostyled, photocopied) and stuff projected via slides and epidiascope. My students got used to my conversational and ex tempore style, though some stopped coming to class when it became evident that I wasn't going to test them on what I had said. Instead of quizzes and midterms, I assigned papers and gave a lot of latitude in choice of subject matter. Grading was always a problem for me, one that I never felt I'd found a good solution to. I preferred to encourage and reward creativity, and to avoid punishing Lèse-majesté. Above all else, I tried to avoid pomposity.

I arrived at Acadia with a tolerable grounding in ecology, geography, basic demography, some smatterings of agronomy, and lots of background in the "culture areas" of Southeast Asia and Northeastern North America. I was an active student of things Nova Scotian (I was after all living in my dissertation field site, and continuing to gather data on its evolution as a regional system). I nudged everything I taught toward my own conception of what Anthropology should be, and tried to get students to look at the world around them. I quickly discovered that most of my students had interesting local perspectives, but very little experience of the world outside the Maritimes. I decided that a course in Human Geography would be the best vehicle to open doors and windows, and taught 15 iterations of that course during the years I was at Acadia. It was always a grab bag, with content evolving as I read and learned more myself, but the central notion remained ecological, and was rooted in exploration of the interlocking systems which produced the observed numbers and distribution of humanity.

My basic approach to teaching was to prepare myself to tell engaging stories, and illustrate them with images and handout texts and diagrams. I used the library heavily, ordering books to feed my curiosities, haunting the New Books shelves for serendipitous inspiration. I followed CoEvolution Quarterly (Later Whole Earth Review), Scientific American, and occasionally scanned professional journals (though their contents were usually more specialized than was appropriate for my students, and I wasn't very inclined to connect with disciplinary currents myself). I accumulated file folders of notes and extracts, some of which I repurposed into class materials. It's always been my habit to gather up piles of books and extract stuff from them. During the Acadia years I was in charge of departmental ordering for library acquisitions, and I used the power with great glee, engaging in "collection development" before I knew the term in its librarian-specific sense. Every few days I'd rifle shelves in the library, and check out another pile of whatever looked interesting. Fairly often I'd decorate my lectures with digressions inspired by whatever I'd lately found interesting from my bibliographic explorations, but I don't think I was successful in my efforts to get my students to emulate my omnivory. Each year I added new material in all of my classes, and I was basically an engaged teacher --but for the most part I was not writing papers and going to conferences. Whenever I tried, I loathed every aspect of the experience.

The 1979-80 sabbatical was an opportunity to reconnect with the world of Stanford Anthropology, under the aegis of Bill Skinner, who set me up with Visiting Scholar credentials and gently suggested that somebody should undertake exploration of the Hungarian census materials of 1900 and 1910... He was at the time much engaged with historical demography, and I was happy to play at preparing census material for the computer. At that point 'the computer' meant teletype-linked timesharing on a single mainframe, and the main analytical tools available were SPSS and SYMAP (which made line-printer maps). I audited several courses, frequented bookstores, had a tour of Xerox PARC, went to concerts, saw old friends... in short, I was delighted to be a Scholar in an extremely rich setting

I returned to Acadia refreshed and inspired to add Demography to my roster of courses. I also audited Bob McCarthy's Music course for non-majors, and that led to a scheme to team-teach a course in Cross-Cultural Studies in Music with Bob. And that led to a collision with faculty politics, because Bob was in a state of perpetual warfare with his colleagues in the School of Music, and they refused him "teaching credit" for a cross-disciplinary course with an anthropologist "unqualified" to teach music... We convinced the Dean of Arts to shelter the course under the Interdisciplinary Studies rubric, and taught it every year thereafter. My wife joked that it was "just an excuse to buy more records" and she wasn't wrong... Cross-Cultural Studies in Music was a tag-team course: I provided the music and the organization and wrote extensive notes on material played in class, and Bob contributed musicological commentary. It worked. One year Bob was away and Rob Kehler stepped in to do the musicological side, and that was just as much fun.

By the mid-1980s I was restive, feeling that I needed more time to work on materials for Human Geography and Cross-Cultural Studies in Music, so I arranged a half-time appointment for a year (but somehow kept teaching three courses). I then flirted with the idea that I might be talking at the wrong sort of audiences, and wondered if private secondary school might be a better milieu for my resources and intentions. I spent a second sabbatical year (1986-87) teaching World History and Geography at Northfield Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts, but discovered that I wasn't suited to dealing with the roiled lives of adolescents, and was uninterested in coaching sports. I went to a series of workshops in Writing Across the Curriculum at Bard College, and took to heart the 'How can I know what I think until I see what I say?' mantra of that movement.

I returned to Acadia, resolved to try again. To Human Geography and Cross-Cultural Studies in Music I added another Interdisciplinary Studies course, a tag-team approach to Peoples and Cultures of Asia with Bruce Matthews, a professor of Religious Studies who had extensive experience in Asia. Once again I produced the copious handout materials for the course, and we enjoyed the back-and-forth approach to classes for three years.

Disaster struck in 1988 when it was my turn to be Department Head. I could manage my own affairs well enough, but herding the cats of a dissent-riven Sociology department was a difficult and thankless task, for which I had no relevant skills. Simultaneously, Acadia was beginning to increase its use of adjunct teachers, and friction between administration and the faculty union was increasing as resources began to shrink. A fistfight between two colleagues was the last straw, and I decided to take a half-pay sabbatical (1990-1991) to try to construct an alternative to continuing to teach at Acadia.

Perhaps I have enough distance from the Acadia years to assess what I did and didn't do without belaboring a herd of dead horses and muttering old grumbles. The really good part of that 18 years was that I had pretty much complete freedom to design my own courses and follow my nose wherever it led; the down side was a feeling of intellectual isolation, coupled with a growing disdain for the institution (some of it accurate and deserved, but some basically a matter of my own overweening pride and socio-political discomfort). I could and should have done some things differently, and I probably should have left sooner, but the whole experience did prepare me for my subsequent career as a librarian.

I spent the fall of 1990 in Northfield MA (our son was a Freshman at Northfield Mount Hermon), where I began to experiment with hypertext using HyperCard on the Mac, and started work on an interactive HyperCard-based encyclopedia of musical instruments. Meanwhile I was walking and writing as I tried to imagine my way to a different career path. By December the central question had become clear: what would be the effects of microcomputers in libraries? That was enough to get me in the door at Simmons, asking if I could audit courses. The person I talked to said that they didn't do auditors, and that classes were only for people in the Program. What, I asked, would it take to be in the Program? An hour later I was writing a check for tuition. (That probably overdramatizes what happened, but it's the essence.)