This year I was selected to travel to Germany and the Czech Republic as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute. This grant was awarded to Valencia years ago, and, as the initial gift was very generous, it now provides an endowment for yearly educational opportunities that are unique in my academic experience. Every year an internal director (read: Valencia faculty member) works in collaboration with an outside scholar to design a series of readings, seminars, and travel intended to enhance a professor's pedagogy. In addition to enhancing their own courses faculty develop projects intended for use by their colleagues. This year's trip was hybrid in nature. Much of the organized material focused on the Holocaust, while faculty members were provided space to pursue other academic interest specific to their courses.
The Holocaust focus was led by Dr. Michael Savage. Savage spent 35 years in the British military, most of that time as part of a special forces unit. During that time he earned his MA and then his PhD focusing on the Holocaust and genocide. While the British military makes space for academic study, Savage had to petition his commanding officer to study the Holocaust. Normally the military encourages academic pursuits that are specific to military history or readiness. Savage's argument was that the Nazi genocide provides a pattern behavior. Studying this pattern can help us identify (and perhaps prevent) potential disasters. This was not a skill the average enlisted man or woman possessed, and, as Savage had spent time in Rwanda, Sarajevo, and Darfur, he believed the knowledge was relevant and necessary. I tell you this, because Savage is unique. His practical experience alone would be enough to qualify him as someone worth a few minutes of your time, but he is also a top notch scholar. You know the kind of scholar reserved for research universities and endowed chairs. I could be more effusive in my praise, but let me say quite simply, I was impressed.
The other portion of this hybrid trip (i.e. my faculty research) is varied. I teach everything from Intro to Humanities, to ancient humanities, to humanities stuff that happened yesterday. Germany and the Czech Republic has all that. From top notch museums in Berlin, to concentration camps in Weimar, to Luther's home in Wittenberg, to witnessing the aftermath of communism on the people and cultures of Western and Eastern Europe. Additionally, I am interested in how we treat one another. How do you convince neighbors to pick up machetes and murder their neighbors like we saw in Rwanda, or to convince police to line up women and children for execution over graves they had dug for themselves? In other words, what systematic approaches of dehumanization must one take to convince people to accept the mass killing of fellow human beings? Of course this assumes that a systematic approach is even necessary.
So that's where I've been for two weeks--in Germany learning about one of the darkest moments of the 20th century. But why write this blog? Simple answer: somewhat like Everest it is there. I have a bunch of pictures and a penchant for babbling on a bit, so why not put it on the internet? Additionally, I have stopped using facebook, instagram, twitter, google+, myspace, and all the rest of the social media universe for the moment, and yet I still want to share portions of my life with friends and family. Call me a special snowflake, I don't mind.
This blog has no pretensions to literary greatness, nor a desire to be witty, ironic, satirical or even poignant. It is amorphous and will take shape according to its own will, assuming of course that I actually follow through and complete it. The only goal is that I will go through the trip chronologically, sharing images and thoughts from each day. It is intended primarily for friends and family who want to know what I have been doing with myself. And it should have a lot of amateurish photos and selfies. So enjoy.
Therefore, without further ado here are some pictures from my first day.