Sunday, January 27, 2013

Welcome Message!

Dear Reader,

     Thanks for visiting my blog.  It is my first, and was prompted by the little adventure I am starting this week.  I am a Fulbright Teaching Award recipient, and this Spring of 2013 I will be teaching American history at the University of Pécs, in southern Hungary.  Pécs is pronounced paych. 
     The goal of this Spring, for me as a teacher of United States history, is to try to imagine what U.S. history looks like to Hungarians.  I, along with almost all of my students at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh, am American-born and raised.  Like most people in the world, I have been learning my own nation's history from a very young age, and I have always attached to it the importance of it being my country's history.  This, of course, makes one look at this history a bit differently from how one would look at another country's history.  On top of that, I suspect that we Americans, especially, still largely believe in American exceptionalism: the idea that the history and culture and politics of the United States are sui generis, basically unlike the history, culture, or politics of any other nation in the world. 
     The idea of American exceptionalism has come in for lots of criticism by American historians in the past decade or so.  Critics say that American historians have often assumed that the U.S.A. is unlike other countries, but have not really tested that idea by spending much time comparing the history of the U.S.A. to that of other countries.  One historian trying hard to rectify that is Thomas Bender, whose A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History makes connections between well-known events in U.S. history and events all over the world.  Another historian who does that on a smaller but more in-depth scale is Timothy Mason Roberts, whose book Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism has much to say about connections between Hungary, among other European nations, and the U.S.A.  These books and others are really useful to correcting some of our myopia in teaching and writing about American history.  I still think there might be something to American exceptionalism, though, even if the U.S.A. might not be as exceptional as many of us thought.  Part of what I am doing in Hungary is probing that question a bit more.
     The other part of what I am doing is just learning what Hungarian students and scholars think of the U.S.A.'s history.  What themes or time periods do they find most compelling?  What do they find most surprising and most unsurprising?  What do they think most strange?  Do they have questions that I and my American students would never think to ask?  How, by the way, do Hungarian university students learn, as opposed to how American university students learn?  I am looking forward to finding all of this out, and using what I learn to adjust my teaching back home in Oshkosh.  Part of our goal at UWO, as at other universities, is to help our students be more prepared citizens of the U.S.A. and of the world.  I think our students do a pretty good job of making us look good at that already.  Perhaps my time in Hungary can help us do it even better. 
     Finally, I am looking forward to being in a new place, Pécs, for a while.  As I write to you, dear reader, I have been in Hungary for less than 24 hours, but I am in Budapest, where I will spend a week in orientation with the Fulbright Commission here, before moving to Pécs.  In the meantime, here is a link to a really cool video introducing the city and university of Pécs.
     I plan to have a little something to say about Pécs and Oshkosh once a week.  I promise I won't always be so historiographical.  I look forward to comments too!



  1. postscript: the photo of the Pecs post office with which my blog is now happily bedecked comes from adzam149 at, who has kindly let this image be used by others. It features, if I'm not mistaken, roof tiles distinctive to a Pecs factory. All of this I know, having never actually seen Pecs in person yet. That will come next Saturday!

  2. bookmarked. sounds really interesting. Hope it's rich and fulfilling for you and consequently for me.