Eternal September

Tags: The class of 2010, Generation Gibb, useless research, ode for Caleb, the perils of Storrow Drive.

Prof. Wooderson, on life in the academy: “I keep getting older, they stay the same age.”

The class of 2010 has arrived on campus. 2010. That’s not a misprint, sci-fi novel, or Rush album. And with them arrives that annual email, the “mindset list” from Benoit College, the one that makes even 22-year-old seniors feel out of touch. (Speaking of which: Nick Milne, Western’s least representative student blogger, is reading our student paper and lamenting the culture of his peers.)

The class of 2010 were born in 1988. They are, various iterations of the mindset list inform me, the same age as Haley Joel Osment. Bert and Ernie are old enough to be their (presumably adoptive) parents. They have never tried New Coke, which is no great loss, and they have always been searching for Waldo, which strikes me as poignant in some way. The Cold War has always been over for them; Germany has (almost) always been unified; Lucille Ball, Secretariat, and Andy Gibb have always been dead. The class of 2010 are “used to things happening in ‘real time'”–aren’t we all? John Madden has always been a video game, not a coach, though for them the adjective “video” in this sentence is redundant. What other kinds of games are there? The class of 2010 do not remember, according to my copy of the list, when “cutting and pasting” was done with scissors and glue. I hadn’t realized Windows had actually driven scissors and glue to extinction, but I wouldn’t put it past Microsoft to try. Nor do they remember a world without voice mail, Game Boys, Iraqi insurgents, jet packs, flying cars, or transporter beams.

Here’s something to give me particular pause: many members of the class of 2010 have never lived in a world without The Simpsons. I suppose I must forgive them, then, for not revering it as they should. I dropped a Simpsons reference during my first lecture last year, to stony silence from the class. (But how could I not? The class was on the history of technology, the joke was about the invention of the telephone, and the episode had only aired the night before.) This year I come prepared to bridge the generation gap with killer lines from Fish Police and Capitol Critters.

But as I watch the freshman class of 2010 run riot over campus in their Alpha Complex jumpsuits, testifying that they do have spirit, exhorting me to honk if I love Mustangs, and dyeing themselves purple with gentian violet, they don’t seem all that different from the classes of 2009, 2008, 2007, or even, mirabile dictu, my own class of 1994 1/2. Maybe New Coke and the knowledge that Andy Gibb is alive are less crucial shapers of identity than Benoit College would have us believe.

Summer, Tom Lutz observed yesterday in the NYT, is one of the great perks of academic life. But fall is too. The nights have already turned cool here. The leaves will be changing before we know it. And campus feels like an engine powering up. Everything is humming with possibility. The air is crackling with youth, renewal, and cries of “woo!” I’m full of energy myself–witness this blog post–and powered up for the new year. I have a brand new office (it’s big enough for two chairs, so I can stop holding office hours in Arnold’s bathroom), a spiffy new job title (I’m an associate director of our Centre for American Studies), and I’m teaching one new class and one repeating. I have new articles in the current issues of Business History Review and American Quarterly, and I feel pretty good about being able to straddle that disciplinary range. An old article of mine is finally seeing publication, in a book that’s appropriately titled Unfinished Business: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms. I had hopes of giving this blog a facelift in time for its second birthday (and also migrating to WordPress from Moveable Type), but that isn’t yet done. Still, I brashly volunteered to host the History Carnival on October 1st, so I have motivation to get the place spruced up before then.

I’m also starting a new research project, a new old research project, actually, that takes me back to one of my favorite archives, MIT’s Archives of Useless Research. So we’re zipping off to Boston and back this week. Now there’s a city that comes alive in the first week of September: more than one hundred universities and colleges, more than two hundred thousand students, more than a dozen U-Haul moving vans wedged under the low bridges over Storrow Drive on September 1st. It’s going to be a fun trip. We’re taking Yuki along, speaking of new things, to see her roots. She’s getting into the spirit too–her first tooth is erupting through her lower gums as we speak. She may not be quite as charming a travel companion as usual.

Some beginnnings are also endings: Caleb McDaniel is closing the curtain on Mode for Caleb, for my money the smartest, best written history blog in Blogtown. I’m sorry to see it go, but happy for Caleb’s reasons: a new job and a new baby on the way. Do yourself a favor and reread some of his highlights: maybe Confessions of a Coffee Drinker, On Memorial Day, Dissertation Haikus, or his essential series on Transnational History. Really, it’s all good. Here’s the first post I ever read on Caleb’s blog, a look at I, Robot that’s ten times smarter than the movie it reviews.

Me, I think I’m going to stick around for now. I hardly think I can fill the Caleb shaped gap in your RSS reader, but I do think there will be a lot more activity from me here and at Cliopatria this year. That’s how I feel right now, anyway. It’s that back to school buzz. Anything is possible.

David Weinberger is absolutely right: fall is spring.


  1. as I watch the freshman class of 2010 run riot over campus in their Alpha Complex jumpsuits

    If I’d been drinking New Coke, I would have snorted it out of my nostrils at this point.

  2. “Roy-G”: Hee. You never know when old PARANOIA fans are going to turn up.

    Nick: My pleasure. I think you may have picked a lonely battle for yourself, but I admire yr eloquence in the fight.

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