What a year it has been! It’s difficult to realize it during the day-to-day grind, but 2015 has been an amazing year for me. At the end of each December, I try to take stock in what I’ve accomplished and sketch out goals for the next year. Revising last year’s post, I didn’t quite meet all of the goals I had for myself. I wanted to write more than I did. I hoped to be further along on my dissertation. That’s a goal that remains for 2016. Despite falling short, I still believe that 2015 was successful because I’ve continued to move forward and grow as a teacher, scholar, and person.
Highlights from 2015:
- I started 2015 with lots of blogging and continued throughout the year. Sport in American History grew exceptionally fast. We moved from 2 posts to 3 per week (and will have 4 in 2016). I wrote about a variety of topics, ranging from bowl games, Jerry Tarkanian, the Kansas City Royals, The Black Athlete, and ideas about collective identity and public ownership in sports. You can see an archive of these post on the blog.
- In the process of writing these posts, I embraced the limits of my own knowledge. Collaboration and co-writing is rare in history. I used blogging a space to experiment with collaborative writing. My Purdue colleague, Wes Bishop and I wrote 2 posts together, combining his background in labor history and social justice activism with knowledge of sports. I’m really proud of how the posts turned out.
- In the spring semester I was able to work closely with my advisor teaching a new general sports history course. I really enjoyed seeing how he taught the class (and comparing it with how my MA advisor taught his). I took lots of notes to use in the future. This experience bled over into the summer where I helped him select and gather supplementary readings for a reconfigured version of the course (which he taught as a visiting professor at West Point in the Fall). Both experiences were insightful and will shape how I develop classes in the future.
- In fact, I immediately put many of those lessons to work. I was hired in April by the African American Studies program at Purdue to teach a course called “The Black Athlete.” While the course existed before I taught it, I was given the freedom to make it my own. Over the summer I blogged my way through the development process, choosing books, designing assignments, etc. Then, this fall I taught the course. It was a great class and my students seemed to get a lot of out of it. After the semester ended, one student wrote me, thanking me for an eye-opening class. “I’ve never taken a course similar to this one before, and I am leaving this semester with so much more knowledge about all of the topics we discussed than I would have imagined.” Notes like that make all the work that goes into teaching worth it.
- In June, I graded AP U.S. History Exams in Louisville, KY. Surprisingly, I got more out of it than the nice paycheck. I met some awesome high school teachers, Purdue alums, and professors. A few already knew of me from the sports blog! We had great conversations about teaching, grading, and life — often over drinks.
- Although the end result was disappointing, I attempted to publish an academic article during the summer, too. I spent quite a bit of time working on it, when I should have been writing dissertation chapters. Eventual publication still isn’t out of question, but I’ve taken a break from working on the article after a couple of rounds of revisions and reviews. Though I’ve written book chapters, review essays, and encyclopedia entries, I’ve never published an academic article. It’s always seemed like an opaque process that no one can really explain. The advice I’ve gotten from other has been decent but also somewhat contradictory. Putting myself out there and going through the process, while extremely frustrating at times, has been a great education. It’s taught me to think strategically about my writing. I hope that the piece eventually sees the light of day (if not, it’s part of a larger future project).
- I appeared as a guest panelist on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in August.The panel was about the Kansas City Royals image, which I wrote about in July. The Royals have long been my biggest sports obsession. I’ve followed them my entire life, so being able to talk about them, as an expert, on national TV was a dream come true; an absolutely amazing and unexpected experience. It did so much to validate all of the hard work I’ve put in to becoming a sport historian and building the sports blog.
- Speaking of the Royals… after a disappointing Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series, they channeled their frustration into an amazing 2015 season. I was able to see them play twice in Chicago. The first game was in May at Wrigley Field with my brother and sister-in-law. Watching baseball with my brother is probably my favorite summer time activity. The Royals won 8-4, beating 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arieta. I saw my second game in July at U.S. Cellular Field with fellow Purdue grad student and suffering Pirates fan, Ed Gray. We caught game 1 of a double-heard, but were unable to stay for game 2. KC won 4-2 on an extremely hot afternoon, when the Chicago winds refused to blog. I unfortunately never made it back to Kansas City for a game. It didn’t matter. The Royals didn’t me to continue their winning ways. They easily won the AL Central by 12 games en route to amassing the best record in the American League. It was the Royals first AL Central title because their last division title came under the old 2-division system (which ended in 1994).
- The playoffs deserve their own bullet point, because like 2014, they were a wild ride. Despite the odds and deficits, the Royals refused to give up. Their win probability reached single digits in an elimination game against Houston — I nearly broke my phone at the bar in frustration — but they miraculously rallied to win. This happened in several games throughout October. Unlike 2014, they didn’t sweep anyone. They ground out each series with the confidence that they would not be denied. Their strong belief in themselves proved to be true as the Kansas City Royals became the 2015 World Series Champions. I still get chills writing that. Like my ESPN appearance, the Royals winning the World Series is something I’ve dreamed out most of my life.
- In September, I made the pilgrimage to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI. It was a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment trip to watch the Packers play my Kansas city Chiefs on Monday Night Football. The Chiefs lost, but I got to experience of the few must-see NFL stadiums. I toured their Hall of Fame, sampled the local beers, and ate some of the incredibly unhealthy that Wisconsin is famous for. It was a fun trip both as a fan and a scholar.
- In October I met Olympian John Carlos. He gave a fantastic talk at Purdue. I took some notes to use in future classes.
Written out, it’s clear that teaching, blogging, and sports dominated my 2015. In 2016, I’ll continue many of these activities, but need to do a better job of prioritizing my dissertation. Now that I have my class prepped, I should have more time to write. I’m eager to establish a better writing routine and use blogging to help make progress on the diss. While my dissertation is priority #1 for 2016, I already have a lot planned.
Plans and Goals for 2016:
- 2016 will begin with another semester teaching “The Black Athlete.” I’ve made a few changes to the class based on the fall, but nothing too significant. I’m excited to teach it again and continue to develop my own teaching-style.
- On the dissertation front: I’ve been writing in pieces lately, but I’m starting to get a better idea on how to sew them up into bigger chunks. I feel confident that I can quickly finish a couple of chapters that I’ve been playing with. I’ve committed myself to having a new chapter to my advisor before the beginning of the term, and I hope a second new chapter will follow not long after. I’m scheduled to present another chapter a works-in-progress event in early April, which gives me another deadline to focus on.
- Right now, I’ve got 2 conferences and a workshop scheduled. In March I’ll be participating in the “Public History and the Potential of Sports History Museums Working Group” at the National Council for Public History meeting in Baltimore, MD. It builds off of some conversations I’ve had with Kathy Shinnick and Josh Howard about developing more conversations between sport historians and public historians. Somewhat related, I was accepted to participate in the Doing Sport History in the Digital Present Workshop at Georgia Tech in May. My paper explores the transformative power of blogging to reshape and redefine scholarship, bridge disciplinary barriers, and open up sport history to a variety of people from different backgrounds. Finally, I have a panel proposal in for the annual convention of the North American Society of Sport History also in May at Georgia Tech. The panel is entitled “Teaching Sport History in the Digital Era” and looks at different approaches to digital pedagogy — both online and in traditional classrooms. If all goes well, I could get at least one publication out of these conferences. Also, as always, if you’re planning on attending any of these events, let me know! I’m always down for nerdy conversation and a beer.
- Building off of my NASSH panel, I’m working to develop an online version of ‘The Black Athlete’ course for summer 2016. It’s a great opportunity to teach over the summer while traveling and gain experience with online teaching. During the spring I’ll be building the course shell and redesigning my assignment for an online audience. I’ve been playing with how to best digitize lectures. Luckily I’ve got some generous colleagues who’ve been through this process before to guide me.
- The conferences are a part of larger Southern Trip I’m planning for May 2016. My parents and my older sister live in South Carolina. My Uncle, who’s an English professor, lives in Georgia. I’m planning to spend an extra week or two visiting them while I’m in the area. This includes driving my old truck, playing with my niece and nephew, visiting the ocean, and complaining about Carolina BBQ is.
- I’m hoping to return to Louisville to grade APUSH exams again. This is still up in the air a bit. I may have a wedding to attend, or I may not be selected for on-site grading. I’d really like to go back to Louisville though.
- Baseball is a requirement for any good summer. I try to attend at least one or two MLB game, and visit new stadiums. Milwaukee’s Miller Park is only about 4 hours from West Lafayette, and is on my list of stadiums to visit. I’d also love to see a game in Atlanta when I’m there, if possible.
As you can see, 2016 is already looking to be pretty busy. My major goal is to finish my dissertation. I’d like to have the majority of it drafted by the middle of the fall so I can go on the job market. It’s the only thing I have left to accomplish in graduate school and the only thing holding me back from moving forward. I’m reading to take the next step. I plan on doing that in 2016.
It’s that time of year when we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished and look forward to a productive year ahead. Sometimes I feel unproductive and discouraged about my work, but the exercise of compiling a list of everything I accomplished helps put things in perspective and motivate me for the year to come. It also helps me think through my goals and how I plan to approach and achieve them. It’s probably an old throwback to my running days. I wan an obsessive logger of my miles and times, etc. (I still use running-log.com on occasion) Looking at all of my personal data helped me better understand my body and discover what worked and didn’t work in my training and racing. This fall I struggled quite a bit with anxiety and insomnia. One of the recommendations I got to help manage that was to log my sleep and its quality. I’m hoping that by doing a similar type of reflection on my academic work I’ll be able to see the bigger picture and refocus my energies on the goals ahead. I apologize if any of this reads like bragging or self-congratulating. Self-reflection has always been a big part of my personal routine and is something that I really value.
- In February I was interviewed by TSN 1260 in Edmonton, Canada. They had me share the story of Billy Mills on their segment “The Greatest Stories Ever Told.” It was my first radio interview, but a lot of fun.
- Also in February I was gifted my current dissertation topic. After passing my exams I was playing around with a project on college football during the Great Depression. It wasn’t really going anywhere, when finally my advisor and his former student, Johnny Smith, stepped in. The new topic reinvigorated my research but it took me a while to get up to speed and find my footing. I spent a lot of time reading books on Oklahoma football, reading finding aids for archival collections, and searching for angle that was different than what had already been written. I tend to make things a bit more complicated than they have to be, but I finally stumbled into a narrative and an argument that blended the topic and my interests.
- I submitted two book reviews to the Journal of American Culture which should be published soon. I also completed a couple of entries for American National Biography, as I wrote earlier this year, my entry on Harold Connolly appeared in April 2014, and I submitted another piece on Bud Wilkinson this fall that should be out in April 2015.
- On May 1, 2014 I launched the Sport in American History group blog. I wrote 5 posts for the blog through the year. The site itself now has over a dozen contributors and has attracted over 12,000 views. Over 400 people follow the blog and receive email updates. Following the Annual NASSH Convention it was featured on their website. The success of the blog wouldn’t be possible without all of the hard work of the contributors, my co-editor Andy Linden, and everyone who reads it.
- I won a Graduate School Summer Research Grant and a Harold Woodman Graduate Research Award from Purdue University and the Department of History that allowed me to spend the month of July in Oklahoma doing research. I completed the vast majority of my dissertation research on this trip. I came home with over 5,000 photos, 17 years of scanned newspaper microfilm, and more. I also came home with a much, much better understanding of my topic and the direction of my dissertation.
- After the trip I was able to spend a week in Kansas City visiting friends as well as my grandparents. I played some disc golf, and ate lots of barbecue. I even tried a few new place in KC as well as one in Memphis. I also visited the original KFC in Corbin, Kentucky.
- I experienced the most magical baseball season of my life. It started with a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field while I was at the PCA/ACA in April. Then in May a group of grad school friends and I went to Cincinnati to check off another ballpark on the list and catch a Reds-Brewers game. At the end of July I made my pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium to witness a solid Royals win. I attended my last game of the season back at Wrigley Field in August as the Cubs took on the Giants. Sadly, it ended up being a rainout. The Royals kept the winning ways going into October. They swept their way from the Wildcard to the American League Pennant. They fell 90 feet short from a World Championship in Game 7 of the World Series. It was an incredible ride, the first like in my lifetime.
- This fall I taught my first solo college class. It was the second half of the U.S. History survey; U.S. since 1877. The class went great and my evaluations were solid. Despite being sleep deprived and seemingly always behind on work, I thoroughly enjoyed the semester. I felt like teaching really forced me to learn history again. It’s one thing to read the historiography of events and eras, but translating that into lectures for teaching is a whole another process. Teaching made me think about history differently. It also forced me to be productive by writing new lectures three times a week, though I was unable to do much work on my dissertation. I’m so glad to have the experience and the course prepped for the future.
- In September football scholar Michael Oriard visisted Purdue. I was fortunate to spend some time chatting with him about college football, history, academia, and, of course, my dissertation. I was thrilled to meet him and chat with him. I’m a big fan of his work and own several of his books.
- In November, Billy and Patricia Mills came to Purdue. It was so great to see them again. Billy and Patricia are such amazing and encouraging people. They have a real positive energy about them and genuinely interested in others. I was able to have lunch with them and spend some time chatting about life and various ideas. He asked me about the Native American mascot controversy. He told me he was curious about my perspective as someone who studies sports history and who grew up a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I felt even more honored to learn that Billy has been mentioning/recommending my thesis to others. Billy also shared a story with me about meeting Bud Wilkinson on his recruiting visit to Oklahoma.
Research and teaching took up the bulk of 2014. I regret wasting a lot of time in the Spring of 2014 meandering through different ideas and books. Looking back I could have made better use of that time and my local resources. I felt handicapped by the knowledge that I wouldn’t really know what I was doing until I got into the archive. I guess it was a rookie mistake. You can’t make up for lost time. However, I’m hoping this foundation of research and all of the time I spent working through different ideas allows me to spend the bulk of 2015 writing. I have a book review for Sport in History due in February (which I plan to finish before the end of the break) and then a few grants early applications to work on early in the year. My guaranteed funding runs out in May, so I really need to win a grant to keep things going. Other than those things, the dissertation is my sole focus for 2015. During the fall semester and over the break I’ve been working to organize my notes and photographs to better facilitate drafting chapters. While I may need or two small research trips to pick up a few extra sources during the writing phase, I don’t anticipate anything major.
It’s scary looking ahead. Earning funding for the next academic year is crucial. So too is making serious progress on my dissertation. They go hand-in-hand. Now is the time to cut out excuses and distance myself from distractions. This probably means less conferences, book reviews, and articles. I may need to cut back on blogging too, unless I can find a way to make it a useful part of my productivity. For example, this fall I used a series of blog posts to help me draft a large part of the last chapter of my dissertation. It’s not perfect, but it gave me deadlines and feedback. It worked.
I need to set a productive tone early in 2015. I needed the same thing in 2011 when I was writing my master’s thesis. It was slow to get started. I interviewed Billy Mills in January capping off the last of my research. After organizing myself, once I got stared and into the flow of writing it went by pretty quickly. I wrote 4 chapters and revised each of them 4 times between February and my defense on June 30. If I can find a similar pace of writing I’ll be in good shape in 2015.
If you’re like me, you’re getting tired of reading all of the “year in review” articles that seem to be more plentiful than late-December snowflakes. Instead of looking back on 2012, a year that saw several conference presentations, publications, and the creation of this, I’m going to look forward what I’m looking forward to in 2013.
- Preliminary exams and the end of coursework
- Organizing and hosting the Purdue HGSA Conference
- Visiting my good friend Peter and presenting to his classes and at the Bridging Ages Conference at New Mexico State
- Publishing an encyclopedia entry on Harold Connolly for American National Biography
- Creating some sort of Digital Humanities project
- Writing and defending a dissertation prospectus
- Reading non-stop all summer
- Watching the 2013 Kansas City Royals seriously compete for the first time in my conscious lifetime
Hopefully there will be lot of other exciting things I haven’t though of, however, 2013 is shaping up to be a busy and productive year.