Friday, April 13, 2012

Teachers III

Picking up from the last post, classes with Ruth Cunningham aka Dr. Bishop stuck with me over the years. She had a clever, sometimes goofy way of drawing us in. On the one hand, she'd tie history to pop cultural references; on the other, she'd weave history with personal references. For anyone with even basic curiosity, this often worked.

Two electives I remember well: one on India and the British Empire, and another on Communist China. Ms. Cunningham/Dr. Bishop (she finished a Ph.D program and got married somewhere along the line) drew on personal experiences while researching for her dissertation in India, and she'd do snippets of songs like "My melan-Kali baby" and make alluring comments about "Tantric practices," Hinduism, Buddhism, British administrators of bygone ages in pith helmets evading Thuggee assasins from which derived the words thug and thugs, and so on. The People's Republic of China was in the process of changing its universally preferred nomenclature at the time, changing the name Mao-tse-Tung -- "like Mousey Tongue," she'd say -- to Mao Zedong, and Peking to Beijing. Thanks in part to her, we were attuned to such changes.

In another history class, Ms. Cunningham/Dr. Bishop described how the French ribbon farm system worked in a way that made it easier in later years to draw connections between the French settlements of Nouvelle-France in Québec/Quebec (permanent settlement from 1608) to Détroit/Detroit (founded in 1701) and La Nouvelle-Orléans/New Orleans (founded in 1718).

In another instance, she made it easier to understand the complexities of the Balkans, past and present, well before the death of Tito and the breakup of Yugoslavia. I'll never forget her play on the Oscar Mayer Weiner song from the perspective of the World Power leaders of one hundred years ago:

"Oh, I wish I could own a Bosnia-Herzegovina, for that is what I truly want to own . . ." 

In another verse, she sang from the "common person's" persepective:

"Oh, I'm glad I'm not in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is where I'd truly hate to be. . . 'Cause if I were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there would soon be nothing left of me."

She nailed it, and I still remember. Substitute just about any war-torn country today and the song still applies, both verses.

Today's Rune: Fertility.           


Charles Gramlich said...

This is a very fine series of posts. I bet they would be thrilled to know that they touched your mind.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, man ~ much appreciated~!

jodi said...

Erik, OMG, when Mr. Kot-tear and the boys hit our worlds, we were amazed. Never seen charachters like that in Alpena. Lotsa good laughs and it seemed to work out allright for John Travolta!