Lil’ Kim 101? I think not

Thanks to the mighty Luker, I just came across Prof Blogger’s Pontifications. (Let’s not go into the subject of weasels’ testicles here, however.)

Well worth a visit (and duly blogrolled). A word of caution to this particular post on an alleged course at Syracuse University about the rapper Lil’ Kim, however. I’ve learned to distrust anything any journalist reports on this kind of topic. A ‘degree’ on some ridiculed topic turns out to be at most a vocational diploma; a ‘course’ is frequently no more than a single class, and one that turns out to be perfectly reasonable in its course context.

And that was clearly the case here, too. What actually took place was a single session in an upper-level undergraduate course on Reading Empire and Nation: Race Traitors in the African World; and within that session, just one of the texts studied was a Lil’ Kim lyric. The professor himself sets it out:

Somewhere along the line, someone decided to simply re-title this course that developed out of my on-going research on race and sex in the context of empire, as if it were now a course on celebrity biography—not lyricism…

Around mid-term, thirty-plus students and I were set to analyze three texts in one session: (1) a song-skit from Lil’ Kim’s sophomore solo album; (2) an article called “Law and Disorder” by Dasun Allah and J.F. Ratcliffe on government surveillance of rappers; and (3) an “open letter” by Sylvia Wynter, a powerhouse intellectual critic…

As historians, we know the basic rules of source-criticism: who’s producing it? for what purpose? And we know the golden rule: go back to the primary sources wherever you can. It took me a few minutes of googling to track down the Syracuse English department website, with its course catalogue that contained not a mention of Lil’ Kim (and even less to find the professor’s own comments). Academics may rightly worry about dumbing down and commercialisation of university education. But we also need to be careful that we don’t feed media distortions of what goes on in universities, by failing to observe basic fact-checking and to practise just a little scepticism of media sources – even when they say what you want to hear.


Update: Prof Blogger responds, and has a very interesting point about the differences between teaching literature and teaching history. My concern was that bloggers often swallow what they read in media stories like this without checking their accuracy (the only ones we really tend to check on are the ones that we disagree with – something of which I’ve been guilty too, I’m sure). In this case, that’s not really relevant to Prof Blogger’s objections. I basically disagree with him that Lil’ Kim has no place whatsoever in an English department. But the post wasn’t intended as an attack on him.

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4 Responses to Lil’ Kim 101? I think not

  1. Hiram Hover says:

    Great catch.

    Upstate NY colleges seem to be attracting more than their fair share of false complaints about “looney leftists” recently.

    This follows the heels of that student at Wells College who cried political persecution when she was suspended for plagiarizing an article and then failing to complete an assigned tutorial in journalism ethics.

  2. Ralph Luker says:

    I’d say that the scheduling of Ward Churchill at Hamilton and the Republican plagiarist story at Wells were a sort of double-whammy for upstate New York schools — inviting scrutiny and then re-inviting it.

  3. Sharon says:

    As I recall the plagiarism story (not got time to look it up now), how did the school invite anything? Unless you think that they should have foreseen just how unscrupulous a cheat could be…

  4. Ralph Luker says:

    Yes, I think that’s right, Sharon. I put it that way only to say that they are two very different recent instances of highly politicized public attention being directed to private upstate New York institutions. So far as I’m concerned, Wells College was merely doing its unpleasant duty. Hamilton, I’m afraid, was simply featuring a problemmatic public figure in its lecture series and we’ve learned by hard experience that his legitimacy as an academic figure is dubious, at best.

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