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.