I started as a student in a history graduate program in 2006. As I contemplated whether graduate school was the right path, my undergraduate adviser cautioned me that graduate school would change me. He didn’t elaborate, but in retrospect I think I understand what he meant. It DID change me. It changed the way I thought about the world. I think it changed me for the better.
One of the crucial lessons I learned during that experience is that real learning takes real humility. Learning changes your brain, which changes your identity. It changes the way you understand the world and the people in it, and it changes the way you interact with everything and everyone around you. If you aren’t changing, you aren’t learning.
The study of history kindled a fire in my mind and I started a blog to share and think through what I was learning as a history graduate student. Casting about for a title I picked up an Alfred Jarry book lying on my desk and decided to title my blog Patahistory (tagline: A Hot and Infinitely Dense Blog). The term is taken from Jarry’s neologism ‘pataphysics. I’ll let Wikipedia define ‘pataphysics for me.
“‘Pataphysics (French: ‘pataphysique) is an absurdist, pseudo-scientific literary trope invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), that enigmatically resists being pinned down by a simple definition. One attempt at a definition might be to say that ‘pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions. It is a concept expressed by Jarry in a mock-scientific manner with undertones of spoofing and quackery, in his fictional book Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, in which Jarry riddles and toys with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality.”
‘Pataphysics always has the apostrophe in front of it, and if you’re a Beatles fan you’ve heard the term before.
From ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’:
Joan was quizzical; studied pataphysical
Science in the home.
The conceit was to investigate the history of imaginary solutions. I never really developed that angle, but I did eventually write a ‘Patahistory Manifesto’ which garnered some validating positive attention from fellow history grad students. (It’s also when I started my gmail account and why my handle is Patadave.)
Writing that blog lead to being invited to participate in a graduate student group blog titled ‘Revise and Dissent‘ at the History News Network. That was a flattering and exciting moment, but I soon realized I was out of my league. My co-bloggers were all much better writers and far more sophisticated thinkers. All of them are now, I believe, working as professional historians in universities around the globe.
Real life intervened and I chose to move half-way across the nation. My wife was miserable in her job and found a position in Florida. We could either maintain a long-term relationship or I could follow her to a region that had no PhD history program. Without hesitation I opted to follow her to Florida.
While here I finished my master’s in history and turned my attention to becoming a librarian.
NEXT: Eating Tampa