Jan 15

History’s decline

Why are so many history department’s struggling? Many people may have read the New York Times article by Mitch Smith: Students in Rural America Ask, ‘What Is a University Without a History Major?’ The article described how the The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is eliminating its history department. Although totally closing a department is extreme, other departments are losing funds for adjuncts and summer classes; in other cases faculty who retire are not being replaced. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/01/historys-decline/

Jan 01

Developing an online program: tips for administrators

How does a university put classes, programs, and degrees online? What are the key points that administrators should know? Three years ago I wrote a successful internal grant to create an online track in International and Global Studies at PSU. Since then my colleagues and I have successfully moved core classes online, and we have many students completing their degree virtually. I do all of my teaching online now, and I’m the lead adviser for our online track in my department. Although I have a deep interest in pedagogy, particularly Universal Design and the negotiated syllabus, that’s not what I want to explore today. Instead, I want to talk about an administrator’s perspective (having been a dean and a department chair) regarding how to put programs or degrees online, based on this experience. Here are my top tips: Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/01/developing-an-online-teaching-program/

Dec 14

Wet Markets and Avian Influenza

Map of Hong Kong by Shawn Smallman, Apple pencil in Procreate

This week I had an article published: “Wet Markets and Avian Influenza: Public Policy Decisions in Hong Kong.” Because the Journal of International and Global Studies is open source, you can read the article by clicking on the link above if you are interested. You can also read the abstract here:

After the emergence of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 Hong Kong implemented a sophisticated system to regulate live poultry markets. While this system is well designed and thorough, it also has limitations. The rise of H7N9 avian influenza (which is typically acquired through contact with poultry, including in live markets) makes this an appropriate time to revisit the ethical and practical issues related to this trade. Based on data from field observations of live markets in Hong Kong, and interviews with experts in the field, this paper recommends that the government of Hong Kong create a committee to examine the pros and cons of ending live poultry markets in this Special Administrative Region.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/12/wet-markets-and-avian-influenza/

Dec 13

Conspiracy theories documentary

“The Eye of Providence, or the all-seeing eye of God, seen here on the US $1 bill, has been taken by some to be evidence of a conspiracy involving the founders of the United States and the Illuminati,” By de:Benutzer:Verwüstung (de:Bild:Dollarnote_siegel_hq.jpg) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why do conspiracy theories have such enduring power to shape human behavior? My interest in conspiracy theories first began when I was doing fieldwork in Latin America around HIV and AIDS. During this work many people told me narratives about either how the virus was created, or how wealthy corporations were hiding a cure. I then heard conspiracy theories from my students in own my classes, which suggested that HIV did not exist at all. It can be hard now to understand how powerful these conspiracy theories were in an era before effective treatments were globally available to treat this disease. But I had repeated conversations in my classes with students who not only deeply believed that HIV did not exist, but also argued that there was a vast global coverup of the true origins of AIDS, which they ascribed to pesticides, food additives, and recreational drugs.

One aspect of conspiracy theories that most interests me is that they are enormously powerful, yet academics almost completely ignore them in their classrooms. If you look at most syllabi for theory classes (every one I’ve ever seen) in the social sciences you will find that they entirely omit conspiracy theories. At the same time, based on my personal experience, if you spend much time with academics you will hear frequent reference to conspiracy theories. It is true that some of these theories focus on the plans of the administration, which is often composed of their former colleagues. But academics also often use them to explain broader questions of politics and history during informal discussions. But you’ll almost never find conspiracy theories in syllabi, textbooks, classes or academic articles.

Conspiracy theories flourish in times when people are frightened and feel powerless, such as during a pandemic. That was certainly the case during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, and in Latin America -particularly Brazil- during the start of the Zika epidemic. Whenever a society or a nation suffers from deep political polarization conspiracy theories also appear, which reflect the loss of trust in not only the government, but also other citizens. My colleague Leopoldo Rodriguez and I wrote an article about the death of an Argentine prosecutor in 2015, which examined the competing conspiracy theories about this event, which collectively blamed his death on a plethora of foreign actors.

For all their importance and power, however, people are incredibly reluctant to discuss them in a serious manner. Part of the challenge is that when starts to study conspiracy theories one can travel down a rabbit hole that starts to make you doubt that you can trust what you know. Some conspiracy theories -such as those surrounding Jade Helm 15- are easy to dismiss. Others have disturbing elements of truth. For a better look at this issue, I strongly recommend the documentary by Charlie Lyne titled, “Personal Truth.” The filmmaker looks at the Pizzagate narrative in the United States, and compares these stories with those surrounding an alleged pedophilia ring -which likely never existed- in England. In both cases, these stories grew because of irresponsible actors, and because people want to believe stories that depict powerful people in a negative light. It’s also all too true that there are painful examples of evil behavior by people in power, which make these narratives believable. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/12/conspiracy-theories-documentary/

Dec 07

Blitzed: A book review

Adolf Hitler, drug addict.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Norman Ohler’s Blitzed is a disturbing, engaging and insightful look into how drugs shaped the lives of both soldiers and leaders in Nazi Germany. At the same time that drug addicts were being sent to the concentration camps, military researchers in Germany were testing the effects of Pervitin -a brand name for methamphetamine- upon soldiers. When German soldiers invaded France they were using drugs to give them the drive and alertness demanded for Blitzkreig.

At the same time, Hitler himself turned to a quack doctor, who not only injected him with an odd array of hormonal and vitamin supplements, but also with an increasing panoply of hard drugs. The book is based on extensive archival research, which allows Ohler to describe the bewildering array of Hitler’s medications. The book brilliantly captures the toxic atmosphere of Hitler’s entourage, as their leader became increasingly isolated physically and psychologically.

Hitler’s physician, Dr. Theo Morell, was a fascinating figure, who used his ties to Hitler to build a pharmaceutical empire, which was based on organs from the slaughterhouses of conquered territories in the East. At a time when every transport was needed to carry ammunition and wounded soldiers, he finagled trucks and trains to carry organs from the Ukraine to his plant in what is now the Czech Republic. With time, as Hitler’s physical condition declined, his activities drew the attention of not only Hitler’s entourage but also doctors, who believed that Morell was threatening Hitler’s health. The ensuing clash ended in Morell’s victory, based on Hitler’s personal backing. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/12/blitzed-a-book-review/

Dec 01

The Spider’s Web- a documentary

“The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire” is a documentary produced for 4,000 pounds, which traces how the City of London manages tens of trillions of dollars. The City of London itself is a bizarre structure, separate from the London with which we are all familiar. This strange subset of the city has its own governmental structure, which is largely dominated by financial interests. This well-researched and engrossing documentary explains how -after Britain’s empire collapsed in the 1960s- financial corporations based in the City of London created a series of secrecy areas or tax havens in U.K. territories from the Cayman Islands to Jersey. The result was a neo-colonial system, in which vast sums of money flowed by illicit means to the City. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/12/the-spiders-web/

Nov 26

The Great Firewall of China

Card in a Shenzhen hotel, which explains to guests what are the internet restrictions. Photo by Shawn Smallman

In the summer of 2017 I traveled in Hong Kong and Macau, and visited Shenzhen. During my time in Hong Kong I was able to use the internet, and relied on Google Maps to find street markets when I became lost. Of course I’d heard about the Great Firewall of China, which is also called the “Golden Shield Project” within the country. I hadn’t, however, quite realized how comprehensive it was until I checked into my hotel in Shenzhen and saw this card.

I apologize for the poor lighting in these images. I’ve taken pictures of both the front and back of the card. As you can see, the hotel explains that many websites are blocked and that “foreign VPN connections are unstable in China.” The latter is certainly true, as the Chinese government began a concerted effort to block all Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) about two weeks before I arrived in August 2017. A VPN is one of the best security tools that anyone can use on the internet. About two years ago my work Google Account was hacked. This meant that the hacker had access to not only my email, but also Google Docs, and all the work sites that contained my personal information. Ever since that time, I have used VPNs on public wifi (coffee shops, airports, etc.) to make it more difficult for a hacker to discover sensitive information. In Hong Kong my VPN worked without any difficulty. In Shenzhen, I did not even try, as such networks are completely unstable, if they function at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/11/the-great-firewall-of-china/

Nov 15

Exodus: Climate Migration

“Global temperature anomalies for 2015 compared to the 1951–1980 baseline. 2015 was the warmest year in the NASA/NOAA temperature record, which starts in 1880. It has since been superseded by 2016 (NASA/NOAA; 20 January 2016).” By NASA Scientific Visualization Studio – https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov / Goddard Space Flight Center – https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Weather Channel has an online reporting series called Exodus: the Climate Migration Crisis, which examines how climate change is impacting diverse communities globally. This is an ongoing series, which will be updated throughout the year. Each article combines well-written text with beautiful photography, for topics as diverse as water shortages in Jordan, to the situation in Scituate, Massachusetts.

I now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but still work at PSU, since I teach entirely online and do the advising for the online track. While Scituate is only a half-hour’s drive from Boston, this city itself will face it’s own challenges with sea level rise, as Orren Pilkey has discussed in his wonderful book Retreat from a Rising Sea. So Scituate’s story seems very close to home. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/11/exodus-rising-seas/

Nov 07

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

“Virus” by ddpavumba at freedigitalphotos.net

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the disease outbreak that took the greatest toll in the twentieth century. Globally, perhaps between fifty and a hundred million people died. There are a wealth of wonderful books on the topic. I particularly recommend both Alfred Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic and John Barry, The Great Influenza. Eileen Pettigrew’s Silent Enemy is an excellent popular account of Canada’s experience of the pandemic.

Years ago I was visiting a graveyard in Portland, Oregon. There were three graves next to each other, a man, a woman, and a child, who had all died within a few days of each other in November, 1918, almost certainly from the flu. It’s hard to imagine now what that lived experience must have been like. So many families have stories of ancestors who fought in World War One and survived, only to die on their way home.

My own grandfather was traveling in the Peace River country of northern Alberta at the time. He had decided that he was bored on the farm in southern Ontario. He and a friend had set out on an adventure to travel to the Yukon. Then his friend came down with the flu that fall in 1918. Although they never did make it to the Yukon, my grandfather helped to get his friend Frank home, where -as far as I know- he had a long and happy life. Of course, this was only one insignificant moment in the global disaster that impacted families from India to Australia, and took tens of millions of lives.

There is a fascinating new podcast series on this outbreak, which is well-researched and thoughtfully presented: Going Viral: the Mother of All Pandemics. The presenters have deep historical knowledge, and have invested an immense amount of time in preparing this engaging work. I enjoyed their trip to the former battlefields of France to try to track down the pandemic’s origin with Dr. John Oxford. One would think that there wasn’t much new left to say on this topic. Yet in their search for the true origins of the pandemic they look at provocative thinking and current debates, such as Mark Osborne Humphries’ idea that perhaps the pandemic actually began in China. They are also engaging speakers; one can imagine listening to them as a student, and being captured by their lecture style. You can find the podcast on iTunes and similar venues. Given the proliferation of H7N9, the diversification of influenza clades, and the fact that we still don’t have a universal influenza vaccine, this history remains sadly relevant. Highly Recommended. If you are interested to learn about more recent debates, you can also read my own work on influenza and pre-pandemic vaccines as well as conspiracy theories. Both of these articles are publicly available for free. You can also find more freely available articles on influenza here.

Shawn Smallman, 2018.


Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/11/the-1918-flu/

Oct 29

Brazil and populism

Few topics have attracted as much writing in recent years as the rise of populism and nationalism. I was interviewed recently by a student reporter at PSU, who wanted to talk to me about Jair Bolsanaro’s rise in Brazil. How does a politician -who served as an officer during the dictatorship, and has made offensive comments about many groups-  win the Brazilian presidency? Of course, Brazilians are exhausted by the endless political scandals, which have left one previous president impeached, and another in prison. Anyone who once promised to shut down Congress will attract votes in this context. The Worker’s Party failed to denounce its leaders for corruption, which cost them legitimacy. I quoted Bolsanaro in my book on military terror in Brazil, in which he said that 30,000 corrupt officials needed to be lined up and shot. He made that statement about twenty years ago. Brazilians have been so frustrated by the massive scandal involving Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, that these and similar comments probably helped more than hurt him. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/10/the-rise-of-populism/

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