Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections on disciplinary "linguistic landscape" assignment

It has been a couple of weeks since we finished the "disciplinary linguistic landscape" assignment that I asked students in my summer interdisciplinary writing course to do. I'm starting to put "linguistic landscape" in quotation marks because I'm not sure that in the end that would be an accurate description--I'm not sure the assignment did justice to the concept of linguistic landscape studies. That said, I do think the assignment was a useful entry into the course and to each other. I will have to tweak it the next time I teach the course, though.

We started out by reading the Latour & Woolgar chapter that I mentioned earlier. There are some challenging concepts in that chapter, such as "literary inscription" and "inscription devices," along with the authors' use of the terms "mythology" and "culture." We kind of stumbled around with some of those terms, and I'll probably have to take us more carefully through that chapter in the future (if I still use it). We actually didn't read the entire chapter because I wanted to focus more on the texts and uses of texts in the laboratory rather than getting into the way that papers were published and the kinds of statements used in the publications. (We are getting into that to some extent in the second project.)

After that, I teamed them up with people in different majors--I had an engineer working with a philosopher, another engineer and a finance major, an engineer with a graphic design major, an engineer with an accounting major and a communications major, etc. (we had a lot of engineers in this class!). I think I will keep this aspect of the assignment, though this time it meant that the presentations they did were pretty long--some of them going up to half an hour. The benefits were several:
  • students got to know someone from a different major (which will also be useful once they get to the third project, which is an interdisciplinary research assignment); 
  • they got to see--and look carefully at--spaces that they quite possibly hadn't noticed (or even seen) before; and 
  • they got a chance to compare the kinds of institutional resources (including the physical plant) another discipline might possess. 
One of my goals for this assignment was to highlight the idea that in talking about discplinarity and interdisciplinarity, we're not just talking about theories, perspectives, research methods, etc., but that it's also important to consider how disciplines occupy physical and institutional spaces in a university. Some students were rather shocked when they saw the differences between their department's space and that of their partner's department. (One amusing example was when the communications major, who was working with an accountant and a chemical engineering student, noticed that some of the offices in her department still had the signs of the room's previous occupant on the wall--in one case, the previous occupant was a chemical engineer!)

Challenges and Thoughts about Revision
One of the challenges for this assignment was helping students find a focus for their presentations. As I mentioned in the earlier post, my colleagues expressed concern that students would end up just showing slides of similar and different things that they saw in their departments. To some extent this did happen, and in the future I will probably need to ask them to be more "ruthless" with their picture-cutting during the revision process. I asked them to take as many pictures as possible at the beginning, but we do need to work more on cutting, arranging, and theoretically grounding discussions of the pictures we take.

I might also have to revise my sample slide presentation because it focused on only one discipline--rhetoric and composition, as reflected in the Writing Program in the English Department. It would be easier for them to imagine the assignment if I were to do an interdisciplinary comparison myself. I'll have to decide which discipline to use, though.

Another point about my sample slide presentation that led in unforeseen directions is that although I wanted students to focus on the physical buildings in which their disciplines/majors/fields were situated, I started off with a couple of slides pointing out how the page on the English Department website introducing the Writing Program describes the WP as "an intellectual home for the discipline of rhetoric and composition"--I included that to point out that the WP is depicted as a discipline (rather than, say, a "subdiscipline" or "area" of English studies) and to have a jumping-off point for talking about the way in which the discipline of rhetoric and composition is present (and not present) in physical spaces of the English Department. What I didn't expect was that students would also start off with discussions of their departments' or majors' websites. Some of these were more relevant and focused than others, but the websites' inclusion led to me start thinking about whether or not I should somehow incorporate the virtual spaces of the disciplines in the assignment. I'm hesitant to do that, if for no other reason than that it will make presentations even longer, but I'm still thinking about this.

All in all, I think this was a good assignment, though it needs some fine tuning. I think I'll try it again the next time I teach the interdisciplinary writing course.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

George Kerr: Teacher, sailor, poor man, ... spy?*

The claim that George H. Kerr was spying for the U.S. during his first period in Taiwan (1937-1940) has resurfaced, this time in a 2017 publication by respected historian Chen Tsui-lien (陳翠蓮), 《重構二二八:戰後美中體制、中國統治模式與臺灣》 (Reconstructing 228: The Postwar US-China System, China's Ruling Model, and Taiwan**).

Chen cites three sources that claim Kerr collected intelligence for the US during his time as a teacher in Japanese-controlled Taiwan. The first, Huang Jinan (or N̂g Kí-lâm [黃紀男]), wrote that Kerr was sent to Taiwan by the Central Intelligence Agency as a spy (臥低的間諜). Chen neglects to point out the problem with  N̂g's story: there was no CIA before 1947--even its precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) wasn't established until 1942 (the OSS's precursor, the Office of the Coordinator of Information, was established in 1941).

The second source, Wu Hongren's (吳宏仁) 一個家族。三個時代:吳拜和子女們 (which I am still reading after all these months!), says that after WWII, when someone asked Kerr about why US bombers avoided bombing Taipei First High School (台北高校), he admitted that he had been on a mission to collect intelligence about Taiwan during his time teaching there in 1937-40. However, the "someone" (有人) of whom Wu speaks isn't clear (in fact, it could very well be N̂g--Wu doesn't specify that it was a former student).

The third source that Chen uses is an indirect quote from Wang Chengxiang's (王呈祥)'s awful book, 《美國駐台北副領事葛超智與二二八事件》 (U.S. Vice-Consul in Taiwan George H. Kerr and the "228 Incident"). Wang at least points out that Kerr couldn't have been working for the CIA at that time, though somehow misses out on the fact that the OSS also didn't exist yet during Kerr's first time in Taiwan. Wang quotes a University of Hawaii professor, 鄭良偉 (Robert L. Cheng) who wrote (in a comment board post that is no longer available) that Kerr, who was living in an apartment overlooking Pearl Harbor, told Cheng that he often thought about how, with a heart full of righteousness and patriotism that let him overlook any danger, he went to the enemy territory of Taiwan, on the one hand to teach English, and on the other, to engage in secret field work to collect intelligence (滿腹的公義心及愛國心,讓他無視任何危險,前往敵國國境的台灣,一方面教英語,一方面進行秘密的田野工作,收集情報。) One problem with this statement is that in 1937, Taiwan (or even Japan) wasn't "enemy territory" yet, and unless Kerr was being anachronistic or had a bad memory by the time he talked to Cheng, he wouldn't have been motivated by Pearl Harbor in 1937.

The quote from Cheng in Wang goes on to say during the war, Kerr joined the US Defense Department and was sent to Taiwan. At the time he was publicly known as an English teacher, teaching at Taihoku Provincial College (which is now Taiwan Normal University) and many leaders in the Taiwan democratic movement (like Peng Mingmin) were students of his. (Wang notes in a footnote that Peng actually wasn't one of Kerr's students.) Kerr's "secret identity" was that of a  member of US Naval Intelligence. (在世界大戰期間,Kerr以他的專長學識,投入美國國防部。他被派到台灣。當時他在台灣的公開身份是英語教師,任教於高等學校(現在的師範大學前身),許多台灣的民主領袖(如彭明敏)都曾受教於他。他秘密的身份是美國海軍的情報員。) This account is so totally confused that it's hard to imagine it appearing in a serious history book. It appears to be suggesting either that Kerr was in Naval Intelligence before the US entered the war or that he was teaching English in Taiwan during the time that the US was fighting against Japan. Either way, it's not only factually inaccurate--it's patently ridiculous. I seriously doubt that this came from a conversation with Kerr, unless Kerr was having problems with his memory (or Robert Cheng was having trouble remembering the conversation).

Note that I'm not saying that Kerr didn't make use of his knowledge acquired in Taiwan once he did join Naval Intelligence. I'm also not saying that it's impossible that Kerr might have passed some information on to the US government while he was teaching in Taiwan (though I'm guessing that they would have done better to use a "spy" who could actually speak and read Japanese and/or Taiwanese). But there's no real evidence, as far as I know, that Kerr was "sent" by the US government to Taiwan in 1937 to collect information, and the evidence that has been given in Chen's book is not much more than confused hearsay. The rest of her book seems to be well-documented, and I hope it's more believable than this part.

I have another problem with Chen's interpretation of Kerr's motivations for pushing trusteeship and later independence for Taiwan, but I don't have time to get into that. Suffice it to say that in my view, Kerr's motivations were probably more complicated and changing than what Chen thinks. (She seems to believe that he was totally motivated by his loyalty to the US and its interests.)

*I'm using "sailor" loosely here to refer to the fact that Kerr worked in Naval Intelligence during WW2.

**I know, awful translation of the title.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Another book in the former native speaker's library

I started a post last month on the Taiwan Independence Movement, the assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo, and George Kerr's reaction to it, but had to put it aside while we did some family traveling and I had to prepare for my summer class. Now I've started the summer term, so blogging will continue to be light.

I received a book today with a shipment my wife received from Taiwan. (I limited myself to one book--trying to practice self-control):

陳翠蓮,《重構二二八:戰後美中體制、中國統治模式與臺灣》. 衛城出版, 2017.

There are two excerpts posted on the website Thinking-Taiwan (here and here). Also, there's this review of both Chen's book and Hsiao-ting Lin's Accidental State (which I've written about before). The reviewer sees Chen's book as a good complement to Lin's. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Since I'm working on an introduction to a new edition of Formosa Betrayed, I'll probably start with chapter seven of Chen's book, which discusses the US and the 2-28 Incident, there's a section of about 15 pages on George Kerr and his ideas about trusteeship for Taiwan.