Thursday, January 04, 2018

Work on GHK introduction, a flashback, and reflections on teaching writing

A couple days ago I finally completed a draft of my introduction to a forthcoming new edition of Formosa Betrayed and sent it to the editors for their input. I'm sure it will go through some (probably many) changes before it sees publication, but that's OK with me. I was writing an email to a friend just now and mentioned the project and one of its earlier incarnations:
You probably don’t remember your comments on this blog post from 2010 (, but what I’m working on now grew out of what I was working on back then—8 years ago! I always like to mention these kinds of things to my writing students—my 9-year dissertation, this thing, etc.—to remind them of how long the writing process can sometimes be.
I can date the interest in Kerr back a couple of years further than that, when I wrote in this post almost 11 years ago:
I found out that Tunghai's History Dept. library had these books [a 3-volume set of facsimiles of Kerr's writings and correspondence], so I borrowed them today. Talk about fascinating stuff to curl up with on a cold winter night. There are all sorts of interesting topics that come up in the letters--discussions with (and about) Thomas Liao (a Taiwan independence activist-in-exile who eventually returned to Taiwan in a propaganda coup for the KMT), letters in response to Formosa Betrayed and concerning the trouble he was having publishing a history of Taiwan to 1945, discussions regarding the assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo in 1970 and its aftermath... Just a lot to keep a curious reader busy. 
"Keep a curious reader [and writer] busy." As I said to my friend, it's always interesting to get students' reactions to the idea that a writing project (or writing projects) can take years, or even decades. Kerr's work on Taiwan is itself an example of that, from working on earlier versions of Formosa Betrayed back in the late 1940s, to getting it published finally in 1965, and working on the other "Formosa" texts (one of which never saw publication) into the 1970s and 80s.

I would like to give students a taste of how those kinds of long-term writing projects happen, and I guess I do do that, to some extent. In my business writing class, for instance, they work with one topic for most of the semester and base their final project on that topic, as well. But it's an acquired taste for some students who might not be able to develop the kind of passion for a topic that it takes to sustain interest over a longer period of time (even 14 weeks can be a long time if you're not interested in what you're working on!). And I also have to realize that neither I nor Kerr (or probably anyone else) have fully focused on that one project over all of those years. Kerr wrote about Okinawa, as well, for instance. And we all get distracted over time. (At least I hope "we all" do--I hope it's not just me!) Would it be necessary/helpful to try to build that "distraction" into the syllabus, as well? Could that be done in a 14-week course? Maybe I'll try...