My name is Nicholas Peasley, I’m a first year JD student at Willamette University, though my background was not originally in Law. I was a History and Political Science major in my undergraduate years and then snapped up a Masters of Education and taught History for a couple years. I was that kid in the undergrad who did all my readings because I liked the material and was enamored with the subjects. If I wasn’t so crushingly monolingual, I would likely have been a PhD candidate in a history program somewhere, blithely meandering musty tomes in search of information on Carthage.
My story is all from my time in my M.Ed. For those of you who haven’t gone through student teaching in America, I’ll drop a play by play of things: You have a full time job teaching (in my program for 7 months), you have been dropped on the metaphorical professional version of a desert island with your mentor teacher as your only real tool (you’re BRAND new to the subject; it’s quite close to a literal baptism by fire at times), you work more than 40 hours a week (because… teaching), you still have courses and finals as a portion of your M.Ed, and the real kicker, all of it is unpaid (you still pay tuition). If you don’t have any coping mechanisms, you do and will fall apart. On top of that, as you slowly drift away from your undergraduate years the subject that you are supposed to be the student’s guide on begins to fade.
This is a graph loosely put together by 19th century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. Basically what he found was that your memory of things halves in a matter of days if you don’t review things. In his book Brain Rules, John Medina puts the amount of an undergraduate degree that is forgotten at 80% of information taken in.
I had noticed just after my post-undergraduate time that I was losing my memories of my favorite thing from my time at the University of Washington: anecdotal stories about Vikings, Plato, and all the aimless stories that history people love to tell. I didn’t want to be that teacher who responded to every question with a clandestine “why don’t you look it up yourself?” to deflect the fact I didn’t know the answers. It was a professional point of pride to know my subject and a point of personal pride to try to know what I had spent so much time and effort researching and reading in the first place. As a result, I started up a blog (shamelessly plugged and criminally un-updated at: https://hemlockscholar.wordpress.com/) to codify and put to paper as many of my stories that I remembered as possible. Between my blog and periodically spraying history factoids onto facebook, I found that I was slowly archiving my history stories and improving my recall of the information.
This is where student teaching comes back into the picture. I found that my flailing forays into amateur historianship were, to steal a phrase from the Odyssey, keeping my mind teeming. My stories were what made me successful when I taught history, and what drew out the most awe and interest from my students. Whenever I would finish a day and found myself with a lick of free time, I would go careening across the internet or blazing into used bookstores (by the way, nobody seems to buy history books so they’re always on clearance) in search of stories to distill and plaster onto the internet with my pseudonym under the heading (p.sure I didn’t break copyright laws, but that’s what the JD will tell me in a couple years…). My relief during my M.Ed was to cocoon myself in books and random history, literature, and political factoids.
The real beauty of being a history person is that 10 lbs of books only costs $4
Lo and behold, by the time I finished my student teaching days, I had roughly a month of time to kill before my paperwork went through and I could be a real teacher. I decided to compile all my blogposts and Facebook scraps and found that I had nearly 200 pages of amateur history. I decided to spend the month filling out the material and researching the background to all the odd little stories and intellectual sorties, to pitch any that I could find no background on and to flesh out the short blurbs until I had a page or two on each topic. 30 days, 30,000 pages of books, JSTOR and google scholar, and 220 hours of writing later, I churned out a semi-edited, self-published book of anecdotes under the title “Veni, Vidi, Didici.” It netted a grand total of $21, but it was never about the money. It was to follow through with something that kept me sane through student teaching and to give me something to look through when the memories began to fade to remember all the information that I had put so much time and effort into learning in the first place.
The physical representation of my spare time during one of the most stressful times of my life.