Part Three: Reality
Upon our return from our honeymoon I learned that I had my first (part time) teaching job! I had written the History Department at Florida International University in Miami asking if they anticipated any openings in the coming year (one of my friends at Missouri was already working in the department so she put me in touch with the right people). Howard Rock called and asked if I would teach two upper division history courses during the summer term. Of course, I accepted. So for six weeks in the summer of 1988 I taught Europe, 1914-1945 to a class of twenty-five students and United States History Since 1945. Rock told me that this second class would have no more than twenty students. Imagine how I felt -- first time teaching, you know -- walking into a classroom of fifty-five! The classes each met twice a week, three hours per session.
So, I was writing a lecture every day just to keep up with the pace. Each lecture took me about five hours to write and although I eventually typed these things up and coded them into HTML at a later date, I still have a number of hand-written lectures on yellow-lined paper. I did end up with some pretty good lectures: most of them became foundations for lectures I've used ever since. Overall, I did a fairly good job, considering it was the first time I had ever had total control over a classroom. I did feel a bit uncomfortable in the role as teacher but there were days when things really clicked.
While teaching at FIU I was contacted by Ray Mohl, the Chairman of the History Department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He not only wanted me to teach as an adjunct at FAU, he wanted me to teach three classes. So, in the Fall of 1988 I began my career as an adjunct instructor at FAU. I taught both sections of Western Civilization as well as an upper division course in Modern Britain. It was rather rough going at first but after about three or four weeks I settled down and began to develop a routine.
Only six students enrolled in the Modern Britain class. That made for some difficult class time since it was obvious I could not lecture to them. To make matters worse, none of them were history majors and any thoughts I had entertained of teaching the class as a seminar were dashed because of it. (One student, an English major, and during our discussion of an Orwell novel, told me with a straight face that she "enjoyed" the book because "one chapter came after another.")
My western civilization classes were interesting. I very quickly realized that there was a lot about western civilization that I simply did not know. So there began my introduction to 6000 years of western history, something I had never studied in graduate school. In fact, I knew nothing about western civilization and so then and there began my search for books!
Then, in October 1988, disaster struck. My brother David was admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital for exploratory surgery. (At the rehearsal dinner back in June, my parents noticed that Dave had not eaten a thing. He complained of a sour stomach and was taking Rolaids. I think he knew what was going on but was afraid to admit it to anyone.) As it turned out, he had esophageal cancer. I flew to Connecticut the day before his operation. I had to stay home with his two children while my parents and his wife went to the hospital. I sat at the kitchen table reading my western civilization textbook while my two nieces chased the dog around the house." Around 11:30 in the morning my Dad called me with the words I can still hear -- "It's bad. It's cancer. We're going to lose him."
My brother spent nearly 50 days in the ICU at Yale and then eventually went home to Setauket, N.Y., out on Long Island. I visited him several times at home. While all this was happening, I was writing my dissertation. In fact, it was my brother's illness which made me persevere and get the damn thing finished. So between April and October 1989, I wrote 400 pages of the manuscript!
I decided that the only way I would write the damn monster (which I later dubbed Lost Weekend) was to make a schedule and stick to it. So, I struck upon the idea of working 7 AM to 1 PM and not a minute more. Six hours seemed to be plenty of time and as it turned out, it was. On good days I could pump out 10-12 pages with notes. In fact, my writing got to the point where I couldn't wait to get up the next morning in order to write. Such a schedule was also nice because it meant that I could spend time with my wife without having to worry about writing. It clearly meant a less stressful situation.
However, Dave died at Yale-New Haven Hospital on October 8th and was buried under an ancient oak tree at the Caroline Church in Brookhaven, N.Y. I had to deliver the EULOGY in front of 200 people. I retrospect, I still can't believe I was able to hold my composure to read his eulogy. To this day I wish I had brought a recording of The Righteous Brothers "You Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" or James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)."
Once back in Florida I was right in the middle of the semester. The dissertation, now 92% completed, lay dormant. When my wife Joyce went away for a week the following Spring, I sat at my computer and finished the manuscript! Two weeks later it was in the hands of my committee and a few weeks beyond that, I was in Columbia, Missouri defending my dissertation, The Diffusion of an Idea: A History of Scientific Management in Britain, 1890-1945.
The defense was unremarkable. I did have a good time but it seemed the historians on the committee were more interested in pursuing the Marx-Braverman line than I was. I wanted to talk about Bedaux, Taylor and all the rest. They weren't interested. The only person who did seem interested was the member of the committee who came from outside history. He was a professor in the School of Management and he told me that he was impressed that historians bothered with such topics of inquiry. So impressed was he that he asked if I would write a review of a book on scientific management for The Journal of Management. And so, I had my first publication! Not only that -- in May 1990 I received my Ph.D.
Meanwhile, one of the problems I encountered when I started teaching was the most obvious: I needed a cache of lectures. Well, that first semester I wrote about twenty-five lectures. Up to 1991, when I left the Boca Raton campus to teach at the Davie campus, I taught two dozen sections of Western Civilization as well as upper division courses on Modern England, European/United States Economic History and Modern European Intellectual History.
I should add that about the same time I was hired as an adjunct at the North campus of Broward Community College in Coconut Creek. So now I found myself teaching on two campuses -- well, actually three since I was then teaching courses at yet another FAU campus as well. BCC was a fairly good place to work. The pay was poor and many of my students ought to have never graduated high school. Just the same, I developed an excellent relationship with many of them. I continued to see many of them at FAU since they transferred there after graduation.
FAU was a great place to make a start but alas, there were never any positions open in my field. So an adjunct I was, and an adjunct I remained until December 1996. However, in 1990, and approximately two weeks before the Fall semester began, I received a phone call from the Chairman who asked me if I would consider a one year-temporary position as a Visiting Assistant Professor. After all, I had just received my doctorate in May so I jumped at the chance. My wife and I had just bought our first house so it was an excellent opportunity. Unfortunately, the position only lasted a year. I had a great salary, benefits, an office and I taught eight courses over two semesters. It felt like real life. But it wasn't. It was yet another postponement of real life.
As the summer rolled around, there I was facing unemployment. There was a chance that I could get hired at the Davie campus, as they had advertised a position in European history. Too bad. They wanted an Iberian specialist. Well, that wasn't me. I was told not to bother applying. Then I was asked why I hadn't applied. The next thing I knew I was being told (by the chair) that I had a 50-50 chance of getting the job. And then I found out that I didn't get the job and worse, that because of budget cuts I was no longer to be used as an adjunct. Talk about blowing someone's mind! I ended up with a mild ulcer. I wonder why!
Eventually I was sent off to the Davie campus, which used to be fondly referred to as Purgatory by the regular faculty at FAU. The Davie campus is a nice place. It shares its location with Broward Community College, Florida International University and Nova-Southeastern is right around the corner. The campus was also just a few miles from my home.
The Davie campus of FAU is a commuter campus. Some folks traveled as far as Miami and West Palm Beach. From my own experience teaching upper division European history, the typical student was thirty or older, married or divorced and holding down a full time job. In other words, these were non-traditional students. I taught at night. A wonderful experience as nearly all my students were older and, I hate to say it, more responsible.
At Davie I taught courses in Modern Russia, Modern England, European Intellectual History and a History of Socialism. I managed to make many friends at this campus and in general, I enjoyed my experience. The history faculty is tiny: only five or six people and no European historian.
In the Fall of 1996 I taught a class in 20th Century European History -- it was to be my last teaching assignment at FAU. The class was closed at 35 students -- the largest enrollment I have ever had. In fact, this class had the highest enrollment of any history class at either the Boca Raton or Davie campus! I'm proud of that. Unfortunately, my class, Newton to Napoleon: The Experience of 18th Century Europe, was canceled due to low enrollment. Only seven folks signed up for it. Too bad. I lost a paycheck.
1996 turned out to be our last year in south Florida. Our house was too small and my oldest child was getting ready for kindergarten and we weren't too crazy about our choices. 1996 was also the year that The History Guide came into existence. Here's how it happened. I was acting as a "helper" on some computer newsgroups and struck up a conversation with a guy in Bangkok who was having problems with Eudora (a mail application). We got to writing and the next thing I know is he suggested I create a website for history. He even gave it a name -- The History Guide. The Guide started as a way for me to deliver information to students enrolled in one of my classes at FAU. What it has become over the years is something quite different.
So where am I today? What am I doing? Where am I going? Good questions! These days my historical interests are rather eclectic. I would say that I currently research the following topics, in no apparent order: modern Russian history, Stalinism, modernism, world war in its cultural guise, European intellectual history, Marxism and the French Revolution. I also have an ongoing fascination with the history of heresy in the Middle Ages! I don't know why -- it simply interests me. And of course, I find myself still trying to find that elusive job. Why must it be so difficult?
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Copyright © 2000 Steven Kreis