Thoughts About Witches and Witch Hunts, Past and Present

On Thursday (2/13), you are going to be reading about the witch hunts that exploded in Europe and America during the Early Modern period. These were officially-sanctioned searches, inquisitions, and trials of individuals (mostly women) who were quite literally accused of being witches. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a witch hunt is “a searching out for persecution of those accused of witchcraft.” Central to this definition is the notion that those who were accused were, in turn, persecuted – typically because the accused were generally assumed to be guilty in such cases. Since the time of these historical witch hunts, the phrase has taken on a slightly different connotation in colloquial English usage, and especially in the realm of politics. The dictionary also defines witch hunt as “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views.” For this blogpost, we are going to try something a little different by having you work with our assigned sources about real-life witch hunts and then seeking to connect them to some modern-day “witch hunt” (in the non-literal sense of the term implied by Webster’s second definition).

In your post, then, I’d like you to draw out an interesting idea, a statement, or a specific quotation from your assigned sources on witch trials for Thursday. Explain why you think that notion is important to our understanding of the persecution of witches, who are some of the most famous human “monsters” of all time. Then, I’d like you to use/apply your chosen idea to some twenty-first century “witch hunt” that you know about, whether it involves a controversial politician, a fallen celebrity, or something from your own experience. For most of you, the topic that will come to mind is the recent impeachment trial of Donald Trump, which the president has frequently labeled as a “witch hunt.” But that subject is almost too easy, too obvious, too cliché at this point – so I would prefer that you avoid using it as an example. Whatever example(s) you do ultimately choose, the idea here is to carefully consider some of the ideologies and “group thinking” that defines witch hunts, and to connect the real-life inquisitions of the Early Modern period to certain closed-minded events and activities from our own day.

On the Historical Growth, Globalization, and Politicization of Surfing

Since your first Blogpost of the semester, our class has covered a lot of historical territory (literally and figuratively speaking). This second Blogpost is designed to encourage you to think more about key aspects of that history, and to view it in a new and different light. It is also aimed to invite you to think visually a bit, something you will be doing soon for your first Middle Stakes writing of the semester (due the following week). For this Blogpost, then, you will bridge the past and the present, and think historically and visually, by doing the following:

1) Pick two historical topics covered since our last Blog that you think are interesting/important. You may choose from the following list, subjects which you may want/need to narrow a bit in order to have something thoughtful to say about them: Alexander Hume Ford, the Outrigger Club, Duke Kahanamoku, the Hui Nalu Club, the “Massie affair,” surfing & Apartheid, Tom Carroll, California’s “surf Nazis”, Aboriginal surfers, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, South China Sea Surf Club, Michael February, or Surfers 4 Peace.

2) Write at least one robust paragraph about both of the historical topics you choose (so, two paragraphs minimum). In each paragraph, you should explore the meaning and broader significance of your subject, and draw some conclusions about it in terms of the history of surfing. To do so, you must offer: a) A quotation that somehow encapsulates and addresses your subject. You should not only find and present this quote, but somehow use and interrogate it in your discussion. b) An image or video that represents your subject. You can offer us this simply by providing a link. Then, here again, you should tell us what is notable about that image, and discuss how/why it illustrates key issues related to your topic(s) and its role in the history of surfing.

Thoughts About the Birth, “Death,” and Rebirth of Surfing

‘Surfing and Society’ is a course that will deeply explore the history, politics, and development of surfing in America, and beyond. So far, our class has focused on the development and early history of surfing, and for your first Blogpost of the semester you will be asked to do a few (relatively) simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/30, and ways in which it connects up to what we did in the previous two classes. For this initial trial run, there are three options for you to choose from, and you should choose two of these prompts and respond to them (with your writing amounting to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  One of the very first things we did on our first day together was define and discuss “the stoke.” For this option, you should apply your notions of “the stoke” to one of our recent readings. It would certainly be sensible to articulate how “the stoke” is seen, articulated, and examined in one of the literary/historical accounts we have read so far (by Captain Cook, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Jack London). But if you would like to apply this premise to a historical event or colonial topic mentioned in ‘The World in the Curl’ instead, that would be fine.  Whatever text or topic you wish to discuss, you should explain where and how “the stoke” is seen, and why this particular reference serves as an important and illuminating example of the early history of surfing.

2) The four historical/literary texts listed above (by Cook, Melville, Twain, and London) are fun and quirky and provide an interesting window into the premodern world of surfing. But there is a darkness lurking beneath the surface when it is realized that they are also products of colonialist expansion and exploitation in Hawaii, and the islands nearby. For this option, then, you should choose one of these works and consider it as a kind of political document, a text about war and peace, kingship and rule, imperialism, xenophobic hatred, and so on. To do so, you should focus on a particular passage where issues of power and authority are quietly at issue. How does your chosen passage bring to the page such notions as violence, religion, hatred, justice, misunderstanding, authority, and/or negotiation? Place the passage specifically within the colonial context of the day, consider its meaning and significance, and by all means free to offer some thoughts about what YOU think about the topic, text, and theme in question.

3) An important intellectual skill is comparison, and in fact one of the things we will do frequently in class is compare ideas, sources, places, and people from the broad culture of surfing. So for the third and final option, you might do some comparing and contrasting and see what comes of it. For example, you might compare and contrast such things as: Christian missionaries vs. Hawaiian religious leaders; native surfers vs. the white settler population; the morals of Polynesians vs. the morals of tourists; the US government vs. Hawaiian kings; surfing in Hawaii in the early twentieth century vs. surfing in California and other mainland locales; and/or premodern surf techniques and ideals vs. the “modern” notions of the sport that arose in the United States. Whatever topics or ideas you choose to compare, your paragraph should articulate some of the notable similarities and differences but, more to the point, what is learned through the comparison. What does your comparison reveal about early surfers and the rise, “death,” and rebirth of surfing?

It will be very interesting to see what you all have to offer in this first Blogpost of the semester!!

On Pliny the Elder and the Monstrous (Natural) History of the “Plinian Races”

For students in my ‘Meaning of Monsters’ course, the time has come for your
first Blogpost of the semester. In this initial trial run, I want you to do a
few simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/30, and
also to do some additional work with the important “monster theory” of Jeffrey
Jerome Cohen.  More specifically, I’d like you to do two specific things
(which should amount to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  In his chapter on “The Plinian Races,” John Block Friedman makes
some interesting comments about the (supposed) monsters of the ancient world,
particularly from the perspective of the Greeks.  He includes a variety of
examples of human groups (from India and Ethiopia) who are (mis)understood by
ancient authors as having mysterious, monstrous qualities.  He also offers
some analysis of these beings, and draws some interesting conclusions about
them.  For part one of your Blogpost, then, I’d simply like you to offer a
specific quotation from Friedman’s discussion that you feel is especially
interesting or important.  Then, discuss it by explaining what you find so
intriguing about your chosen quote?  Why does it seem so noteworthy as a
window into the culture (and monsters) of ancient Greece and Rome (or India and

2)  For part two of your response, I’d like to do a bit more work with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s crucially important essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. Here, I’d like you to apply ONE of Cohen’s theses to ONE monster outlined by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. If you apply and use Cohen’s ideas as a way to explore or understand Pliny’s varied discussion of monsters found both on land and in the oceans, what
connections or ideas arise by using Cohen’s model? The point here is to
further enhance your understanding of Cohen’s complex essay by working closely with it and using it to help you understand another complex piece of monstrous writing.

I’ll be curious to see what you all have to say for this first Blogpost of
the semester!!