Sunday, May 16, 2010
7 Questions: Philip R. Abbott
Having a wife, daughter and son-in-law as writers, not to mention your own writing, do you find yourself constantly reading rough drafts?
I read a lot of Patti's work, but not really as a critical voice. Mostly I am there to encourage her although if something jumps out at me, I do mention it. My preference in stories are for ones that are somewhat ambiguous so my most common contribution to her work is to say maybe you don't need that last line or two. I read a lot of fiction but don't write it myself so I wouldn't feel comfortable saying much more than that. She complains that I am not critical enough but I know when to get out of the way.
We both read Megan's final first draft and sometimes the final version. Early on in her career, she sent us more versions of her work, but now she turns to her agent or husband for that job. What we see is a pretty polished version.
Although Patti has read early versions of Josh Gaylord's novels (and several earlier unpublished novels) I have not. I would feel even less comfortable weighing in on his work.
Can you tell us a little about your own work?
I am a political theorist. Most of my most recent books concern the American presidency. I am currently working on a book on bad presidents--what constitutes a bad president. I also did one on accidental presidents--those who took office due to an assassination or death. Another dealt with Franklin Roosevelt and his use of earlier presidents as exemplars. I've done several textbooks and books on subjects such as American inventions, the American family, and some traditional political theory.
I also write on utopianism and just finished an article on whether utopians should have perfect bodies to be published shortly in FUTURES.
I got my Ph.D at Rutgers and teach at Wayne State University in Detroit-although I spent a year teaching in England and a semester in Amsterdam.
Who was the worst US president?
Buchanan appears as the very worst in almost all presidential rankings. But to me the more interesting questions is why was Buchanan so bad. The dominant view emphasizes his indecisiveness--Buchnanan was immobilized by the threat of succession. A more intriguing view, one suggested by Lincoln himself in his House Divided address, is that he had a plan that almost worked, the nationalization of slavery. From this perspective Buchanan was still bad but more like Richard III than Richard II.
What would you consider the most defining moment in our country's history and why?
Most scholars would identify the following as defining moments in U.S. history and I would agree: 1787: The Second Founding and the Constitution; 1800: the election of Jefferson; 1860: the beginning of the Civil War, the election on Lincoln and the Southern secession; 1932: the Great Depression, the election of Roosevelt and the programs put into place during his first two terms to deal with it; 1963, the assassination of Kennedy.
What has changed good and bad in academia since you received your Ph.D?
Research is more interdisciplinary than it was a generation ago. Scholars see the world in broader terms. Professors are more creative in designing courses and research projects that cross disciplines.
The Internet and email have changed things. It is much easier to prepare manuscripts for publication than it was. It used to take years before a book or article appeared.
Teachers are able communicate more easily with students. Everything happens faster. Methods of teaching changes daily with online courses and power point. (This has a downside, too, of course. Online courses certainly don't offer the intense and intimate experience a class of 15 does).
On the negative side, there is more plagiarism. Texting and cellphones in the classroom are a real distraction for everyone.
There are fewer jobs for professors. Salaries have declined with the new economy. There is more pressure than ever to publish.
New Ph.Ds going onto the job market are now expected to have delivered conference papers, had articles published.
College resources go toward technology rather than classroom buildings, teachers, scholarly travel.
How did you meet Patti?
I grew up in a resort town--New Hope, PA--where Washington crossed the Delaware and the site of a summer theater, restaurants, shops. My father owned a small luncheonette and newstand there so I came back every summer from college (American University in D.C.) to work. Patti, just graduated from high school, had a summer job there in a restaurant around the corner. We met one day when I was sweeping the front sidewalk and she was looking for her roommate. The same night we ran into each other again. Oddly enough, we'd both been there the summer before (in a town of 800 people) but never met.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose?
I always thought six made a good number at dinner: Shakespeare, Euripides, Jefferson, Freud, Janet Malcolm.