I spent my career teaching and writing at the intersection of pre-modern European history, literature studies, critical theory, gender theory, vernacular culture, vernacular theology, “popular” literature, religious studies, and intellectual history, informed by the Foucauldian project of “genealogy” as a method of searching not so much for truth per se as for the conditions of possibility and of emergence of what is considered to be true, real, and meaningful (hat tip to my colleague Christopher Bracken in the Department of English and Film Studies, https://www.ualberta.ca/arts/about/people-collection/christopher-bracken). Linda Graham has put this nicely: “the aim of poststructural analysis is not to establish a final ‘truth’ but to question the intelligibility of truth/s we have come to take for granted […] Through the experience such analysis provides, it is possible to come to a different relationship with those truth/s which may enable researchers to think and see otherwise, to be able to imagine things being other than what they are, and to understand the abstract and concrete links that make them so.” (Linda J. Graham, “The Product of Text and ‘Other’ Statements: Discourse Analysis and the Critical Use of Foucault”. Educational Philosophy & Theory 43, no. 6 (2011): 663-74; 666). I did not need to be in a History department to pursue that kind of work, but I was. Sometimes it helped, and sometimes it did not. My favourite student rating on the (stupid) site “Rate My Professor” was a piece of (perhaps) inadvertent praise: “Great prof but terrible readings. If you want to learn about the intersections of history, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology then Dr. Gow is the prof for you. However, if you prefer a more traditional approach to historical analysis then maybe take one of his lower level classes before one of his seminars. Overall though, it was a great class.”
As regards the classroom: I loved teaching but objected to teaching courses that obeyed the traditional medieval/early modern split around 1500, since much of my scholarly project was devoted to understanding the medium-to-long-term continuities between what was conventionally called the Middle Ages and what 'followed' them. That split maps (and reinforces) a triumphalist agenda or narrative that distinguishes a devalued "before" from the glorious "after" of the Renaissance and/or Reformation -- a fundamentally ideological move that should now be left behind, but is too deeply entrenched merely to be ignored. My other major frustration had to do not with the political architecture of the discipline of History, but with the fiscal architecture of my home department and its very large first-year survey courses, run without tutorial sections -- which were the apparently irreversible and irremediable result of a chain of decisions taken decades ago by deans and chairs. The result was that we regularly end up with immense marking loads if we want to provide a serious, writing-intensive introductory experience to first-year students. Eventually, I arranged so as not to have to teach such courses, partly also because my health was no longer up to the task. I don't feel especially proud of that, but I took on administrative and editorial roles that compensated the department for my absence and brought in outside money to have those courses taught by people like my own Ph.D. students. Ultimately, I decided to retire early because of chronic illness, but also because I could not face, with my depleted resources, the prospect of teaching large classes with either minimal or nonexistent help from TAs (depending on enrolments) -- since I reject evaluation based on multiple-choice testing as inappropriate to serious university education in the humanities (colleagues who teach in a very different, predominantly "social sciences" mode claim good results using multiple choice tests, and I wish them well).
From summer of 1993 until the end of 2018, I taught and engaged in scholarship (administrators call it “research”) in the Department of History (later History and Classics). My resistance to the nationally (and nationally-chronologically) constituted categories of perception and analysis dominant in the discipline of History is rooted in my period of study (when such distinctions were fluid and largely irrelevant), in my family’s transnational experience, and in my sense that nationalism is one of the most dangerous and contagious intellectual diseases of the last two hundred years. My courses and my scholarship did not always mesh well with the expectations of the institution and its evaluation regimes. However, I am grateful for the substantial autonomy I had to pursue my own academic interests. I found real intellectual fellowship and collaborators among colleagues around the world as well as in my own department, and in English, Religious Studies, and Anthropology. I was fortunate to have access to internal funding for travel and equipment at UofA, and to receive one large grant from the SSHRC; otherwise, I relied largely on German and French granting agencies, which are more attuned to humanities scholarship and its needs than our national “research” funding council is. Having sat on the old Standard Research Grant Committee as it transitioned to the Insight Grant Committee, I feel well qualified to make such assertions. Regarding funding, my advice to younger colleagues is that they should of course heed well-meant advice to apply to SSHRC to some degree, but should retain their intellectual independence and seek out their own opportunities and resources as well.