I had my first ever oral exam last week. I had never before had an oral exam. I don't consider my thesis presentation an oral exam, because I had two hours to present and support my thesis, and then answer questions from my panel - questions which I had already discussed with each one of the panel members individually. So that was no stress. And my thesis was awesome.
But the German system is very interesting, and I had to take one 15-minute oral exam for The Alamo Seminar. It was one whole semester on The Alamo and how it was represented in film, literature and popular culture. I am now an Alamo expert. I challenge my historian friends Julie and Joe to ask me anything they want.
Not everyone is required to take this oral exam for this seminar, so out of a class of 30, I think I was one of three who took this exam. I figured that the teacher would let us go easy and just make sure that we did do the readings; since I event to every single class (perfect attendance) and participated in all but one session (I did not do one of the readings because I thought it was unnecessary and, go figure, it actually was), I thought she would just chat me up a bit and give me my 1.0 (that's the highest score in Germany - I know, these people are totally weird).
Oh, no. No no.
She was totally prepared. I have no idea why I would expect otherwise, she is a German anyway, and it is common knowledge that the Germans are always prepared.
She had selected three of the Traditional Alamo Representations and three of the Revisionist (Post-Modern) Alamo Representations, and written four questions. The test-takers (well, me) were to choose one representation from each section and compare and contrast whilst answering her questions. After gasping a little in surprise and fear, I realized I had actually read all the texts and that the questions were clear and simple. I could totally do that in fifteen minutes. She even gave me 10 minutes to prepare and allow that I look at my notes and take new notes.
When she came in, the German in me arose: I was totally ready. Bring it on, I thought. Sat up-straight, and waited for her to instruct me to begin.
She did not do that.
Instead of giving me the green-means-go sign to address Question 1, she asked me to explain which representations I had chosen and why. No biggie. I was going to address that in Question 1 (which asked to compare both representations) anyway. I tackled that and as I getting ready to address Question 2, which inquired about the Frontier Myth and its importance in both representations, she asked me explain the role of slavery in both representations. Well, that had absolutely nothing to do with Question 2, but I was not about to contradict the Grade-Giver. I discussed slavery and nailed it. And then I wanted to go into the relevance of cultural memory in both representations, and she asked me what type of history these representations reflect. Again, absolutely nothing to do with the question, but I actually loved that question, and I totally knew the answer.
The thing is, my answer was dangerous. It was the same question she had asked in class a couple of weeks earlier, and I had raised my hand and contradicted her.
You see, she claims that Emma Pérez's Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory is a creative anachronism type of post-modernist historical literature. I called BS and said no, because the fact that we are addressing an issue that is all over the place today (lesbianism) does not mean or imply that it was not an issue back in the mid-1830s. By saying that the lesbian theme is anachronistic we are claiming that lesbians did not exist back then, and that lesbianism is a 21st century trend. And that is why I called BS. Because homosexuality has always existed as a human condition as natural as heterosexuality. So I said it was more an apocryphal history post-modernist historical literary piece, because we are placing fictional characters in real-life situations that are so realistic that the possibilities of them actually having existed are very big.
And that was my internal discussion when she asked me what type of history is represented: Should I stick to my own analysis and evaluation, fully knowing that she disagrees, or should I just respond to the question the way she wants me to respond?
I went with the former, because I like to pretend that I am true to myself - especially when I know in my heart that I am right. That is not creative anachronism. To call Perez's novel creative anachronism is to diminish and belittle homosexuals and their contributions to society. So I got on my soap box, we began a heated discussion, and 30 minutes later (30 minutes after my initial 15 minutes were over, so after a total of 45 minutes) she agreed to disagree and proceeded to give me my review.
She said that my participation in class was very good (I know, thank you very much), that it was more than clear that I had done all the readings (I read ALL the things!), but that due to my less than appropriate synthesizing abilities - or, rather, lack thereof - she was forced to give me a 1.3 (I guess that would be an A instead of an A+?).
I smiled, took my grade, thanked her and left. After all, I am old enough now (I am the oldest in my Masters class) to not care about grades; now I rather care about knowledge, and I did learn a lot.
But on the ride back home, I kept thinking that had she not wasted 30 minutes of MY exam time trying to sell me her theory on how lesbians are a new thing and that the novel is definitely and undeniably creative anachronism, I would have ended right at 15 (or 16) minutes and I would have aced that test.
Oh, well. I guess my synthesizing abilities are below par... especially when I know I am right.