January 04, 2018

New Semester Rulin’s

Colby (1)By Colby King

What are your resolutions for the New Year? How about for the new semester?

I was thinking about these questions myself after a friend shared with me Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s,” which he wrote in his journal in 1943.

If you’re not sure who Woody Guthrie is, you’d likely recognize his most famous song “This Land is Your Land.” Known as the “People’s Bard,” Guthrie is something of a hero among working people and labor activists. He has had a substantial musical legacy, influencing artists from The Byrds and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Tom Morello. If you’re not familiar with his music, you may want to listen to his song about the dust bowl, “Pastures of Plenty,” or his punchy song about union solidarity “Union Maid,” which is covered here by Old Crow Medicine Show live at the Kennedy Center.

Beyond his music and musical influence, he was a persistent activist advocating for civil rights, justice, and economic equality, and is known for writing “This Machine Kills Fascists” on the face of his guitar. In 1940, Guthrie was interviewed by folklorist Alan Lomax for an oral history series, which is archived in the Library of Congress, and shared here by StoryCorps.

His New Years Rulin’s are frank and hopeful, and might be a good place to start if you’re looking for encouragement on your own resolutions for the new year or the new semester. Some of his Rulin’s look a lot like common resolutions these days. For example, he writes “work by a schedule,” “eat good – fruit – vegetables – milk,” and “save dough.” I know several of my colleagues and students are hoping to follow through on some of these same resolutions this year.

But, what I appreciate about his New Years Rulin’s is how many of the items on his list are sociological. Number 15, “learn people better,” for example, reads to me as a call to do sociology. Numbers 13 and 31 – “read lots good books” (sic) and “love everybody” – sound a lot like sociology to me as well.

Maybe it’s a little late to adopt these Rulin’s as New Year resolutions, but they’re also fitting for new semester resolutions. These Rulin’s are influencing how I am thinking about my spring semester. I’m planning to read lots of good books. For example, I’m adopting Thomas Shapiro’s Toxic Inequality for my Social Inequality class. I am hoping to “dream good,” which I’m thinking of as being creative and exploring new possibilities in my work. Inspired by my brother’s work as an artist, I’m teaching a Sociology of Art course for the first time this spring, and I am adopting Allison Gerber’s The Work of Art for that class.

I’m not aiming to “write a song a day,” but I am getting organized to get a lot of writing done. My wife and I just had a baby, and getting organized and finding specific times to write will be important if I’m going to get the work done. So, to do that, I’m planning to “work by a schedule” this spring semester. I’m also hoping to learn people better, as I’m working on a couple of research projects, and planning to share the results of my investigations at conferences later this year.

As you’re beginning your spring semester, what are you reminding yourself to be sure to do in your classes, in your studying, in your research, and your writing?


The title of this article attracted me to it because New Year Rulin, I took it as New Year New Me. When a new year comes around everyone always likes to better themselves or make a resolution and this years start was not the best for me. Then reading this article I have never thought to have a new start, fresh start to a semester to make myself better there too. I know the semester has already started but I can still stay on top of my homework to keep my grades, make sure I have plenty of free time to study and no procrastinating because that's what gets me every semester!

I guess my New Year's resolution would to be and do better than last year . Never really thought about it until now. This semester, I definitely want to do better. Bring my grades up a little bit more. Not saying they were the most last semester, but they could've been better. A general thought is really to work on myself this year. I want to mentally be stable. I'm always worried about someone else and there problems. I put sooo much weight of the others on me. I need to learn how to be selfish, with myself , time, and energy. I guess as the year goes on and the semester I'll set minor goals to accomplish.

“eat good – fruit – vegetables – milk,”

I like it. I'm following this eating pattern in my daily life. Otherwise, it is not necessary to wait New Year to make some important decisions. You could make resolutions every day.

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