The wolf is at the door, and she wants you to get busy with homework

State and university budget worries are in the air.  So far at Baa Ram U., we haven’t been told exactly how bad it will be, but there are committees currently contemplating a salary cut for faculty.  No one is talking about firing adjuncts and non tenure-track faculty and raising everyone else’s teaching loads, like they are at some universities.   (Of course, this economic depression may drive students away from college, which will make teaching load increases pointless.)  The happy phrase that I’ve heard lately is that the strategy will be to cut “programs, not people,” which seems humane, fair, and reasonable.

On the question of raising teaching loads:  my upper-level classes are officially capped at 40, but I have now only 25 students in my upper-level course this term.  That’s about par for me, and I chalk it up to the fact that I have weekly reading and writing assignments, the first of which is due on the second day of class.  When I teach the surveys, which are capped at 123, I usually have only 90-100 students who finish the course.  (And among them, about 20% get Ds or Fs, so I wonder why they show up for the final exam at all.)  I’ve discovered recently that lots of us regular faculty have no more than 25-35 students in our capped-at-40 classes, probably because their syllabi look like mine.  If the university decides that it needs more courses, I would hope they’d take a look at all of those seats a-wasting in our classes.  The problem seems to be that 30-35% of our students don’t want to work all that hard or show up to class, both of which are required in my classes.

Do your courses fill and stay filled?  (I’ve heard from friends at other universities that students register for more courses than they actually take, so that they can stay eligible for financial aid.  This seems like a really stupid plan–incurring debt for courses that you don’t complete–but then Historiann has never understood why people rack up credit card debt either.)  Could one benefit of a depression be that those students who have the luxury of remaining in college might actually buckle down and get ‘er done?

"Radical" feminism: Groundhog Day?

Back when I was just starting my career, I met a senior scholar about 15 years my elder.  About her years teaching at a conservative Catholic university, she said something like, “I never realized I was such a radical!  It was kind of fun to be thought of as really radical.”  She wasn’t writing women’s history–yet, although she has become a women’s historian since then.  But she was a woman historian, which in that department at that point in time made her really stand out, and she became an advocate for causes and ideas that she had never been openly affiliated with, whereas before she was just an early Americanist with a prestigious degree.  Of course, as a 27 year-old ABD, I thought to myself:  good thing those days are over, and we’re on the path to a brighter future!

It’s thirteen years later, and I feel like we’re in the same place as that senior scholar was twenty-five years ago (or more) when she was just starting her career. Continue reading

Are women citizens of this republic?

In theory, yes.  Actually, they’re the majority of Democrats.  I wondered today when I snapped open my Denver Post and read the following, about when the Democratic President met with congressional Republicans yesterday in an effort to win allies to pass his stimulus bill:

Participants in the meetings said Obama conceded that both the House and Senate versions of the bill had been larded with Democratic spending priorities. As a show of good faith, Obama persuaded House Democrats to drop a $335 million Medicaid provision funding contraception programs that conservatives had protested, and also reiterated an earlier pledge to consider more small-business tax relief.

Good faith?  Please.  How many of you think that if congress was anything close to 50% women that contraception would be such an easily tossed around political football?

UPDATE, this evening:  And, Obama won precisely ZERO votes for his efforts!  I thought it was a good move to go talk to the Republicans–truly I did, until I saw the “concessions” he made, concessions whose price would be paid by women, who were only a tiny minority of the people involved in the process.  (Charlie Brown, meet Lucy.  She’ll never let you kick the ball.  That is, if you ever cared about kicking the ball in the first place.)

Rabbit, ran out

John Updike is dead, at age 76 of lung cancer.  (Terrible disease–that’s very sad.)  I was never a huge fan of his, since all of the male protagonists in his short stories were very clearly based on Updike:  they all seemed to be men who were from lower middle-class families in industrial Pennsylvania who managed to go to Harvard and live lives with bigger houses, better cars, and prettier wives and paramours than their fathers had.  That story got old, fast, as did the creepy obsession with comparing the girlfriend’s or second wife’s body with the first wife’s body, or sex with the girlfriend or second wife to sex with the first wife.  Women in Updike’s short stories, and in many of his novels, function like the cars and houses of the protagonists–they were merely reflections of the protagonist’s status.

I enjoyed two books of his Continue reading

Gender, history and biography

From “The Kennedys:  A Fumbled Handoff of the Torch,” by Sam Tanenhaus:

In 1963, shortly after her husband was murdered, Mrs. Kennedy granted an interview with Mr. White, who had covered the Kennedy election and then written his classic account, “The Making of the President, 1960.”

“Once, the more I read of history the more bitter I got,” Mrs. Kennedy reflected. Her husband, who in childhood had devoured romantic history books, viewed it very differently. “For Jack, history was full of heroes. And if it made him this way — if it made him see the heroes — maybe other boys will see.”

“Maybe other boys will see?”  That seems to sum it all up, doesn’t it?  History is about heroes, heroes are men, and heroes are meant to inspire boys.  This is not a criticism of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis–she experienced reading history as alienating or even embittering, rather than inspiring, and that’s the fault of historians.  I think her comments about the gendering of history are accurate even today, 45 years later. 

This is why I’m interested in women’s biography right now–for a long time I’ve worried that my biography of Esther Wheelwright won’t be perceived as theoretically sophisticated enough, or cool enough.  But women’s history is still such a relatively new field, with many discoveries to be made.  Discovering new women’s biographies may in fact be a much more radical undertaking than it appears to be on the surface.  I’ve argued all along that what may seem to be the most traditional and staid of all historical genres might in fact be dramatically subversive both for history and biography when a little girl and/or a woman is at the center of inquiry. 

Biography insists that its subject is of paramount importance to history.  Biography is powerful:  Cataloging the lives of the saints worked pretty well in popularizing Roman Catholicism and moving it from the margins to the center of European history and culture.  If more women’s biographies are written, read, and incorporated into school curricula, then the argument about who and what is important in history will be won.  We don’t have to write “sheroic” history–that is too flat and old-hat for me, not to mention an approach that usually privileges the overly privileged and stories that conform to the old Whig trajectory.  We must simply write about women’s lives unapologetically, and with specificity, nuance, and telling detail that puts them at the center of history rather than at the margins. 

History isn’t therapy–or at least, it doesn’t function very efficiently as therapy.  It is, however, ideology, and from my perspective, women’s history hasn’t begun to make a dent on what most people see as “History.”

A tale of two Senators

“Senator G” was appointed to the Senate by hir state’s governor because the previous Senator was invited to join the Obama cabinet.  Ze is white, 42 years old, is the parent of two children, was twice elected to congress, and has a public record of hir votes on the issues of the day.  What kind of coverage does Senator G get in the mainstream press?  Ze is called “Tracy Flick,” “unpopular among peers,” and anonymous sources are sniping at hir, saying that ze is known for “aggressiveness and self-confidence,” which alienates peers and senior colleagues who believe ze is “trying to leap-frog up the seniority ladder.”

“Senator B” was appointed to the Senate by hir state’s governor because the previous Senator was invited to join the Obama cabinet.  Ze is white, 44 years old, the parent of three children, has never held elective office but has held several jobs won through family and old school connections, and is a complete cipher as to hir positions on the issues of the day.  What kind of coverage does Senator B get in the mainstream press?  When ze held an “open house” to “get to know” people–because ze has never, ever campaigned or won a single vote in hir lifetime–a local paper reported that “the senator was mobbed by well-wishers delivering congratulations as well as citizens with concerns they wanted [B] to hear. A table of brownies and cookies disappeared during the first hour of the three hour event.Continue reading

Are you a Buckeye?

Are you a secret or not-so-secret Buckeye?  (You can either have been born a Buckeye, or you may have adopted the Buckeye state as your home state–it doesn’t matter.)  In a recent conversation over e-mail with another blogger, we discovered that we’re both Buckeyes by birth, although no one would guess it from looking at our CVs.  There are two other Buckeyes by birth in my department besides me–and I’ve always thought that we have a special Buckeye understanding, a down-to-earth way of seeing the world.  James Thurber was a Buckeye–from Columbus, as it happens.  Gloria Steinem is a Buckeye too.  Many people you know probably have Buckeye ancestors, when you drill down a few generations.

I grew up making Buckeye candies.  I was Buckeye born and returned for four years at the beginning of my career.  (I never cared for football or Ohio State, though–probably because I grew up a lot closer to Ann Arbor than Columbus.)

So, you can tell me:  are you or have you ever been a Buckeye, too?