Category crisis: how should I (re)organize my library?

library1John Fea over at The Way of Improvement Leads Home had an interesting post called “How do you organize your library?” a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to get serious about (finally!) reorganizing my library.  But, I have no idea where to start, or how to proceed, and unfortunately, none of the suggestions in the comments on John’s post were very helpful.  (One commenter left just one word, “KINDLE,” in the comments, rather enigmatically.  I know what Kindle is, but John’s question was more about the intellectual categories of organization, not how to manage actual physical books.)

When I started graduate school in 1990, early American history was neatly divided by geography into five categories:  New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay region, the Lower South, and the Caribbean.  By the time I took my degree in 1996, there was another category added to the mix, “Atlantic World,” but astute readers will note that early American history was really in fact early Anglo-American history.  If students was interested in the history of New Spain or Brazil, they worked with Mexican historians and colonial Latin Americanists, not with the people who called themselves early Americanists.  (And–bien sur–no one was interested in New France!)  Although most of us were encouraged to read, think, and write about non-white peoples and non-English Europeans, it was expected that we’d confine our readings and research to lands under some form of English government. 

Nevertheless, the New England/Middle Colonies/Chesapeake/Lower South/Caribbean scheme is how I have organized my books since graduate school, with sections (and then later full shelves) also devoted to my books on the American Revolution, and the nineteenth century (since I was trained to teach up through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and I do that when I teach the survey.)  But since I was trained, early American history has moved from being divided into geographically and culturally distinct regions to more conceptual divisions that transcend geography and even macropolitical and linguistic borders.  This, in my opinion, is all to the good, and I’ve helped to usher along some of these changes in my own very modest way with my scholarship.  This dissolution of geographical and national borders is something that has happened throughout the historical profession, too.  Whereas once everything was filed neatly under histories of the nation-state, comparative and transnational history have confused these formerly (and deceptively) tidy categories. Continue reading

Funniest search engine string ever

Scary stuff, kids!

Scary stuff, kids!

Check it out:  Type “scared grove of the academe” into a search engine, and it leads you right back to  Oddly appropriate!  But–do I want to wonder why these terms also lead people to

  • hot women over 40
  • how to make beef burgundy (Soon I’ll be famous!)
  • nurse julia doll
  • johnson holding up dog ears
  • is stephanie coontz a feminist
  • women athletes
  • athletic mom
  • preppy couples

All I know is that there are a lot of people interested in hot women over 40 and athletic mothers who find their way here.  Very strange.

Best Beef Burgundy Ever!

juliachildI’ve been on the lookout for a good recipe for beef burgundy for a long time.  For a while, famille Historiann was pleased with the Carbonnade a la Flamande recipe from Cooks magazine earlier in this decade, but quite frankly, it seemed like too much of a pain in the butt for me to do on a regular basis.  (Buying a special beer just for a recipe–seriously?  Too fussy.  I’m a proud cook, but not one who likes to buy all kinds of special ingredients for just one recipe.  Besides, having to remember to purchase more than 3 special ingredients at a time just leads to more trips to the supermarket for me.)

So, I’ve had to go and make one myself.  Voila Boeuf Bourguignon Historiann.  I took Jeff Smith’s basic beef burgundy recipe (from The Frugal Gourmet, 1984) , Julia’d up his rather slapdash techniques to amp up the brown fond flavors and umami, and added a secret ingredient: Continue reading

"Must Read After My Death"

wingedskullstoneHere’s a review of a new movie, “Must Read After My Death,” in which reviewer Manohla Dargis suggests that it “raises unsettling questions about the erosion of the private sphere:”

After his maternal grandmother died in 2001, the director Morgan Dews learned she had left behind a rich archive in the form of eight-millimeter films, reel-to-reel recordings and a file of written materials labeled “Must Read After My Death.” Mr. Dews not only followed these instructions, he also made the materials his own, artfully piecing them together to create an alternately fascinating and disquietingly intimate portrait of a 1960s American family falling apart.

 The results, at least initially, make for absorbing viewing and listening. The grandmother, Allis, was independent minded and, to judge from her loudly voiced complaints, gravely unhappy. Along with her husband, Charley, though often without him — his long, work-related absences were one source of her discontent — she was raising four children in suburban Connecticut. As a way for everyone to keep in touch while Charlie traveled, the family began to make and exchange recorded messages. As the children grew older, however, Allis’s restless agitation took on an air of desperation, even panic. There were freakouts and breakdowns, Allis started seeing a psychiatrist, and, through it all, the family members continued to make recordings, sharing their hearts and fears with one another and, increasingly, their rage.

Dargis rightly points out that documentaries based on crumbling families are nothing new–she mentions movies like “Capturing the Friedmans,” and in the age of reality TV, the revelations in this film probably won’t strike most viewers as terribly shocking.  Dargis writes that in the end, “while I admire how Mr. Dews has constructed his movie on a formal level, I can’t help but wonder how his grandmother would feel if she knew her family’s trauma has been repackaged for our queasy consumption.”

Well, as a historian who is in the business of revealing all sorts of family and personal secrets (albeit about subjects who have been dead longer than Allis), and whose job demands that I say and write all kinds of terrible things about the dead, this question seems overly solicitous. Continue reading

Book recommendations for President Obama

johnsonandhimSusurro at Like a Whisper has tagged me with a meme to compile a list of books to give to President Obama.  He’s a bright guy who always has a book in his hand, and I imagine that he reads much more broadly than most people.  Herewith is my annotated bibliography of five titles, which I humbly submit to a candid world:

  1. Robert A. Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson:  Master of the Senate (2002).  This is the third volume in Caro’s planned 4-volume definitive biography, and it covers his years in the U.S. Senate from 1953 through his fight for the 1960 Democratic nomination.  I think Obama should figure out what LBJ sprinkled on his Wheaties every morning–this Dem thinks we need a little more Lyndon Johnson and a little less Jimmy Carter right about now (except, reinstall the solar panels on the  White House, and keep the meetings while on the john to a minimum.)  Maybe the President can invite Caro over for a little seminar-style preview of volume 4.  (Are beagles hypoallergenic?  Just a thought…)
  2. Robert McNamara, In Retrospect:  The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995).  Of course, there is such a thing as too much LBJ, and this book explains why Johnson is not remembered as the greatest liberal Democratic president in U.S. history despite his championing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 (respectively) and the War on Poverty.  McNamara’s book is extremely insightful and not too self-serving–too bad he was thirty years too late.  (Paging Tim Geithner!  Mr. Geithner!  History on line 1 for Mr. Geithner!  “Best and the brightest” my ass!)
  3. Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food:  An Eater’s Manifesto (2008).  Pollan has been tireless in his self-promotion and attempts to reach the ear of the President lately (some of which have been successful), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right.  This manifesto argues against the fake science of “nutritionism,” which dominates our views of food and the processed food industry today (itself built on cheap oil and the mass production of low-cost, low-nutrition commodities), and in favor of a simple mantra:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”
  4. Mary P. Ryan, Mysteries of sex : tracing women and men through American history (2006) is a lively, intelligent, and provocative survey of the persistence of the gender line in America, from before European contact to the present day.  She grapples convincingly with the disturbing lack of change over time we see when it comes to the history of gender and sexuality. 
  5. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868).  His little girls won’t be young enough to read to for very much longer, and this is a good book to read out loud.  At once impossibly quaint (pickled limes?) and shockingly recognizable, the March girls’ travails while their father served during the Civil War still resonate today, especially with eager and imaginative readers who identify with Jo.  Besides, it’s a great little seminar in the material culture of middle-class mid-nineteenth century domesticity.  (Has anyone ever figured out why those pickled limes were so desirable to Amy and her school chums?)

So, having completed my task, I now tag Larry Cebula at Northwest History, Clio Blustocking, and Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs.  What books would you pile up on Barack Obama’s bedside table?  And commenters:  which books you would suggest?

Squadratomagico's "Circle of Life"

mufasasimbaThis is hillarious.  Sqadratomagico writes:

In my book, I attempted to dismantle a then-dominant narrative within my subfield.

I recently was asked to review a dissertation prospectus for a national fellowship organization. In that prospectus, I am the dominant narrative. My name is cited in the context of that very phrase. This prospectus, written by an eager young scholar, is attempting to dismantle my work.

I find this terribly amusing.

It’s amazing the speed at which this happens.  By the time we publish books, we’re lectured to by all-knowing graduate students and younger colleagues that our years of research, thought, writing, and re-writing were really pointless, since we’re just fonts of conventional wisdom telling everyone what they know already.  Gee, I wish someone had told me this 10 years ago.  Oh, wait!  Continue reading

My bloody valentine: romantic metaphors and the academic life

cowboy-heartGo read the Bittersweet Girl’s recent post called “A Valentine to my Book,” which reads more like a desperate note from a co-dependent than a love letter. 

I’ve long thought that there is a disturbing crossover between the language of romance, sex, and commitment, and the academic job market.  (Will he call?  Did they like me?  Am I worthy of love a job?  What if they’re just stringing me along until the one they really love their top candidate says yes?  What if they think I’m just flirting and trying to get a better offer from a rival department?)  And then it gets really complicated when you already have a spouse job and you’re on the market for something better–enter the language of romantic betrayal (What if I get caught?  I can’t resign until I know for sure there’s another job out there!  But surely there’s someone else who will understand me better, who will understand my needs…)  Contrary to the Bittersweet Girl, though, I have never, ever considered myself to be in an abusive or manipulative relationship with my scholarship.

How about you?