That’s Professor Fail to you

Remember my high dudgeon over my students’ failure to appreciate the convenience and effectiveness of Chicago-style citations?  I had my panties in a wad over a stack of papers I collected a few weeks ago, in which about half of the students used (or attempted to use) Chicago-style citations, which I thought I had made a requirement of the essay assignment.

Looking over the essay assignment once again as I sat down to record the grades last night, I noticed this instruction on my essay assignment:

As always, your essay must have a clear argument and use proper citations (either Chicago- or MLA-style is fine, so long as you cite both your primary and your secondary sources faithfully.)

The professor who wrote that essay assignment seems perfectly reasonable!  The professor who marked the essays, however, is kind of an idiot.  Continue reading

Pauline Maier, 1938-2013

paulinemaierPauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History at MIT, died August 12 this year at age 75, a fact that this blog failed to note at the time.  (I can’t remember why, except to note that an extended family member of mine like Maier also died of a recently diagnosed lung cancer a few days earlier, so I suppose his death was on my mind instead.)  Mary Beth Norton writes to inform us that she will be speaking at a memorial service for Maier at MIT on Tuesday, October 29 in the Kresge Auditorium at MIT at 4 p.m.

You have to love the fact that in her obituary the Grey Lady 1) helpfully provides the pronunciation of Maier’s surname “(pronounced MAY-er)” and 2) called Maier the “Historian Who Described Jefferson As ‘Overrated'” right in the headline!  Awesome!  All historians should aspire to this irreverence, in my opinion.

The Jefferson-is-overrated comment is a reference to Maier’s brilliant history of the Declaration of Independence called American Scripture (1997).  Many readers and reviewers have failed to note that the title is ironic, given that the goal of Maier’s book was to illuminate the role of the hundreds of state and local declarations of independence that were issued before the Continental Congress got around to writing theirs in the spring and early summer of 1776.  It was a terrific book Continue reading

Really creepy costumes of the past

babyjaneI saw this Buzzfeed collection of 19 Deeply Horrifying Vintage Halloween Costumes at some link farm somewhere on the internets–my apologies to you if it was on your blog, as I can’t remember exactly where & therefore can’t credit you with it.  It’s hard to choose my favorite, but I think mine is the one on the left.  (I guess we know now what happened to Baby Jane.)

I was struck by the racist costumes and the degree to which many disguises in this collection of photos bear more than a passing resemblance to Ku Klux Klan masks and hoods.  This is in part due to the fact that the Klan started dressing up in the ways that people would have fashioned costumes in the late nineteenth century, I’m sure–it’s not like they could go to the Five and Dime or Target to purchase ready-made costumes with plastic masks, so yards of muslin or burlap with eye-holes and topknots were in order. Continue reading

Citations, the Chicago way.

Why, oh why is it so difficult (if not impossible) to get students to use Chicago-style citations properly in history essays?  In evidence-intensive disciplines like mine, footnotes or endnotes (and no “works cited” page!) are the only kind of citations that make sense.  And yet, every semester, more than 60% of my students ignore the posted requirement that they use Chicago-style citations.

I assume this is because APA/MLA-style citations (parentheses with page number/s and a “works cited” page) are required in more disciplines.  And believe me, I’m grateful that my students (however mistakenly) use some kind of evidence and reasonably consistent citations in their papers.  But for historians, who (pardon my disciplinary pride here) should use more than one f^(king text or source per citation, it’s completely idiotic, not to mention disruptive of the flow of the paper and just goddamned ugly.  Continue reading

Smell you later

In a daring experiment, Slate’s brilliant legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick spent a week wearing Axe body wash, shampoo, and spray:

My own boys, at 8 and 10, are too young for Axe. . . or so I shall insist to myself until they are about 40. But after a single day at the beach this past August, when they shared a bathroom with their big hockey-playing Axe-scented cousin-slash-hero, even the 8-year-old was smearing his small hairless self with the body wash, the deodorant, and, in case he still couldn’t be smelled from the next pier over, the spray cologne. I decided to handle this olfactory terrorism like a mature adult: several days of merciless teasing. Dinners quickly became unbearable, with three Axe-drenched young people fogging up all tastes and smells until your pasta simply tasted like the painful ache at the back of your tongue that occurs when every boy in the house sees a daily Axe dip as part of his grooming. On it went, until the final weekend at the beach, when I found myself trapped in the shower with only a bottle of three-in-one Axe ™ product (shampoo, body-wash, and conditioner). So I broke down and used it.

Sunshine. Harps. It was the most sublimely powerful fragrance experience of my adult life. Truly. After decades of smelling like a flower or a fruit, for the first time ever, I smelled like teen boy spirit. I smelled the way an adolescent male smells when he feels that everything good in the universe is about to be delivered to him, possibly by girls in angel wings. I had never smelled this entitled in my life. I loved it. I wanted more. Continue reading

Conference themes: why, dear Lord, why?

Miss Shields says you must write a theme today.

Miss Shields says you must write a theme today.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about conference themes, specifically organizing themes for some of the really big conferences like the AHA, the OAH, the Berks, etc., as opposed to smaller conferences focused on more specific subfields. He wondered why historians bother with coming up with themes, when the themes tend to be so broad that pretty much anyone with a brain can figure out a way of making their research fit the chosen theme, which ends up making the conference about everything and no specific theme in the end. Continue reading

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Busy busy day–no time to blog until now, and not much time for that anyway, but:  one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize in Literature today! (See also this nice notice in which she makes a feminist point about being only the thirteenth woman to win the prize, and also includes a link to a CBC story.)

Her work is especially relevant to women’s historians, I think, because so many of her stories span several decades and are frequently compressed little nuggets of twentieth-century North American women’s history.  If you’ve never read Munro before, don’t start with her much-hyped (and sure-to-be-emblazoned-with-gold-foil-stickers) latest collection, Dear Life.  Start with some of her earlier works like The Beggar Maid:  Stories of Flo and Rose (1978), a fascinating document about girlhood and young adulthood in an Anglo-Canadian provincial Ontario town and the relationship between two women of different generations.

Talk about a writer of domestic fiction who addresses universal themes like shame, lust, and all varieties of love and disappointment.  Continue reading