Why did I agree to do this?
Great advice for academics planning next year’s conference and travel schedule, from David Plotz of Slate:
What an honor! You have been asked to appear on a panel, to keynote a conference, to advise a celebrity, to be publically acclaimed. Perhaps you have been offered a plump check. Perhaps you’ve even been promised a prize! Of course you’re flattered. Of course you accept, because you have so much time to prepare. After all, this thing isn’t happening until October. It’s next year. It’s in 2018. It’s so far in the future, you’ll probably be dead by then.
You’ve made a terrible mistake.
Here’s what will happen. Though the engagement seems infinitely far away today, it will eventually, inevitably, be a week away. Then it’s a day away. And you still haven’t written the speech you need to write. You still have to make a hotel reservation and buy a train ticket and find a baby sitter and apologize to your sister for missing her birthday dinner and beg Dan to cover for you in a meeting. (Sorry, Dan.) The opportunity that sparkled so brightly when they flattered you into it six months ago isn’t gleaming anymore. It’s just a gigantic hassle.
Drop whatever you’re doing now and go read Randall Balmer’s excellent article on “The Real Origins of the Religious Right.” Subtitle: “They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record is clear: it was segregation.” Balmer, who has just published Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, recounts what he found in the archives while researching that book. If it really was Roe that radicalized the Christian right, then what the hell were all of those “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers and billboards about in the 1950s, 60s and 70s? (Isn’t that a nice touch with the stars and bars over there on the left? Very subtle.)
That’s right, friends: it was Brown v. Board of Education, not Roe:
This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.
Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.
But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.
Just go read this description of a job interview in a humanities program at a rich SLAC. The search Chair told our informant, Anonymous, that the young African American woman on the faculty had been denied tenure. Some flava:
Dr. Chair explained that the whole process had been very unpleasant and that the aforementioned white male colleagues had been “hurt” as a consequence. I said something innocuous in response like, “Oh well I suppose the tenure process is hard on everyone.” But Dr. Chair assured me that there had been problems for a while. “We just want this to be a nice place,” she said.
In addition to making her white male colleagues sad, Dr. Chair told me that the African-American woman who had been fired did not produce what she was expected to produce or teach what she was expected to teach. When I asked what those expectations were, Dr. Chair sighed and said something to the effect of, “She’s a black feminist, you know, and it’s just: not everything is about black feminism.” She said this to me matter-of-factly, as if it were a satisfactory answer to my question.
What am I missing?
David Leonhardt asks “Is College Worth It?,” and finds that the pay gap between college grads and people without college is at an all-time high. Fortunately, he sings one of my favorite songs here too:
[The] public discussion today — for which we in the news media deserve some responsibility — often focuses on the undeniable fact that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success. But of course it doesn’t. Nothing guarantees success, especially after 15 years of disappointing economic growth and rising inequality.
When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.
Longtime readers will recall my frustration with the “high cost of higher education” media conversation, mostly because I think it’s dominated by people who are choosing to pay for private, selective educations for their children, not by people who patronize our fine state colleges and universities, which have in fact kept the price of their educations artificially low by shifting a majority of their faculty from tenured or tenure-track positions to adjunct casual labor. Also, where’s the accountability for school performance by students in these conversations? Are students with 3.0 averages or higher suffering from unemployment at the same rate as students who didn’t work as hard in college? We don’t know, because no one ever holds alumni responsible for any part of their achievement (or lack thereof).
This article comes just a week after I submitted my final grades for the two classes I taught in the spring semester, an upper-level course aimed at History and other Liberal Arts majors, and a lower-level survey course. Continue reading
Via a retweet by Modupe Labode on Twitter, I found this fascinating essay by Manon Parry, who tells of her experience as a recent Ph.D. who had an informational interview with a staff member from the National Women’s History Museum in 2010:
While CEO Joan Wages may not think historians are integral to the project, the resulting online exhibitions, labelled “amateur, superficial, and inaccurate” by Michel, are certainly disappointing, mixing trite sentimentality (“Profiles in Motherhood”) with shallow celebration (“Daring Dames,” and “Young and Brave: Girls Changing History”). As the Huffington Post article noted, “there appears to be little rhyme or reason to who or what is featured on the museum’s website.” Yet despite the upbeat tone and narrow emphasis on great women and their accomplishments, the exhibitions are still too provocative for the right-wing opponents of women’s history. Since 2008, legislation to grant NWHM permission to build near the National Mall has stalled six times, blocked in Congress by Republican opponents acting on behalf of anti-abortion interests. Michele Bachmann’s charge that the museum will create an “ideological shrine to abortion” is just the latest in this repeated strategy. In 2010, Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), placed a hold on a bill two days after Concerned Women for America requested one, claiming that the museum would “focus on abortion rights.” In response, Wages reassured opponents that reproductive health will never be tackled in the museum. “We cannot afford, literally, to focus on issues that are divisive.”
I know first-hand that the content of the museum’s website owes more to the fears of a political backlash than to the results of decades of groundbreaking historical research.
I completed my PhD in 2010 with Sonya Michel as my dissertation advisor. Interested in employment opportunities at the NWHM, I arranged an informal phone conversation with a staff member at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, then involved as designers for the project. Although this contact acknowledged my relevant training and expertise, she bluntly stated that my research, on family planning media over the twentieth century, made me a liability, given the political sensitivity of the topic. Birth control may be legal in America today, but it is clearly not legitimate. I mention this personal anecdote as full disclosure, not to complain about what happened to me, but to highlight how bad things have become. This is the state of the public history of women in twenty-first century America. Simplified, politically sensitive, and censored.
I won’t be at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women this year, but I wanted to alert you to a few sessions in particular that focus on women’s history and public history, the National Women’s History Museum controversy, and finally, the winner of the first Peg Strobel travel grant competition.
First, Sonya Michel has informed me that she has posted a number of relevant responses to the breakdown between Joan Wages, President and CEO of the NWHM, and professional historians at the Coordinating Council for Women in History website.
Second, there are two events that will interest folks gathering in Toronto at the Berks that pertain to the NWHM fracas:
- Session 123: “Women’s History Meets Public History,” Saturday May 24, 8-10 a.m., University College 144
- Open Meeting re: Historians and the Women’s History Museum in Washington, DC, Sunday May 25, 9:30-11:30 a.m., University College 44 (lower level)
Third, congratulations to Tracey Hanshew, a Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University, who won the Peg Strobel Berkshire Conference Travel Grant! And you will not believe what she’s writing about, friends: cowgirls! Continue reading
Commenter Susan alerted me to a new English language journal which will likely be of interest to readers of this blog:
History of Women in the Americas (ISSN 2042-6348) is an open-access journal publishing cutting-edge scholarship on women’s and gender history in all parts of the Americas and between the Americas and other nations across all centuries. The journal provides a unique forum for interrogating women’s history from a hemispheric perspective that stretches from Canada and the United States to Latin America, Central America and Mexico to the Caribbean. History of Women in the Americas is a showcase for historians of North American, South American and Caribbean women from postgraduates and early career scholars to well-established academics. The journal places a spotlight on the significant contributions to the history of women in the Americas that researchers are continuing to make. At the same time, History of Women in the Americas aims to assist scholars by publishing book reviews on related areas and publicizing conferences and other similar items of interest.