History versus literature: a ceasefire at last?

bookgunDoes it seem to you that in the past few years, we’ve reached a kind of rapprochement among historians and literary scholars?

The last time I had a long-term fellowship–which I’m embarrassed to admit was I was fifteen years ago already!–it seemed to me that there was a great deal of hostility between historians and literature scholars.  This was at the Newberry Library in the winter and spring of 1999, and I recall a number of not-very-helpful comments from literature people to historians along the lines of “you can’t say this!!!”  Similarly, there were rude interjections from historians, who would inform a literature scholar that “you can’t do that!!!”

I remember being lectured by an only-slightly-senior colleague in an English department about my reading of captivity narratives, and when I complained about what I heard as pretty unhelpful advice to another literary scholar, I was informed that I was “just being defensive.”  (And maybe I was.  But why was that?  Was it because I was being talked to like I wasn’t an expert in my own field and I hadn’t won a long-term fellowship on my merits?  Ya think???)  I remember the frustration of a literary scholar who was writing a book about representations and historical experiences of a particular subject in both colonial America and the modern (20th century) U.S., and was skipping the entire nineteenth century who was informed by historians at the Newberry Library a few years later that “you can’t do that.”

Clearly, the historians were disturbed by the implications of her argument for their sacred cow, Change Over Time, but as a literary scholar she doesn’t need to worry about that, just as I as a historian didn’t have to write my book like a literature scholar would. Continue reading

Tomorrowland is today! On fresh starts, feminist protest, and the citizens of Greater Shut-upistan


It looks like I completely failed to blog a single word last week.  Once this blog starts to feel like another job, I’ll pull the plug, so in the meantime I’ll enjoy my off-line life when I will!  I hope you’re all having lovely winter breaks/holiday seasons/time away from the classroom/unstressful time with family and friends.

Two weeks ago, I sent my book off to begin its long and winding journey to eventual publication.  So now what do I do with the rest of my sabbatical?  I’ve got some fun ideas that I want to explore that have to do with women’s bodies, material culture, fashion, and citizenship in the Early U.S. Republic, and there are more sources at the Huntington Library than I can probably process in the next five and a half months.  But I can dream, can’t I?

While it may seem perverse, I hope that I don’t see any readers’ reports for at least a few months, because then I won’t feel obligated to respond to them and make a plan with an editor.  I want some time to dream and play, and to think about the second half of my scholarly career.  Tempus Fugit, my friends.  I’ve now written two books that several people told me I couldn’t write, shouldn’t write, and/or was stupid to write because everybody already knows that, nobody cares, and I should just stop talking about my ideas. Continue reading

Just kill the convention interview already. NOW.

Bomb-throwing from my sabbatical!

Bomb-throwing from my sabbatical!

My department plans to conduct first-round interviews at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in January for the open position in my department.

I would like to apologize for this waste of everyone’s money and time, but most of all, I must apologize to the most junior, poorest, and most vulnerable members of our profession, who will feel compelled to spend money they may not have in order to book a flight to New York City, a hotel room, and pay for their own meals in the hopes that they can advance their candidacy to an Assistant Professorship. Because of course the people who most need jobs don’t have travel budgets or expense accounts!  (Not that ours is that generous, to be perfectly honest.)

I have made these points repeatedly in department meetings, and have only succeeded in killing the convention of AHA convention interviews when I’m on the search committee. For some reason, some of my colleagues believe without evidence or reason in the superiority of the annual trek into the basement of various hotels in icy, snowy northern North American cities in January, when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’m on sabbatical and out of state this year so I can’t jump up and down and scream about this at Baa Ram U., but you can bet that I will after I climb out of this palm tree, starting next fall and every year after that anyone tries to fly a search committee to Chicago, New York, or Boston again.

I never liked the call to muster for an interview back in the day when I was unemployed, but it was a different world in the late 1990s, when gas was $0.89 a gallon and tickets to Chicago-Midway could be had for $99.  Round trip!  And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never liked conducting job interviews in “the pit” as a member of a search committee.  We are at the point now both in terms of the technology for videoconferences or Skype calls, and in terms of the precarity of the academic humanities, that senior scholars like myself must take a stand against this abusive system.  Continue reading

Thursday round-up: the death becomes us edition


Scary stuff!

Friends, it’s a never-ending round of seminars, walks through the garden, curator-led tours of both the Huntington and the Getty Museums, and lunch and dinner invitations that I have barely a moment to myself on this “sabbatical!”  My apologies for the light posting these days, but sometimes a scholar just has to sit down once in a while and write something for peer-reviewed publications.

Here are a few interesting things I’ve found while haunting the interwebs over the past week:

  • Should we bring back formal mourning clothes? This review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” by Hillary Kelly is nostalgic for the value of public mourning.  Maybe this is on my mind, because I’m of the age now that my peers are coping with the deaths of their parents.  I had a colleague whose father died a few years ago, and when I invited him out for dinner following a seminar  several months later, I was a little surprised that he said, “no thanks, I’m just not up to socializing yet.”  Of course it made perfect sense–but it struck me at the time that we make grief so invisible and so unknowable to others in modern U.S. culture.  Recent widows and widowers complain that after a month or two, even close friends sometimes express exasperation with their grief!  We expect people to “get over it” so we aren’t threatened by the memory of our own losses, or by fears of our impending losses. 
  • There’s a new book coming out with Yale University Press next year which I’m dying to read:  Fashion Victims:  Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.  (Isn’t that a great title?  Who wouldn’t want to read that book?)  She was the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Fellow in French Art at the Huntington from 2003 to 2007, and is an independent scholar.
  • Speaking of mourning, what about graves, and specifically, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act?  There’s an open position in the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts for a Repatriation Coordinator.  Public historians or anyone else with NAGPRA knowledge and experience should apply.  This position does not require a Ph.D., but rather just an M.A. in Anthropology, Native/Indigenous Studies/Museum Studies or related fields.  This is a three-year lectureship.
  • The bane of my existence is now the elaborate software systems through which we must all submit journal articles and letters of recommendation.  Do I really need a unique I.D. and secure password for every.  Freakin’.  system?  (If someone wants to write an article, revise it, and get it published under my name, I’d be happy to take credit for it!)  Also:  it seems unfair to ask an author to revise and resubmit an article, but still hold her to the first-round 10,000 word limit.  Just sayin’.  Now I’m off to eliminate 388 words from my polished, jewel-like, prose.
  • Well, not yet.  I forgot to say that tomorrow night is Halloween.  Tips for candy thieves:  only eat the candy out of your kids’ buckets until they can reliably count, or you’ll get busted.

Continue reading

Free joke of the day

Hi-larious Benjamin Hart mansplains why mansplaining must be retired as a word in the English language. Apparently, some people misunderstand or misuse the term, so none of us can use it ever again. The evidence he furnishes for these crimes against language are the eminent, peer-reviewed scholars known as “some random a-holes on Twitter.”

If only this were true of other words people misuse all of the time! Like, for example, “irony.” Or my pet peeve, the nearly universal misuse of “flaunt” when “flout” is usually the appropriate word. Or people who say “based off” rather than “based on,” because they misunderstand the function of a base. You can think of others, I am sure. Yet I hear no choruses for striking irony, flaunt, flout, or off. Continue reading

“Christmas won’t be Christmas if there isn’t any Orchard House,” grumbled Historiann: forget the sausages–send cabbage now!

ANOTHER ANOTHER UPDATE, Wednesday October 22, 2014: YAY! They–and you–did it; the goal was met yesterday afternoon, and the project has collected another $5,670 on top of the goal of $150,000 as of 9:47 a.m. PDT. So, the movie will be funded!

ANOTHER UPDATE, Tuesday October 21, 2014: Friends, with 35 hours to go we still need $3,801 to make the movie, or they get zero, zilch, nada bucks. Make it happen by the end of the day today!

UPDATE, Monday October 20, 2014: With just 54 hours to go, the Orchard House movie needs only $6,057!!! Yes, that’s just over six thousand bucks. Can you help make it happen? Friends, I’m going to have to throw away all of my pickled limes if this effort falls short after getting so close.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is raising funds via Kickstarter to make a movie documenting the history of the house itself, because “many who wish to experience Orchard House may never be able to visit in person, and there are millions more that do not realize the house exists.”  For more than a century, Orchard House has been preserved with little more than spit, Kleenex, and volunteer labor.  They’re trying to make a documentary film about the house itself and the story of its preservation as a means to publicize its needs and gain more support, but at this point–4 days short of their October 22 goal–they’re still nearly $30,000 shy of their $150,000 goal.

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Randomly generated spam comment, or Camille Paglia?


Random spam generator?

Random spam generator?

It’s increasingly difficult to tell them apart:

Sex crime springs from fantasy, hallucination, delusion, and obsession. A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.

Continue reading