Historiann: The New York Times Book Review Interview

cowgirl3a

Giddyup!

Today’s post is was inspired by the interview with James McPherson in the New York Times book review last weekend.  I reviewed that interview in yesterday’s post.  Today, I’ve interviewed myself, and I encourage you to interview yourself too, either in the comments below, on your own blog, and/or on Twitter.  (Be sure to tag me @Historiann and #historiannchallenge.)

What books are currently on your night stand?

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, and some travel guides for southern California.

What was the last truly great book you read?

If you mean a work of history, I’d say Foul Bodies:  Cleanliness in Early America by Kathleen Brown. That’s a book that makes a powerful argument about status and cleanliness, and how women became responsible for both of these things in their families and in the wider world. It’s a book that has tremendous implications about the ways in which body care became intensely gendered over the longue durée, which is something I think about whenever I see a housekeeper, a janitor, an employee of a nursing home or rehab facility, or a home health aide.

Who are the best historians writing today?

In no particular order: Lynn Hunt, Jill Lepore, Annette Gordon-Reed, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Judith Bennett. I could go on, but just reading those authors will keep anyone busy for a few years.

What’s the best book ever written about American history?

That’s a ridiculous question. What the hell is a “best book ever?” What do you think I’m going to say–France and England in North America by Francis Parkman?  Best book in the last century? Best book since 1776? Doesn’t the answer vary according to the fashion of the times and our own tastes? History is constantly being revised and updated by each succeeding generation of historians, so no book can ever be a “best book ever” for more than a few years. Continue reading

The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485

Writing a book by day at an august institution like The Huntington, and re-reading Lucky Jim (1954) by night, it’s hard to be seduced by self-importance.  Here, our lucky Jim Dixon considers the article he’s desperately trying to get published in the hopes of being renewed as a lecturer at a red-brick university:

It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.  “Let’s see,'” he echoed Welch in a pretended effort of memory: “oh yes; The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.

There’s another great line in which his fellow-boarder at his rooming house asks him what got him interested in medieval history in the first place, and Dixon responds to the effect of, “I’m not interested in this.  I hate it!  Don’t we all do what we hate?”  But I don’t have my copy of the book with me now, and I couldn’t find the quotation on the internets.   Continue reading

What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here): Continue reading

Are you in a Jane Austen novel?

 

Keep Austen Weird!

Keep Austen Weird!

Hilarious post by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast, via a link provided in this thread by Dr. Crazy. Well, are you? Here’s how you will know:

Someone disagreeable is trying to persuade you to take a trip to Bath.

Your father is absolutely terrible with money. No one has ever told him this.

All of your dresses look like nightgowns.

.       .       .       .       .       .

You have five hundred a year. From who? Five hundred what? No one knows. No one cares. You have it. It’s yours. Every year. All five hundred of it.

.       .       .       .       .       .

A woman who is not your mother treats you like her own daughter. Your actual mother is dead or ridiculous.

You develop a resentment at a public dance.

Some of that sounds pretty good:  the five hundred a year, and the dresses like nighties, natch.  What’s not to love? Continue reading

Feminist lives: Stephanie M. H. Camp, Maya Angelou, and Sandra Bem

Last week, Kate Raphael of Pacifica’s Women’s Magazine (KFPA 94.1) contacted me to see if I would let her interview me about Stephanie Camp and the importance of her scholarship.  Kate put together a series of commemorations of the lives of feminist women who have died recently–Maya Angelou, Sandra Bem, and Stephanie.  The show also features a lengthy interview with Stacy Russo, who edited Life as Activism: June Jordan’s essays in the Progressive.  Russo shares her memory of Jordan as a teacher as well as reviews the importance of her work.

You can hear the results here.  Women’s Magazine’s blog is here.  I hope you’re enjoying June.

“Marginalized, sexualized, and pitted against each other since time began”

Rebecca Traister, who wrote Big Girls Don’t Cry, the single best book about the 2008 Democratic primary contest, has written about Monica Lewinsky’s essay in Vanity Fair, and has supersmart things to say about our tendency to cherchez les femmes instead of placing the blame for men’s poor behavior where it belongs–on the men.  Instead of antagonists, she writes, Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton are doppelgangers:

In the fervid investigation and coverage of it, both women got hammered—as slutty and frigid, overweight and ugly, dumb and monstrous. They each became cartoons of dismissible femininity—the sexually defined naïf and the calculating, sexless aggressor, characters who illustrated the ways that sex—sex that’s had by men as well—always redounds negatively on women. These two women weren’t at odds; they were in it together.

.       .       .       .       .

The reason that, no matter what they do, neither woman can ever shake this old story is that it is never-ending; and it is important. It is the story of women in the United States: marginalized, sexualized, and pitted against each other since time began in an attempt to keep them at the fringes of a power structure and very far from the top of it.

Go read the whole thing.  (Why isn’t this woman a staff writer at a legacy magazine like The New Republic, The Nation, or The New Yorker?  I sure as $hit would rather read her than Adam “let me sell tell you about my adorably precocious children” Gopnik, or some of the other very predictable writers at those publications.)  Continue reading

Josephine Baker’s postwar/Cold War “rainbow tribe”

The book that kept Matthew Pratt Guterl indoors all last summer was published last month by Harvard University’s Belknap Press.  Rebecca Onion gives it a nice rundown here at Slate:

Baker was born in St. Louis but moved to France in 1925. Her danse sauvage, famously performed in a banana skirt, brought her international fame. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and gathered intelligence for the French Resistance. After the war, married to her fourth husband, Jo Bouillon, she struggled to conceive a child. Meanwhile, her career waned. Guterl’s book is about this period of Baker’s life, as she built her large adopted family, became ever more active on behalf of the nascent civil rights movement in the United States, and re-emerged into fame.

Baker purchased her estate, known as Les Milandes, after marrying Bouillon in 1947. In addition to the chateau, the property boasted a motel, a bakery, cafés, a jazz club, a miniature golf course, and a wax museum telling the story of Baker’s life. As Guterl makes clear, the place was over-the-top, but its ostentation was a political statement. Les Milandes, with its fairy-tale setting, announced to the world that African-American girls born poor could transcend nation and race and find wealth and happiness.

Guterl makes it sound like Baker’s family was kind of a multicultural Trapp Family Singers or a Partridge Family, crossed with the Dionne QuintupletsContinue reading