Where’d ya go, Chip Hilton? Our historical imagination turns its lonely eyes to you.

chiphiltonMy sabbatical is mellowing me out and I’m definitely enjoying the relaxed, non-wired vibe at the Huntington.  The Huntington is wired, but what I mean by un-wired is that people here appear to be living their professional and personal lives in meatspace, face-to-face, rather than online.  They’re reading historical manuscripts and valuable rare books, they’re having coffee with each other, they’re meeting for lunch in the garden cafe.  In other words, not everyone in the world is on Twitter or blogs or Instagram all of the time!  It’s like it’s the War of 1812 or something:  before telegraphy even.

So, inevitably, I’m going to miss a lot of what’s happening now.  (I do believe my knowledge of both British and North American history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will be nonpareil in Colorado upon my return, however.)  Clearly, I missed a fascinating little interview with James McPherson of Princeton University in the New York Timeswhich is purely coincidental to the publication of his new biography of Jefferson Davis, I am sure.  McPherson is probably the most famous American military historian, and among the most famous historians of the Civil War era.

Some friends of mine alerted me to this interview, because something about it just didn’t seem right.  Let me quote an extensive passage from it now:

What books are currently on your night stand?

Ron Chernow, “Washington: A Life,” and Daniel James Brown, “The Boys in the Boat.” In very different ways, these books chronicle unlikely triumphs over seemingly insuperable odds to found a nation from 1775 to 1797 and to win an Olympic gold medal in 1936.

What was the last truly great book you read?

James Oakes, “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865.” A powerful analytical narrative of the confluence of politics and war that ended America’s shame and trauma.

Who are the best historians writing today?

Bernard Bailyn, David Brion Davis, Gordon Wood, Eric Foner, David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer. In elegant prose, based on impeccable research, they have covered the broad sweep of American history from the early colonial settlements through Harry Truman’s administration.

What’s the best book ever written about the Civil War?

The best book is actually an eight-volume series published from 1947 to 1971, by Allan Nevins: “Ordeal of the Union,” “The Emergence of Lincoln” and “The War for the Union.” It is all there — the political, economic, social, diplomatic and military history of the causes, course and consequences of the war, written in the magisterial style for which Nevins was famous.

Do you have a favorite biography of a Civil War-era figure?

Jean Edward Smith, “Grant.” A lucid and empathetic account of the victorious general and underrated president that helped usher in the current revival of Grant’s reputation.

Continue reading

RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

cowgirlhayoopsFrom the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:

A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness.  While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues.  Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling.  And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.

It’s true.  I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history:  Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’  Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT:  I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor:  Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution.  That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense.  Skemp continues: Continue reading

Call the whaaaaaaaaaambulance!

OMFG.  This is a completely incoherent critique of Orange is the New Black because–get this!–the show which is about a women’s prison doesn’t portray male prisoners realistically or accurate to their numbers in U.S. prisons.  See if you can make more sense of it than I can.

Hey, Concern Troll:  where was your column about the mis- or under- or stereotypical representations of women on just about every other television program or movie ever made?  Did you have this concern about Oz, or Silicon Valley, or The Bachelor?  I guess I missed that.  All I can see is that you’re complaining that you can’t see a man like you on the one semi-high profile program on TV that features women’s stories (and not just white women’s stories!) 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.

Women’s History & Public History: NWHM update, Berks alert, and the Peg Strobel Travel Grant winner

cowgirlrarintogoI 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)

cowgirl3Third, 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

Junot Diaz on MFA vs. POC

Junot Diaz, an alum of the Cornell University MFA program, on MFA vs. POC:  “Lately I’ve been reading about MFA vs NYC. But for many of us it’s MFA vs POC.”  He continues,

I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here.

So what was the problem?

Oh just the standard problem of MFA programs.

That shit was too white.


Some of you understand completely. And some of you ask: Too white … how?

Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.

.       .       .       .       .

In my workshop what was defended was not the writing of people of color but the right of the white writer to write about people of color without considering the critiques of people of color.

Oh, yes: too white indeed. I could write pages on the unbearable too-whiteness of my workshop—I could write folio, octavo and duodecimo on its terrible whiteness—but you get the idea.

Continue reading