#Historiannchallenge update, with loads of linky goodness!

cowgirlgunsign1Thanks to everyone who has returned once more to the barricades to respond to the #Historiannchallenge, both on your own blogs, on Twitter, and in the comments to the previous post.  To recap:  the weekend before last, the New York Times published an interview with eminent Civil War historian James McPherson about his lists of “bests” and “favorites,” which struck me and many other historians as rather limited in its vision of current scholarship by American historians.  I picked up the other end of the rope and published my own interview of myself listing my own “bests” and “favorites,” which was deliberately aimed to broaden our understanding of what history is, what it does, and who writes it, and issued the #Historiannchallenge on Twitter to invite other bloggers to make their own contributions.

I had a whirlwind of a trip to Boston and back for family matters last weekend, and am finally back at my desk this morning (Pacific Daylight morning, anyway!)  I thought I’d commemorate all of the contributions on blogs and Twitter to the #Historiannchallenge by pulling together all of your Tweets and links–I’ve tried to acknowledge each one as they were posted, and I also tried to leave comments on your own self-interviews on your blogs, but please let me know if I’ve inadvertently missed anyone’s contributions by dropping a link in the comments below, and I will update this post to make it the official historical record. Continue reading

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

That didn’t turn out the way I thought it would: on the power of walking away

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These boots were made for walking, dig?

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that I was just talking with friends in person and over email about the job market this year, but you know what they say:  when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, right?  So just now I read Scott Rasmussen’s article called “The Ability to Walk Away is the Key to Empowerment:”

Politicians like to talk about empowering the middle class or other segments of the voting population, but they’re typically a little fuzzy on what empowerment really means. That makes sense when you consider that elections are essentially about politicians asking to get power rather than share it.

The truth is that we all have more power as consumers, volunteers, supporters and members than we do as voters. That’s because the key to empowerment is the ability to walk away.

Right on! Rock and roll!  Any specific examples come to mind?

That’s a lesson learned over the past half century by Major League Baseball. Up until the 1960s, baseball players were restricted by something known as the “reserve clause.” It was a contract provision that restricted a player to one team for life.

In those days, the minimum pay for a ballplayer was $6,000 a year. The average salary was under $20,000 a year.

Then, in the 1970s, a Supreme Court ruling gave players the chance to become free agents when their contract expired.

Today, the minimum salary is $490,000 a year with an average pay topping $3.2 million.

That change, from an average salary of under $20,000 a year to over $3.2 million, didn’t come about because the owners suddenly became generous and decided to share more revenue with the players. It came about because players won the right to walk away and force the owners to compete for their services.

Continue reading

Stop telling Notorious R.B.G. to step away from the bench.

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The one & only Notorious R.B.G.

This Sunday morning, I snapped open my copy of the Los Angeles Times to see yet another “everyone says [U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg should retire ZOMG now now NOW!!!!” story. (The online version of the story’s headline today says “she has no plans to retire soon,” but the headline of the paper edition gave voice to her critics who are trying to shoo her off the bench.)  If she retired today or in December, do any of these so-called liberals or leftists seriously think President Obama would get any judge remotely similar to her through the U.S. Senate’s “advise and consent” process?

Here’s what R.B.G. has to say about that:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

In the unedited interview transcript, she said “But now I can, motherf^(kers, so step off.Continue reading

A clean, well-lighted place

HuntingtonofficeFriends, I’ve never truly appreciated the wisdom of Ernest Hemingway until this week, after having moved into my own clean, well-lighted office at the Huntington Library.  My office at Baa Ram U. serves mostly as a place to meet students and colleagues, and to shovel out my email in-box–I don’t write there.  Ever.  I did most of the writing and revisions on my first book while reclining on the couch in my office, and wondered if I’d be able to work sitting up at a desk like a fully-functional adult.

But from day 1 here, I’ve been writing!  My book!  And contemplating revisions on an article, too!  I’ve learned that I’ve overlooked too long this marvelous technology one calls a “desk.”  My desk at home is too frequently covered in stuff I’ve been meaning to file or put away, and the cat likes to nap on the desk chair when she’s not sitting on the desk looking out the window at the squirrels and bunnies frolicking under the horse chestnut tree, so I use it as a combination unfile-cabinet and cat bed/lookout perch.  I know:  what a waste of a nice old desk. Continue reading

California, here I come–eventually.

CaliforniahereicomeWell, friends, the day I’ve been looking forward to for more than six months has finally arrived:  the wagon is packed and ready to roll on out to San Marino, California, where I am the Dana and David Dornsife Fellow at the Huntington Library for 2014-15.  But first, la famille Historiann is taking a little adventure holiday rafting trip in the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.   But unlike Evel Knievel, we’re traveling in the river, not over the canyon. Continue reading