Back to college, back to class

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Having a residential fellowship is a lot like going to college, in that you’re surrounded by all of these very interesting and accomplished people and you’re wondering why they admitted a scrub like you.  (At least, that was my experience of college.  Maybe you were the impressive person who wondered “who let all the scrubs in?”)

Maybe it’s because of its Anglophilic roots, but at the Huntington, there are several class divisions among the fellows.  (How do we know the are class distinctions?  Because nobody talks about them!  I guess to that extent the Huntington is also very American.)  The major distinction is between the long-term fellows, who are invited to spend the entire academic year, and the short-term fellows who have funding from one to six months usually.  (And then there are the people who have no fellowships but who show up to work here anyway!  They are some of the most interesting and accomplished of us all.) Continue reading

Working in a winter wonderland

quebecwinter

Baby, it’s cold outside!

It’s hard work being on sabbatical, believe it or not. Having the privilege of a Huntington Library long-term fellowship comes with strings attached–it’s not all strolling in the gardens, gazing at marvelous paintings, and thinking deep thoughts all day long.  I’ve spent a lot of this week imagining the winter of 1759-60 in Québec and trying to write about it.  (Those poor Highlanders, in their kilts–or “philibegs” as once source calls them!  Just imagine.)  Those of you who are suffering from the Polar Vortex in most of North America this week can probably do a lot better than I can at this point.  (Although it’s been cool and overcast here too–highs only in the 60s!)

Back to the hard work of sabbatical:  the number of seminars, lectures, conferences, and happy hours (both formal and informal) could be nearly a full-time job if I let them.  In the past week alone, I’ve learned what a “philibeg” is, and about medieval zombies and other life-after-death beliefs, heard a lecture on the Sand Creek Massacre (whose 150th anniversary is on November 29 this year), read a paper on seeing early nineteenth-century mathemeticians as cyborgs, and just today learned that “mercantilism” is pronounced merCANtilism, not MERcantilism, as I had always thought.  (Who knew?  I avoid talking about merCANtilism as much as I possibly can.) 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.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house/widget/video.html
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#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

cowgirlrarintogohalfsize

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