Everything changes, part II

Today’s post is part II of a meditation on skin and ink inspired by Flavia’s recent adventures in body art.  Part I is here.

Last week, the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson, gave a small group of readers a tour of some of the literary manuscripts from the collections that reveal the different ways in which writers wrote–some revised as they wrote in longhand or on a typewriter (Jack London and Charles Bukowski), others clearly didn’t save their drafts as their work was printed in clear, neat, meticulously spaced tiny letters on the page (Wallace Stevens).  That was fascinating–it made me long to see the famous Mark Twain papers collected here.

More fascinating for the historians among us–or at least for me–was the conversation we got into about preservation issues.  Hodson pointed out that the most durable and long-lasting materials for literary and historical texts are some of the oldest technologies like vellum and other parchment, whereas the newer technologies and media for storing information were some of the least stable and most ephemeral.  In general, she said, the further you progress in time, the less stable the archival materials become.  So, seventeenth and eighteenth-century paper made with rags is a much more stable information storage medium than cheap nineteenth-century paper made from wood pulp, and that wood-pulp paper is more durable than a great deal of later twentieth-century media. Continue reading

Thoughts after six months in L.A.

View looking towards Malibu from the top of the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier, February 16, 2015

View looking towards Malibu from the top of the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier, February 16, 2015

I’ve been resisting writing a post like this, knowing that much of the eastern U.S. has been repeatedly hammered with snowstorms this winter.  So if you’re housebound and don’t want to hear about L.A., then click away because SPOILER ALERT it’s been really, really nice here this winter.  We spent President’s Day at the Santa Monica Pier.  NOTE to all of our family from Massachusetts and Wisconsin who are visiting us in the spring instead:  Why???  Why aren’t you here NOW?  Only you can answer that question. Continue reading

A Letter About a Good Management under the Distemper of the MEASLES, at this time Spreading in the Country

Mather1713measles

Because there are so many people here in California who are as hostile to vaccinating their children as many of Cotton Mather’s neighbors in Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century were hostile to inoculation, I thought I’d do a little research on three-hundred year old measles medical management.  There was no such thing as a vaccination or inoculation for measles then, so let’s see what Mather’s 1713 advice on nursing a patient through measles looks like.  (You can click on the link to see the full PDF of his pamphlet–it’s only four pages long.)

Mather offers loads of natural remedies for the symptoms of measles.  Above all, he is against the “pernicious Method of Over-doing and Over-heating, and giving things to force Nature out of its own orderly way of proceeding.  Before we go any further, let this Advice for the Sick, be principally attended to; Don’t kill ’em!  That is to say, with mischevous Kindness.  Indeed, if we stopt here and said no more, this were enough to save more Lives, than our Wars have destroy’d,” 1.   Continue reading

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

A Very Special Christmas

sandiegoxmas

Christmas trees on the beach are A Thing here.

Because it’s 65 degrees and sunny I refuse to admit that Christmas is one week away.  The stress of the holidays just does not exist for me this year.  (This is also probably due to the fact that I’m not working my usual day job, and the fact that my book is off to the editor now, so this is a Very Special Christmas for me!)  For the past six weeks, I’ve been walking around Pasadena and San Marino thinking, “isn’t that cute?  They think it’s Christmas!”   Continue reading

Christmas crowds: they must be good for something, right?

sleepingbeautyxmas

Crowds of peasants amble through Sleeping Beauty’s castle

A reader writes:

Dear Historiann,

For a Christmas gift exchange, I’m buying a present for someone I don’t know very well . When I asked someone who knew her much better what would work, I was told, books, and history – “not too academic, but not dumbed down”. She’s read a lot about the (American) Civil War, and history generally. So I would like to crowdsource my Christmas shopping to your readers. What recent books would you put in the category of not dumbed down, but not too academic, interesting to a curious informed reader?

Well, friends:  what do you think?  I assigned Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering:  Death and the American Civil War (2008) to a senior seminar a few years ago, and it went over really well.  I found the book fascinating and *I* could see the interventions she made in the historiography, but I don’t think they would distract a non-academic reader.

(Whether or not one would want to give a book about death for Christmas–well, that’s another question, isn’t it?  Maybe I should brace myself for a follow-up Dear Historiann letter, in which a reader wonders why a Secret Satan Santa gave her a book about death and what it might mean about their relationship.)   Continue reading

When what to my wondering ears did appear. . .

nicholassyrettbut my BFF (and this year, my housesitter), Nick Syrett, who was interviewed on Morning Edition by Renee Montagne on college fraternities sexual assault over the  longue durée.  That guy gets more free media for his book, The Company He Keeps:  A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009) than any university press author I know.  UNC Press must love him.  I was impressed by how scholarly the interview itself was–you can see a transcript here, or listen to the interview yourself.

I don’t think it’s just the commenters at the NPR website, but what is it with the need for members of the general public to tell scholars that their research is either unnecessary or irrelevant?  (I’ll leave aside the commenters who resent “the PC odor around this collective guilt-mongering.”  That’s sadly predictable!)  The majority of the commenters today at NPR (so far!) are appreciative of story and seem to agree with Nick that the connections between fraternities and sexual violence is both longstanding and robust, but then someone like Theresa Younis writes, “Research?  Everybody knows that.”  (Eyeroll implied?) Continue reading