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

Working in a winter wonderland

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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

Look for the silver lining. . .

elvgrenvoteShelley from Rain:  A Dust Bowl Story reminds us to vote today, “no matter how hopeless it may seem.” I don’t share her pessimism, but that’s probably because nothing in the world can harsh my buzz this year. I’m on sabbatical! At the Huntington Library!  Getting work done!  And the election won’t change that one way or the other.

Remember somewhere [like, say California, or Colorado] the sun is shining, and so the right thing to do is let it shine for you! Continue reading

Aye!

scotsflagAre any of you following the Scottish independence referendum?  It’s a surprisingly big deal around the Huntington, which being a kind of monument to the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain in terms of its art, manuscript, and bibliographic collections, is loaded with British people and British scholars, always.  Opinions here vary as to how it will go, and how it should go.  I expect that the results will be some time in coming–it’s early evening in Britain now, but the polls don’t close until 10 p.m. there, so even with an immediate overnight count we may not know until late tonight or early tomorrow morning Pacific Daylight Time.

I was agnostic on the question, being neither Scots nor British nor a British studies scholar, until I saw that Niall Ferguson has been urging a “nae” vote.  Today, he claims that “Alone, Scotland Will Be a Failed State.”  Right.  Just like Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia!  Failed states, all of them, even the U.S. with its tragic adoption of Euro-style socialised medicine and Afro-style Kenyan anticolonial presidents.  Wait–did you see that?  Even the spelling around here is getting socialised–I mean, socialized!  Good God.  But knowing where Ferguson stands is really clarifying:  as a reflexively Tory doomsayer he’s so spectacularly wrong about everything all of the time, it made it easy to root for an “aye!”   Continue reading

It’s so easy to be a 46 year-old old runner near sea level

After 13 years living at 4,659 feet, I’ve forgotten how easy it is to be a runner at sea level! Wow. You old-timers like me who live below 1,000 feet elevation have NO EXCUSES. Working out here feels like nothing, even though I left behind the High Plains Desert three weeks ago.

This used to be my birthday run, at nearly 12,000 feet. Now this is my run at about 920 feet above sea level: 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