All the best history is written from a reclining position.
Apparently, there are no desks in the standard rooms at the conference hotel used by the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, and many at the OAH see this as a pretty big deal.
I was first alerted to the curious absence of desks from the hotel rooms in a mysterious Tweet from Victoria Wolcott from the University of Buffalo, and then found that this is the major conference issue highlighted in a blog post by Rick Shenkman over at History News Network, which posted a photo of a room:
[T]here has been a problem.
Notice anything missing from this room?
It’s one of the rooms at the newly renovated Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis where OAH members are staying during the convention. It’s lovely but it’s missing a desk and chair! As someone on Twitter posted, that’s rough on historians who are used to working during a convention: typing up notes for a talk, emailing friends, reading the New York Times online. The hotel reportedly says that Millennials don’t want desks in their rooms. Welcome to the future!
I’m a typically disaffected Gen-Xer and no Millennial, but I have to ask: who uses a desk anymore, anyway? At the next major conference I attend, I think I’ll host a salon in my hotel room and invite historians up to loll around on the beds in my room (fully clothed and perfectly chaste, of course.) It could be the best unofficial session of the conference! Continue reading
Fall 2014 special issue
Rachel Hope Cleves has a detailed and interesting report on a panel she convened earlier this month at the Annual Meeting of the American HIstorical Association in New York City over at Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality. This panel was an outgrowth of a special issue of Early American History she edited for Fall 2014 on the subject of Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America.
Cleves describes each of the four panelists’ contributions, describing their work on flexibly-gendered or trans* people and describing the conversation among the panelists and the audience on the salience of gender binaries as well as the value of reading trans* identities into the more distant past of early America. I thought this exchange was particularly interesting on the question of viewing early America as a “golden age” of gender flexibility and trans* possibilities:
Questions from the floor followed, sparking productive disagreements. Questions from Kathryn Falvo, Maddie Williams, and Jesse Bayker, pushed [Sean] Trainor’s observation of the optimistic bent of the special issue. Trainor suggested that variations in the expression of masculinity in early America need not be treated as “assaults” but could be understood as tolerated iterations. [Greta] LaFleur stressed that her attention to the wide-range of non-binary gender expression in early America was not optimistic but intended as a corrective to the paucity of alternative stories. She announced herself willing to work in the speculative mode, not just the declarative. [Scott] Larson went further, insisting that he felt an ethical imperative to make bold claims for trans* history, and to escape the “land of caveats” in which academic history often operates.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a so-called “Founding Father” in possession of a good fortune must be in want of the twentieth biography written by a man in this century!
Why do I say this? I was alerted to this interesting fact sheet via Marla Miller on Twitter yesterday. Go ahead and click it–I’ll wait. Continue reading
Crowds of peasants amble through Sleeping Beauty’s castle
A reader writes:
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
but 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
Writing a book by day at an august institution like The Huntington, and re-reading Lucky Jim (1954) by night, it’s hard to be seduced by self-importance. Here, our lucky Jim Dixon considers the article he’s desperately trying to get published in the hopes of being renewed as a lecturer at a red-brick university:
It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool. “Let’s see,'” he echoed Welch in a pretended effort of memory: “oh yes; The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.“
There’s another great line in which his fellow-boarder at his rooming house asks him what got him interested in medieval history in the first place, and Dixon responds to the effect of, “I’m not interested in this. I hate it! Don’t we all do what we hate?” But I don’t have my copy of the book with me now, and I couldn’t find the quotation on the internets. Continue reading
John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article. (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.) Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me. He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there. However, he got stalled. Really stalled.
If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.
He went to work for In These Times until 1979. Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue reading