“Something broke, and it seemed irreparable.”

Kelly J. Baker has a thoughtful and interesting report on her blog about why she’s decided to take a break from academia for the year, and perhaps forever:

In May, I quit my job and moved to Florida. Both decisions might seem big (they were), but they were remarkably easy. My lecturer gig paid little, the teaching load was heavy, and my department was dysfunctional. Leaving behind students, friends, and colleagues was hard. Watching my daughter mourn the loss of her friends was harder.

.       .       .       .       .       .

After six years on the job market, I found myself burned out. I’ve had conference interviews and campus visits. I’ve been a second choice for tenure track jobs multiple times. I applied for jobs while teaching three and four classes a semester. And I finished my first book, wrote articles and book reviews, received a contract for a new book, edited a journal, organized panels, and experimented with an ebook. The harder I worked, I thought naively, the more likely I was to get a job. Optimism is hard habit to kick.

During this past spring semester, something broke. My tireless drive to research and write dissipated. The latest round of rejections hit harder than previous rounds, and I was tired. Why make myself get up extra early to write if there was no tenure track job for me? Why spend the time researching when I would rather spend time with my daughter? Why kill myself for a job opportunity that would never materialize? I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled.Something broke, and it seemed irreparable. Continue reading

A CALAMITOUS DAY unto me!

Illustration from Little Robin Red Breast, A Collection of Pretty Songs (Worcester, 1786), p. 42.

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on an essay on age in American history, and one of the editors asked me what seemed like a completely reasonable question, viz., “did everyone in early America know their birthdays and their exact ages?”  I had to confess that I didn’t even know if birthdays were common knowledge among Anglo-Americans, let alone Native Americans, enslaved Africans or African Americans, or French colonists. I figure that the iced layer-cake with candles on it appeared in the later nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, but I had no clue about colonial North American birthday awareness or celebrations thereof.

A little research on birthdays (or “birth-days,” as it’s more usually spelled in eighteenth-century English-language printed material) suggests that around the turn of the eighteenth century if not earlier, the annual acknowledgement of Anglo-American birthdays appears to have been commonplace.  Thomas Foxcroft wrote in  The day of a godly man’s death, better than the day of his birth (Boston, 1722) that “The anniversary celebration of birth-days is an ancient custom,” 31.  Unfortunately, Foxcroft didn’t leave it at that: Continue reading

Looking for sexism in the coverage of women candidates for office? Try a mirror.

Editor and Publisher of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel writes that the U.S. needs more women in elective office:

Will shattering the Oval Office’s glass ceiling and electing a madam president be an inspiring achievement for this country? Of course. Do we also need madam mayors, madam senators, madam councilwomen, madam sheriffs, madam governors and madam congresswomen all across the nation? You betcha.

.       .       .       .       .       .

Unfortunately, women running for elected office confront greater barriers than their male counterparts. Their appearance, qualifications — even psychology — are subjected to intense, often crass, scrutiny.

You don’t say!  Have you glanced at the archives of The Nation from 2007-08 lately?  No?  Need a refresher?  Look here.  And here.  And here, where notorious d!ckbag Tom Hayden calls Hillary Clinton a “screech on the blackboard. From First Lady to Lady Macbeth,” and in a very manly rhetorical maneuver, blames his Clinton Derangement Syndrome on his wife’s influence.  (She “is inspired by Barack Obama’s transformational appeal,” he wrote.)  Clinton didn’t run a primary campaign.  No.  Hayden claims that it was a “path of destruction.”

Who was the editor who published that sack of $hit?  Hmm? Continue reading

David McCullough beats the dead like they owe him money.

I don’t know why I find this Onion article so funny and yet feel so awkward laughing at it at the same time (h/t anonymous, who put this link in my comments yesterday.)  Historians and other humanists:  how do you feel about it, and why?

I think it has something to do with shame about exploiting the dead, plus slavery, neither of which is very funny.  (But of course, my opportunities for exploitation are much more limited than McCullough’s.)

This, on the other hand, is just shamelessly funny. Continue reading

Phantom plagiarists, academic boogeymen, and open access fears that go bump in the night

Some of you may have read about the recent call from the American Historical Association to Ph.D.-granting universities to permit their recently credentialed historians to leave their dissertations off-line for six years in order to give the junior scholar time to revise the dissertation for publication.  The AHA’s reasoning?

History has been and remains a book-based discipline, and the requirement that dissertations be published online poses a tangible threat to the interests and careers of junior scholars in particular.  Many universities award tenure only to those junior faculty who have published a monograph within six years of receiving the PhD.  With the online publication of dissertations, historians will find it increasingly difficult to persuade publishers to make the considerable capital investments necessary to the production of scholarly monographs.

I read through the AHA statement, the New York Times article on the subject, and a blog post by Berkeley biologist and open access advocate Michael Eisen (courtesy of Comradde PhysioProffe).  I agree entirely with Eisen.  The AHA position is wrongheaded, although I’ve got some different reasons to disagree with the call to embargo disseratations than Eisen has.  Let me explain: Continue reading

Word limits, book contracts, and the demand to cut cut cut: any advice?

I’ve got a friend who is struggling this summer with her university press publisher’s demand that she cut 20,000 words from her 142,000 word book.  She’s doing interesting work pulling together the relevant strands of scholarship from many different fields, and as most of you humanists can probably guess, this means that her footnotes are pretty crunchy and dense.  She added a great deal more to her first draft of the manuscript to respond to the suggestions and concerns of the press reviewers, and now the press itself is demanding that she cut-cut-cut, and she’s understandably frustrated.

As a first-time author, she feels obligated to demonstrate quite clearly her scholarly debt to others, so her footnotes and bibliography comprise 36,000 of the total.  At this point, she has already cut 12,000 words from the manuscript and doesn’t think she can go further without undermining her contribution to the existing literature. Continue reading

Good blogging: do you know it when you see it?

Sorry I’ve been out of touch lately–I’ve been enjoying our lovely wet and cool late spring days here on the high plains with my head stuck pretty much full time in the eighteenth century. (And that is awesome! So long as it’s all in books and in my head, and doesn’t involve period costumes and camping out.) Working on the back porch, watching the rose bushes bloom (finally!) and the hollyhocks and herb garden grow is pretty swell (even if it ain’t Italy.)

If you want some bloggy amusement, head on over to Tenured Radical, who is soliciting ideas in the service of answering some reader mail: what makes for a good blog post? How does it differ from academic writing for books and journals? What do you look for, and which posts do you tend to avoid? Let’s share!

Meanwhile, I heard this song last night on David Dye’s World Cafe, and was reminded that there once was a Velvet Underground song that felt like a fun, happy, summer song: Continue reading