Chernoh Sesay Jr. has a thoughtful post over at the African American Intellectual History Society blog about “Teaching Phillis Wheatley (and Olaudah Equiano) in light of Freddie Gray,” in which he describes his initial hesitation to talk about current events in Baltimore in a class devoted to two eighteenth-century African writers and their engagement with race, religion, and the age of revolution:
At the start of the period two of the students approached me and explained that because our class was about African Americans and issues of race, they thought it was appropriate to talk about Freddie Gray and the broader politics behind his death. Their request was polite and earnest. Without knowing how I would relate the eighteenth-century Atlantic world to the twenty-first century urban United States in a way that was directly relevant to the day’s topics I said yes. I allowed the two students to stand before the class and I sat amongst the other class participants. The student leaders described their participation in a march the previous night and explained the complex mix of frustration, motivation, solidarity, and inspiration that fed into and arose out of their activism.
After recounting their experiences at the protest and expressing their thoughts about the growing public revelations of police violence, the two students tried to link current anti-black brutality directly back to the issues of identity and representation relative to Wheatley and Equiano. Instead of following this path back to the syllabus, I allowed the entire class to engage in a discussion about current events. From my perspective, the discussion was extremely engaging but not well organized. I decided that rather than try awkwardly to reign in the themes of conversation, I would try to highlight comments that somehow related to the issues of historical continuity and change. The ensuing conversation was wide ranging. Students made reference to continued racism and inequality. They discussed contemporary issues endemic to “the Black community.” They talked about racial profiling and issues of presentation and representation. They expressed frustration with efforts to combat racism and reduce poverty but they also argued for the necessity of action.
The conversation wandered and meandered and I did not successfully give any easily definable direction to the discussion. . . . I left class frustrated that I was not able to fashion a structured discussion and feeling as though I was failing in getting students to understand Wheatley and Equiano from their eighteenth-century experiences.
But wait! Here’s what happened at the next class meeting: Continue reading
Is age the next new category of analysis in history? I think it might be, and not just because I’m one of the contributing authors. From an email from co-editor Nicholas L. Syrett I received this weekend:
Age in America has been published (New York University Press, 2015)! I’m at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting this weekend in St. Louis and the very first two advance copies made it here just in time (and both were sold by conference’s end). The assistant editor at NYU Press will send you your copy as soon as the books stock at NYU’s warehouse (Cori and I don’t even have ours yet). I have attached a photo of the book sitting in the NYU Press booth. Within a couple weeks it should be available to order through bookstores, etc.
The co-editors of the volume, Nick Syrett and Corinne T. Field, worked hard with contributors to get a good mix of established and emerging scholars and to cover a pretty broad swath of American history (table of contents here.) My essay, “‘Keep me With You, So That I Might Not Be Damned:’ Age and Captivity in Colonial Borderlands Warfare,” is the first essay in the collection after Field’s and Syrett’s introduction. There are thirteen other essays in the volume, which covers not just the expected modern markers of age and how they came to be (age of suffrage, the drinking age, the age of retirement and Social Security benefits), but also essays by Yuki Oda on age and immigration politics (“‘A Day Too Late:’ Age, Immigration Quotas, and Racial Exclusion,”) Stuart Schoenfield on age 13 for American Jews, and Norma E. Cantú on the quinceañera for Latin@ girls. Continue reading
You don’t get to go here or stay here unless we say so. Full stop.
Why are people so confused about the right of both public and private universities to select their student body and establish a code of student conduct?
Public universities, as universities that are funded by and answerable to the taxpayers of the U.S. states in which they reside, have to play by somewhat different rules than private universities. For example, they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to student admission or faculty employment, but private sectarian colleges and universities may discriminate. Also, I’m pretty sure that the god-bags and the crazies that scream at passing students and faculty on the main plaza at Baa Ram U. are there because our campus is a public square, whereas a private university is probably permitted to escort protesters to the borders of campus.
In short, there is as yet no constitutional right to a university education at a particular institution, so public unis–like private schools–are perfectly within their rights to establish codes of conduct for students and faculty alike. Indeed many would argue that they’re under an obligation to establish and uphold rules for conduct so as to better ensure safe and equitable access to and experience of classroom and campus life. (Does anyone else remember Gina Grant, the Harvard admit whose offer was rescinded 20 years ago because it discovered that she killed her mother? Now, maybe her mother needed killing, but that doesn’t mean that Harvard or any other university, public or private, doesn’t have discretion over the students they admit, or over their on- and off-campus conduct.)
Jonathan Zimmerman apparently disagrees, as he argues today at Inside Higher Ed, citing the recent expulsions from the University of Oklahoma and the University of South Carolina for the use of a highly offensive ethnic slur. Zimmerman, a historian and education proffie at New York University, thinks that universities can’t expel students for speech acts: Continue reading
I’ve had some conversations with senior male historians over the past few years that have troubled me.
When talking about my work, or about the work of another women’s historian, some scholars apparently feel it’s OK to say “Oh, that’s why I don’t know her work. I just don’t do women’s history.” Or, “Women’s history is just something I never think about,” or comments to that effect.
I get it that we historians can’t all do everything, but how is it acceptable to announce that you never think about half of humanity in your own work or even read the scholarship on this half of humanity? Would these white men (and they have all been white) announce blithely that “I don’t do race,” even if it were true? (Odds are they’re not as ignorant of the scholarship on race as they are on the scholarship on women, gender, and sexuality, but this is just a guess. This post is mostly about the liberty some feel to confess their total ignorance of what has become a major subfield of history, and why that’s a bad idea not just for the audience but for the speaker.) Continue reading
Civil Rights movement veteran Anne Moody died last week at 74. She was the author of one of the best autobiographies in American History, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968). I read that book as a college junior, and remember it being utterly un-putdownable. It was one of those books in college that I read straight through without stopping not because of a syllabus deadline, but because it was brilliant and moving. It was the first feminist book about the Civil Rights movement I had read.
Anne Moody invented intersectional analysis in 1968–scholars took years to catch on and catch up.
Once upon a time, a privileged white guy with writing gigs at various legacy mags and a prominent perch now at New York Magazine wrote an essay warning darkly of today’s “P.C. Police” on our college campuses and the internet because people sometimes say mean things about him and his writer friends (who also have sweet gigs at legacy magazines) on Twitter or in the comments on his articles. (Or something.) Full disclosure: I’ve mentioned his work exactly once on this blog, and it was only to give him a nod of agreement.
There have been a number of serious and productive responses that point out the folly of Jonathan Chait’s claims about the “dangers” of “liberal P.C.,” but also agree with him that arguments among putative liberal allies can be aggravating and sometimes turn on absurdities á la “the Judean People’s Front” or the “People’s Front of Judea,” such as Megan Garber at The Atlantic, or J. Bryan Lowder at Slate. In other words, they grant that yes, people on the internet are sometimes major jerks.
Yes, people are a-holes in general, and people with blogs are probably on average bigger a-holes than most. But, for the most part, straight, white guys on campus or on the internet just get criticized or maybe called names, or get told to “check your privilege.” White men don’t (for example) regularly get calls for their rape and murder, or death threats if they show up to give a speech on a U.S. college campus, which is the kind of thing that happens to feminist women writers on the internet. A lot. Continue reading