Mary with Laura holding Susan. Illustration by Garth Williams, Little House in the Big Woods, 1932
Today’s post is an unanticipated part III in my series Crossing Over, on writing and publishing an academic book that aims to be a “crossover” title with a popular audience. Part I can be found here, “What is my book about?”, and Part II here, “Will I ever publish this book?” Many thanks to those of you in the comments on those posts who encouraged me to write a Part III. I hope to hear from the rest of you as to the writers and titles you see as your historical and literary models.
One of the challenges in writing The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2016) was the fact that her life is very eventful early in childhood and adolescence, and then again in old age–a reversal of most biographies, which tend to focus on the adult years of a subject’s life, and offer only scant attention to their youths and their decline in old age. But while her childhood was very eventful–taken captive at age 7, brought to New France at age 12, and announced her intention to become a nun at age 14–most of it before she enters the Ursuline convent as a student at age 12 is only very lightly documented.
How does one write the history of an eighteenth-century childhood, especially one almost entirely undocumented? Although I was powerfully influenced by the historians I’ve been reading all my professional life, especially those who have focused on telling the story of a single life, I saw this as more of a literary problem than a historical one. That is, I knew what I could do as a historian–I just didn’t know how I could bring it all together. Or, as I wrote in part I of the Crossing Over series a few weeks ago: Continue reading
Everything changes, nothing perishes: or so we hope.
Historians and other humanists who work with historical documents: Run, don’t amble, over to WNYC’s On the Media and listen to this week’s program, which is on the “Digital Dark Age” that may await us if we don’t come to terms with reliable means of saving and retrieving our digitally-stored data. Continue reading
Ding a ling a ling!
Ask not for whom the dinner bell tolls! I’m on a tight deadline to crank out an essay before the bell rings, so here are a few long reads to keep you busy while I’m out roping up some historiographical longhorns. I don’t know why, but all of these links seem to be about good actors struggling to cope with their mixed feelings about the bad behavior of others. Bookmark this post the next time someone tells you that “secular humanists” and “liberal relativists” refuse to deal with the problem of evil in the world, willya?
- Clemson Communications Professor Chenjerai Kumanyika writes at the NPR Code Switch blog about “The Cost of White Comfort,” and nails a sneaking suspicion I’ve had about the (mostly white) chorus of hosannas about the forgiveness shown by the families of the black victims of last week’s terrible massacre in Charleston: “I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.” White Americans just love it when we’re let off the hook, don’t we? We’re the kings and queens of the fantasy that history doesn’t matter.
- Writer Andrew Chee dishes on his time in the early 1990s working as a cater-waiter for William F. and Pat Buckley: “The tuxedo and the starched white shirt—and the fact that each assignment was at a different, often exclusive, place—all made me feel a little like James Bond. Sometimes my fellow waiters and I called it the Gay Peace Corps for how we could come into places, clean them up, make them fabulous, throw a party, and leave. And I liked that when I went home, I didn’t think about the work at all.” But would his recent past as an ACT-UP activist get him kicked out of the famously anti-gay Bill’s household? Or would it get him an invitation to skinny dip with Bill at the end of the evening? (Because “that’s how they used to swim at Yale, after all.”) Really! For you younger people, this essay really captures a slice of gay, urban life in the 1990s, before and just after the invention of protease inhibitors while rendered HIV a condition people could live with instead of just die from. I was an urban straight at the time, but Chee and I are the same age and his recollections really jibe with my memories of the time.
Mark Bauerlein, a not-that-old fogy at an elite university, wrote something cranky about the practice of higher education in the New York Times last weekend. The column has been subjected to a ritual beating by many in the academic blogosphere. Yesterday, a call went out from David Perry (@Lollardfish on Twitter, and the blog How Did We Get Into This Mess) that he “would like to see R1 profs engage in a loud and public conv[ersation] ab[out] teaching and research.” Although I teach at an R1, it’s the Aggie school in my state and certainly not “elite.” I also don’t teach Ph,D. students, as my History department offers just a Master’s Degree.
This year, as regular readers know, I’ve been far away from the grind at Baa Ram U. and on sabbatical at the Huntington Library, a.k.a. “Scholars’ Disneyland.” I’ve been living much like a Renaissance scholar, dining at the table and enjoying the luxuries of my sponsoring Prince–that is to say, nothing like my real life, but you know what? The conversations I’ve been having here with the Distinguished Fellows–all of whom teach at elite universities and supervise Ph.D. students as well as undergraduates–frequently revolves around teaching, and yes, teaching undergraduates! How do we reach them? How do we get them to become and remain History majors? What subjects interest them most, and how can we use those interests to develop an aptitude for historical thinking?
We’re like young parents who want nothing more than a night away from the children, and then we end up talking about the children the whole time we’re out to dinner. Continue reading
For some reason, all I’ve seen over the past few days are takedowns of New York Times columnist David Brooks. Here’s one excellent, high-minded example over at U.S. Intellectual History by Robin Marie:
David Brooks is a special kind of stupid. How can we describe it? It is a skilled stupidity, really; Brooks, more than any other conservative posing as not-completely-delusional and/or shameless, is extremely talented at transforming thoughtless middle-class biases into what thoughtless middle-class people then take to be wisdom.
. . . . .
I do have something to say, however, about Brooks’ latest masterpiece. In a column entitled “The Nature of Poverty,” where he recycles nearly every lazy assumption and distortion about “the culture of poverty” that the Right has been spouting for half a century – half a century folks, that’s half of 100 years of this stuff! – he ends, after explaining that poverty is not really about money but “relationships,” with this gem: “The world is waiting for a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of social psychology.”
Apparently, Brooks has never heard of Albert K. Cohen. In 1955, he wrote a book calledDelinquent Boys, which explained deviant behavior in the working class as the product of social failure.
Friends! Angelenos! Countrywomen! I’ve been in SoCA so long you probably thought I had traded in my cowgirl boots for flip-flops permanently. No way! Never fear. You can take the cowgirl out of Colorado, but you can’t take Colorado out of the cowgirl.
Anyhoo: I’m too busy to write a real blog post this morning, but a number of items have come to my attention lately that I’d like to share with you. I hope you’re booted and ready to ride, because here goes: Continue reading
Whatever happened to Junior High Schools (grades 7 and 8)? Why is the educrat-tional establishment all in for Middle School instead (defined these days as grades 6-8?) The main result of this would seem to be turning the worst two years of kids’ lives into the worst three years of their lives. Continue reading