Free advice? You’re soaking in it! I put out a call on Twitter yesterday, and it’s like the loaves and the fishes, man: For one tweet, I get five, seven, and seven times seven in response! (Keep them coming–I’m all ears).
A correspondent wrote yesterday to suggest that we–dear readers, you & me both–offer some advice and ideas as to how to write a good letter of recommendation to get someone else a job. Said correspondent is an American teaching at a British university now, and also offers some insight as to how American and British referees traditionally approach their task:
Can you write a blog post offering advice for letter-writers? Obviously there’s some out there already, but it would be really useful to have more history-specific thoughts. I think your posts on the job market will be helpful for those going on it–this angle would hopefully add to that conversation.
As an American teaching in the U.K., I’ve noticed that British letter-writers tend to write more honest letters that trace the arc of a candidate’s intellectual development. These can come across as much more critical/not positive even though that’s not how they’re meant. If applying to U.S. universities, a candidate may wish to have a senior scholar or colleague look over that letter writer’s letter (if at all possible) to make sure it won’t sink the candidate.
–Call me Natasha (when I Look Like Elsie)
Thanks for writing, Natasha. You’ve offered some really useful advice to search committees in the U.S. for understanding British letters of recommendation. This is something I wasn’t aware of and I’m glad to know.
Speaking from my position as a American who has always worked in U.S. American universities, the most helpful letters of recommendation are written like the best letters from tenure and promotion referees. That is, they’re experts in a subfield writing to peers who are experts in other history subfields, and so understand their charge to contextualize and explain the candidate’s research to an intelligent audience of non-specialists. Did the junior scholar in question travel thousands of miles and spend months or years in remote, difficult to access archives in order to do her research? Does she have a perspective on her sources that is totally original and possibly pathbreaking? Does her work address major questions in her subfield in a creative and ambitious fashion? A good letter of recommendation will point these out and elaborate on just what are her unique contributions to her field. Continue reading
Today’s mailbag brings us a thoroughly modern problem from Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) and new Ph.D. Millie, who wonders if she should rush to get a book contract:
I’m a VAP, on the job market, and trying to conceptualize the dissertation-to-manuscript process (I graduated this past academic year).
That intellectual labor aside, the thing that’s really making me anxious is the timing of the process itself. On the one hand, lots of people say “write a book proposal, get a contract, write the manuscript” and I see fellow junior faculty doing that on Twitter all the time. On the other hand, other people (including my adviser, who is wonderful but also wrote his first book in the late 60s) tell me to write the manuscript first because a contract doesn’t mean that much at this stage in my career.
Obviously one of those has to be the right path, but I don’t know which one it is! I also feel like everyone else understands this but me. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
–Thoroughly Modern Millie
Thanks for writing in. Increasingly over the past decade, I’ve seen more and more junior scholars applying for assistant professor jobs with book manuscripts under contract or even published, so your question is a very important one for many in your cohort of recent grads. I’ll be interested to hear what my readers have to say about this, (FYI, Millie’s Ph.D. and current VAP is in a book-intensive humanities discipline.)
Believe me, I understand the lure of snagging a book contract ASAP. I’ve fallen under that spell myself on occasion, but in the end I think spending some time thinking about the book you want to write and getting some major revisions done is the way to go. In other words, I think your advisor is right. (Maybe that means I’m an old fart too, although I see that I was a wee infant the year he published his first book. Old fartitude sneaks up quickly on you–one day you’re all like “hey, I’m 32, burn the candle at both ends!” and then you’re all like “two beers and I can’t get out of bed the next morning, srsly?”–so watch out.) Continue reading
This election year reminds me of something a friend of mine told me a few years ago. When she went to see a new play with some friends, no one in her party knew much about it so she wrote down her prediction as to what the play would be about, and hid it away for revealing afterward. After the play she showed them her prediction: “Everyone hates women, including women.” She was right, of course.
I wish that she could be wrong, at least once. Here’s my prediction, three months before election day. I’m publishing it here so you can remind yourselves of my wisdom (or stupidity!) months and years later. Here goes: Continue reading
Or, After Action Review for Parks as Portals to Learning–just a little taste of the ways in which military culture informs the history and present operations of the National Park Service.
My week up in Rocky, or ROMO (=ROcky MOuntain), another acronym used by Parkies, was a rich learning experience. As a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Eastern historian my expertise was fairly irrelevant, but I took the opportunity to learn about how the NPS works. Besides keeping up with all of the military- and government-style acronyms (EIS, NEPA, EA , ETC) for the laws and procedures that structure the park’s conservation work, faculty from Colorado State and UC Santa Barbara helped CSU students think through the ways that environmental history informs and can assist natural resource preservation as well as the interpretation and visitor experience of the park. Continue reading
I’ve saddled up old Seminar and we’re ready to ride this afternoon up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a week of camp as a participant in this year’s Parks as Portals to Learning, which is run by my colleagues who are faculty affiliates of the Public Lands History Center at Colorado State University:
This interdisciplinary field workshop was developed by Dr. Ben Bobowski and Dr. Ben Baldwin of the National Park Service and Rocky Mountain National Park. This workshop is a major curricular and institutional innovation that addresses a real-world, practical problem: the disconnection between academic teaching and research on the one hand, and professional natural resource management in the public land agencies on the other. Parks as Portals to Learning will use environmental history as a foundation for students, professors, and agency professionals to analyze contemporary resource issues such as climate change, air quality, and elk-vegetation dynamics. The pilot launched in 2013, with field workshops held each summer since. For one week each August, a group of students and faculty from a range of disciplines stay on the ground in Rocky Mountain National Park. They engage with park natural and cultural resource managers, learn about management issues within the park, and propose ways to use environmental history to address these issues and propose creative strategies for learning about and preserving park resources.
It’s a real honor to be participating this year, as the NPS celebrates its centennial this month. La Famille Historiann buys a parks pass every year as we tend to visit and vacation in national parks very often–but then, we live an hour’s drive from Rocky, and there are dozens of spectacular national parks and monuments within a day’s drive of Colorado’s Front Range. Continue reading
Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas), at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
Modern and mostly secular folks probably wouldn’t think that religious people might teach us something about politics and leadership. But there are important lessons about leadership found in my study of a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious order over the course of 150 years or so. After all, Catholic women religious have been electing their leadership democratically for centuries before secular men thought elections might be a good idea for civil society.
These women ran triennial elections for their superior, her assistant, dépositaire (treasurer), scrutaine (overseer of elections), novice mistress, and other lesser offices. Some Ursulines in my book even engaged in early ratf^(king operations. It’s true!
I reveal all of the details in my soon-to-be released new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, but just with you, dear readers, I’ll share some of the interesting parallels I found to the challenges facing North American women politicians even today. Mother Esther (1696-1780) served in most of the elected offices in the Ursuline convent before being elected superior three times in the 1760s, a time of political, religious, and economic crisis in the wake of the British conquest of Quebec in 1759. Her leadership and entrepreneurial financial management of the order through the 1760s permitted the order’s school and novitiate not only to survive in this uncertain decade, but to expand and thrive before Catholics were guaranteed the right to practice their religion by the Quebec Act of 1774.
How did she do it? Continue reading