Memo to David Brooks

steinbergnewyorkermapoftheworldOn a day when President Barack Obama is once again returning to Denver, as a public service announcement I’d like to make it clear that he is not visiting a foreign country.  The West is America, and Americans live in the American West.  So, please David Brooks, drop sentence constructions like these:

  • “Americans still want to go west.  The researchers at Pew asked Americans what metro areas they would like to live in.  Seven of the top ten were in the West:  Denver, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland, and Sacramento.”
  • “Americans may indeed be gloomy and hunkered down. But they’re still Americans. They are still drawn to virgin ground, still restless against limits.”

Metro areas as virgin ground?  Creepy and just plain wrong.

Vaycay roundup: fun in the sun, yee-haw! edition

cowgirlbikiniI’ve got another day of fun in the sun planned, so I’ll just leave you with a few quick linkies to get your holiday Monday started right:

  • For Presidents’ Day, here are their current rankings, according to this group of historians (via Inside Higher Ed).  The thing I always find really silly about these rankings of presidential greatness is the obvious bias towards more recent presidents.  You’d almost be relieved to have lived in the twentieth century, because of all of the presidential awesomeness then.  Of the top ten on this ranking, only two (#1, Abraham Lincoln, and #7, Thomas Jefferson) are from the nineteenth century.  There’s your obligatory citation of George Washington  (#2?), which just seems like Founding Fathers tokenism, and the chronic overrating of John F. Kennedy (#6–who wants to bet that his stock drops dramatically when people born after 1963 dominate the historians who do these rankings?)  Seriously:  James K. Polk is #12?  Whatever, dudes.  Clearly, starting unnecessary and unprovoked imperial wars isn’t a disqualifying feature in these rankings, with George W. Bush listed at the high rank of #36.  (And bien sur, most of the historians who did the rankings are dudes:  57 men, 10 women by my quick count.) Continue reading

Pisco Sour, Miami, February 14th


Wish you were here…and wishing I could stay longer!  I’m off for a run on the beach with an old friend, and then we’re going to hang out at the pool.  This is my “spring break”–I’ve got to get some writing done this term that’s not-for-blog publication, so this weekend will have to last me until May.

Vidal versus Mailer/Mailer versus the world smackdown, 1971

(Via The Daily Beast)

I’ve always loved Gore Vidal–yes, I know, he’s a terrible snob, and then there are all of those essays of his that refer condescendingly to “Assisstant Professors.” But, what a brave person–his “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” essay is one of the most prescient pieces of political analysis I’ve ever read, and his memoir, Palimpsest, was alternately heartbreaking, hillarious, and filled with delicious gossip of the stars of politics, the arts, and literature in mid-century America. He has outlasted his worst enemies now, hasn’t he? (Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Midge Decter–oh, sorry, my bad: Decter’s just career dead.) By the way, that third guest in the Cavett video is Janet Flanner, former Paris correspondent for The New Yorker.

Gee, I wonder why Vidal never succeeded in politics

A Preview of Women's History Month: "History Matters" by Judith Bennett

bennetthistorymattersA few weeks ago, Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar invited me to participate in a cross-blog discussion of Judith Bennett’s History Matters:  Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism.  We talked it over, and thought, “why keep something this much fun all to ourselves?”  So we invited Tenured Radical and Another Damned Medievalist at Blogenspiel to join in the fun, too.  On each successive Monday one of us will offer a post talking over a few of the many provocative ideas in Bennett’s book, and invite our readers to join in.  (In the 1970s, my parents used to participate in “Progressive Dinners,” which were dinner parties where each course is hosted by a different person or family in the neighborhood.  That way, no one gets totally exhausted preparing a huge meal and cleaning up afterwards, since everyone is responsible for just one course.  Think of this as a Progressive Dinner with feminist food for thought on the menu.)

Judy Chicago, "The Dinner Party," 1979

Judy Chicago, "The Dinner Party," 1979

Our hope is that our readers will follow each conversation and participate, which is why we’re announcing this while it’s still February.  There’s still time to get your copy of the book–either from a book seller, or from your local library.  Please join us! 

Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday, March 2, Notorious, Ph.D. will get us started, since she is one of Bennett’s fellow medieval European historians
  • Historiann will roll the chariot along on Monday, March 9, straight outta the colonial Americas
  • Tenured Radical will weigh in with her perspective as a modern U.S. historian on Monday, March 16
  • Another Damned Medievalist at Blogenspiel will give it up on Monday, March 23
  • And since March has five Mondays, we hope to offer a special guest post on March 30, and invite you all to use that day to post your own thoughts on Bennett’s book, or on the conversation we’ve been having.

We hope you will read the book and join the conversations!

Never mind the slavery, have you dipped a candle yet?

Via Corrente, we hear that plantation house museums in North Carolina rarely mention slavery at all, let alone include the experience of slavery or the material conditions slaves endured on their regular tours.

A new study from East Carolina University shows that, at many North Carolina plantations, talk of slaves takes a backseat to discussions of architecture, furnishings and gardens. . . . According to the study, which examined the Web sites of 20 North Carolina plantations, seven don’t mention slavery in their promotional materials. Only three were making strong efforts to reflect the slave experience. 

“These plantations were not just about their white owners,” said Derek Alderman, a geography professor who led the study. “As we come to terms with the legacy of racism in the United States, we have to recognize, whether we like it or not, that there was brutality that happened in the old South.”

candledippingNow, it would be easy for all of you groovy, liberal, non-Southerners to roll your eyes and chuckle and slap your foreheads in mock disbelief at the racist fools who run North Carolina house museums.  But I think that the problem diagnosed so accurately by Professor Alderman is a problem in many house museums and historic sites all over the country.  This story raises the important question of what historic sites and house museums are for:  are they opportunities to dip candles, admire high-style material culture, and imagine our (white) selves playing dress-up?  Or are they opportunities to learn more broadly about the lives of all people in a given period of history and how they related to one another? Continue reading


giotto_crucifixOMG!  Someone is putting crucifixes in the classrooms of a Jesuit institutionSurely not!

Gimme a break.  Boston College is not going to lose faculty job candidates over this, contrary to the empty threats made in the linked article.  I taught at two different Catholic universities for a total of 5 years, and there were crucifixes in my classrooms.  The crucifixes never bothered me, and they were never the object of student attention or adoration (at least none that was apparent to me.)  I currently teach at a secular state institution where there are small, ugly, and very poorly framed American flags bolted to the wall of every classroom, and like the crucifixes in my former classrooms, they go entirely unpledged to and ignored by everyone.  This mimesis renders objects invisible.

That said, complaining about crucifixes at a Catholic university is like complaining that all of the students at Morehouse are black, or that there are too many feminists at Bryn Mawr, or that there’s no Hillel House at Calvin College.  What did you expect?  Duh.  (Interestingly, according to the linked article there is a Hillel chapter at BC, which just goes to show you–sometimes the Catholics are the most catholic of all.)