Sure wish I could be a California girl…

cowgirlbikiniHowdy, friends!  I turned in my last few grades yesterday, so I’m on a little early summer trip to the Golden State for a little R & R (“Research and wRitin’,” that is), and a conference later this week..  I’ll be checking in occasionally but otherwise am trying to stay mostly off-line and outdoors as much as I can for the next few days.

What are your plans for summer? exclusive! Michelle Obama at UC Merced, by Susan Amussen

Today’s post is an eyewitness report by Susan Amussen, a historian and Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts at the University of California, Merced, where Michelle Obama spoke at commencement on Sunday afternoon.  She is the author of a signal book in feminist early modern English history, An Ordered Society:  Gender and Class in Early Modern England (1988) and most recently, Caribbean Exchanges:  Slavery and the Transformation of English Society, 1640-1700 (2008).  Susan was among the Merced faculty  in full academic regalia this weekend in 98-degree heat as Obama spoke.

Michelle Obama at UC Merced, May 17, 2009

By now everyone has heard that Michelle Obama gave the Commencement address at UC Merced.   It’s possible that some of you have watched it, either live, or online.  The occasion was the graduation of the first class to go all the way through a new university.  Our students pulled this off.  They made a video, they organized sending valentines to the White House, they had a Facebook group, they sent letters to anyone who might help.  As she said, the students inspired her.  How could they not? They certainly inspire me.

When the First Lady of the United States accepted our invitation, we had to plan for 12,000 guests.   Water stations were everywhere, and EMTs were on hand: 850 volunteers made things happen.  The cost ballooned from $100,000 to $700,000 when Obama signed on.

Obama brought out the faculty: we had nearly 100% participation.   Many faculty members were joined by family: there were lots of people who didn’t know any students.  The city had a two day street festival, complete with Jumbotrons showing the speech.  Merchants were excited at the prospect of additional business.

The week before commencement different national media outlets featured stories about Merced daily.  And while they mentioned the local scene – the foreclosure crisis and high local unemployment – they focused on the university.   The media realized is that UC Merced is a good story.   But it is also a curiosity.  No one would have done such stories on better known or larger universities.  Why is she going there? We’re a new university, in the middle of the Central Valley.   The university was put here partly to provide economic stimulus and to increase college attendance rates in the Valley.   About half of our students are first generation college students, many are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants.   Our students are about 1/3 Latino, 1/3 Asian American, 25% white, and 10% African-American.

This is a feel-good story about the success of our students.   It is good to remind the public of the successes of education, not just its problems.  Continue reading

Abortion and American Catholic culture


Altnerate commencement at Notre Dame, 2009

Via Religion in American History, I found this brilliant essay by Georgetown political theorist Patrick Deneen, “Abortion and Catholic Culture.”  He argues that the fracas at Notre Dame over President Barack Obama’s appearance at graduation yesterday because of his position on abortion is a rear-guard action which,  “along with the opposition to gay marriage – this issue represents the last stand, the inner-most wall barely keeping the hordes from overrunning the sanctum.”  He continues:

The ferocity over [abortion] – and this issue almost to the exclusion of nearly every other issue that might be part of a rich fabric of Catholic culture – suggests to me that Catholic culture, where it existed, has been largely routed. And, in fact, it suggests further that it is precisely for this reason that this issue has become largely defined politically – and not culturally – with an emphasis on the way that the battle over abortion must be won or lost at the ballot box (and, by extension, Supreme Court appointments).

Why does Deneen think that abortion politics represents an end-game for conservative Catholics?  Because there is no such thing as a Catholic culture in the United States, and American Catholics are full participants in late capitalism’s culture of “choice” writ large:  materialism, individualism, hedonism, and mobility.  In other words, “American Catholics have largely assimilated into mainstream American society, and come to seek success and approval from that culture on its terms.”

A culture – Catholic or otherwise – that regarded abortion as well-nigh unthinkable would be profoundly different than the one we inhabit. First, such a culture would foster a strong sense of place. This is one of the central features of Catholicism, in strong distinction to Protestantism: we are members of parishes, which are located where one lives, and not according to the choice of minister or music or fellow churchgoers. . . .

Did you catch that dig at Protestantism?  Well, much of the scholarship on (in the words of one scholar) “the Democratization of American Christianity” supports Keenan’s thesis: Continue reading

Lessons for Girls, updated

girlstickingouttongueIn case you haven’t clicked the page “Lessons for Girls” on the top, left side of the home page of Historiann, check it out, because we had several worthy additions over the past week.  I want to highlight one contribution in particular, You don’t have to be a mom, by Squadratomagico.

Squadrato writes, “I have considered writing about the topic of childlessness for some time, but always have hesitated. In my experience, this subject is one that elicits extremely judgmental responses. Many parents seem to regard my happy embrace of childlessness as a personal critique of their choice to have children. . . as an indication that I simply hate children . . . and as an indication of toxic selfishness. . . . I can only echo a comment I once read online: since when is saying “I don’t want…” an indication of selfishness?”  She continues:
The barriers in place before a girl who decides she does not want to become a mom are formidable. . . . Coming to terms with the fact that one does not want to be a mom, like one’s mom, can be a difficult psychological maneuver — particularly since the weight of cultural pressures are strongly against this choice. And once a girl or woman decides that she prefers not to have children, she must defend herself over and over and over again. I can say from lifelong experience that no one believes a girl who claims not to want to be a mom. It’s very frustrating when perfect strangers presume to know one’s innermost desires without even asking! As a child, I recall adults asking my brother what he wanted to be when he grew up, then turning to me and declaring, “I know what you want to be: a MOMMY!” And when I denied this desire, I have always been told, with a patronizing “what-a-silly-girl!” smile, “Oh, you’ll change your mind!” I was told I would change my mind when I grew up; then I was told I would change my mind when I met the right man; then, that I would change my mind when I settled down; that I would change my mind overnight when my “biological clock” suddenly started ticking; that I would change my mind when my friends had babies; even that I would change my mind after I had tenure. When confident assertions of my hidden maternal nature proved inadequate, the appeals to conscience began. I was told that I must have children for the sake of my future old age, for the sake of the human race, for the sake of perpetuating progressive values, for the sake of passing on my own intelligent genes (this last from my mom).

Continue reading

Reforming higher ed: unleash the power of the free market!

A few weeks ago, I was tagged by the American Federation of Teachers higher ed blog to answer two questions inspired by that foolish op-ed in the New York Times by Mark C. Taylor last month.  The AFT’s questions are:

  1. Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
  2. What are the top three things you would change in the long-run if you had the power to do that?

There are a pile of exams and final papers a-waiting my attention, so I am going to answer 1)  Fer Sure, and 2) let’s keep it simple, and just abolish the free farm teams for the NFL and the NBA that most large universities subsidizeI wrote about this a few months ago, when I heard news that a university radio station in my former hometown was being axed for budgetary reasons: Continue reading

Boldly going forward, 'cause we can't find reverse?

40 years later, and it's still loney on this bridge!

40 years later, and it's still lonely on this bridge!


Actually, some of our favorite feminist bloggers note the troubling absence of change in the makeup of the crew on the Starship Enterprise in the forty years since Star Trek first appeared.  (Historiann was never a “Trekkie,” although she saw a number of the original shows in reruns in the 1970s.  All of the neo-Star Trek shows and movies starting in the late 1970s on are a mystery to her.)  Anyway, people who know a lot more about Star Trek than I–and who have actually seen the new movie–offer their reviews, exerpted below.  (The title of this post pays homage to this silly parody song about the original Star Trek.)

The Bittersweet Girl writes, “unfortunately, feminist sci-fi geeks have less to be excited about.”  Hmmm–I wonder why:

There is a conspicuous lack of female characters and the ones there are fall into one of two classic categories: loving but doomed or inexplicably absent mothers or love interests/sex objects. There has been an attempt made to give Uhura an actual area of expertise, rather than just being a glorified telephone operator, but she still doesn’t do much except be ogled at by one male lead or gaze affectionately at another. And yes, she’s still in the micro-mini skirt — when she’s not in her underwear. Sigh. Given that so much of contemporary sci-fi is dominated by ass-kicking females (Starbuck, Echo, that Terminator chick), you’d think they could have given Uhura some previously unknown fighting skills. But, I hope that now that this origin story is done, the film makers can put a little bit more thought into female characterization in the next film. (Are you listening, J.J. Abrams?)

In a review titled “The Summer of Men, Take II,” Prof. Susurro is disappointed by this movie’s Captain Kirk:

I liked [William] Shatner and I liked Kirk. The Director of this film clearly liked neither, reducing James T. Kirk to an overgrown case of blue b@lls barely elevated by the fact that he ultimately saves the day. Centering Spock was a fascinating twist. However, those of us who get the homosociality of Spock and Kirk, as well as the well-honed dynamics of the entire male crew (leaving Uhura aside for a moment), understand that each of these characters plays a beloved role that is only enhanced by the role they play in the ensemble. None of them has ever been diminished or over shadowed by the other characters in any incarnation of the franchise until now. 

Finally, GayProf takes to task the disturbing absence of women and people of color in this most recent incarnation of Star Trek in a review called “Boldly Going Where We Have Been Before.”  He notes the optimistic, multicultural vision of the original show:  Continue reading

Just in case you thought that tenure at Harvard and a prominent role in government oversight would mean that you were taken seriously…

Think again!  (That is, if you think that the U.S. government and publicly subsidized banking system should work for the little people instead of for the banksters.  I’m sure Larry Summers is taken to be a very serious person.)  Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand–not so much.  Lambert at Corrente was all over this last weekend, and this morning TalkLeft posted a brief explanation and a link to an NPR interview with Warren in which she is lectured by Adam Davidson, who has zero credentials in law, government, economics, or banking that I can find.  Warren, on the other hand, has a CV as long as your leg–but that doesn’t matter!  She still gets a lecture from a man who asked her for an interview.  From the TalkLeft synopsis:

Davidson accuses Warren of stepping beyond her bailout watchdog role to advocate for her “pet issues” (Davidson isn’t specific about what Warren’s “pet issues” are but presumably he is referring to Warren’s advocacy for consumers in a number of areas from credit cards to mortgages).

When Warren points out that the financial crisis will “not be over until the American family begins to recover” and that the financial crisis does not “exist independently” from problems experienced by American families (skyrocketing foreclosure rates, high debt levels on credit cards), Davidson sarcastically interjects “that’s your crisis.”

My favorite part is when Davidson informs her quite patronizingly that she is all alone, and that no “serious thinkers” agree with her (from Lambert’s partial transcript):  Continue reading