This one goes out to all the historians

How long has it been since you heard someone called a “revisionist,” or heard someone muttering darkly about “revisionism” after a job talk or search committee meeting?  (For all of the non-historians out there who might still be reading:  “revisionism” was a charge thrown around a lot in the 1980s and 1990s by those historians who imagined that history is the pursuit of Unchanging Truth, and who were generally quite hostile to most of the new approaches to history since 1960 or so–social history, subaltern history, feminist history, queer theory–pretty much everything except political and intellectual history focused on DWEMs, that is, Dead White European/Euro-American Males.  Anyone who had different ideas or subjects in mind were called “revisionists,” which implied that we were doing Made-Up history, which was seen as an attack on the Unchanging Truth.)  I think it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve heard these terms in serious conversations. Continue reading

At your service: all of the responsibility, none of the authority?

In a post about having responsibility but no power in a new service task, Bardiac writes:

I’ve been asked to consider taking on a new responsibility here. It’s a responsibility that comes with a lot of responsibility, and relatively little power, though it’s very important that the job be done well and ethically. It involves working with folks who have tenure, organizing them to get certain tasks done.

.       .       .       .      .       .      
So, as a responsible person with relatively little power (I can’t fire these folks, affect their pay, or withhold special treats/privileges), what do you do when someone says “no” to doing their share of a group job?

In general, it’s a good policy to avoid assignments in which one would have all of the responsibility, but little or no authority.  I have taken on major service tasks in which the responsibility-to-authority ratio was a little more evenly balanced–for example, I served as Graduate Studies Chair, and I served on the program committee of a major conference.  (These jobs also kicked my butt–that was the responsibility side!)  But in both of those jobs–as on the search committees I’ve been on–I got relatively immediate gratification.  We hired a fine new colleagues/admitted some promising new graduate students/or put together a great conference program–and so I got to see what all of my work added up to within a year or so–and then it was done.

We all know that service tasks undertaken by the faculty are hardly ever recognized or rewarded with respect to our annual salary exercises or with respect to tenure and promotion.  And yet, someone’s got to do the jobs in which the authority : responsibility ratio is all out of proportion.  Continue reading

The Line, a film by Nancy Schwartzman

Last night at the University of Northern Colorado, I attended a screening of The Line,a film by Nancy Schwartzman about rape and the line of consensual versus nonconsensual sex.  In it, she tells the story of her rape several years ago by a man she had gone to bed with–a fact that attorneys and anti-rape advocates explain would have made her case very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute.  She had engaged in consensual sex–but she did not consent to anal rape, and she cried and screamed throughout the attack.  The climax of the film is an interview with her rapist recorded via a hidden camera–his face is obscured, but it’s fascinating to watch him squirm and writhe and desperately trying to convince her that everything that happened that night was consensual, and that they had “hot sex.”

The part of the film I found most disturbing was when Schwartzman told her friends what happened–and her friends told her that it happens to everyone.  What else did she expect?  That’s just the way it is, and she really should get over it because that’s how it happens sometimes.  After all, she consented to some sex acts.  In other words, they told her that rape is clearly on the continuum of how heterosexuality operates.  They read her actions as complicit with the rapist–whereas there was never any ambiguity for Schwartzman.  As she related in the Q and A session after the movie, she cried and screamed and repeatedly begged the rapist to stop during the rape, and then went home and wrote in her journal “I was raped last night.”  When even her friends told her that what had happened to her wasn’t rape, she bottled it up and tried to forget it. Continue reading

Sunny daze is here again?

Someone’s being mean to White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod!  But somehow, I don’t think quotations like this are going to get the bullies to leave him alone on his walk home from school.  In fact, I think the bullies are going to start wearing cleats from now on:

“I guess I have been castigated for believing too deeply in the president,” [Axelrod] said, lapsing into the sarcasm he tends to deploy when playing defense.

That’s right:  if you made a mistake, it was only that you loved him too much.  (Where does anyone get the idea that Democrats can’t take a punch?  Oh, I don’t know–the fact that they’re falling all over their fainting couches because someone “castigated” them.  With words!  Really mean ones, I guess.)

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.”  [Ed. note:  Weak!  If you don’t give a “flying” frack, then don’t bring it up.]  He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”  [Ed note:  you have to govern with the Washington you have, not the Washington you wish you had, with flying multicolored ponies and cream soda in all of the fountains and in the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial.]

When asked how he would assess his performance, Mr. Axelrod shrugged. “I’m not going to judge myself on that score,” he said. But then he shot back: “Have I succeeded in reversing a 30-year trend of skepticism and cynicism about government? I confess that I have not. Maybe next year.”  [Can we get red pop next year in the reflecting pool?  That would be pretty, and extra-delicious.]

I’m just stunned to learn, once again, that President Barack Obama’s team really did believe that he was the magically transformational politician they marketed during the primary and general election campaigns.   Continue reading

Intellectual migrations: how and when to switch fields?

From the mailbag at Historiann HQ, a question about working outside the historical field in which one originally trained:

Dear Historiann,

I have a question about working outside one’s dissertation field, and wonder to what extent the topic of one’s dissertation dictates the career.  Is it permanent?  I am now working on a topic largely unrelated to my doctoral work, and I have already discovered this to be less-than-an-asset on the job market.  For jobs in my dissertation field, any search committee would look askance at current project; for jobs in “current project field,” they will look askance at the dissertation.  (Think: dissertation on revolutionary France, current project on Argentina). 

To what extent are we defined by a choice of dissertation topic, even throughout our careers? I have heard people commenting about a very senior (famous) historian who wrote a recent book, saying “how can he work on Y? He’s a specialist on X!” (X being his doctoral subject). He completed his Ph.D. 30 years ago, and has written a number of books. My view is, surely he’s had time to become a specialist in some other field/s of history since then. But this view is obviously not shared by all in the discipline. Should a junior scholar wait til after tenure to bust out their “true historical passion?”


Roving Renata

Renata, I agree with you that people in our profession can be extremely fussy and fuddy-duddy about switching fields and gaining new competencies.  (And as someone who wrote a book that wasn’t a revision of her dissertation at all but was an entirely new project–well, let’s just say that I can relate to your anxieties.)  People are unusually identified with their first books, especially if their first books were well received.  I once had a colleague who was absolutely haunted by this.  He once said to me, “it’s just agonizing to think that people will read my first book and think that that’s who I am as a scholar!”  Continue reading

Saturday round-up: Sunshine, Unicorns, and Tumbleweeds edition

These boots were made for kicking some a$$!

Hiya, folks!  Hecksapoppin here–it’s warm and clear here on the High Plains Desert, so I have to pitch hay while the sun shines.  Here are some ideas to keep you occupied while I’m out.

  • Isis the Scientist writes about the “Mythical Sunshine and Unicorns of University-Based Child Care.”  We see those little chain gangs of toddlers and preschoolers on campus–they must be somebody’s kids.  Why not yours? 
  • The Mohegans have elected Lynn Malerba, a woman Sachem, for the first time since the eighteenth century.  In my book, I argued that the Algonquian Indians had no tradition of female political leadership, and that the so-called “squaw Sachems” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were evidence of the stresses of colonialism on Indian peoples.  (And of course, having women leaders became further evidence in English minds that Indian peoples didn’t deserve political sovereignty.  Never mind Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne, of course.)
  • It’s only March 6, but I think we already have our Mansplainer of the MonthOf course, it makes perfect sense that one 40 year-old 14-page article probably would have changed my intellectual life.  How tragic for me that I missed this Rosetta Stone!  All is lost!  I’ve submitted my resignation letter to my department Chair already, and will go dark here at as of midnight Sunday.
  • A former No Child Left Behind advocate changes her mind and decides that testing kids to death isn’t teh awesomeContinue reading