Of fraudsters and scholars, Part I

Notorious Ph.D. writes in a post called “No, really:  I AM a fraud” that she’s struggling with seeing herself as an expert in her field because of deficits in her graduate training in the historiography of medieval “Blargistan,” her pseudonym for her region of specialization:

I went to grad school specifically to study the history of Blargistan. I was fascinated by it for various reasons that I won’t get into here. And sure enough, I did my M.A. with a professor whose research was in the history of Blargistan. But most of his reading on the subject was a couple of decades out of date, and since I wasn’t yet savvy enough to find the best current scholarship on my own, I ended up reading a lot of the same books he had read in grad school many years ago, and little else.

For the Ph.D., I switched to work with a professor whose advising style I worked better with. It was a good choice, and I don’t regret it one bit. But this professor’s work had nothing at all to do with Blargistan. He read and wrote fluently — even elegantly — in Blarg, but his area of specialty was thematic — let’s say, for the sake of argument, scholastic theology. So, I ended up writing a dissertation (and later a book) on scholastic theology and kittens in Blargistan.

And as I’m now moving on to another project, I’m realizing that I now know a great deal more about both scholastic theology and kittens (separately and together) in the Blargistanian context than probably most medieval Blargistan historians working in this country. What I don’t have, I’m coming to realize, is a good grasp on the general literature of medieval Blargistan — all that stuff that my friends read as a matter of course in grad school completely passed me by.

Welcome to the world of writing a second book, Notorious!  I think this feeling is pretty common to most of us who are intellectually honest and have a decent grasp of the magnitude of what we don’t know.  But, were our graduate programs designed to make us experts in one tiny sub-subfield for the next forty years, or did they aim more broadly to teach us how to teach ourselves for the rest of our lives?  Continue reading

And now a post written by my Sitemeter

historiann 35
belle 14
athletic women 4
burning man sex 3
muscular female athletes 3
7 up baby 3
knitting the barbie’s clothes 3
tenure 3
captain scarlet angels 2
professor of sexual histories 2


Check it out–this is how sickos on the ‘net find me.  (This is actually a snapshot of an unusual day, because there’s always at least one request for “hot 40 year old women,” “cougars” or “hot athletic women” in the top ten of search engine terms.)  Continue reading

Sausage party for the so-called "Founding Fathers"

And why in the h-e-double-hockey sticks are we talking about George Washington?  Again!  (Like we haven’t done that enough for the past 250 years?)

I subscribe to an ancient technology called a “listserv” on early American history.  (You can read it in HTML digest form here.)  It’s mostly totes boring, and only rarely does it address stuff I’m interested in, but wev:  that’s why I have a blog, friends!  In any case, Jesse Lemisch wrote in yesterday to announce Gordon Wood Jumps the Shark!, and linked to a book review in the New York Review of Books in which Wood gets all cranky.  (Someone, alert the media!)  Now, I can attest to the fact that Wood is a perfect gentleman one-on-one, but in the 1990s, more than once I saw him angrily denounce and insult in person and in print, as Dorothy Parker would say, the gamut “from A to B”, of late eighteenth century political historians.  So, getting exercised about Gordon Wood being a big ‘ol meanie is . . . getting exercised about Wood being Wood.

Lamentably, the book review Lemisch links to is for subscribers only, and I’m not going to pay 6 bucks to read it.  (Feel free to do the homework yourself!)  But, the book in question that allegedly has Wood so angry is The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling.  John Ferling writes very glossy, somewhat gossipy, but on the whole completely inoffensive narrative histories about the so-called Founding Fathers.  (I once made the mistake of assigning a book of his in my American Revolution class.  We had absolutely nothing to talk about that week.)  I find this whole fracas a little strange:  a book whose subtitle is “The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon” is insufficiently worshipful of Washington?  Using both Genius and Icon in the title isn’t filiopietistic enough?  Lemisch’s comment on Wood’s review is “Calling Parson Weems! Back to the ‘fifties: sounds like another instance of what David Waldstreicher calls ‘Founders Chic.'”  Continue reading

Further thoughts on loyalty

As they say, get a dog.

Yesterday’s post about extramural job seeking  and institutional loyalty and your comments have got me thinking.  (Oh, noes!  Say it ain’t so, Historiann!)  Do we really owe our institutions loyalty?  I feel loyalty to my profession, as vexed as it is, because I think what historians do is valuable and worthwhile.  I feel loyalty to my friends and colleagues in academia, because we have to stand together in intellectual and professional solidarity in a world that neither understands nor appreciates what we do.  (I’m sorry if that sounds self-pitying–I don’t mean it to.  I knew what I was getting into 20 years ago–this is the United States of Amnesia, after all, and I am an Amnesian historian.) I feel loyalty to my students, about whom you hear very little on this blog because I have been entrusted with a part of their education, and I take the instruction and encouragement of young people very seriously.  But I don’t feel particularly loyal to the institutions that have employed me.

Given the realities of the academic job market in the humanities for the past 40 years, and the ever-increasing demands for winning tenure, it may even be reasonable to see ourselves in an adversarial relationship with our employers.  This changes with tenure, because tenured faculty are implicated in institutional governance in ways that junior faculty are not.  Maybe the absence of institutional loyalty on my part has to do with the fact that I’ve worked for institutions that deployed the rhetoric of loyalty selectively, when they wanted to extract more unpaid work out of the faculty, for example.  Then, we were one big “family,” but when I went to my “family members” for protection and redress from other “family members” who were treating me badly, I discovered the limits of that rhetoric on “family.” Continue reading

When is ambition "disloyalty?"

Apparently, normal career development is read as “disloyalty” when a colleague thinks he owns you.  Inside Higher Ed yesterday tells the story:

By many accounts, Desdemona Cardoza was the hands-down favorite to lead California State University’s Los Angeles campus when James M. Rosser — the president since 1979 — eventually stepped aside. Cardoza had spent 22 years as a faculty member and administrator there, and had worked closely with Rosser since he appointed her provost in 2007.

The prospect of becoming president there appealed to Cardoza, but something nagged at her. “I had this sense that if I was going to move up to a presidency, I really needed to have some experience on another campus, and with a different president,” she says. So when she was nominated for the open provostship at Cal State’s campus in nearby Long Beach this spring, Cardoza decided to pursue it.

The decision cost her her post at Cal State-LA. In March, days after telling Rosser that she would visit Long Beach as one of four finalists for the provost’s job there, Cardoza learned that Rosser had told the head of the university’s senate that he planned to begin searching for a new provost. Through a spokesman, the president declined to talk to Inside Higher Ed about the situation, saying it would “inappropriate” to talk about what he called a “personnel matter.”

But according to Cardoza and others familiar with Rosser’s thinking, the president viewed Cardoza’s decision to make what he considered a “lateral move” as evidence of her disloyalty to Cal State-L.A. “Obviously you don’t want to be here,” Cardoza recalls Rosser telling her. Continue reading

The man question

I’ve got lots to do today, but if you don’t, go read this definitive takedown by Echidne of Hanna Rosin’s silly article on “The End of Men,” in which she argues that woman domination is just around the corner because women outnumber men in the workforce and in college these days, and because a certain demographic of prospective parents actually prefer daughters to sons.  ((Yawn.))  It’s too bad–I thought she had a pretty great radical feminist critique of the cult of breastfeeding last year.  I wonder what happened to the writer who was asking what had happened to all of her professional, well-educated women friends, when their husbands seem to be doing just fine and running the world as usual?

Here’s a little flava both of Rosin’s article (in italics) and Echidne’s critique.  Apparently, women are running the world now:

Next comes the major thesis which is written so that even the simplest misogynist can get its relevance;

What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

I hate this shit. I hate it, and having to go bang my head against the garage door. Women in the past could not specialize in flexibility and nurturing behavior. They were first fucking gatherers/hunters and then fucking farmers who worked from dawn to dusk and past it. They were not prehistoric Victorian housewives and men were not prehistoric Rambos or whatever the newest killer hero is called: They, too, worked their asses off all day long, most of the history. I hate intellectual laziness and nastiness. Continue reading