Bleg update: Introduction to Historical Practice



Thanks to your many fantastic suggestions way back at the beginning of the summer, I’ve finally made some decisions (and perhaps more importantly, submitted my book orders) for my fall 2013 Introduction to Historical Practice, which all of our incoming M.A. students must take.  Here’s the book list I’ve settled on for my focus on “history scandals:”

  1. Michael Bellesiles, Arming America:  The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000), either the Knopf original hardcover or paper editions or the 2003 Soft Skull Press edition.
  2. Contesting Archives:  Finding Women in the Sources, eds. Nupur Chaudhuri, Sherry J. Katz, and Mary Elizabeth Perry (2010)
  3. Shelley Ruth Butler, Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa (1999; 2007)
  4. Anthony Grafton, The Footnote:  A Curious History (1997)
  5. Saidiya Hartman. Lose Your Mother:  A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2008)
  6. Peter Hoffer, Past Imperfect:  Facts, Fiction, Fraud—American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (2004)
  7. NEW–Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (2013)
  8. Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History:  Men, Women, & Historical Practice, 2nd edition (2000)
  9. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past:  Power and the Production of History (1997)
  10. Deborah Gray White, Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008)

In the end, I went with Heather’s suggestion to include Hartman’s Lose Your Mother.  Providentially, Jill Lepore just published this week in the New Yorker a moving essay about losing her mother before she could finish the only book her mother really wanted her to write, so of course I’ll assign that, too, since the subject that week is the historian’s relationship to her subject.  I also decided that LLB and C were entirely correct that Trouillot’s book really must be on this syllabus, too.  Finally, although I had been considering Contesting Archives for this course since I had seen editors Nupur Chaudhuri and Sherry Katz, and others on a panel at the recent Western Association of Women Historians conference talking further about the relationship between historians and archivists, Kathie’s comment prompted me to pull the ripcord and go with it.

In addition to the topics and subjects suggested here, we’ll be exploring some public history scandals or controversies such as the demolition of Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama alongside the decision to destroy a great deal of nineteenth-century Philadelphia in the service of creating Independence National Historical Park, and the controversy over the history and memory of the Boston Tea Party in the modern Tea Party movement, which also has some public history implications.

Plus, always:  Ambition!  Plagiarism!  Scandal!  Infamy!  Now doesn’t that sound like more fun than a hogshead full of saltpeter?

26 thoughts on “Bleg update: Introduction to Historical Practice

  1. Why the choice to assign the Bellesiles book rather than the article or excerpts? No agenda here, just wondering. I’ve started taking at least one day in my undergraduate classes to talking about essay writing and plagiarism and assign two chapters from Hoffer that deal with Bellesiles as well as Kearns Goodwin and Ambrose.


  2. I assign the whole book so that my students can fairly evaluate the controversy. IMHO, a great deal of the (fair) criticism focused on a very small part of the book & on the colonial probate evidence in particular.

    We read the book one week, then read the articles critical of Bellesiles the following week (which are not listed on this list of books only). It’s no longer in print in any edition, but all kinds of used copies are out there on Amazon, etc., for very low prices.

    There’s a more recent case of plagiarism in my field that we’ll be discussing this year, but I also like Hoffer’s treatment of Goodwin, Ambrose, and Ellis, too.


  3. Re the Bellesiles, the out of printness and the cheap used copies might also be part of the discussion, especially if they’re ex-library copies. We had a discussion in my collection management class in library school touching on that book, i.e. should it be weeded? Answer was no, because it’s a source for exactly this kind of discussion.


  4. This looks very good! I’m not nearly in syllabus mode yet, myself. If anyone wants to do a workshop on how to “weed” books, check out the fifth floor (c.f. History, LC: D/E/F, and Dewey, 800-900) of the Van Pelt Library at Penn, which looks like a meadow in Vietnam after the last Agent Orange attack, and before the Hilton Subsidiary LLC planning team came in to build a conference and entertainment center for traveling hedge fund prospectors. A syllabus of errors, there, and a history scandal of its own making, I would judge.


  5. Have they taken the books to storage, or have they just disappeared them? Funny how even librarians have given up on books as a knowledge storage and retrieval system.

    Sophylou: I hadn’t considered the possibility that the cheap copies might be deaquisitioned library copies, but I’ll be sure to have my students examine their own copies as material objects that may help us understand the fuller story. A quick check on Arming America in our regional catalog shows 22 copies (various editions) currently available, so at least the university libraries haven’t chucked their copies. (And my students can borrow these instead of buying their own copies, if they so choose.)

    truffula: I’ll have to check out those Amazon reviews.


  6. I can’t believe I forgot this, but I’m going to add Ari Kelman’s recently published A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. It’s not yet in paper, but the cloth edition is competitively priced, and it’s a natural public history issue for a Colorado-based M.A. program!

    Kelman came to CSU last winter on his book tour and gave a terrific talk. It was standing room only–full of history students, professors, and interested members of the community. And Sand Creek is in the news this morning again–the descendants are suing the feds for reparations.


  7. This is off topic a bit, but how is it that you’re only now turning in book orders for fall semester? We’re told that federal law requires us to submit book orders well before registration begins, and if we don’t submit them in MID-MARCH we’ll be in violation of federal law and our courses won’t be listed. I’ve long suspected this is BS, and the fact that no one else in the country seems to observe this terrifying federal law makes me suspect that someone at my U’s bookstore just made this up…


  8. An alleged **federal law** on the deadlines for textbook orders? That sounds like a world-class load of bullcrap to me. (WTF?)

    We get dunned to turn our fall book orders in by mid-April, which is just ridiculous for classes that start 4+ months later. The pretext we’re guilted with is that the bookstore wants to know if we’re using the same books next semester so they’re spared the hassle and expense of shipping off extra or book-buyback books that they’ll just have to re-order for the next term.

    Since I never teach the same course twice in a row, and since I’m always ordering different books, I feel free to ignore these deadlines. I try to turn my spring book orders in by exam time in December, and there are always books on the shelves by mid-January, so turning book orders in when it’s still July and in the single-digits is pretty expeditious, IMHO.


  9. What a riot! I’ve heard this one too, and we get all sorts of ominous mandamuses and deadlines from the campus Sweatshirt Store, as if we’re, like *working for* the place or something. Not in my job description…. I don’t think the big guy is going to be “scrambling any jets” to enforce this thing, if it exists. Maybe we got a one-year waiver, based on how confusing and burdensome it is? 🙂


  10. I got the same “federal law” story at my previous institution, and for my sins, I was the person who had to endure departmental compliance. It’s sort of BS and sort of true. The deal was purportedly that 90% of book orders had to be placed before registration began for a coming term so that students would know all the required texts for the courses for which they were registering. We were told that if too many instructors were not in compliance, the university could lose eligibility for certain kinds of federal student loan aid.

    Here’s the real story: The provision of the law in question is sec. 133(d)) of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The statute does NOT actually state that the textbook information for ANY classes has to be made available before students register, and there is nothing about 90% compliance by registration or face losing student loan funds. My university made that part up.

    What the Higher Education Opportunity Act says is that a university must indicate “on the institution’s Internet course schedule and in a manner of the institution’s choosing, the International Standard Book Number and retail price information of required and recommended college textbooks and supplemental materials for each course listed in the institution’s course schedule….”

    My current institution requires that every course have a syllabus with full textbook info posted on the internet by the first week of class, and it has not gotten into any trouble with the Feds!


  11. I think we’re supposed to have a state law that in some way supplements/makes stronger the federal law, but, aside from requiring some poor soul in the department office to send us increasingly urgent emails, it hasn’t had much effect. Professor Staff, who is, sadly, pretty common on our lower-level course rosters, at least until mid-summer (and sometimes increasingly in mid-summer when we’re facing budget crunches and sections of core courses are only added as absolutely, positively needed), is notoriously bad about getting hir orders in in April, probably because (s)he is having and identity crisis, and doesn’t know who (s)he is yet.

    The stronger incentive to getting book orders in something like on time, at least for the intro/core courses for which every publisher has a textbook, is that the volume of emails from publishers’ reps slows a bit once one adopts.

    I, too, want to take this class (I’m also in awe of how much you can ask students to read, but I assume this is an upper-level and/or grad class, and, also, sadly, history majors seem to have retained a much higher tolerance for heavy reading loads than English majors. A Victorian triple-decker a week, plus criticism, just won’t wash these days, though it certainly did when I was in school). Perhaps you should run a related MOOC, historiann (yes, I am kidding about that, even though I’m sure I’d very much enjoy working my way through your reading list).


  12. It’s a grad class, so I think it’s OK to assign a book plus related articles. When I teach undergrad classes, unless they’re seminars, I typically assign half a book and tell the students to expect between 100-200 pages of reading.

    But back in MY grad school day 23 years ago now, Richard Dunn had us reading TWO books a week, both ways uphill.

    And thanks for the compliments!


  13. The federal law thing is, alas, real. It’s relatively new.

    A lot depends on when students are allowed to register; you have to allow them to comparison-shop for book deals as soon as they can register.

    This becomes a problem if, as an attempt to improve student planning and progress toward degree, your institution has decided they should be able to register for classes a full year in advance.


  14. That’s nutz!

    I very kindly emailed my students a copy of this reading list so that they find the books themselves, if that’s what they want to do. What pre-internet world of comparison shopping do the Feds live in if they imagine that “comparison shopping” required more than a google search or two?


  15. Wow, the demolition of the Richard Neutra building is an atrocity.

    I’m calling Bull-ony on this bit of the article:
    “The loss of Neutra’s only public building east of the Mississippi River, though a tragedy for admirers of modernism, will be atmosphere’s gain. Once the Cyclorama Center has been removed, the 6,000-plus-acre park will look much as it did in the summer of 1863, shortly before more than 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed in a three-day military action. As a recent park-service analysis pointed out, “[Demolition] best meets the park objectives of protecting and preserving cultural and natural resources by rehabilitating the landscape. . . . and its veteran-designed commemoration.””

    Really? So what is atmosphere exactly? And why do Veterans of any conflict get the finally say in how something is commemorated? They should have some say, but given the role of the Civil War in shaping American federalism, its safe to say that later generations, including say mid 20th century moderns, also have a stake in that commemoration.

    Obliterating a building in an architectural style that has since fallen from favor in the name of authenticity is dishonest historicism. (Much like the way the Authorities of Greater Berlin decided to demo the GDR era Palace of the Republic in favor of a kitchy reconstruction of the Old Hohenzollern Royal Palace that had been flattened in WWII – no side stepping of a complicated 20th century legacy there, no sir). What are you going to do, pretend that nothing in N. Pennsylvania has changed between 1863 and 2013?

    BTW the syllabus looks great! I am going to have to crib from it when we redesign our undergraduate methods class.


  16. This debate was had, at great length, informally, and in the back-offices, in the Park Service in the late 1970s, in connection with the federalization of what until then had been Valley Forge State Park. The place had not even become a state park for more than a century after the Revolution, and there had been a lot of industrial development (and decay) on what had once been a rural site. And the state park had itself been assembled piecemeal over time from chunks of private property. In the middle of the new park there was the ruin of a 20th century plant that processed asbestos materials, just sitting in a little declivity, reeking of menace. The plan over what to do with it was entangled in toxicity issues, suburban aesthetics issues, historical similitude issues, and a wide range of other issues. But at the core of the planning discourse was a major debate between one kind of purists and other kinds of complexity theorists, plus your requisite provocateur(s) left over from the 1960s and ’70s. (Oh, wait, it *was* the 1970s). Anyway, toxicity and the culture of litigation won out, but the plant was only “mitigated” by half-measures, the other half of which still loom over the place today. But the stoner reverie of choice running through the dispute was the impish counterfactual question: what if the Confederates had triumphed at Gettysburg, broken through, turned right, and headed toward Philadelphia, only to be stopped cold in late 1863 in an even more titanic battle right in the middle of the old Valley Forge “battlefield” (sic)? *Then* what would you tear down, and what would you interpret?

    Gettysburg, by the way, was speckled with state unit statues from all or most of the seceding and non-seceding states between he 1870s and about 1900, so there never really *was* any frozen-in-time “then.”


  17. International Standard Book Number and retail price information

    My understanding is that this is a “cost of education” thing, as in, the cost of education is not just the tuition. It’s also the fees, the parking permit, the textbooks and blue books and scantron sheets, etc. The last time I taught a course with a required textbook (specialist, thus expensive), I bought a bunch of copies and set up my own lending library.


  18. Matt & Indyanna, I’m with you on the complexity of historical places. Many of the critics of the Neutra demolition over the past decade have pointed to the urban/industrial development within and on the edges of the park, noting that no one is proposing to tear down all of that stuff.

    It seems like Neutra’s building fell into disrepair at least a decade too soon for it to seem cool enough to restore and preserve. If it had limped into the 1990s or early 2000s as a functional building, a critical mass of midcentury modern enthusiasts may have mustered more support for it. It seems to me that some creative historic preservationists could have interpreted the Neutra building as an interesting artifact of the Cold War & the Civil Rights movement with an integrity of design all its own. Clearly, trying to preserve Gettysburg in 1863 as though in amber is a folly.

    (As for the flat roof: that seems like a reasonable design flaw to raise. But no one is tearing down Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Illinois or PA, for that matter, because of the flat roofs.)

    As for the “federal law” requiring me to submit my textbook orders by X date: I will continue to register my civil disobedience. Why should I obey the laws of an outlaw nation, one that regularly spies on its citizens and demolishes Richard Neutra buildings? Johnny Law can come get me if he wants to. (Are you listening, PRISM?)


  19. My understanding is similar to truffula’s: the issue is letting the students know the full cost of their education (and requiring supposedly-profiteering proffies to disclose if they’re making their students buy their own books. This concern, of course, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the publishing business, even the textbook publishing business). I manage, because I don’t get to teach new classes very often. But I’d have major trouble if I had more chances to teach in my field. I’d be happy to declare a budget/upper limit, which would serve the same purpose, and allow me to use the summer for its intended purpose: course planning (the same people who passed these laws presumably are the ones who think we take summers off, and teach from yellowed notes. There really is a lot of invisible labor in higher ed, and designing reading lists that both expose students to the ideas to which we want them exposed *and* provide good material for the papers and other skill-developing activities we want to include in the class is one part of that labor.)


  20. The lead time on high school textbooks seems to be a lot longer. They are frequently on backorder and we order in May for September. Most public schools do their ordering a year or more in advance which is the great bulk of orders so our comparatively dinky 50 or 60 book orders rarely get top priority. OTOH, when we use college level books they usually have no problem getting us them. Sadly, this means will probably be shifting over to e-texts sooner than we would like. The annotation features still aren’t there yet although they are getting better.


  21. I have a tough time with these bookstore deadlines as well. I would suggest that the campus organization to communicate with on the issue is Accessibility Services (under whatever name it goes by on your campus). These offices are under- resourced but charged with upholding laws regarding access to education and when the books aren’t available to them to scan in time to make them readable by text to voice softare programs etc…, students with disabilities do suffer. It must show that I’m off to an Accessibility Initiative Task Force meeting tomorrow am. We can’t know in advance whether students with disabilities will be present in the class but if universal design is the goal…how do we plan that in and deal with the seemingly impossible deadlines and craft evolving creative courses?


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