“Yes, morale has never been higher since we eliminated hope!” Hello, and keep away from President Lemongrab.

Who ever could have predicted that a President who campaigned against his own party’s leadership as well as the Democrats and with an approval rating circling the drain at 35-40% would have a hard time assembling a governing majority in congress? Who, indeed?  I just can’t figure out why Dear Leader’s catastrophic success of a presidency isn’t working out the way he promised his voters it would. Continue reading

Mary Maples Dunn, 1931-2017

UPDATED BELOW WITH MEMORIAL SERVICE INFORMATION

As many in the early American community learned Monday morning, Mary Maples Dunn died Sunday in North Carolina.  She was a longtime professor and dean at Bryn Mawr College who then served as president of Smith College, director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, president of Radcliffe, and the co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

In one of the emails that started flying around Monday morning, a senior scholar in my field reported that she had been visiting with her youngest daughter and grandchild when she died.  She had whooped it up the night before with two manhattans.  I’m sure that she and they were glad she was able to make one last trip and enjoy a last visit before her death.  Continue reading

Does history matter, Part II? What historians bring to the table

From the frying pan into the fire!

Although as I explained yesterday I feel somewhat alienated from my discipline, there are things that historians bring to the table that no one else does.  This is by no means the dernier cri–it’s a document that I invite you all to critique and add to.  It’s about time for me to add another page to this blog for disheartened historians young and old to remind us of what it is we can do and why what we do is important.  Let’s call it “Why Historians Matter” although again, that’s just a suggestion.  I’m certainly open to catchier titles–and ones that don’t appear to plagiarize Judith Bennett quite so much!

So far, I’ve tried to focus on the key elements of historical research (collection, analysis, and evaluation) and one aspect of teaching history (citizenship).   Continue reading

Does history matter? Part I

UPDATED BELOW

Grab a cup and join me!

That’s the question for today:  what are we historians doing, and does it matter?  I wonder if it’s possible that 20 years after earning my Ph.D. that I might have chosen the wrong academic discipline.  Most historians are way too methodologically conservative for me.  Why has it taken me half a career to figure this out?  Is it history, or is it me?

I always preferred history to literature.  I always took at least one English literature course per semester in college, and toyed for a time with majoring in English, but I never got the hang of writing a literature paper.  You historians can probably guess the kinds of papers I wrote for my English classes, papers that explored the historical context of whichever text or author I was supposed to be writing about instead of the text itself!  I worked with loads of lit students in graduate courses in cultural theory, which were a big deal in the early 1990s at Penn.  I appreciated its insights for history, but was a bit dazed at the thought of applying the ideas just to one or two “texts,” instead of loads of “primary sources.” Continue reading

Women and fashion: can’t win for losing, turn of the 19th century-style

I’ve been inspired by the recent coverage of the fall 2017 collections during New York and Paris fashion weeks to think about the many ways fashion is deployed as a critique of women’s vanity.  Here are a couple of brilliant prints I came across recently that are great to consider together.  First, we have “The Inconvenience of Dress” (1786), which mocks the late-1780s demand for “false rumps” or “cork bums” to fill out the rear portion of women’s skirts.  The poor dear needs help from a false rump because she can’t get consume enough calories to build her own, given the fashion for generous neckerchiefs in women’s wear in this period, too.  Aye, but “Who’ll not starve to lead the Fashion?” as the ditty below asks:

Continue reading

Quick, someone at a liberal arts college do something the Wall Street Journal can b!tch about endlessly

Do I look like a dangerous leftist to you?

. . . because they can’t complain endlessly about the “illiberal arts” majors at Middlebury College, can they? Or can they?  The amount of ink they have spilled over the shut-down of white nationalist Charles Murray‘s talk there is pretty impressive, considering the shambling embarrassment of a presidential administration and the inability of the governing party to agree on much of anything.  I guess there’s always the antics of a few pissed off students at an elite, private liberal arts college in Vermont, population 2,500 students, to induce panic in the ruling classes.

It’s kind of cute that they seem so fearful of us!  If only we faculty were the diabolically powerful leftist Svengalis that they imagine we are.  Most of us are just desperate to wean our students from fragment sentences, the bizarre use of the word “off” these days (“Based off of. . . ”  What???  What is a “base?”  Is a “base” something you put stuff ON, or OFF OF? Yegads, people.), and to inculcate an appreciation of the subjunctive tense as well as to pass on a little discipline-specific knowledge.  (Just a little!) Continue reading