The story of the United States of America: we write this chapter.

This situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.

This situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet here lately–aside from the usual new semester kerfuffle, it’s been difficult to decide what to say or when to say it when one’s outrage-o-meter is stuck on full blast all week long.  Being the sunny, positive person that I am, I’ve been looking for wisdom on the internets that notes that it’s going to be a slog, but that we’ve faced worse.  I’m a historian:  I know we’ve faced much more serious threats to American democracy than the Human Stain, Mr. Minority president, Mr. 36%.

The people whose analyses I’ve gravitated towards lately have been conservatives.  Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post is someone to follow now.  Another example is Eliot A. Cohen, a loyal Bushie and advisor to Condoleeza Rice in her last two years as secretary of state, in “A Clarifying Moment in American History:”

This is one of those clarifying moments in American history, and like most such, it came upon us unawares, although historians in later years will be able to trace the deep and the contingent causes that brought us to this day. There is nothing to fear in this fact; rather, patriots should embrace it. The story of the United States is, as Lincoln put it, a perpetual story of “a rebirth of freedom” and not just its inheritance from the founding generation.

Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness. These are all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers. Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies.

Continue reading

Speaking of bubbles, the “higher ed bubble” bubble has popped, just in time for spring semester classes

bubblepopHey–remember all of those stories that were written at the depths of the Great Recession back in 2008-2010 about “the high cost of higher education,” warning young people not to waste their time or money on college degrees because all of these elite university grads from the 1970s and 1980s were confident that higher ed was now just a scam to pick the pockets of the middle class?

Remember that?  Well, that bubble has burst–not the “higher ed bubble” that conservatarians and right-wingers and the entire Wall Street Journal editorial page team have been predicting, but rather the bubble of the “higher ed bubble.”  Behold, I opened my copy of the Denver Post this morning to read this headline:

“The pay gap between college grads and everyone else is now wider than ever.”

Who ever would have predicted??? Continue reading

Girls! Girls! Girls!

mustakeem

University of Illinois Press, 2016

The Junto is on fire this week!  First, they published Casey Schmitt’s review of Sowande’ Mustakeem’s Slavery at Sea, and then followed it up with Rachel Herrmann’s in-depth interview with Mustakeem about the writing of the book.  Here, Mustakeem reminds us of the importance of thinking critically about the entire population of captured Africans who became our ancestors in the U.S.–it wasn’t just healthy, able-bodied young men, but it included older people, sick people, and of course, girls and women as well as men.

Today, Sara Damiano has published a wonderful guide to assigning and using more primary sources by women in the first “half” of the U.S. History survey.  (I say “half,” because when one starts a class in 1492 and ends in 1877 that’s 385 years; so if the following course begins in 1877 and goes roughly through 2001, that’s only 124 years.  I’m not sayin’–I’m just sayin’.)

Wabanaki red woolen hood with blue ribbon trim and trade silver (detail from image below)

Wabanaki woman in red woolen hood with blue ribbon trim and trade silver. Image from Library & Archives Canada

Damiano says that in making a concerted effort to include primary sources by women throughout the course, rather than limiting their appearance to a sprinkle here and there, meant that she could engage questions about gender across time and space, and that it forced her to rethink the whole purpose of assigning students primary sources in survey classes.  Check it out.  She’s got a nice checklist that outlines her method.

Be sure to take full advantage of every source you see:

Finally, did you know that there is a new blog called the Stars Hollow Historical Society?  This seems totally brilliant, and well-timed to correspond to the Gilmore Girls reboot that debuted over the holidays.  They’re accepting pitches and submissions from anyone who wants to write about “public history and heritage tourism” in the Gilmore Girls.  (I love the concept of the blog but the bright salmon-pink background is just too much.  It hurts to read, whereas anything involving the Gilmore Girls, public history, and representations of heritage tourism in Stars Hollow should be nothing but a pleasure!  I love the pink, but tone the shade down a bit to enhance the contrast?)

More girls, just for fun.  There are some things you can’t cover up with lipstick and powder/Thought I heard you mention my name, can’t you talk any louder?

Take it away, girls and boys–

 

Bubble, bubble, who’s in the bubble?

jetsonsRecently, it’s been fashionable for pundits and journalists to blame liberals and leftists for the political and cultural segregation of the United States today.  Liberals, so the story goes, have up and left middle America (AKA “real America”) and decamped for Democratic-leaning states on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and maybe a few liberal college towns in-between (Ann Arbor, Madison, Austin, and Boulder, for example) where they never meet a single Republican or white evangelical Christian, and this is why it was such a shock to them that the Human Stain was elected to the presidency.  It’s a satisfying, truthy story, but every time I hear some version of this I wonder:  have you talked to anyone teaching in non-elite public colleges and universities today, because a huge number of us left/liberals live in real America too.  Do we count?  Let me explain: Continue reading

#AHA17: No longhorns, but plenty of splinters up my skirt.

That old snag again?

That old snag again?

I’m just back at the ranch after half a week at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting 2017. I didn’t have a minute to blog or tweet about much of anything, seeing as I wanted to take full advantage of having so many friends and colleagues in Colorado.  Blogging and tweeting is what I do when I’m back here all by my lonesome–so expect to hear plenty from me now that everyone has cleared on out!  As you may recall, the Longhorn Parade for the 2017 National Western Stock Show was cancelled because of cold and snow, but the historians converged upon Denver fearlessly last week.

aha17_programIt was wonderful to see so many of you, and I’m grateful to those of you #twitterstorians whom I didn’t know in person who took the time to grab my elbow to say hello.  It was particularly fun to meet finally some of the young scholars like Rachel Herrmann and Erin Bartram, with whom I have corresponded and grab-assed over Twitter.  I’m just sorry that I only got to see or talk to most of you for a minute or two in-between conference sessions or at a busy cocktail party.  I did get to have several nice lunches and dinners on the town with old friends.  How did we get to be the old people at the conference?  Some of my age peers are starting to look like they were rode hard and put away wet. Continue reading

Living portraits of the dead and dead portraits of the living: “Posthumous Portraiture in America,” early Tennessee, and artist Ralph E. W. Earl

Baby in Blue, ca. 1845, William Matthew Prior. National Portrait Gallery

Baby in Blue, ca. 1845, William Matthew Prior.
National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Max Nelson offers a fascinating overview of a current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, “Securing the Shadow:  Posthumous Portraiture in America.”  I find this subject both touching and horrifying, especially considering the understandable impulse to commemorate lost children.  But as Nelson notes (per the exhibition), the practice of painting or sculpting the recently deceased continued long after the invention of photography and the democratization of family portraiture.  In fact, “mortuary photography”–photographs of the recently deceased, especially babies and children–was a big chunk of the business in early photography.

There’s a painting I’ve been using in my classes to illustrate the changes in how free Americans envisioned marriage and family life from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  The Ephraim Hubbard Foster Family presents such a lively contrast to the dour mid-eighteenth century puritan portraits of husbands and wives–the fresh, blushing complexions! The number of children, who appear to have been painted as individuals!  The focus on parental youth and beauty!  I’ve wondered for a long time if the child so extraordinarily costumed on the window sill is in fact a dead child, but having reviewed the online images this exhibition offers, I don’t think this is the case.  Here’s the portrait: Continue reading