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
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
A belated Valentine to all my readers!
Oh, my friends: so much is happening globally, nationally, regionally, locally, and even here at the Black Cat Ranch that it’s hard to find time to blog even just one little bit these days. My apologies! Over the weekend I saved up some bits and bobs of oakum, old yarn, and loose string that might distract you from that sense of impending doom that weighs on so many of us these days. Who knows? It might help, and it surely can’t hurt, right? So, andiamo, mi amici–
- First, a request from a reader, Catherine Devine, who writes: “I’m designing a ‘NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED’ banner, and I want to have the names of women across time, occupation and location in the background. Esther Wheelwright’s definitely there 🙂 I have the beginning of a list, but I’m white and not a historian. Your readers are sane and and well informed. I’m looking to politics, art, science, literature – anywhere. There will be plenty of room on the banner. If you’re willing, please have people send me names & references to catherinedevine at mac dot com with ‘Persisted’ in the subject line. I’m hoping to create one of the only footnoted banners ever. Oh yeah, I’m not doing this for profit. I will share the file for printing.” Readers, can you help? You can also leave suggestions in the comments below–I’ll be sure to let Devine know when this post goes live so she can check in there, too.
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.
Hey–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
The Good Elves failed to mark all of my exams last night, so I spent this morning packing for a holiday trip and grading 21 final essays by my women’s history students. And they rocked it! Broadly speaking, I asked them to analyze five primary sources (two of them published engravings from the American Antiquarian Society’s collections) using the last three books on our syllabus and make an argument either for continuity or change in free women’s lives in the period 1750 – 1820.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they chose to emphasize change in women’s lives, although most still recognized the challenges these women faced in the societies they lived in, which were still characterized by a great deal of continuity in its gendered expectations of marriage and sexuality. While I find that students are eager to seize upon any evidence that things might be getting better for anyone, that message may be particularly important in the wake of the electoral college victory of the Human Stain. My students in this stack of exams put a great deal of emphasis on the change women were enacting in their own lives, regardless of broader efforts at social control.
Because I think the images they got to write about are so fantastic, and because I think more of you should check out the rich collection of digitized material that the American Antiquarian Society makes freely available, here they are (above and below), along with a link to the larger database they’re from, the Charles Peirce Collection of Social Caracatures and Ballads. Take a look at the top image carefully–I’ve included a link to the AAS site’s digitization, which is enlargeable to a fair-thee-well–so rich with wonderful details about the unhappy marriage it depicts.
This is the collection that features the only copy of the famous “A Philosophic Cock,” one of the most explicit political jokes in American history, and the AAS has digitized it! It’s also the only known attempt to depict Sally Hemings in her lifetime–although I’m sure it wasn’t drawn from personal knowledge, it’s notable for its existence at all.
(Warning: bad rape joke straight ahead.) Continue reading
Joseph Adelman and Liz Covart were at the Huntington last weekend talking about the digital humanities and early American history. (Wish I were there! My ears were burning, though–I hear that this blog came up a lot.) Joe got a lot of questions about use of Twitter for academics, and published a post explaining his approach in “Is there a right way for academics to tweet?” He writes:
For me, the most important decision to make about using Twitter is to decide what you want from it and use it clearly that way. My own strategy, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is to treat Twitter like the hallways of a conference, where you can discuss serious matters about academia and the news, but also shares stories with friends about one’s kids, sports, pop culture, and the news.
The “conference hallway” is a great way to think about Twitter. It’s a public space, so although not everyone at the conference is listening in on your specific conversation, anyone can if they choose to do so. Joe concludes his essay with some great advice: Continue reading