“Some say” Clinton is “dishonest.” Will it stop us from voting for her?

Clinton2016Considering that we know that the more competent a woman is perceived, the less liked she is, should we really be surprised that a lot of Americans think Hillary Clinton is “dishonest?”  I’m not.  It’s better for a woman running for president to be seen as competent and unlikable rather than incompetent and likable.

Who’s voting to make Hillary Clinton his or her daughter, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, the Virgin Mary, Pope of Rome, or Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church?  I think she’s running for president.  I’m not sure people’s suspicions about her honesty will make a difference.  Do we want someone to be honest in her dealings with Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, or Mitch McConnell?  Or do we want her to execute multiple mindfracks while playing twelve-dimensional chess in order to pursue the best interests of the United States?

(Have these people never watched House of Cards, in either of its 1980s or 2010s versions, or even the goody-goo-goo West Wing, sacre bleu?) Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day!


You tell me.

Now things are going to get really interesting this election year.

Will the death of Antonin Scalia be enough to get Americans to take this election year seriously?  Will we hear talk about how much fun it would be to “have a beer” with this or that candidate?  Will we hear more about vague plans for “revolution” against the “Washington cartel,” or will we–and our candidates–grow up and join the reality-based community?   Continue reading

Make America Great Again? A smackdown on #VastEarlyAmerica


Joshua Piker, Editor, The William and Mary Quarterly

It’s an old-fashioned early American smackdown over at the Omohundro Institute blog:  William and Mary Quarterly editor Joshua Piker engages Gordon Wood’s critique of the journal–and the wider field of early American history and culture.  While waiting 11 months to respond to Wood’s comments is a rather leisurely pace for an online publication, Piker’s blog post suggests that waiting may have been a good thing.  In his comments on Wood’s vision for early American history, I see echoes of a contemporary political argument.

First, a reminder of Wood’s comments from last winter in The Weekly Standard:

Almost a year ago, . . Gordon Wood published a review of Bernard Bailyn’s Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History.  In this piece, Wood heaps praise on Bailyn and criticism on the field of early American history, including theQuarterly.  The review includes the following paragraph:

“For many [early Americanists], the United States is no longer the focus of interest. Under the influence of the burgeoning subject of Atlantic history, which Bailyn’s International Seminar on the Atlantic World greatly encouraged, the boundaries of the colonial period of America have become mushy and indistinct. The William and Mary Quarterly, the principal journal in early American history, now publishes articles on mestizos in 16th-century colonial Peru, patriarchal rule in post-revolutionary Montreal, the early life of Toussaint Louverture, and slaves in 16th-century Castile. The journal no longer concentrates exclusively on the origins of the United States. Without some kind of historical GPS, it is in danger of losing its way.”

Piker breaks down Wood’s cherry-picking like this: Continue reading

Students protest Jefferson statues on campuses with sticky notes

Thomas Jefferson statue at the College of William and Mary, November 2015

Thomas Jefferson statue at the College of William and Mary, November 2015

This is so 2015:  According to Inside Higher Ed“At both the University of Missouri at Columbia and the College of William & Mary, critics have been placing yellow sticky notes on [Thomas] Jefferson statues, labeling him — among other things — ‘rapist’ and ‘racist.'”  

Polite, inoffensive, non-vandalizing sticky notes with words on them, and still the internet right wing is in a predictable lather.  A William and Mary spokesperson comments, “‘A university setting is the very place where civil conversations about difficult and important issues should occur. Nondestructive sticky notes are a form of expression compatible with our tradition of free expression.'”

Tell me again who’s against liberty of speech and expression, friends?  The IHE article offers some interesting perspectives from different historians and Jefferson biographers–check them out. Continue reading

Who’s telling who to STFU at American universities? Observations on teaching at a HWCU.

cupofSTFUAh, yes: freedom of speech. What some really mean when they evoke it is, “my right to have my say and not have you talk back,” like all of those crybabies who have cancelled their appearances at commencement ceremonies in the last few years because not every student and faculty member greeted their future appearance on campus with hugs and cocoa and slankets.

If you really believe in liberty of speech, then stop telling others to STFU.  In my view, the people who are being criticized most vigorously for speaking up lately at Yale and the University of Missouri are all too often quiet about their experiences, silent on campus, and eager not to draw attention to themselves, and it’s these students whose voices we need to listen to the most.

Too many people have zero imagination about what it is to be African American or Latin@ on a historically white college or university (HWCU) campus. But everyone who has ever attended or taught or worked at a HWCU knows that African Americans on HWCUs are viewed with suspicion just for being there, let alone when they try to unlock their own damn bikes or organize a protest about their marginalization.

I teach at a HWCU in Northern Colorado, a place that is increasingly Latin@ but has very few African American residents.  In my classes, my experience with non-white students in general, and African American students in particular, over the past fourteen years is that they go out of their way to be polite, inoffensive, unobtrusive, and try not to call attention to themselves in any way.  Their efforts to try to fly under the radar and evade notice grieve me, even as I think I understand their interest in remaining quiet and unobtrusive.  I work to offer a non-white perspective on history constantly, but I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse for my non-white students (or if they even care.) That’s the reality of attending a HWCU for the majority of black students in the United States:  working hard to get your degree, trying not be noticed, not taking up much space or speaking up in class. Continue reading

Preemptive quit lit, or, does history have a future?

Come and get it!

Come and get it!

Much to my surprise, as I’ve been a bit of a grumpypants lately, the post last week on Matthew Pratt Guterl’s “What to Love” really struck a chord with a number of you.  Can you stand me blowing more sunshine up your skirt?

In today’s quit-lit-esque Jeremiad, Robert Zaretsky of the University of Houston riffs on Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II  in “The Future of History,” published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Braudel’s approach casts light not just on early-modern scholastics, but also on their postmodern descendants. Consider the tempo of life in graduate school: It moves at the same glacial pace as did life during the age of Phillip. Still governed by guildlike regulations and socio-professional traditions that our early-modern ancestors would recognize, the careers of grad students advance as languidly as trade caravans once did across North Africa.

It is hardly surprising, then, that we are unprepared for the tempo and temper of the times. We have handicapped ourselves, in addition, by a process of professional fission, fracturing into a growing number of subdisciplines. As our profession continued to sprawl, we fastened on ever smaller matters, and phrased our work in ever more arcane jargon. Mostly indifferent to the art of storytelling, we have been dying a death by a thousand monographs.

Seriously?  The “we’ve forgotten how to tell stories” line again?  Just how many copies of The Med and the Med World did Braudel sell outside of university libraries, anyway?  Was it a Book of the Month Club selection?  Riiiight.  Whenever I see that old line trotted out about “dying a death by a thousand monographs,” I see someone getting ready to push someone else out of the lifeboat, or at least hear him tell some kids to get off his lawn.

Enough of the “golden age” fantasies about the awesome, well-paid, and always well-respected scholars of yore.  When is your imagined “golden age” for history in these United States–the early and mid-nineteenth century, when only Gentlemen Scholars wrote history and bent it to their Protestant, white, male, triumphalist ends?  Just how many of those historians were actually making a living at it?  Just about none?  Alrighty then. Continue reading

It’s back to work at the hellhole of political correctness and man-hating that is the modern university

I keep scoreMy sabbatical is over!  I went back to the classroom today, and was immediately attacked by Ellen Jamesian undergraduates for assigning a book about rape without posting a trigger warning on my syllabus.  They also constantly accused me and one another repeatedly of racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist microaggressions, and we were only talking about the syllabus today!

Just kidding.  The students in HIST 369:  History of Sexuality in America seemed fine, even enthusiastic.  All of those who stayed after class to talk to me and my fellow instructor introduced themselves politely, shook our hands, and thanked us for answering their questions.

Can everyone who wants to scream and wail and rend their garments over so-called “political correctness” please get a grip on reality?  Based on what I’ve seen back here at Baa Ram U., the kids are alright, the professors seem chipper, and the only people who seem to have a problem with what’s going on here are people who don’t work on a college campus.  Today’s case in point, Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. “Dear Prudence” at Slate.  Now I ordinarily enjoy her agony column, although I disagree with her sometimes.  But when I read this yesterday I just about plotzed: Continue reading