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
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
Ah, 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
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
My 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
At Salon, Swarthmore College alum Arthur Chu writes a brilliantly funny and angry screed about those silly “p.c. culture” articles published as clickbait by The Atlantic last week, and says exactly what I’ve been thinking and meaning to write all week long–just go read and think about it. His thesis is pretty clearly announced in the headline “So college ‘p.c. culture’ stifles comedy? Ever hear a comedian sh*t on the American Dream at a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting?” In short, Chu exposes once again that the term “politically correct” is a meaningless bludgeon only used against some forms of speech and protest, and not against others.
Chu says it all much better than I can, but I’d just like to add two things: although I’ve been guilty of it on this blog on occasion, and only in the distant past I think, the recent jeremiads about “kids these days” published in The Atlantic just make the authors appear sclerotic and judgy, as the young people say. Please protest if I ever write something as carelessly and thoughtlessly dismissive as those silly articles! (Pro tip to those worried about “p.c.” today on college campuses: the best cure for bad, silly, or uninformed speech is more speech, not a huffy demand that an entire generation of students S.T.F.U.)
Finally, I’d just like to add that although I think that I can teach college students a thing or two that might come in handy some day, I also think that older people should pay attention and see what we can learn from our students too. They are the generation that made sodomy laws and constitutional amendments preventing same-sex marriage fall so quickly. It wasn’t my Generation X, which has mostly been just about us instead of serving others or working towards political action. Even on a politically complacent, historically white campus like Baa Ram U. during the 2004 election, in which gay marriage bans were on several state ballots, I had majorities of students ask me in honest disbelief why anyone would be against same-sex marriage or harbor prejudice against gay and lesbian people. Continue reading
Katha Pollitt has some ideas for reclaiming the moral high ground on abortion rights. I agree with her that abortion needs to be seen more visibly as a part of women’s health care. We all know women who have had abortions–some of us have assisted them in some way, and a third of have had abortions ourselves. I’ve helped one friend recover from an abortion. I’ve never had one myself, and count myself fortunate, not virtuous. There’s no question but that if I had become pregnant before I wanted to be that I too would have sought an abortion.
In fact, it was my planned, wanted pregnancy that made me feel even more strongly about the importance of abortion rights. Some women begin to question the morality of abortion when they become pregnant, and I always wondered if pregnancy would change my mind. It didn’t–in fact, it struck me as even crazier and more absurd that so-called “pro-lifers” cared more about the little jelly bean inside my uterus than the adult human woman in which it grew, a human with adult responsibilities and family and community ties. It struck me as the most clueless and obnoxious form of misogyny–the utter erasure of living, breathing women and all of our labor, hopes, and creativity in favor of the potential human life growing in our uteri. The notion that anyone but me would presume to make decisions about the rest of our lives enraged me. Continue reading