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
I’m not a traditional historian. I don’t give a fig about chronology except (maybe) in my “first half” (1492-1877) of the U.S. History survey class, and I never care about “coverage.” Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I go for books and ideas that intrigue me rather than the idea that I need to “cover” certain decades or themes in my classes. The only kind of coverage I ever worry about is ensuring that my students are reading, hearing, and talking about as many different Americans as possible. I try to ensure that we are reading and talking about women and men alike, and Americans of all classes and ethnic backgrounds.
More proof that I’m probably a bad professor: I write syllabi for the courses I wish I could have taken. Selfish? Guilty as charged. But then I figure if I’m bored, how can my students not be bored too? I’m just not that good of an actor. Also, I’ve found that if it excites me (environmental history! material culture!), it’s probably going to interest the students more than a lecture or book I feel merely obligated to share with them.
Joseph Adelman has an interesting blog post over at The Junto about teaching a history course organized around four American autobiographies rather than rigid notions of “coverage” and chronology. In a seminar for first-year students, I can see how it might be disorienting for them to jump from the 1670s (Mary Rowlandson) to the eighteenth century (Benjamin Franklin), and then to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with two African American autobiographies, Frederick Douglass and Melba Pattillo Beals. (He very generously provides a link to his syllabus, too.) Continue reading
There’s something going around on Twitter called Giving Tuesday, which sounds like an attempt to prick people’s consciences after the push to spend money on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Whatever! We should give generously to the causes we support.
If you’re so inclined to donate, here’s a post from last summer in which I described how I donated money to Planned Parenthood AND IN THE SAME PHONE CALL got my name off their irritating call list! You can do it! They haven’t bugged me since then, so I may pick up the phone again to give them more money to show support for their work in the wake now of yet another mass shooting targeting a women’s clinic: 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
In both my grad class and my undergrad class this week we’re discussing Sharon Block’s Rape and Sexual Power in Early America. This is a book that goes over very well with college students, given their vulnerability to sexual assault as well as Block’s analysis of the racial and class dynamics of rape complaints and prosecutions. I was pushing my students on the question of why more hasn’t changed over the past 300 years, and decided to ask them if they knew someone who had been raped. All of us but ONE person out of 17 or 18 of us in the discussion section raised a hand. Continue reading
University of Chicago Press, 2015
Don’t miss John Fea’s interview of Terri L. Snyder about her brand-new book, The Power to Die: Slavery and Suicide in British North America (University of Chicago Press, 2015)., which I learned of via the ubiquitous and always-in-the-know Liz Covart on Twitter.
In the course of the interview, Snyder outlines how she came about her ideas for her second book in the course of researching her first book, Brabbilng Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (Cornell University Press, 2003; Cornell Paperback, 2013): Continue reading