“Hillary, can you excite us?” The unresolved mommy problem of feminist politics, plus the return of the Whiggies!

annetaintorresentment

Copyright Anne Taintor

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times and a woman who has has her own struggles straddling the line between “revolutionary” and “the establishment,” has an interesting article in The Guardian about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s troubles “exciting” young women.  “The ‘I’m a woman and it’s OK to vote with your uterus’ message is tired,” according to a Harvard students quoted in Abramson’s article.

So tired!  Yes, that’s right:  it’s so much more revolutionary to elect an older man president.  Hillary Clinton has already run for president, like twice, so we’re SO over it.  It’s almost like she actually got elected, or something.  Can we just move on, already?   (And has anyone in history ever accused American men of voting with their d!cks because they have elected a man for president 44 times in a row since 1788?)

wig

The Whig of Illusory Progress goes to. . .young feminists, always.

Ah, well:  it’s the same old feminist story we’ve seen for the past 200 years, isn’t it?  As I have argued here before repeatedly, feminism is always the hapless frump of social justice movements.   I used to have a semi-regular feature here awarding people with flawed understandings of how history works the Whig of Illusory Progress.  Let’s just give young feminists of every generation a lifetime achievement award, shall we?

We love to blame feminists for everything they have done, and for everything they haven’t yet accomplished, and younger feminists are always eager to diss and dismiss their elders in the fight.  This was Carrie Chapman Catt’s move against Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; it was Alice Paul’s move against Catt a century ago; it was what the flapper generation did to both Catt and Paul after suffrage was achieved; it was what the so-called “Second Wave” did to the 1920s generation; it was what my generation in the 1980s and 90s did to the Second Wavers (with sometimes a literal attack on mothers and their politics and achievements, as in Katie versus Anne Roiphe; Rebecca versus Alice Walker), and now, it’s what the millennials and younger women are doing to my generation of feminists and to Second Wave feminists like Clinton. Continue reading

Make America Great Again? A smackdown on #VastEarlyAmerica

JoshuaPiker

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

Chronology, “coverage,” and other pointless wastes of time for historians.

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

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

Paul Harvey on the recent Colorado Springs mass-murder: “We will all have another chance to pay obeisance to the God that we are all compelled, willingly or not, to worship.”

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Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Today’s post was written at my invitation by Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.  Among many other titles in the history of evangelical Protestantism in the American South, most recently he is the author most recently of Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South and the co-author with Edward J. Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.  Regular readers of Historiann may also recognize Paul as the creator of the blog Religion in American History.

Paul lives just about a mile from the place where yet another deranged white man murdered three strangers last Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I’m so grateful to him for sharing his perspective as a neighbor and a fellow historian.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning here on October 31st. Weekends in the Old North End of Colorado Springs are full of people walking about, garage sales, scores of bicyclists and joggers, 20somethings tapping away on their smartphones in recently opened hipster coffee places, evangelicals gathering for para-church activities, and me – grading papers, writing, reading the book for next week’s class, or whatever (all three, this particular weekend). There seemed to be an inordinate number of sirens this particular morning, but I do live by a firehouse and near a hospital, and sometimes you get that. I settled back into some coursework.

But on this particular beautiful Saturday morning, yet another troubled white man – the same one we’ve seen all over the country, shooting up people in college and grade-school classrooms, malls, chain restaurants, and theaters – walked down a street about a mile and a quarter south of my home (and about three blocks from the historic downtown high school – Palmer High, named for the founder of this city, William Jackson Palmer). He previously had left a bizarre video “expressing displeasure with his father for allegedly falling under the sway of a particular preacher.” His mother had published a book that was, in part, about her son (as well as about her own struggles), entitled Sober mercies: How love caught up with a Christian Drunk.

Whatever his problems, it was still legal for him to walk around brandishing a heavy firearm. Actually, he had three – an AR-15 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a .357 revolver. 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