WIZ 301: Defense Against the Dark Arts, or, how universal design improves our teaching


Dump the blue books!

The always-thoughtful David Perry of How Did We Get Into This Mess and on Twitter @Lollardfish) has given his last blue-book, in class, timed exam.  Those of you who know his writing will not be surprised that he’s doing this because of the inequities and exposure in-class exams mean for students with disabilities:

I’ve been inching away from the blue book for years, but it’s time to go cold turkey and match my praxis to my principles. Whatever pedagogical gains the in-class test might bring — and I’ll argue they are few and increasingly less relevant — I can no longer justify forcing people with disabilities to disclose their conditions in order to receive basic test-related accommodations.

Although protections for disabled students date back to Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act spurred widespread change throughout academe. Compliance with the ADA and with Section 504 — for any institution receiving federal funds (including financial aid) — requires providing reasonable accommodations to students with diagnosed disabilities. It’s become routine, rather than rare, for students to begin the semester by presenting their professors with documented requests for accommodation.

That it’s become routine is great but far from perfect. Not only do students have to disclose disability to their professors —who are no more immune to ableism than to any other sort of bias — but the most common form of accommodation extends the disclosure to classmates. Many students with invisible disabilities (such as anxiety disorders or ADHD) require quiet rooms and extra time to work on a test. I’m thrilled to provide both. On the other hand, when the whole class gathers to take an exam, with one student conspicuously absent, everyone notices.

Right on, David!  (Be sure to read the whole article.)  He comes to his conclusion about canning the in-class, timed exams based on his understanding of the concept of universal design.  Perry explains, “That term — coined in the 1970s around architecture and public space —advocates that systems be designed to accommodate the widest range of function and ability possible. Universal design asks us to try and build accessibility into the fabric of our institutions and culture, rather than wait until individuals make their needs known.”  I’m sure you’ve seen evidence of it in buildings of recent construction–the extra-wide doorways and hallways, the paddle-handle door pulls that have replaced traditional doorknobs because they don’t require the number of fine motor skills to operate. Continue reading

“And I did other bad, naughty things”: Source for the history of early modern childhood & youth

Since I’ve got another book in the bag, this summer is all about readin’ and reflectin’.  I’ve never had a summer in which I was not engaged in writing a monograph for more than twenty years:  first it was a dissertation, then it was Abraham in Arms:  War and Gender in Colonial New England (which was not a revision of my dissertation, oh well. . . ), and then it was my forthcoming The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  And that about covers the previous 24 summers!

So what the heck am I doing with myself?

I’m giving myself the gift of just reading and dreaming about what might be an interesting project that will bring together my interest in women’s and gender history, sexuality, fashion, the body, and material culture.  I’ll be reporting here and there about what I’ve read and who else might be interested in reading what I’ve read too.

firstbookoffashionFor example, I finally have had the chance to look over The First Book of Fashion:  The Book of Clothes of Matthäus & Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), edited, translated, and with essays by Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward.  It’s nearly a coffee-table kind of book in terms of its size and production values.  I first heard about this book last winter via Twitter, which led me to Rachel Herrmann’s  fascinating interview with Hayward about fashions in the courts of Henry VIII and Charles II of England. Continue reading

Restroom panic! The solution is so obvious.

09018TPSweet baby Jesus, please let public restrooms all become inclusive/family restrooms already. They’ve been a problem for many of us (if not most of us, at least once in a while) for years, including folks in the non-transgender majority.  John D. Sutter argues that sexed bathrooms are relics that should be abolished as racially-exclusive public restrooms were fifty years ago.  I agree entirely, especially because there’s such a simple solution right before us!

When I was a first-time mother back in the early 2000s, the “family restroom” was fairly new on the scene, and I thought they were lifesavers.  (Maybe they were there all along, and I just didn’t have occasion to seek them out beforehand?)  Changing a baby in most public restrooms isn’t too difficult–I thought the family restrooms were even more useful when the children become toilet-trainee toddlers and little kids, because that’s when the extra space and time for everyone to go came in very handy.   Continue reading

Happy Easter/Pesach/Spring Equinox/_your festival here_! Enjoy an ad-free holiday at Historiann.

cowgirlhotstuffThe whole gang here at Historiann HQ wish you and yours a quiet, ad-free holiday of your choice this spring. I’ve had such an overwhelmingly positive reaction about my decision not to provide content for free at sites that are run by advertising dollars that I thought today I’d also direct your attention to other ad-free and content-rich history blogs.  Most of these are group blogs, except for The Way of Improvement Leads Home, which is run by the indefatigable John Fea of Messiah College:

  • Tropics of Meta: historiography for the masses!  Mostly modern U.S. history, California history, media studies, race, and gender.
  • Nursing Clio:  a group blog on gender, sexuality, and the history of medicine
  • U.S. Intellectual History:  big-tent intellectual history as it’s written and taught by junior and emerging scholars.
  • African American Intellectual History:  same as above, with a focus on black intellectuals from the eighteenth century to the present.
  • Religion in American History:  a group blog on the obvious, with contributors who cover the richness of American religious history from the colonial era to the present.
  • The Junto:  a group blog on early American history by historians based in North America and Britain.
  • Borealia:  a group blog on early Canadian history (First Nations/New France to Confederation, 1867)
  • The Way of Improvement Leads Home:  John Fea’s blog on early American history, American religious history, and early U.S. intellectual history.  Fea is apparently a man unafflicted by hunger, thirst, or the need to sleep, as he’s just published yet another book, and he has a podcast now, too!  (I am not worthy, but then, neither of most of you so we’re in good company.)
  • Notches:   A group blog on the history of sexuality, mostly European and North American.

Most of us who contribute to blogs like these have day jobs, or are madly finishing dissertations, or sometimes both.  It’s honest labor, and we do it because we love history and refuse to believe that it’s irrelevant for understanding the world as we have inherited it.  Peace, my sisters and brothers! Continue reading

Race, sex, and voting rights in American history: again, the longue durée

Memories of 2008!

Deez nuts!

Hillary Clinton, running against a white man for the Democratic nomination, loses the support of white men.  But in the end, does it really matter?  When her opponent was a black man, she won white men by a country mile.  This says more about white men’s prejudices than it does about Hillary Clinton.

In any case, I’ve been frustrated by the tendency of the political media to treat white men as though they’re the real voters, the real Americans, and the rest of us as though our votes don’t really count the same.  It’s seen as “inevitable,” somehow, that Clinton wins non-whites and women of all ethnicities, whereas it’s a real achievement for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump–two white men–to win a majority of white men’s votes.

Why does the white man insist on voting with his peen?  That’s unsanitary, as well as disgusting identity politics. Continue reading

The Cruel Shoes: Claire Underwood’s powerfully destabilizing stilettos

Here’s  a fascinating read by Megan Garber of fictional First Lady Claire Underwood’s perma-stilettos in House of Cards:

It is strange and striking that Claire Underwood, who is a human woman if also a fictional one, spends the early episodes of Season 4 of House of Cards permanently clad in stilettos. Claire, now the First Lady of the United States, wears her signature shoes—the shoes that complete her “power dress code”—not just when she is making public appearances, giving speeches and attending international summits and what have you, but also when she is not, technically, “appearing” at all. There’s Claire in the kitchen of the White House residence, hanging out with her husband while teetering in stilettos. There she is visiting her childhood home in Texas—among horse stables and tangled grass, upon soil that is so perilously soft—clad in sky-high heels. There she is nursing her mother in the same impractical footwear. In a scene that finds Claire exhausted from a day of, in every sense, dealing, she returns, finally alone, to the retreat of her lush bedroom, lays down on a chaise, assumes a fetal position, and falls asleep. In her heels.

(Did no woman, ever.)

What does Garber think this all-stilettos, all-the-time performance means? Continue reading

The best way to prevent pregnancy

Re: the recent silly advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about women and alcoholRebecca Solnit says:  alcohol does not cause pregnancy, so obviously women should avoid men, not alcohol.  “A woman can be fertile as the Tigris Valley in the time of Abraham and she’s not going to get pregnant absent consort with a seed-bearing man. But if you listened to the way it’s often framed, you might believe that women get pregnant on their own.”  Also, if anyone should lay off the sauce, it’s men. because drunk men, not drunk women, are the source of greatest harm to others.

So why the panic over women tying one on?

I wish all this telling women alcohol is dangerous was a manifestation of a country that loves babies so much it’s all over lead contamination from New Orleans to Baltimore to Flint and the lousy nitrate-contaminated water of Iowa and carcinogenic pesticides and the links between sugary junk food and a host of health conditions and the need for universal access to healthcare and daycare and good and adequate food. You know it’s not. It’s just about hating on women. Hating on women requires narratives that make men vanish and make women magicians producing babies out of thin air and dissolute habits. This is an interesting narrative for the power it affords women, but I would rather have an accurate one. And maybe a broader one talking about all the ecological and economic factors that impact the well-being of children. But then the guilty party becomes us, not them.

Continue reading