A (Bull$!t) Mountain of Magical Thinking

You know those old stories in which a reporter for the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune drops in on the MLA’s (Modern Language Association) or the AHA’s (American Historical Association) annual meeting, drops in on a few panels with arcane subjects or papers, and then proves his or her thesis that modern academics are completely out-of-touch intellectuals discussing easy-to-caricature topics like queering the Peabody sisters or disability and turn of the 20th century American freak shows?

Well, one of ours has gone to Davos, and comes back with a very dispiriting report on the stupidity and naivety of our supposed betters (or at least richers).  UC Santa Barbara historian of technology Patrick McCray has pubished his report on what he saw at Davos last week, and it wasn’t good.  Over on his blog, The Leaping Robot, he writes about his invitation there to give a talk, and thought he’d give the proceedings there a little more respect than that offered by said Times or Trib reporter at modern literature and history conferences:

In accepting the WEF’s invitation to Davos, I tried to put aside some of my professional skepticism or at least channel it into more productive (i.e. less snarky) channels. In other words, I sought a line between stick-in-the-mud historian barking “It’s more complicated than than!” and being a starry-eyed Kool-Aid imbiber. I wanted to find a way to reach out to Davos Man in language he/she understood. Maybe I could even help pump the stomachs, idea-wise, of those that had consumed too much innovation Kool Aid.

I called my Betazone talk “innovation’s shadow.” In the time I had, I wanted to gently question some of the concepts of a 4th Industrial Revolution. I also hoped, to pour some mild acid on the prevailing innovation-centric view of technology that gives far too much agency to entrepreneurs and other “creative disrupters.”

Continue reading

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


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?)


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

Auld lang syne: my friends

UPDATED with memorial service information below.

You may have been wondering where the sardonic, spicy cowgirl Historiann has been this long holiday season. For that matter, I have too. My one and only New Year’s resolution–now that my book is well and truly in production–was to get back on the horse and find my blogging voice again. But the fact of the matter is that I’m grieving two colleagues who died in close succession, so I haven’t felt like putting on Historiann’s trademark sass.  If you care to read on, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my late friends, and why their deaths have made such a big hole in my heart.

The first, Andrew Cayton, died December 17 in Columbus, Ohio.  You may have read about him over at the Junto blog, which published a moving series of testimonies to his importance as a scholar of the early American republic and mentor to junior scholars. We met at the start of my career, when I found myself living in Oxford, Ohio and commuting to the University of Dayton. Drew and his wife Mary Kupiec Cayton were tremendous friends and mentors to me at a time when I needed a reality check as well as some letters of recommendation to get the heck out of that job. A model scholar, Drew was incredibly accomplished but always happy to extend the ladder down to help others on their way, as the remembrances over at the Junto demonstrate. I’m sure his example informs a great deal of what I’ve tried to here on this blog.  So there’s a good lesson for you, friends:  generosity and compassion gets paid forward, as does hostility and competitiveness, so be kind and try to help.

The other death is even more shocking and close-at-hand.  My colleague in the History department of Colorado State University, Jennifer Fish-Kashay, died Sunday January 3 of a heart attack in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She was only 49, and leaves behind a widower and two young children.  Jennifer was a historian of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Hawaii who wrote about early contact and conflict between native Hawaiians and Anglo-American merchants and missionaries, and who taught courses in the early U.S. Republic and Jacksonian America.  Jennifer was also trained in material culture and museum studies, so in our department she was central to the training and advising of our public history graduate students. Continue reading

The Big Sleep

Cookies! Because cookies!

Cookies! Because cookies!

Hey, why the long silence on this blog?  Long story short:  I’m reviewing the copy-edits of my book manuscript, AND it’s the end of the semester, AND I’ve been so discouraged by the news of yet another mass murder in the U.S.A. on the heels of our latest in Colorado, not to mention the pure heroin-grade hate and fear that’s being mainlined into our politics these days, that I haven’t had the energy or the inspiration to write anything meaningful.

(Does anyone have a Naloxone shot for the body politic?)

I’m just busy, and sad, and so sorry.  So very sorry. 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

Susan Amussen of UC Merced on what it’s like when it’s your campus: “Violence ripples out, affecting far more people than we expect.”

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015. Courtesy of Susan Amussen.

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015
Courtesy of Susan Amussen

Today’s guest post is from yet another friend of the blog whose campus sustained a knife attack by a student that was ended when he was shot and killed by campus police.  Fortunately and significantly, the only fatality in this incident was the perpetrator–he inflicted no fatal injuries because his weapon of choice was not a gun.  Susan Amussen, Professor of History at the University of California, Merced, sent this in on Thursday night and updated it last night after the vigil for the victims. 

By now, most of you know that on Wednesday morning, a student at UC Merced named Faisal Mohammed attacked a fellow student in a classroom with a knife.  He proceeded to stab a contract worker who had intervened when he heard the noise.   He then went outside and stabbed one of our staff advisors, and another student who tried to help that advisor.  As he ran from the campus police he was shot; he later died of his wounds.

As these stories go, it’s not as bad as it could have been.   He didn’t have a gun.  That was my first thought, and I can’t tell you how many of the messages I’ve received have commented on that.   It was early (a 7:30 AM class) so the campus was relatively empty.  All the victims are alive, and will make a full recovery.  Only the student who wielded the knife is dead.  Faisal (who I hadn’t known) was a first year student, and really, at this point that’s all we know.  While Fox News has tried to talk about jihad, as our Chancellor has said, there is no evidence that the initial attack involved anything but personal antagonism.  His roommate reports that he kept to himself, and didn’t seem to have friends.  All of us who teach know how complicated the transition to college is for many kids, and I keep thinking of him as a child.  I can’t use the words that are used so often – suspect, perpetrator, etc.  He was a kid, a student, with some kind of problem, but we don’t know what. Continue reading