Richard (Rick) Beeman, 1942-2016

Richard (Rick) Beeman

Richard (Rick) Beeman

My friend Wayne Bodle, another alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, wrote to me yesterday with some remembrances of an emeritus Professor, Richard Beeman, who died Monday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He has agreed to let me share them with you, and we both invite any of you who knew Rick to share your memories too–whether you are “Old Pennsters” (as Richard Dunn calls us) or not.

Here are Wayne’s memories of Rick, which go back almost as far as Rick’s “freshman year” as a professor in 1968– Continue reading

Georgetown University and the legacy of slavery

I’m pretty underwhelmed by Georgetown University’s offer to give “preference in admissions” to the descendants of the enslaved people whose sale (and breakup of their families) financed the university in its earliest days.  For those of you who missed the story this week:

In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000, or roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars, to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions,” and families were broken up, according to a report issued by the school committee.

The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.

.       .       .       .       .

The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that’s given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, [University President John] DeGioia said. Universities around the United States have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, but several historians said the establishment of an admissions preference is unprecedented.

NPR had some good coverage of this story too this week.

It’s nice of Georgetown to offer legacy status to the descendants of people they sold, but let’s rewind:  what does it take for student to apply for admission to Georgetown and possibly to take advantage of this benefit?  First, she or he will need 1) a high school diploma, 2) with a strong academic record, and 3) an awareness of family genealogy.  Even then, admission is not guaranteed, it’s merely “preferred.” Continue reading

Of course we don’t trust her. But of course you can trust ME!

Can everyone stop bleating about Hillary Clinton’s low scores on trustworthiness.  Like, now, or yesterday, or 6 months ago?   They.  Don’t.  Matter.

No one trusts a woman who’s asking for a promotion, because women are supposed to defer and let men take the credit! Women who stick their necks out for more money and/or more power are never trusted. It’s baked in, and it has little to do with Hillary Clinton’s specific record.  Continue reading

More from the mailbag: how can I write a good letter of recommendation?

elvgrenmailFree advice?  You’re soaking in it!  I put out a call on Twitter yesterday, and it’s like the loaves and the fishes, man:  For one tweet, I get five, seven, and seven times seven in response!  (Keep them coming–I’m all ears).

A correspondent wrote yesterday to suggest that we–dear readers, you & me both–offer some advice and ideas as to how to write a good letter of recommendation to get someone else a job.  Said correspondent is an American teaching at a British university now, and also offers some insight as to how American and British referees traditionally approach their task:

Dear Historiann,

Can you write a blog post offering advice for letter-writers? Obviously there’s some out there already, but it would be really useful to have more history-specific thoughts. I think your posts on the job market will be helpful for those going on it–this angle would hopefully add to that conversation.

As an American teaching in the U.K., I’ve noticed that British letter-writers tend to write more honest letters that trace the arc of a candidate’s intellectual development. These can come across as much more critical/not positive even though that’s not how they’re meant. If applying to U.S. universities, a candidate may wish to have a senior scholar or colleague look over that letter writer’s letter (if at all possible) to make sure it won’t sink the candidate.

–Call me Natasha (when I Look Like Elsie)

Dear Natasha/Elsie,

Thanks for writing, Natasha.  You’ve offered some really useful advice to search committees in the U.S. for understanding British letters of recommendation.  This is something I wasn’t aware of and I’m glad to know.

Speaking from my position as a American who has always worked in U.S. American universities, the most helpful letters of recommendation are written like the best letters from tenure and promotion referees.  That is, they’re experts in a subfield writing to peers who are experts in other history subfields, and so understand their charge to contextualize and explain the candidate’s research to an intelligent audience of non-specialists.  Did the junior scholar in question travel thousands of miles and spend months or years in remote, difficult to access archives in order to do her research?  Does she have a perspective on her sources that is totally original and possibly pathbreaking?  Does her work address major questions in her subfield in a creative and ambitious fashion?  A good letter of recommendation will point these out and elaborate on just what are her unique contributions to her field. Continue reading

Today’s mailbag: Historiann offers a rope to Millie on the job market

elvgrenmailToday’s mailbag brings us a thoroughly modern problem from Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) and new Ph.D. Millie, who wonders if she should rush to get a book contract:

I’m a VAP, on the job market, and trying to conceptualize the dissertation-to-manuscript process (I graduated this past academic year).

That intellectual labor aside, the thing that’s really making me anxious is the timing of the process itself. On the one hand, lots of people say “write a book proposal, get a contract, write the manuscript” and I see fellow junior faculty doing that on Twitter all the time. On the other hand, other people (including my adviser, who is wonderful but also wrote his first book in the late 60s) tell me to write the manuscript first because a contract doesn’t mean that much at this stage in my career.

Obviously one of those has to be the right path, but I don’t know which one it is! I also feel like everyone else understands this but me. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

–Thoroughly Modern Millie

Dear Millie,

Thanks for writing in.  Increasingly over the past decade, I’ve seen more and more junior scholars applying for assistant professor jobs with book manuscripts under contract or even published, so your question is a very important one for many in your cohort of recent grads.  I’ll be interested to hear what my readers have to say about this,   (FYI, Millie’s Ph.D. and current VAP is in a book-intensive humanities discipline.)

Believe me, I understand the lure of snagging a book contract ASAP.  I’ve fallen under that spell myself on occasion, but in the end I think spending some time thinking about the book you want to write and getting some major revisions done is the way to go.  In other words, I think your advisor is right.  (Maybe that means I’m an old fart too, although I see that I was a wee infant the year he published his first book.  Old fartitude sneaks up quickly on you–one day you’re all like “hey, I’m 32, burn the candle at both ends!” and then you’re all like “two beers and I can’t get out of bed the next morning, srsly?”–so watch out.) Continue reading


eyerollThis election year reminds me of something a friend of mine told me a few years ago.  When she went to see a new play with some friends, no one in her party knew much about it so she wrote down her prediction as to what the play would be about, and hid it away for revealing afterward.  After the play she showed them her prediction:  “Everyone hates women, including women.”  She was right, of course.

I wish that she could be wrong, at least once.  Here’s my prediction, three months before election day.  I’m publishing it here so you can remind yourselves of my wisdom (or stupidity!) months and years later.  Here goes: Continue reading