Archive for February, 2008

February 14th 2008
Patty Limerick’s Valentine to Bruce Benson

Posted under jobs & local news & wankers

cowboy-heart.jpgWhat is up with Patricia Limerick these days?  Aside from being the Director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado (CU), she writes occasional op-ed pieces as an advocate for Western issues like water and dirt.  This morning, I cracked open my hard copy of the Denver Post to find her endorsement for right-wing hack Bruce Benson to become the next president of her university.  With apologies to my out-of-state and international readership, I’ve already addressed this foolishness, if only for the realpolitik concept that the ENTIRE STATE IS NOW RUN BY DEMOCRATS.  But, Historiann just can’t let this one go.

So, back to Limerick:  she starts her op-ed with an unconvincing apologia for the fact that Benson is one of one finalists for the job.  She explains, “when news gets out that a top university administrator is a finalist for a job at another institution, that person is in jeopardy. At the very least, the people she works with will look at her with distrust. At the worst, she may end up, in short order, no longer holding that job.  Hence, the idea of announcing a list of several finalists is a dream that cannot find a home in the cutthroat world of our times.”  Really?  Let’s look at comparable searches elsewhere.  I wonder how Colorado State University ever got 2 people with distinguished academic careers to interview publicly just five years ago?  Who knew that the delicate flowers who compete for these jobs were taking such incredible risks?  Back in the reality-based community, they’re not:  it seems more typical than unusual that two to four finalists are named.

Next, she addresses his lack of academic qualifications:  “Others believe that Benson’s lack of a Ph.D. disqualifies him for the presidency.”  Call me an old stick-in-the-mud, but I think it’s only fair that people in the top jobs at universities have to match at least the minimum requirements that our beginning assistant professors must meet.  You know, the people that he’ll be asked either to tenure or fire in 6 years?  Finally, she suggests that his history of partisan hackery and lack of academic qualifications is a net bonus for CU:  “In fact, the very habits of expression that make some faculty and students wince when they listen to Benson are exactly the habits that could persuade a majority of Coloradans to appreciate CU and recognize its need for greater financial support.”  Whaaaaa?  I guess the literal translation of that is, “The majority of Coloradoans are dumb hicks like Benson, and he’ll be better able to pick their pockets on behalf of CU.”  Limerick evidently holds both her fellow Coloradoans and her academic colleagues in such low esteem that she thinks the latter can’t really talk to the former effectively about their pointy-headed schemes, let alone convince anyone that they’re worth supporting.  Pretty patronizing, Professor.

I can’t put it any better than a long-time worker in higher education I know, who says “the fact is that for the past 14 years, at least, Republicans have engaged in a slash-and-burn attack on public institutions of all kinds, including–and perhaps especially–higher education, and in particular colleges of liberal arts.  Now, suddenly, students, professors, staff, and other citizens are to believe that all is forgiven, forgotten, and recanted. . . . .Any clear-headed, clear-eyed historical analysis would suggest that right now, Benson and his ilk are as much captives of a hostile political environment that they created as much as they are victims of mindless, knee-jerk liberal reaction.”  [Historiann would argue moreso.]  “Conservatives–former conservatives?–are running for cover right now, and it appears that Benson has found a pretty good refuge in which to make himself over as a broad-minded, public-spirited citizen.”  What a scam!  You know what they say, though:  IOKIYAR (It’s O.K. if you’re a Republican)!

UPDATE:  Hot off the presses–the CU Boulder Faculty Assembly voted 40-4 tonight against a resolution in support of Benson’s candidacy.  (Warning:  the link is to a Rocky Mountain News story, so skip the comments unless you’ve got a strong stomach.  Those commenters seem to ratify Limerick’s dim view of Coloradoans, sad to say. . . but take a look:  do you think those people are going to open up their checkbooks and vote for tax increases to support CU?  I mean, once they wipe the Chee-to crumbs off of their sweatshirts?)  The vote tonight is only advisory, as the CU Board of Regents has the final say next Wednesday.  The faculty also passed a resolution to ask the Regents to re-open the search for a new president.


February 13th 2008
Jacking the internets for the forces of evil!

Posted under American history & women's history

scooby-doo.jpgCheck out what a few Ph.D’s can accomplish with an internet connection and e-mail accounts:  Ralph Luker over at Cliopatria reports that Melissa Spore at the University of Saskatchewan wrote to him with her suspicions that Robin Morgan’s recent essay, “Goodbye to All That (#2)” in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination, contained a counterfeit quotation from Harriet Tubman.  (The Morgan essay has been linked to on a lot of feminist blogs, and appeared in the comments to this post at, courtesy of Heather Prescott.)  About the women who aren’t supporting Clinton in the primary election, Morgan writes, “Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands-if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.’” 

Spurred by Spore’s question, Luker contacted authors of recent books about Harriet Tubman, Kate Clifford Larson (Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, 2004), and Milton Sernett (Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History, 2007), who both confirmed Spore’s suspicions.  They can’t prove it’s not a Tubman quotation, but they both suspect it’s a misattribution from a fictionalized twentieth-century Tubman account.  Luker also found that there were more than 200 websites that attribute the quotation to Tubman, which pretty much obviates his challenge to Morgan:  “Robin Morgan: Cite your source or quit pimpin’ out Harriet Tubman!”  I think we all know what her source was. . .after all, it’s on more than 200 websites!  As obsessive readers of know (hi, Mom!), our own commenter rootlesscosmo used the internets last week to find the accurate source of what most of us thought was the famous bon mot attributed to Gloria Steinem, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  (Answer:  Irina Dunn.  Well, we think rootlesscosmo is right, although he cites a web page, not a published, peer-reviewed source.) 

So, let’s invent a new game:  what famous quotation in history do you want to take credit for by jacking the internets?  If we can get enough Historiann, ca. 1997high-traffic websites to attribute the quotation to you, we might be able to re-write history on the open-source, non peer-reviewed but extremely prestigious internet.  (As they used to say in Scooby-Doo cartoons, “it’s so crazy, it just might work!”)  Bonus points for jacking a quotation that’s just about the least likely thing you would actually say.  So, here is the quotation Historiann wants to take credit for:  “God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection,” (Historiann, 1997).  So wrong, on so many levels, and yet it just feels right!


February 12th 2008
Current events and History hiring trends

Posted under American history & jobs & women's history

hourglass.jpgBack in 1998 or 1999 as the end of the twentieth-century approached, all of a sudden Perspectives and the H-Net Job Guide were chocablock with advertisements for twentieth-century historians, particularly U.S. historians.  Beginning in the fall of 2002, in response to the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, it seemed like most departments with open lines were looking to hire historians of the modern Middle East or of U.S.-Middle East relations.  And, there are still a large number of medieval history job descriptions that state a preference for medieval Europe and Islam in a comparative framework, or medieval Mediterranean history.  Sadly for Historiann’s Russian history friends in graduate school in the early 1990s, interest in that field took a nosedive after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the events in Russia in the summer of 1991.  This influence of current events is hardly surprising, and I think reflects a (mostly) admirable commitment to using the past to open new perspectives on the present. 

In the event of a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton presidency, what will its effects be on History hiring in the fall of 2009 and for the next few years?  Will we see a renewed interest in hiring African American historians and women’s historians, particularly those whose work is in political history?  The rise of the history of the 1960s and 1970s in recent years, which will be big at the Berkshire Conference this year, may mean that historians of very recent U.S. history will be beneficiaries of a Clinton or Obama presidency, too.  Would a John McCain presidency mean a renaissance in military history (or even naval history?)  I can think of a group of people who may be rooting for a  Mike Huckabee presidency, even if mostly for the job, publishing, and punditry opportunities. 

Historiann has already been interviewed by a college journalist in Michigan about this historic election year–and bear in mind that it’s February, and she’s a colonial historian, not a modern U.S. women’s historian or African Americanist, so it strikes me that 2008 will be a historic election if only because it’s generating very strong interest in, well, American history.  Do you think it will influence History department hiring trends in the next few years, depending on the outcome of the November election?  Do you approve or disapprove of current events influencing History hires?  What fields do you think your department needs to hire in?  (And if you’re among’s wide interdisciplinary readership, please chime in from your own perspectives on current events and hiring in your fields.)  Inquiring graduate student lurkers want to know…


February 11th 2008
Of Philosophers and Queens

Posted under Gender & women's history

Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday in the New York Times contained some trenchant (if not novel) observations about women and leadership.  He based his analysis on a review of the last couple thousand years of world history, and pondered why there have been relatively few women heads of state since the Age of Revolutions, relative to their at least occasional appearance as sovereign monarchs before 1800.  His theory:  “In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices – and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.”

The problem he points to is that the demos in democracy–that is, all of us voters–perceive women to be either likable or capable, but rarely both.  “This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts,” reports Kristof.  Excellence, or even competence, is not a feminine virtue.  It’s enough to make a girl go curl up with Catharine Mackinnon and re-read Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, you know, the parts where she deconstructs the whole concept that so-called liberal democracies work for women as well as men?

Your thoughts, gentle readers?

UPDATE:  Speaking of the contradictory things people want to see in women leaders, see this blog post by Stanley Fish on Hillary Clinton hatred, a follow-up to his original post last week discussing its rabid, evidence-free nature.  (Warning:  if you click those links, watch out for flying monkeys!)  The huge number of comments that column and this one elicited offer us a disturbing view of our culture’s misogyny, and the twisted logic that has corrupted the minds of some putative Democrats.  As Fish explains, many commentors suggest that the mere existence of this irrational hatred, lamentable though it is, is a good enough reason not to support Clinton.  “In other words [their logic goes], by being the targets of unwarranted attacks – that is their crime, being innocent-the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to.  How dare they?  Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw?  ‘What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race’ (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.” 

It’s simply unimaginable that people would make that demand of a male politician.  Quite the contrary, in fact:  George W. Bush has made the opposition of 70% of Americans a self-styled badge of honor.  Barry Goldwater made it seem to other conservatives that his walloping in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson was something to be proud of.  How dare a Senator who was re-elected with nearly 70% of the vote “think so much of herself,” or “want to be president?”


February 10th 2008
A report from Ward 6, Saco, Maine

Posted under American history

1613-saco-maine.jpgA dispatch from the Maine caucus from a Historiann family member in Saco: 

“My dears, I have just come home from Fairfield School and the Dem. caucus. It was interesting but long. . . . If my vote was dependant upon the speakers Hillary would get my vote.  A Saco State Rep. (female) gave an impassioned speech for her.  The chap who spoke for Barak Obama was deadly dull–fortunately my mind was made up [for Obama]!  Ward 6 (us) was evenly divided, 35 to 35, 4 delegates for each.  Now it goes to the state convention at the end of May.  At 6pm on the TV Obama is leading 52%-47%.  Tomorrow’s local rag will hopefully have a ward breakdown.  Ward 7 [also in Saco], Garside’s to the sea, had 5 Obama delegates to 3 Clinton.  Some wards went to classrooms, but we were in the gym with several other wards. . . a total firedrill.  It took nearly a half an hour to count the people in each ward and then match it up with the [votes]!  We needed a kindergarten teacher [to conduct a proper count.]”

UPDATE, MONDAY FEB. 11, our Maine relative reports the following:  “No ward breakdown in today’s local rag and the state Dem page is down.  Interestingly HRC won in Biddeford, Sanford and Lewiston, not surprisingly all mill towns and you know Biddeford [a working-class town], not as wealthy a population as Saco.  The most interesting fact is the number of voters who came out in bad weather:  42,000 plus 4000 absentee, breaking the record of 17,000 of 2004. Lines in Portland  were, at times, 3 blocks long.”


February 10th 2008
A good day for prodigies

Posted under American history & childhood & European history

eustace-tillarybama.JPGIt’s a good day to be a boy genius:  Barack Obama once again swept two big primaries and overwhelmed Hillary Clinton yesterday in a Southern state primary.  Now all eyes turn to the Eastward, to see which way the Maine caucus will go.  UPDATE:  As the nation goes, so goes Maine, at least this weekend?  Obama wins another caucus in a walk–so far, with 59 precincts reporting, it looks like 57-42 for Obama.

 In other boy genius news:  NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday featured an interesting bit of trivia:  this winter is the 150th anniversary of the popularization of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” as a wedding recessional.  The credit (or blame) goes to the planners of the wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise to Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia, on January .  More interesting to me was the fact that Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed the “Wedding March” as part his composition of music to accompany his favorite play, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the age of 17.

But as classical music historian Robert Greenberg says in the interview, Mendelssohn was already an accomplished mendelssohn1.jpgand ambitious composer who between the ages of 12 and 14 had composed four operas, twelve string symphonies, among others.  “He came from a wealthy banking family in Berlin, and his parents wanted only the best for their children,” Greenberg says in the interview.  “They were over-educated by any standards. Mendelssohn could speak multiple languages as a child, reading Homer in the original by the time he was 10. He was also an excellent water-colorist. Music was just another one of those things he mastered as a young man.”  It’s a good thing he accomplished so much at such young ages–he died at age 38 from a stroke.  Tragically, a stroke had killed his sister Fanny the previous year.  Brother and sister were very close–upon hearing of Fanny’s fatal stroke, Mendelssohn allegedly screamed and fainted away.  A rather Gothic flourish for a man known as the first of the great Romantic composers.

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February 8th 2008
Do they kiss their daughters with those mouths?

Posted under Gender & local news & wankers

I read this morning in the Denver Post that a State Representative here in Colorado, Larry Liston (R-Colorado Springs, natch!called unwed teenage mothers “sluts” in a Republican caucus meeting Wednesday morning.  The Colorado Springs Gazette reported his comments, and to his credit, he apologized for his remarks on the floor of the House today.

Then, I click on over to Talking Points Memo for a little news fix, and I see that MSNBC’s David Shuster is taking heat for asking Bill Press last night, “doesn’t it seem like Chelsea [Clinton is] sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” in the service of her mother’s campaign for the presidency.  (Would he have made the same observation about the Romney campaign’s “Five Brothers,” who have each spent most of the entire last year on the campaign trail for their Dad?  Should I stop asking questions to which I already know the answer?)  Shuster is supposedly going to offer an on-air apology today, too.

Grow up, boys.  I know teh Lady Parts make you really nervous and giggly sometimes, but get a grip.  Do you want your daughter talked about like that? 

UPDATE:  Shuster is temporarily suspended from all NBC broadcasts.  Wow–that was fast.  I guess that’s the difference between talking about “pimping” the daughter of a President, and say, calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”  It took CBS nearly a week to fire Don Imus, but don’t worry folks:  he’s back on the air

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February 8th 2008
Where can I get a high-fashion kevlar vest?

Posted under jobs & unhappy endings

kevlar-vest.jpgTracy McGaugh at Feminist Law Professors points us to an excellent article analyzing threatening, violent, and/or murderous behavior by students.  The article is co-written by three scholars from different disciplines:  Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, Sandra Thomas, a nursing professor, and Carol Parker, a law professor.  The title of the article is “Anger and Violence on Campus:  Recommendations for Legal Educators,” but their analysis and recommendations seem to me to apply to all college and university faculty and programs, and perhaps to high school faculty as well.  Read it, and consider passing it along to your department Chair or college Dean.

Historiann passes this along to you, gentle reader, because she’s been feeling more than a little vulnerable since the dreadful events at Virginia Tech last year.  My university is the V-Tech of Colorado, and Colorado is a state where almost anyone can obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun.  And when the state legistlature passed the concealed-carry law in 2003, it specifically excluded college campuses from the list of places one could not bring in a concealed weapon–K-12 schools, and quite conveniently, the Colorado State Capitol building are all on that list, but in universities we’re expected to shift for ourselves.  (In fact, the Capitol building just recently and permanently re-installed metal detectors because a disturbed man with a gun entered and threatened the Governor’s life before being gunned down himself last July 16.)

The only place where I take issue with Smith, Thomas, and Parker is in their conclusion, where they lay the blame on “aggressive role models in television, movies, videogames, and other popular media.”  They cite a persuasive recent longitudinal study, so I see that exposure to violent media is certainly one factor, but where is the discussion of gender and violence?  All school and university killers in the past several years have one thing in common:  they were all boys or men who had access to guns.  Most (but not all) tend to be younger rather than older, and the overwhelming majority of them have been white.  “Anger and Violence on Campus” cites a few examples of women law students who displayed inappropriate behavior to law professors, but it was only verbal aggression cited in the cases involving women students.  So, aggression and violence on campus is overwhelmingly a problem with angry young men who feel entitled to use guns against people they perceive to have wronged them.  Historiann herself has written about the highly gendered aspects of gun ownership in colonial America, so I am amazed that the connection between American masculinity and guns today hasn’t receieved more attention.  (Is the connection between men and guns so naturalized that we don’t question it?  Why doesn’t this alarm us more?)

woman-gun.jpgThe bottom line in this paper is that faculty members are largely on their own when it comes to dealing with crazed students.  Start packing heat, if that’s your style–and if you live in a concealed-carry permit state, then it’s all nice ‘n legal.  (Just be sure to disarm before you go pick up little Emma and Cody at school.)  If administrators at your school don’t take advice from Smith and Wesson, Thomas, and Parker, this article will at least arm you with a little more knowledge about identifying disturbed students.  Have you had any experience with dangerous and/or armed students?  How did you deal with them, and how did your university respond?  Do you think that professors in feminist studies might be more vulnerable to threats and violence from students because our perspectives may especially threaten disturbed young men?

UPDATE:  As Knitting Clio points out in the comments below, sadly there was a fatal shooting with a female perp at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge yesterday morning, which I learned about after publishing this post.  However, I don’t think that one female perp is a meaningful trend when every other example of fatal violence at schools (junior high through universities) has featured male shooters, especially given the longue duree of the connection between guns and masculinity in this country.  How awful for the faculty and students at Louisiana Tech–yet another school whose sense of safety and fellowship in academic pursuit is shattered.


February 7th 2008
Tag, I’m it–Yo la tengo!

Posted under book reviews & captivity & women's history

malintzin.jpgOrtho at Baudrillard’s Bastard has tagged me on a bit of bloggy fun.  Here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I picked up Malintzin’s Choices:  An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico by Camilla Townsend (2006).  Here are the selected 3 sentences on p. 123:

“About the same time as the students of the Franciscans were interviewing elderly men who remembered the battle for Tenochtitlan, other friars were supervising the transcription of some of the old Nahuatl songs that had come down through the years.  For centuries, the songs had evolved with each new generation; they were malleable, constantly reflecting the new experiences of the singers and their audiences.  By the 1550s and 1560s, many of them contained references to the Christian god and to other elements of life with the Spanish.”

Not coincidentally, this is a woman’s biography–have any of you out there read it yet?  Any thoughts?  I’m considering it for my early American women’s history class in the fall, and for a historiographical essay I’ve agreed to write.


February 6th 2008
Super Duper Tuesday Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking!

Posted under American history & women's history

nast-donkey.jpgWell, not so much quarterbacking as straight reportage.  At Historiann’s precinct 114 in Potterville, Colorado, the vote count was 57 for Barack Obama, and 26 for Hillary Clinton–a better than 2-to-1 margin.  That tracks with his margin of victory statewide, now pegged at 66% to Clinton’s 33%.  It was wonderful to see so many people turn out–there were nearly 90 of my neighbors in my precinct meeting room at the local high school, and the other seven classrooms looked equally jammed full of commited and patriotic Americans.  It was clear that the Obama people had really organized the hell out of the caucus–they were there in force, with signs and stickers, and they drew a truly impressive turnout.  So that an encouraging sign if Obama’s the man in November–if they can organize this state into a solid Democratic pickup, I’ll be with them all the way.  However, caucuses inevitably favor a particular subset of the Obama base:  affluent people with graduate degrees, whereas Clinton’s base is more working class, female, and Latino–people who might have a harder time getting out at a particular time on a particular weekday evening.  Women turned out in good numbers, but Latinos and working-class people were very underrepresented, not just in my precinct, but from what I could tell about the other precincts too.  Historiann was a dewy young thing compared to most caucus-goers, who were overwhelmingly 55+, although that’s a group that in previous primaries and caucuses has favored Clinton, so good on Obama for improving his age spread in Colorado.

Nationally, however, the news was much more favorable to Senator Clinton.  The vote between Obama and Clinton was split until the California results came in, with HRC picking up all of the really big states and most of the pretty big states (except Illinois and Georgia), including a very respectable showing of southern states.  Clinton’s double-digit blowout (at least so far, with 90% of the vote counted) in California helped her open up a 100-delegate lead.  Obama did well in states with caucuses, but states with lots of Democratic voters seemed to prefer Clinton.  And in the end, the Kennedy endorsements don’t appear to have helped Obama enough in the primaries, at least not in the states that the endorsing Kennedys actually live in.  Clinton won Massachusetts, despite The Senator’s nod (and Sen. John Kerry’s and Gov. Deval Patrick’s endorsements) and California, despite Maria Shriver’s endorsement and the late campaigning by the Obama-endorsing side of the family (by The Senator and Caroline, especially.)  Perhaps people who are persuaded to caucus or vote for Obama aren’t persuaded by the dynastic arguments, after all?  Well, good on them.

UPDATE (FOR JAMES):  The final delegate total is Obama 538, Clinton 534.  California and New Mexico weren’t included in the spread cited above or in the comments below.  Scuzzi!


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