Archive for July, 2008

July 7th 2008
Monday morning history roundup: sister can you spare a dime edition

Posted under American history & childhood & Dolls & women's history

Well, it’s been a heckofa holiday weekend, U.S. American-style:  rodeo Thursday, marching in the Stampede Parade with the Weld County Democrats Friday morning, swimming in the smokin’ heat Friday afternoon (thank goodness for friends with access to pools!), a neighborhood cookout Friday night along with a viewing of the legal fireworks display at the rodeo grounds, errands and a movie Saturday (Kit Kittredge–see the review below), and a visit from friends on Sunday.  Land sakes, a cowgirl needs a vacation from all of this time off!

There was lots of history in the news this weekend, of personal and professional interest.  So, herewith, is my latest roundup:

  • The Black American West Museum has come into the possession of most of the land that once was home to the Dearfield Colony in Weld County, Colorado, an African American agricultural community from 1910-1948.  They’re working with a Weld County Commissioner and hoping to attract volunteers and donors to turn it into a historic site for its 100th anniversary in 2010.  See the Rocky Mountain News story on it, which also includes an interview with two men who lived there, and an audio slide show of Dearfield.  The history of African Americans in the west is overshadowed by a mythology that overwhelmingly privileges the perspectives of white settlers.  The preservation of the Dearfield Colony would be a tremendous contribution to the history of black Coloradoans in the early twentieth century.
  • University of Pennsylvania historian and McNeil Center Director Daniel Richter was featured in a Weekend Edition Sunday look at colonial and early national Philadelphia.  He waxes eloquent on the crowding and mucking up of William Penn’s “greene countrie towne.”  Next week, they’re doing an in-depth investigation of Charles Wilson Peale and his museum as a hook for moving into an exploration of the nineteenth century city.
  • Historiann took advantage of the air conditioning in a local movie theatre Saturday afternoon to see Kit Kittredge:  An American GirlYes, it was inspired by a book that’s part of the insidious “American Girl Doll” borg, but it was more than halfway decent.  Set in the midst of the Great Depression in Cincinnati, it renders a kid’s-eye view of living with the tumult of hard times when Kit’s father moves to Chicago to find work, while she and her mother turn the family home into a boarding house, plant a garden, and even sell eggs to make ends meet.  It was entertaining for adults without resorting to double-entendres and trashy jokes in the fashion of so many movies putatively for children.  And, one bonus of films set in a reasonably distant historical period:  absolutely no product placements or advertising, despite the movie’s connection to the American Girl marketing juggernaut.  (It would have been in very bad taste to advertise anything in a movie about the depression, in any case.)

More on KK:  Well-known character actors from the American film repertoire like Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusak, Glenne Headly, Jane Krakowski, and Stanley Tucci, did their jobs quite well in their roles as the eccentric adults that come into Kit’s life as she lives in the boarding house and struggles to get her articles published in the local newspaper.  (Perhaps unsurprisingly, these adult actors overshadow the lead character, played by Abigail Breslin.)  The movie turns into a caper when a rash of local burglaries cast suspicion on the inhabitants of the local hobo jungle, and on the young day laborers who work for Mrs. Kittredge.  It’s also an extended exercise in nostalgia for twentieth-century childhood, with a tree house, a secret club, strap-on roller skates, children who are permitted to take streetcars downtown without chaperons, bullies in school who get their comeuppance, and a heroine who’s writing it all down with her typewriter, complete with stuck keys when she types too fast.  All in all, wholesome fare that was well-received by the under-12 set in the theatre–and when you consider the absolute absence of decent movies that feature a girl heroine and leader of her kid gang, well–it’s more than worth a look if you’ve got 4-11 year old girls or boys in the house on a too-hot or too-rainy summer afternoon.

Historiann’s only complaint about Kit Kittredge is that Julia Ormond and Chris O’Donnell are too glamourous and good-looking to be cast as Kit’s parents.  You just can’t believe anything could really be all that bad with those two as the resident loving authority figures.  (Am I crazy, or does O’Donnell look better than ever with some grey hair and a bit of a middle-aged paunch?  A few imperfections make him look almost like a real man instead of a cookie-cutter himbo.)  Willow Smith is adorable as hobo sidekick Countee–which turned out to be a great “passing” role!


July 6th 2008
Historiann’s greatest hits: don’t drink the Kool-Aid edition.

Posted under American history & unhappy endings

Well, I have to admit that all of you Obama supporters in the liberal blogosphere were right and I was wrong.  How could I not see that he is the Progressive Messiah?  Except, well, maybe not progressive even more awesome than I had guessed!  I mean, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, and it’s yummy super-delicious!  And spiked with tequila.  It’s been an awesome two weeks!  I wonder what he’ll come up with next?  (That’s OK–I’m not pregnant with an anencephalic fetus, not right now anyway, and I wasn’t really using my Verizon mobile phone or my fourth amendment rights.)

Just kidding.  With all of the weeping and rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth over the past two weeks about Barack Obama’s tack to the center-right, I’d like to remind you all that Historiann called this more than two months ago!  (And, quite frankly, he doesn’t have to run as far to the right as Clinton did in 1992.  How hard is it to run against Mr. 23%, anyway?)  Don’t be surprised that Obama took Richard Nixon’s advice (like every other presidential candidate!):  run to the (left) in the primary, then run to the center-right for the general election.  Consider this a public service announcement about the dangers of Kool-Aid.  Remember, issues are more important than politicians, and as I said back in February, “one man’s political fortunes are not transformational.”  Politicians are not causes–they are a means to better ends, not the ends in themselves. 


July 5th 2008
When is the next Big Berks?

Posted under Berkshire Conference & conferences & women's history

More than one person has googled that question in the past few weeks, and it led those people to  In the spirit of service to all humankind that is Historiann’s raison d’être, let’s give the people what they want, shall we?

  • WHEN:  Sometime in June 2011.  The date will be announced probably sometime later next fall or winter.
  • WHERE:  Undecided, although the consensus at the business meeting on Sunday morning three weeks ago was that it probably should move to the east again, after California in 2005 and Minnesota last weekend.  My prediction is that it will be held in a central portion of a state that begins with “M,” although another great idea was to hold it in a major city that has the first initial “P.”
  • These decisions are the major order of business for the Little Berks meeting, October 3-5, at Interlaken, Connecticut.  Anyone is free to attend–show up and lobby for your favorite east coast location!  (Bonus points for being willing to host the conference at your university!)  Ordinarily, the Little Berks meeting is in the spring, except in years when we’ve had a Big Berks meeting, and then it’s in the fall.  (Please review Tenured Radical’s definitions and explanations of the Little Berks and the Big Berks, if you’re unclear on the distinctions.)
  • TIME LINE:  Please review the letter posted at Blogenspiel last month–that’s about what our timeline was for the 2008 conference.  Please note that proposals will probably be DUE IN WINTER 2010, just eighteen months from now, and about eighteen months ahead of the next conference.  (We’re an all-volunteer organization, without the paid staff like the AHA and OAH have to put on our massive conference, with 1,100+ people on the program.  Automating our applications with a web submissions system helped make it easier to circulate proposals to our sub-committee members, but didn’t save us enough time to move the deadline for proposals back.  So much work for the program happened throughout last summer after our Program Committee meeting, and I can’t imagine having to teach while managing all of the details about panels falling apart and other sesions still being assembled!)
  • In the end, however the 2011 Program Committee co-Chairs are sovereign, so they’ll set their own deadlines.  You can look here for more information about the 2011 conference as it becomes available.


July 3rd 2008
Vive le Quebec libre!

Posted under American history & captivity & fluff & O Canada

Happy 400th birthday, QuébecJe me souviens–et vous, mes amis?  Do you remember the world before 1759?

Historiann’s most recent trip to Québec was late last August, and the city was shined up and ready for its international closeup in 2008.  Its nickel roofs were gleaming, and all of the historical sites and churches in Vieux-Québec were recently renovated, painted, and looking good.  All of you Englishers (or Bastonnais, as French Canadians used to call Anglo-Americans) either in Canada or in the U.S., should get on up there and expand your view of what early American history is.  By car from Maine, you could take the old route up the Kennebec and Chaudière River valleys through the Beauce region, which was the route that Benedict Arnold took to his ill-fated siege of Quebec in 1775.  It’s very pretty in the autumn, with the changing leaves, and very safe because there’s much less smallpox going around these days.  (This route is probably similar, if not identical, to the one that Esther Wheelwright and other mission Abenaki took to Québec earlier in the century, by canoe and portage, but it’s Arnold’s failed invasion that is commemorated along the way instead.  Right there is a little lesson on the importance of boundaries, language, and nationalism in historical memory–but I digress.)

To celebrate the anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s founding of Québec, here’s a seasonal new drink that I call a Québec Libre (Free Québec, after Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech declaring “Vive le Québec libre” on July 24, 1967.)  For each serving:

  • Two ounces of brandy (French brandy, natch)
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 t maple syrup (or to taste, up to 1 T)
  • seltzer water

Mix the first three ingredients well in the bottom of a tumbler (12-16 oz).  Fill the tumbler with ice, and then top it off with the seltzer water.  If it’s late summer and you’re in Québec, garnish with slices of locally-grown stone fruit on a fancy skewer, or (better yet) with a few ground cherries on a toothpick, with their papery skins still on.  (I suppose you could also call this the mojito del norte grand y blanco, but shhh…don’t tell!)

If you’re not in Québec, here’s the celebration’s theme song, “Tant d’histoires”(“So Many Stories”) by Danny Boudreau.  (Warning:  its not in fact sung by Celine Dion, but it’s not a stretch to imagine her singing it.)  You can see what’s going on in Québec today here.  It’s going to be a heckofa party–or très éspecial, as the locals might say.


July 1st 2008
Who dares question the Supreme Allied Commander?

Posted under American history & Dolls & European history & unhappy endings & wankers


Never mind that he’s a tough and cool politician now.  Never mind that he looks like Captain Scarlet’s boss, Colonel White, Commander in Chief of Spectrum.  Gen. Wesley Clark was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.  Do you know what that means?  Well, neither do I, at least not exactly, but I do know that that’s about the greatest job title ever.  Most of the media morons piling on Wes Clark this week aren’t fit to shine even the tiniest bar on his chestful of medals.  But there they go, like good little lapdogs, chasing after a manufactured “controversy” that benefits the Republican presidential candidate.  When questioned by Bob Schieffer about John McCain’s qualifications for the presidency on Face the Nation Sunday, Clark made the sensible point that “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”  (Here’s a good rundown of this week’s fauxtrage, h/t to Sarah at Corrente.)

Aside from proving that they’re so not over the huge crush they’ve had on John McCain since 1999, many in the media have also once again illustrated their utter ignorance of military service.  (These two things are interrelated.  Many people in the media, especially men, tend to be deferential of military service in the peculiar fashion of those who never served yet fetishize military experience.)  If Michele Norris had gone to a service academy instead of the University of Wisconsin, do you think she would have challenged Clark like this today on All Things Considered?

When you yourself were a candidate for president, you touted your own military service. And I seem to remember you saying that that was part of what made you a well-qualified candidate to sit in the Oval Office.

That’s right:  tragically unlucky Lieutenant Commander = Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.  There’s no difference!  So, either military experience matters, or it doesn’t, yes or no, and the media is too lazy or stupid to ask useful questions or make evaluative judgments.  Apparently, the bad actors who ran Abu Ghraib have the same qualifications to run for president as Sergeant York.  I think I heard Clark’s eyeballs roll back in his head at this point in the interview, and yet he still answered Norris very patiently:

I did lead the armed force of NATO to a successful military action that saved a million and a half Albanians. I did make the recommendations on targeting. I did go to heads of state and ministers of defense and ministers of foreign affairs, the North Atlantic council, and helped hold NATO together. So I not only saw war at the bottom, but I saw war at the top.

Duh.  Can’t the media see that they’re being played like a fiddle?  The last thing McCain wants is for Wes Clark to be Barack Obama’s running mate, because McCain knows that Supreme Allied Commander beats unlucky Lieutenant Commander ever time, and Clark’s long and deep military credentials would give the Obama ticket a hell of a lot of gravitas.  This whole fracas was a masterful example of the bitch-slap theory of politics, designed to test Obama and, perhaps more importantly, to disqualify Clark as a Vice Presidential candidate.  And unfortunately, the media weren’t the only ones who fell for it this week.  (Confidential to B.O.:  Distancing yourself from the Supreme Allied Commander because the Republicans want you to makes you look weak.  You’re the one who got rolled, friend.)

UPDATE, 7/7/08:  Via TalkLeft, Digby notes that Clark is off of the Obama campaign.  Mission accomplished, indeed!  When will Democrats stop taking orders from Republicans?  When, my Lord, when?


July 1st 2008
Happy Canada Day!

Posted under O Canada & Uncategorized

(Historiann will provide equal time for la Fleur-de-Lys later this month.)


July 1st 2008
Fish to politicians: eff off

Posted under jobs

When I first heard about Stanley Fish’s new book, Save the World on Your Own Time, I though, oh great:  another book perpetuating the myth that most professors are Leninist ecoterrorist feminazis.  He agrees that the vast majority of us are much more worried about teaching our students to think and write more clearly, and to master the basics of the Regency novel, the Scottish Enlightenment, or the Smoot-Hawley Tarriff Act, than we are about forcing our ideologies on them.  In an interview with Inside Higher Ed published today, Fish says:

I think the perception is that college campuses these days are populated by liberal/radical faculty who are always imposing their loyalties on the students in an attempt … to recruit students into a political agenda.

The reality is that the percentage … who do something like that is perhaps small, I would say, at the most, 10 percent, probably more like 5 or 6 percent. But the success of the neoconservative public relations machine has implanted in the public mind this idea of a university simply permeated by political ideologues masking as pedagogues….

Well, maybe writing a book called Save the World on Your Own Time isn’t the best way to puncture that myth?  (But that title will probably move more books off the shelves than a book called Faculty Are Just Doing Their Jobs, So Just Leave Them Alone.  You can’t say the guy doesn’t know his marketing!)  But, being Stanley Fish, he’s just full of surprises.  I particularly liked his advice for public universiity administrators seeking funding from state legislators.  In short–do it the Chicago Way:

My response was, look, higher education administrators go hat in hand … they’re always in a begging or petitionary posture, and that just doesn’t work. People don’t in fact respond well to that, and I found what they did respond well to was confrontation of an aggressive kind…. If you say to state legislators, “You guys don’t know what you’re talking about! What if I came to your offices and told you within five minutes and without having any experience … what it is you should be doing, you’d throw me out, laughing me out of the room.” Well that’s what we should be doing…. “What do you know about 18th-century French poetry? …”

If you embarrass people … if you make them afraid of you, you are in a better position than you are if you go to them on your knees.

BAM!  I love it.  After all, what do public universities have to lose?  As Fish notes at another point in the interview, “The interesting thing, or actually distressing thing … is that at the same time that the legislature of many states takes the money away from universities, the legislatures seek to impose more and more curricular and faculty control over the universities, so it’s a very unhappy situation in which colleges are being told we’re going to take your money away and we’re going to increasingly monitor every single thing you do.”  Personally, Historiann thinks that the major state universities in Colorado, which now receive between 9 and 11 percent of their funding from the state, should strip the word “Colorado” from their names and offer up the naming rights to any person or corporation who’s willing to fork over 20 percent of our annual budget.

In the end, it sounds like the book has some very good advice for faculty, even if he picks out some obvious targets for criticism (Ward Churchill and Larry Summers in particular).  He says “the three-part mantra which organizes the book” is “[d]o your job, don’t try to do someone else’s job and don’t let anyone else do your job.  And I think that if we as instructors … would adhere to that mantra, we would be more responsible in the prosecution of our task and less vulnerable to the criticisms of those who would want to either undermine or control us.”  And that seems like a really good place to start.


« Prev