Archive for January, 2009

January 14th 2009

Posted under American history & Gender & publication & women's history


Melissa McEwan has the best, most succinct post I’ve seen yet on what’s wrong with the current Ms. cover, shown at right.

According to the press release (and a note on their site here), the cover was conceived after Ms.‘ publisher, Eleanor Smeal, and chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, met Barack Obama and “he immediately offered ‘I am a feminist’.”

Which is nice to hear—in fact, I wish I’d heard it from him myself, at any time during the campaign, ahem—although I’m not sure his private admission to feminist women whose support he was courting warrants the cover, particularly when there are prominent female politicians who have never been given such glowing treatment, despite being authentic feminist champions who are quite willing to publicly identify as feminist.

And would enthusiastically wear the actual shirt on their actual bodies in the actual physical world in actual reality.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment–although it would have been nice (as McEwan said) to see the President-Elect actually f’real posing for the cover proudly wearing a feminist tee shirt.  She continues: Continue Reading »


January 13th 2009
“I loved Nubbins”

Posted under childhood & Dolls & Intersectionality & race & the body & unhappy endings

Last weekend’s This American Life featured a story by Elna Baker that reminded me of the old days when TAL was brand-new and didn’t sound like anything else in the broadcast media.  In an excerpt at TAL called “Babies Buying Babies” (click here and scroll up until you get to 40:17 in the show) Baker tells about a job she took as an aspiring actor in New York at FAO Schwartz, where she wore a nurse’s costume and faciliatated “adoptions” of “newborn” Lee Middleton Dolls.  After the dolls were featured on a television show, they sold out quickly–of the white baby dolls, anyway–so the “nurses” were left to deal with hoards of irritated, wealthy white parents, most of whom resented paying $120 for a Latino, African American, or Asian baby doll.  (The little girls were more flexible about loving a doll that looked different from them.)

I don’t want to say much more lest I spoil the story for you.  I can say that it sheds light on disability issues as well as race and (disturbingly) sexuality, and the news is not good, folks.  (Baker herself sets up an invidious comparison of a “factory reject [white] monster baby” versus “a nursery full of perfectly cute black babies,” as though a “disabled” doll was unworthy of adoption compared to perfectly formed dolls.)


Equally interesting for me, Baker’s story also speaks powerfully to the mysterious power of dolls that other inanimate objects or toys don’t have.  Because they’re so clearly and recognizeably human, and because they’re generally representations of babies and young children, they demand not just to be preserved or displayed, but cared for.  But as those of us who have played with dolls know, we also feel aggression and take out our anger on dolls.  Baker speaks eloquently about these contradictory impulses:  of not wanting to let a factory-damaged doll go to a nasty family, although this was a doll that she and the other nurses had jokingly named “Nubbins,” and merrily dropped him on the floor and banged him into furniture to make each other laugh.

My guess is that most of you who used to play with dolls will recognize what Baker is talking about.


January 12th 2009
Women bullying women

Posted under class & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article on workplace bullying and the (according to the author) “pink elephant. . . lurking in the room” is the fact that female bullies target other women much more often that not.  In the article, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting,” leadership coach Peggy Klaus says that “female bullies aim at other women more than 70 percent of the time,” whereas male bullies are more “equal-opportunity tormentors” (h/t to regular commenter Indyanna for bringing this article to my attention.)  Klaus recites a number of reasons why women may target other women for abuse:

I’ve heard plenty of theories on why women undermine one another at work. Probably the most popular one is the scarcity excuse — the idea that there are too few spots at the top, so women at more senior levels are unwilling to assist female colleagues who could potentially replace them.

Another explanation is what I call the “D.I.Y. Bootstrap Theory,” which goes like this: “If I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps to get ahead with no one to help me, why should I help you? Do it yourself!”

Some people argue that women aren’t intentionally undermining one another; rather, they don’t want to be accused of showing favoritism toward other women.

I agree that these first three reasons, while wrong-headed, are excuses that people offer to explain bad behavior.  I’ve never understood the zero-sum mentality of “scarcity,” especially in the academic workplace.  Unlike people outside of academia, who are vulnerable to layoffs and being replaced by younger and cheaper employees, tenured faculty are safe.  They’re made men and women, so they have nothing to lose when their junior colleagues succeed, and if they have even a glimmer of civic-mindedness about their jobs they’ll be happy that their colleagues are thriving and making the department look good.  (Besides, rational Deans reward departments that are good at hiring and promoting good people, and they tend to look askance at departments who keep asking for lines to search because they keep firing the people they’ve recently hired.  Or so I like to think, in my dreamy dreamworld–those of you with administrative experience, please weigh in here!) 

Here’s where I disagree with Klaus: Continue Reading »


January 11th 2009
Kennedy’s friends (and ponies) speak, so she doesn’t have to

Posted under American history & class & Gender & Intersectionality & women's history

From an AP article published in the Denver Post online yesterday about La Dauphine (which, interestingly enough, didn’t make the cut of stories published in the paper edition this morning):

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, friends and colleagues of [Caroline] Kennedy painted a picture of a reserved but intelligent and tenacious woman who writes her own speeches and who, despite her vast wealth, still takes the subway.

Those interviewed did not provide an impartial view — but, with several speaking publicly for the first time about their relationship, they offered a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.

Yes, because this is America, where we choose our leaders on the basis of cute photo-ops of their overprivileged childhoods. Continue Reading »


January 10th 2009
And the envelopes, please…

Posted under American history & European history & jobs & women's history

Last week, in the midst of a discussion about “coverage” and its many abuses in faculty life and history curricula in general, I suggested that we draw dates from a hat and design a curriculum out of randomly generated start and end datesIn the ensuing post, I proposed a series of dates spanning 5,500 years of human history, and said that I’d pick the best ones and highlight them in a post this weekend.  So, here are the winners of this very special history curriculum challenge–thanks to all who participated! Continue Reading »


January 9th 2009
Campus visit and job talk advice

Posted under jobs

WOC Ph.D. is back, baby, with a couple of boffo posts about 1) what to expect on a campus visit, 2) how to prepare for and deliver a successful academic job talk, and 3) how to dress for a campus interview.  (There’s an extended dance mix version for the devoted fashionistas, or a hit single that will probably suit most academics.)

I especially liked the post about the job talks.  I have also made colossal mistakes in my job talks, but let’s not dwell on the past, shall we?  Prof. bw tells you everything you need to know.  Please listen to her advice, especially the part about practicing it alone, practicing it in front of friends who can critique you, and make sure you’ve got your timing down.  She offers an extremely useful model for a 30-minute talk–disciplinary conventions vary, but you can probably adapt it to your needs.  (And by the way, even if they say you can have 40 or 45 minutes, aim for 30.  You want them to be clamoring for more, MORE after you finish, not checking their watches and ready to bolt after a token three questions.)

Prepping the Talk:

  • 5 minutes – what are you going to do and why is it important: you should outline the contribution your work makes without putting it in opposition to any major theorists. You never who is in your audience, they could be those theorists, married to/dating/partnered to or otherwise friends with those theorists or they could love their work. Best to state simply and clearly what contribution you are making to the field.
  • 7-10 minutes – methods and theories: so we know who influenced you, what you are working with, and how you did your work
  • 10-13 minutes – findings
  • 5 minutes – state what you did again and give us a wow factor including where you are going with your work in the future and/or how your work fits into interests at our uni

Your paper should be jargon free, written for lay people not experts, be conversational in tone (not monotonous or dry), and should resonate with the areas we are looking for. If it is a R1 you should also point to places for further research as you talk or at the end, if it is a teaching college try to work in brief comments about aspects of the research that feed into teaching while you talk or at the end.

Bring useful visuals. No one wants to watch you read for 30 minutes.

I would add: Continue Reading »


January 9th 2009
Ski resort “Christian” murderer update

Posted under American history & European history & local news & unhappy endings

In a post last week called “‘Christian’ imperialism,” inspired by yet another shooting spree by a disturbed young, white man in Colorado, I advanced the argument that the peculiarly ahistorical and narrow definition of Christianity that contemporary evangelical sects use may be to blame for the murder of a professed Catholic man.  There was some follow-up reporting published yesterday.  According to court documents filed recently, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain Newsreported yesterday that killer Derik Bonestroo’s intention was to kill non-Christians.  So says the Post:

One of the employees at the meeting, April Wilson, told investigators that Bonestroo walked in dressed in black, carrying a gun, and fired into the ceiling, according to the documents.

He then declared: “If you’re not Christian, you’re going to die,” Wilson said.

Strangely, the Post story doesn’t make any mention of the fact that the victim told the murderer he was Catholic before being shot.  The Rocky says, “Witnesses said when Bonestroo asked [Brian] Mahon’s religion, Mahon said ‘Catholic’ and Bonestroo shot him in the chest and head.”

While we can probably never know what was going through Bonestroo’s mind that morning (unless someone familiar with his thinking comes forward to provide some context), the language here suggests that it’s quite possible that Brian Mahon was killed because he told Bonestroo “I’m a Catholic,” instead of “I’m a Christian.”  So, while mental illness and ready access to firearms are the more proximate causes of Bonestroo’s murderous rampage and Mahon’s death, it appears also to be linked to the exclusive definition of “Christian” that evangelicals promulgate.  Bonestroo’s mind was clearly deranged in a number of ways, but it may well have been Bonestroo’s ignorance of Christian history that doomed Mahon in particular.  What a tragic, tragic waste.


January 8th 2009
Random history course generator

Posted under jobs & students

La Historiann guidant le peuple

In my exchange with Tom in the comments to the previous post, “A manifesto against ‘coverage,’” I said fliply, “I have an idea: let’s just pick dates out of a hat, and design courses that way. How much more random could it get?”  There must be a better way, right?  So, mad genius that I am, I went to, and used their random sequence generator.  I plugged in the dates of recorded human history:  -7,000 for 7,000 B.C.E., and +2009 for the end point of our common era (so far).  I then went down the list (starting with the first number, 687), and found the next number on the list that was higher than that number (in this case, 1855). 

So, herewith are some randomly generated timespans for possible future history courses:

Course #1:  687-1855

Course #2:  788-1786

Course #3:  3470 B.C.E.-1751

Now, realistically, most university-level history courses don’t spend too much time on the years before 3,000 B.C.E., and since most departments have only one ancient historian (if that) and one or two medievalists, most faculty specialize in post-1400 history.  So let’s plug in the dates where we’ll find the majority of undergraduate history courses right now, 1400-2009, and see what we get:

Course #4:  1917-1940 (I think there’s a course at Baa Ram U. with almost these exact dates!)

Course #5:  1536-1915

Courses #6 and #7, a two-semester sequence:  1824-1964 and 1964-1970

Readers, the rest is up to you.  You must select one of the random time spans above and craft a title and a short course description for what that course would cover (geographically, thematically, topically, etc.)  Bonus points for offering a sample short bilbiography of primary and secondary sources, films, artifacts, etc.!  If you really outdo yourselves, I’ll do a follow-up post to highlight the best answers. 

Friends, I smell a revolution coming.  Can you smell it too?  (Or is that just the toast burning?)


January 8th 2009
A manifesto against “coverage”

Posted under jobs & students

Historiann nails it to the door to see if it sticks.

I’m working on my syllabi this week, and I have something to say.  I hate “coverage,” that lowest and most common denominator of history education.  Oh, how I hate “coverage.”  Let me count the ways.  (Don’t worry–there aren’t 95 theses here, only eight):

“Coverage” is the most unimaginative goal for a history course, from first-year survey courses to graduate seminars.  I’m not saying that chronology and some broad content are unimportant–just that there are more efficient ways for students to learn it other than from a proffie flicking through PowerPoint slides or standing in front of a chalk board.  (Isn’t that what survey texts and other handy reference books are for?)  I’m also not suggesting that we offer only courses that are in-depth studies of (for example) the social mobility of seventeenth-century cross-dressing fullers’ apprentices in Leiden (although that topic would make a fine article, I’m sure.)  I’m just asking what we are really achieving when we worry about “coverage” instead of ideas, recurring issues and themes, and above all, analysis?

“Coverage” encourages historians to live up to the cliche that we’re just a bunch of Mr. Gradgrinds–”what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts“–and that we’re mere antiquarians masquerading as intellectuals.  “Coverage” is the historians’ albatross that allows literary scholars, philosophers, and anthropologists to imagine that they’re the only people in the liberal arts who offer ideas, and not just information. 

Continue Reading »


January 6th 2009
Modern graduate studies and the value of historiography

Posted under American history & conferences & jobs & students

According to this article at Inside Higher Ed about an AHA roundtable last Sunday, “A Learning Process:  Revisiting the Role of Graduate Coursework in the Making of a Historian,” graduate courses should be “more relevant to training their students for their teaching duties.”  Sounds good, right?  Well, how that’s actually supposed to happen is a little unclear.  On the one hand, Kathleen Canning of the University of Michigan decried what she called the old model of “[p]ick your favorite books, hold forth, and wait for the graduate students to do the same.”  On the other hand, faculty shouldn’t just “‘pick the latest, hottest, coolest books and throw them at students with no background,’ without a ‘sense of where these books have come from.’”  Instead, faculty should strive to

frame the entire course around books they haven’t previously read or taught. The goal is not just to pass along “truncated knowledge,” but to “enter the defamiliarization of the students and experience it with them.” Also along those lines, Canning said she makes sure that her graduate students are asking the first questions, and offering the first opinions in class. “I’m not letting them rely on me to be the interpreter,” she said, even if, as the course proceeds, she shares plenty of information and ideas. “I’m trying to model the kind of professional participatory skills and ethics they need.”

I realize that most of us with Ph.D.s have only one graduate institution–and therefore can’t know what graduate training is like at other institutions in any detail–but this doesn’t strike me as a particularly new model of graduate education.  This sounds like just basic, thoughful instruction at the graduate level–like the graduate education I received nearly 20 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania.  Our profs assigned a few classics–in my area of specialization, books like Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom, and Winthrop Jordan’s White over Black, and perhaps signal works by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood, but nothing more than 25 years old at the time.  Otherwise, we read mostly new to newish contributions to the historiography (in 1990-93, I read books that were overwhelmingly published between 1980-93).  Maybe Penn was just an incubator of brilliant graduate advisers and self-confident grad students, but professors rarely “led” discussion–it was more like they had to duck out of the way of the volley of impassioned comments from scary smart graduate students.  (I’m talking about my classmates–Historiann was too young and out of her league, and by far the dumbest in the class.) 

Continue Reading »


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