Archive for January, 2009

January 6th 2009
(More) bad news and helpful hints

Posted under American history & conferences & GLBTQ & jobs & unhappy endings

Wicked Walter from Waxahachie got his “crazzy” on and informed Rate Your Students yesterday that “[y]ou done killed it. And I hate you for it.”  Says Le Mauvais:

I loved this site. I think a lot of longtime readers did. And now the place is all clean and well lighted (and heavily advertised!) and it’s just another mainstream piece of bull$hit. You know what it means if an idea has 75% of the faculty in favor of it? It’s a colossal waste of time. If you let 5 academics run anything, it turns into the biggest f#@king mess since the Bay of Pigs. (See, I read my history, too.)

Well, good for you, Walter.

Walter also gives props to our pal Archie, who checked in again from the dwindling hours at the AHA yesterday morning.  Well, mostly he was complaining about the job candidates he interviewed, and Historiann (aided by the white-robed angel on my left shoulder, who goes by the name of GayProf) is feeling like this website has already given itself over to teeing off on the youngest and most vulnerable among us…and that’s not the Historiann way.  We are not Rate Your Students, not even the shinier, better-lighted version that Walter complains about–we’re about compassion and understanding for all (except the Chapstik guy.  That was just nasty.)  The funny thing about Archie’s last post is that he agrees entirely with Tenured Radical about the 2010 San Diego conference kerfluffle and suggests that there are more (and less expensive) ways to piss off a homophobe than boycotting the 2010 conference or trying to move it to another hotel at this late date.  Says Tenured Radical:

I would like to propose an alternative for next year’s AHA: I think we should go. I think queer folk and their allies should go to San Diego in unprecedented numbers. I think we should occupy Doug Manchester’s hotel, and I think we should hold mock weddings in the lobby. I think we should pass out literature to his guests educating them on civil rights issues and their connections to queer citizenship. I think we should move our queer programming out of the meeting rooms and into the public spaces of the hotel — the lobby, the restaurants, the shops. . . . [A] good start for queer historians might be to go to San Diego in vast numbers and queer the convention, and queer that hotel, big time.

And, as though he is channeling a fouler-mouthed TR, here’s Archie

[W]e wound up with a resolution that created a fund to hold a bunch of history of marriage panels in this a$$hole’s hotel. This strikes me as the saner route. It might even get picked up in the media, which might then actually cause this f^*khead some embarrassment at the country club. I mean isn’t that better than giving him half a million free dollars because we all want to be pure?

Well, you know what they say about politics making strange bedfellows.  Finally, in a helpful public service, Squadratomagico has reposted some links to two tasty and nutritious posts from yesteryear on 1) mistakes to avoid on job interviews (for both the interviewing departments and the job candidates), and 2) how to craft a job talk.  (That second one seems particularly timely and useful.)  Have a great day, darlings–I’ll be checking in later, so play nice!

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January 5th 2009
Tales From the Pit, part deux: Classy Claude files his report on AHA 2009

Posted under conferences & jobs

Classy Claude, just phoning it in.

In academic hiring, universities are represented by two equally important groups:  the job candidates, and the search committees interviewing them.  Classy Claude, an American Studies scholar at Hudson University, spent most of last weekend in the Job Register, also known as “the Pit,” or “the Killing Floor.”  These are his stories:

The wireless miraculously appeared when I turned on my computer this morning.  I’m due to check out in an hour or so and head back downtown, but here are some thoughts:

AHA winds down today (panels through the early afternoon).  In a change from the normal Thursday-Sunday routine, this year in NY the festivities began on Friday and continued through to Monday.  My sense was that most people had hightailed it out of here sometime yesterday and, if not (and as in the normal routine) were using the final morning as a travel day with perhaps a brief stop in the book fair (Knopf paperbacks reduced to 3 bucks) before heading out.

I was on a search committee this year and am rather a junior member of my department so had not long ago been on the other side of the table.  We interviewed in the room I heard referred to as the Killing Floor: the bad rayon curtains (red this year), the distracting voices, the Dixie cups for water, the crowd of anxious interviewees awaiting their fate.  

I heard a few horror stories, but I’ll start with my own (admittedly basic) observations:

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January 5th 2009
Kennedy and aristocracy, Palin and motherhood, and the “trashing” of Hillary Clinton

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

Speaking of American aristocracy and connections, go read Tina Brown on Caroline Kennedy.  “Why now?” seems to be the question everyone is asking, and Kennedy has been utterly ineffectual in answering that question with her Upper East Side-inflected, dispassionate Locust Valley Lockjaw.  It’s all about class, baby:

I  have my own theory of why Caroline wants it—or, at least, why she suddenly emerged from her Upper East Side walk-in closet after 51 years.

Her default state of mind is captured by that affectless voice we hear on the AP tape and its self-defeating y’knows—dozens of them in less than two and a half minutes. To a British ear, it’s the same low-energy stance of the younger generation of the Royal Family or the grander British aristocracy—which, in American terms, is exactly what she is.

Take a tour of a British stately home with the laid-back heir or heiress to all the Gainsboroughs and Reynoldses on the satin walls (“This is the Red Room, yah, where, y’know, the Duke of Marlborough was, I dunno, like arrested, we just roller skate here now”) and you will experience the same gusts of disinterest that Caroline [has displayed recently.]

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January 4th 2009
Senate appointments: Well now, isn’t that “spayshul?”

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & local news & nepotism & race

Well now, isn't that spayshul?

UPDATED BELOW

Now that the Democrats have proved to be infected with cronyism and cowed by celebrity, what do we need Republicans for?  How I long for those days of 2002-2006, when Dems could pretend that all of the problems in our political system were the fault of Republicans….good times, good times, indeed. 

Well, I hate to be the one to break it to those of you outside of Colorado, but our dear Governor Bill Ritter has decided to bestow his gift of a spayshul U.S. Senate appointment on Denver Public Schools chief Michael Bennet!

((crickets chirping))

What do you mean, you’ve never heard of him?  Well, he was briefly listed as a supposed finalist for Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, although he’s been head of DPS for only three years, and those three years constitute the sum total of his experience in education. 

He’s very well-connected, especially outside of Colorado.  He’s the son of Douglas Bennet, a former president of Wesleyan University and president of National Public Radio–funnily enough, Bennet is a graduate of Wesleyan University!  After graduating from Yale Law School in 1993, he found a job in the Bill Clinton administration–the same administration that appointed his father an assistant Secretary of State!  He worked for a just a few years in the Clinton Justice Department before moving to Colorado–where without any experience at all, and although “he couldn’t find his way through an income statement,” he was hired by Right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz in 1997 to work for his “investment team,” which made Bennet a multi-millionaire himself.  That appears to be Bennet’s longest-held job, as he worked for Anschutz for six years before becoming (fellow Wesleyan-grad!) Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff in 2003.  He worked for Hick for 2 years, before talking the mayor into appointing him the head of Denver Public Schools in 2005–despite never having had a lick of experience in education!  But, Bennet has learned well that career educrats rarely stick around more than three or four years–sticking around means being accountable for your decisions and “reforms,” whereas there’s a lot more flash and a lot more cash in delivering the appearance of a reformer, making a big media splash, and moving on before the chips fall.  It goes without saying that Bennet’s actual political views and positions on the issues are a mystery to everyone but the Governor. 

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January 4th 2009
AHA blogging round-up: how will we keep them down on the ranch, now that they’ve seen NYC?

Posted under conferences & jobs

In case you missed it, Hotshot Harry checked in with us last night from the AHA with his second report.  Meanwhile, there are some other folks blogging the conference–some of the most interesting posts are listed below (with thanks to Cliopatria and The Way of Improvement Leads Home for pointing them out to me.  Please note Cliopatria’s pickup on Indyanna’s reminiscences about Nat Hentoff being called a very bad word–repeatedly–at an early 1970s AHA!)

Here’s a hint to the grad-flakes in the audience: the first question you will face in every AHA interview (and I mean every single f#%king one) is some variation on the old standby, “tell us about your $hitty f#&king work and its relationship to the boring-a$$ field.” This is a softball. This is the easiest motherf*!king question you can get. You should have a 45 second answer to this question in your back pocket. And when I say 45 second, I mean 45 f#&king seconds and not a second more. Practice it in the mirror if you have to. Go to an acting coach if you must. But if you cannot state the importance of your work and its relationship to the field in 45 seconds or less, you are not getting the job. Sometimes candidates can get away with a 90 second answer if they have charm, but your goal should be 45 seconds. I mention this because today the self-immolating candidate took up the entire interview trying to answer this question. And I tried to stop him. My colleagues tried to interrupt. But he was having none of it. He spent 40 minutes trying to answer the question. And when we told him his time was up, he said “I guess what I’m trying to say is that my ideas are really complex.”

The first session I attended was The Promise and Pitfalls of Writing for Readers beyond the Academy, at which I was that guy who embarrassingly enters late and bumps into people while finding a seat (in this case, on the floor). It was a relatively informal panel, with none of the typical reading of papers in a monotone voice, and with a lot of back-and-forth with the audience. I found it interesting that for the first part of the session, blogging was never touched upon. Then an audience member brought it up, and the panelists began to fervently speak about it for a fair amount of time. What surprised me was the relatively positive attitude many of the panelists carried towards blogging. This might be a kind of self-selective mechanism, as panelists for a session on popular writing are probably not the stuffy academic types that look down their noses at blogging. On the other hand, I got the sense that blogging as a whole has become much more mainstream and accepted within the academy. The panel also reminded me of the kind of “exercise” aspect of writing on a blog – in that it forces you to write and is a great tool for experimentation and self-improvement.

That’s a little too high-falutin’ for this cowgirl.  I see blogging–even professionally-related blogging–mostly as a tool for entertainment and self-promotion.  At their most serious, academic blogs can be sites for communities of likeminded individuals to meet and share ideas and concerns–my blogging about bullying work environments and urging people in academia to be fair and decent has served that purpose, I hope, as has some of my women’s history blogging.  But I’m not on board with the movement of academic bloggers who want job credit for blogging.  Putting this baby on my annual review would make it feel like work–and although I enjoy my work, I like thinking of this space as a not-work space.

Anyhoo–back to y’all in New York.  Good luck, greenhorns and vaqueras!  Let me know how it goes for you–send in a dispatch before you start that long cattle drive home.

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January 3rd 2009
Hotshot Harry, day 2 at the AHA: “A photo of the candidates in the job center might be worthy of Walker Evans”

Posted under American history & jobs

Hotshot Harry has sent in his latest and last dispatch–the price of scotch and eggs has driven him out of Manhattan after only two days!  Fortunately for us, he typed this up tonight on a bumpy bus ride through New Jersey:

I said scotch AND eggs, not scotch eggs!

Day two got going early and kept is pace.  The book exhibit was a hub of activity; more books being pitched at editors than sold by them, it seems.  One press expressed concern that  many conference goers will leave on Sunday, sticking the presses with an unusual number of remainders to either sell off to area bookstores (hello Strand!) or ship back home.  So I’m not sure the Friday to Monday  experiment will have worked all that well in the end.

I paid an obscene amount of money for eggs and dry toast at a midtown “diner.”  I know there is cheaper food in Manhattan, but by the time you pay bus/subway/cab fare, it still ain’t that cheap.  At what point does the AHA drive more people away than it attracts by holding the conference in NYC?  (We won’t talk about how much the glasses of scotch cost.)

The Hilton did not have free wireless in the lobby, and for some reason, zero wireless in the conference areas (that I could detect, anyway).

I tried to go to a session on the fourth floor.  Floors 1-3 are accessible by escalator.  To get to floor four, one needs to take the elevator.  With, it seems, everyone else who needs to go anywhere else in the entire 15-floor hotel.  I felt like I was on the last chopper leaving the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in ’75.  Leaving floor four, I decided to sneak down the stairwell to avoid the elevator crush, only to discover that it had no exits except to some random spot in the lobby.  I think I passed Jason Bourne along the way.

A photo of the candidates in the job center might be worthy of Walker Evans.

Starbucks attached to the hotel?  Madhouse.  Forget about it.

There were so many people sitting on the floor in the promenade:  talking on the phone, working on the computer, reading through a conference paper, learning to breathe after an interview.  Can somebody please spring for some folding chairs?  And some tables?

I went to a session on the problems of writing the social history of the elite in a ballroom that looked like John Jacob Astor’s dining room.  At least one of the panelists noted the irony.

Why is it that at all conferences (and at commencement, come to think of it) chairs for the audience are crammed right up against each other.  How cozy are we supposed to get?

I had an interesting conversation with the sales director of a particular press.  I expressed pleasure that the book of a friend of mine is now available in paperback.  She was wondering why/how professors make decisions against hardback books for course adoption.  As I told her, from my perspective it is better to wait for the book to arrive in paper before assigning it, and if that means waiting a year or two for a given 
course to work through the cycle, then so be it.  There is only so much money I can ask my undergrads to pay for books, end every extra dollar that goes to a hardback is a dollar not spent on an additional  paperback book.  If the book does not appear in paper, then I’ll move on to something else.  She seemed genuinely intrigued/surprised.  Your thoughts, fellow readers?  (Ed. Note:  my first thought is that perhaps she hasn’t yet been to college?  Or maybe fourth grade?  Seriously–can she not subtract $22.95 from $45 or $65?)

Registration seemed to settle into its normal pace.  I agree with Archie–whatever half-wit decided to encourage pre-registration only to make folks wait in a different kind of line for a badge should be relegated to stall-mucking at el rancho Historiann.  And the staff with the T-shirts:  my thought was Apple Store employee, but that might be because I had just been to the Apple Store on Fifth Ave before heading to the conference.  (Totally cool store, BTW.)  Sad indeed.

My main takeaway this year is this question:  do historians have a celebrity complex?  Several years ago, in an attempt (I think) to encourage more scholarly activity and engagement at the conference, the AHA instituted a series of panel discussions with established scholars engaging the big questions confronting the profession.  It was a grad student’s dream.  Drew Faust and James McPherson on the same panel discussing the writing of the Civil War?  Sign me up.  James Oakes and William Fogel on slavery?  Save me a seat.  Well, these little sessions have blossomed over the last few years, and generally they are quite engaging.  I and about 100 of my friends tried to go to one on the study of Jacksonian America, featuring Daniel Walker Howe.  One problem:  the program was slated for a room that fit about 30-40 people.  Now, if you are the AHA, and you promote these sessions as a way to encourage attendance at sessions and engage the big ideas, wouldn’t you put the session in a slightly larger room, especially with the most recent Pulitzer Prize winning author on the dais?  

The crush of people, many of whom (like me) wandered off to another  session, has me wondering:  do we historians have a celebrity complex?  Are we, in the end, no different from our students in this regard, save the fashion sense of the idols in question? (Though I do love Michael Holt’s bow ties.)   Is the primary function of the conference to see the bright lights and be seen by them, rather than the introduction of new ideas that might shape the body of knowledge for the next several years?  For that matter, when was the last time a  great idea came out of the AHA, one that really impacted a given field of study?  Please tell me it wasn’t Frederick Jackson Turner.

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January 2nd 2009
Hotshot Harry from Tucumcari’s first dispatch from AHA HQ

Posted under conferences

Hotshot Harry dishes on the AHA

UPDATED BELOW

First day musings [from the American Historical Association's annual meeting 2009]…[ed. note:  Eat your heart out, Rate Your Students--my correspondents have reported first!]

I think the Friday start is a bit disorienting for folks. (That, and the crush of New Year’s vacationers leaving as the frumpy historians arrived gave the Hilton a sense of strangeness.) My memories of AHA openings is that they are rather tame, but this one was far more active. Registration opened at 12.00pm, and you would have thought they were giving out free booze. By 12:08, the very large promenade was packed and the printers serving up badges had suspended business due to overuse. (They were up and running shortly thereafter, but the lines took a solid hour or so to settle down to normal volume.) All I could think of was the Coconut Grove.  [Ed. Note:  Have no historians mastered on-line registration yet?]

More disconcerting for most was that the book exhibit did not open until 3:00pm. And really, this is the highlight of the conference for most, if not all. Picture the AHA without the book exhibit, even for five minutes. Grim.

On the job front…well, there isn’t much of one this year. The smell of fear that normally permeates the cattle pen is a bit more stale this time around.  [Ed. note:  it's a little known fact that Hotshot Harry lived in Potterville before he decamped for Tucumcari, so this greenhorn knows from cattle pens!]

As for the attire, there were some folks who seem to be trying for Soho hip and have missed the mark a bit. Otherwise, standard AHA attire is in effect. Manufacturers of wool have little to fear, despite the economic downturn.

UPDATE, 1/3/09:  RYS has posted the first-day at the AHA impressions of Archie–which brings back memories for me.  Consider Hotshot Harry’s post here the briefer, G-rated version of what Archie has to say.  Archie also provides more of an explanation for those long registration lines yesterday:

So just to prove that academics shouldn’t even be allowed to plan a cluster f*@k, this year’s meeting features an “improved” registration system. If you pre-registered, you wait in line to use one of several laptop computers. You look up your name and press print. Then you go stand in line and wait for one of the graduate student volunteers to call your name and hand you your badge. How this constitutes an improvement over the cardboard box full of alphabetized envelopes is beyond me. In the twenty minutes I stood there, the system crashed twice, and the whole show ground to a screeching halt. Only an a$$hat academic could have been talked into paying someone for this. On a related note, they made the poor grad student workers wear these red AHA T-Shirts that make them look like they are trying out for Santa’s workshop. Just sad.

6 Comments »

January 2nd 2009
AHA open thread

Posted under conferences & jobs

Since Historiann will be remaining at least 1,750 miles away from the American Historical Association’s annual meeting, y’all will have to keep me informed about what’s going on in New York.  What did you see or hear?  Who did you run into?  Did you see any interesting panels or discussions?  Do you feel like slitting your wrists or enrolling in truck driving school now, or are you infused with love of the life of the mind and appreciation for your fellow historians? 

Does holding the annual meeting in New York City mean that historians dress any better, or are they just as square and dowdy as ever?  (Wait, wait–don’t answer that–I think I know!)  Well, I suppose most dudes can’t pull off Historiann’s daring look (above right.)

Before you conference-goers unpack and start trolling the book exhibition looking for editors who might buy you a meal, try this food for thought from GayProf, who has written up some excellent tips for search committees, and how they should strive to actually read the candidates’ files, avoid violating state and federal laws in their interviews, and look like good future colleagues that anyone would want to work with.  The money quote:  “Lastly, remember to play nice. You don’t want to end up as the committee that becomes a dreadful story on a future academic blog.”  You’ve been warned, friends.  Also, a little belatedly, here’s some more good advice from Tenured Radical for job-seekers approaching their first AHA convention interviews–see especially her advice on how to answer the “do you have any questions for us?” question.

Anyhoo–enjoy those concrete canyons if you’re in New York this weekend.  Me, I like the ones we’ve got here in snowy Colorado, but I’ve got a few cowboys on the ground who should be telegraphing their dispatches from the AHA.  Check back here later this weekend for more reports from Historiann’s special correspondents!  (If any other readers want to send along their impressions, please do–you know how to whistle, don’t you?)

14 Comments »

January 1st 2009
Happy New Year!

Posted under fluff & Gender

Another year down the rabbit hole, and happy birthday to Historiann.com!  Actually, I think my first post went “live” on December 31, 2007–you’ll see some older posts in the archive, but that was when my designer and I were just tinkering around and working out the format and look of the thing.  So perhaps today is Historiann’s un-birthday instead?  (Cake at left courtesy of Cakewrecks, natch.) 

Originally, I envisioned this blog as a way to help publicize the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women held last June, and to provide a forum for discussion of women’s history and gender issues in contemporary life.  Things got political very quickly when I got swept up in the Democratic primary race last winter and spring and the general election in the fall, and I also dipped my toe into academic politics in various posts on the uses and abuses of tenure and academic bullying

One of the things I’ve noticed especially this year is the almost complete absence of feminist commentary and analysis in the mainstream media.  (Joan Walsh at Salon.com, and Marie Cocco of the Washington Post Writers Group, are the only two exceptions I can think of.)  I think academic feminist bloggers are doing a real service in providing this analysis, albeit on their own time and their own dime–Feminist Law Profs, Tenured Radical, Echidne of the Snakes, The Global Sociology Blog, Roxie’s World, WOC Ph.D., and Anglachel’s Journal, just to name a few that I read regularly. 

Dr. Crazy had a very interesting post a few weeks ago on the advantages of blogging anonymously.  As many of you know, she is pseudonymous, but her blog is not linked to her real name or professional identity other than her discipline (English.)  I agree with her that anonymous bloggers can write about things that those of us whose blogs are linked to our professional identities can’t.  Sometimes I regret that–but because this blog was originally meant to publicize a conference in which I played a major role, being anonymous wasn’t a comfortable option for me.  I also wanted to write more about my professional research and teaching interests–and since there are only (maybe?) three dozen early American women’s historians in this country, it would not have been difficult to track me down.  In general, it seems like the people who blog under their real names (or whose pseudonyms are linked to their real names, like Historiann) don’t share as much about their personal or family lives or their specific work environments, whereas anonymous academic bloggers share more of those things but don’t reveal as much about their professional lives or research interests.  That’s the main trade-off.  I realize, however, that even having the choice of blogging anonymously or blogging as myself is itself a privilege–most of the “out” bloggers I know are tenured, and most of the anonymous bloggers are junior faculty or adjuncts. 

I don’t know what exactly this blog will look like at this time next year, or how long I can keep up this pace of posting, but it’s still fun for me, and I am grateful to have so many very smart, very insightful commenters.  I’ve really learned a lot from you all.  Thank you.

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