February
16th 2009
Vaycay roundup: fun in the sun, yee-haw! edition

Posted under: American history, conferences, fluff, Gender, Intersectionality, race, women's history

cowgirlbikiniI’ve got another day of fun in the sun planned, so I’ll just leave you with a few quick linkies to get your holiday Monday started right:

  • For Presidents’ Day, here are their current rankings, according to this group of historians (via Inside Higher Ed).  The thing I always find really silly about these rankings of presidential greatness is the obvious bias towards more recent presidents.  You’d almost be relieved to have lived in the twentieth century, because of all of the presidential awesomeness then.  Of the top ten on this ranking, only two (#1, Abraham Lincoln, and #7, Thomas Jefferson) are from the nineteenth century.  There’s your obligatory citation of George Washington  (#2?), which just seems like Founding Fathers tokenism, and the chronic overrating of John F. Kennedy (#6–who wants to bet that his stock drops dramatically when people born after 1963 dominate the historians who do these rankings?)  Seriously:  James K. Polk is #12?  Whatever, dudes.  Clearly, starting unnecessary and unprovoked imperial wars isn’t a disqualifying feature in these rankings, with George W. Bush listed at the high rank of #36.  (And bien sur, most of the historians who did the rankings are dudes:  57 men, 10 women by my quick count.)
  • Via Like a Whisper, we hear that Rutgers University’s Center for Race and Ethnicity is sponsoring a conference called “Black Women in the Ivory Tower: Research and Praxis,” March 5-6.  Many of the participants were also contributors to Debra Gray White’s Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008), a book I’ve been meaning to read.  It might make a good companion volume to Judith Bennett’s History Matters, which will be the subject of our Women’s History Month book club discussion here and at three other top women’s history blogs. 
  • And finally, I’m sorry for the belated valentine, but this collection of photos and descriptions of valentines from the 1920s and 1930s at Romantoes is really cool! 

17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Vaycay roundup: fun in the sun, yee-haw! edition”

  1. Rose on 16 Feb 2009 at 8:29 am #

    Thanks for the shout-out, Historiann! We’ve got lots more…tune in next V-Day!

  2. GayProf on 16 Feb 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Wow — What an inaccurate list.

  3. Satsuma on 16 Feb 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Loved the president’s day list. I too am tired of JFK getting such high marks, because the more you find out about him the worse he gets. I assume it’s the generation that could never get over the assassination.
    My annoyance– I was too young to remember anything about Kennedy, and so just couldn’t connect with Camelot.

    Anyway, good point about the list of 57 male historians vs. the paltry 10 women who decide who is or is not a good president. What would the rankings look like if we only counted the women’s opinions — I know 10 is a small sample. I think feminism needs to count women’s opinions as often as possible, and to highlight numerically just how male dominated these so-called “lists of greatness” really are.

  4. Eduardo on 16 Feb 2009 at 11:48 am #

    Yes, that list was a laugher. What gets me is the categories they use to judge presidents — “Moral Authority?” What the hell does that mean? Moralistic? Legislated morality? Mentioned it a lot in speeches? Strikes me as a bunch of historians who write a lot about presidents deciding who was moral or not. “Administrative Skills?” I mean, really, the Cabinet was tiny in the 19th century compared to today and there was virtually no White House staff — so, say, John Tyler is hit for lack of administrative skills (how many historians on that list can actually speak to JT’s administrative skills anyway?) compared to FDR?

  5. Jeremy Young on 16 Feb 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Not just men — but also pretty conservative men as the profession goes, and mostly popular historians. The bias shows in the rankings — Ike, the Gipper, and McKinley are WAY too high.

    I think the biggest travesty, though, is the low ranking of Chester Arthur. The guy solved one of the most serious problems in postbellum America, the egregious corruption in the civil service system. He ought to get some credit for that.

  6. susurro on 16 Feb 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about doing some posts on Telling Histories, Telling Stories (Latina Academics), and some of the pieces by Asian women academics in This Bridge Called My Back for women’s history month . . . we’ll see.

  7. Historiann on 16 Feb 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    I’m not a Kennedy hater–I just don’t think he’s #6, especially considering that his assassination meant that he served less than 3 years. It was tragic, of course, but I don’t think anyone with such a short term can righteously be ranked in the top ten, when there are so many two (or more) term presidents whose legacies for good or ill are so much clearer. It just seems like so much wishful thinking, rather than a clear-eyed assessment.

    And as it happens, Eduardo, I am the authoritative expert on John Tyler’s administrative skills, and I can say that he was a complete mess. He needed two servants to pull his pants on for him every morning. And since he couldn’t in fact find his ass with two hands and a map, those servants were on retainer all day long in case Mr. President had to relieve himself. So, I can say with all assurance that Tyler is probably ranked too kindly for his administrative skills on this list.

  8. Roo on 16 Feb 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Why hasn’t anyone brought up the fact that Ronald Reagan was placed at number ten?… Number ten!If one of the categories for grading is really “economic management,” then there is no way he should be so high. (not to mention “pursued equal justice for all”) They left out “…all white, rich men.” I can’t speak to his “moral authority,” although I have a pretty good idea of what it was- or wasn’t.

  9. Industry Boy on 16 Feb 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    I would completely agree with Washington at number two. When your the first president, everything you do is a precedent. How many people could have set a better number of precedences than Washington? He could have easily been George the IV.

  10. Clio Bluestocking on 17 Feb 2009 at 5:28 am #

    Out of curiosity — and Lincoln fatigue (I swear that I will shriek if I hear another debate about whether Lincoln was “great and genius” or “genius and great”) — what function do these rankings serve other than to reveal the biases of the rankers? Such lists remind me of the scene in the movie “Stand By Me” in which the kids debate the winner in a stand-off between Mighty Mouse and Superman.

    Of course, now that I’ve brought up Lincoln, I notice that the bottom two presidents came before and after him, respectively.

  11. Historiann on 17 Feb 2009 at 6:35 am #

    I’m with you, Clio–these rankings are silly party games. Eduardo pointed out some of the impossibilities of comparing the challenges that faced James Madison, Grover Cleveland, and Barack Obama. Roo, I was going to comment on Reagan at #10, but that seemed to me too much like shooting fish in a barrel. (The James K. Polk #12 ranking actually surprised me more!)

    Industry Boy–I appreciate your defense of Washington, but your justification for his high rank sets the bar rather low. He only had to do better than avoid becoming King? Really? Well–the Whiskey Rebels and anyone else who was screwed by Hamilton’s schemes would argue that he failed even at that simple task.

    Lincoln is the closest thing that we have to a national secular saint, if we leave out white Southerners. (Many of them probably have signed on for this rating too by now, but many haven’t.) But I think that has more to do with his assassination than with his leadership, formidable though that was. My guess is that if he had lived to serve two full terms and preside over the beginnings of Reconstruction, he’d rank much more closely to Grant than #1.

  12. Satsuma on 17 Feb 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    Assassination always creates the secular saints! Just think, had MLK lived to a ripe old age, he’d be up there with Jesse Jackson and a paternity suit and a sordid sex scandal or two.

    Anyway, the 20th century presidents have the edge because many of the historians who actually knew them personally are still alive. I’m thinking Slessinger (can’t spell his name now:-( Or even the adoring journalsist who knew Kennedy.– There are too many to list here!

    Heck, we had more worshipful obits on TV about the Auzzie crocodile hunter’s death, than reports and documentaries about Betty Friedan… but hey crocodile hunter was a white man and he spoke English, and Friedan… helped launch a movement of half the U.S. population. Can’t have too many documentaries about feminism and feminists on malestream TV..still too dangerous a subject.

    History is still about playing favorites and who wants to protect their place in the sun as a “Lincoln” or “Reagan” expert.

  13. Satsuma on 17 Feb 2009 at 11:37 pm #

    P.S. But hey, sometimes it is fun to let historians have a bit of parlour game entertainment.

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