Archive for August, 2009

August 9th 2009
I can haz homework assignment?

Posted under book reviews & jobs & students

wtfFrom the mailbag at Historiann HQ:

Dear Historiann,

I’m a historian.  I just got an e-mail request from a graduate student to write a short bio of  myself.  She’s required to read my most recent book and include something on the author’s background.  My first response is WTF?  This is  basic research.  With databases, online catalogs, and departmental web pages, this is not a challenge!  You don’t just write to the author!  Would it be really rude to say, “you might want to check out my articles and other books, which should provide all the information you need for such an assignment?”

Thanks, and just sign me,

Flabbergasted Full Professor

Wow, FFP–I’m with you.  Is this grad student really trying to get you to do hir homework for hir?  Or is she just confused?  Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s probably best to assume that this graduate student is more confused than obnoxious.  Ze may not understand that the assignment to “include something on the author’s background” is a call for a professional or intellectual biography, rather than a personal biography, which as you note is basic research that can be gleaned by reading your other books and articles and looking at your web page.  You can point that out to hir, and perhaps list the other places you’ve taught in the past that might not be on your current departmental web page.

I’ve never had an e-mail like this from a college or graduate student, but I get a couple of e-mails per year from middle school or high school students asking me for my advice on research topics that are only tangentially related to my research interests.  Continue Reading »


August 8th 2009
Man shoots women: just another “dog-bites-man” story!

Posted under American history & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

Gee, friends:  do you think anyone will listen now that a man with a column in the New York Times says it?  (Thanks to reader KW for the tip.)  Bob Herbert focuses on the sexual nature of gynocide and the sexualized ideation of men who murder women:

What was unusual about [murderer George] Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”

I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.

Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. Continue Reading »


August 7th 2009
Secret Agent Historians, part deux: “Day Rider” attacks!

Posted under American history & race & unhappy endings & weirdness

cliobIn our first installment, Squadratomagico wrote of her research inside a “secret agent”-like labyrinth of a modern archive.  In today’s installment, “Thrown Off the Plantation,” Clio Bluestocking writes of a menacing encounter with a self-appointed enforcer of her version of historical correctness near Wye House, a plantation on which Frederick Douglass was enslaved as a young child.  I don’t want to spoil the suspense of her tale, so you’re just going to have to click and read it yourself, but here’s a taste of what you might see:  “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in haunted places, it’s just that the living are the haints.” Continue Reading »


August 6th 2009
Blogging the academic life: wrap-up and linky goodness

Posted under fluff & jobs

madmen_fullbodyaml3Hello, darlings–your favorite cowgirl has had a metropolitan makeover!  This fun little toy is something that I found over at GayProf’s place yesterday:  you can make yourself into a Mad Men character.  A ring-a-ding-ding!  Mix me up a sidecar, will you–I’ll be home from work soon.

Now, on to the business at hand–the conversations about blogging the academic life that GayProf and I hosted over the past few days have inspired some interesting commentary on other blogs, so I thought I’d pass along some links: Continue Reading »


August 5th 2009
Part II: Does blogging hurt or help an academic career?

Posted under jobs

In today’s installment of my conversation with GayProf from Center of Gravitas, we talk about the pitfalls of blogging and the risks it can pose to academic careers.  On the other hand:  can writing on a blog help one’s academic writing?  What’s the shelf-life of blog writing versus academic writing?  The audience we reach on our blogs is so much larger than the audience for our academic writing, and yet there’s no question but that the academy privileges academic writing above all (at least for now).  Please enjoy eavesdropping on us, and then chime in in the comments, if you have any other burning questions or timeless answers to share!

When last we left GayProf and Historiann in part I, they were discussing the fact that blogs appear to be rewarded more for the quantity of posts than for their quality.  Now, they’ll address some of the potential problems it can create in an academic career:

wwcloseupGayProf: For tenure-track academics, blogging can be a bad road.  While some argue that it keeps your mind active by writing regularly, it also takes up time that could be spent on other projects (Hello, Never Ending Research Project of Doom, or NERPoD for short).  Plus, excepting nasty trolls, the feedback is almost always so rosy and positive on blogs that you can start to think every idea you have is golden.  It’s because of the latter that many academics are probably comforted by it.  Most of our academic writing usually gets trashed by some of our closest friends two or three times before it makes it into print.  A blog seems friendly and nice because people most often only leave positive comments.

 For junior and associate professors, it can become an artificial place that might hinder their road to promotion. And, of course, there is also the potential to blur the line between professional/personal that can be a special danger for the untenured (trust me).  Aside from Wonder Woman, people still associate my blog with My Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) despite the fact that he hasn’t actually been a specific topic of conversation in years.  I suppose everybody loves a train wreck.

cowgirlkeyscloseupHistoriann:  Many people have asked me recently how my blogging affects my writing–as in, does it make it easier to write an academic article or book?  I have to say I don’t know–I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, nor have I ever had a problem getting something done for a deadline (or, well, reasonably close to a deadline.)  Do I write easily because I blog, or do I blog because I write easily?  I’d have to say I suspect it’s the latter, and not the former, although some of our blogging colleagues have used their blogs in the service of meeting their deadlines for academic writing.  (For example, several of the blogs I read participated in InaDWriMo, or International Dissertation Writing Month, last year.  Never mind that many were faculty members who presumably had already finished dissertations–the project inspired people to set and meet a writing goal, and they frequently blogged about their efforts.)

GP: Maybe one area where blogging could help academic writing is by cutting down on the verbage (overly long blog posts attract as many readers as yesterday’s still-paper newspaper).  Blogging  reminds us that writing is often about entertaining as much as informing.  I have several books sitting on my desk that are devoid of even a glimmer of entertainment.  Learning to write to actually please readers is not a small thing.

H: I worry a little about blogging as a hindrance, as you suggested above, since I’m now among the Associate Professors, many of whom are famously “stalled” on the way to promotion by service obligations or other non-research professional activities.   Continue Reading »


August 4th 2009
GayProf and Historiann tell all!

Posted under jobs

wwnewyorkHowdy, friends!  Today’s post is just to announce that GayProf from Center of Gravitas and I have initiated a conversation about blogging the academic life over at his place today.  Go read and jump into the conversation over there!    Tomorrow, I’ll have the keys to the wagon, so I’ll take the show on the road and drive it out West to  (Part II is available here.) Continue Reading »

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August 3rd 2009
American cuisine before Julia Child, part II

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & women's history

Yesterday’s post on the overly simplistic “Before Julia/After Julia” narrative of American culinary history really resonated with a lot of you readers.  In addition to the class bias of this narrative that I wrote about, many of you pointed out and provided anecdotes about the regional and urban bias of Julia Child’s acolytes, noting that for those of you who grew up in farm country or in the midwest, fresh local food was what food was, and many of you mentioned The Joy of Cooking (1931, and various later editions) by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker as more formative than Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).  As promised, today I’ll share with you the jewel of my cookbook collection, which was given to me by my mother-in-law after she noticed that upon each visit to her house in the 1990s, I’d pull this book off of her cookbook shelf and pour over it.  (It was probably given to her when she was a young bride, not too many years after it was published.)  I don’t really cook out of this book so much as enjoy it as a document of the idealized middle-class life in the 1950s, one that revolved around entertaining with food and drinks chosen thoughtfully and prepared with care.


Drinks and hors d'oeurve, anyone? pp. 116-17

Picture Cook Book (New York:  Time Incorporated, 1958) looks dramatically different from the other cookbooks in my collection:  it is a crown folio-sized volume that makes good on its simple title–all of the recipes inside were photographed in various displays, and in addition to photographs of the food, there are lavishly photographed sections devoted to entertaining, Europe’s great restaurants, American inns, “Big City” restaurants, kitchen design ideas, and children’s food (food that children can make, as well as food for lunch boxes.)  You can buy a copy here–at an amazingly low price.  In the course of doing a little research for this post, I discovered that Jessamyn Neuhaus, in “The Way to a Man’s Heart:  Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s,” Journal of Social History 32:3 (1999), 529-548, noted a very early section in Picture Cook Book called “Man’s Job:  Steak,” which discusses the supposedly primal connection between masculinity and grilling meats.  However, the rest of the book isn’t directed specifically at women so much as at the reasonably adventurous home cook and entertainer. Continue Reading »


August 2nd 2009
American cuisine before Julia Child, part I

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

mtaofcThe only movie I’m interested in watching this summer is Julie and Julia, Nora Ephron’s new movie about Juila Child and the young blogger Julie Powell who was so inspired by Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, 1961) as to cook every recipe in the book in a single year and blog the results.  But, I’m rather unsettled by the simplistic narrative of American culinary history we’re getting in all of the publicity for the movie.  In the popular narrative lionizing “The French Chef” of PBS fame and her landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, people in the United States allegedly ate nothing but overcooked pot roast or dry pork chops, canned green beans and canned corn, and “salads” and desserts that were both composed of Jell-O brand gelatin or pudding in part or in whole.  But, Child didn’t so much invent a hunger for real food, properly cooked, and an interest in international cuisine; rather, she capitalized on it.  I don’t mean to argue that MtAoFC was a cynical publication–but, the originality of her book and its outsize success should not obscure the passionate interest that many other Americans in the 1950s shared in cooking and eating high-quality fresh foods.

In other words, that decade has a bad rap among foodies, one that I suspect is largely shaped by historical evidence of the marketing of prepared or convenience foods instead of the reality of most people’s experience with food in their home kitchens.  My mother’s childhood in the 1950s was like a wonder out of the previous century compared to my 1970s childhood:  she had milk delivered to the house several mornings a week, milk with cream that rose to the top of the bottle, that her mother would try to skim off for her coffee, but which my mother and aunt would like to shake into the milk they’d drink for breakfast.  My mother also talks about visits from the “huckster,” who sold fresh vegetables door-to-door, whatever was in season–and in Toledo, Ohio with its substantial number of Lebanese immigrants, that meant not just corn, beans, potatoes, and carrots, but eggplant, zucchini, perhaps heirloom tomatoes, and a world of other interesting garden veggies.  My grandmother would buy and try anything, apparently.  My mother said to me just this morning, “my mother never, ever used prepared food.”  Everything was fresh, most of it was intensely local, and not incidentally, in my mother’s words, “it was cheaper” than going to the grocery store.  One of my earliest detailed memories of  my grandmother was of staying over at her house on a Friday night at age 3 or 4 and rising before dawn to go to the local farmer’s market with her.  I remember sitting in her tiny, brightly-lit kitchen eating a sectioned grapefruit before heading off to the market as the light rose in the sky.

Thus, the “Before Julia/After Julia” narrative serves to ignore or marginalize mid-century home cooks and gardeners who kept their families going through the Great Depression, through the rations and privations of World War II, and through the 1950s in households that weren’t affluent.  Continue Reading »


August 1st 2009
Seriously–I need this doll for my research.

Posted under American history & captivity & Dolls & O Canada

I’m so glad I’m not the only historian with a dolly fetish!  Clio Bluestocking, the intrepid CC instructor and scholar of Frederick Douglass and the women in his family sent in her report about what she did this summer at an NEH institute in Baltimore.  On a field trip to a  Civil War museum in Virginia, she found a Frederick Douglass action figure!  Go check it out.  She writes, “He even has a small copy of The Narrative, as well as a pissed off expression.  Notice, too, that he was on sale.  This picture was not taken in the gift shop, but in my hotel room because, yes, I bought it. (And I just realized how creepy it sounds to say that I bought a Frederick Douglass.)”  This of course connects back to my post on Thursday about Marla Miller opening her book with a discussion of Colonial Barbie, and our discussion in the comments.  Why do some dolls based on historical periods or individuals get produced, and others don’t?  Many of you noted the elite and healthy bias of the historical dolls, compared to the miserable reality of the lives of most people in the past.


Can you see your book on my shelf?

A few years ago, Dr. Mister Historiann found some Seven Years’ War era lead figurines–made by a company that mostly makes lead soldiers, I’m sure, but to their credit they also made some civilian victims of war, too–and he gave them to me for my birthday.  So here are my English captives with their co-captors, who appear to be both Iroquois and Algonquian.  (Unlikely, unless they were Catholic mission Indians, but wev.)  You’ve never seen a 30-something year old woman so excited about a birthday gift as I was that year!  Continue Reading »


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