Archive for January, 2010

January 31st 2010
Sunday round-up: education and the arts edition

Posted under American history & book reviews & childhood & Gender & students & wankers

Hi, kids–I’m deep into a juicy new book in my field all day today and finishing prep for my seminar tomorrow, but if you’re looking for diversions, I’ve got a few for you:

  • What if Holden Caufield grew up and turned into Howard Zinn?  Hilobrow gives us the hillarious results.  This is the smartest and funniest thing I’ve read all week on the deaths of both historian Zinn and creepy recluse J.D.Salinger on Wednesday.  Via Old is the New New.
  • Dopey Educrat Arne Duncan says about New Orleans:  “we had to destroy the village to save the village.”  Now, all we need are 9,999 more hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes to take out the rest of school districts across the U.S.!  Never mind the loss of life–what about the children?  Hey, “progressives”:  how many of you would be jumping up and down and screaming if Margaret Spellings said “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better,’”  hmmm?  (How long do you think it will be before we start reading the “after a promising fresh start, New Orleans schools have underperformed since being rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina” stories?  Three years?  Five?)
  • Here’s an idea:  how’sabout we find a U.S. Secretary of Education who has spent at least 10 years teaching in an elementary or high school classroom?  Continue Reading »


January 30th 2010
From the mailbag: How to assemble a conference panel with complete strangers?

Posted under conferences & jobs & students

A stranger's just a friend you haven't met!

Because of Homostorian Americanist’s recent correspondence with a silly high-schooler who was fishing for someone to do her homework, reader Nervous Ned writes in to ask, ” What is the appropriate way to contact another professional historian and ask hir to participate in a panel as a chair or commenter?”  This is a great question–it’s something that lots of us are doing these days, because of all of the calls for papers that emphasize transnational this and comparative that.  The odds are that crafting a panel these days will require reaching far beyond one’s sub-field.  Ned explains his problem:

I have been working with a couple of other people to assemble a comparative, modern history panel for the next American Historical Association annual meeting. Myself and another panelist are junior faculty at distinctly un-prestigious state schools. The third panelist is a grad student.  We did not personally know any prominent scholars with a reputation for working on [the nominal topic of the panel], so we decided to e-mail scholars whose work we admired and thought would be able to critique our papers. The Grad Student offered to email a couple people because she had met them tangentially at a conference. These did not pan out, so I emailed a scholar I admired who had written about [this field] in [my area of geographical expertise].  But after reading your post on student XXXX and hir insistent e-mail pestering I realized that we may have acted inappropriately, by emailing senior faculty and associate professors out of the blue.  

Is there a good way to go about talking to scholars you are not acquainted with and asking them to help you out with your panel or work, especially for someone like a grad student or junior faculty member who is not really well connected? More importantly, I have not heard from the person I emailed.  I probably should have worked the grapevine and gotten some sort of introduction, but its a little late now. Should I apologize? 


Nervous Ned 

Dear Ned, 

Apologize???  For doing your job and also helping to mentor a graduate student?  Continue Reading »


January 29th 2010
American Literary Fiction: No Girls Allowed!

Posted under American history & art & childhood & class & Gender & weirdness

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye and a few short stories and novellas, died on Wednesday.  The eulogizing of the author, who was more famous for his Bartleby-like retreat into seclusion and literary non-production in New Hampshire, illustrates a problem that we’ve discussed here before about the gendering of literary fiction. 

Last night, All Things Considered did an extensive two-part obituary for Salinger, in which they interviewed American literature professor Andrew Delbanco to explain Salinger’s importance in American literary history.  Then in a more personal story, “What Salinger Means to Me,” Allan L’Etoile (a teacher at the all-male Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.), and writers Shalom Auslander, Rick Moody, and Adam Gopnik all praised the unique voice of Catcher protagonist Holden Caufield, and place him alongside Huck Finn and Nick Carraway as a memorable voice in the American literary pantheon.  (Are you sensing a theme here?  For example, Eliza Harris and Ellen Olenska aren’t on that list.  Neither are Hester Prynne nor Daisy Miller, although they were imagined by male writers.)

I guess no women writers or scholars have any opinions whatsoever about Salinger’s work worth considering–not even the writer, Joyce Maynard, who was Salinger’s lover when she was eighteen years old and Salinger was in his 50s.  Continue Reading »


January 28th 2010
Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

Posted under American history & Gender & happy endings & jobs & wankers


Howard Zinn died yesterday.  I never read much of his work, but I admired his career a great deal–the linked obituary is a nice rundown, but hilariously, it identifies Camelot lapdog Arthur M. “history goes in cycles” Schlesinger Jr. as a “liberal historian.”  Zinn was a “polemicist,” as Schlesinger called him–but then, aren’t we all?  It’s just that some of us are timid polemicists, and some of us are bolder than others, and Zinn was a bold, combative person.  (He was literally combative–the obituary linked above says that he got his head bashed in by police at a Communist rally when he was 17, and he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II.)

I never met Zinn, but curiously, our paths crossed in a distant way in-between my freshman and sophomore year of college.  Here’s the story of my brush with (the correspondence of) greatness:  Continue Reading »


January 27th 2010
Mid-week treat: visual madelines for the original Sesame Street generation

Posted under American history & art & childhood & Dolls & fluff

This is the Sesame Street short film from back in the day that was immediately called to my mind by Flavia’s recent post on book covers, more specifically, by the book cover she nominates as the freakiest of all time:  “the original cover art for Stanley Fish’s Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (1972),” which she calls “hideous and compelling at the same time.”  (Go over to her place to see it, and the full-size blowup when you click on it.  It is impressively weird.)  Incidentally, “Rolling Ball 1, 2, 3 (rare ending)” is the only one I remember–I never saw the version with the cherry sundae ending until last night.

When I was over at YouTube researching this short film, the film below came up as a related video.  Continue Reading »


January 26th 2010
Losing Jon Stewart

Posted under American history & unhappy endings

I always thought that our first woman president would be a Republican.  I just didn’t anticipate that our first African American president would be a Republican, too.  (At least, not since Colin Powell said nix in ’96.)  Here’s a good roundup explaining the policy and political FAIL:  As Melissa McEwan writes, “[y]ou know, it’s almost like progressives should have had a serious conversation about what kind of president Obama would really make, how he would really govern, when he kept telling us over and over and over that he wasn’t a progressive.  But getting shouted at that I was a stupid, racist, man-hating traitor was fun, too.”

Lyndon Johnson once famously quipped, “if I’ve lost [Walter] Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”  I don’t watch The Daily Show daily, but the last several clips I’ve caught suggest that Obama has lost Jon Stewart. It’s not just that Stewart has been critical of his policy positions (whatever they are today, anyway)–more tellingly, he’s mocking him out for pretty much everything, which suggests that our national Court Jester sees dire political weakness. I refer you to FratGuy in August of 2008: “What we need is another L.B.J., and what we’re getting with this guy is another Jimmy Carter.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Obama Speaks to a Sixth-Grade Classroom
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Oh well– Continue Reading »


January 25th 2010
We get letters. . . some we can do without.

Posted under American history & bad language & childhood & jobs & students & women's history

I’m sure many of you get random e-mails from students in grades 5-12 asking you to enlighten them about a particular research topic.  These all have appeared to me to be fishing expeditions to see if I’ll do someone’s homework for hir.  (The “pilgrims” of Plymouth Plantation fame are big in the fall with elementary school students, and women’s history projects are popular in the winter and early spring with high school students, in my experience.)  Homostorian Americanist e-mailed me the following exchange from this weekend:

Hello,My name is XXXX XXXXXXX and I am a student at Redacted High School. I am doing a Project on Women’s Right’s / Women’s History, for National History Day. I saw that you teach a lot about Women’s History, and I was wondering if you could tell me anything you know about women in the U.S? How did women’s right’s come about?  Who was involved?  Were there any organizations for and/or against women’s rights? What is you opinion on women in politics today? Do you know anything about women’s rights in [my state]? Anything else would be very helpful.
Thank you for your time.

Either the student wasn’t instructed properly how to ask more specific questions, or ze decided that ze didn’t need to make even a feint at asking for guidance in doing research, rather than filling in the blanks.  Homostorian Americanist and I disagree slightly:  ze thinks that secondary school teachers encourage students randomly to e-mail us, whereas I think that even if that’s the case, they get better coaching than this letter would indicate.  (Googling “expert in women’s rights/women’s history in [my state]” is as much research as this student did, I bet.)  As we all know, our students regularly fail to follow our carefully laid out, patiently and thoroughly explained instructions–we can’t blame the teacher for this.  (Probably.)

So, H.A. replied quite kindly: Continue Reading »


January 24th 2010
Assistant Proffie Andy asks questions about book reviews

Posted under book reviews & jobs

Howdy, friends!  Sorry to have gone silent for the past few days–last week was the first week back to classes, and then I spent yesterday in bed all day long suffering from “nervous exhaustion.”  (Well, I slept a lot, and tested negative for everything else, so what would you call it?)  Poor Dr. Mister is on call this weekend, so in between his usual clinic hours and hospital duties, he stopped by to check on me every couple of hours.  (House calls sure are handy–they help make up for his busy schedule and inability to go on sabbatical with me. . . almost!)  Fortunately for him, I was a pretty easy patient because I was usually asleep.  I take pride in being a low-maintenance patient.

Anyhoo:  today’s letter from the mailbag comes from a young historian who has questions about book reviews and the role they might play in his budding career:

I am in the middle of my first year as a new assistant professor.  I am writing to ask you a few questions about writing book reviews.  I have read the instructions posted on the leading journals in my field–submit your vita or fill out our form and so forth.  Here are my unanswered questions: 1) Including a careful reading (or two?) of the book, approximately how much time does a book review take you to compose?  2) How many book reviews do most assistant professors complete in a year? 3) What is the process of saying no to a book review, or would this decision shut the door forever with the journal I turn down? 4) To what extent do academic-political considerations factor into your reviews?  That is, is there a risk in writing an especially negative review early in my career–even if the book warrants it?

Ever yours,

Assistant Professor Andy

Dear Andy,

You seem to take book reviews awfully seriously–not that that’s a bad thing.  It’s always good to hear from an Assistant Professor who is thinking about the big picture, and about how everything he writes is part of a strategy for building a national or international reputation.  Book reviews are a very important service to the profession, so you should think about how they will reflect on you as a professional.  I’ll answer your questions in order from the perspective of a fellow historian.  (Commenters from other disciplines should feel free to add on or offer different, discipline-specific advice.) Continue Reading »


January 21st 2010
Letters of recommendation for job applicants: how important are they?

Posted under jobs & students

Go read this post at Female Science Professor.  She writes:

Years ago, a friend of mine had a highly unsuccessful interview for a faculty position. According to the legend, the department chair, who had had the same adviser as the candidate, was upset that their mutual adviser had written in the reference letter that the candidate was the best graduate student he had ever advised. This was humiliating for the not-best professor and he did not support hiring the candidate.

Perhaps I am naive, but I don’t believe that the wounded ego of one professor would be enough to sink someone’s chances at a job if there weren’t other reasons for other faculty to not prefer this particular candidate. The reasons might be good ones or bad ones, but I think there must have been other reasons. I also think in this case that it was true that the candidate was indeed the best graduate student of that adviser; the years since the fateful interview have demonstrated this well.

It’s likely that the adviser sent the same letter to every institution to which the candidate applied and did not modify it out of consideration for his former student who was on the faculty at one of these places. Should the adviser have worded the letter in a different way for that particular institution? Or was he was correct to state his frank opinion, which was surely accurate and not a case in which every one of his students was the best?

We’re thick in the middle of hiring season–and by “we,” I mean not my department, but maybe some of you lucky duckies work in departments that have money to spend on recruiting a new colleague.  Some of you are or were recently on search committees, and have had the opportunity to read hundreds of letters from graduate advisors and colleagues recommending people for a job in your departments.  I think Female Science Professor is right–but I suspect that that fateful letter of recommendation for her friend might also have been a product of laziness and hyperbole, rather than an honest evaluation of the job candidate in question.  Continue Reading »


January 20th 2010
Sex, politics, and double standards

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

How may I serve you, master?

James Carroll says that the political culture of Massachusetts is “misogynist,” and his account is pretty convincing.  He offers a brief rundown of the past 24 years of prominent statewide women candidates and places Martha Coakley’s loss last night in the special election firmly in the Bay State’s tradition of snubbing and/or drubbing women pols.  He’s right:  by comparison, most of the white men who have held the job in over the past 20 years have been either flaky (Paul Celucci), or opportunistic (Mitt Romney), or both (Bill Weld).  And yet, it’s never held against them, or (perhaps more importantly) against the next man to run for office.  This all sounds terribly familiar to me.  Women have been the last two Lieutenant Governors here in Colorado, but neither of them was ever mentioned as a possible successor to the men they served.  U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette is Colorado’s longest serving and highest-profile politician nationally, but none of the political gossips here ever mentioned her running for Governor in 2006, or for the open Senate seat in 2008, or for Governor in 2010, nor was her name seriously mentioned as a worthy replacement for Senator Ken Salazar when he stepped down last year to become Secretary of the Interior.

Aside from the failure of political parties (and in Massachusetss, voters) to advance women pols, there is plenty of depressing evidence of the double-standards by which women are judged.  (Surprise!)  As Echidne pointed out the day before the special election in Massachusetts, “Scott Brown can have naked pictures from his past and it doesn’t cause much of a stir at all but a woman politician? Probably the end of her career.”  Continue Reading »


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