Archive for June, 2010

June 18th 2010
Sausage party for the so-called “Founding Fathers”

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & class & Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & weirdness

And why in the h-e-double-hockey sticks are we talking about George Washington?  Again!  (Like we haven’t done that enough for the past 250 years?)

I subscribe to an ancient technology called a “listserv” on early American history.  (You can read it in HTML digest form here.)  It’s mostly totes boring, and only rarely does it address stuff I’m interested in, but wev:  that’s why I have a blog, friends!  In any case, Jesse Lemisch wrote in yesterday to announce Gordon Wood Jumps the Shark!, and linked to a book review in the New York Review of Books in which Wood gets all cranky.  (Someone, alert the media!)  Now, I can attest to the fact that Wood is a perfect gentleman one-on-one, but in the 1990s, more than once I saw him angrily denounce and insult in person and in print, as Dorothy Parker would say, the gamut “from A to B”, of late eighteenth century political historians.  So, getting exercised about Gordon Wood being a big ‘ol meanie is . . . getting exercised about Wood being Wood.

Lamentably, the book review Lemisch links to is for subscribers only, and I’m not going to pay 6 bucks to read it.  (Feel free to do the homework yourself!)  But, the book in question that allegedly has Wood so angry is The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling.  John Ferling writes very glossy, somewhat gossipy, but on the whole completely inoffensive narrative histories about the so-called Founding Fathers.  (I once made the mistake of assigning a book of his in my American Revolution class.  We had absolutely nothing to talk about that week.)  I find this whole fracas a little strange:  a book whose subtitle is “The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon” is insufficiently worshipful of Washington?  Using both Genius and Icon in the title isn’t filiopietistic enough?  Lemisch’s comment on Wood’s review is “Calling Parson Weems! Back to the ‘fifties: sounds like another instance of what David Waldstreicher calls ‘Founders Chic.’”  Continue Reading »


June 17th 2010
Further thoughts on loyalty

Posted under American history & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

As they say, get a dog.

Yesterday’s post about extramural job seeking  and institutional loyalty and your comments have got me thinking.  (Oh, noes!  Say it ain’t so, Historiann!)  Do we really owe our institutions loyalty?  I feel loyalty to my profession, as vexed as it is, because I think what historians do is valuable and worthwhile.  I feel loyalty to my friends and colleagues in academia, because we have to stand together in intellectual and professional solidarity in a world that neither understands nor appreciates what we do.  (I’m sorry if that sounds self-pitying–I don’t mean it to.  I knew what I was getting into 20 years ago–this is the United States of Amnesia, after all, and I am an Amnesian historian.) I feel loyalty to my students, about whom you hear very little on this blog because I have been entrusted with a part of their education, and I take the instruction and encouragement of young people very seriously.  But I don’t feel particularly loyal to the institutions that have employed me.

Given the realities of the academic job market in the humanities for the past 40 years, and the ever-increasing demands for winning tenure, it may even be reasonable to see ourselves in an adversarial relationship with our employers.  This changes with tenure, because tenured faculty are implicated in institutional governance in ways that junior faculty are not.  Maybe the absence of institutional loyalty on my part has to do with the fact that I’ve worked for institutions that deployed the rhetoric of loyalty selectively, when they wanted to extract more unpaid work out of the faculty, for example.  Then, we were one big “family,” but when I went to my “family members” for protection and redress from other “family members” who were treating me badly, I discovered the limits of that rhetoric on “family.” Continue Reading »


June 16th 2010
When is ambition “disloyalty?”

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

Apparently, normal career development is read as “disloyalty” when a colleague thinks he owns you.  Inside Higher Ed yesterday tells the story:

By many accounts, Desdemona Cardoza was the hands-down favorite to lead California State University’s Los Angeles campus when James M. Rosser — the president since 1979 — eventually stepped aside. Cardoza had spent 22 years as a faculty member and administrator there, and had worked closely with Rosser since he appointed her provost in 2007.

The prospect of becoming president there appealed to Cardoza, but something nagged at her. “I had this sense that if I was going to move up to a presidency, I really needed to have some experience on another campus, and with a different president,” she says. So when she was nominated for the open provostship at Cal State’s campus in nearby Long Beach this spring, Cardoza decided to pursue it.

The decision cost her her post at Cal State-LA. In March, days after telling Rosser that she would visit Long Beach as one of four finalists for the provost’s job there, Cardoza learned that Rosser had told the head of the university’s senate that he planned to begin searching for a new provost. Through a spokesman, the president declined to talk to Inside Higher Ed about the situation, saying it would “inappropriate” to talk about what he called a “personnel matter.”

But according to Cardoza and others familiar with Rosser’s thinking, the president viewed Cardoza’s decision to make what he considered a “lateral move” as evidence of her disloyalty to Cal State-L.A. “Obviously you don’t want to be here,” Cardoza recalls Rosser telling her. Continue Reading »


June 15th 2010
The man question

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

I’ve got lots to do today, but if you don’t, go read this definitive takedown by Echidne of Hanna Rosin’s silly article on “The End of Men,” in which she argues that woman domination is just around the corner because women outnumber men in the workforce and in college these days, and because a certain demographic of prospective parents actually prefer daughters to sons.  ((Yawn.))  It’s too bad–I thought she had a pretty great radical feminist critique of the cult of breastfeeding last year.  I wonder what happened to the writer who was asking what had happened to all of her professional, well-educated women friends, when their husbands seem to be doing just fine and running the world as usual?

Here’s a little flava both of Rosin’s article (in italics) and Echidne’s critique.  Apparently, women are running the world now:

Next comes the major thesis which is written so that even the simplest misogynist can get its relevance;

What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

I hate this shit. I hate it, and having to go bang my head against the garage door. Women in the past could not specialize in flexibility and nurturing behavior. They were first fucking gatherers/hunters and then fucking farmers who worked from dawn to dusk and past it. They were not prehistoric Victorian housewives and men were not prehistoric Rambos or whatever the newest killer hero is called: They, too, worked their asses off all day long, most of the history. I hate intellectual laziness and nastiness. Continue Reading »


June 14th 2010
Sick day, the method medicine way.

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & jobs & students & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness

Not me–it’s Fratguy who’s under the (rather cool and rainy) weather, and another family member is undergoing a surgery today!  It’s going around, apparently.

Fratguy has experienced malaria-like fevers for the past 36 hours or so, which is a little too much Stanislavski-like method medicine and/or method colonial American history for me, but there you go.  He says it’s just a virus, which I think is a ruse designed to get me off his back rather than take him to see a physician.  Back in 1991 when he was in medical school and broke, Fratguy enrolled in a medical experiment for a malaria vaccine funded by the U.S. Army.  It was just like that old OFF commercial:  after getting the vaccine, he had to stick his arm into a tank full of falciparum-infected mosquitoes and get bitten by them!  Well, guess what?  The vaccine didn’t work, so he got malaria.  (And when you’ve had malaria, that’s a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card for blood donation!)  But, he also got a ski trip to Whistler out of the deal, and I get a great little anecdote to trot out whenever I’m lecturing on the horrors of Jamestown or on the early English settlements in the Chesapeake and Caribbean in general.  Score!  Continue Reading »


June 13th 2010
Weekend round-up: splinters in our skirts edition

Posted under American history & bad language & Gender & jobs & students & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

I go away for a few weeks, slacken off on my bloggy reading and production values, and come home to find many of my favorite feminist blogs up in arms!  Talk about some splinters in your skirts–but at least they’re funny!  Here for your enjoyment are some high quality feminist rants you may have missed aimed at the d00dz and the d-bags who don’t get how the femblogs work and/or refuse to learn.  I loves me some P.O.W.s (Pissed Off Women), so if you love a good smackdown, read on, friends:

  • Zuska sez:  “However, I’m sick to puking of seeing so much shit go down for so long and seeing so little change and seeing progress for women in engineering shudder and stall and hearing over and over and over and over again “we just have to wait for the old guard to die off and for spots to open up and for women to work their way up through the ranks and the younger guys will not behave in these stupid ways the older d00ds do and things are getting better and you can’t make women go into engineering if they don’t want to and men and women just prefer different career choices and it’s a fact of life that women have babies and there’s nothing you can do about it and we’d love to have on campus daycare for everyone but in these tight fiscal times we have to make tough choices. . . ”  And she’s just warming up!  Read on, read on!  It’s all about what we on this humble history blog call the Whig of Illusory Progress.
  • Twisty Faster, the Queen of Savage Death Island, designates the clueless d00dz who chap her a$$ “hanging chads.”  “These hanging chads, they really never get it. Because women generally, and radical Internet Feminists in particular, are to them some mystical, unfathomable alien species, they think we don’t understand them! It is hilarious, the predictability with which they all, without exception, every single time, enduringly and persistently, are compelled to lecture the ignorant Savage Death Islanders on the finer points of the superior dude civilization back on the mainland. Because if we just understood them, we would see how wrongwe are to experience Chadly privilege as oppression.”  Riiiight.  She continues:  “What all chads fail to grasp is that, as members of an oppressed class, we have always considered it a matter of survival and our No. 1 priority to grok the fullness of the oppressor. In fact, we’ve been grokking the oppressor’s fullness since the cradle, mostly without even realizing it. It hasn’t been too difficult, since we were all raised in the smelly nutsack of Dude Nation, and continue to be engulfed by and to marinate in dudelionormative swampwater all day, every day. Continue Reading »


June 11th 2010
From the mailbag: How to slip the noose of a T.A. assignment?

Posted under Gender & jobs & students & weirdness

Dear Readers, I’m hoping that you’ll have some helpful advice for this correspondent, who signed hirself just “Grad Student.”


I’m hoping you (and your readers) can help me with a potentially delicate situation.

I am a graduate student at a major research university. There is a senior professor in my department who has made unwanted sexual advances toward me. I try to limit the amount of time I interact with him and make sure I am very professional when I do see him. I was recently assigned to be his T.A. for the upcoming fall term and need some advice on how to gently and delicately get reassigned. Although many people in the department know of his behavior, my advisor and other professors have been unsupportive. He is well-respected and influential in the field and I need to be careful in how I handle this situation.

Can you offer any advice?


Grad Student

I’ve seen this situation before.  Grad Student is justified in not wanting to work with this professor.  As I read the letter, Grad Student’s number one goal is to get out of the T.A. assignment, and larger issues like justice and fairness are less of a concern for hir now.  Because so much depends on so many different variables, I’m hoping that my readers will add lots of helpful advice and different ways to think about the problem.  Unfortunately, I can understand all too well how problems like this professor get ignored/minimized/and/or passed down the line, which is why Grad Student reports that “[a]lthough many people in the department know of his behavior, my advisor and other professors have been unsupportive.”  Ugh.  (Yet not surprising!)

My first two suggestions have to do with protecting yourself legally and preparing yourself for taking any formal action.  You may decide that that’s not the route you want to travel, but you should start here: Continue Reading »


June 10th 2010
Violence against dolls and women

Posted under childhood & Dolls & Gender & the body & weirdness & women's history

Date:  June 9, 2010

Time:  10:50 a.m.

Place:  In the Northbound lane of an unimproved road in Lenawee County, Michigan

Longtime readers might remember that during my visit to Michigan last June, I stumbled upon a lot of dolls–in antique shops, and in museums.  Well, I almost literally stumbled over this one yesterday as I was out for my run.  Here she is, complete with a homemade sarong.  I put her on the side of the road in a patch of grass, in case the child who so carefully sewed the homemade dress for her drove back down that road to find her.  But, six hours later I went back to check, and no one had claimed her.  She’ll join the one I found on the beach in Maine last week on a run–a Barbie-like doll who had received an unfortunate haircut and was naked but appears otherwise uninjured.  I’ll give them a sunny afterlife in my herb garden.

It’s never a stuffed animal or other child’s toy that I find along the roadside.  It’s always beat-up or mutilated female dolls–baby dolls, Barbie-type representations of grown women, it doesn’t seem to matter.  I find it disturbing–which is why I can never not pick up an abandoned doll.  Continue Reading »


June 9th 2010
An organic cotton layette of one’s own? (Srsly?)

Posted under art & European history & Gender & weirdness & women's history

Who's afraid of my non-motherhood?

Since we’re on the topic of “the ideal of the good mother” and her evil twin, the “bad mother,” and on the erasure of women’s history and feminist history in particular, I thought I’d share this trenchant observation from The Rebel Lettriste:

I have found the hipster baby store in my hometown, and its ethos and title just make me laugh. Let’s just say that it’s named after a certain famous feminist writer who wanted to have her own space in which to write. The store–which sells $16 baby hats made of organic Egyptian cotton, and sponsors mom meetups and classes on how to set up your nursery in JUST the right way–is named after this writer and her famous room. The owner advertises herself as having been a women’s studies and English major. And yet. The writer for whom this store is named never had children, probably didn’t want any children, and found her sister’s endless reproduction a little horrifying. She knew that having babies would destroy her ability to be a writer. She is not exactly the postergirl for adorably upper middle class stay-at-home moms and their perfectly outfitted babies. And let’s not forget that she suffered terribly from mental illness and eventually committed suicide. But who cares about that! Those little baby hats are so cute, and the store is so soothingly organic and English-y!

What was the store owner going for with this maneuver of naming her baby store after a famous non-mother?  Continue Reading »


June 8th 2010
“The Conflict”: Encore? Vraiment? Or, mama’s got a brand new whig.

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & European history & Gender & technoskepticism & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

Apparently, Le Conflit:  la femme et la mère by Elisabeth Badinter is big news in the Anglophone world now that it’s been translated.  (The title is usually translated as The Conflict:  the woman and the mother, a clunky and literal-to-a-fault translation if ever I saw one.)  The book was in the European press a great deal back in March, when I was in Paris for a week.  Well, according to more than one friend and reader, the “Fashion & Style” section of the New York Times has deigned to notice the book.  (Yes, that’s right:  feminism, motherhood, and la Querelle de Femmes is all just “Fashion & Style,” not fit for the Op-Ed pages, and not the news pages or the book reviews.  Why don’t they just go ahead and call it the “Women’s Page” again?)

I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds intriguing.  The French are always much more serieux about their intellectual disagreements.  I get the sense too that feminism in France has always been understood to be a multifaceted social justice movement–le conflit among feminisms is inevitable and nothing new there, but in the Anglophone press which likes to manufacture girl fights, le conflit happens whenever a woman expresses an opinion on anything and another woman disagrees with her.

So just for fun, here’s the summary in the NYT.  Spoiler alert:  pay attention to the last sentence! 

In [the book, Badinter] contends that the politics of the last 40 years have produced three trends that have affected the concept of motherhood, and, consequently, women’s independence. First is what she sums up as “ecology” and the desire to return to simpler times; second, a behavioral science based on ethology, the study of animal behavior; and last, an “essentialist” feminism, which praises breast-feeding and the experience of natural childbirth, while disparaging drugs and artificial hormones, like epidurals and birth control pills.  Continue Reading »


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