Archive for February, 2011

February 16th 2011
The U.S.A. today: Representation without Taxation!

Posted under American history & local news & unhappy endings & wankers

Representation without Taxation!

I’m sure you’ve all heard recently of the dismal survey that shows that Americans refuse to consider to pay higher taxes even as they refuse to support cuts in government services.  Gee, I wish we had a Transformational President or some visionary state governors who would point out the fact that 1) Americans have historically paid much higher taxes, and 2) that our federal taxes are more regressive than they have been in the past.  Instead, we have a President and a Congress who are pantomiming their “seriousness” by suggesting that cuts in WIC and PBS are the solution, and we in Colorado have a “Democratic” governor who released his new budget plan:  “Spending on K-12 education would take the biggest hit in state history, colleges would get less money, state employees would see less in their checks and Colorado would close four parks and a prison under a revised budget Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled Tuesday.”

What, according to Hickenlooper, is the key to our financial crisis?  “‘[w]e have to change the culture of the state,’ the governor said. ‘We have to find ways to make the entire culture of the state more pro-business.’”

Well, what about raising the incredibly low, regressive taxes we “enjoy” here in Colorado?

However, Hickenlooper said raising taxes was a non-starter.

“There is still a deep-seated belief out there that in this economy, people don’t want to pay more taxes,” he said. Continue Reading »


February 14th 2011
A Valentine: Oh, the Humanities!

Posted under American history & European history & happy endings & jobs & students & unhappy endings

I’ll blog about another terrific roundtable I saw last weekend at the Society for French Historical Studies later this week, but in the meantime, I wanted to wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day and leave you with this thought:

In spite of the vicious political attacks on the humanities going back at leastto Lynne Cheney’s leadership of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the budgetary pressures that threaten our work and even in some institutions and programs our very existence, I think in some respects we might be living in a Golden Age for humanities scholarship.  (Whuuut??  Is Historiann taking Professor’s Little Helpers again,I can hear you all wondering?)  Largely because of the market forces that have relentlessly shaped our professional lives, people who manage to get tenure-track jobs nowadays are and will overwhelmingly remain active scholars, whereas in the past it seems like it was a rare humanities faculty member at SLACs, Aggie schools, or public directionals who remained active scholars through their careers.  Scholarship was for the Big Thinkers at R-1s, not for the rest of us, but now even departments like mine rarely hire ABDs or people who haven’t yet published at least a few articles, and many of our tenure candidates in recent years have had books in print in addition to a list of articles as long as my arm. 

In this respect, it seems like we have been a force for democratizing higher education.*  Continue Reading »


February 13th 2011
Holding down the Fort: hands across the humanities edition

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

I’ve been in Charleston, South Carolina for the past few days at the Society for French Historical Studies conference sponsored by the Citadel and the College of Charleston.  The weather here has been sunny, pleasant, and in the mid-60s during the afternoon, so it’s a lovely break from winter for many folks.  (Since it’s also sunny and in the 60s back in the Denver area this weekend, I’m less impressed, but we have far fewer palmetto trees and not much of a harbor, actually.)  It’s still warm and sunny here–and I’m blogging right now from Terminal A of the Charleston airport because my 2 p.m. flight to Atlanta was cancelled!  I’m booked on a 6:15 p.m. flight to Atlanta, but my flight to Denver won’t leave until 10 p.m. EST, so it’s going to be a long stay in airportlandia for me.  Lucky for you that I’ve got a suitcase full of opinions to share with you, and lucky for me I haven’t checked my bag!

SFHS President Joelle Neulander and her Program Committee did a great job of showing the conferees the town and sponsoring institutions.  There was a fascinating (if depressing) roundtable up at the Citadel Friday afternoon on “The Present and Future of French History and the Humanities.”  The Citadel, with its boxy and generously crenellated architecture, was a fitting place for this conversation because we all feel besieged as a profession.  The panel members were affiliated with various institutions in the U.S. and England and featured both mid-career and nearly-retired scholars, and they all had interesting insights about what they’ve observed locally and over the past twenty to forty years in French studies.  Many of the older scholars reminded us that there never was an imagined Golden Age for the Humanities in the U.S., and that they’ve seen other crises come and go.  Other panelists and audience members were more alarmed.

The star witness on the panel was Brett Bowles, a French professor at SUNY Albany and therefore an eyewitness to the “deactivation” of his department along with the Italian, Russian, Greek and Roman Studies, and Theater majors.  He was understandably quite gimlet-eyed on the future of French studies and the humanities because as he reported, 20 full-time tenure-track and tenured scholars are facing the end of their employment at SUNY Albany in another 16 months.  Bowles urged everyone in the audience to be proactive and aware of what’s going on in their universities and to make alliances across disciplinary boundaries.  He encouraged larger humanities departments like English and History to stand up for the smaller majors because he warned that “this is where we’re all headed.  We’re headed to the end of tenure.”  Continue Reading »


February 10th 2011
Without Love

Posted under art & European history & fluff

Nick Lowe covers Johnny Cash’s classic, “Without Love.” This is one of those rare instances when I think I prefer the cover to the original. Cash’s version is just a little too morose for me, but YMMV.

Love you all, readers and commenters! (Well, most of you, anyway.) I’m off to a conference tomorrow at an insanely early hour. I’ll check in if I can, but I’ve got lots of conferencing to do in just 36 hours or so.


February 9th 2011
Redshirting children: the first line in the defense of heterosexuality

Posted under American history & childhood & class & Gender & GLBTQ & students & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

Here’s a little something to make you barf first thing in the morning like you’re six weeks pregnant.  (Warningif you are pregnant, proceed with caution!)  In a story about “redshirting” children–mostly boys–and starting them in Kindergarten at age 6, Kristina Dell reveals this little nugget about why holding children back from starting school is an attractive idea to many parents, especially competitive wealthy parents:

But often it’s the parents, not the teachers, who insist on redshirting their sons. Besides academics, many see multiple bonuses for their boys to be bigger. “A majority of boys’ parents that I have spoken to feel like the social life of a boy has a lot to do with sports,”says Debbie Moussazadeh, a mother whose daughters are in kindergarten and third grade at Horace Mann School, a private school in the Bronx. “A kid who is older for that year may have a bit of an advantage on the field.” Parents who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers are well aware of the Canadian hockey study he cites, which found that the number of players who made it to professional hockey leagues was disproportionately composed of people who were the oldest in their grade. “I had parents say to me, ‘Don’t you want Holden to get a sports scholarship?’” recounts [parent Holly] Korbey. “But I would say, ‘He is four years old and I don’t even know what he’s good at.’” What’s more, parents see it as a good thing socially if their boys have an extra year to grow, so they won’t be shorter than the girls in their class down the road. “People were seriously concerned that Holden would drive later than everyone else and wouldn’t get to go on dates,” says Korbey.

But the incentives to push back boys often work in the opposite direction for girls. Parents don’t necessarily want their girls to undergo body changes while their classmates are still playing with American Girl Dolls. “Many parents don’t want their girls to be the tallest and hit puberty first,”says Aimee Altschul, a doctor in Fairfield, Connecticut who has two daughters (whom she did not hold back) in pre-kindergarten and first grade.

Apparently, everyone knows that boys have to be taller, stronger, and better at sports than girls, and everyone knows that girls who grow boobies or use deodorant in third grade are disgusting pigs!  Continue Reading »


February 7th 2011
Pushbutton teacher, now on public access television!

Posted under American history & technoskepticism & wankers

Jonathan Rees hits another one out of the park today with “When Professors Disappear,” his demolition of the magical thinking about online courses, for-profit colleges, and the labor history that reveals the insidiousness of these phenomena.  (And, something silly someone said in the New York Times about disappearing professors because the internets will replace us, or something.)  I’d like to just quote the whole thing, but that would be plagiarism, but here’s some flava:

Proponents of distance education might tell you something about how wonderful it is that students can learn all the way from India or in their pajamas, but anybody who knows anything about labor history knows that this kind of large-scale technological investment is really all about costs. Professors demand salaries. Cut out the professors and save the cost of their salaries.

But that’s where the labor history analogy breaks down. The Bonsack cigarette rolling machine not only destroyed the jobs of untold thousands of workers, it led to really, really cheap cigarettes. Online education, an education so bad that some employers won’t even consider someone with a degree earned from a for-profit college administered this way, is actually seven times more expensive than a real education at a typical community college. Professors haven’t disappeared entirely yet, but obviously none of the cost-savings from online education have been passed on to students. Since even online courses with poorly-paid adjuncts save schools so much money in costs compared to real classes, shouldn’t they cost less rather than seven times more?

Jonathan, I’m sure we’re just too stupid to understand all of that awesome free enterprise, for-profit magic!  Continue Reading »


February 7th 2011
More guns in the hands of college students is just the ticket!

Posted under American history & Gender & students & unhappy endings

One man was killed and eleven people were injured at an off-campus party among students at Youngstown State University over the weekend.  Strangely, the angle of this story at Inside Higher Ed is the danger of off-campus fraternity parties, not the danger of this nation’s promiscuous access to firearms. 

I’m glad that the national media are interested in violence in college parties in the case of a deadly shooting.  Usually, the violence directed at women (in the form of sexual assault) and young men physically assaulted by other men at fraternity parties never even gets reported, let alone media attention.

Here’s something from the Denver Post’s AP wire story that interested me this morning:

This is one of those days that every university president across the country, as well as many other officials, always dread,” [Youngstown State U]niversity president Cynthia Anderson said at a news conference on campus. She had visited the wounded and their families at the hospital earlier in the day.

Anderson said she had been assured by police that there was no threat to the northeast Ohio campus. Continue Reading »


February 6th 2011
Sunday roundup: unicorns, meritocracies, and humanities grants edition

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

Pure meritocracies, humanities grants, and unicorns!

I’m waaaaaayyyyyy behind on a number of projects whose deadlines are already in my rear-view mirror. I really shouldn’t blog at all, but I can’t resist letting you see what’s going on on the few blogs I’ve been able to check into this week. So here’s something for you all to click, read, and discuss while I’m away: 

  • First, Zuska reports on a recent conference session that featured some women SciBloggers talking about the “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.”  She writes, “[t]he discussion ranged over a lot of topics, and near the end, someone in the audience said ‘I don’t want to get a [job/fellowship/grant/whatever] because of affirmative action, I want to get it on my own merits.’ I said, why do you imagine that the dudes getting those jobs now all got them all on their own merits? . . . . Why do we imagine everyone else who gets stuff got there all by their lonesome with no assistance from anyone else? I don’t even know what the fuck it means to get somewhere all on your own merits. You can’t even learn to wipe your own ass all on your own merits.”  That is, if you bother to wipe at all, and just think of how many undeserving non-wipers are getting all of those jobs, fellowships, and grants instead of us, the overly-conscientious committed meritocrats?
  • Speaking of grants, in “Humanities People Like Money, Too!” Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar provides an example of worthwhile service to her university in volunteering for a Research Advisory Council to educate the Office of University Research on the facts of humanities grants and their relative scarcity and small dollar amounts that nevertheless are incredibly helpful to humanities scholars (especially those with 3-4 teaching loads, like her!)  Click and laugh away at her OUR’s suggestion that “If you got a Guggenheim, we’d support it. . . . Continue Reading »


February 3rd 2011
And I would rather be anywhere else but here today

Posted under art & happy endings & unhappy endings

Since we’ve been discussing whether Egypt 2011 will turn out to be more like Iran in 1979 or Eastern Europe ca. 1989, I thought we’d all enjoy this commentary on geopolitics, Cold War proxy wars, and the empire, “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1979. (At least, that’s what I think it’s about. Different interpretations/analyses are welcome in the comments below!)

Here’s hoping that those tanks massing in Tahrir Square in Cairo protect more people than they injure today.


February 2nd 2011

Posted under American history & bad language & European history & unhappy endings

Not actually Mary Rowlandson

“Amazing” has become my least favorite word through inflated overuse.  As the Oxford English Dictionary entry for the adjective illustrates that over the past 400 years or so, the meaning of the word has completely flipped (like awesome after it in the later twentieth century).  Whereas the obsolete definition (with sixteenth- through eighteenth-century examples) is “[c]ausing distraction, consternation, confusion, dismay; stupefying, terrifying, dreadful,” the word was clearly in turnaround in the eighteenth century, because it’s also defined as “[a]stounding, astonishing, wonderful, great beyond expectation” with overlapping examples from the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries. 

I don’t quarrel with those who use the more modern definition (which it itself pushing 300 years old by now), but I regret the loss of the alternate meaning and especially its overuse in recent years.  I frequently hear “amazing” to describe restaurant food or a vacation experience or activity.  The word has been leached of its power to amaze, if you will.  In Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, The Soveraignty & Goodness of God (1682), she describes a brutal Wampanoag and Narragansett surprise attack on the English settlement at Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1675 in which her house was set afire; her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were killed; and her youngest daughter was mortally wounded: 

About two hours (according to my observation, in that amazing time) they had been about the house, before they prevailed to fire it [set it ablaze] which they did with flax and Hemp, which they brought out of the Barn. . . . Now is that dreadfull hour come, that I have often heard of (in time of War, as it was the case with others) but now mine eyes see it.  Continue Reading »


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