Archive for September, 2011

September 21st 2011
Dumbest. Comment. Ever.

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

I’m sure most of you humorless feminazis have been following with unsurprised disgust all of the chatter about Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men and his “revelation” that Barack Obama White House is run more like a pickup hoops game, with women advisors sidelined and shoved into the bleachers.  (The WH’s efforts to distance themselves from Suskind’s book are at least good for a laugh!)  After all, President Obama made his basketball buddy the Secretary of Education, and those Obama golf outings sure look like photos of every other Presidential golf entourage of the past century, from William Howard Taft on.  Anyone who paid the slightest iota of attention to the gender politics of Obama’s 2008 campaign won’t be surprised, anyway–all of us “sweeties” over the age of 30 or so sure as hell paid attention.

In any case, this has got to be the absolute dumbest thing said about the gender politics of the current WH:

It’s passing strange that a man who was raised by a strong single mother, who talks affectionately about the influence of the banker grandmother who helped raise him, who married a strong woman, who lives with his mother-in-law and who has two daughters he adores, could ever create an Oval man-cave where some women felt uncomfortable. Continue Reading »


September 20th 2011
I miss Nora Ephron

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & Gender & the body & women's history

Who else can turn out feminist commentary, pop culture awareness, and teh funny at such a clip?  I discovered Ephron as a teenager in the 1980s, when I came across copies of Crazy Salad (1975) and Scribble, Scribble (1978), two collections of her essays from the 1970s.  Reading her books made me want to learn more about that bygone era, and she taught me everything I know about some very 1970s things:  amyl nitrates, Jan Morris, and EST, for example–things that a sheltered midwestern suburban teenager in 1984 had no other way to learn about.  I thought that she was very smart, very funny, and an incisive critic of her era. 

I understood when she went Hollywood and decided to write and direct movies–it pays a hell of a lot more than writing for print or online publications, after all.  And lord knows, it’s not like Hollywood is glutted with working women writers and directors who want to produce something other than bam-bam/cops-n-robbers/blowemup movies.  But I miss the writing she did in the 1970s, which was of the moment and became an important work documenting the history of feminism in that era.

She’s got a commentary this week on The Daily Beast from the perspective of someone who was “an adult in the 1960s.”  Accordingly, she serves as an important feminist corrective and offers some words of caution about the Mad Men-ripoff, 60s nostalgia trap of The Playboy Club, which is apparently a teevee show now.  I would love to quote the whole article, but you’ll just have to click this link to read it.  Here’s a little flava:

Inspired by the success of Mad Men, it has gone back to the early 1960s, to that golden moment just before the women’s movement came along and ruined everything. It’s about several Bunnies, an ambitious Chicago lawyer, and the mob. The show (or at least the opening episode) is not unlike Playboy magazine in the early years: it has its moments, but it’s mostly an excuse to show women’s breasts, which (in this version, because it’s on a network) are usually encased in fabulous pointy period bras or shoved upward in satin-polyester Bunny costumes. Hefner doesn’t appear except as a shadowy figure, like a masked mafioso in the Federal Witness Protection Program. But he does provide a weird, creepy voice-over, on which he says that Bunnies “were the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.” Continue Reading »


September 19th 2011
How we teach history? Thoughts on the work of professional historians.

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & women's history

Joshua Kim writes at the Technology and Learning blog at Inside Higher Ed that he’s reading and really enjoying Charles Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  Then, unfortunately, Kim makes a whole lot of questionable assumptions about the ways in which history is currently taught or should be taught in university classrooms.

The last time I learned about the Columbian Exchange was in high school. Learning dates and the sequence of events, and getting familiar with maps and geography, was central to my high school history experience. As a history major in college the emphasis on maps, dates, and events diminished, as the work in primary sources came to the forefront.

I can’t imagine 1493will be much required in college history courses, as this type of historical narrative for a popular audience (written by a journalist and not a historian) probably does not conform to how postsecondary history is taught. This is perhaps too bad, as I just did not know most of the history of Columbian Exchange described in 1493.

Learning how to “do history”, to work like historians, is probably not a bad thing. But most history undergraduate students will not go on to graduate school. A book like 1493, a book with strong opinions and lots of dates, geography, people and events, might be an example of the kind of works we should make room for in our history courses.

Kim is probably right that a synthetic work aimed at a popular audience probably won’t be on a whole lot of college and university syllabi.  But why should books aimed at a general audience be taught by professional historians, when students might instead read a more challenging book with a professor on hand to guide them through it?  Students are perfectly free at any point of their college or post-collegiate lives to pick up a book like 1493 and read and enjoy it, just as Kim did.

Quite frankly, I don’t think I need to show my students how to read a book like 1493 or celebratory biographies of the so-called “Founding Fathers” by David McCullough.  Continue Reading »


September 16th 2011
The Testosterone Defense: being wrong but never paying a price

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & wankers & weirdness

Echidne has an interesting analysis of Bill Keller’s hilariously titled article, “My Unfinished 9/11 Business:  A hard look at why I wanted war.”  (Get it?)  She comments on his stupid evocation of manly hormones to explain his useful idiocy in supporting–against all evidence and logic–the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I remember 2002-03.  There were a lot of so-called “liberal” and even left “men” who had major hard-ons to invade Iraq.  You probably can remember some of them, too:  wrong blogger Joshua Marshall, wrong New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and wrong writers Christopher Hitchens and George Packer.  Wrong Kenneth Pollack–who alone among this crowd has had the decency to retreat into the background–gave the rest of the rat pack cover for their support for George W. Bush’s second war.  None of them had military experience.  All of them treated the invasion of a sovereign country as though it were a stoned late-night game of Risk in their parents’ basement.  (Only even stoned Risk-players know never to get bogged down in an Asian land war!) Continue Reading »


September 14th 2011
Grad school confidential: new article prize at the Journal of Women’s History!

Posted under Gender & happy endings & publication & students & women's history

We want YOUR article!

Mary Berkery, the Managing Editor of the JWH e-mailed me last month to help spread the word about a new graduate student article prize.  Here are the details:

Journal of Women’s History Graduate Student Article Prize

The Editorial Board of the Journal of Women’s History is proud to announce the initiation of a biennial prize for the best article manuscript in the field of women’s history authored by a graduate student.  Manuscripts in any chronological and geographical area are welcome.  We seek work that has broad significance for the field of women’s history in general by addressing issues that transcend the particulars of the case or by breaking new ground methodologically.

Manuscripts should be submitted electronically, along with a cover letter specifying the author’s graduate advisor, program, and status (i.e., year in program, ABD, etc.), by March 1, 2012 to each member of the committee:  Durba Ghosh (dg256ATcornellDOTedu); Pamela Scully (pamelaDOTscullyATemoryDOTedu); and Judith Zinsser (zinssejpATmuohioDOTedu).

The winning author will receive $3000, and the article will be published in the Journal of Women’s History.  

Now, that is some serious do-re-mi, in addition to a very nice publication line on your CV, friends.  Check out the current issue here, which just happens to include a very generous review of my book in an essay by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Mittelstadt, “Women Participants in Armed Violence.”  Continue Reading »


September 13th 2011
Celebrating MBN, Ithaca, Sept. 28-29, 2012

Posted under American history & conferences & Gender & happy endings & students & women's history

I heard a rumor recently that Mary Beth Norton will retire from Cornell University this year*, and I was delighted to hear that she’ll be honored at a conference organized by a few of her recent students.  (Apparently, some special people got e-mailed invitations already; I guess mine must have fallen out of one of the fiberoptic Pony Express intertubes in Nebraska, or something!  Thanks to reader Perpetua for bringing it to my attention.)

On Friday, September 28th, participants will gather at the A.D. White House for a series of sessions inspired by distinct aspects of Professor Norton’s scholarship and teaching. That evening, attendees will continue the celebration at a catered reception at the Johnson Art Museum. The conference will conclude with a morning roundtable and brunch on Saturday, September 29th. If you are interested in contributing a brief paper to one of the sessions, please email Molly at or Susanah at ssromney AT gmail DOT com.

The conference is being organized by two of Professor Norton’s former students (and now historians), Susanah Shaw Romney, PhD ’00, and Molly Warsh, BA’99. The event has received generous support from Cornell’s History Department; Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Society for the Humanities; and numerous other on-campus and off-campus entities.

You can go to the conference blog and sign up for updates by entering your e-mail address.  I hope that Mary Beth will get a good audience for this event–she has always been among the most enthusiastic of women’s historians, and a very generous mentor and colleague to junior scholars like me.  Continue Reading »


September 12th 2011
C is for C-4, that’s good enough for me!

Posted under American history & childhood & fluff & students & unhappy endings & weirdness

Cookies reported as possible security threat on a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Detroit (via TalkLeft, which also is where I found the Cookie Monster photo):

[T----- G---] was boarding a Frontier Airlines flight in Denver a week before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when he saw two passengers in line ahead of him hand a tin box to a flight attendant.

The flight attendant seemed surprised, but she removed the lid to discover a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, G— said. She thanked the passengers profusely and started eating the cookies and passing them to other flight attendants, said G—, 22, . . . a senior at the University of Michigan.

“Free drinks for you guys,” G— said he remembers the flight attendant saying to the two passengers.

G—’s thoughts immediately shifted to security. Were the cookies possibly poisoned?

“I was just so stunned by how excited the stewardess was acting,” he said. “You would think the flight crew is trained to evaluate the situation, but she blindly started eating the cookies and handing them out.

“She then goes into the cockpit to serve cookies to the pilots,” said G—, who said he watched intently from his seat in Row 5. “I go, ‘Oh, no, this is getting worse by the second.’ I am thinking something is wrong. I was pretty afraid.”

There is a higher ed angle to this story, of course:  it’s not the passenger who complained to the TSA.  No, it was his helicopter mother, who of course wasn’t even on the flight in question: Continue Reading »


September 11th 2011
What is the point of learning history?

Posted under jobs & unhappy endings

Last week, I found myself on a plane to Houston.  Although I ordinarily don’t talk to strangers on airplanes, I found myself drawn into conversation with a very affable and intelligent older man.  He told me he is an accountant, a successful business owner, and well-connected in Democratic politics in Denver.  He was interested to learn that I’m a history professor, and said he thinks that the reason the that the republic is in a shambles is widespread historical ignorance.  You know the old saying by heart, I’m sure:  if only we knew history better, people would be smarter and wiser, we’d vote for smarter and more honest politicians, and together we’d all make better laws and wiser public policy decisions.  (Maybe he was just a nice guy trying to make a connection to my rather abstruse line of work, which most people see as a vocation of buffs, hobbyists, and antiquarians.) 

I told the man on the plane that I completely disagreed with him.  Continue Reading »


September 7th 2011
I can haz?

Posted under American history & art & fluff & local news

Photo by Fratguy, 9/6/11

One of the things about living in Colorado that stills thrills me is the number of vintage and classic cars on the road here–it’s almost like California.  Although I grew up near Detroit, I never see old cars on the road like the ones we have out here.  (They don’t call it the Rust Belt for nothing.)  Continue Reading »


September 6th 2011
The War on Teachers: technology and accountability

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & technoskepticism

Via commenter Susan, who sent this along with the comment “faculty need to be accountable, but not computers. . ,” In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores:

The class, and the Kyrene School Districtas a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in readingand math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

Read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.  This gets to one of the big issues embedded in the War on Teachers I’ve been railing about here for the past few years.  Continue Reading »


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