Archive for 2011

November 14th 2011
Separated at Birth!

Posted under American history & art & fluff & unhappy endings

I’m old enough to remember the often juvenille but extremely entertaining Spy magazine from the 1980s, and its popular feature, “Separated at Birth.”  So here’s my revelation:  something about Jon Huntsman has been bugging me all along.  He’s a perfectly conventional-looking politician and he seems like a completely decent person.  So why do I keep thinking that he reminds me of someone I used to know, someone who gives me an uneasy feeling?

Continue Reading »


November 13th 2011
Sunday round-up: the “crisis in higher ed,” your turn edition

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & jobs & local news & students

Girl howdy did my post last weekend soliciting your views on the “crisis in higher ed” get an avalanche of replies, like, immediately!  It was almost like you were just waiting for someone to ask!

As regular readers will recall, I commented on Tony Grafton’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books, in which he reviews the current jeremiads about what’s wrong with American colleges and universities these days and called for “curious writers . . . [to] describe some universities and colleges, in detail, with all their defects.”  I solicited your views, dear readers, and am blown away by the number and diversity of viewpoints you have contributed.  So today I offer you a very briefly annotated bibliography of the responses.  Please click and read them for yourselves!

  1. Roxie at Roxie’s World must be reading the New York Review of Books up in heaven, because she wrote a post fully 24 hours before I solicited her opinion on what’s wrong with modern American universities.  Her answer?  The unconscionable reliance on adjunct labor, which is after all at the heart of most Excellence Without Money strategies.  (Just go to her blog and search Excellence Without Money to read her catalog of crimes against education over the past three years.)
  2. Roxie also kindly reminded me that Tenured Radical got in on the game even earlier with this post calling for faculty “to get off the Education Carousel and get to work Occupying Education.  Faculty, in particular, are becoming more like each other than not, regardless of where they work.  While some of us will age out under the old system of tenure and stratified privilege, increasingly we too must come to terms with the effects of the neoliberal education agenda (shrinking salaries, reduced and more expensive medical benefits, the destruction of entire fields of study to eliminate tenured positions, political attacks on unionized faculty and staff, higher workloads) in the here and now.”  (Just to name a few of the problems facing us in higher ed!)
  3. Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar says from her perch at Crisis State University (after Walt Kelly’s Pogo) that the enemy of higher education “is us,” that is, the American voters who have consented to withdraw their support from higher education at both the state and federal levels.
  4. Lance Manyon writes from Flagship Public U. that Americans in general approach university education in a way that’s too career-oriented rather than thought-oriented, and urges other faculty not to fall into the trap of buying into this vision of education.
  5. Dr. Crazy, in a brilliant riff on Foucault and the repressive hypothesis, asks who’s failing and on what terms?  From her position at a comprehensive directional university where she teaches a 4-4 load (plus usually some summer courses), she thinks that her university does just fine in offering first-generation college students a fine education at a bargain price.  Continue Reading »


November 12th 2011
What’s the matter with higher ed? Too much talk about degrees, not enough talk about achievement.

Posted under jobs & students

I’ll have a comprehensive post up tomorrow with all of your wonderful links and contributions to this conversation, but I thought I’d lay out briefly something that I’ve been thinking about this week with respect to the ongoing “crisis of higher education” conversations we’ve been having.  In particular, I’d like once again to address the subset of these conversations in which people whose college years are 20+ years behind them, and who frequently hold degrees from the Ivy League or other elite private colleges and universities, nevertheless counsel the youth of today that college just ain’t worth it, that it’s a waste of money, and that there are plenty of people with bachelor’s degrees wishing they could find a job flipping burgers or washing cars. 

What’s missing in these conversations is any sense of the responsibility that students have for their own educations.  In this respect, the discourse on higher ed very much reflects the discourse on K-12 education, in which teachers have been identified as the only people with any power or responsibilty for a student’s progress in their classrooms.  Similarly, these articles preaching that college is a waste of time foster the notion that mere enrollment and graduation with a degree should be all that’s required for a ticket to middle-class security.  In the case of higher ed, which is 1) not compelled by the state, and 2) costs them cash money, we should ask what besides money the students are pouring into their own educations. Continue Reading »


November 10th 2011
Brief thoughts on Penn State

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & students & unhappy endings

I don’t have any special knowledge of what’s going on there–to be clear, I went to Penn by the way, which is in Philadelphia and on the entirely other end of the state of Pennsylvania.  I’ve never been within 60 miles of State College, to my knowledge.  (Like most Penn grads, it rankles me to be associated with Penn State.)  But readers have written to ask when I’ll comment on the accused child rapist who was protected by the football program there, so here goes:

  1. I’ve seen a lot of commentary to the effect that “institutions do a poor job of policing themselves.”   That may be a part of the problem, however, it seems clear to me that this is more of a gender problem than anything.  The facts of the case so far show that men are reluctant in the extreme to interfere with the sexual prerogatives of other men, even when their sexual behavior is criminal.  Furthermore, this is not just a comment on the institutional power of the football program at Penn State–all of the university administrators accused of crimes and/or who lost their jobs yesterday are all men.  I would expect that a female AD and/or a woman vice president or president of the university would have acted swiftly on eyewitness accounts of child rape and would have called law enforcement, not because women are more virtuous or braver than men, but simply because women who make it into positions of authority tend to be more willing to blow the whistle than their male peers.  Continue Reading »


November 9th 2011
Why I’ve fallen down on the (uncompensated) job this term

Posted under jobs & local news & students

A self-portrait, minus cowboy hat.

I was wondering the other day why I’ve managed to get so little scholarship or blogging done since classes started in August.  Why, why, why?  Is my middle-aged brain incapable of nimble, complete synaptical connections?  Am I lazy?  Am I distracted?  Too much wine at dinner?  Then I remembered:  I’m teaching 2 new classes this semester, a team-taught undergraduate class on the History of Sexuality in America, and the graduate historiography class (or as I call it to make it seem less intimidating:  Introduction to Historical Practice.)  So, lots of lecture writing and new-book-reading is what’s keeping me busy.  No doy.

Apparently, my tiny brain only has so much room for innovation at this stage of midlife.  I think that age and/or complacency has a lot to do with this.  Continue Reading »


November 6th 2011
Assistant Professor, Public History, Colorado State University

Posted under American history & jobs & local news

Baa Ram U! Sheep be true!

Dear Friends,

Although the blogosphere can usually be fairly characterized as a bunch of malcontents b!tching about one thing or another, I’m pleased to report a tiny sliver of sunlight piercing the clouds of darkness and despair:  my department is running a search for the first time in four years!  We are looking for a specialist in public history to contribute to our public history M.A. curriculum as well as to teach undergraduate courses in hir area of specialization.  The big news here is that we are open to any subfield, globally and temporally.  This search is neither limited to American historians, nor to any particular emphasis in public history.  From the h-net posting:

The Department of History seeks to fill a position in Public History open to any subfield.  Entry-level Assistant Professor, tenure-track, nine-month  position beginning August 15, 2012.  The Ph.D. in History or related field must be completed by the time of employment.  The preferred candidate will contribute to the department’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum and programs.  Applications are invited from candidates who offer promise of significant research and publication and who can work effectively with faculty, students, and the public.  Send letter of interest, vita, graduate transcripts, evidence of teaching effectiveness, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample (article or chapter length) to Dr. Janet Ore, Chair, Public History Search Committee, Department of History, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO  80523-1776.  Applications will be considered until the position is filled; however, to ensure full consideration applications should be submitted by January 15, 2012. 

If you are trained in public history and/or have experience in the field, please take a look at our current faculty and our graduate public history curriculum as it exists, and make the best case you can for what you can do for us.  Continue Reading »


November 5th 2011
Tony Grafton on the higher education crisis, and your turn to talk back!

Posted under American history & book reviews & jobs & students

Via my colleague Nathan Citino who reads the New York Review of Books, we learn that Tony Grafton has written a thoughtful review of the raft of books on the “crisis” of higher education in the United States published recently.  He dislikes the polemics that pick one enemy–the lazy-a$$ed faculty who allegedly never teach, or the inflated ranks of administrators who allegedly suck up six-figure salaries without contributing to the core mission of education.

However, Grafton appears to agree with Historiann’s analysis of the free farm clubs that unis run for the NFL and the NBA, reserving some choice disdain for the fact that “head football and basketball coaches earn millions and their assistants hundreds of thousands for running semiprofessional teams. Few of these teams earn much money for the universities that sponsor them, and some brutally exploit their players.”  But even I must acknowledge the fact that even if Baa Ram U. fired the coaches and told the men’s football and basketball teams to hold a bake sale if they want uniforms and travel money, it’s unlikely that the money saved would actually be invested in rebuilding the faculty or otherwise improving the quality of classroom education we offer.  (I still think it’s a fantasy worth preserving, however!)

The problem as Grafton sees it is not just that students buy into the Animal House vision of student life, with an emphasis on a social life built around sports and alcohol and drug-consumption rather than an intellectual life built around independent study.  He argues that American universities themselves foster the Animal House sensibility, rewarding faculty only for their research and never for their teaching, and providing a range of amenities for students that lure them anywhere but the classroom or the library: Continue Reading »


November 3rd 2011
Natural history Thursday: Honey badger doesn’t give a $hit.

Posted under fluff

Go honey badger, go! (H/t to LD for this.) NSFW or small children (unless you don’t mind children who curse like stevedores.)

Really pretty bada$$!


November 2nd 2011
An elegy for the apostrophe, and a defense thereof (in a manner of speakin’.)

Posted under American history & bad language & European history & jobs & students

Henry Hitchings suggests that my crusade to make students understand the correct use of the apostrophe may put me on the wrong side of history.  He says the apostrophe vexed printers and writers who were confused about its application almost from the time of its invention in the sixteenth century, through its proliferation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century print culture:

[C]ontrary to what defenders of the apostrophe imagine, its status has long been moot.Before the seventeenth century the apostrophe was rare. The Parisian printer Geoffroy Tory promoted it in the 1520s, and it first appeared in an English text in 1559.

Initially the apostrophe was used to signify the omission of a sound. Gradually it came to signify possession. This possessive use was at first confined to the singular. However, writers were inconsistent in their placing of the punctuation mark, and in the eighteenth century, as print culture burgeoned, everything went haywire. Although it seemed natural to use an apostrophe in the possessive plural, authorities, such as the grammarian Robert Lowth, argued against this. In a volume entitled “Grammatical Institutes” (1760), John Ash went so far as to say that the possessive apostrophe “seems to have been introduced by mistake.”

By the time Ash was writing, the apostrophe was being used to form plurals.Among those who did this was the typographer Michael Mattaire. In a grammar he brought out in 1712 he suggested that the correct plural of species was species’s. Some rival grammarians could barely contain their rage in the face of such recommendations. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the experts (all self-appointed) urgently debated the mark’s correct application.

.       .       .       .       .       .

[H]ere’s the rub: say any of these names aloud and you’ll be struck by the fact that the apostrophe works on the eye rather than the ear. Simply put, we don’t hear apostrophes, and this is a significant factor accounting for the inconsistency with which they are used.  Continue Reading »


November 1st 2011
Nationalism FAIL: suck it, Revolution.

Posted under American history


It’s not just that it’s difficult to teach the quintessentially nationalistic course in American history in an era in which a great deal of the historiography is transnational or at least comparative, although that is a challenge for me considering the way I teach the rest of my courses.  It’s really the overwhelmingly nationalistic, solipsistic, chest-beating, flag-waving, screaching bald eagle totality of the historiography.  In the United States at least, there is no more nationalistic course, and no course that is taught in such a one-sided, pro-American manner.  And the students love it!  They demand it, in fact, and they revel in the opportunity to indulge in nationalist agitprop in their essays.

Every course I ever took on the American Revolution–from unreconstructed Whiggy consensus historians to the leftiest of the New Lefties–was unanimous in its judgment that the Americans were right to seek independence from Britain, and American military and diplomatic victories were cheered unreservedly.  The courses differed only in that the the Whig-consensus dudes argued that everything was pretty cool for everyone who counted by 1787 or thereabouts in the land of the World’s Last, Best Hope, whereas the New Lefties focused some attention on the people the American Revolution didn’t liberate:  enslaved people, poor white men, Native Americans, and women of all ethnicities, and pointed out the unfairness of it all that so many were left out of the World’s Last, Best Hope.  Continue Reading »


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