Archive for June, 2012

June 11th 2012
Fire, fire, go away, burn again another day.

Posted under local news & unhappy endings

Thanks for all of the concerned e-mails, but Famille Historiann and all of the animals are just fine.  We live about 40 or so miles east of the High Park Fire that’s now tearing up the foothills west of Fort Collins.  We’ve been seeing, and unfortunately smelling, the smoke even this far out.  This is the second major fire outside of Fort Collins this year, and it’s only June. 

This is the great advantage to living on the High Plains Desert rather than in the mountains:  there’s no such thing as a forest fire down here!  Because of course the only trees are the cottonwoods along the creeks and the landscaping in the sweet, quiet little towns like mine. Continue Reading »


June 11th 2012
The successes of the LGBT rights movement

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & happy endings & race & the body & women's history

In her thoughtful review of Linda Hirshman’s Victory:  The Triumphant Gay Revolution (2012)  E.J. Graff says that Hirshman presents a serviceable overview of the GLBT movement.  However, she says that Hirshman’s core argument for its remarkable success slights the Civil Rights and feminist movements that preceded gay liberation, and misunderstands the importance of the previous two movements to the victories of LGBT rights:

Of course, Hirshman isn’t trying to tell the entire history of the lesbian and gay movement, but so much is missing that she gets her analysis wrong. Or did she limit her focus because her analysis is off? In the book’s introduction,Hirshman claims that America’s two great preceding social movements, for racial justice and women’s equal rights, were less ambitious and therefore less successful, making strategic calculations to emphasize their similarities to the dominant social order. Lesbians and gay men, in contrast, had to work hard to open up room for our deviance, and therefore achieved more profound social change.

.       .       .       .       .

But in praising the LGBT movement’s drive to make the world safe for difference, Hirshman implies that black people and feminists never had to establish their moral cred. Is she kidding? Blacks had to fight depiction as subhumans, sexual monsters, immoral criminals, and intellectual inferiors. Feminists were painted as sterile, heartless harpies; women’s brains as supposedly too small for public life. Both groups expanded the meaning of the founding American dictum: All of us are created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Continue Reading »


June 9th 2012
Student evaluations of online courses: rife with hostility?

Posted under jobs & students & technoskepticism & the body & unhappy endings

In a recent conversation with a friend who’s teaching an online course for her university,* she commented that she’ll probably get really bad student evaluations again this summer, as she has in the two previous summers in which she’s taught online classes.  “I’m not a body to them,” she said, and therefore she thinks that the students feel freer to rip into her in their evaluations.  (Of course they may also be venting some frustration with the online course format itself, although they may not know enough about online classes and what they can expect from their instructors.)

It sure makes sense to me that much of the humor in the classroom–quotidian small talk before class starts, questions about a student’s health, expressions of concern for their well-being, banter about university politics or sports teams, asking for student opinion on a local issue, dumb jokes by the professor–well, all of that is pretty much drained out of online courses.  I hadn’t really thought about this until my friend made her observation about how much lower she’s rated in her online courses versus her F2F courses, but I think much of this kind of communication between students and instructors, and vice-versa, and among the students themselves–all of this non-content related, non-subject relevant communication is going to have a major impact as to how a student experiences a class emotionally.  Continue Reading »


June 8th 2012
Jerk du jour: Matt Arnold, Republican liar for CU regent

Posted under American history & jobs & students & unhappy endings & wankers

Matt Arnold, grandiose liar

Via the Denver Post, an outstanding example of the kind of person who believes he should hold governing authority over higher education in my state:

A Republican running to sit on the governing board at the University of Colorado has erroneously told voters he has a master’s degree in international economics from [Johns Hopkins University.]

Called on it by critics, Matt Arnold mocked advanced degrees Thursday, explaining he completed the coursework but not his thesis.

“I was more interested in getting on with my life than trying to, quite frankly, waste more time in pursuit of academic BS that no one cares about,” he said.

Right.  “Academic BS that no one cares about” probably wouldn’t make it onto resumes and into campaign literature, then, right?  But somehow, it did in your case, Matt.  Arnold continued: 

“I think that’s one of the big problems, quite frankly, with education these days. We’re graduating a bunch of people who hang letters after their names, but they have no useful skills.”

As opposed to people like you, who hang fraudulent and unearned letters after their names, and have no “useful skills!” Continue Reading »


June 6th 2012
Through a two-way looking glass, you see your Alice: is feminist biography necessarily a modernist pursuit?

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

In the latest Journal of Women’s History, eminent biographer Susan Ware reflects on the biography that got away after a year of full-time research in “The Book I Couldn’t Write:  Alice Paul and the Challenge of Feminist Biography:”

In theory Alice Paul [1885-1977] and I were a perfect match. She was one of America’s most intrepid, albeit polarizing, feminists, whose career spanned practically the entire twentieth century from suffrage militancy to second-wave feminism; no major biography of her had ever been completed. I had spent almost my entire career as a women’s historian writing about the fortunes of feminism through the lens of feminist biography. As an independent scholar unencumbered by regular teaching responsibilities, I had the time and energy to put in the years of research that it would likely take to complete the project. An added bonus: Paul’s papers were at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, practically across the street from where I live.

So, what was the problem? 

After almost a year of sustained research, I finally had to admit that Alice Paul did not speak to me as a subject. In a profound failure of my historical imagination, I found myself at a total loss when searching for an overarching theme or hypothesis to make her life story compelling and relevant to contemporary readers. In other words, that spark of connection just wasn’t there. And yet lurking in my decision to abandon the project were questions beyond my personal failure to make the topic come alive. How can you write a feminist biography when your subject has left no trail of breadcrumbs (as a friend called them) to recreate any kind of interior or personal life? How do you make fifty years of laying the groundwork for [the Equal Rights Amendment] that ultimately failed seem accessible and interesting to readers? More fundamentally, what if some lives are not in fact suited to a full-bore, cradle-to-grave biography in the first place? I offer my story as Alice Paul’s would-be biographer to shed light both on the process of doing feminist biography and on why Alice Paul remains such a complicated, indeed elusive biographical subject.

At the heart of Ware’s frustration with Paul is the fact that she was all business, and never developed much of a personal or interior life that’s accessible to biographers and historians.  Continue Reading »


June 5th 2012
Have a nice day!

Posted under fluff & Gender & happy endings & local news

That’s better.  Too much negative energy in that last post and the accompanying image.  Sadly, it looks like we’ll miss the Transit of Venus out here on the Front Range, as it’s entirely overcast.  (Imagine your own frowny-face here.)  Neat discovery:  old X-ray films are really handy for observing things like solar eclipses and Transits of Venus, although who knows what technology they’ll have on hand for the 2117 viewings! Continue Reading »


June 2nd 2012
“No Solicitors” means you, actually

Posted under local news & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Courtesy of Subversive Cross Stitch

Yegads.  What is it with these door-to-door hucksters who think that 1) “No Solicitors” doesn’t apply to them, and 2) who argue with me about it instead of beating a hasty retreat?  (Aside from being just plain irritating, do they really think they’re going to make the sale?)

I looked up the definition of “solicitor” last year, after being argued with by a religious nut who claimed that he wasn’t a solicitor because he wasn’t try to sell me anything.  Here’s the first non-obsolete Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of solicitor:  “One who entreats, equests, or petitions; one who solicits or begs favours; a pleader, intercessor, advocate.”  Notice that this says nothing about sales–it suggests that anyone asking for my time in the service of any cause whatsoever (political, religious, or personal profit) without a personal invitation from me is in fact A SOLICITOR. Continue Reading »


June 1st 2012
Crowd-sourcing the curriculum: build your Rotisserie League of American historians!

Posted under American history & jobs

The summer mailbag full-to-bursting with questions, friends!  Here’s a spot of good news, for a change:  a selective SLAC in the East might be looking to fill several American history lines in the next few years!  A reader and commenter fills us in on the particulars, and wants to hear from all of you about how you teach North American and/or U.S. history courses:

Dear Historiann,

I recently took over as chair of our 10-person department. We have four historians of the US (including African-American) and six who cover medieval and modern Europe, South Asia, China, and Russia/Eurasia. One American historian has just been body-snatched by a uni with a Ph.D. program, and two of our three remaining Americanists are going to retire in the next five years or so. So, we have an opportunity to restructure our American curriculum, except that most of us who will be doing the hiring are non-specialists. (I actually took a minor field in American women’s history in grad school, but that was a long time ago, but I’m not an Americanist.)

From your blog and other sources I get the sense that the American field has been changing quite a bit, becoming less “exceptionalist” and more integrated into transnational analyses. Continue Reading »


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