Comments on: The author, the work, and “the objectivity question.” http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:08:09 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: cgeye http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1971004 Sun, 06 Apr 2014 18:05:08 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1971004 and, I assume, those who question a Nice Girl Scholar’s interest in the 1920s Klan haven’t looked deeper themselves — its rise nationally, outside large Negro enclaves, is a story of adaptation, response to local political corruption, and downplaying certain rougher tools of terrorism, to suit the marketplace. It acted in modern, decentralized ways.

Reading that the Klan’s female auxiliaries were champions of women’s suffrage rewired my brain, a bit.

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By: L.D. Burnett http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1969989 Sat, 05 Apr 2014 18:08:23 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1969989 Well, like I said, my reading/recollection might need some rethinking. I do recall that as Novick’s account gets closer to his present moment, his narrative changes — you see the problematizing of “objectivity” happening more clearly within his text as he struggles to give a fair account of events/people about which he has personal connections or strong opinions. At at least one point he says so, when discussing the David Abraham scandal — Abraham was Novick’s student, and N. acknowledges that he can’t very well be objective about the issue, or at least he can’t feel dispassionate/detached. I will have to think some more about how that acknowledgment, given in a footnote, fits in with the overall trajectory of Novick’s book.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1969884 Sat, 05 Apr 2014 14:59:29 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1969884 L.D.–thanks for stopping by & commenting. I am sure you’re a more reliable reporter on Novick’s book than I am. I think you’re right that he sets out to trace the evolution of the idea, but my recollection (admittedly, a pretty ancient one) jibes with TR’s account of the book in that it ends in sputtering indignation and is very hostile to feminist historians in particular.

My reading of the book was probably very defensive, given my age and stage of career.

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By: L.D. Burnett http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1969440 Sat, 05 Apr 2014 03:42:44 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1969440 I have enjoyed this post and the discussion.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the problem outlined in this post — assuming that a historian’s interest in a particular question/problem is a sign of partisanship for (or against) that question — is also happening within the post, in relation to Novick’s That Noble Dream.

Novick looks at the history of the idea of objectivity in relation to the emergence of the historical profession, and he traces the shifting fortunes of that idea as a kind of marker — like a radioactive dye — to delineate changes/developments in the professional practice of history. Though he very aptly captures the sense among some historians that the fate of “objectivity” (which was problematic and problematized from the get-go, as Novick shows) can best be framed as a narrative of declension, Novick is not presenting the reader with his own narrative of declension. That’s not how I have understood him, anyhow.

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By: Doctor Cleveland http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1969035 Fri, 04 Apr 2014 18:20:10 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1969035 Actually, I find that after the initial generation that brings a neglected topic into the public spotlight, the real danger is over-identification.

As Flavia says, the subject of early modern religion still attracts people who have their own denominational or doctrinal motivations, and those motivations can seriously distort the work. Ego identification with a major figure is even more misleading.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1968939 Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:52:06 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1968939 Janice, I’m astonished at the conservativism of your students. After all, I assume that they chose your women’s history class–so I hope that they got some pushback from your other students.

I haven’t had that kind of open response in my teaching for a long time. Once, about a decade ago, I taught a course in which I happened to assign mostly books by women historians (not women’s historians necessarily, but women historians.) One of the young men in the class, after we had read a book by a male historian, said that reading the book by the male author gave him greater confidence in the previous books by the female authors, because the man’s book was organized around some of the same themes and ideas, and that helped him to see that the history written by women was therefore legitimate.

(But it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that.)

Kelly: I think you get that kind of question about your work on the Klan because you’re white as well as female. If you were a young African American or Latina writing about the Klan, I think people would probably assume that you weren’t a white supremacist. It’s so interesting how the discourse of the Klan still infects our society, when fellow scholars read a young, white woman’s interest in the Klan as somehow nasty and inappropriate. That’s the kind of raced and gendered segregation of interests the Klan promoted, esp. keeping “white ladies” on a protected pedestal.

Here’s something interesting: writing about a nun now, no one ever assumes that I was a nun or wanted to be a nun. No one, to my recollection, has even asked me if I’m Catholic. Quite frankly, I think it’s kind of disturbing that some are more willing to entertain the thought that Kelly J. Baker is a white supremacist than that I ever considered a religious vocation. I think it says something about our secular society, as well as about the very protestant-leaning default setting of most Americans.

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By: Janice http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1968298 Fri, 04 Apr 2014 01:40:35 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1968298 “Some of us, by virtue of our bodies and appearance, are presumed to be politically rather than intellectually motivated to study what we study.”

Oh, yes. Or the historians we teach are described in such a fashion. Just finished up my women’s history course and there were some students who wanted to characterize all of women’s history as political and, thus, suspect. The most irksome part is that they wouldn’t say that about Niall Ferguson or Jack Granatstein or any other high profile historian who is overtly political but not in a way that alarms them.

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By: Jonathan Rees http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1968196 Thu, 03 Apr 2014 23:07:06 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1968196 Historiann,

There’s a number of really excellent books by recent historians about modern conservatism that I’m quite certain were written by liberals, but who cares?! They’re great books and the fact that they describe without preaching is what makes them great books, praised by liberals and conservatives alike.

I write this in response to your comment about the history of the recent past. I don’t think it’s the time they cover that made those historians careful to cover their political tracks, I think it’s the fact that their subject is itself political in both the traditional (and in some cases) the broader definition of that word. Some subject matters just bring out the caution flag in good historians, and that’s probably a good thing for both them and their histories.

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By: Comradde PhysioProffe http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1968153 Thu, 03 Apr 2014 22:05:32 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1968153 It is a very common dishonest rhetorical tactic to pretend that depicting something entails supporting it. The despicable right-wing filth that constitute the Republican Party here in the US are pros at this.

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By: Kelly http://www.historiann.com/2014/04/03/the-author-the-work-and-the-objectivity-question/comment-page-1/#comment-1968068 Thu, 03 Apr 2014 20:14:48 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=22541#comment-1968068 Oh goodness, try writing about the 1920s Klan! I’ve had people assume that I must be a white supremacist for researching such a topic or at least habor sympathies. Senior male scholars commonly asked, “What is a nice girl like you doing writing about that?” People seem very curious to know what is it about me that drew me to my subject matter, especially search committees. There’s definitely a gendered component to this.

The assumption that our identities can be easily discerned from our subject of study is still common and problematic. I’ve written a little about this in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (41:1), regarding how people stereotype me for writing about “unloved” groups.

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