Archive for 2014

July 15th 2014
The war on expertise: there are limits to the democratization of knowledge

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

einsteinrelativityThis American Life featured a fascinating–as in, car-crashtastic–example of the war on expertise that I thought many of you academic readers might be interested in, if you haven’t heard it already.  In a story called “Sucker Mc-squared” (Mc-squared as in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, not Mc- as in McDonald’s), Robert Andrew Powell tells the story of Bob the Electrician, and of Bob’s conviction that he alone had discovered a fatal flaw in Einstein’s theory.  You can hear the entire story here–it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.

To summarize:  Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong.  Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons:  there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians.  In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have.  But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.

 Why does Bob believe that all of physics has it all wrong?  Why is he argumentative and defensive when finally Powell convinces a real physicist (Brant Watson of the University of Miami School of Medicine) to explain to him why he’s all wet?  Why does he admit that he doesn’t understand the advanced training in mathematics that physicists receive, and still believe he’s right?  SPOILER ALERT!
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July 14th 2014
Like Bowe Bergdahl, many 18th century captives didn’t go home again

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood

librarywithcaptivesPer my comparison of recently freed Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl to Anglo-American captives of the eighteenth century, the Wall Street Journal reports that so far, “Sgt. Bergdahl has refused to see his parents or speak to them on the phone, the official said. The decision by Sgt. Bergdahl, who returned to regular duty on Monday, suggests a deeper estrangement between the soldier and his parents than the military understood when he was released. Still, officials said, they don’t know the precise cause of the tension or when it began.”

Slate comments that “the news that Bergdahl has refused to speak to his parents is an unexpected plot twist in a story already full of hairpin turns.”  Actually, no.  The eighteenth-century evidence suggests that Anglo-Americans who were adolescents or young adults and who were adopted by new Native or French families frequently chose to remain with their new families rather than return home again.  (I wrote about these captives, especially the girls and women who didn’t return, in chapter four of Abraham in Arms.)

Many captives became very attached to their new families and caregivers.  In the case I cited last month in my analysis, Sylvanus Johnson–a child captive from age six to eleven–forgot how to speak English, forgot his own parents, and for the rest of his life allegedly “so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization, that he often expressed regret at having been ransomed.  He always maintained, and no arguments could convince him to the contrary, that the Indians were a far more moral race than the whites.” Continue Reading »

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July 8th 2014
We’re gonna need some bigger laws: Jaws and changing notions of acceptable risk and child safety

Posted under American history & art & bad language & childhood & happy endings

JawsDid you see this hilarious chat between journalists Emily Dreyfuss and Ben Dreyfuss, the children of Richard Dreyfuss, about their recent viewing of Jaws, the movie that made their father a famous actor?  It’s really funny–they agree that the movie “makes no sense.”  My fave part (SPOILER ALERT!):
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23 Comments »

July 7th 2014
Dead priest blogging! Next stop, Twitter?

Posted under American history & O Canada

La blogue?  C'est moi

La blogue? C’est moi!

Remarkable providences!  An eighteenth-century Jesuit is blogging now at Charlevoix (“a blog about New France”). Those of you in the know will recognize the blogger as the late Pierre F.-X. Charlevoix (1682-1761), who is considered one of the first historians of New France.  (I say one of the first historians of New France, because I consider the unsung annalists of women’s religious orders to be historians of New France as well–and most of them in the eighteenth century were Canadian-born historians, not imports like Charlevoix.)

Here’s a little flava, a brief comparison of New England and New France in his Journal of a Voyage to North-America (London, 1761; Readex Microprint, 1966, in two volumes), an English translation of his 1744 French travel narrative: Continue Reading »

9 Comments »

July 1st 2014
RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

Posted under American history & bad language & Berkshire Conference & captivity & conferences & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & O Canada & students & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

cowgirlhayoopsFrom the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:

A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness.  While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues.  Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling.  And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.

It’s true.  I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history:  Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’  Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT:  I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor:  Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution.  That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense.  Skemp continues: Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

June 30th 2014
Call the whaaaaaaaaaambulance!

Posted under American history & art & captivity & class & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & wankers & women's history

OMFG.  This is a completely incoherent critique of Orange is the New Black because–get this!–the show which is about a women’s prison doesn’t portray male prisoners realistically or accurate to their numbers in U.S. prisons.  See if you can make more sense of it than I can.

Hey, Concern Troll:  where was your column about the mis- or under- or stereotypical representations of women on just about every other television program or movie ever made?  Did you have this concern about Oz, or Silicon Valley, or The Bachelor?  I guess I missed that.  All I can see is that you’re complaining that you can’t see a man like you on the one semi-high profile program on TV that features women’s stories (and not just white women’s stories!) Continue Reading »

9 Comments »

June 29th 2014
Blast from the past: Evel (whooo!) Knievel!

Posted under American history & art & childhood & fluff & weirdness

I’m having serious (and completely drug-free) flashbacks to my 1970s childhood courtesy of this advertisement, which I found at AdViews in the Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections:

“You can see that they’re build solid, flashy, and hip.” Continue Reading »

3 Comments »

June 26th 2014
An elementary explanation for how ed tech widens, rather than narrows, the achievement gap

Posted under American history & bad language & childhood & class & students & technoskepticism

Are the Lords of MOOC Creation listening?  I doubt it, but let’s review this article at Slate by Annie Murphy Paul anyway:

Why would improved access to the Internet harm the academic performance of poor students in particular? Vigdor and his colleagues speculate that “this may occur because student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” This is, in fact, exactly the dynamic Susan Neuman and Donna Celano saw playing out in the libraries they monitored. At the [affluent neighborhood] Chestnut Hill library, they found, young visitors to the computer area were almost always accompanied by a parent or grandparent. Adults positioned themselves close to the children and close to the screen, offering a stream of questions and suggestions. Kids were steered away from games and toward educational programs emphasizing letters, numbers, and shapes. When the children became confused or frustrated, the grown-ups guided them to a solution.

The [impoverished neighborhood] Badlands library boasted computers and software identical to Chestnut Hill’s, but here, children manipulated the computers on their own, while accompanying adults watched silently or remained in other areas of the library altogether. Lacking the “scaffolding” provided by the Chestnut Hill parents, the Badlands kids clicked around frenetically, rarely staying with one program for long. Older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away.

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June 20th 2014
Twitter-friendly explanation of the gunfight at the Mass. Ave. corral

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1In case you’ve missed the Jill Lepore-Clayton Christiansen Harvard University faculty feud, here’s a brief recap:

11 Comments »

June 19th 2014
Behind these times: on professional standards and not losing your marbles.

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article.  (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.)  Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me.  He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there.  However, he got stalled.  Really stalled.

If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.

He went to work for In These Times until 1979.  Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue Reading »

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