Archive for the 'book reviews' Category

November 19th 2014
John D’Emilio: marriage equality “a sad misdirection?”

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

lesbiancaketopper

Marriage is an institution, and what kind of radicals want to live in an institution?

John D’Emilio, queer history founding father and all-around badass, is unafraid to pee in anyone’s Wheaties (even in his allies’ breakfasts) to make a point.  Via Tenured Radical and the Twitter musheen, John D’Emilio is “Thinking About Marriage” over at OutHistory:

When I think of the long history of LGBT activism in the U.S, stretching back to the post-World War II years, I’m struck by how the periods of most creativity, the periods that involved the biggest leaps forward, were those in which activists most clearly challenged common assumptions and core institutions.  The U.S. LGBT movement was launched by a group of gay men who had ties to the Communist Party and who theorized that “homophiles” were a distinct minority with a special role to play in society, based on their difference.  The Stonewall-era gay liberation and lesbian-feminist movement saw the oppression of queers as thoroughly linked to gender, racial, and class inequalities; it believed liberation would come only if one thoroughly re-imagined and reconstructed the nuclear family; and it sought to make common cause with other radical movements.  The radicalism of ACT-UP that AIDS generated by the late 1980s wanted to remake the health-care system in the United States and provoked a community debate about sexuality and pleasure as key elements of human life.  By contrast, the movement for marriage equality aligns itself with an institution that is not only in decline. It is also an institution that acts as gate-keeper for who deserves key benefits basic to a human’s survival – parenting, an income in old age, health care and insurance, and many more.  Significant and exciting as this campaign has often been, it seems a sad misdirection of a social change movement’s limited resources.

From what I’ve seen, marriage isn’t in decline everywhere–it’s mostly in decline among poor and struggling working-class families.  Bourgeois folks meet in college or professional school and enjoy expensive weddings, and they even seem to enjoy their marriages too in that their divorce rate is also pretty low.  Marriage is now functioning almost as marriage did in the ancien régime among aristocrats, as a system that shores up inherited and accumulated wealth and privilege as well as serving as a gate-keeper to middle-class privileges that really should be entitlements for all of us. Continue Reading »

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November 16th 2014
“Only after a man” called Bill Cosby a rapist did anyone listen: on rape, history, and epistemology

Posted under American history & book reviews & childhood & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

Barbara Bowman says that Bill Cosby raped her in the 1980s, when she was seventeen years old. When she told people about the assaults at the time, she was told that she was crazy, or a liar:

Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. . . .

I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years. When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.

Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.

While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive.

So little changes in the history of sexual assault that it’s almost like it’s impervious to change over time, and it’s not just in the entertainment industry of course.  Powerful men exploit their access to young, powerless women, girls, and boys.  On the rare occasion that a young, powerless person speaks up, she’s told that she’s crazy, she misunderstood, she’s to blame, and omigod do you know what this might do to his career?  Continue Reading »

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October 30th 2014
Thursday round-up: the death becomes us edition

Posted under American history & art & bad language & book reviews & class & European history & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

elvgrenhalloween

Scary stuff!

Friends, it’s a never-ending round of seminars, walks through the garden, curator-led tours of both the Huntington and the Getty Museums, and lunch and dinner invitations that I have barely a moment to myself on this “sabbatical!”  My apologies for the light posting these days, but sometimes a scholar just has to sit down once in a while and write something for peer-reviewed publications.

Here are a few interesting things I’ve found while haunting the interwebs over the past week:

  • Should we bring back formal mourning clothes? This review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” by Hillary Kelly is nostalgic for the value of public mourning.  Maybe this is on my mind, because I’m of the age now that my peers are coping with the deaths of their parents.  I had a colleague whose father died a few years ago, and when I invited him out for dinner following a seminar  several months later, I was a little surprised that he said, “no thanks, I’m just not up to socializing yet.”  Of course it made perfect sense–but it struck me at the time that we make grief so invisible and so unknowable to others in modern U.S. culture.  Recent widows and widowers complain that after a month or two, even close friends sometimes express exasperation with their grief!  We expect people to “get over it” so we aren’t threatened by the memory of our own losses, or by fears of our impending losses. 
  • There’s a new book coming out with Yale University Press next year which I’m dying to read:  Fashion Victims:  Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.  (Isn’t that a great title?  Who wouldn’t want to read that book?)  She was the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Fellow in French Art at the Huntington from 2003 to 2007, and is an independent scholar.
  • Speaking of mourning, what about graves, and specifically, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act?  There’s an open position in the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts for a Repatriation Coordinator.  Public historians or anyone else with NAGPRA knowledge and experience should apply.  This position does not require a Ph.D., but rather just an M.A. in Anthropology, Native/Indigenous Studies/Museum Studies or related fields.  This is a three-year lectureship.
  • The bane of my existence is now the elaborate software systems through which we must all submit journal articles and letters of recommendation.  Do I really need a unique I.D. and secure password for every.  Freakin’.  system?  (If someone wants to write an article, revise it, and get it published under my name, I’d be happy to take credit for it!)  Also:  it seems unfair to ask an author to revise and resubmit an article, but still hold her to the first-round 10,000 word limit.  Just sayin’.  Now I’m off to eliminate 388 words from my polished, jewel-like, prose.
  • Well, not yet.  I forgot to say that tomorrow night is Halloween.  Tips for candy thieves:  only eat the candy out of your kids’ buckets until they can reliably count, or you’ll get busted.

Continue Reading »

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October 18th 2014
“Christmas won’t be Christmas if there isn’t any Orchard House,” grumbled Historiann: forget the sausages–send cabbage now!

Posted under American history & art & bad language & book reviews & childhood & Gender & happy endings & women's history

ANOTHER ANOTHER UPDATE, Wednesday October 22, 2014: YAY! They–and you–did it; the goal was met yesterday afternoon, and the project has collected another $5,670 on top of the goal of $150,000 as of 9:47 a.m. PDT. So, the movie will be funded!

ANOTHER UPDATE, Tuesday October 21, 2014: Friends, with 35 hours to go we still need $3,801 to make the movie, or they get zero, zilch, nada bucks. Make it happen by the end of the day today!

UPDATE, Monday October 20, 2014: With just 54 hours to go, the Orchard House movie needs only $6,057!!! Yes, that’s just over six thousand bucks. Can you help make it happen? Friends, I’m going to have to throw away all of my pickled limes if this effort falls short after getting so close.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is raising funds via Kickstarter to make a movie documenting the history of the house itself, because “many who wish to experience Orchard House may never be able to visit in person, and there are millions more that do not realize the house exists.”  For more than a century, Orchard House has been preserved with little more than spit, Kleenex, and volunteer labor.  They’re trying to make a documentary film about the house itself and the story of its preservation as a means to publicize its needs and gain more support, but at this point–4 days short of their October 22 goal–they’re still nearly $30,000 shy of their $150,000 goal.


Continue Reading »

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October 14th 2014
#Historiannchallenge update, with loads of linky goodness!

Posted under American history & book reviews & European history & happy endings

cowgirlgunsign1Thanks to everyone who has returned once more to the barricades to respond to the #Historiannchallenge, both on your own blogs, on Twitter, and in the comments to the previous post.  To recap:  the weekend before last, the New York Times published an interview with eminent Civil War historian James McPherson about his lists of “bests” and “favorites,” which struck me and many other historians as rather limited in its vision of current scholarship by American historians.  I picked up the other end of the rope and published my own interview of myself listing my own “bests” and “favorites,” which was deliberately aimed to broaden our understanding of what history is, what it does, and who writes it, and issued the #Historiannchallenge on Twitter to invite other bloggers to make their own contributions.

I had a whirlwind of a trip to Boston and back for family matters last weekend, and am finally back at my desk this morning (Pacific Daylight morning, anyway!)  I thought I’d commemorate all of the contributions on blogs and Twitter to the #Historiannchallenge by pulling together all of your Tweets and links–I’ve tried to acknowledge each one as they were posted, and I also tried to leave comments on your own self-interviews on your blogs, but please let me know if I’ve inadvertently missed anyone’s contributions by dropping a link in the comments below, and I will update this post to make it the official historical record. Continue Reading »

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October 8th 2014
Historiann: The New York Times Book Review Interview

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & Gender & happy endings & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & the body & women's history

cowgirl3a

Giddyup!

Today’s post is was inspired by the interview with James McPherson in the New York Times book review last weekend.  I reviewed that interview in yesterday’s post.  Today, I’ve interviewed myself, and I encourage you to interview yourself too, either in the comments below, on your own blog, and/or on Twitter.  (Be sure to tag me @Historiann and #historiannchallenge.)

What books are currently on your night stand?

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, and some travel guides for southern California.

What was the last truly great book you read?

If you mean a work of history, I’d say Foul Bodies:  Cleanliness in Early America by Kathleen Brown. That’s a book that makes a powerful argument about status and cleanliness, and how women became responsible for both of these things in their families and in the wider world. It’s a book that has tremendous implications about the ways in which body care became intensely gendered over the longue durée, which is something I think about whenever I see a housekeeper, a janitor, an employee of a nursing home or rehab facility, or a home health aide.

Who are the best historians writing today?

In no particular order: Lynn Hunt, Jill Lepore, Annette Gordon-Reed, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Judith Bennett. I could go on, but just reading those authors will keep anyone busy for a few years.

What’s the best book ever written about American history?

That’s a ridiculous question. What the hell is a “best book ever?” What do you think I’m going to say–France and England in North America by Francis Parkman?  Best book in the last century? Best book since 1776? Doesn’t the answer vary according to the fashion of the times and our own tastes? History is constantly being revised and updated by each succeeding generation of historians, so no book can ever be a “best book ever” for more than a few years. Continue Reading »

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September 22nd 2014
The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & class & European history & fluff & jobs & publication

Writing a book by day at an august institution like The Huntington, and re-reading Lucky Jim (1954) by night, it’s hard to be seduced by self-importance.  Here, our lucky Jim Dixon considers the article he’s desperately trying to get published in the hopes of being renewed as a lecturer at a red-brick university:

It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.  “Let’s see,’” he echoed Welch in a pretended effort of memory: “oh yes; The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.

There’s another great line in which his fellow-boarder at his rooming house asks him what got him interested in medieval history in the first place, and Dixon responds to the effect of, “I’m not interested in this.  I hate it!  Don’t we all do what we hate?”  But I don’t have my copy of the book with me now, and I couldn’t find the quotation on the internets.   Continue Reading »

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June 16th 2014
What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

Posted under American history & book reviews & jobs & publication & students & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here): Continue Reading »

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June 6th 2014
Are you in a Jane Austen novel?

Posted under art & book reviews & class & European history & fluff & Gender & happy endings & women's history

 

Keep Austen Weird!

Keep Austen Weird!

Hilarious post by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast, via a link provided in this thread by Dr. Crazy. Well, are you? Here’s how you will know:

Someone disagreeable is trying to persuade you to take a trip to Bath.

Your father is absolutely terrible with money. No one has ever told him this.

All of your dresses look like nightgowns.

.       .       .       .       .       .

You have five hundred a year. From who? Five hundred what? No one knows. No one cares. You have it. It’s yours. Every year. All five hundred of it.

.       .       .       .       .       .

A woman who is not your mother treats you like her own daughter. Your actual mother is dead or ridiculous.

You develop a resentment at a public dance.

Some of that sounds pretty good:  the five hundred a year, and the dresses like nighties, natch.  What’s not to love? Continue Reading »

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June 2nd 2014
Feminist lives: Stephanie M. H. Camp, Maya Angelou, and Sandra Bem

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & unhappy endings & women's history

Last week, Kate Raphael of Pacifica’s Women’s Magazine (KFPA 94.1) contacted me to see if I would let her interview me about Stephanie Camp and the importance of her scholarship.  Kate put together a series of commemorations of the lives of feminist women who have died recently–Maya Angelou, Sandra Bem, and Stephanie.  The show also features a lengthy interview with Stacy Russo, who edited Life as Activism: June Jordan’s essays in the Progressive.  Russo shares her memory of Jordan as a teacher as well as reviews the importance of her work.

You can hear the results here.  Women’s Magazine’s blog is here.  I hope you’re enjoying June.

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