Archive for the 'European history' Category

February 5th 2013
Life, death, and early America

Posted under American history & class & European history & students & the body & unhappy endings

Richard III’s skeleton, showing a massive skull fracture and evidence of corpse desecration.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find the story about the discovery and identification of Richard III’s remains just about the coolest historical and biomedical discovery since Thomas Jefferson’s DNA was found in Hemings family descendants back in the last century.  It’s a terrific example as to how the historical and archaeological records are still viable and valuable in investigations like this.  I’m sure my students in Life and Death in Early America will want to talk about this when we meet for class this week!

Speaking of death and early America:  The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture’s newsletter, Uncommon Sense, has published an online memorial to Alfred F. Young that includes links to reflections on his life and work from thirty different historians, including yours truly and several of this blog’s readers and commenters.  Continue Reading »

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February 3rd 2013
Intimate body care: never a highly paid occupation

Posted under American history & class & European history & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & the body & women's history

NPR featured a story tonight about how poorly compensated home health care work is.  Currently, they are not entitled either to the minimum wage nor to overtime pay.  Most make between $8-10/hr., while the company that employs them pockets the $18/hr. payment from Medicare. Spokespersons for the home health-care industry were permitted to whinge and whine about the terrible hardship that a minimum wage and overtime requirements would put on their businesses.

The tone of the story tilted towards compassion for the workers and their clients, but they story’s historical perspective looked back only 40 years when I think a critical component of this story is the longue durée of this kind of low wage work, work that now (as in the past going back at least 500 years) is performed overwhelmingly by working-class women, and in the Americas for the most part, by black and brown-skinned working-class women.

Intimate body care has never been a well-compensated occupation.  Continue Reading »

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January 5th 2013
2012: the Year of the Asshole?

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & European history & fluff & Gender & the body

Some of you have probably heard of Geoffrey Nunberg’s Ascent of the A-word:  Assholism, the First Sixty Years (2012) because of his platform as the resident linguist for NPR’s Fresh Air.  A few weeks ago, we learned that Aaron James, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine, published a book in 2012 called Assholes:  A Theory, and this article describing James’s book made me laugh out loud:

So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?

James was at the beach when he began mulling those questions. “I was watching one of the usual miscreants surf by on a wave and thought, Gosh, he’s an asshole.” Not an intellectual breakthrough, he concedes, but his reaction had what he calls “cognitive content.” In other words, his statement was more than a mere expression of feeling. He started sketching a theory of assholes, refining his thinking at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where he spent a year as a fellow in 2009.

Now here’s the part I really like as a historian.  James pushes beyond the linguist’s focus on the word to explore the history and philosophy of the asshole avant la lettre:

He consulted Rousseau (who, James notes, was something of an asshole himself on account of his shabby parenting skills), Hobbes (especially his views on the “Foole” who breaks the social contract), Kant (his notion of self-conceit in particular), and more-recent scholarship on psychopaths. He spoke with psychologists, lawyers, and anthropologists, all of whom suggested asshole reading lists. “There are a lot of similar characters studied in other disciplines, like the free rider or the amoralist or the cheater,” James says, calling his time at Stanford an “interdisciplinary education in asshole theory.”

James argues for a three-part definition of assholes that boils down to this: Continue Reading »

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January 3rd 2013
A conversation with Chauncey DeVega about guns, masculinity, and the white violent crime epidemic; Gerda Lerner’s life and death; and why I’m okay with skipping the AHA (again!)

Posted under American history & childhood & class & conferences & European history & Gender & Intersectionality & race & women's history

Chauncey DeVega called me up a few weeks ago to talk about the Newtown murders, and in particular about the deep historical connection between white masculinity and firearms ownership.  We also talked about why Americans can have very different perceptions of physical safety, their own rights, and American history itself.  In any case, you can eavesdrop on our conversation: it’s available here at We Are Respectable Negroes and at the Daily Kos as well.  You can also access the interview here directly and either listen to it or download the mp3.  As you will hear, Chauncey is a very smart guy, and I struggled to keep up with him intellectually.  I had a great time, and will eagerly listen to all of the interviews he’s podcasting on his blog.

In other news:  Gerda Lerner, the pathbreaking women’s historian, died yesterday at age 92 (h/t to cgeye on the blog and Indyanna via a private e-mail for tipping me off.)  I for one am glad that her connection to Communism is right there on page 1 of her New York Times obituary–Betty Friedan might be rolling over in her grave about the prominent discussion of the CP, but can’t we be okay already with the truth of the historical connections between Communism and other mid-twentieth century Progressive movements like Civil Rights and feminism?  Continue Reading »

27 Comments »

December 24th 2012
Cake! Because Christmas.

Posted under European history & fluff & happy endings

Susan’s orange-scented fruitcake

Can you believe it? Susan actually sent me a cake! It’s her orange-scented fruitcake, and we are having a hard time keeping it whole until tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to those of you who keep the feast; to those of you who don’t, enjoy the short lines at the movies today! Although I am by faith a profane scoffer, I enjoy a little choral music at Christmas time, old-school style. 1441 style, that is: it helps me get in the mood to cook a turkey and toast some walnuts. Here’s the King’s College choir singing The Holly and the Ivy. Continue Reading »

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December 8th 2012
Notes on X

Posted under American history & book reviews & European history & Gender & women's history

Here’s something amazing I learned from Dreaming in French:  The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, by Alice Kaplan (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2012).  Apparently, even Susan Sontag struggled against an inner Disney Princess!

The X Factor

With two books in print, life went on–the more and more dazzling public life, the secret inner life.  Life and work were tightly combined, yet under the pile of manuscripts, cultural outings, and intellectual connections was a constant buzz of worry, a struggle that preoccupied her throughout the winter months of 1960, in her daily existence with [her lover] Irene and her son David.  She called it “X”–the overwhelming desire to please, to appease, to see oneself through other people’s reactions, to spare other people’s feelings, to care what they think.  Women, she decided, were X; America itself, with its cult of popularity, was “a very Xy country.”  “X is the scourge,” she wrote in February 1960:  “How do I really cure myself of X?”  She made lists of X situations, X feelings, X characteristics, and finally connected her personal problem to a concept in existential philosophy:  “X is Sartre’s bad faith,” (125-26). Continue Reading »

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November 27th 2012
Education theater, old school style. (Really old school!)

Posted under European history & students & women's history

C’est ca, mes amis!

From Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French:  The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 41-42, a description of the some of the experiences of women in the Smith College junior year abroad program, ca. 1949-50:

At the Sorbonne itself, the experience of sitting in the “Grand amphi” set the tone.  It was an auditorium complete with balconies and seats for a thousand students.  The professor sat on a high stage, with statues and an enormous neoclassical mural as his backdrop.  This was the ultimate theater of learning, grandiose and also slightly ridiculous, from the moment the professor walked onto his stage, accompanied by the traditional Sorbonne appariteur, a kind of classroom concierge in a dark suit, whose job was to announce the master and keep the blackboard wiped clean.  Continue Reading »

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October 22nd 2012
Today’s example of brainless, fact-free so-called “Founding Fathers” worship

Posted under American history & European history & jobs & race & wankers

And it would have worked too, if it weren’t for you meddling Anti-Federalists!

Today’s example comes from Katherine Kersten, a fellow at something called the Center for the American Experiment in Crappy History.  It’s a twist on the “Obama is not an American” theme so popular with anti-Obamaniacs these days.  Big news, kids:  President Barack Obama’s agenda is not rooted in Kenyan anti-colonialism.  Instead, it’s rooted in Kaiserreich Germany!  Behold:

Progressivism views the roles of citizen and state very differently than our founding fathers did. The founders anchored the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in three principles. They believed that human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inherent in nature and human dignity, and preexist the state. They believed that government should be limited, and that its primary purpose is to protect these rights. Finally, they crafted our Constitution to disperse power and curb its abuse through mechanisms such as checks and balances, and federalism.

As the 20th century opened, progressives like Woodrow Wilson — a former president of Princeton University — dismissed the Declaration and Constitution as outmoded. They insisted that America’s archaic political system was unsuited to solving the problems of a new industrial age. Ironically, however, they drew their own vision for perfecting democracy from a very undemocratic place: the imperial Germany of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnnn!  Now, forget about some American intellectuals’ fascination with German education back in the 1870s for just a moment, a phenomenon to which Obama is only very, very distantly attached, to say the least.  Did you see what she did with the so-called “Founding Fathers?”  Continue Reading »

12 Comments »

October 15th 2012
The downside of being a Nobel laureate? The dance is mostly a stag affair.

Posted under European history & Gender & women's history

The early morning phone call (for North Americans)!  The endless numbers of invitations to give lectures!  Being taken seriously!  There is no end to the inconvenience of having won a Nobel Prize, apparently.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?  I know it makes me feel better about my obscurity and mediocrity!

I like this guy:

“Frankly, I have no complaints whatsoever,” says Martin Veltman, a physics laureate at the Universities of Utrecht and Michigan. Veltman shared the 1999 prize with his former student, Gerard ‘t Hooft, for work that put the mathematics behind the Higgs boson on sound footing. But Veltman does raise an eyebrow at some of the other members of the Nobel club. “Sometimes I wonder about the other laureates,” he says. “In fact I have discovered the truth of a remark by [Enrico] Fermi. Someone asked him: ‘What have the Nobel prize winners in common? His answer: ‘Nothing, not even intelligence.’”

Here’s something this year’s prizewinners have in commonContinue Reading »

15 Comments »

October 8th 2012
Hark, a job! Assistant Professor, modern Britain, Baa Ram U.

Posted under European history & jobs & local news

FYI, from the h-net job advertisement:

The Department of History at Colorado State University invites applications for the position of Assistant Professor of History, with a concentration in modern Britain (c. 1700 through the twentieth century, including the British Empire).  This is an entry-level tenure-track position, beginning August 16, 2013. The successful candidate will be appointed untenured and at the rank of Assistant Professor.  Required qualifications include Ph.D. in History at time of appointment; a demonstrated record of scholarship and promise of publication in area of concentration; a demonstrated record of teaching excellence; and a demonstrated ability to work effectively with faculty, students, and the public.  Preferred qualifications include ability to place the history of the British Isles into a European and wider world context.  Responsibilities include teaching undergraduate courses in the area of concentration and graduate courses in European history, as well as introductory-level survey course in Western Civilization or World History; pursuing research and publication projects; providing academic advising to undergraduate and graduate students; and fulfilling appropriate service assignments for the department, college, and university. Continue Reading »

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