Archive for the 'European history' Category

November 17th 2011
Francis Fukyuama: learns nothing, forgets nothing

Posted under American history & book reviews & European history & wankers & weirdness

Hey, kids:  don’t be Whig historians!  And especially avoid being Francis “The End of History” Fukuyama. 

Via RealClearBooks, we learned recently that he’s got a new book called The Origins of Political Order, and unsurprisingly, he is completely wrong again.  But you have to admit that it’s pretty cute that he has more in common with Karl Marx and with the first generation of Soviet historians than his modern peers because of his unshaken, dumba$$ theory of history’s inevitable destination.  Reviewer John Gray asks,

[H]ow could laws of history underpin human progress when views about what constitutes progress are so ephemeral and so divergent? Some human values are universal and enduring, but ideas of progress come and go like fashions in hats. Theories of convergence reflect disparate and incompatible ideals of human betterment. What all such theories have in common is that they have come to nothing. None of the regimes that was believed to be the near-inevitable end point of modern development has emerged anywhere in the world. 

Fukuyama shows no sign of being discouraged by this record of failure. Continue Reading »

14 Comments »

November 2nd 2011
An elegy for the apostrophe, and a defense thereof (in a manner of speakin’.)

Posted under American history & bad language & European history & jobs & students

Henry Hitchings suggests that my crusade to make students understand the correct use of the apostrophe may put me on the wrong side of history.  He says the apostrophe vexed printers and writers who were confused about its application almost from the time of its invention in the sixteenth century, through its proliferation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century print culture:

[C]ontrary to what defenders of the apostrophe imagine, its status has long been moot.Before the seventeenth century the apostrophe was rare. The Parisian printer Geoffroy Tory promoted it in the 1520s, and it first appeared in an English text in 1559.

Initially the apostrophe was used to signify the omission of a sound. Gradually it came to signify possession. This possessive use was at first confined to the singular. However, writers were inconsistent in their placing of the punctuation mark, and in the eighteenth century, as print culture burgeoned, everything went haywire. Although it seemed natural to use an apostrophe in the possessive plural, authorities, such as the grammarian Robert Lowth, argued against this. In a volume entitled “Grammatical Institutes” (1760), John Ash went so far as to say that the possessive apostrophe “seems to have been introduced by mistake.”

By the time Ash was writing, the apostrophe was being used to form plurals.Among those who did this was the typographer Michael Mattaire. In a grammar he brought out in 1712 he suggested that the correct plural of species was species’s. Some rival grammarians could barely contain their rage in the face of such recommendations. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the experts (all self-appointed) urgently debated the mark’s correct application.

.       .       .       .       .       .

[H]ere’s the rub: say any of these names aloud and you’ll be struck by the fact that the apostrophe works on the eye rather than the ear. Simply put, we don’t hear apostrophes, and this is a significant factor accounting for the inconsistency with which they are used.  Continue Reading »

33 Comments »

October 12th 2011
Who’s killing the footnote?

Posted under American history & book reviews & European history & jobs & students & technoskepticism

Alexandra Horowitz blames e-books, but footnote-killing is a longstanding trend among non-virtual academic book publishers for at least twenty years.  Most university presses and tradey U-press lines use endnotes, period.  (And who other than university presses make such generous use of notes, anyway?  Nonfiction trade books usually offer the clumsy and much more paper-consumptive apparatus of citing sources by quoting the beginning of a sentence, followed by ellipses, and then listing the relevant sources.  Are tiny numbers on the page really all that distracting to the average reader?  Srsly?)   

My understanding was that the increase in paper costs nearly 20 years ago led most academic publishers to switch from footnotes (at the bottom of each page) to endnotes (at the back of the book.)  Somehow, I was informed, this saves paper.  I can remember the last time I read a book with footnotes–ironically, it was Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote:  A Curious History (1997), which I re-read with my graduate seminar a few weeks ago, and which for obvious reasons offers footnotes rather than endnotes.  (Horowitz’s exploration on the life and death of the footnote uses and cites Grafton generously, too.)  But I think when it was published 14 years ago, it was already exotic for having resisted a publisher’s insistence on endnotes.

My foremost concern about e-books–or perhaps more specifically with the Kindle, although I hope those of you in the know will inform me if this is true of other e-readers–is that it makes citations by students unnecessarily annoying.  Continue Reading »

43 Comments »

September 24th 2011
Tales of the Small College Town

Posted under art & European history & jobs & students & the body & weirdness

(With apologies to Armistead Maupin.)  A correspondent writes:

Dear Historiann–

I work out at a gym off campus.  I have often seen some of my colleagues and one of my graduate students in various states of undress, including nudity.  Likewise, they have seen me the same way.  While I am generally very comfortable being naked in front of others, I have found that these encounters make me slightly uncomfortable.  They also make me laugh.  What is the etiquette for seeing your colleagues and your students naked in the gym locker room?  I sure could use some advice.

Heh.  I’ve never been so grateful for my 33 mile commute as I am today! Continue Reading »

25 Comments »

July 26th 2011
Oh noes–anything but that!!!

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

Get this:  via The Daily Beast, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde says the U.S. had better solve the debt ceiling crisis, or else:

Unless politicians agree a package by 2 August the US may be unable to pay its bills, triggering an economic crisis.

On Tuesday the dollar fell against the euro whilst US shares opened down.

But Ms Lagarde warned against drastic cuts in spending, saying these could create a “jobless recovery”.

Our reality:  u haz it rite!  Maybe she should have said it would mean even more job-lessness in our so-called “recovery?”  In which case we must ask:  what part of this reality is the “recovery,” and can we stage an intervention in Congress and in the White House already?

11 Comments »

July 21st 2011
Simon Says, Goody Two-Shoes edition

Posted under American history & art & bad language & European history & Gender & jobs & publication & race & unhappy endings & wankers

Ah, the 1980s:  when fashionable men dared to wear eye shadow.

This video seems newly timely given the massive wiretapping scandal blowing up News Corporation.  Now that Rupert Murdoch and his empire look pretty weak, the long knives are out for him.  Roger Simon reports that nearly 30 years ago–perhaps to the soundtrack of an Adam Ant video–Murdoch said something racist at a dinner with Chicago Sun-Times reporters after he bought their newspaper:

Continue Reading »

11 Comments »

July 16th 2011
Martin Amis on sex and death

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & European history & the body & unhappy endings

I’ve been a huge fan of Martin Amis’s writing ever since I discovered him and read his back catalog in the 1990s.  What I love about his work is that he never pulls back from his self-loathing instincts.  More than any other novelist, he describes in minute detail the horrors of inhabiting human flesh, and even his youthful novels are obsessed with documenting bodily corruption and decay. 

The Pregnant Widow is unfortunately a disappointment.  Amis pulls back on the self-loathing, and he shies away from the horrors of the flesh.  Perhaps this was inevitable, given the setting for the book (1970), the fact that the main characters are all in their 20s, and that the male protagonist Keith Nearing is once again only a lightly disguised version of the now 60-ish Martin Amis, and the middle-aged and elderly tend to romanticize youth. 

There are some good lines about aging and the prospect of death, however, that are vintage Amis:

When you become old. . . When you become old, you find yourself auditioning for the role of a lifetime; then, after interminable rehersals, you’re finally starring in a horror film–a talentless, irresponsible, and above all low-budget horror film, in which (as is the way with horror films) they’re saving the worst for last. (5)

Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

July 6th 2011
Back in the saddle again

Posted under American history & European history & Gender & jobs & the body & unhappy endings & women's history

We’re back in Potterville, and I’m back in the saddle again with nothing to do but write for a whole month! Yippee-kai-ai-ay and yee-haw to that.

While I’m working away at my day job, go read this post by Echidne, in which she discusses the ways in which the media discuss the “fertility crisis” in some European countries without noting the extreme pressure on women who are mothers in said countries to leave the workforce. (Or in one case she cites, pregnant women and mothers are just proactively pink-slipped.) She notes that even with generous maternity leave policies, most mothers do not return to work after the birth of just one child in both Germany and Italy. This sidles up to a point that I’ve made here before (and even in my day job writing recently) about the global and apparently transhistorical resistance to see women as rational economic actors who make decisions about their lives that respond directly to their political, cultural, and economic environments. Continue Reading »

8 Comments »

June 18th 2011
Saturday round-up: slutty college years edition

Posted under American history & art & bad language & book reviews & childhood & European history & fluff & Gender & jobs & students & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

Good morning, y’all!  It’s another changeable day here in southern Maine, so just in case I end up spending the day at the beach and you don’t, here are a few items that will keep you entertained indoors:

  • First of all, have you been reading Tenured Radical lately?  It’s difficult to keep up with that woman, but I particularly loved Thursday’s cranky screed, “Question:  Why Do Development Offices Raise Money for Sports When Academics Are Being Cut?”  Excellent question!  As many of you know, I’m opposed philosophically and budgetarily to the free men’s sports farm clubsthat even Podunk Colleges and Directional State U.’s feel the need to provide to the for-profit teams of the NBA and the NFL, but when even sports-loving dyke proffies start wondering about the size and heft of the Athletic Department’s budget, compared to (for example) the Classics Department, somehow I feel less like the vox clamantis in deserto.  (And I don’t actually read a word of Latin!)  Repeat after me:  club sports good, free farm clubs bad. 
  • TR also shares what not to do when pi$$ed off by your colleagues.  (What is it with the peeing, boys?  Seriously?)
  • In “Fat Girl Woes,” New Kid on the Hallway writes, “You know what really annoys me? The way some stores that carry my size online won’t carry that size in the stores. I mean, clearly those stores would like to sell me stuff and take my money, but they don’t want me actually to shop in the store? You know, in public?”  (She’s not just a student-blogger any more–she has finished her law degree and really needs to wear suits pretty much all day long in her new career.)  I’ve noticed over the last several years that the combined forces of vanity sizing (what was once an 7-8 or a 5-6 is now a 4 or XS, for example) plus the fat discrimination New Kid reports means that the range of sizes represented on most store racks is narrower than ever.
  • Joyce Chaplin reviews Mary Beth Norton’s new book, Separated by their Sex:  Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World, in tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review (h/t Blake at Down and Out in Denver.)  Chaplin writes, “The materials are rich, but most historians will be surprised that Norton goes after them with the equivalent of a power tool that has lost its edge. [Ed. note:  OUCH!] Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

June 7th 2011
The intellectual value of being wrong

Posted under American history & Berkshire Conference & conferences & European history & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & women's history

I’m off to a conference this week, and I’ve been thinking about some of the wacky papers I’ve given over the years.  I’ve always looked at conferences as opportunities to test out new ideas, and the best times I’ve had at conferences have been times when I’ve delivered a paper that offers a fresh–some would say dubious–new interpretation or argument.  After all, most conference papers are 10 pages long and should take no more than 20 minutes of the audience’s time–it’s not like we’re going to be able to clobber them with a truly convincing pile of evidence, so why not focus more on the specific interventions we’re making?

I once gave a conferece paper titled “Fields of Screams,” after an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon on an old episode of The Simpsons.  It was about borderlands warfare and masculinity, and although I discarded the specific argument in that paper it helped me work out some ideas about space and gender.  Recently, I’ve been having fun shocking people with Judith Bennett’s “lesbian-like” interpretive frame for understanding eighteenth-century Ursulines.  I’m not sure where this idea is going, but it’s fascinating to see some people react so strongly and so negatively to the use of the word “lesbian” to talk about the eighteenth century!  Continue Reading »

28 Comments »

« Prev - Next »