Archive for the 'publication' Category

March 18th 2011
Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & publication & race & students & women's history

Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, edited by Deborah Gray White, features autobiographical essays from prominent African American women historians that reflect on their careers, their tenure battles, and their struggles to invent the field of African American women’s history at the same time as they were forced to fight to make and preserve spaces for themselves within the historical profession.  I blogged about this book briefly two years ago, but just this week finally sat down to read it.  (Consider this my slight contribution to Women’s History Month blogging.)

It is good to be reminded of how new the field of African American women’s history is–the contributors to this volume were born in the 1940s-1960s.  They are people we know and work with, and they are truly a pioneer generation.  White’s introductory essay does a brilliant job of highlighting the awesome challenges of professing black women’s history from inside a black woman’s body: 

Educated African American women believed they had to overcome their history before they could do their history.  Yet the nature of the history they sought to overcome was so embarassing and demeaning [of racial, class, and sexual exploitation and abuse] that it kept them from engaging that history in all but the most indirect manner.  It was not by choice, therefore, but by necessity that we came late to the historical profession.

White and her contributors explain the many struggles that black women faced as they began to enter the profession in the 1960s and 1970s– Continue Reading »

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March 16th 2011
History and humor

Posted under American history & art & captivity & childhood & Gender & Intersectionality & publication & unhappy endings & women's history

Sit down and let me pour you a cup!

As you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this blog, I like teh funny, and even if my sense of humor ain’t exactly your cuppa joe, I like to write to amuse myself, at least.  My problem now is that I can’t find a lot of humor in the book I’m writing.  I wrote a book about guys and guns and warfare in the Northeastern borderlands of what’s now the U.S. and Canada, so although that wasn’t a happy story for most of the people I wrote about, there were a lot of really fatuous English men and women I could mock in that book.  I realize it’s a low trick, but having a mockable bad guy or set of bad guys in your book is one way to leaven the story and add a little humor.  After writing about warfare for the better part of a decade, I looked forward to what I imagined to be a retreat into the relative safety and comfort of the cloister in order to write about a little English girl (Esther Wheelwright, 1696-1780) who was taken captive by the Indians at 7 and wound up in the Ursuline convent in Quebec at the age of 12, where she remained for the rest of her life.  

But, the problem for me right now is that there just isn’t a lot of humor in the story of a little girl whose life was filled with warfare and trauma for her English family, and the starvation, disease, and eventual destrution of her Indian family.  She arrived safely at the monastery and lived to the age of 84, but early modern nuns are just so earnest with their apostolic missions, such do-gooders that I haven’t found a lot of humor or texture in that part of the story, either.  They were not late medieval mystics who wrote long, fantastic narratives or offered descriptions of the various ways in which they mortified their bodies.  They were not aristocratic European nuns who flaunted their wealth and had men jumping in and out of their cells in between secret plots to make another Borgia prince the Pope.  They were teachers!  I’m a teacher, and many of you reading this are teachers–you know how boring and earnest we all are!  Who wants to read about about a bunch of teachers?   

In short, I have a humor problem with this book, and no really obvious bad guys to target for the cheap yuks.  (At least I’m having a hard time making scurvy and smallpox variola take the fall for everything.) Continue Reading »

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February 18th 2011
Is research a tool for maintaining the sexist status quo in academic departments?

Posted under Gender & jobs & publication & students

Busybusy again today–no time to think up and write a post myself, but Tenured Radical (who is herself busybusy) is hosting a conversation about sexism in hiring and tenure decisions at Princeton and in academia in general.  She writes:

Untenured faculty are always wanting to know what that little extra edge is that will get them tenure.  Be a man and ignore your students, that’s my advice.  According to the Daily Princetonian, President Shirley Tilghman suggested back in 2003 that if baby Tigers did not focus so much on teaching they would have a better chance of getting tenure.  According to attorney R. William Potter (no relation to the Radical),

In December 2003, Tilghman advised junior faculty not to focus so much on teaching undergraduates; if they want to obtain the holy grail of tenure they should concentrate on scholarly research, she told them, as their “first and foremost” priority. “Their ability to conduct research and demonstrate excellence in scholarship is the most important thing we look at,” she said, although she added that teaching ability is also “considered very seriously.”

I can’t find the origins of the Tilghman quote about tenure cited in the article, but if you go hereyou get to an article that cites Tilghman’s position in 1996 that tenure is a sexist institution and ought to be abolished. Now that’s what I call interesting.  But like all successful people, she now says that isn’t really what she meant.  She was just trying to be provocative, she explained in 2001, recanting this position after she took office as President.

Many readers pointed out that not advising junior faculty at Princeton to focus on their research would be malpractice–but in a further comment TR explained that she is dismayedthat “after all these years, and even at a place like Princeton (whose history department has numerous scholars quite famous for their teacher[ing]) we have nothing more creative to say to untenured people about the relationship between developing these two skills than ‘Do less of this/do more of that.’ Continue Reading »

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January 24th 2011
Rebecca Traister on Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring

Posted under American history & class & Gender & GLBTQ & publication & race & women's history

"Pink right down to her underwear!"

A colleague of mine sent me a link to Rebecca Traister’s review yesterday in the New York Times of Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring:  “The Feminine Mystique” and American women at the Dawn of the 1960s (New York:  Basic Books, 2010).  It–like the book it reviews–is a refreshing review of Betty Friedan’s signal achievement and its importance in the intellectual and political history of American feminism.  In this respect, it’s quite a departure for Coontz, whom most of us know as a prominent American historian of marriage and the family.

After decades of distancing themselves from Friedan, whose activism after the publication of The Feminine Mystique was frequently controversial, it seems like feminist historians of all ages are now drawn to reconsider her work.  Her work (like any historical document or artifact) was a prisoner of its time, and since it was based on a survey of Smith College graduates, it was primarily an examination of la querelle des femmes from a white, middle-class perspective.  Perhaps 50 years is now a comfortable distance from which to read all of the uncomfortable questions Friedan’s book asked and raised about itself?

But as Traister points out, so many of these conversations throughout the twentieth century about women’s roles and how to combine family life with a working life have a Groundhog Day-like quality.  “Reading Coontz’s account of postsuffrage backlash — ‘Three decades of relentless attacks on feminism as antimale and anti­family had taken their toll’ — it’s hard to remember that she is writing about the 1950s. When she quotes Dorothy Thompson, who proclaimed in 1939 that the fantasy of women’s being able to meld career and family was ‘an illusion,’ we might as well be reading a modern antifeminist screed about the impossibility of ‘having it all.’”

I have to put in a word for Daniel Horowitz’s terrific biography Betty Friedan and the Making of “The Feminine Mystique”:  The American Left, the Cold War, and Feminism (Amherst:  University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), which may have started the whole Friedan revival.  Continue Reading »

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January 13th 2011
History Under Attack, part II: Can splitters be polemicists?

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & publication & race & students

Get to work, friends!

 Last week, we had a conversation here inspired by incoming American Historical Association President Tony Grafton’s call to arms in this month’s Perspectives, the AHA’s monthly magazine.  I’ll republish here what I saw as the nut of his argument: 

For history has its own special place in these indictments. Critics rebuke historians for drawing politicized conclusions from their research—and even, in some notorious cases, for deliberately distorting or inventing the evidence to support their own left-wing views.They criticize authors of textbooks and public historians for subverting patriotism, claiming that they emphasize violence, inequality, and oppression in European and American life at the expense of more positive qualities. . . 

.       .       .       .      .       .      

[T]he indictment is hydra-headed. . . . It’s here that the real difficulty arises.  The real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical: it’s that our research and teaching are nothing more than sterile pursuits of mind-numbing factoids, tedious and predictable exercises in group think, or politicized exercises in deploying the evidence to prove predetermined conclusions. If we can’t answer those criticisms convincingly, we will lose on all fronts: history positions will disappear, and so will neighboring departments in foreign languages and other fields, without which we can’t function. 

The discussion in the comments here included some great points and contributed many important nuances to the conversation:  many of you noted that our perception of these issues varies by the kinds of institutions academic historians were educated in and now work in; others commented on problems of anti-intellectualism within the profession and within our own universities; there were several comments about the double-bind most of us are in with respect to the adjunctification of the profession:  in spite of popular representations of our work in the media and in political discourse, most of us in fact spend much more time teaching than we do in research, but 4-4 and 5-5 teaching loads don’t lead to better teaching, they just lead to more teaching.  And the pious critics of higher ed who insist that we spend more, not less, time in the classroom don’t in fact want to spend the money it would take to pay for more higher-quality instruction, which would mean reducing, not expanding, the teaching loads of most of us–they just want to beat us rhetorically with the unfounded assumption that those large classes and scantron exams are due to faculty research agendas rather than the casualization of academic labor. 

I think Grafton is correct that “[t]he real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical,” but I have real doubts about our profession’s ability to answer his call with a polemic or ideological defense of our work.  Historians are, by nature, splitters rather than lumpers.  We aren’t united by a methodology or single set of disciplinary practices, and our writing and teaching more often than not seeks not to impose order on a given topic but rather to provide nuance and complexity. Continue Reading »

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November 13th 2010
Royalties!

Posted under American history & happy endings & jobs & local news & publication

Yeah, babies–I got my first royalty check from my publisher for Abraham in Arms.  (For a while there, I was just getting statements because of the advance on royalties I got years ago when I signed the contract.)   When Fratguy opened the mail and said I got a royalty check, I thought he was joking, because the last statement I remember suggested that I would get royalties in the year 20-notinmylifetime. 

This royalty check won’t change my life–it won’t make up for two years of no raises and no merit pay–but it’s a non-trivial amount of money.  it could buy me a very nice pair of shoes (that is, much more expensive than I ordinarily buy), or it could cover dinner for two, including wine and the works.  (It won’t cover the a$$-kicking cowgirl boots I bought last week, however. . . )

So now I have just one question: 

Continue Reading »

38 Comments »

September 8th 2010
Historiann-thologized!

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & Gender & happy endings & O Canada & publication & women's history

To paraphrase Sally Field when she won her Academy Award:  “They like me!  They really like me!”

I’ve been dying to tell you about this for more than 18 months now, but I’ve been waiting for the publication of Women’s America:  Refocusing the Past (7th edition) to announce that editors Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, and Cornelia Hughes Dayton have included a substantial excerpt from chapter 4 of Abraham in Arms in this latest edition of their American women’s history reader. 

I’m especially pleased about this, not just because Women’s America is one of the top two women’s history readers*, and not just because I’m in the company of leaders in my field like Sara Evans, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Mary Beth Norton, Jennifer Morgan, Carol Karlsen, Carol Berkin, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sharon Block, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and Jeanne Boydston, not to mention Dayton and Kerber themselves.  I’m also especially thrilled because they picked a chapter about women that I was particularly proud of, and which has gone largely unremarked upon by my reviewers, most of whom have been military historians who are much more interested in my chapters on guys and guns.  (Go figure!  They have all reviewed the book favorably, for which I am truly grateful.)  I wrote what I thought was some pretty interesting women’s history too–and I’m so gratified to know that top scholars in my field like Kerber and Dayton find value in my work.

From the editors’ introduction to “Captivity and Conversion:  Daughters of New England in French Canada,” p. 103:

Ann Little’s essay introduces us to the geopolitics of the second half of the colonial period.  Protestant England and Catholic France, along with their independent-minded Indian allies, engaged in a succession of imperial wars involving North American territory from the late seventeenth century through the Seven Years’ War of 1756-63.  In 1700, English settlers far outnumbered the 15,000 French soldiers, missionaries, fur traders, and habitants(farmers) clustered chiefly in settlements along the St. Lawrence River.  However, the English occupied only a narrow sliver along the eastern seaboard, while the French claimed authority (and established mutually adventageous relations with native groups) from Louisiana to Canada along the Mississippi River and around the Great Lakes.  It was not at all clear if one European power (France, Spain, orEngland) could gain ascendancy over the continent as a whole.

The author takes us on a detective’s journey to recover the voices of and find out what happened to the children, teenagers, and grown women who were captured from New England towns and farms in wartime raids by Abenaki allies of the French.  Continue Reading »

28 Comments »

August 4th 2010
Anti-volunteerism, and other career saving strategies

Posted under book reviews & happy endings & Intersectionality & jobs & publication & students

Don't be a do-bee.

Tenured Radical has a nice, long, seasonal post full of advice for newly hired term or tenure-track faculty, and some pointed reminders for those of us returning to the same old positions in the fall semester.  Go read and cogitate, and let her know what you think.  I especially wanted to highlight these two paragraphs:

Do not volunteer, stupid. You know who you are — whatever your biological gender, you are a girl. You are the one who finds the silence insufferable when the chair has asked for someone to step up, and you think it is your job to make everyone feel good again. Why you? And why now? At least go away and consult your job description before you go all Do-Bee on everyone. It isn’t your job to see to it that everything gets done — it is the chair’s job, and believe me, s/he will figure out how to do it.

Underrepresented faculty in underrepresented fields have no obligation to extend themselves without end to under-served students. Sometimes I look around me and it is so frackin’ obviouswhy the scholars who are perpetually sicker, angrier, more exhausted, and frantic about meeting deadlines for their scholarship share certain characteristics. We are queer, we are of color, we are international scholars, we are women, we are feminist men. We are the ones who, in order to make space for what we care about in institutions, do it ourselves. We invent the programs, then we chair them. This is what Jean O’Brien and Lisa Disch write about in an article I strongly recommend (and that partly inspired this post) “Innovation is Overtime: An Ethical Analysis of ‘Politically Committed Labor,’”(Aiku, Erickson and Pierce, Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Stories from the Academy Minnesota, 2007.) We are the ones that advertise our universities’ “diversity” when we labor outside the classroom. We are the ones who students seek out to teach the things they never had a chance to learn in high school. We are the ones who students “like us” and the ones who hold similar political commitments flock to in droves. Continue Reading »

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July 9th 2010
Female SciProf told: “Thank you for not reminding us you’re a woman.”

Posted under American history & bad language & Gender & Intersectionality & publication & race & unhappy endings & women's history

Go read this account of reading the reviews from a recent grant application, in which Female Science Professor was thanked for not including the fact of her sex in her BI (Broader Impact) statement:

In one review of one of my recent proposals, I was thanked by one reviewer for not mentioning myself or other women involved in the project as a broader impact. The reviewer was very happy to see that my proposal was therefore not obviously biased against men.

OK… you’re welcome.. but you know what? Even if I wrote in the BI section that the proposed research involved female investigators and therefore in some way helped broaden the participation of an underrepresented group, this does not demonstrate bias against men. It would be stating something that is part fact (I am the female PI whether I mention it in the proposal text or not) and part opinion (my involvement in research broadens the participation etc.); no men were excluded or oppressed to produce this proposal.

So the message is, “don’t tell us how we should think about your sex.  We saw your first name, we have our own ideas, and we can use that information however we like.  We don’t like having our privilege checked, don’t’cha know!”

This reminds me of reading the reviews of my NEH grant application (unsuccessful!) for my first book project, Continue Reading »

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June 22nd 2010
Of fraudsters and scholars, Part II: two kinds of historians

Posted under book reviews & jobs & publication

In a recent e-mail exchange with Squadratomagico, we discussed something that relates very closely to the subject we’re exploring here in this space, namely, feeling like an untrained fraud when you move on to another book project and/or contemplate retraining yourself in another sub-field (or even an entirely different discipline).  In a recent conversation with a senior person in her field, she said that his advice about moving into a new project (with whatever reading and/or retraining that might require) was not to be too intimidated by the existing literature in a given sub-field.  His advice was to learn from that literature, but not to get stalled there or let it talk you out of pursuing your own ideas. 

This is very much related to a conversation I had over a decade ago with a senior scholar in my field.  When I expressed wonderment at keeping up with all of the new books and articles published in our field (because 3 years out of grad school, I was already far behind.  Three years!).  He said in response, “there are two kinds of historians:  Continue Reading »

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