December 2nd 2014
Back to college, back to class

Posted under: American history, class, European history, happy endings, jobs

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Having a residential fellowship is a lot like going to college, in that you’re surrounded by all of these very interesting and accomplished people and you’re wondering why they admitted a scrub like you.  (At least, that was my experience of college.  Maybe you were the impressive person who wondered “who let all the scrubs in?”)

Maybe it’s because of its Anglophilic roots, but at the Huntington, there are several class divisions among the fellows.  (How do we know the are class distinctions?  Because nobody talks about them!  I guess to that extent the Huntington is also very American.)  The major distinction is between the long-term fellows, who are invited to spend the entire academic year, and the short-term fellows who have funding from one to six months usually.  (And then there are the people who have no fellowships but who show up to work here anyway!  They are some of the most interesting and accomplished of us all.) Continue Reading »

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November 28th 2014
When what to my wondering ears did appear. . .

Posted under: American history, book reviews, childhood, class, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, jobs, local news, publication, race, students, women's history

nicholassyrettbut my BFF (and this year, my housesitter), Nick Syrett, who was interviewed on Morning Edition by Renee Montagne on college fraternities sexual assault over the  longue durée.  That guy gets more free media for his book, The Company He Keeps:  A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009) than any university press author I know.  UNC Press must love him.  I was impressed by how scholarly the interview itself was–you can see a transcript here, or listen to the interview yourself.

I don’t think it’s just the commenters at the NPR website, but what is it with the need for members of the general public to tell scholars that their research is either unnecessary or irrelevant?  (I’ll leave aside the commenters who resent “the PC odor around this collective guilt-mongering.”  That’s sadly predictable!)  The majority of the commenters today at NPR (so far!) are appreciative of story and seem to agree with Nick that the connections between fraternities and sexual violence is both longstanding and robust, but then someone like Theresa Younis writes, “Research?  Everybody knows that.”  (Eyeroll implied?) Continue Reading »

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November 26th 2014
Guess who’s coming for lunch?

Posted under: fluff, happy endings

Happy Thanksgiving!  Have more fun!  (And sabbatical rules, like I even needed to point that out.  DUH!)

bloggersmodified

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November 25th 2014
“Worlds of Rape, Words of Rape:” Sharon Block on UVA Prez Teresa Sullivan’s public statement on gang rape

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, jobs, race, students, the body, unhappy endings, women's history

No time to blog today–instead do not walk, run! over to Nursing Clio to read Sharon Block’s analysis of the UVA gang rape story and UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s victim-denying and victim-blaming public statement, which focused on the harm to Mr. Jefferson’s University and its “dedicated Student Affairs staff” instead of the victims of rape.

Once again, as Block described so brilliantly in her 2006 book Rape and Sexual Power in Early America, the harm of rape is to men and to historically male institutions like universities, the law, the courts, fraternities, and the like.  And even women–just like Teresa Sullivan!–participate in blaming women victims and protecting men and male institutions.  Yes, indeed:  Block’s book demonstrates that in Anglo-American law then and now, rape is a crime so horrible that it never happens, unless its perpetrators are even more marginal than its victims. Continue Reading »

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November 21st 2014
Whatever happened to Bowe Bergdahl?

Posted under: American history, captivity, jobs, weirdness

bergdahlRemember him?  The man who either deserted or was captured and held captive in Afghanistan for nearly five years and was released last spring?  Richard Benedetto wonders why the U.S. news media have completely dropped the Bowe Bergdahl story, and so do I because I want to see how the story ends!  Regular readers will recall that I wrote about him here twice last summer because of the intriguing possible links between his experience and the experience of former child captives I’ve written about in both my first and second books.

Media interest in the Bergdahl affair dried up once he ceased to be a political football in Washington.  Benedetto explains that “Bergdahl, who after extensive medical and psychiatric testing quietly returned in July to active duty at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream media radar screen. Few seem interested in following up.”  Few” seems to be an understatement.  After noting that it’s only the right-wing media who have continued to pursue the story, and only in a half-hearted fashion, Benedetto writes:

The only other recent news story on the matter came Nov. 6 in The Hill, not considered a conservative news source. It reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said unnamed sources told him the U.S. military unsuccessfully tried to pay a ransom for Bergdahl’s release.

In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, The Hill said that Hunter wrote, “It has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who ‘disappeared’ with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl’s release in return.”

“Hunter said ‘according to sources’ that the payment was made between January and February 2014 through Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose activities are mostly classified.”  

That story also disappeared into the ether with little to no news media follow-up.  Hotshot investigative reporters who once might have jumped at the chance to sink their teeth into this kind of story mostly sat back and yawned. 

(N.B. Fox news reports that the Pentagon has denied that they tried to pay ransom for Bergdahl, but “[Rear Admiral John] Kirby [the Pentagon spokesperson] was less adamant, however, on whether money was provided to an alleged informant who claimed to have knowledge of where the soldier was being held.”  That happens, I guess!) Continue Reading »

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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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November 14th 2014
Working in a winter wonderland

Posted under: American history, art, conferences, European history, happy endings, jobs, local news, O Canada

quebecwinter

Baby, it’s cold outside!

It’s hard work being on sabbatical, believe it or not. Having the privilege of a Huntington Library long-term fellowship comes with strings attached–it’s not all strolling in the gardens, gazing at marvelous paintings, and thinking deep thoughts all day long.  I’ve spent a lot of this week imagining the winter of 1759-60 in Québec and trying to write about it.  (Those poor Highlanders, in their kilts–or “philibegs” as once source calls them!  Just imagine.)  Those of you who are suffering from the Polar Vortex in most of North America this week can probably do a lot better than I can at this point.  (Although it’s been cool and overcast here too–highs only in the 60s!)

Back to the hard work of sabbatical:  the number of seminars, lectures, conferences, and happy hours (both formal and informal) could be nearly a full-time job if I let them.  In the past week alone, I’ve learned what a “philibeg” is, and about medieval zombies and other life-after-death beliefs, heard a lecture on the Sand Creek Massacre (whose 150th anniversary is on November 29 this year), read a paper on seeing early nineteenth-century mathemeticians as cyborgs, and just today learned that “mercantilism” is pronounced merCANtilism, not MERcantilism, as I had always thought.  (Who knew?  I avoid talking about merCANtilism as much as I possibly can.) Continue Reading »

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November 7th 2014
Just kill the convention interview already. NOW.

Posted under: bad language, conferences, jobs, unhappy endings, weirdness

Bomb-throwing from my sabbatical!

Bomb-throwing from my sabbatical!

My department plans to conduct first-round interviews at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in January for the open position in my department.

I would like to apologize for this waste of everyone’s money and time, but most of all, I must apologize to the most junior, poorest, and most vulnerable members of our profession, who will feel compelled to spend money they may not have in order to book a flight to New York City, a hotel room, and pay for their own meals in the hopes that they can advance their candidacy to an Assistant Professorship. Because of course the people who most need jobs don’t have travel budgets or expense accounts!  (Not that ours is that generous, to be perfectly honest.)

I have made these points repeatedly in department meetings, and have only succeeded in killing the convention of AHA convention interviews when I’m on the search committee. For some reason, some of my colleagues believe without evidence or reason in the superiority of the annual trek into the basement of various hotels in icy, snowy northern North American cities in January, when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’m on sabbatical and out of state this year so I can’t jump up and down and scream about this at Baa Ram U., but you can bet that I will after I climb out of this palm tree, starting next fall and every year after that anyone tries to fly a search committee to Chicago, New York, or Boston again.

I never liked the call to muster for an interview back in the day when I was unemployed, but it was a different world in the late 1990s, when gas was $0.89 a gallon and tickets to Chicago-Midway could be had for $99.  Round trip!  And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never liked conducting job interviews in “the pit” as a member of a search committee.  We are at the point now both in terms of the technology for videoconferences or Skype calls, and in terms of the precarity of the academic humanities, that senior scholars like myself must take a stand against this abusive system.  Continue Reading »

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November 4th 2014
Look for the silver lining. . .

Posted under: American history, Gender, local news, race

elvgrenvoteShelley from Rain:  A Dust Bowl Story reminds us to vote today, “no matter how hopeless it may seem.” I don’t share her pessimism, but that’s probably because nothing in the world can harsh my buzz this year. I’m on sabbatical! At the Huntington Library!  Getting work done!  And the election won’t change that one way or the other.

Remember somewhere [like, say California, or Colorado] the sun is shining, and so the right thing to do is let it shine for you! Continue Reading »

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