Friday, November 30, 2007

The Radical of America Goes to Washington City (with Apologies to Lauren Berlant and Harriet Jacobs)

I am here in Washington D.C., getting ready to get on a shuttle and go to another city, after interviewing job candidates at the anthropology meetings -- otherwise known as the AAA. The anthropology meetings are actually a lot like the American Historical Association (AHA) meetings -- which will be at the exact same pair of hotels, the Omni and the Marriott, in January. In fact, the last time I came to the AHA, it was at this same set of hotels too. It is also a particularly difficult set of hotels: the Marriott is actually two different buildings, pinned together, which means that the floor numbers do not match up. I remember this vividly because -- yes, you guessed it -- this is where I also interviewed for jobs, 'lo these many years ago, and where I met with the Zenith hiring committee. When I found them. Since I was on the right floor on the wrong side of the hotel.

So today, while my anthropologist colleague and I were taking a break from interviewing to go to the book exhibit and get lunch, I was having a series of flashbacks. But hotels being what they are, I was often filled with uncertainty: was my memory from this hotel, or a similar hotel in Chicago -- or was it Atlanta? San Francisco? Maybe it was the ASA in Philadelphia six weeks ago -- or the Minneapolis Hilton, last March? Truth be told, I have clearly been to too many professional events lately, and they are starting to run together in my mind.

But here's another comparison: a large crowd of anthropologists looks very much like a large crowd of historians, except that there are more men wearing pony tails and facial hair. There's the fashionable, queer pony tails and facial hair, of course, but mostly I am referring to the "I still have counter-culture values and don't much like to shave" pony tails and facial hair. Which at least gives them a kind of rugged look. But historians (except for the French historians!) often just have that "I bought my suit off the (wrong) rack" look. I remember walking through through the lobby of a conference hotel with a queer studies colleague during an AHA one year, and she started to sing in a low voice to the tune of the old movement song "We Are a Gentle Loving People," "We-e-e are a scruff-y, ill-dressed pee-e-ople." And it is true. Historians, as a group, are not stylish like, say, English and Comp Lit people. Go to the Shakespeare or Chaucer cash bars at the MLA and you will be struck by how very stylish they are. Medievalists, who traverse the worlds of history and literature, would confirm this impression, I think.

But enough about fashion, or the lack thereof. The other thing I love about being in Washington is that I have spent a lot of wonderful time here, with people I loved and with work I cared deeply about. I have been coming here to do research off and on for at least twenty-five years, so I have a great affection for certain places. Like the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, where I spent weeks doing research for my first book. Sometimes, for fun, I would take the FBI tour when I had read so many documents my eyes were spinning in my head. Or the Library of Congress, where I spent weeks doing research for my second book, and where I am still grateful to the librarians who opened up as quickly as possible after the anthrax scare in 2002, because they knew people with very little money for their research needed them to open. Or the National Archives, which I return to again and again for every project. To me, these libraries and archives represent the most uncomplicated connection to being an American citizen, because in their boxes and on their shelves are the keys to so much we still need to know. And the idea that you can actually get to know a group of archives well, over decades, and that a set of memories about my professional life can have become so located in a place not my home, is also kind of astonishing to me. I won't ever live in this place, I am pretty sure, but the Radical of America lives in Washington City all the same.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Through the Looking Glass (And Back Again)

In the spirit of a request made by Cliopatra's Ralph Luker, I have removed an evening post that was in this space about my relations with a certain academic blogger and his followers, one that I wrote after deleting several days worth of ugly, pointless comments from the followers (who may be real people or not; it's hard to tell.) Ralph also wrote to said blogger about his behavior and asked him to desist: thank you, Ralph. In my reply to both of them, I noted that I expected this blogger to do be a gentleman and do the right thing on his side as well, removing three recent posts that have sparked a particularly nasty and violent set of remarks about me on his blog (including two posts that feature a puppet show where a Harry "Potter" puppet is blown up by a ticking time bomb), on my blog, and in two of my email accounts. Since we now know that this history colleague of mine has turned on Blogger's comment moderation function, we also know that he has actively approved these comments. My guess is that if past practice holds, the "ticking time bomb" posts will disappear, he will claim they were never there to begin with, and he will demand that I give him "evidence" that they ever were. For other critical opinions of what KC incites and tolerates among his resentful fans, see this post at Acephelous and this one, part of a series, at Re:harmonized.

My regular readers should know that comment moderation has also been turned on here. All comments that are decent will be activated; spiteful ones will be trashed. And yes, to anticipate the next group of nasty emails, it is my right and responsibility to do that: no editor of a print or electronic publication publishes everything that comes over the transom. Just because wild populism can exist in the blogosphere doesn't mean it should.


Morning update: In response, Ralph and I received the following message from the blogger - "It is not my custom to 'take down posts,' and I will not do so in this instance.

"It is, as I have said both publicly and in an e-mail to Prof. Potter, unfortunate that Prof. Potter elected to publish statements about the lacrosse players (and, of less relevance, then about me) that were demonstably untrue; and it is even more unfortunate that--when asked to produce evidence for those statements--Prof. Potter declined to provide any such evidence.

"That said, DIW is a blog about the lacrosse case, not about Claire Potter. If Prof. Potter no longer publishes false statements about the case, I can't imagine why I would ever have a reason to write about her, nor can I imagine that our paths would again cross--


So the answer to the question is: no. A person who is constantly insisting that other people apologize and retract things (that may have been implied, but not presented as fact, by things they wrote as a critical comment on a current event) does not apologize or retract things because he never does anything wrong. Other people do things that are wrong. And who decides what is right and wrong? He does, of course. And he never writes or tolerates comments that imply anything reprehensible, like that I might be blown up, for example, because months ago I made a passing reference, in a post about media representation and race, to a criminal case that he was writing a book about. And let me say, I think it is particularly chilling that he left these comments up, since he is currently living in Israel on a Fulbright, a place where people really do get blown up all the time, and it is one of the great tragedies of the time we are living in that all the people of the Middle East are not free from terrible, random violence, and that even people who survive these bombings will be damaged by them forever.

But although I have re-edited last night's post to reflect this blogger's refusal to compromise with anyone, I think Ralph's original point stands and I would like him to know that I, at least, am paying attention: this blog, and my public image, does not have to be soiled by pointless quarrels with people who do not know me nor I them. So after a few days of comment moderation, life will resume as normal on Tenured Radical.

Monday, November 26, 2007

It's Cyber-Monday

I learned two important things this morning on my drive to work.

One: the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for Rotorooter. Does this tell you something about how much food Americans, as a group, waste? Granted, some of the visits are to pull silverware out of the Dispose-All. But many of the visits are just occasioned by the vast amount of food that we throw away, that then gets clogged in the plumbing, as we try to grind it up and make it go away. Yuck.

Second: Expect the internet to be slower than usual today and, if you are a supervisor of people, your workers to be more unavailable. Apparently those who can no longer face standing in line outside Target at 4 A.M. waiting to get $150 off on a flat screen TV now jump online as soon as they get to work to get their holiday shopping done on the faster connections available at the office. Particularly men, which is a surprise, isn't it? Apparently the average male internet shopper spends between 15 minutes to an hour taking care of his holiday gift list. Go men!

And fortunately the Radical has made everything easier for your holiday decision-making too, so that you can all be like men in this respect. Click on the item to the left and buy a "Tenured Radical: The 2.0 Edition" tee shirt. That's right. And you can get it in many different styles and colors, not just the geeky one on the geeky guy that is being displayed on the Zazzle entry page. Gay men and butch lesbians will be interested in this model (for similar and different reasons):

This is called the "fashion tee." We'll see whether it's fashionable, won't we? But I wouldn't try to buy the fashion tee today, unless you really like the white: they seem to be all out of black tees in most sizes and styles right now. Wait until tomorrow. Then buy them for everyone you know, and your holiday shopping will be done, done, done. What a radical idea. And when you think about it, there hasn't been a great History Gift Item since the MARHO collective (publishers of the Radical History Review,which is so radical that your subscription often lasts for years because they publish it when they feel like it) stopped making those matchbooks that said "Become a Historian, Make Big Money."

In other news, did anyone but me notice this New York Times story, in which we are told that LSU has addressed its lesbian problem in the aftermath of the Pokey Chatman scandal by hiring a staff of married men to coach the women's basketball team? Because, of course, male coaches never have affairs with female athletes, so now the Lady Tigers can just play basketball and not worry about who they will have sex with and whether it will affect the starting line-up. Unfortunately, this peace of mind did not help sixth-ranked LSU yesterday, when they were shut down in the final minute by number seven, Rutgers, 45-43 on a hellacious steal by Matee Ajavon. Moral of the story: heterosexuality, or facades thereof, does not help you win basketball games.

Glad we got that settled. Now shop, shop, shop.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Radical Thanksgiving: the Top Ten Turkeys

Instead of giving thanks for my blessings today, which would be sweet, I know, I am going to be different and inaugurate the First Annual Radical Top Ten Turkeys in Education Awards on this Thanksgiving. Personally, I think this is only appropriate, since my Pilgrim forebears were turkeys too, and showed their thanks to the Indians who had brought several covered dishes to the first Thanksgiving by killing them afterwards. I don't mean to take the fun out of the holiday or anything, but you can't be in American Studies and not be up front about these things.

In order to build suspense, in true David Letterman style (hey -- if the writers for Letterman's show never come back maybe they'll hire me and I can move back to New York!) I will start listing from the ten spot, reserving my Big Turkey Award for last. So without further ado, the winners are:

10. KC and the Sunshine Band, whose persistence in harassing members of the Duke University faculty and anyone who is, or ever has been, associated with them (or who has commented inadvertently on the Legal Case That Will Not Be Mentioned Ever Again Lest We Say Something Terribly Wrong And Incite Them to More Hate Mail) has become so extreme that it has become a separate phenomenon from the original issue, now resolved (in court, at least.) Give up this obsession, people, and get on with your lives as everyone else connected with this case has done. And by the way, if you write New President about me the way the way you wrote my former President about me, from what I have observed so far I think he will probably give me a big raise.

9. Alan Dershowitz who, not content with employing his fine mind in support of torture, wrote an unsolicited letter that helped take down the tenure case of DePaul political science professor Norman Finklestein. Alan -- can you please tell us why someone at Harvard Law School cares who is tenured at DePaul in political science? Inquiring minds want to know. How about taking an interest in whether women and people of color are tenured at Harvard Law School, why don't you? Or whether your research assistants use quotation marks when they take notes?

8. Margaret Spellings, chief of the United States Department of Education, who knew students were being ripped off by student loan lenders and financial aid officers collaborating with each other, but did nothing about it until her hand was forced by a New York State investigation.

7. Bloggers like this one who have been feeding the very peculiar conspiracy theory that the Virginia Tech shooting was a plot, carried out by Blackwater, to cover up the brewing national financial aid scandal. According to this little-known truth teller, the shooter was studying quietly in his room, where he was assassinated and his corpse was moved to the scene of carnage. Yikes. What will the bastards do next? Shoot up innocent people in Baghdad?

6. The Massachusetts Department of Education, for threatening to withdraw funding from a conference on standardized testing in Northampton, MA, if Alfie Kohn, a critic of high stakes testing was permitted to give a keynote address. Why is it news now? Because Kohn sued them on first amendment grounds and won, that's why. Read about it here.

5. Washington D.C.'s Board of Education, for firing Gerald Norde from the charter school where he worked as a teacher. Norde charges he was dismissed for inquiring as to why students were being persistently listed on his class roll who had either dropped out or had never been enrolled at all. Guess why? So the school district could be billed for them, using money that was being siphoned away from public school children who are real and actually do attend school! One account of that controversy is here.

4. A joint Turkey award goes to the Philadelphia Board of Education and to Chris Whittle, founder and CEO of Edison, a for profit education corporation that takes over urban public schools and runs them into the ground while -- you guessed it -- siphoning off taxpayer money. This month Edison's stock price went through the floor, and to pay the bills Whittle removed books and equipment from the Edison schools in Philadelphia and sold them. For money. Whittle also proposes that each child enrolled in an Edison school be forced to work an hour a day without pay so that the schools can cut maintenance costs, thus making the corporation more efficient. Read about it here.

3. David Horowitz, for inventing "Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week," a national event featuring himself, that was supposedly an attempt to "rock...the nation" with "the biggest conservative campus protest ever." Topping the charts on the all-time biggest conservative protest nationwide would not be hard, of course, since conservative students -- being conservative, by nature -- tend not to be interested in rocking the nation. Name a) any mass conservative protest that has occurred on your campus (this requires lots of conservatives showing up at the same time, not just twenty or thirty); or b) any conservative protest at all on your campus that was not staged as a counter-demonstration. Actually, however, Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week was a not terribly successful strategy to get Horowitz back in the news after the 101 so-called radical academics named in his 2006 book failed to be upset enough about it to make it a cause celebre. Oh yes, rocking the nation with conservative protest was also a strategy to rock lecture fees into the pocket of at least one conservative. Who needs the security of tenure if you can be as financially successful as David Horowitz has been by making a profession out of criticizing people with tenure? I ask you. Would that I had thought of it first.

2. The Turkey for Unnecessary Incivility Towards a Person Who Does Not Matter goes to students who thought an appropriate response to David Horowitz speaking on their campus was to attempt to restrict his speech by booing, throwing things, and childishly turning their backs on him. For the unnecessary fodder this provided for right-wing attacks on academia, click here. Please. Go protest the war, as opposed to protesting people who say dumb things about the war.

And finally, the Radical's Top Turkey of the Year (for the Biggest Turkey in Education) is:

1. Whatever genius with a Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools who decided to label 1700 high schools nationwide "dropout factories." Now there is a small step for the future of university-based education research and a giant leap towards really supporting public school students in this country -- make kids ashamed of where they attend school! Particularly if the school you are naming is the best high school available in their district, and they couldn't transfer anywhere better if they wanted to! Nice work, dude. And I bet the study was federally funded too. I know about this terrific piece of research because some other genius at Wilbur Cross High School, in New Haven CT, where one of my nephews goes to school, decided it was a good idea to announce to the student body that the school had been listed last week as a "drop out factory." Thanks, guys. Maybe the kids will figure out how to persuade their parents to move out of New Haven and transfer them to another city system that is doing better like, say, Baltimore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gender, Schmender: Buying Miss Barbie

I just got off the phone with a woman friend whose daughter is having a birthday (note to the childless -- birthdays for those whose years number in single digits go on for days. If you are thinking about having a baby you need to know this.) The cupcakes that are going to school today came out of a box, but the cake for last Sunday's party, while it too came out of a box, was in the shape of a butterfly with multicolored icing. I thought this was a particularly grand gesture and said so.

Although she and her husband used a Williams-Sonoma butterfly cake mold, my friend admitted that the finished product was still a little sloppy around the edges, despite the fact that they both applied their many talents to it. I pointed out that it was the thought that counted, since the little girls were going to eat it anyway, and it was the pinkness and the sugar that really mattered at that age. (Whereas at our age, the cake would be the object of extensive critique, and probably a special issue of Social Text.) I suggested that she might want to try the ever-popular Volcano Cake one year, something a relative of mine makes for children which features a controlled explosion in the center. In this situation, neatness counts not only less, but not at all. However, as far as I know, the cake has only been tested on nephews, and the butterfly cake, despite a high degree of difficulty, was probably a better bet for a girly-girl party.

This led to the conversation all feminists have with their friends: how is it that many of their daughters wake up one day, refuse to wear anything but a pink dress, and insist that Barbie is a Goddess who must be worshipped by all?

"And then," my friend said,"I have to have the whole conversation about why we don't do Barbie."

"I support you completely," I said; "I would do the same thing with a daughter. Whereas boys are different. About this time ten years ago I was driving all over the state of Connecticut looking for Barbie's Mini-Van for my nephew."

"Absolutely," my friend agreed. "That would be completely different."

I hope this last point needs no explanation. Barbie is, indeed, the bane of many feminist mothers' existence, but there is good in everything, even if it is manufactured in China by labor that exists in a state of virtual peonage (which, by the way, I care about a lot, but Barbie doesn't give a hoot. Barbie accepts all servitude to her as natural and normal.) Barbie is the Original Drag Queen: she has Needs. And that Christmas ten years ago, she needed a Mini-Van. Why? Well, in the first place, all the other Barbies had one. But wait, I pointed out, dreading the trips from Toys R' Us to Toys R' Us, Barbie already had a Dream House, and her sister Skipper to do most of the housework, which she often did in the nude. Furthermore, Ken was constantly showing up asking for dates: sometimes it appeared that Ken's idea of a fun date included putting on Barbie's clothes and dancing with her, either standing up in the kitchen or doing a gentle, scissor-like bump and grind lying down. So with all this excitement at the Dream House, why did Barbie need a fully loaded Mini-Van too?

"How else will she get to the Mall?" my nephew, who was four at the time, pointed out.

Silly me. So Barbie's Mini-Van was located by Yours Truly in some corner of New England State even more godawful than the one I happened to be living in at the time, purchased and delivered as if by Magic. This process required the expenditure of vast amounts of petroleum since -- you need to know this if it is your first Holiday Season of toy buying -- there is no point in calling Toys R' Us in December. Or ever, for that matter. The phone in the store is never answered, and the store employees merely gather around it, watch it ring off the hook and try to guess what the person on the other end wants until it stops ringing and they can go back to smoking dope and playing cards.

Anyway, there was a happy outcome for all when the Mini-Van was revealed on Three Kings Day. Great joy reigned in Nephewville for whatever period of time that lurid plastic items are capable of giving pleasure to dolls and the boys that love them.

But the lesson we learned was that if you give Barbie wheels, you've also got to watch her like a hawk. A year or so after that Christmas, when neither the nephew or I were paying attention, Barbie and her entourage skipped town and have never been seen or heard from again. Rumor has it that Girlfriend loaded Ken, Pepper and pink outfits for all into her Mini-Van (Skipper grabbed a thong before decamping from the Dream House) and moved to Florida, where we are told that they are living happily ever after in Barbie's South Beach Dream Condo. Rumor has it they have started a retro-disco club called Dream Club Barbie, that features a mirror ball and standards from the pre-AIDS era like "Last Dance" and "It's Raining Men." Or maybe they're in LA, or the Castro. We're not sure. When my nephew is a little older, say eighteen, we're going to go and take a look for ourselves.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Would Jesus Do? Coping with Chrismukkah and Other Romish Plots

"Happy Holidays!" (Boo-hoo) "Happy Holidays!" (sniff-sniff!)

With this variation on a well-known lyric, the Radical gets ready to expound on a fraught subject for many: the inexorable approach of the holiday season. The Good News: Thanksgiving Break and it's five glorious days off will be here soon. The Bad News? The four subsequent weeks of holiday cheer.

In a town like Zenith, home to Zenith University, people have had plastic turkeys hanging from the trees in the front yard since they took down the fake cobwebs and ghosties on November 1. These are people who never seem to miss a chance to decorate. You have them in your town too -- they are perennial patrons of the Christmas Tree Shoppes, people who swooped in on December 26th, 2006, to purchase Blinky Santa on sale. These are the people who are really ready to rip down the plastic birds and get a full creche, with Kings sneaking around the side of the house, out on the lawn by Friday noon at the latest.

But you've got to think that many of them are probably decorating to stave off the rage and pain that some people feel so strongly that they have the opposite reaction: they are too depressed to even put out a napkin in December. And even if your feelings about the hols, like mine, are not negative but just ho-hum with the dollop of pleasure here and there, the whole buildup and non-climax can make the arrival of January 2 a true day for celebration.

You may, however, be someone who dreads the holidays for reasons that are not so mysterious: perhaps you are single, getting ready to trudge off to the 'rents in their Florida condo, and the holidays are a painful reminder that the world is made for families; you are involuntarily childless and every Chrismukkah (to cite a word just coined by my friend Mouse who, by the way has a spanking new site for her blog) causes you to pine for the toys you are not buying. Maybe you are actually in the family you want, a family of many or a family of one, and somehow, somewhere, you have just lost your grip on why everyone is supposed to have fun at Chrismukkah, given that it seems to only add to the obligation of being an overstressed, adult wage-earner.

"Stop!" you are shrieking. "Enough! I don't read your stupid blog to get more upset! Are you just going to pick scabs all day?"

No. Of course not. Calm down. Make a cup of tea. As usual, I will tell stories and give advice. The Radical is nothing if not predictable.

I always liked Chrismukkah a lot until I went to college, and I think I can point to two things that were a turning point in that initial year of serious intellectual work, the first of which suggests that "the holidays" may be structurally foredoomed if you are an academic. That semester my exams and final papers were not finished until almost Christmas eve, and I had misjudged the quantity of work I had to do in a way that I have more or less continued to do ever since. So I was working balls to the wall, not sleeping much, and only vaguely tracked it that there was a holiday coming at all. The other thing was, when I was tracking the holiday and my responsibilities to it, there was almost nowhere to shop for presents in Shoreline. There was the Oligarch bookstore (where many of my classmates bought Oligarch sweatshirts and shot glasses for their families -- no kidding), a famous record shop, and that was pretty much it. Festive, no?

Indeed, I think it is this business of having exams before Chrismukkah, since I more or less never left school, that overshadows the season. There are still too many papers and exams to fill days that could otherwise be spent baking cookies and getting drunk at office parties hosted by wealthy clients. (And besides, the only wealthy clients we have are students, who never invite us to parties because they are too busy studying and writing papers. What a vicious circle.) To add to that, somewhat later in life -- like ten years ago -- I began to care a great deal less about receiving presents (although I still like to give people presents) which I think is the inevitable outcome of both making enough money that I can buy what I want, combined with the fact that I pretty much have what I want -- a dog, a house, a car, a girlfriend, a decent job, a New President, a research account, a Mac, a successful blog and an iPod. So Chrismukkah comes with the added burden of people who love me asking me what I want. What I want, now that my basic needs have been addressed, are things that cost either nothing (a kiss) or thousands of dollars (go live in Paris during my next sabbatical, solar electricity panels) or are without price (world peace, an announcement by the AHA and/or Tom Bender that history is an interdisciplinary field after all.)

See what I mean? However, I have some ideas about holiday gifting that will keep me sane over the next four weeks, and I offer them to you.

1. Think of things people can give you that don't cost much money. For example, I am going to ask my sister for a photograph of herself. I know she has lots of them, as she is a performer. She has no money and I do not have a single picture of her worthy of framing. This will cost her approximately $1.50 in postage; around $16.50 if she adds an inexpensive frame. And I won't have to worry that she has spent money she doesn't have for something I don't really want.

2. N's cousin -- of whom I am very fond and who has very little cash and a nice life in the country -- started a practice several years back of telling people that if they must give her a present, they should choose something they already own that they think she would like and give it to her. Sometimes she does the same. Last year she gave us a jar of relish, made from zucchini she grew in her garden.

3. Last year a nephew of ours, who is a high-level executive in city government (where gifting can get completely out of hand) baked all his employees a loaf of french bread. This sends a signal, too, that they don't have to shower him with expensive gifts that could also, down the line for reasons impossible to anticipate, probably ensnare him in one of the city corruption scandals for which my state is famous.

5. Make a gift of your time to do something fun and free with someone for whom you would ordinarily buy a gift. This has the added attraction, if you are so inclined, of allowing you to re-acquaint yourself with feeling good during the holiday season, without committing to the Chrismukkah spirit itself, since there are lots of free events during December that are also holiday-ish. Think church music, concerts on the green, skating, or even a walk on the beach followed by lunch.

Now, since we all know that Hannukkah is kind of a low-level Jewish holiday that has been elevated to create equal opportunity consumption habits, can we admit that it is really Christmas that is the issue here? And I can only offer one powerful suggestion about what to do with The Day itself. Tell your relatives you are spending the holiday with friends, locate other people who are dreading the arrival of Our Savior as much as you are, and do what that famous Jew, Jesus, would do if he were actually walking the earth today: go out for Chinese food and a movie. Click here for a biblical rationale for why eating Chinese food "can only be a Romish plot to destroy God’s true faith." If that can't get you out to Empire Szechuan with a smile on your face on December 25, nothing can, my friend.

Start planning now so you have something to look forward to.

Mother of God. If things aren't difficult enough in this world, I clicked on University Diaries for my daily fix of bile and was told that "this URL cannot be found." Fortunately, I recovered my composure and googled UD, found it again, and recopied the link. The link to the left is now correct, although little different from the previous one. Our favorite curmudgeon is making some changes that are giving her minor league fits, and that may be what has undone the link somehow. Anyway: no matter. What was once lost is now found.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering Roy Rosenzweig

Some of you will recall a post that notified my little corner of the blogosphere of historian Roy Rosenzweig's premature death from cancer. Someone has done a lovely website that has all the information one might want, including the dates of memorials (December at George Mason University, March at the Organization of American Historians in New York), obituaries, and a feature that allows you to share a story about Roy. Click here.

Hat tip to MR, thesis writer extraordinaire.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Have You Ever Asked Yourself..." The Radical Celebrates Snarky Sunday

Why is History News Network's list of Top Young Historians "who are," according to the text accompanying the list "making their mark on the profession" overwhelmingly male? I mean, by 4-1? Now, the list of historians named as having made nominations of notable scholars is also overwhelmingly male (6-1, to be precise), although the accompanying text suggests that these names may only be representative of a larger group. One imagines that these nominations come in over the transom, and that HNN is not fully responsible for this apparent discrimination. But one also does not know.

Broad minded person that I am, and so loathe to blame my friends at HNN for this, that I have tried to think through the Top Ten Reasons for a gender discrepancy in this list of notables, a discrepancy that far outweighs the number of women actually employed as academic historians in the United States. To wit:

1. More men than women are nominating people for this list, and people tend to try to prop up the interests of their own gender.

2. Women nominate candidates, but their nominations are not terribly notable, so neither they or their nominations were listed.

3. Men generally engage in scholarly dialogue of various kinds with other men, and so they miss the notable scholarship published by women.

4. The work of men is, objectively speaking, more significant to the profession of history than the work of women.

5. Men think women are kind of dumb. Or generally dumber than men, with one or two exceptions.

6. Women are, in fact, not very smart.

7. Women are smart enough, but don't make the impact that men do on the rest of the historical profession.

8. Women are lazy and do not pay attention to getting female candidates named to lists of notables.

9. Women have better things to do than nominate people for these awards, whereas men do not, and men sit in their offices all day nominating each other.

10. Sexism.

Go figure, dear reader: and don't snap back that this feature is edited by a woman, ok? I know that. Furthermore, in the interests of full disclosure, let me say that HNN links Tenured Radical, both in its blogroll and in Ralph Luker's Cliopatra, which makes me feel notable, at least.

For ways of becoming informed on these, and other feminist issues in the historical profession, see Hesse et. al., The Report on the Hiring of Women and Minority Historians, written for the AHA; also an AHA report on gender equity by Lewis et. al. at the Committee for Women Historians (CWH), and the 2005 CWH document on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession, otherwise known as the Lunbeck Report.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Doctor Needs Advice: Office Hours

Those of you who have been following Tenured Radical since before the 2.0 edition may remember the day when I realized (with a hot bang) that I had written about matters close to my heart in such a way as to lead my students and colleagues to believe that they could, or thought they could, recognize themselves in my blog entries. One offended colleague even wrote a snarky comment accusing me of being unfit to blog because, in one post, I had split an infinitive (yes, people were that upset.) I can't guess in what department that person works. Can you?

Note: despite the difficult syntax, I did not conclude the penultimate sentence in the previous paragraph with a preposition. Ho ho ho. The grammarians aren't going to have me to kick around anymore.

So what I am about to say skates on thin ice, I am sure, but only because a great many students say and do the same things, not because I am actually reporting recent encounters with my current students. My question is this - and it is truly a question that seeks a constructive, rather than a student-blaming answer -- how do you get students to use the office hours that you have scheduled and publicized by every means that the university makes possible, rather than each student trying to make appointments randomly without regard to said schedule? And how do you get students to use the tools available to find out what your office hours are, as opposed to constantly writing emails (each of which requires a separate answer) to ask after your office hours as if they were a State Secret?

This is about to become urgent for me and, I suspect, for you too, dear reader. We are entering a heavy advising period at Zenith, as Spring Semester pre-registration is on the horizon. Furthermore, we are also at the point in the term where there is a need for a somewhat stepped-up number of conferences with students. Some of my students have academic issues that have snowballed; others want to know how to improve their work before it is too late. Some students need to check in for study abroad paperwork; others are trying to decide on a major in plenty of time to choose the right courses for spring. I will -- this weekend -- have to figure out when I will have expanded office hours and how expanded they will be. And I will send an email on Sunday or Monday saying what they are, I will post them on my door and then this will happen:

I will sit in my office reading for two and a half weeks, give or take a student here and there, and then seventy or eighty people will try to see me in a window of about 72 hours and/or try to make appointments when I can't possibly be there.

This is an extension of what always happens, but is less of an issue when there aren't so many official administrative duties to perform. To wit: regardless of the fact that my office hours are posted on my syllabus, on the History and American Studies websites, on the History and American Studies bulletin boards, on the class Black Board, on my faculty profile and in the group emails I send now and again to all majors, all advisees, and every student who is enrolled with me, I receive many emails that say something like.....

"Dear Professor Radical, When are your office hours?"
"Professor Radical: I come to your office but you are never there. When are your office hours?"
"Professor Radical: I am free tomorrow, Friday. I need to see you. What time will you be in your office?" (NB: I am never in my office on Friday.)
"Professor Radical, I wrote you last week/yesterday/last month -- when can I see you?"

That this happens every semester makes me think I must be doing something wrong. There are so many students and just one of me, so logic suggests it is my mistake and my problem to solve. But what is it that I am doing wrong here? I honestly do not know.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

How to Get to Carnegie Hall: Giving Good Paper

Well, not only is the conference season accelerating, but the job season is nigh and it is now time for the Radical to enter Advisory Mode once more with her: Guidelines for Giving Good Paper.

Before I do, however, let me say that I just finished giving a paper yesterday at the New England American Studies Association (NEASA) "Sex/Changes" conference, and had a good time, as I always do at NEASA. It is a small conference, convenient and such a good mix of people. By this last point I mean a conference of scholars drawn from a variety of institutions (and let me point to a particularly interesting conversation between me, a member of the Yale American Studies program, and a fellow from a branch campus of a state university about the consequences of the federal de-funding of education), but also graduate students and the occasional undergraduate. I went to a panel organized by undergrads on transgender issues on campus that I enjoyed immensely. I got to say hello to two Zenith alums, one a grad student, the other who might become one. Oddly, I did not see a single member of the faculty from the American Studies program at the Prestigious Ivy where the conference was held, but since I missed Day 1 going to New President's inauguration, let me hasten to say that my paticipation survey was by no means scientific.

But my point in mentioning NEASA is two-fold: one is that graduate students and young scholars might wish to think harder about participating in regional, rather than national, meetings. Regional associations were first created early in the twentieth century precisely because travel was so time consuming and expensive that many scholars simply could not afford to go to national meetings, much like graduate students and new tenure-line folk today. Indeed, a whole historical association, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, had this partly in mind at its founding moment in 1907, and also saw regionalism as the best way to encourage the attendance of working historians who were becoming more marginal to the American Historical Association: professors at Normal Schools, local historical society people, high school teachers, and so on. As one of my Zenith colleagues said to me, "It's such a relief to go to a conference without getting on a plane." Yes indeed: and cheaper too, particularly when you don't have to spend the night. But it's also smaller, and it means that there is more intimate conversation between graduate students and senior scholars. From my perspective, a young scholar is more likely to get noticed and have a real conversation about scholarship (as opposed to the thirty second "this is what my research is about" interjection) when I -- we -- are not trying to hook up with a grad school friend who now lives on the other coast, or a member of the association committee that has to get its work done before the business meeting that afternoon.

But I also mention it since the dual keynote represented two kinds of Good Paper: one, by Joanne Meyerowitz, was the "this is why we need to re-think a large historical problem that we thought we were done with, and this is how we might do that" variety. The other, by George Chauncey, was a piece of the second volume of his history of gay New York that was of the "this is what I thought I knew about closeting and coming out, but when I listened to the evidence, I learned something new" variety. These are both important, and distinct, genres of paper, although there are others (exercise: see how many you can list). The first kind of paper should send you home to re-think some of the classic texts in the field, and how re-thinking them could affect your own research; the second should pay sharper attention to the nuts and bolts of performing the task outlined in the first genre of paper in a specific piece of research, and ideally it should also make you eager to read the whole book. Which I am, in both cases.

A third thing I want to throw in the mix is that everything I have learned about giving Good Paper I have learned by observing other people give Good Paper, in particular Joan Scott. I am reminded of this, because I saw her cut down a hundred fifty page book to a forty minute talk last Wednesday, and it reminded me that Joan has several great virtues as a conference participant or an invited speaker: the quality of her work is always high; if she is overscheduled, you will never know it because she is always gracious in answering questions during the discussion time and after the event is over; and she never goes over the time limit allotted. Never. I will get to this below, but many years ago, she gave me her rule of thumb: two minutes per page, and for a conference paper, never more than twelve pages; preferably one less page. So with that, the Radical's Advice for Giving Good Paper.

1. Never exceed your share of the time for more than a minute or two; indicate that you are aware when you have hit the time limit; and reassure your audience that you are wrapping it up. If you are on a panel or a conference roundtable, it is just rude to use other people's time: it shows a deep lack of awareness and consideration for the people with whom you are supposed to be working cooperatively. It also shows a lack of planning. Importantly, it leaves less time for questions, which is often where a panel can get really fun for most of the people in the room -- your audience. It also helps you shine, Miss Graduate Student On The Market. Many people can competently present their own research, but fewer people can relate their own work to someone else's when put on the spot.

2. Reading really fast to make up for the fact that your paper is too long is not an option. People just stop listening. It is perfectly fine -- and often useful -- if you find that you have no more to cut, to stop in the midst of the paper and gracefully summarize what you have cut, offering to address it in the question period (for which you have just left time.)

3. Practice reading your paper ahead of time. This gives you an opportunity to iron out awkward syntax that looks alright on the page but doesn't sound alright at all; to time yourself; listen to whether a complicated piece of theorizing or analysis sounds like word salad to a listener (hint: recruit a listener!); and practice the mechanics of any audio visual material you plan to present. If you are an inexperienced paper giver, you will undoubtedly be seized with nerves at unexpected moments in your presentation, which can cause AV screwups that might not have happened if you had practiced talking and clicking computer keys at the same time.

4. Your paper should look like a script. It could be punctuated with instructions to yourself like "Breathe," "Pause Here," and bracketed sections that are titled in italics "Cut if needed," in case your timing is off. Once you become more skilled, you also might have something in brackets that says "Pause here to mention problem with archive." Stopping to tell a little story can refresh your audience and renew their desire to listen closely to an otherwise highly structured talk. The best paper givers also often "map" the presentation for their audience. OK fine, the words we often most want to hear are "In conclusion...." but that, I think, is in our DNA. Phrases like "As I will argue," "I hope to persuade you," and "I will make this argument in three parts (A,B,C)," when delivered in short, non-jargony sentences, help us frame a response to you that really addresses the meat of the presentation.

5. Look at your audience. Understandably, you are terrified that if you ever look up, you will lose your place, decompensate, and have to be carried out on a stretcher. So why not hold a pencil (which also gives you something to do with your hands) and make a big check at the place where you looked up? Of course, looking at your audience also means you have to be able to remember a sentence or two of your own words for the twenty seconds it requires to say them. Another reason to rehearse. But not only is there nothing sadder than listening to a paper that is literally being read, eyes glued to the paper, but if you are giving a job talk, those interviewing you will be thinking you are going to require a lot of work as a lecturer. Which is why you should also...

6. Display a sense of humor. Tell a funny story, say something amusing that happened during the research, or relate an odd misunderstanding that will get a laugh. Turn errors into an opportunity for a laugh. If you flub a word, or a sentence, rather than blushing, making a face that says "God, you must think I'm a dork," and rushing to correct yourself; pause, smile, and say -- if the error is some kind of Freudian slip -- "Well, wouldn't that be fun," or "Oh my goodness!" or "I'm sorry, I can't seem to read my own handwriting." But for Goddess's sake, don't encourage people to feel sorry for you.

7. Interact. This means catching the eye of people in the audience, and speaking directly to them. It means that if you don't go first on the panel, making a gracious connection to the speakers who have preceded you; or picking up on a theme of the keynote. It can mean thanking the people who invited you to campus (a must! and include the departmental secretary who made all the arrangements), or the person who put together the panel in the first place. It can also mean acknowledging people in the audience whose work will be referred to directly or indirectly in your paper, and it means acknowledging the expertise of others in the room when you make a brief reference to something in their line. For example, "I can't get into this point now, but of course this phenomenon has its origins in the Truman administration -- something the students of Professor Y who are in the room can probably speak to in the Q & A."

If there is any general principle that all of this falls into, I would say it is this: giving Good Paper relies on enhancing the comfort of everyone in the room, starting with yourself but not ending there; and conveying your research to people in ways they can understand and respond to. Having a good paper -- one that is intelligent and well-written, and conveys the new things about your work without couching them in a lot of unnecessary jargon or too much context that we are familiar with already -- is important. But presentation is also important, and it is a learned skill. Watch people who do it well and ask yourself why; ask those people questions about the choices they made; and, as the apocryphal New Yorker once advised about how to get Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice.

And while I am at it, here is more advice from Linda Kerber, another terrific speaker, courtesy of the Graduate History Society.


P.S. For clothing, I cannot help you. Like the late, great Johnny Cash, the Radical wears a black suit and often looks like she has just been beamed in from a 1950's lesbian bar. See above. For clothing hints that are actually useful, I would go to GayProf and Flavia. Haberdashery advice volunteers will also be accepted in the comments section.

P.S.2 I temporarily turned off anonymous comments to try to rid myself of spambots. I think they must be dangerous, although I don't know why except that they trigger a control issue I didn't know I had. Hat Tip to Dr. Virago for showing me how to fix this. I always wondered how people got those annoying little jumbled letters on the comments section.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Inauguration, New President

Tomorrow New President will be inaugurated. Oddly, although I have been at Zenith University for 16 years, and have "served under" (ahem) four Presidents, this is my first inauguration. When I first arrived at Zenith as a teeny-weeny untenured Radical, a mood of gloom had already settled over our campus. Our Methodist architecture can tend to give the impression of gloom anyway, even when we are not feeling gloomy. But this particular gloom had descended because the Bald President, at his inauguration the previous year, had said, "Let's not kid ourselves. This isn't a university. This is a college," or some such thing. Now, since he had come from Railroad Magnate U., one might assume he was simply being descriptive when he looked around and saw six brick buildings, fifty wood frame houses, some newly built concrete bunkers and a few hideous Bauhaus glass boxes and thought he saw a little liberal arts college, not a mighty university. It may be that he is one of the few college presidents to have been booed at his own inauguration. At any rate, after the students bombed him and he was ridden out of town on a Coke bottle, no one has ever made that mistake again.

Girl President had no inauguration: she was an interim appointment, and was then burned at the stake. Then along came the Big Guy, who became a special friend of mine, and was a big relief all around. I can't imagine why I missed his inauguration, but I think he must have said something like: "I will stop your precipitous slide into chaos, show you how to not constantly insult the wealthy so that you might help me raise pots of money, wipe that Railroad Man from your memory, build some big shiny buildings that will dispel gloom, and as a bonus I will liberate funds to hire new faculty." I think this is what he must have said because that's what he did, and I can vouch for the fact that he was a man who kept his word and paid his debts.

So what can we expect of New President, whose inauguration is tomorrow, and who the Radical will dress up in fancy purple robes and floppy hat with gold tassel to honor? Well here's a start, just announced on the Zenith web page:

"Beginning with the first-year class enrolling in the fall of 2008, most students whose total family incomes are $40,000 per year or less will receive an aid package that substitutes grants for any loan obligation. Beginning with the same class, all other students who receive aid will graduate with a four-year total loan indebtedness reduced by an average of 35 percent. Aid packages will include a single student loan, the federally subsidized Stafford Loan. The interest rates for Stafford Loans are among the lowest available."

You can read the whole story here, and if you are one of the six people who don't know what university Zenith is, now you will.

Needless to say, I am impressed: at the policy, at the commitment, and -- well, frankly, the panache. So happy inauguration, New President. Tomorrow is your day, and I hope you have a blast.