Sunday, June 29, 2008

Until Florida Is Free, None Of Us Is Free

One of the workshops at History Camp featured three wonderful young southern historians who are writing about late twentieth-century political mobilizations in the former Confederacy. A conversation which I love to have, with colleagues and with students, is: does the South still cohere as a region? If so, what is "regional" about it and -- given the vast emigration of black and white southerners to northern and western industrial cities in the twentieth century, what characteristics of the "south" are shared by other places? And to what extent does the contemporary South draw on its past for distinctiveness?

I thought of our conversation when I saw this story on the Associated Press wire, which describes an attack last night on city-owned vehicles in Orlando, Florida. Cars were sprayed with anti-Obama slogans such as "Obama smokes crack" and what the AP reporter described as "a racial epithet."

Funny the reporter did not consider "Obama smokes crack" to be a racial epithet.

At any rate, the other feature of this was that there were also anti-McCain slogans left by the vandals as well (on "business cards"); but cards were also left that indicated the damage had been done by disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters. And this all occurred hours after Clinton and Obama campaigned together for the first time.

Strange times we are living in, no? My first response was, "Don't forget that Florida is in the South," and by this I do not necessarily mean the racism alone. Clearly by including McCain in the attacks, the vandals intended, despite the use of racial epithets, to target Clinton (in the guise of "supporting" her) as both "racist" and "sexist." And we should not forget, as the reporters did in this story, that McCain was himself the target of racist leaflets in 2004, when activists either supported or inspired by the Bush reelection campaign there went after his adopted child as the "secret daughter" McCain had supposedly fathered with a black woman (what's wrong with a white man having a biracial daughter out of wedlock, you ask, and then taking her into his home? The short answer is that it's not the having, or the keeping of her, it's the telling of it that is a political and historical sin.)

The intent, as I understand it, is to foment explicitly racial and gendered antagonisms in the Democratic party, and to remind voters on the radical right that a vote against Obama is a vote for everything that white supremacy has and does stand for. I was thinking about the potential for this kind of attack while watching the Unity Event last night, since it is impossible for me to watch the news without going into historian mode. Clinton and Obama touched each other and embraced lightly now and then; they whispered intimately in each other's ears (which political candidates are inclined to do even, or especially, when of the same gender and/or race.) And this thing that was happening publicly between a black man and a white woman was like history hitting me smack in the face. That, my friends, is where Southern history still has us by the throat: that for some people, this image of a black man and a white woman together, whether in a political or an actual marriage, will be the image that has the power to mobilize irrational and dangerous rage. And it will be used.

So this is my response. I think we all have to commit to the principle that until racial violence masquerading as politics no longer happens in Florida, we are not free of it in the United States either. By this I wish to emphasize that those of us who live in places like, say New England, are quick to stigmatize places like Florida. But Connecticut had its Jim Crow too, and it still does: look at the difference between schools in New Haven and schools in Greenwich; the percentage of people who can and do vote in Bridgeport and those who can and do vote in Stamford, only a few miles down the road? I used to think about this during the Pennsylvania primary, when reporters talked about the vast "Alabama" between Pittsburgh and and Philadelphia: well, I don't know what Pennsylvania they were looking at, but when I was growing up in the Suburbs, for many black people, North and West Philadelphia were Birmingham. And just because they vote for Democrats in the wealthy suburbs now doesn't mean it isn't Alabama in some respects. Or Florida.

Perhaps it is because I am engrossed in Barbara Ransby's wonderful biography of Ella Baker, but I have to say, I do not think it is working for us not to talk publicly about race, particularly since when I am with groups of white people they are talking about it a lot, in both productive and scary ways. One white woman I have known for a while, a New Englander, repeated every single crazy lie all of us have heard about Obama ("How," I found myself stuttering in shock,"Can Obama be both a devoted parishioner of the Reverend Wright and a madrassah-educated Muslim simultaneously?") And why did she say these things to me, of all people? It was not until later that I recalled the context -- we were alone, two white women, in a private space where no one who was not "one of us" --as it were -- could overhear.

What we white people who have become, or have always been, Obama supporters must decide is: are we willing to break the racial contract of silence that has more or less held for years (witness our endless use of the euphemism the n-word as if somehow our white lips suddenly became unable to make those sounds after 1964)? And if so, how will we break the contract, without putting ourselves first, as we often have in other historical moments? Despite the fact that Obama would be wise to talk about race as little as possible, how do the rest of us, and particularly white women, pursue a specifically anti-racist agenda in this election season? And to what extent are we willing to take responsibility for the fact that if this is happening in Florida, it is being countenanced elsewhere?

Coda: click here for young white kids who are taking the name "Hussein" as an everyday act to eliminate the stigma right wing crazies have attached to it.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bulletin From the Archives

Part of my day at History Camp was spent in this archive. Longtime readers of Tenured Radical who know about my penchant for trouble making of various kinds may be less aware of my devotion to the more traditional scholarly practices that make up a historian's day: assembling the historiography, figuring out a timeline that can organize a chapter, and sifting through an archive to figure out (to put it in an oversimplified way) "what happened."

While at History Camp I, and historians who spanned an age range of about 35 or 40 years, had some conversations about how much has changed about the nuts and bolts of doing research over the course of our lifetimes. Most of this has to do with digital and other technologies, and some of it only applies to people working on the recent past. Aside from the obvious things -- such as the death of the index card and the typewriter -- here are a few that occurred to us:

1. Cheaper xeroxing. This has had mixed effects. There was a while, starting in the 1980's, where being able to go into an archive to xerox everything you wanted was a great advance (at least for historians of modern periods who had a research budget) over the time when you had to take notes on everything, hope you had gotten it right and that your hands didn't give out, and then go back to the archive -- not just to check citations, but to check the quote and its context. The invention of personal suitcase-sized xerox machines was one solution that a few historians went to early on; then newer, faster office copying machines made duplicating all of your documents and sitting down with them in a more thoughtful way at home a more dominant mode. It made sense economically too, because the money you spent on xeroxing was a fraction of what you might spend on making a second trip or extending the one you were on for a second or third week. But one might make an argument for the possibility of better intellectual practices too. Cheaper xeroxing meant moving through a collection faster, which sounds less thoughtful, unless you take into account the advantages of having a facsimile of the whole document in your hands so that when you sat down to write you could read it all over again, reconsider it, and think it through in relation to the larger body of research. Now, that is changing again. Many archives have made copying more expensive, or limited the pages one can take away, because of heightened awareness of the stress all this activity, by multiple scholars, has on paper collections. Basically, every time a document is touched, picked up, put down, exposed to heat or light, it limits its life to some small degree. Archives are beginning to respond to this by allowing researchers to take pictures of documents with a digital camera, although many prohibit the use of flashes.

2. Wireless internet. Those with unmedicated ADD may be ambivalent about this, since the tendency to check email constantly can slow you down in an archive as it can anywhere else. On the other hand, you can look people up on the web when you don't know who they are, and search the collection you are in from your seat. When you find a reference to an important book, or an article that was in a book, you can log on to ABE, an online used and rare bookseller, see if you can come up with a copy for cheap, and order it immediately. Often, if you are working with ephemera of publications from marginal politics groups (feminists, movement conservatives) you can come up with a good, working copy of a book or mass-distributed pamphlet for a dollar or so, plus postage. And it's cheaper than xeroxing it! Eureka!

3. Email. This speeds up the planning for a research trip immeasurably, as well as facilitating any permissions that may be necessary. Guess what? We used to write archivists actual letters, on paper, which we would put in envelopes, stamp, and put in the post box. Then they would consult finding aids and write back, and so on, and so on. Now you send an email, and they write back -- often the same day, and sending a finding aid by document attachment if it isn't already posted to the web.

Collections that have been scanned and put on line. Need I say more? It hasn't exactly made microfilm obsolete (particularly at cash-poor archives like state and local historical societies, and many universities) but eventually it will, and certainly the capacity to just put documents on your desktop from archival web pages has speeded up the acquisition and the reading of many collections. This is also true of a lot of mass-distributed print culture that is now available on the web. Caveat: one topic of discussion at a history camp breakfast was that searchable data bases for newspapers and magazines often mean that one reads a story completely out of the context. In other words, without the surrounding stories, advertisements and ephemera that a reader would have ordinarily seen while reading the article, you may not have a sense of cultural context, or be able to think more broadly about the interpretive world that these ideas call into being. And this can be true of documents too -- some of the best insights I have had about how a document was understood by the recipient have been from penciled notes in the margins. These tend not to be legible, or even there, depending on how the document was reproduced.

So you would think, given all this, that we would write books faster than we do, wouldn't you? But we don't, because they still haven't figured out a way for digital technologies to reduce the number of committees we are on.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Tenured Radical is Offered An Oral History Methodology Tutorial

Today at history camp I had a wonderful conversation with a person famous in some radical activist circles starting in about 1965, a woman who is now almost seventy, very pretty, with graying hair, a keen mind and a gentle expression. Part way through the conversation I asked whether I could talk with her at some point about the many interviews I want to do for a book that engages radical feminism in the 1970's and '80's. Since my first book was about Violent Criminals, some of whom were alive but refused to be interviewed (one said she was afraid she might be arrested again, and this was about sixty years later) I know that there are both ethical standards outlined by the Oral History Association that one must adhere to, and there are circumstances in which one needs to be doubly thoughtful about being responsible to participants in an oral history project.

"I realize," I said, "that FBI surveillance, and the constant fear of arrest back then must make people very wary of being interviewed, even to this day. And of course, recalling divisive struggles within feminism may be something people are reluctant to do because they will also have to recall the pain of those struggles. I mean," I babbled on, intending to show how thoughtful and professional I intended to be, "As I understand it from other historians, a lot of people are still really traumatized by the FBI raids that surrounded the search for New Left fugitives, and the ways their communities were violated and torn apart by suspicion. And I wonder," I continued, "given that they have been hurt by outsiders in the past, if you could give me advice on how best to approach people."

There was a moment of silence. "Well," said my new radical acquaintance said, "You should tell them to get over it."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Radical Goes to History Camp

Many years ago, when I first started rowing, I experienced this phenomenon where it gave me -- and my fellow novices -- the greatest pleasure to learn to row, and then to to talk about rowing all the time. We would go to talks at Zenith, and then later at the post-talk reception we would talk about rowing; we would go to dinner at each other's houses, and other guests would silently push a pea around the plate while we talked about rowing; and it got so bad that when we walked into a room at Zenith, people would say things like, "Oh, here comes the rowing team." We just thought they were silly. At the end of the summer, we all headed up to the Master's Nationals in Syracuse, and agreed that it would be such a relief to talk about rowing all week without people interrupting us.

Well, I now get it that probably had something to do with endorphins, and talking about rowing kicked off something in our brains that made us feel good. So why, since I have been a historian for nigh on twenty-five years, am I so jazzed up to be at history camp up at the Schlesinger Library, talking about, listening to, or researching United States history after 1968? About twelve hours a day?

I don't know -- but it sure feels good. Thank you, Nancy Cott.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Historypalooza! Maryland Attic Gives Up Its Treasures, Journalist Goofs

The Associated Press reports that:

a Maryland family's massive collection of letters, maps and printed bills has surfaced in the attic of a former plantation, providing a firsthand account of life from the 1660s through World War II.

"Historians are used to dealing with political records and military documents," said Adam Goodheart, a history professor at nearby Washington College. "But what they aren't used to is political letters and military documents kept right alongside bills for laundry or directions for building a washing machine."
A picture of Adam decorates this post.

The papers will eventually go to the Maryland State Archives. Head archivist Edward Papenfuse notes that:

The collection also includes notes on an aspect of slavery historians know little about: the practice of renting slave labor to neighbors and plantations farther south.

"Scholars have not paid a great deal of attention to it, but this is something that helps recreate and draw back together the lives of these people who were considered chattel," Papenfuse said.

This is very exciting, particularly for those most immediately involved, but it also points to two interesting popular misperceptions about the historical profession.

One, pointing to Goodheart's comment (which was undoubtedly more complex) is that established archives primarily concern military matters and the formal political sphere, that documents from which we write social and cultural history are few and far between, and that such evidence is unlikely to be found in the collections normally used to write "traditional history." That has never been so, particularly in Southern history, but really in any field, so I find this a rather shocking little piece of misinformation. The selective quotation of Goodheart also suggests that writing about an entire world, and not just those things recorded by Great Ones, will be a real breakthrough for historians. Also not true, not since before Ulrich B. Phillips mailed all those burlap bags full of antebellum plantation documents back to Yale prior to World War I as agricultural freight (see the work of John David Smith if you want to know more about collecting and archival practices among this generation of professional historians, particularly An Old Creed for the New South: Proslavery Ideology and Historiography, 1865-1918. And a book soon to be finished by me.)

The other misperception, and we are going to assume Papenfuse was also taken out of context by this journalist on the history beat, is that if it is not general knowledge that slaves were rentable property, scholars must not be aware of it either. Also not so: for the last two decades at least the complexity of slavery as an economic arrangement has been a major focus of new work, and that includes a lot of research on how enslaved people were hired out or permitted to hire themselves out. Slave narratives, and the WPA oral histories also routinely refer to these arrangements. I cannot help but think that what Papenfuse must have meant was that Maryland, as well as other states in what Barbara Jean Fields has famously called "the middle ground" (we might include Delaware and New Jersey here, but Maryland is a special case because the mix of slave and free labor had settled into a unique system, and it did not elect to stay in the Union without some pretty dramatic persuasion) are greatly understudied and that this new archive might bring scholars who study slavery back to Maryland.

Which would be right. It will, thank heaven. Congratulations, Marylanders: the graduate students are on their way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different: Save The Earth Instead of Working On Your Book

Tired of throwing away bags of unused, unopened catalogues every week? Tired of wondering when the unending cycle of wasted paper will bring us to our knees as a culture? Tired of getting mail addressed to "Mr. Potter," just because you ordered a men's shirt from Eddie Bauer six years ago? Tired of working on your book????

I was.

Have you asked yourself, "What can I do to stop this horrible waste of our earth's resources? Should I even carry them back to my recycling pile, or should I leave a bag permanently by the front door so I can just walk them out the curb on trash day? Should I make an appointment for transgender surgery so that my sex and my catalogue salutation will be the same? Does anyone really buy electric nose hair clippers, and would they be useful in a department meeting? Should I break my manuscript up into three or four articles, return the books to the library, wipe my hard drive and throw the rest of the damn thing away?"

I have thought such things.

Then I discovered: Catalogue Choice!

Yes, you have catalogue choice. You can log on, set up an account, and day by day, as these useless catalogues come in the door, you can take them up to your study and instead of having sad thoughts about landfills and your scholarship, you can log in every hour or so and have Catalogue Choice expunge your address from a merchant's files. For free.

Offer not valid in Canada, Ukraine, North Korea or Myanmar. Cookies may be deposited on your computer to subscribe you to another set of catalogues altogether. Offer not valid for graduate students desperate to finish the dissertation before taking a job September 1.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What Would Natalie Zemon Davis Do? A Few Meditations on Women's History and Women in History

How might Natalie Davis have responded to the recent flap-a-roonie sparked by an obscure English blogger? With dignity, humor and razor sharp intelligence, that's how.

At Cliopatria, Ralph Luker has chided said blogger for ducking in and out of a fight he started. Speaking from experience, I would say that new bloggers do make mistakes, although I'm not sure that Rusticus would agree he made one. He may be uncertain, though. The posts and the blog itself go down periodically, only to reappear with the same ideas, sometimes framed differently, but sometimes not. For a brief period Mercurius Rusticus was up but closed to all but invited guests, perhaps because a group of female Picts waving scythes and staves (and I might add, only recently have Picts, male or female, been welcome in the profession at all because they are prone to such behavior) had gathered outside his office. With this I sympathize: I had a Pict problem myself a while back, and it took months to untangle.

Luker, my colleague and fellow Cliopatrician, notes that this discussion is:

a missed opportunity, because underlying MR's bitterness and snark were some issues that ought be discussed: 1) in what ways, if any, has the growth of women's history broadened and deepened our understanding of history? 2) has its growth drained resources from other fields of historical inquiry and negatively affected the careers of male historians? and 3) person for person, have female historians been as productive as their male counterparts? (I have heard the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese make the argument that they have not.)

I might add to Ralph's observation that Betsy, as her intimates called this intelligent, accomplished and hard-edged scholar, also lost a lot of friends (men and women) not because she became a neocon in her final years (which she did) but because such opinions had little basis in fact and seemed only designed for self-promotion. But Ralph's point about a missed opportunity echoes a question, asked by a certain Mouse: "would you consider doing a post on some of what you consider to be the highlights of achievements by women historians, and/or in gender history, in the past few years? Why does the Berkshire conference matter?"

Well, it would take too long to really do it right, but let me give it a shot.

Let me begin by turning to Davis, who answered questions about her own innovations in the field in a 1988 AHR Forum. It is one of the most lucid essays I have ever read, and responds to Robert Finlay's counter-reading of Davis's path-breaking interpretations of well-known evidence in The Return of Martin Guerre, a foundational work in the fields of early modern history and women's history. I -- and others in my department, male and female - teach Martin Guerre and the subsequent debate for two reasons. One is because Davis is able to demonstrate, by telling a story, a methodological approach to recovering history that then illuminates so many other aspects of the world in which it is situated. This is something that historians of earlier periods do so well, and since most of our students go on to do modern, or even recent, history as majors, it is a good opportunity to make them aware of some basic rules, and debates, over the nature of evidence. But in doing so, Davis also uncovers a story about how women who lived in a world governed by fathers, brothers and husbands made choices that allowed them to survive and prosper. And she points to the importance of understanding communities as places where various hierarchicies of power, whether gender, age, or status, were not fixed but negotiated through the actions and choices of individuals. In other words, not only does Davis "recover" the story of a woman, one principal task of women's history, she uses that as a path to recover a better history of men, and to illuminate what it meant to be human in a particular world.

My point is that illuminating what it means to be human is what women's history does, but as it happens, humans come in different bodies that engage universalisms (for example, what it means to be "human") differently. By including the "other humans" -- whether those other humans are women, slaves, workers, colonized subjects, children, the common soldier, or what have you -- historians working on the so-called margins illuminate the world of the humans who have traditionally been at the center of historical research. Women's history is part of that task. And women are more likely to do it than men at present, although that is less and less true.

But the other thing that the Davis-Finlay exchange demonstrates is how to argue in a civilized way. Of course, they had editors, and bloggers don't. But Finlay avoids an error that some historians, young and old, would do well to contemplate: do not use a machine gun when a .22, carefully aimed, will do; and be respectful of other people's achievements even when you question their findings. Similarly, Davis avoids an error by not over-arguing or becoming defensive; and by illuminating a point of genuine disagreement about scholarly method while elaborating on why she thinks she is right.

I'd like to come back to this question of history's focus on "being human" (although historians of the environment and other non-human fields might have something to say about this, since things have a history at the same time as that history can't be disentangled from the history of human thought about them.) But "being human" is not just a vacant (or as feminist scholar Ann Snitow would say, "unmarked") category that allows us to go on and assemble "the facts" in a neutral way. History has always been highly (perhaps too) attendant to and embedded in nationalism. And let's look at the role race has played in historical writing -- whether we are talking about the long historiography of Atlantic World slavery, colonialism and various forms of conquest; the Anglo-Saxonism and regionalism of early United States and English historians; or the efforts to locate the origins of modern nation-states in long, pre-modern pseudo-racial histories. And of course, we might also point to the long-standing ignorance by historians of politics that occurred outside the formal political sphere that has now fortunately been relieved.

So one might say that "women's history," and the history of gender that emerged from it, is no different from any of the projects that have sought to mark unmarked categories, except that it was brought into the university by women. And, more properly by feminists. As a field that, in its professionalized form was inherently attached to the bodies of women who struggled against prejudice, "women's history" challenged and changed history in three important ways: by fighting for the recognition of female practitioners as scholars and professionals; by allowing historians as a group to simply know more by extending professional archival practices to the history of women; and by changing what historians knew about major historical transformations such as industrialization, war, emancipation, and state formation. But women, disproportionate to their numbers and often working to support a great man (can we say "Michelet?") have dramatically influenced what counts as history, and that is part of what they celebrate and perpetuate when they gather. For a useful introduction to this, and to the ways that historians' wives were a hidden part of the publishing enterprise, see Bonnie Smith's long publishing record, and particularly The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.)

Those not interested in the history of "women" might yet attend usefully to the fields that this history has created in its wake, principally studies of maleness, and masculinity; and to fields previously unmarked by gender. War and international relations are two related fields that, in today's world, we might usefully revisit. Drew Faust's books on the Civil War (companion volumes really, if you read her work chronologically from beginning to end), skillfully deploy what Joan Scott famously called "gender as a category of analysis" to ask fresh questions about an historical event that is perhaps more thoroughly excavated than any other, certainly in American history. And scholars like Patricia Hill, Leila J. Rupp and other scholars influenced by the history of women and of feminist thought, male and female, have asked new questions about the history of foreign policy, still mostly male-dominated.

I could go on, but I won't: as I said, never over argue, and know that you are losing your audience in the blogosphere for every additional paragraph you write. But as to why the Berkshire Conference matters: well, that's a longer story, but I have some human responses to that. One is that, while male scholars have historically valorized independence and objectivity, it is simply the case that often through participation in professional organizations, men formed networks that excluded women for decades, and that those networks sustained their scholarship and marginalized the scholarship of women as not "good enough." For an example of this, which I will make a subject of another post, see Deborah Gray White's new collection, Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, which details the struggle to establish the history of black women as a field, and the struggle of black women to establish themselves as inherently worthy of consideration as intellectuals by men (black and white) and often other women (white.) And as we all know, Deborah Gray White wrote the first book ever about African-American women in slavery, having been told repeatedly that there was no history to write. Sensibly, she wondered how that could be and the rest was -- well, history.

One of the themes that leaps out of the collection is how professional organizations put otherwise isolated black women in contact with each other, to exchange work, initiate collaborative research, and mentor each other. Professional organizations always matter and, as many of the methodological panels at the Berks underlined, they help us review the field, figure out where it is fraying at the edges, and guide us either backwards to scholarship we need to reconsider or forward to the next stage of our inquiry.

But I would close with two points: contemporary feminist organizations are not about the "exclusion of men," nor is women's and gender history surviving because its numerous critics have been mysteriously silenced. It has gained the purchase it has in the profession because it persuades and corrects. Indeed, in this way I am a great believer in the market. Scholars and educated readers buy, teach, and read the books that persuade them. When women pried their way into the academy (which often meant prying themselves out of full-time mother- and wifehood first), despite discrimination, they prospered. And they prospered principally because men -- who still overwhelmingly dominate the profession and at least in the United States get jobs out of proportion to the percentage of men who earn Ph.D.'s - were persuaded, and continue to be persuaded. They taught us, mentored us, voted for our tenure, put us on editorial boards, elected us president of national organizations and so on. Whatever struggles women still face, we are here to stay, and in all fields.

Cross posted at Cliopatria

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

News Flash: Feminist Bookstore is Not Dead Yet!

I have been alerted by Plain(s) Feminist that Amazon Bookstore, of Minneapolis, MN, which was slated to go out of business due to the general demise of independent book selling, will stay open after all! "I was just at Amazon this afternoon, and - they are not closing!" PF writes. "Two longtime customers are buying the store, so it will remain open."

Next goal: progressives occupy the White House!

This great feminist institution will survive after all, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of community members who have made a leap of faith. So to celebrate, go visit them and buy a book.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

As Catharine MacKinnon Would Say, "Are Women Human?"

A blogger who goes under the pseudonym of Mercurius Rusticus has taken it into his head to declare the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians (as well as all fields of study related to women rather than "humans") marginal, faddish and irrelevant: read about it here. The passage where he heaps scorn on this trendy organization (that first convened in 1930 as a small group of women responding to male exclusion from the professional activities of the AHA, and which held its first major conference in 1973), has been called to our attention by a post at Cliopatria (and folks, it's a news item, not an endorsement, so if you do visit, do me a favor and don't trash the messenger.) Rusticus writes:

"It is difficult to think of anything more depressing than a conference of female historians or more irrelevant to the future of the discipline of history. None of these figures has ever appeared in any work on early modern history that I have ever read or is likely to figure on any reading list I see. Historians are and should be concerned with the past of humanity, with men and women, old and young alike: being female is not a prerequisite for such studies and women's history like the histories of gender, sexuality and the family is a transient, ephemeral phenomenon."

I guess I have two responses to this. The first is, "Jane, you ignorant slut." The other is, if women historians in large groups depress you, seek treatment. Also, you need to read more -- like, a lot more.

But instead of visiting Miss Mary Rusticus to express outrage, dig this: it's really great that women historians, not to mention historians of women, gender and sexuality, are so well established that -- although our intellectual concerns do sometimes make us the object of derision by people who know very little about what we do -- such a comment appears to be a transparent attempt by a new blogger to get some attention. And it's also really great that many of us, whatever our trials may be, have a lot of good allies, colleagues and intellectual companions who are women and men and who support our work and use it to inform theirs.

Okay Rusticus -- you got our attention: now write something interesting that tells us something about what you do know.

And as for the women historians of early modern history, who also write about women, gender, and the family, if you want to start your reading, I have three words for you:


Monday, June 16, 2008

Here Come the Brides: Only 48 More States To Go

Despite the Radical's lack of conviction that marriage will deliver the goods when it comes to equal rights (or eternal happiness for that matter), no ideology prevents me from acknowledging that today is an historic day in California. Gay marriage is legal, thanks to the dedicated efforts of a vast number of people who have organized stubbornly for decades, and to the California Supreme Court. To quote from the decision, which goes into effect at 5:00 today little late for the eastern news cycle, but smack on for the Central and Pacific time zones):

In defending the constitutionality of the current statutory scheme, the Attorney General of California maintains that even if the constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution applies to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples, this right should not be understood as requiring the Legislature to designate a couple’s official family relationship by the term “marriage,” as opposed to some other nomenclature. The Attorney General, observing that fundamental constitutional rights generally are defined by substance rather than by form, reasonsthat so long as the state affords a couple all of the constitutionally protected substantive incidents of marriage, the state does not violate the couple’s constitutional right to marry simply by assigning their official relationship a name other than marriage. Because the Attorney General maintains that California’s current domestic partnership legislation affords same-sex couples all of the core substantive rights that plausibly may be guaranteed to an individual or couple as elements of the fundamental state constitutional right to marry, the Attorney General concludes that the current California statutory scheme relating to marriage and domestic partnership does not violate the fundamental constitutional right to marry embodied in the California Constitution.

We need not decide in this case whether the name “marriage” is invariably a core element of the state constitutional right to marry so that the state would violate a couple’s constitutional right even if — perhaps in order to emphasize and clarify that this civil institution is distinct from the religious institution of marriage — the state were to assign a name other than marriage as the official designation of the formal family relationship for all couples. Under the current statutes, the state has not revised the name of the official family relationship for all couples, but rather has drawn a distinction between the name for the official family relationship of opposite-sex couples (marriage) and that for same-sex couples (domestic partnership). One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple’s right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of “marriage” exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples such equal dignity and respect. We therefore conclude that although the provisions of the current domestic partnership legislation afford same-sex couples most of the substantive elements embodied in the constitutional right to marry, the current California statutes nonetheless must be viewed as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution.

As I understand it, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon will lead things off, as they did in February, 2004. Next up: a decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court, probably this summer. And now that all those progressive California organizers have time on their hands, can we start on universal health care?

Note: Picture at left was downloaded after the most famous lesbians in the United States put on the old ball and chain today -- again! Mayor Gavin Newsome is in attendance. Do you think it will last?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day 1 at the Berks: Let the Receptions Begin

Today was reception after reception after reception, since most of the action doesn't start until tomorrow. We were received at 4:00 by Feminist Studies, where longtime editor Claire Moses stood up on a table and recounted for all of us the history of the journal and the history of the journal's presence at the Berkshire Conference: it went on for a while, and occasionally the babble of the crowd would get too loud and someone would tell everyone to hush so we could listen to Claire's speech. Part of what was being said on my side of the room was several of us realizing that we had had our first articles published in FS. So lost was I in that nostalgic moment that I admit I didn't hear much of the rest, except that the editors have very beautiful notebooks with designs from old FS issues on them that they are selling at the conference. They are also making the entire run of FS available on the internet, which is very fabulous. Part of the talking problem is that Thursday evening at the Berks is always more or less where people find each other, confirm dates for later in the weekend, say hello, exchange information about their vital signs, how many parents they have left and whether they got tenure/a job/married/pregnant/a book contract.

Claire was still up on the table when I left. I was more than anxious as to how she would get down, because I know I wouldn't be able to get down from a high table with my knees in the shape they are, so I beetled off to the Town Hall Beer garden with my entourage instead and left the worrying to others.

After dinner, there was a plenary on "The Changing (?) Status of Women in the Historical Profession." Can we say "glass ceiling?" I won't recount the details, but suffice to say that the Radical ran into the author of the AHA's Lunbeck report at registration earlier in the day, and she didn't plan to report good developments in the three years since her findings were published. And I am not so sure that the issue is entirely a question of women being hired, but rather what the conditions of labor are after you are hired. Practically every woman I talked to over the age of 45 -- including the author of the Lunbeck Report -- was either serving as a department chair, or getting ready to serve as a chair, or doing some other administrative job.

But there is some good news, news that I have known about for a while. A group of scholars associated with the Berkshire Conference have organized in the past several months to collect a rather large sum of money to endow an article prize named for Mary Maples Dunn, godmother to the Radical (true), colonial historian and authority on William Penn, former professor of History at Bryn Mawr College, former President of Smith, former Director of the Schlesinger Library, former acting Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, and -- with her husband Richard Dunn -- former co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society. The endowment was announced at the end of the panel and -- astonishingly, since it was all over the internet and many people had given money, including my mother, who was Mary's grad school roommate at Bryn Mawr, hence the godmother thing) -- the secret had been successfully kept from Mary! This is because, as she explained to me, she does not spend her time reading everything available on her computer screen as I do. The fundraisers were all over the various early American listserves and networks so the jig would have been up if Mary were a blogger. At the dessert reception afterwards (co-sponsored by the Berks, the Coordinating Council of Women Historians, the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, and the Western Association of Women's Historians) she was still a little bowled over and very happy.

Finally -- before bed -- because an old graduate school buddy is running that committee, I also know who won the Berks annual article prize. But that would be telling, wouldn't it? Come to the opening ceremony and keynote tomorrow at Ted Mann Concert Hall to find out.

Crossposted at Cliopatria.

Berkshire Conference: The Radical Registers

After a rough day in the archives of the University of Minnesota Women's Studies program (eight boxes in five hours -- do I rock or what?) where I ran into Berks secretary Laura Lovett, I floated over to Registration in Willey Hall Atrium, where things are working like clockwork. There I ran into Historiann and one of her program co-chairs, Susan Amussen, who tells me that she has just been appointed a full professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at UC-Merced.

This is, of course, the Radical's life goal: to get a job in a Warm Place before she retires.

In the Berks registration packet, there is sad news for feminists everywhere: the oldest independent feminist bookstore in North America, the Twin Cities' Amazon Bookstore Cooperative is having a going out of business sale: read about it here. Of the many virtually unwritten histories of feminism and GLBT life is the story of bookstores as cultural and political sites, for feminists and for GLBTQ communities. Any takers out there?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Long Day's Journey Into Minneapolis: A Pre-Berkshire Conference Review

Why am I always going to Minneapolis? We are talking five times in the last twelve months, all for different reasons. And why is my travel karma so bad that I am once again hanging out in an airport, delayed for three hours, and wrecking my afternoon plans for a bonus trip to the archives? Is it because of Minneapolis, or is it because the United States is, in general, so screwed up that we have become the Soviet Union of the twenty-first century? Or is it just Northwest Airlines? If it is NWA, then at least they had the grace to apologize: I am in possession of twenty dollars worth of free food coupons, a coupon for an in-flight drink of my choice, a coupon for $25.00 off my next trip on Northwest (fat chance -- oops! I'm going to Minneapolis again in July!); and a coupon for $1,000 free airmiles.

So good on you, Northwest. When was the last time any of us got a coupon from George W. Bush, much less an apology for the illegal war in Iraq and an economy that is in a Humpty-Dumpty type situation? I didn't even get the stinking $600 tax rebate because, as a college professor, I'm too rich! Well, yay. I'm working on too thin this morning. With my first NWA coupon I purchased a fruit cup instead of the more tempting, and perhaps near-lethal in its fat and sugar content, Cinnabon.

In any case, I am on my way to the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, where there is much fun to be had (here's the right link, Historiann: the WiFi connection is so feeble here in the airport that I can barely save, much less surf the net, but I figure I owe it to you because you guys put together such a great program.) Part of the fun will be be my roundtable: look for Tenured Radical to be appearing with Leslie Harris, Barbara Balliet, Jocelyn Olcott and Donna Gabaccia. It's Saturday at 4:00, and we will be discussing the current state of feminist theory and the practice of history. If you don't want to come see me, come see them. But Tenured Radical readers are commanded to introduce themselves at any and all opportunities, particularly if they are pseudonymous bloggers who wish to reveal themselves in the strictest confidence.

Never been to the Berks before? Here are answers to a few commonly asked questions:

Is the Berkshire Conference run by a small group of people who constitute "The Little Berks," and who hold meetings every year in cute little inns?


Is this group exclusive?

No. Consider yourself invited to the fall meeting if you are a member. Become a member if you are not. One or both of these acts will get you appointed to either the book prize or the article prize committee if you aren't paying attention. I swear. After that, your rise in the organization will be swift.

What happens if I come to the spring meeting of the Little Berks and find a trillium?

Traditionally, the rest of us buy you a bourbon.

Did Professor Kathi Kern really get a Ph.D. from NYU?

No, she did not; because of family circumstances, she was forced to attend the University of Pennsylvania. However, at a moment in time when the New York University mafia was rising in the organization, it adopted her as a provisional NYU alum, intellectual companion and fashion advisor. She is in part responsible for who we are today, and so she became a made woman after the appropriate rituals were completed.

What are these rituals?

If I told you, I would have to kill you.

Did a certain Tenured Radical once jump into the swimming pool fully-clothed after a particularly boisterous Saurday night Berkshire Conference dinner?

No, I removed my cowboy boots first. However, seconds before hitting the water, I realized that I had failed to remove my glasses, which I was unable to find at the bottom of the pool because -- I can't see without my glasses! Fortunately, a colleague from Rutgers was able to point to them with the pool net while laughing uncontrollably, and I was able to retrieve them after several dives.

Is there a tri-annual get-together for Estelle Freedman's graduate students at the Berkshire Conference?

Yes, usually at the Saturday night dinner, although since I am not one of them, I can't say for sure where it is for 2008. If I can get hold of one of the group pictures this year, I will publish it (with their permission, of course.) It is perhaps one of the most concrete evidence of the success of women in history, and the history of women, that there is. So send me one at tenured*dot*radical*at* gmail*dot*com, and it will go up next week.

Is this the only conference with a dance?

Yes, we think so. Can you imagine all those guys at the Society for the History of American Foreign Relations dancing with each other? I thought not, although it would certainly change the public perception of the historical profession if they did.

Now I'm off to get a sandwich with one of my other coupons......see you there! Eventually.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Why Is It So Hard to Write in This Neighborhood?

Well, the proximity to my television set -- where an entire season of The Tudors, recorded when I had no time to watch it, doesn't help. But that's not something we can send to our friends at the Neighborhood Block Watch, is it?

And it isn't the heat, because we put in the air conditioners yesterday.

No -- the reason it is so hard to write in this neighborhood is our latest petty crime: siphoning gas. Not so petty, if you think about it, with gas in Shoreline topping $4.20 a gallon in some places. And sometimes, when those who need the gas more than we do pop the tank cover, the car alarm goes off. More considerate thieves are simply drilling a hole in the gas tank, thus bypassing the alarm system, but risking self immolation. I'm also pretty sure that the car exploding in the driveway won't do the house much good.

The only thing that will ensure safety and the quiet atmosphere necessary to write, I think, is to simply leave a can of gas at the end of the sidewalk for whomever needs it.

Historians! Come On Down

When I saw the headline for this story in today's New York Times ("Now Professors Get Their Star Rankings Too"), I immediately assumed it was another article about the Radical's least favorite marketing tool disguised as a consumer advocate for students. But no: it was about the Social Science Research Network, a site that can be joined for free and where research -- refereed and self-published -- is distributed. According to author Noam Cohen, SSRN has been around since 1994, and the downloadable documents "include pensees, abstracts, informal arguments, rough drafts and working papers, up to the finished products you might find in academic journals." There is also a page that lists the site's top authors, although the owners say that producing stars is not one of their main objectives. Yet rankings there are, and we bloggers do particularly well, shamelessly self-promoting individuals as we tend to be, since we helpfully provide links to our work whenever possible.

But where are the historians at SSRN?

Although one might legitimately dispute whether history is a social science (I prefer to think of it as an interdisciplinary field rather than a discipline myself), history is not represented on the site's index as a searchable network, although historians may be hiding in some of the other categories. English and American literature, Classics and Philosophy are represented, however, and they are not social sciences at all.

So what's the deal history colleagues? It's rare that we find ourselves to be outpaced by Philosophy and Classics in the creation of audiences -- and by our friends in English Departments too! Despite the claims of conservative pundits that literary scholars are rotting the academy from inside out while the rest of us stand helplessly by and watch, they have a harder time getting published, finding full-time employment, and being taken as seriously as they should be as public intellectuals than virtually any other category of scholar (except perhaps philosophers and classicists -- new translation of the Iliad, anyone?)

Other than the fact that these three fields are under siege and have nothing to lose (as well as everything to gain) by trying to reach a mass audience, my favorite theory as to why we historians have fallen behind in seeking out a broader readership is that historians have a particularly vexed relationship to the popular. On the one hand, the masses as well as the classes often pursue history as a leisure activity and a hobby, which makes it possible for a few historians to distribute their work far more broadly than other scholars can. David McCullough, Jill Lepore, and Jonathan Spence, for example, reach a national market with their scholarship, in part because educated readers love history and in part because they are great writers with an eye for a story that needs to be told. On the other hand, how many times, dear history colleagues, have you seen a group of otherwise sensible people turn up their noses at the information that a forthcoming scholarly work will appear under the imprint of a quality commercial publisher that most authors -- nay, those with the upturned noses -- would kill to have a contract, much less a check and marketing plan, from? Vile commerce is perceived by us as inherently suspect, and we ensure scholarly virtue through a refereeing process that controls distribution of work, delays projects for years and ensures that the manuscript will only speak to a narrow audience. An insistence that the only good work has been heavily vetted through our current refereeing practices may be a mistake, much as soliciting the criticisms of others does contribute to producing good work (although it doesn't always, I'm afraid, as cases where flawed research has slipped through to publication or to a prize demonstrates.) In its current form, it may be a fetish that is doing us more harm than good, and may be something that our professional associations need to review to take advantage of an atmosphere of intellectual vigor offered by electronic and other forms of mass publication.

Crossposted at Cliopatria

Saturday, June 07, 2008

What To Do When Surrounded By the Patriarchy? Or, Rethinking Conference Hell

A reader who I will descriptively dub "Feminist Guy" (as sie has not given permission to use hir name) writes:

Dear TR:

Thanks for the post on AHA tips and tricks--- the AHA has been one of the major Old Boys' Clubs, but feminists (female and otherwise) have found their own ways to network there, and this is a great development. But there are still plenty of smaller subfield conferences where this isn't the case -- with attendance being dramatically tilted towards Old White Straight Guys. (In fact, I'm attending one as we speak--- let's call it Little Patriarchy Conference.) If you've never been to a particular conference before, you might not even realize this imbalance until you're already checked
into the hotel.

What's a junior, feminist-trained scholar to do when blindsided by a conference like this? How can/should women who find themselves at LPC react, and how do they/we build connections or scholarly community in an alienating environment? How can/should feminist guys work to undermine or counteract the patriarchal social dynamics of LPC? When at LPC, surrounded by senior scholars who don't use gender, race, and class as basic analytical methods, how do you know when to yank their testicles and when to save your breath? Most importantly, how does one find the pre/post-conference-day feminist network-and-critique sessions that must be going on somewhere?

Sadly, I'm sure that LPC 2008 won't be the last example of this sort of event. Thanks for any suggestions you can provide about how to handle the next one.

Dear Feminist Guy,

Well -- my first response is utterly churlish, which I acknowledge because you are a delightful person and limited contact suggests we will be friends despite my age and your youth: if you were where I think you were when you sent this question, what conference did you think you were signing on to when you decided to attend a meeting sponsored by a history association formed by a pair of notorious lapsed Marxist neo-cons, one of whom became explicitly anti-feminist in her old age? A couple who formed said association because they thought the American Historical Association had pandered to liberals long enough? I'm not saying this prominent power couple weren't smart and important, but progressive they had ceased to be, and the association has become, for the time being at least, a refuge for others in despair that political history will every recover from the discovery of race, gender and sexuality as categories of analysis.

Now this is not to say that one should only go to the places where like-minded people can be found; quite the opposite in fact. I would argue, for example, that a variety of politicized conflicts I have gotten into in the blogosphere have put me in dialogue (however difficult dialogue sometimes is to achieve with people who are trying to toss you under the nearest bus) with conservative academics and conservative non-academics, dialogue that has opened new paths for thought as I continue work on a project about late twentieth century politics. Dialogue with the patriarchy forces you to explain yourself. It can be fun, productive and sometimes produce moments of recognition with a person unlike yourself that can be thought provoking. This doesn't address the complexity of what you are describing, or the complexity of the intellectual interventions you are committed to, but consider it a bracketed plea for the benefits of intellectual difference, even when the people you are dealing with seem to be noxiously unreconstructed. I wouldn't recommend an unrelieved diet of it by any means, but two or three days a year is something to really take advantage of in my book. And really -- consider it training for engaging with your conservative students, many of whom will not be persuaded by your intellectual commitments but might be persuaded to engage constructuvely with you.

I would also say that one can often be surprised in a good way as organizations change over time and as your self-confidence grows: several years ago I gave a paper at the Southern Historical Association annual meeting, and found it to be a very different environment than the one I had experienced a decade earlier. There were more African-American scholars than at any other history conference I had been to; there were three queer panels; there was a fair amount of interdisciplinary work; and there was a lot of mingling between constituencies. At one queer panel I realized beatedly that I had sat down next to Eminent Elderly White Patriarchal Political History Man (with whom I had interviewed a great many years before when on the job market.) After reintroducing myself, I said, "EWPPHM, what are you doing here?" and he said brightly, "Well, I don't know anything about this field and I thought I should attend the panel."

In retrospect, I would say two things: the Southern has always had a progressive element that was somewhat obscure to me at an earlier stage of my career, so I think part of feeling less out of place was that I was older, more established and felt more secure in my capacity to recognize allies and engage differences on an equal basis. But I also think the Southern changed: as an organization, it made a huge effort to recruit more diverse scholars over time, and that was a process that was at least begun by people who were very much in the minority when they began that project. And they found each other by challenging themselves to go to the conference in the first place.

Finally, although I empathize with your sense of alienation, I think it is important to be where you are in any academic environment, even one that collides with things you believe very deeply as a feminist. It isn't always your responsibility to make interventions, and it isn't always necessary. If it is an environment that you are wedded to -- a department, for example -- you will need to decide what you are willing to invest in change, when that enhances your work, and when (as it unfortunately can) such efforts sap your energy and hinder your work. But I think listening to others rather than forcing them to listen to you is a good start for finding allies at a conference; I also think that making an intervention in a way that represents what you are opposing accurately and non-judgementally both notifies others that you are listening (and should be listened to) and allows potential allies who are impressed by you to want to be associated with you. But let me underline the following: allies can be found among the patriarchy too, even if those alliances are limited by inevitable disagreements. I have found over the past year that some people with whom I have had bitter political disagreements are extraordinarily likeable, often generous, people; and I have found over the course of a career that many scholars who don't privilege the intellectual categories I think are crucial can be good readers and interesting colleagues.

For the post to which this reader is referring, "The AHA for Dummies," click here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Return of the Radical: A Few Announcements

Well, vacation's over. That's the bad news. The good news is: vacation is about to begin! Yes, that time of year for which we all gave up the big bucks has arrived, the summer vacation. Of course, if you have an administrative job or two, as I do, there are always things to take care of over the summer: new faculty to get settled, post-docs to welcome, reports to write, searches to plan for, staff to oversee, budgets to finagle -- er, I mean close. But this time of year calls to mind why many of us chose this profession in the first place: intensive reading, whole days to spend writing, imagining the classes we will teach in the fall with perfect students in them who have not yet misunderstood us or done anything weird that takes days to unravel. And did I mention the reading?

I have a few things to do before leaving for the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, which is meeting in Minneapolis June 12-15, so I plan to get back into the swing of blogging slowly: when I was in France, I wrote in a journal like I used to do before I blogged, and shifting back is peculiarly difficult. But I'd like to take the time to establish a few things that my readers can expect from Tenured Radical in the immediate future.

I will be blogging the Berks, and everything will be crossposted at Cliopatria. However, normal blog rules apply: I won't write about anything that isn't already public, and I will assume everything said to me is in confidence unless I am told otherwise. In return, please do not pester me with your desire to be reassured that I am not revealing your secrets. Other than the blogger ethic, you have two assurances that I will not write anything that is overly snide, critical or revealing while blogging the conference. One is my relationship with Ralph Luker, the coordinator and conscience of Cliopatria: every blogger needs an imaginary editor in hir head, and Ralph is mine. The other assurance is that, having finished watching the first season of Gossip Girl on the plane (God I love the video iPod!) I am reminded of that maxim taught so well by example in the Zenith History Department: secrets are more valuable and precious when kept. This allows for the possibility of deploying them at strategic moments - or better yet, creating a lasting, if cynical, bond with another person by continuing to keep them.

Just kidding. You know you love me. xoxo.

I am reading for the American Historical Association's Beveridge and Dunning Prizes this summer. This is public information, but I thought I should remind my readers of this anyway, because my normal reticence about commenting on what I am reading will increase. Despite the fact that I will be reading dozens of books published in 2007, the widget to the left, "Tenured Radical is Reading," will only feature books published before or after this seminal year. I am too jet lagged still to know why I think this is ethical, but I do.

This summer I will begin to accept, and answer, questions from the reading public. This is not normally something I do, despite my penchant for giving unasked for advice, in part because Dean Dad does it so well -- why compete with a clear leader in the field? But mostly I don't answer people's questions because of a peculiar and perverse personality trait I have: if someone asks me to do something specific it becomes a disincentive to do it, and I often don't. Hence that people have sent me good questions in the past and they have languished in my In Box. Conversely, when someone writes an utterly ridiculous and nasty anonymous comment I growl silently, "Game on, Anonymous 3:11!" and plunge into a pointless quarrel with someone I don't know. Other than the lack of vacations, this was yet another good reason why I couldn't become a lawyer: they would be hauling my client off to jail, and I would still be outside arguing with the security guard about my Swiss Army knife and the Second Amendment.

However intelligent people continue to ask me good questions. I have one sitting in my gmail account now that is perfect for next week's conference. Particularly in a summer where much of my creativity has to go into that boring old publish on paper thing, now is the time to begin taking advantage of other people's creativity if you ask me. So if you have a question for the blog, send it by email, and I'll do what I can.

Oh yeah -- and as for the commenter who noted acidly that I was going to Paris rather than sub-Saharan Africa on vacation: why would anyone -- radical or not -- vacation in a war zone rife with starvation, poverty, disease, and violent, free-booting militias who cut off your hands and feet? And what is the Harry Potter thing about? If only I were a wizard -- but alas, I am not. That's the other side of the family -- I'm one of the boring Potters.