Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Side Are You On? The Politics of History (Meetings)

Today on Cliopatria, Ralph Luker asks about the state of the field panel on conservatism that occurred last Friday, Day 2 of the OAH Annual Meeting:

How could a panel on the state of the study of recent American conservatism not include a conservative historian? Donald Critchlow, for example, should have been there to respond to Rick Perlstein's criticism. I've seen this happen again and again at our conventions: major panels dealing with major issues and there's not a dime's worth of difference in what or the ways the panelists think about them.

As a Cliopatrician myself, I thought I would move the conversation about this over here so as not to risk detracting attention from other interesting posts that went up on Cliopatria today, or the rest of Ralph's excellent column. You never know when a flurry of sock puppets will arrive to berate either Ralph or myself -- sometimes they go after both of us together!! But I thought Ralph's view deserved a response all the same, and perhaps he will join me over here to elaborate on his original remark and respond to my thoughts on it.

Now I was not on the program committee, so I have nothing to defend here. But I was at that panel and -- perhaps I missed something -- but the views expressed on Friday at 10:30 were not in the least homogenous. Every commenter had something quite different to say and given how vast the new literature on 20th century American conservatism has become, the conversation focused on where new work needs to be done, not criticism of existing work or derision towards self-identified conservative scholars. I also don't recall Donald Critchlow being singled out for criticism by Rick Perlstein or anyone else, although this I am less sure of, since illness now clouds my memory. Looking at Rick Shenkman's videos of the Perlstein remarks might cause me to correct this view. And there was a gracious and pointed critique of a liberal blind spot in the historical literature, thanks to Angela Dillard. Her remarks on the failure of historians to take Black conservatism into account as part of the postwar political party realignment were right on. The fact that conservatives like Condoleeza Rice, Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas and Colin Powell are generally perceived as exceptions to the African-American liberal consensus, and dupes working against the best interests of "their people," can be traced to political investments of the kind Ralph thought someone like Critchlow might have addressed. This, she argued, was not only an important insight into critical gaps in the history of conservatism, but an important lens into the investment African-American history as a field, and liberal historians more generally, have had in a vision of black Americans as working class insurgent Democrats. It also pleased me that in the general discussion she spoke at length about a new, ground-breaking dissertation on African-American Republicans after 1964, because the Zenith history department has just hired the author of this dissertation, Leah Wright, in a joint appointment with African-American Studies.

All of the people on the panel were quite complex thinkers in their own right, and if none of them identifies as "a conservative intellectual," I'm honestly not sure why it matters as long as people are complex and critical thinkers. For example, I saw the chair of said panel, Nancy MacLean, responding to a roundtable on her book at another conference last fall. One scholar in the audience had suggested obliquely that the book, which is critical of unions that failed to admit women or blacks to their membership rolls until they were mandated to do so under the law, neglects to emphasize the damage lawsuits filed by excluded workers did to the status and fiscal stability of the union movement more generally. Nancy replied somewhat tartly to the effect that perhaps the unions who had to pay for their sins should have thought of that before they persisted in discriminating against women and minorities. Not your standard liberal union-loving, leftist equivocator in my book.

And as for the panel itself, it stuck out in my mind for a number of things. One was Joe Crespino's utter graciousness in acknowledging the work of other people, and how it had contributed to his own scholarship. People have told me Joe is smart and a lovely person, and it is really true: his grasp of the current state of the literature is also, I can say as someone currently embedded in it, unbelievably comprehensive and included a broad swath of scholars several of whom were conservatives. Another was Perlstein saying that he had gotten something wrong in his earlier work by making ideological assumptions about something he was told that he now thinks he ought to have sourced better and re-thought. What I do not recall is anyone going on at length about what a terrible scholar Donald Critchlow was, to the point that he -- or any other self-identified conservative intellectual -- needed to be called upon for a cogent defense of the right-wing brotherhood.

But the thought -- "Gee, where is Donald Critchlow, or someone like Donald Critchlow?" -- did not occur to me for two other reasons as well. One is, I happen to like Critchlow's work although I think all his books could use a good hard edit. I think The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control In Historical Perspective is a fine, and distinctly non-ideological piece of scholarship, and while I know the Phyllis Schlafly book has been criticized as an insider account, that wouldn't be my issue. I think it's too long and a little light on analysis, but it's a damn good book -- and it's the best and most authoritative account of her life to date. This leads me to my second reason for not missing a conservative like Critchlow: I didn't know that Donald Critchlow was a self-identified conservative intellectual. Okay, go ahead and laugh. But it's true.

But here's my real question: why is this the kind of identity politics we would want to support anyway, particularly on a state of the field panel? Such a panel is supposed to take account of what has been written and what is left to be written, not what the ideological credentials of the people in the field are.

The picture, by the way, is of the C-Span History Bus that was parked in the exhibit. How did they get that sucker to the fourth floor?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Patriarchal Equilibrium Anyone? Judith Bennett Responds

Over at Notorious Ph.D., Judith Bennett caps off Women's History Month and the the blogfest on History Matters with this wonderful rejoinder.

I'm still recovering from the flux, as well as five days away from my various desks, so I don't have anything smart to say in response. But who needs to be smart when Judith Bennett is around? And girlfriend, you are darn tootin' -- 58 is not the older generation -- not from a Radical perspective, at least. Daughters of the '50's in solidarity forever -- not to mention thanks for being a good sport and coming out to play.

Please note: there is a new widget to the left entitled "Farmer Radical's Garden News" which will be periodically updated with various newsflashes about local food. Although I have gardened since I came to Zenith lo these many years back, if Alice Waters and Michelle Obama want raising food to be a national project, dammit, I'm in.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

OAH Throw -- Er, I Mean --Wrap-Up

The OAH is over, and Your Favorite Radical is in the Detroit Airport making use of a Boingo Hotspot (I love Boingo.) Historiann and I have so much in common, but now we have one more thing in common: we were both violently ill in Seattle. So, Mr. Gayprof, though we did not have your input for the world domination plot (your role will be revealed in due course) at least you did not catch our disease. Historiann initially believed that she would be forever remembered as Typhoid Historiann, since two people she ate with came down with this horrid disease. But after further research (she is an intrepid researcher), she discovered that many people came down with it, people who neither of us even know, much less eat with. She now suspects norovirus, a gastrointestinal disease that typical thrives in a closed environment. Like a cruise ship, or a history conference.

That's why they call her Dr. Historiann.

Anyway, it caused me to miss nearly everything on Saturday, except a terrific state of the field panel on school desegregation. My memory on this is foggy but: are the numerous state of the field panels a new thing at the OAH? Because every one I went to was stellar, and if you paired it with another panel in which people were giving papers about new research (such as the Grassroots Conservatism panel and the State of the Field panel on conservatism that I paired on Friday morning), it was an altogether satisfying experience.

Unfortunately, after the school desegregation panel I began to get violent chills. On the way down the escalator, John D'Emilio waved to me as he rode in the opposite direction and called out: "Are you going to the queer history state of the field panel?" and I wanted to respond, "No, I'm going back to the hotel to cover up with as many blankets as I can find!" But that was too complicated, so I just said "No!"

I missed the Mary Ryan talk (can anyone else report on this?) at the women's history lunch, and slept feverishly and fitfully until mid-afternoon, when I had to roust myself to go back to the convention center and cancel an appointment with an editor. On the way back, I stopped downstairs at a cafe to buy a Coke, the traditional remedy for routine stomach problems in Mexico, and got in line at the slowest cashier's desk in the whole convention center. If you were at this conference, you know the one I mean. And if you were there when I was you really know the one I mean, because no sooner had I paid than it was clear to me that I was going to yerp immediately. In seconds. It's a terrible feeling.

And with the instincts of a fighter pilot I made my decision. Three feet away I spotted a garbage can with a large hole in the side, just big enough for my head. You've got it: in front of what could only have been a horrified group of historians, I stuck my head in the trash can and was noisily, violently ill.

As I emerged from the comforting darkness of the waste bin, I said to the people around me, "I am so, so sorry." I heard one person whisper, "Well, poor you."


Friday, March 27, 2009

Deaths in the Family: John Hope Franklin and The Book

There are two deaths being remarked upon at this year's meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The first is the eminent scholar of African American history John Hope Franklin, who died earlier this week at 94. Read about it on the American Historical Association Blog, where I got this lovely picture and you will find links to several major obituaries. Franklin's scholarly significance to the profession was of a level most of us can only dream of, but it is also worth remembering that he began his career in a time that few African-Americans were admitted to study for the Ph.D. Those who succeeded in obtaining a university appointment often faced enormous hurdles in their careers because of segregation: not being admitted to the conference hotel, not being able to eat on site or, in some cases attend professional functions where food and drink were served because of Jim Crow laws designed to prevent mixed race socializing.

The second "death" being discussed widely here at the OAH is that the University of Michigan Press has thrown in the towel when it comes to words on paper, and will henceforth exist as a digital publishing company. See Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik Farewell to the Printed Monograph; and Scott McLemee, also of Inside Higher Ed, in a follow-up piece.

There are Chicken Littles out there who see this as the beginning of the end for books as we know it, and I doubt that is true. I am on the side of making lemonade from these lemons. You don't have to be sitting on a book prize committee, as I am, where you see the best of what has been published, to know that there are a great many volumes published each year whose audience is highly specialized. Many of these volumes, I am sure, barely break even if that. Most don't even make it into many book stores, in part because the runs are small and the books expensive, and in part because getting to the people who will read them is hard (how many medievalists work at your university? Live in your community?) Amazon.com, widely excoriated as having contributed to the death of the independent bookstore, has been a boon to academic publishing because it serves this important function. Might the expansion of digital also hold more promise than danger too? At least for some fields?

One question that this economic crisis ought to provoke is: if we believe that the importance of what we do transcends vulgar markets, should any forms of scholarly publication be held hostage to market forces, dominant university curricula, or even --as my right wing readers would put it -- "intellectual fads"? For my money, digital publishing could be a boon to some fields, particularly those where sales have fallen off in the past decade but which still constitute critical fields of study. In addition, scholars who rely heavily on a cultural archive -- images, music -- may find that digital publishing allows them to bring a new kind of "book" to their audiences that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. Many presses are now asking for subventions to publish photographs and reproductions and, while I have known several scholars who have included DVDs in books that use a musical archive, the fact that it is not widespread suggests to me that this is also an expensive option and not one that is workable for libraries. I also know more than one author publishing in queer studies who has been asked to remove sexual images from a book, not because they will be offensive to that book's audience, but because they are offensive to the printer in Tennessee, Indonesia or what have you. Serious thought about making images available on line that either link to a book or are part of the digital edition would be a step forward in this area. Finally, more digitally published books and more freedom to access them would also help us in the classroom, where many of us have to shape our reading lists to take the reality of limited student budgets into account.

Hell, we might even sell more books if they could be obtained at less expense. Tiffany scholarship at Walmart prices!

But historians -- let's not stay as behind the curve as we are on this. The major historical associations need to create a joint task force which includes editors from the major presses. This task force would create a set of guidelines for scholarship that conforms to this emerging publishing genre. Scholars need to think seriously about what digital publishing brings to their work, but also what its pitfalls are; and we need to have a firm statement so that scholars coming up for tenure with digital work will not be perceived having turned to a second-best option after having "failed" to publish a "real book." While the recession has made digital publishing a reality for the University of Michigan (and I suspect others will follow), this has been on the horizon for a long time and we are sadly behind schedule when it comes to adjusting to an important new reality.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seattle Confidential: Thursday at the OAH

Day One at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting is done, and much has been accomplished. The Radical got to bed way too late last night, having drunk far too much wine. I suspected by the time I arose at 6:30 AM that there was a hangover on the way, something I have not experienced for a very long time. Those who have known me since forever will chuckle knowingly. A few of you will even recall those evenings, back at Oligarch in the 1970s, when my roommate and I would cap off an evening of drinking by howling Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" at the top of our lungs as the pre-med who lived upstairs, Irish-American snub nose glued firmly to the grindstone, would weep with frustration. When it was clear that her tears only moved us to greater paroxysms of derision, she would send this lovely man downstairs to reason with us, and when that failed, in desperation, she would send his roommate, this dear friend of mine. So there is more than one reason I try not to fall into the hands of Demon Rum, and hangovers are but one of them. Can you imagine how unpopular this behavior would be in the Sheraton?

Anyway, where was I? Everyone is agreeing that it seems like a smaller conference than usual this year. Whether people have cancelled appearances (a few have, but for all the ordinary reasons), or whether a lot of people who would normally come without having a panel to present on, comment on or chair are staying home and saving their money is not clear. But everyone is discussing on what seems to be a recessionary attendance figure. "It's a very long expensive trip," one Eastern scholar said to me helpfully. Well yes, but not for those who live in the West, and the Midwestern people would not be deterred by distance in any case, since it takes them approximately the same amount of time to get everywhere.

But many people are here. Last night, after returning from a long, pleasant evening with relatives who plied me with a number of excellent bottles of Walla Walla wine, I was heading for the elevators when I ran into UC-Davis's incomparable Clarence Walker, formerly of Zenith. Clarence insisted that I return to the bar with him to have a glass of champagne. You are never too old to accept mentoring, that's what I say. In fact, earlier in the day I had actually gone out of my way to seek mentoring. As I was chatting with Phil Deloria in the Detroit airport, he was suddenly awarded a seat in first class. Upon arrival in Seattle, he leaped off the plane fresh as a daisy and explained, as I had my legs professionally straightened, that he was signed up as a Silver member of an airline club. Wondering why no senior colleague has ever advised me to do this, I got on it straight away and also became a Starwood Preferred Member when I checked in at the Sheraton.

After my panel this morning, where I had the pleasure of meeting Beveridge book prize winner Scott Kurashige for the first time, I met up with your heroine and mine, Historiann. We strolled a few blocks to a restaurant in the Pike Street Market called the Athenian Inn. (Note: breakfast was also in the Pike Street Market, at Lowell's, with Leslie Harris. I'm recommending the blueberry pancakes, although Leslie's scrambled eggs with salmon looked pretty good. Both Lowell's and the Athenian look out over the water and are very restful, particularly if there is a low-level ache extending from behind your ears and wrapping itself like a snake around your forehead.)

Historiann and I were seated in the bar, and over several mugs of local beer, chowder, and a double plate of ice-cold, shucked Pacific oysters, we solved most of the problems our profession presents and put the finishing touches on our plan to control the world. We noted that just across the street there was a 24 hour strip show, and that it has an amateur night on Wednesday, which we had missed due to poor scheduling the night before. But we agreed that it was probably best that amateur strip night had not coincided with the arrival of the majority of our colleagues, since you never know when a scholar will throw caution to the winds and try to build a new career Riding the Pole. Historiann also helpfully searched her purse and came up with two Advil which, along with the food and the beer, allowed me to face an afternoon of shopping, a swim in the hotel pool, and the Opening Night Reception. From there it was a burst of inspiration that took me to Chinatown for dinner, and then home to bed, avoiding the hotel bar altogether.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Radical Travel: To The OAH Annual Meeting and Beyond

I hope to be filing regular updates from the Seattle Sheraton Hotel over the next five days during the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. So far the trip has been uneventful. In other words, I am still in Big Regional Airport, but my plane appears to be on time and Dunkin' Donuts was not out of cinnamon raisin bagels. The only glitch was mine. Coming through security it appeared, for an unpleasant few minutes, that I had lost my driver's license in between the desk where I had presented it for examination and the station where luggage is searched and X-rayed. Clearly I would make my plane in plenty of time, but returning from Seattle without identification could be an issue. As I frantically rifled my pockets and waved people ahead of me, the TSA guard on duty snarled, "Move along!"

"I can't," I explained. "I seem to have lost my identification."

"Well, what do you expect me to do about it," she snapped, even more unpleasantly. Ummm, nothing, I thought irritably, realizing that this was one of those moments where a response in kind could end in a strip search and a missed plane. Just then a voice from behind me whispered, "Well, it looks like Girlfriend missed the courtesy training. Can I help you?" It was a lovely gay boy in the uniform of a Northwest Airlines flight attendant, who helped me go through everything methodically until the missing ID appeared. I realize that many of you will think this is a coincidence, but in fact it is evidence for what both queer people and the Christian Right know: that We Are Everywhere, We Recognize Each Other, and We Come To Each Other's Assistance. This is a true fact.

But back to the OAH. Those who wish to see the Radical in scholarly mode should present themselves tomorrow at 10:30 at her panel, and probably at the blogging panel as well where I may, in fact, contribute to the event by live blogging it if the hotel internet connection permits. Otherwise, the usual rules apply: readers are commanded to identify themselves at any and all opportunities.


Dateline, Detroit Airport, 11:21 AM I used to avoid the Detroit airport like the plague, and of course now it is impossible to do so since you can't get a direct flight to the West Coast from Big Regional. But in my absence, this facility has been transformed. Forget running down the concourse like a maniac: not only have they installed moving sidewalks, but there is a lovely electric air tram. Gone are the moldy carpets of my youth, replaced by stainless steel and polished floors. Gone the cruddy little news stands, replaced by Borders (two on the A concourse alone), massage bars, wine shops and lovely restaurants. OK, not lovely perhaps, but not all McDonalds and Chilis Too. I am blogging from a Jose Cuervo Tequilaria: briefly considered a marguerita, but decided that beginning to drink before you even get to the OAH is probably the beginning of the Road to Hell.

While the shopping in Detroit is not quite as nice as in, say, Minneapolis or Philadelphia, there are a few nice stores, including several where you can buy sports gear that reference the many college and professional teams of Michigan. Note to self: if Margaret Soltan started receiving D-I tee shirts anonymously from airports around the country, how long would it take her to figure out that it was me?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Readers Take Note: More on Judith Bennett's History Matters

The Judith Bennett Roundtable continues over at Blogenspiel where Another Damned Medievalist chimes in on History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Annals of the Second Great Depression: Looking On The Bright Side

It's time to sing the end-of-spring-vacation-blues. What would normally be a happy day -- Friday, with two long weekend days ahead -- is a sad day, with only two days left before we go back to work. Of course, yours truly will work for exactly two days, and then fly to Seattle for the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting. The theme this year is "History Without Boundaries:" yeah, baby. Don't fence the Radical in. Historiann and I already have a meet-up planned to further refine our plans to rule the world.

When I return from Seattle it will be April, and April is the cruelest month ("breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.") We never get tired of muttering this to each other at Zenith, in between editing thesis chapters; grading, grading, grading; slogging through the final five weeks of teaching; checking Facebook compulsively; writing annual reports; making sense of the budget; advising students for preregistration; signing endless forms for graduation, going abroad, transferring credit, and activating AP; attending receptions; giving prizes; electing Phi Beta Kappa candidates; doing every piece of faculty business that did not get done the rest of the year; and scraping exhausted students off the sidewalk with a snow shovel.

It makes me want to go back to bed just thinking about it because, you know: I'm knackered this year, more so than usual. I am sick of evaluating other people, and don't want anyone else to evaluate me for a good long time. Between the economic meltdown and doing four searches (and checking Facebook compulsively) I feel that I have done enough work this year. I discovered earlier today that Zenith may feel that I have done enough work for a lifetime. I was just invited to a panel discussion on campus entitled "The Experience of Retirement." To be fair, I think everyone who is tenured was invited. Initially I thought the notice was a little strange, since I am only fifty. But my guess is that they are using me and others like me as cover so that colleagues over 65 can't bring a lawsuit to say that they are being harassed into retiring. For my money, a panel discussion is a more subtle message than, say, leaving a dead fish in your mailbox. Now that's harassment. That is what I will say if called to testify, at any rate.

But there are bright spots: because we have no money, there will actually be less work to do, starting now. We won't be hiring visitors or adjuncts, which takes an enormous amount of effort, and lasts well into May or June. We won't be submitting new line requests, as there aren't any new lines -- or at least, so few, it's hardly worth while to compete for them. We won't spend part of the summer getting ready to search, and -- best of all -- we who are chairs won't have to worry about recommending our colleagues for merit in June, because we are not getting any raises. And we chairs also won't have to spend all of July zig-zagging from bush to bush on our way to the library, trying to hide from the people who -- because we are asked to rank our colleagues -- didn't get very nice raises.

(Not So) New President and his staff have, to date, done a great job of keeping up morale at Zenith in the midst of all this financial trouble, but here's what would be even better. Instead of money, give us back some time. For example, since we aren't getting any raises, why not cancel annual reports -- the medium by which raises are determined? Annual reports take forever to write -- that is, if you have actually done anything. And it always feels like a kind of double-jeopardy. You have spent all year working your fanny off,and then you have to spend a day writing it up and updating your vita. Then, if you are a chair, you have to spend another day at least badgering your colleagues to get their annual reports in, and then writing yet another report about what a fine bunch everyone in your department or program are.

Here are a couple other ideas to give time back that won't cost a dime.

Kill a faculty committee. At Zenith, we could start with the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities which used to serve as a venue to file grievances against members of the faculty, but rarely does anymore. A few years ago, from what I understand, our university counsel took a look at it and its procedures and had a rather large bird. The faculty could agree not to harass each other in return for the administration agreeing not to appoint or convene the committee.

Stop asking for letters of recommendation for study abroad programs. These are a screaming waste of time. I have never known a student to be turned down from such a program. Even when you forget to send in the recommendation, they get in. Truth.

Make the freshman year credit-fail. This one's tricky, but stay with me. There are roughly 800 first year students at Zenith: multiply by four courses and two semesters, that's *6400* final grades given in the first year alone. Then multiply by the roughly 4 pieces of work given in each course, and that's 25,600 grades that have to be decided! And since at least 20% of those grades will be below the grade of A-, that's at least 5,120 incidents of upset students, at least half of whom (2,560) will want to see their professors for at least 15 minutes per incident to explain that they have never received such a grade before. Now you see where I'm going, don't you? Think how much better it would be for the students not to stress out about grades their first year, and how much better for we, the faculty people not to have those stupid conversations about grades and spend our time teaching (or checking our Facebooks) instead. If every party, students and faculty, is happier at the end of the year, we could get rid of grades for the other three years as well.

What are your ideas, readers?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Extra, Extra -- Read All About It: Tenured Radical And Rupert Murdoch Agree On Something

I saw this when I stopped into the CVS a few minutes ago, and thought I would put it up for those of you who have the good luck to live outside the range of a Murdoch tabloid. Sometimes the New York Post hits it right on the head don't they? This ranks right up there with the Daily News headline after Gerald Ford declared in 1975 that he would veto any "federal bailout" dedicated to keeping New York City from going into bankruptcy: "Ford To City: Drop Dead."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Teach This Book! Judith Bennett's History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Part 3 Of A Blogfest)

Note: those of you who have not yet discovered this series may wish to begin with the post by Notorious, PH.D. (March 2), and proceed to Historiann's contribution (March 9). As a bonus, who but our very own Historiann would have the ova to refer to Lawrence Stone as a "complete tool" -- not once, but but twice, baby! I ask you. This was what Joan Scott meant when she referred to "Stone's explicit patriarchal posture" in a 1985 letter to the New York Review of Books, rendered into that earthy English patois so typical of historians working on the American 17th century.

OK, I admit it. I am one of those twentieth century feminist historians Judith Bennett is speaking to in History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), historians who have given little thought to the practice of premodern history. No -- wait just a gol' durn minute. I have. Here goes.

My first response to Bennett's assertion "that feminist history should be more attentive to premodern eras" (3) is: right on. My second is that this intervention has implications for the writing and teaching of history more generally. I teach in a program and in a department, both of which assert the importance of the distant past to the not-so-distant past. You can look at the two core courses yourself, both of which I have taught, and both of which take me out of my comfort zone. One is AMST/LAST200, "Colonialism and Its Consequences in the Americas," for which I read and teach not only colonial North American history, but early modern European and colonial Latin American history (applause, por favor.) The other, which I haven't taught in a while, but helped to revise last year, is required for the history major, "Issues in Contemporary Historiography," usually referred to by its barracks name, "History 362."

My third and more ornery response tackles Bennett's assertion that, pushed by liberal and socialist feminisms and structured by conferences (especially my own beloved Berkshire Conference), feminist history's fascination with the present is fueled by the assumption that change is necessarily transformative (62). The present is, well, more cheerful than the past, Bennett argues: we can start with the fruits of progress, and devote our research time to recording the hard-won victories that get "us" here. What we are missing, Bennett argues persuasively through examples drawn from her own research on medieval English women, are the continuities that are just as important to understanding women's lives over time -- if not more important. Bennett argues this point well in Chapters 3,4,5 and 7. However, in Chapter 6, on lesbian history, she stumbles, missing a place where she might suggest how to address the modern as a transformative moment but not be blinded by it.

Premodern history makes you smarter.

There are a number of reasons to reinforce curricula in premodern history. One that prevails at Zenith is that undergraduates are intrinsically presentist, and that this is a bad thing. We have different reasons for thinking it is a bad thing, but we all agree that it is. While you can generally get a full room for the Early American survey (which is a gateway to the American Studies major!) try getting similar numbers for a longer past -- Medieval Europe, Enlightenment Europe, or Qing China. Some of my colleagues are exactly able to fill the room by turning to feminist history (it is Zenith after all). A second route is to introduce students to the earlier periods -- and the talented people who teach them at Zenith -- by using these early periods to teach basic historical methods. The hope is that we can light a fire under a few students to focus their major coursework and senior research in fields that we value; for the rest, we hope to destabilize false notions like, as Bennett puts it, that the Middle Ages was little more than "a thousand years without a bath."(82) Everyone who teaches that course also agrees, I think, that the distant past teaches good lessons about close reading, archival work, the uses of demography and argumentation that can be usefully transported to any period. In addition, Bennett's point -- that there are many categories of difference beyond race, class and gender (147) -- while crucial to understanding pre-modern periods, is no less true for modern history but more often goes unrecognized.

What Bennett has caused me to think about differently is the point that I work hard to hammer home for my students as I introduce them to historical thought: our relationship to our subjects as historians. On the one hand, I tell my students, the people we will study are human: this makes our own human intuition a tool for our research, part of what J.H. Hexter called our "second record." On the other hand, there is a point -- usually early in the semester when some member of my class has offered up a stinging, presentist judgement on a conquistador or a plantation mistress in place of analysis -- that brings discussion to a screaming halt. I then scowl at them and say, "Please remember that the people in this book are strange to you. They live in a foreign country called the past." If a student can learn to perform these two, more or less contradictory, tasks at the same time, said student will have learned to think historically by the end of the semester.

Bennett would, I think ask me to stop thinking about this as an equivalent task. She would ask me to teach historical thought by laying heavier stress on the human continuities, and less stress on the ruptures that modern time creates in human consciousness. And while I can't say I know what I think about that at present, what I do know is that I want to teach this book in History 362 and find out, by discussing it with my students, whether I need to alter this feature of my pedagogy.

What I think Bennett might usefully consider, however, is that the decline of the earlier periods that is evident by looking at women's history does not all lie at the door of the feminist history establishment, as she argues in her introduction. There have been critical, structural changes that dramatically affect the capacity of students in the United States to do archival work in earlier periods. Studying the more recent past, while it has its difficulties, does not require the study of classical languages, in which few students are trained at present. Studying United States history does not require acquisition of a language other than English in many cases -- and fewer and fewer undergraduates are coming to college with any reading fluency in a second, much less a third language. Even if that fluency is acquired, the earlier periods have other challenges, such as faded, unfamiliar handwriting and lack of linguistic standardization within ancient and/or regional forms of a given language. Should a graduate student throw caution to the winds and acquire all of these extra skills -- guess what? There are few jobs available to them, after all that training. That publishing in the earlier periods is way down I have no doubt: but whether it is solely due to a lack of interest by a larger feminist historical establishment is unclear, in my view.

"The L-Word"

Invoking the title of this popular Showtime series, Bennett introduces us to her term "lesbian-like" to describe women-loving women prior to the 1890s. This is perhaps more ironic than Bennett knows. Most of the lesbians I know think those women are "lesbian-like" too -- and not in a good way. ("Have you ever wondered," I began to ask a colleague, in a conversation about the endless sex on the show; and she chimed in to say in unison with me: "what they are actually doing in bed?!?"

But cattiness about Jennifer Beals and the coffee bar gang aside, Bennett uses "The L-Word" to underline what she sees as the reluctance among historians to address same-sex eroticism. Within women's history, she observes, "lesbianism remains a tricky subject and sometimes an unspeakable one. Simply put, women's history has a lesbian problem." (108) While ceding the category argument (that women couldn't "be" lesbians until that socio-scientific category was invented in the 1890s) Bennett argues that to fail to recognize and name "lesbian-like" women is to allow heteronormativity and homophobia to have a continuing, oppressive influence on our practice as feminists (and as lesbians, which in the interest of full disclosure, both Bennett and I are.)

While I am definitely on board with the imperative to fight homophobia in the academy and everywhere else, and I admire Bennett for naming it, I think she pushes for continuity at a price.

Although I am less familiar with the earlier periods -- and I agree that demands for a "smoking (fill in the blank)" should not be necessary to affirm an erotic relationship between women -- literature on twentieth century lesbians is no longer in short supply. Or maybe it's the lesbians who seem to be all over the place at history conventions. I'm not sure. But the mentors are out there, the sources are out there, and the graduate students seem to be more than willing to play along. So that while I buy it that there has been tremendous pressure on women over the past forty years to downplay the sisterhood, looking at a shorter timeline suggests that there has been some progress in this department (ok, I wouldn't go so far as to say transformation.)

My second quibble addresses the term "lesbian-like" as an expansive category that allows us to "see" a particular kind of subject, releasing that subject from the demands of modern identity and its politics. I understand what Bennett is trying to accomplish here, and apparently some historians have found it useful. (112) But by her criteria, we might rightly think of all lesbians as "lesbian-like," because historically, few of us after 1890 have agreed on what it means to be a lesbian, and as sexual identities become more fluid, fewer of us will. We also need to take a harder look at some of the "lesbian-like" women she invokes as historical examples, such as the fifteenth-century cross dressing documented by Michael Shank: what makes this gender-bending woman "lesbian-like," as opposed to transgendered?(120-124) Here, if we invoke Bennett's category, we are creating problems and not solving them.

And here's where modernity raises its ugly, intrusive head: the opposite of "heteronormative" history is not gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender history, since all of these categories reference the normal in some way. It would be queer history. Heterosexuality and homosexuality both insist that sexuality meet a standard and join one of two categories, something Bennett loses sight of as she maneuvers to keep the "L-Word" in play as a way of describing one kind of sexual variety. What can get her out of this bind, I think, is queer history, a post-modern phenomenon that both acknowledges its modern ancestry and attempts to undo the effects of that ancestry at the same time. Bennett invokes the word queer several times, but only as a placeholder for stable identity positions, although we know because of a critical footnote that queer historiography was hovering like trouble at the edges of this chapter. (fn14, 111)

But you know what? When I put together my new lesbian history course, I'm going to teach this chapter anyway, because like pre-modern history more generally, Judith Bennett makes me smarter. And History Matters belongs in historiography courses of all kinds for the questions it asks, not just about feminist historical practice, but about what we carry into the second century of modern historical practice and why.

Next week, go to Blogenspiel where we will hear from Another Damned Medievalist; our final installment, in week 5, will feature Judith Bennett de-lurking on Notorious PH.D. For those of you who can't wait until next week for more Judith Bennett, check out this roundtable, featuring feminist history all-stars Iris Berger, Leila Rupp, Judy Wu, Ulrike Strasser and a final comment from Bennett, from The Journal of Women's History, vol. 20,n. 2, (summer 2008). Hat Tip.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Lesson From Minnesota Fats: Bernie Madoff Hustled the Hustlers, But Are They Victims?

I will conclude my endless blithering about my lost and recovered iPhone with the following life lesson. As we were cruising down the highway, I was squeaking through my tears, having nothing else to say about what an idiot I had been to drop this cherished item in a parking lot, "It's not fair. It's not fair. It's just not fair." My companion, in an effort to comfort me said, "I'll buy you a new iPhone." And I said, "No,no,no. That's not the point." Fast forward to a conversation on the airplane home from vacation, surrounded by pink-skinned, peeling northerners in Mickey Mouse gear. My companion asked me what I meant when I said that "it wasn't fair." I explained: knowing that an iPhone was a huge luxury in times like these, I had taken all steps to be prudent about the purchase. I had calculated the increased monthly charges, and I had paid cash (or the debit card equivalent thereof) for the damn thing. It was cash I had saved for that purpose over a period of several months and that existed over and above the money I normally budget, not just to pay regular household bills, and to put in my savings account, but for upcoming things that now count as luxuries: my rowing club membership, for example, or grooming the dog. "But despite all that," I explained, the iPhone "was just gone. For no reason. As if I had never had it in the first place. It wasn't fair."

It was only later, writing this post, that I was able to connect my horror and rage at my own stupidity to that stomach-churning scene in The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961), where Minnesota Fats draws "Fast Eddie" Felson so deep into his hustle that Felson loses all caution -- and then Fats takes him apart, cue stroke by cue stroke, leaving Felson collapsed and broke.

So imagine my surprise when I ended my week long news fast this morning and stumbled on this article about responses to Bernie Madoff's guilty plea by those caught up in his scheme, in the Business section of The New York Times. As Joe Nocera writes, the victims in this case were also accomplices to their own demise for not having inquired as to how they were receiving such out-of-scale profits for their investments. In doing so, they disregarded some basic investing guidelines that -- if your parents didn't teach you -- reading a simple investment how-to book (or the business pages of any newspaper) would. These rules include:

Don't put all your money in one fund;

If the investment manager can't explain what s/he is doing to grow your money or return profits in language you can understand, you should not invest; and

If the profits you are receiving seem to good to be true, they probably are.

The institutions and individuals who invested with Madoff disregarded all three of these rules, to their peril, despite obvious "tells" that have been documented everywhere, like quarterly reports printed on a dot matrix printer, and the employment of a single auditor for what was supposed to be a vast and labyrinthine fund. Now, as Nocera writes, many investors insist that it is the government who is primarily at fault, and that they should have access to a "victim's" fund because Madoff ought to have been scrutinized by government regulators early and often. In other words: it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair.

Now, I opened with my boring little parable, because I do not think these people should be mocked. Their pain is real, and they have been irreparably harmed. I do think, however, they need to reorganize their view of themselves as victims if, as Nocera tells us, they really think that they ought to be reimbursed by the government for their pain. In fact, they they gambled and lost. All investment, whether it is legally structured or not, is a gamble, as those of us know who have watched our TIAA-CREF fall, fall, fall.

I do hope the Madoff "victims" return to their senses soon. I, for example, fell into a yawning chasm of grief over a far lesser object that could be easily replaced. The idea that my cherished iPhone could simply disappear -- and that it was returning to me far more joy than any material object ought to return in a sane universe, had also never occurred to me, I admit. But when I returned to my right mind, did I think that someone -- the government, perhaps -- should have handed me a new iPhone because I could not resolve my grief and embarrassment over my own foolishness? No. Why? Because I had never bought the damn insurance that would have permitted this outcome: insurance was an act of prudence, one that I rejected, because never in my life have I lost or broken an expensive electronic item. But that was, on my part, a calculated judgement that the future would replicate the past.

What past did many Madoff investors believe would be replicated? Why, that the the government works in the service of the wealthy, and furthermore that the wealthy would protect each other from the inevitable failure of an overinflated bull market. They believed that they were special, and that they always would be. After all, this is what happened in the late 1920's: as any economic history of the Great Crash of 1929 will tell you, wealthy American investors knew there was something wrong far earlier than anyone else did, and began cashing out as early as 1927. That the closed club of the "classes" had, by 1990, come to include elevated members of the "masses" like the Madoffs, did not obviate our "victims'" assumption that they would be cared for by other wealthy, powerful people like themselves. Elie Wiesel echoed earlier interviews when he explained outside the court house: “it was a myth that [Madoff] created around him....that everything was so special, so unique, that it had to be secret. It was like a mystical mythology that nobody could understand.” Mr. Wiesel added: “He gave the impression that maybe 100 people belonged to the club. Now we know thousands of them were cheated by him.” (Quoted in Nocera, 3/14/09)

Many of these people who were in the club refuse to admit to this day that they are not special, only suckers after all. As touch football lingo goes, "suckers walk." But they believe they should be repaid federal taxes that they paid on "profits" that didn't exist (wrong: you cashed the checks and spent the money); and worse, they think the justice to be had here is for the defrauded privileged to be reimbursed by the government rather than accept responsibility for their own foolishness (as the poor who were suckered into bad mortgage deals and credit card debt are supposed to.) It seems to me one of the paradoxes of this historical moment that deregulation was apparently just fine -- regardless of the terrible consequences it had for 95% of the world's population - up until the point at which those who benefited from de-regulation were reaping the consequences and losing stashes of money that were either ill-gotten in this century or in previous ones.

Yes, here's the news: if you are living off of inherited wealth, regardless of what you have done in this generation, the money that supports your gracious living and your philanthropy is 19th century and 20th century blood money. You know what wasn't fair? The Ludlow Massacre, that's what. And chattel slavery. And the murder of indigenous peoples. And every CIA-sponsored coup that delayed democracy so that American corporations could pillage the hemisphere. And that you privatized the entire world, dismantled the social safety net, and sent your children to private school while the public schools were turned over to the testing industry: that's not fair either. And it's not fair that some people don't get to go to college and others get to go to Harvard because their families have always gone to Harvard (or Zenith, or Yale, or Stanford or (add the name of your favorite elite university here ___________.)

So I say, Madoff victims, I am sorry for your pain. And now it is time to roll up your sleeves, get to work like the rest of us and learn the lesson that most of the world knows: life isn't fair, and it's the people who learn to take care of themselves, who accept their losses and improve on them, and who build an ethical community around them who survive such withering blows. Along with the three basic rules for investing, let me offer in closing the three basic rules for how we might re-educate ourselves as a society, starting at the top and working down, as we leave the Age of Madoff behind.

Not everyone who has suffered something terrible is a "victim," nor should we be living in a Manichean world where fault is punished and innocence rewarded. The label of "victim" is over-used, in my view, and needs to be actively re-defined. "Victim" now implies that the person who has suffered The Terrible Thing has no culpability; the obverse of this is that if the person who has suffered can be proven to have made a fatal decision, wittingly or unwittingly, s/he can't be a "victim," and is therefore entitled to no consideration or sympathy. Ergo, unmarried mothers deserve no help from the government; women living off unearned income who lose it to a well-organized scam should be reimbursed by the government so that they can resume their former lifestyle. Instead, we need to realize, as a society, that all people suffer from a complex mixture of flaw, fate and fault some of which the government can correct and most of which it can't. We have good examples of how whole societies have benefitted from putting a floor under poverty, acting on the right to health care, housing, nutritous food and education. It is much harder to imagine how a society benefits from preserving the right to plastic surgery, the Hamptons, Whole Foods and Deerfield Academy.

Don't whine. You were rich. Now you are not. Pull up your socks and go on.

If you are making vast profits without working for them, and living as though that money will be there forever, you are gambling. And people who gamble sometimes lose. That doesn't make it wrong to gamble: I say this as someone who is not only in the stock market, but wagers on horses for sport, and often profit. But it does make it perilous to gamble with your food money or your mortgage, very few people make a living at gambling, and it is the gamblers who allow themselves to be so gulled by out sized winnings that they can't leave the table who become the mark.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Girls Gone Wild: Dade City Journal, Spring Break Edition

Just in case you have mistaken this for a department meeting, these are cows. They are the wives of New Gene, a white face bull, who is apparently not as unpleasant as your average bull, having been hand-raised as a 4-H project here in Central Florida.

That said New Gene (I believe that is his name, not Eugene, and vaguely I remember there was a predecessor named -- Gene?) gave my companion a run for her money as she was walking over from the guest house this evening. The cows --some twenty odd, with new calves, one born around the time we got here -- have the run of 300 acres, and they are all New Gene's wives. There is a black one, whose udder is not full yet, who New Gene seems to be following especially closely. He sniffs her hindquarters with as much avidity as an 800-pound quadruped can muster, and she stands there looking grim. If you watch Big Love on HBO you will know what I mean when I say: I believe she is on the schedule for tonight.

This is New Gene. He eats, procreates, bellows loudly and gets the group from place to place. As far as I can tell, he is an excellent administrator, and unlike his wives and children he definitely has tenure here regardless of what happens to the economy. He and his group leave vast piles of cow manure all over the place which you have to watch out for at night, but which are part of the ingredients for the soil that also produce the tasty vegetables and salad we have been consuming since we arrived at this excellent country home. Our hostess also pointed out that the piles, unless picked up and deposited in the garden, are eventually consumed by dung beetles, who drill perfectly round holes in the cow pies, lay eggs, and roll them up in dung. They then roll the ball of dung away, the larvae grow up eating the dung, turn into dung beetles, and then head for the nearest pile of dung.

To avoid another gesture at an education metaphor, I will close with a picture of Lola, the dappled dachshund. You may not be able to tell that she has one blue eye and one brown, but she does. She also barks lustily at cows, and is endlessly friendly to humans -- unless, as I discovered today, you drop a piece of steak on the floor, in which case she snags it and heads off. If you try to recover the steak (and why would you, unless this request was made by someone near and dear to you?) she makes a noise that is intended to suggest that she is willing to take your arm off at the elbow. Or keep the steak. Your choice.

Stay tuned: the Radical returns from vacation and adds her bit to the Judith Bennett Round Table.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Notes From Central Florida: Alligators and Angels Abound

Yesterday we made the long drive from St. Augustine to Dade City, with a quick stop at Blue Springs State Park. The major event of the day was the loss, and rediscovery, of my brand new iPhone. This is what happened.

We went to Blue Springs, a warm spring that flows into the St. John's River, to see the manatees. And if I had my iPhone with me now you would see the manatees too. But more about that later. The manatees, delicate, bumbling and endangered creatures that look a bit like swimming elephants, migrate into a variety of warm springs around Florida in the winter and early spring to breed and to warm up a bit. It's like manatee spring break. At any rate, there were five that we saw, all on the youngish side; there was also an outstanding sample of a blue-gray alligator mississippiensis sitting on the far bank. A park volunteer who was doing a gar census near where we were (a gar is a skinny fish that becomes as big as fifty pounds, and is distinguished by an extremely long, thin nose) handed me his binoculars and I got a good close-up of the alligator's face. They all have a fixed, insane, toothy grin that inspires the thought: "Serial killer." I myself cannot get enough of alligators, and my current hostess has promised alligators in the pond on their property. In addition to the gar, there were schools of snook, and at least one black fish as big as my head that is commonly sold in pet stores, but in a thumb size model. "Aquarium dump," the volunteer said succinctly. Apparently fish that are thrown in the rivers in Florida, or flushed down the toilet, if they survive, thrive well beyond their life span as pets. So yes, it is worth saying: probably everything you have heard about wildlife in Florida is true.

So back to the iPhone. We got back in the car and, just as we were getting back on route 17, my companion noticed that the trunk was open. I won't belabor this but: somewhere between me getting out of the car and getting back in, my iPhone slipped from my possession. Several blocks down the road, I realized this. We returned to the scene, pursued a methodical search, but to no avail. One of us went in to ask the gas station owners if it had been turned in, and they shook their heads sorrowfully. "Not a chance anyone would turn in a thing like that," one said sympathetically, "Not here." We left. There were tears. I will quietly draw a veil over the next hour or so.

Needless to say, as we passed development after development in the metro Orlando region (most of which -- if state-level statistics in Florida are correct -- are running at a foreclosure rate that is expected to run well over fifty percent before this financial crisis is over) I wrestled myself back into some version of sanity. Not only is it not fair to ruin someone else's vacation over a lost telephone, but in the midst of bankruptcies and foreclosures, to kvell relentlessly over an object that is, although beloved, replaceable, is wrong. And certainly not Radical. In comparing my pain to the pain of others, I found mine wanting.

And I promised myself I would buy another as soon as I could get to an AT&T store on Monday.

But then there was a miracle. As we drove up the long driveway to the home of the family members who are harboring us for the rest of the week, as they all came out to greet us (the youngest, a great nephew who is four, shrieking with pleasure at our arrival), my niece came out with a telephone and said that one of our other mutual nephews, who lives in Shoreline, needed to talk to me now.

My phone had been found, by Roy and Kristine of Orange City, Florida who, when they pulled up to the gas station, were returning to their home in Orange City from celebrating Bike Week in Ft. Lauderdale. Actually, it was Kristine who spotted the iPhone in the parking lot and picked it up, perhaps minutes, or even seconds, after I dropped it, and Roy claims it is in perfect condition. They found me by calling the first number in the book, which happened to be said nephew's father, who happened to know where we were, but knew nothing about an iPhone. But my nephews -- who pay close attention to the electronic acquisitions of their nearest and dearest as well as to where everyone is going on vacation and when -- put two and two together and explained to the pater that someone had found my iPhone! Needless to say, a happy ending is underway. Roy and Kristine are going to mail me the cherished item tomorrow; theoretically it should be here Tuesday or Wednesday. I am going to mail them a lot of money, which they didn't say no to, so my guess is that it is welcome. And when you figure that I was ready to spend the money anyway for a new phone, well, it all makes sense.

So when you think of Florida, don't think of Jeb Bush: think of Roy and Kristine. As I thanked them profusely, Kristine said, "Well it's no trouble at all. I would like to think someone would do the same thing for me."

I would, actually. But now I really would. And as for the nephews: I now officially pronounce you The Boy Detectives.

Friday, March 06, 2009

It's Biker Week On The Palm Coast

Spring vacation has finally sprung. In celebration of this fact, the Radical family decamped last night to Florida. This is a state that the New Yorker described some weeks back as an epicenter of the mortgage meltdown. Other states have other sins, it’s true, and under capitalized real estate development and debt loads are the general condition of the nation's economy, as well as any other part of the world that the United States has managed to weave into its web. But perhaps only in Florida do convicted felons lose their right to vote, but retain their right take out a real estate license and set up shop as mortgage brokers. One result of this is, apparently, vast amounts of drug money being laundered through the real estate market, with “fronts” who set themselves up as house buyers, take out a mortgage, and then disappear, never to be seen again.

If St. Augustine, which bills itself as the first city in North America, is not visibly hurting yet, you can see a slow ache. Everything is on sale: every tchochke, every hula shirt, every sandal. We are at a lovely bed and breakfast right on the bay, the Casablanca Inn, which I can already recommend to you very highly. It is March, and there are vacancies.

Even the S & M leather gear that bills itself as “biker wear” was on sale (oh yes: I’m sure that in the sort of minor, motorcycle fender-bender that turns into a real disaster for whatever part of your epidermis is skidding down A1A, it will be a comfort to know, as you grab whatever is handy to slow yourself down, that your vageegee is covered.) But before I leave the subject: this is Biker Week in Daytona Beach and its surrounding communities. I have heard tell of Biker Week from my friend Phil, the Zenith men's crew coach, who trains his team in Daytona Beach over break, but to actually see it is a somewhat awesome experience. I think they must come here because of the Harley Davidson superstore on I-95 a few miles south of St. Augustine – five stories of hogs and, presumably, Harley leathers that are more suitable for the road than the bedroom. Note: I bet y’all can buy some mufflers without holes in them there too!

But there are also parking lots full of vendors selling bike gear, usually in tents that surround brew and burger restaurants. Last night, in a debate that was truncated by the lateness of our flight and hence, our extreme hunger, we stopped at such a restaurant outside Daytona Beach. It was called Saddle Jack's, and clearly offering itself as a temporary Biker Mart and as a location to park your motor home. An important observation about food in Florida: yes, there is a grease cuisine similar to other places below the Mason-Dixon line, as well as the overpriced, tasteless, I-Could-Be Anywhere food common to all vacation destinations. But if you are on either coast of the Sunshine state and avoid national chains, you more or less cannot go wrong if you order a fish sandwich. Unless you don’t like fish and then, friend, you are on your own.

At any rate, the other customers in Saddle Jack’s were all folks there for Bike Week, most of whom I would say were our age (read: between 40 and 70.) The men all wore jeans and colorful black tees that had the phrases “Harley Davidson” and “Bike Week” enmeshed in designs where skulls and flames dominated. The women were dressed to the nines in cowboy and bike clothes that were personally customized, probably by those items that they sell on television that make it possible to combine glue and sequins with as little muss and fuss as possible. I have included a picture I snapped here, and I hope it captures the true grandeur of the woman in the white cowboy hat, whose outfit was just outstanding. At another table, there were four boy bikers (younger than we) playing with their cell phones, drinking beer, leering at the wait staff, and (according to my traveling companion) passing around a plastic bag full of pills that they dipped into randomly. I did not take a picture of them. Nor, out of a sense of feminist ethic, did I take pictures of the wait staff: one was wearing black leather bikini bottoms (that said “Saddle Jack’s” in white on the ass), nylons, heels, and a black leather bra. Another was wearing pink short-shorts, fishnet stockings, and a cut off black tee that said “Bouncer” over the breasts.

At any rate, although I could be writing about the historic city, the multiple colonizations of Florida, the fact that we seem to be surrounded by evangelical Christian tourists (one of whom voiced loud disapproval of me snapping a picture of the leather lingerie), I cannot help but focus on the general feeling of Florida itself. At the fabulous Spanish fort where we were lucky enough to see an eighteenth century cannon fired at 10:45. The historical re-enactor told us that, were there a cannon ball in the barrel, it could hit the lighthouse about a half mile away. “Doubt that,” said a middle-aged biker behind me. “They oughta put a nuceler missile in it – that’d go pretty far,” a little boy said helpfully. The reenactors, dressed in some version of eighteenth century Spanish military wear entertained us as the cannon was packed with gunpowder. One said, "You know, we aren't pirates. Some people think we are. But the pirates were the bad guys, whatever you hear from Disney. We were the guys who hunted down the pirates and killed them."

Well, phew.

In conclusion (for now), whatever other industry is going down the tubes in Florida, the rhinestone biz is not one of them. And electricity use is thriving. Last night, en route to St. Augustine from the Orlando airport, we passed acres of car dealerships lit up like Yankee Stadium (and a mysterious overpass advertising the Ladies Professional Gold Association that you can see from Mars), it caused me to wonder why we in the Northeast worry so damn much about our carbon footprint, when all you would have to do is unplug the state of Florida and you could save about 100,000 acres of polar cap right there.

This was blogged to you courtesy of the Hilton Hotel and its free WiFi.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Women's History Month! A Celebration, A Challenge and a Call

Of course, every month is women's history month if you are the Tenured Radical. And, if you are the intersectionally-inclined person that I am, Black History Month isn't over at the end of February either (although I'm sure organizers everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that it is, particularly at Zenith, where a group of students organized a great calendar of events this year.)

To celebrate, a few of us in the feminist history blogosphere have been drawn into a great project initiated by Ann Little, over at Historiann. Four feminist history bloggers are responding to Judith Bennett's book History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.) One of us will write every Monday for the entire month of March and, in round table style, drop in and out of each other's blogs to comment. The first post, Should politics be historical? Should history be political? went up at The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar last night at midnight. So please join us!

And just in case you are starting to wonder what the relationship is between feminist history blogging and the professional world of feminist history, I am pleased to announce that The Journal of Women's History has commissioned the radical to coordinate a round table on this very subject. To wit, a call for papers:

Call for Papers: Feminism, Blogging and the Historical Profession. The Journal of Women’s History invites submissions for a round table on the emergence of blogging as a location for critical thought among women in the historical profession; historians of women, gender and sexuality; and feminist scholars who may, or may not be, historians. Participants may wish to address one or more of the following questions in an abstract of no more than 250 words: What role does self-publishing on the internet play in a profession where merit is defined by scholarly review and a rigorous editorial process? What are the intellectual benefits, and/or costs, of blogging? What are the ethics and consequences of blogging under a pseudonym? What kinds of electronic acknowledgement already correlate with established scholarly practices; which can be discarded; and which need to be attended to, perhaps more rigorously than in printed publications? If many scholarly publications and organizations have already adopted blogs as a way of spreading news and inviting conversation, is blogging itself developing rules and practices that will inevitably produce intellectual and scholarly hierarchies similar to those that blogging seeks to dismantle? Does feminist blogging offer particular opportunities for enhanced conversation about race, sexuality, class and national paradigms, or does it tend to reproduce existing scholarly paradigms and silences within feminist scholarship? Finally, are new forms of colleagueship and scholarship emerging in the blogosphere?

The round table will consist of a short introduction, several essays of 2 - 3,000 words, and a concluding comment/response. Abstracts should arrive no later than July 15, 2009, and can be submitted electronically to Claire Potter at tenuredDOTradicalATgmail.com. Final submissions are due October 1. Pseudonymous bloggers may publish under their pseudonyms, but must be willing to reveal their identities to the editor of the round table and the commenter. Bloggers based outside the United States are particularly encouraged to contribute.