Where Did August Go?

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t posted in over a month.  Don’t worry fans, I’ve just been on vacation (in the French Haute Pyrenees, where I did loads of cycling which unfortunately was off-set by a lot of great food and wine at the pension where I stayed.  Either that or I gained five pounds of muscle.  Oh well!)

Now I’m up to my ears getting ready to teach the graduate digital history course (hence my tweet about needing some help from my fellow #twitterstorians), as well as a new undergraduate public history course that I didn’t design but I agreed to teach because no one else was available.  I’m also going through the second most stressful life event on the Holmes and Rahne stress scale.  So, it’s no wonder this month has flown by!

Can one be a feminist and a top model?

Judging by last night’s episode of America’s Top Model (yes, this is one of my guilty pleasures!), the answer is no.  The latest contestant to get the boot, Sara, (left), spent much of the episode talking about how she is a feminist and how that hindered her ability to get into character for a retro, Mad Men inspired, coffee commercial.  Under non-modeling activities on her profile,  Sara writes,  “I’m really involved with Planned Parenthood activities on our campus.”

Now, I have no idea if that’s why the panel eliminated her — and in the interest of objectivity, I agreed with the judges that her performance in the commercial was one of the weakest.   I also don’t think whoever edited the episode intended to give the impression that saying you’re a feminist immediately gets you black-balled (although I can imagine that some might see it that way).  A few years ago, The Economist wrote an article about Tyra’s “unusual” brand of  feminism:

“Tyra doesn’t use the word “feminist” on the show, but her woman-specific shtick is indeed a feminist manifesto: one that finds empowerment in looking extraordinarily beautiful in photographs (or in becoming the star of a hit reality show), and in achieving this by any means necessary.”

In this sense, Tyra represents the brand of individualist feminism described by Susan Ware in Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism.  Ware’s latest book, Game Set Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports, provides a completely different model of feminism:

“When Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in tennis’s “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973, she placed sports squarely at the center of a national debate about gender equity. Combining biography and history, this book argues that Billie Jean King’s spirited challenges to sexism on and off the court, the supportive climate of second-wave feminism, and the legislative clout of Title IX sparked a women’s sports revolution in the 1970s that fundamentally reshaped American society. King’s place in tennis history is secure, but now she can take her rightful place as a key player in the history of feminism as well.”

All this leads to the question, why would a feminist want to be a top model.  Well, let’s look at Sara’s financial situation — she works two jobs so she can go to college.  Modeling is one of the few occupations where women make more than men (and if you’re a supermodel like Tyra, way more).  So, one can understand why she entered the contest.  Unfortunately, her interest in continuing studies and ambivalence about the sexism of the modeling profession got framed as a “lack of commitment.”  Too bad.  It would have been great to see a tom-boyish, articulate, unabashed feminist as top model!

John Lennon, “Happy Christmas,” and the War against Advent

via Postbourgie, where Brokey McPoverty posted a Humpday Hate against the John Lennon song, “Happy Christmas” and other sad Christmas songs:

“Y’know?  Listening to this song, I get the sneaking suspicion that John Lennon isn’t really all that excited about war being over.  Or that war just really isn’t over.  He clearly went to the Stevie Wonder School of Christmas Song Writing and got an A in reminding everybody of how much things really suck.  Looking at the title, you expect some kind of joy, right?  And I guess he tries, for what it’s worth.  He does sing, ‘a very merry Christmas/and a happy new year/let’s hope it’s a good one’ and all that.  But, like: And so this is Christmas/ For weak and for strong/For rich and the poor ones/The world is so wrong.”

Since this is the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination (man, has it been that long? – my senior class at Hartford High School — the one in Vermont — dedicated our yearbook to Lennon, so officially I’m an old fart), I’m sticking  up for him and pointing out to fellow members of Christian faith traditions that this is the season of Advent, not Christmas.  Last Sunday, we at Trinity Episcopal Church in Collinsville had guest lay preacher Donald V. Romanik, President of Episcopal Church Foundation, remind us what Advent is all about:

“OK, I really like the image of the Peaceable Kingdom, although I’m not too crazy about playing with snakes. Also, as a Gentile, I warmly embrace Paul’s pronouncement that although a descendant of Jesse and David himself, Jesus came to save me as well.

Why not just leave it at that.  Why do we have to even bother with that eccentric, dirty, obnoxious and in-your-face fanatic called John-the Baptist? Isn’t he just the skunk at the garden party, the loud intoxicated uncle at dinner or the smelly homeless person on the park bench?  While I may be ready to confront John the Baptist in January when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus during Epiphany, the last thing I need during this season of joy and cheer is to be insulted by a crazy man who dresses in camel’s hair and eats wild locusts and honey.

I’m afraid, however, that rather than the Peaceable Kingdom., the real message of Advent is that of John the Baptist. Before we can hear the songs of the angels about peace on earth and good well to all of humankind, we need to be told that sometimes we are indeed a brood a vipers and we have to repent. John the Baptist and the apocalyptic images of the end of time are not there to scare us but they are meant to shake us up and provide us with an incredible sense of urgency.”

{you can read the full sermon here}

Okay, Lennon wasn’t John the Baptist obviously — but certainly his song is appropriate to a season that is supposed to remind us of the inconvenient fact that not everyone is enjoying a holly jolly you know what.  So, Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, folks.  Before we Christians have a Happy Christmas, we need to ponder the mystery of  Advent:

2009 Year End Meme

via Pilgrim Steps.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Hire a personal trainer — it took me all year to get around to doing it though.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

In addition to #1, I vowed to work down my stash of yarn and finish UFOs (unfinished projects).  I’ll post recently finished projects (RFOs) soon.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No close relatives, but some friends and acquaintances.
4. Did anyone close to you die?

Sort of.  Friends of mine from church lost their daughter in a ski accident the day of President Obama’s inauguration.  I did not know the daughter well but am very fond of the parents.
5. What countries did you visit?

Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary — all on the same bike trip.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

More time for art (knitting and other crafts, guitar), less time for dealing with senseless crap at work.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

The inauguration of President Obama.  Although I have been critical of his performance, the significance of his election to the history of race relations in the U.S.  is undeniable.

Just as significant, though, was the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  It symbolizes have far we have to go.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Writing the first four chapters of my book on the history of emergency contraception.

9. What was your biggest failure?

“Failure is impossible!”  — Susan B. Anthony

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Yes, I crashed my bike back in May.  It wasn’t my fault but  it wounded my pride more than my body.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My Honda Fit sport.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Senator Al Franken.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Senator Joe Lieberman.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage, utilities, taxes.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The trip to Eastern Europe.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Well, since this was the year of the anti-tax teaparties and teabaggers,  “Have a Cuppa Tea” by the Kinks suits this year perfectly.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder? 
b) thinner or fatter? 
c) richer or poorer?

Happier, fatter, and due to furlough days and salary freeze, slightly poorer.  Still, I’m grateful I have a job.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Playing my guitar.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Reading and posting on Facebook.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With family in Vermont.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

No (already was).

22. What was your favorite TV program?


23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?


24. What was the best book you read?

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt (review coming soon).

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I’ve been using a P.A. during guitar lessons — my singing isn’t so bad.

26. What did you want and get?

A new car.
27. What did you want and not get?

Universal health care.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

“Inglourious Basterds.”
29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Went to see “Pirate Radio.” (my second fave for 2009) —   I turned 46.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Seeing Hilary Rodham Clinton elected president, or at least selected as VP.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

One step short of being nominated for “What Not to Wear.”

32. What kept you sane?

Knitting — it’s like constructive meditation.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

David Boreanaz.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Reproductive rights.

35. Who did you miss?

Although I wasn’t a big fan, I really am going to miss Michael Jackson.
36. Who was the best new person you met?

Gloria Steinem.  Runner-up — Merlin Mann.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

How to hack my way out of writer’s block. (thanks to campus visit by Merlin Mann).

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

From “Have a Cuppa Tea”:

Whatever the situation whatever the race or creed,
Tea knows no segregation, no class nor pedigree
It knows no motivations, no sect or organisation,
It knows no one religion,
Nor political belief.

Have a cuppa tea, have a cuppa tea,
have a cuppa tea, have a cuppa tea,
Halleluja, halleluja, halleluja, Rosie Lea
Halleluja, halleluja, halleluja Rosie Lea.

Coverage, Uncoverage, and the purpose of Graduate History Courses

The last couple of days I’ve been in knots because my new graduate history seminar on Sexuality, Gender, and Health in Modern U.S. has only seven students in it — I need a minimum of nine for it to run.  I’ve sent out appeals to colleagues to encourage students to sign up for the course.  The reactions have been so far have been:  our students aren’t interested in gender history; our students are uncomfortable about taking courses with “sexuality” in the title; most of our students are public school teachers who want stuff that’s “relevant”to what they do in their jobs — i.e. teach about presidents, war, and other “traditional” stuff.  They don’t want to learn about gender and sexuality because they don’t teach it in their classrooms. (actually I have a student who teaches at a local high school who is developing a women’s studies course — and he’s a natural born guy.)  This led to a protracted email exchange about what we should be offering for our graduate students.  One of my female colleagues said it best — we shouldn’t just give students what they want or expect.  We should challenge them to take something that is unfamiliar and perhaps even uncomfortable.  [last semester she taught a seminar on the history of religion in colonial New England — which also made students uncomfortable although one would think that this is about as traditional as one could get!]

Historiann brings up some similar issues in her blog entry, “A Manifesto against ‘coverage.'”  I agree with her entirely that “coverage” is an “unimaginative” way to organize a history course.  This is why we did away with chronological surveys in our upper-level U.S. history courses.  It seems some of my colleagues are still hung-up on “coverage” in the graduate level courses, though.  Teach a course on the Great Depression/New Deal, Heather.  That will get the students to register!  Maybe I will do it, again.  I actually inherited such a course from a retired faculty member, taught it several times, then let it fall off the books so I could teach something closer to my research interests.

Ph.D. granting institutions are also wrestling with the purpose of graduate history course work.  Some are requiring students to take courses on how to teach college-level history courses.  Others are trying to find new ways to get students to do more than just tear apart books in class.  What we’re aiming to do is to get students to think and write like professional historians.  I think Lisa Lindsay’s suggestions about how to teach students to read and assimilate material quickly will be especially useful this semester.  I also agree with George Trumbull that broad, thematic courses are a good way to get students to think about how they can make contributions to the field.

Interview Horror Stories

Just read some hair-raising tales about job interviews at Historiann and  Squadratomagico, so I thought I would add a few of my own — all true.

Interviewers:  Don’t schedule interviews every fifteen minutes and then fall so hopelessly behind that you have several candidates in the “pit” waiting area at the same time.

Interviewees:  Please recognize that your interviewers have other appointments to keep. So, if they start winding down the interview, please don’t say “I’m  not done yet” and continue to blather on ad infinitum.  Under no circumstances follow your interviewer to the rest room so you can squeeze in more interview time.

Interviewers:  The candidate’s job talk is not the time to open your mail, read the newspaper, or grade exams.  If you can’t be bothered to pay attention to what the candidate has to say, don’t bother showing up at all.

Interviewees:  If you don’t get the job, and then see one of your interviewers at a future conference, please don’t come over to hir restaurant table and drunkenly ask hir why you didn’t get the job.

Interviewers:  Don’t complain about the boorish behavior of retired faculty members, no matter how much they disgust you.  This is especially important when you’re interviewing that person’s replacement.

Interviewees:   Don’t ignore the female faculty during dinner — this is especially important if one of them is chair of the department.

I’m sure there are others just as frightening but I’ve managed to repress them for now.  Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section.