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What will history make of your desk’s contents?

1 Jul

I pick up the Washington Post Express on my commute most mornings, and yesterday, among the numerous things that I totally have to check out (FOLKLIFE IS DOING R&B AND THE DIXIE CUPS WILL BE THERE, oh Internet don’t even get me started on girl groups I can’t even), there was this piece about “For All The World To See”, an exhibit about the narrative of the civil rights movement as told in everyday objects, currently at the National Museum of American History. Which, first of all, I totally have to check out. But second of all, I had a bit of a chuckle at the vaguely startled tone of the article. Everyday objects? In a historical collection? Interrobang?!?!?

Dude, that’s what history is. That’s why, for all the jokes that got made when the Library of Congress announced it was going to start archiving tweets, it’s important that they’re doing it: because history is the little things. Museums might put the shinies on display, but the tiny fraction of their catalogues that you see are joined, behind the scenes, by the less-pretty things that will tell you a lot more about the realities of everyday life.

In conclusion, for all you historians from the future, the contents of my desk are as follows: tea, chocolate from the UK, a broken rubber band, a post-it containing the details of an appointment with my therapist, my keys, a couple of Kate Beaton cartoons, a pair of scissors, and some packing tape. And binder clips. Lots of binder clips.

(Actually, now I’m going into Material History mode and I am getting ready to tell you all what impressions I, a historian, might draw from those things, but that’s an entry for another time.)


In which the world is in a shocking state.

20 Sep

From News9 in Oklahoma comes the shocking — SHOCKING — report that 75% of high school students in that state can’t name the first President. Obviously this is pretty crazy-sounding, which, I have to admit, is what makes me a little skeptical. I recall some kind of similar poll from the UK a few years back, in which ridiculous answers about Celebrated Naval Hero Gandalf came up a lot. Basically, I remember when I was in high school, and how a lot of the kids I knew probably would’ve thought it was pretty hilarious to pretend they didn’t know who the first President was!

So I don’t know. On the one hand, we are constantly being told that American public schools are not great compared to the rest of the world. On the other hand, these are high school students we’re talking about, and I do not have any trouble at all believing that high school students would want to screw with people polling them. I’m thinking it’s probably a little from Column A (the SHOCKING and TERRIBLE state of our public schools!!!!!!) and a little from Column B (high schoolers being high schoolers). It might just be that rather than telling us a lot about the Tragic Ignorance Of Today’s Youth, this is merely telling us about their Heroic Dedication To Sarcasm!

This is a pretty optimistic post for me, though, I have to say! Normally I am pretty much the first person to come down on the “people are all stupid, grumble grumble” side of things. This is part of what I learned to do in my Serious Historian Training, though: don’t take things at face value. It’s easier to do this with a statistic from my own time, though; it’s a lot easier to go “hang on a second, what would the people I went to high school with ten years ago have done for the lulz” than it is to try and approach the foreign mindset of someone from even two hundred years ago.

(Side note: oh my god I started high school ten years ago. WHAT.)

Basically, polling would be a whole lot easier if having ESP were a requirement for being a pollster! Someone should get on that.

(I also refuse to believe that anyone could forget about the hotness that was George Washington. SOMEDAY I WILL GET A TIME MACHINE AND THEN, HOT YOUNG GEORGE WASHINGTON, THEN WE ARE SO GOING ON A DATE.)

In which revelations are made and a lot of scare quotes are used.

3 Sep

MSNBC has a shocking news bulletin for us all: geeks can sometimes be ladies now! I am totally blown away by this news. Things I like about this article, for values of “like” that include a lot of sarcasm and not-actually-liking-them-at-all:

  1. Lady geeks are characterized as “invaders”!
  2. Oh there is so much to be “delighted” at in this paragraph.

    While any kind of growth in the industry would seem like good news, it hasn’t come without its share of backlash. Blogs since this year’s convention have taken male/female sides on everything from the potential sexism of the convention’s “booth babes” to complaints about the influx of female “Twilight” fans.

    Because this year was entirely the first time that women have ever made known their discomfort with some of the prevailing sexism in geek culture! Just because you have only now discovered that ladies can be geeks does not mean ladies have just now started being geeks, people.

  3. The use of the phrase “potential sexism” in referring to booth babes. There is nothing inherently sexist about using scantily-clad ladies to draw people in! It’s just that the potential is there.
  4. The use of the phrase “female ‘Twilight’ fans”, which is rubbing me the wrong way for a lot of different reasons. Would male Twilight fans be better?
  5. The fact that I find myself in a position where I feel compelled to defend Twilight, or at least its fans, because even if I think their books and movies are incredibly stupid and offensive, I think these characterizations of lady geeks are even more stupid and offensive.

In conclusion, thank you, MSNBC, for this earth-shattering “news”!

In which there are shocking revelations.

22 Aug

Courtesy of Rogue Classicism’s post here comes a theory — a MIND-BLOWING theory, if you get excited about history, and who DOESN’T — that Hadrian’s Wall may have been made of timber. MADNESS!

I actually have little to no comment on how credible this may or may not be. Pretty much the extent of my classical history is what I got in Latin class in high school. I should really fix that at some point.