In which I have neglected a resource too long.

21 Oct

Wow, so, even longer gap that time. Sorry, guys; like I say, things have gotten a little crazier on the job-hunt front, which is mostly great for me but does mean less time to devote to the blog; tragedy! Hopefully soon I will manage to work out some kind of a schedule that will let me balance both, we’ll see.

So awhile back I was considering linking to this article over on the History News Network, So Is Health Care For All Really Un-American, and maybe discussing it a bit, but actually it said everything pretty well (spoiler alert: no, it’s not un-American at all), plus I realized that I had not talked about how great the HNN is yet!

Q: JULIA, HOW GREAT IS THE HNN?
A: PRETTY GREAT!

I followed it when I remembered, but then I added Google’s “History” bundle to my feed reader and it included HNN and I remembered how fantastic it was. The website is incredibly well-organized, with enough categories and departments to ease navigation without having so many as to make it overwhelming and frustrating in other ways instead. They also have hot topics, taking an historical viewpoint on major news topics and current events (currently: Obama’s Nobel, Afghanistan, health care reform, Obama and race, and “Meltdown 2009”) and reminding us that yes, history does have an impact on us now.

Plus if you will look at the top, it’s done by George Mason University, towards whom I am slightly biased on account of having gone there.

In which I am having trouble lifting stuff on account of this chip on my shoulder.

14 Oct

So, apparently people are abuzz with talk about the Millennials! This is relevant to my interests, on account of how I’m generally considered as belonging to that generation (1985). This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education talks about the practice of generational studies, which, like so much of academia, mostly seems to involve saying some stuff and then arguing about it with people who are saying slightly different stuff. It’s a pretty interesting article and definitely worth a read, and I’m now interested in adding the books referenced to my list of things to get next time I’m at the library!

I mostly wanted to say, though, dear Neil Howe and William Strauss, I have a hard time taking your study seriously when you base all your observations on a survey not only of one county and one alone, but of Fairfax County in particular. Now, admittedly, I have a bit of a complex about Fairfax County, being from the county everyone in Fairfax makes fun of: for instance, I once had someone from Fairfax, on finding out that I had grown up in Woodbridge, across the river in Prince William County, respond with “wow, I didn’t know that was something people admitted to in public” (this is why I feel a certain kinship with New Jersey, just FYI). But dudes, Fairfax County is hardly representative of the entire country in any way. As the article points out, in 2007 Fairfax “became the first county in the nation to have a median household income of more than $100,000, about twice the national average.” Admittedly, in the DC Metro area, an income of $100,000 doesn’t go as far as it would elsewhere in the country, because the cost of living is so high, but dudes, leaving aside the class issues, what about the regional differences? What about urban vs. suburban vs. rural?

Like, I am willing to hear out some talk of generational theory, at least insofar as it loosely corresponds to historical trends, but dudes. Seriously. The sample size is pretty good, but that is not much in the way of sample variety. Probably the funniest point, for me, comes in a discussion of an admissions officer’s doubts about this whole business:

He wondered if the sample of students in Millennials Rising had corrupted the findings. After all, most students do not apply to top-20 colleges.

Which pretty much sums it up right there. Oh, Fairfax County.

At first glance, this post probably looks like a thinly-veiled excuse for me to vent some spleen re: Fairfax County, but look closer! What I’m talking about is actually a pretty important thing to pay attention to when doing Serious Historical Research. Obviously, having grown up in the Northern Virginia area during the period Strauss and Howe were studying, I’m able to spot a lot more quickly that drawing conclusions about an entire nation’s worth of young people based on the teenagers in that county alone is stupid, because that county is very much exceptional. But you do need to be careful when faced with raw data, which these dudes seem to have forgotten: in the United States there’s tons of regional variation, and while this might be useful as a study of, say, Mid-Atlantic teenagers, or teenagers in busy, rich, suburban/urban areas, it’s not useful as a study of an entire nation’s teenagers.

In conclusion, though, seriously: FAIRFAX COUNTY, DUDES. SO TOTALLY NOT THE REST OF THE COUNTRY. If they were, I would probably emigrate.

In which I (unsuccessfully) attempt to disguise my disgust with sarcasm

12 Oct

Sorry about that break there; I was out of town for a bit and also things are starting to (finally) get busy for me on the job-hunt front! Fingers crossed on that, though it might mean posting becomes a little less frequent. But I have a totally fun post to make up for it! By which I mean feminist rage. Sorry.

I know that the rape business we’re all concerned about right now is Roman Polanski, but my friends, part of the fun of feminism is that there is always more than enough rape to go around! If you’re looking for some other rape case to cleanse your palate while you wait for the next course of Polanski, seems that 30 Republican Senators voted to defend the rights of a corporation over the rights of a woman that corporation’s employees locked in a shipping container, drugged, starved, and gang-raped.

Unsurprisingly, among the Republicans who voted in favor of the victim’s right to take Halliburton to court over this are all of the party’s female senators! I eagerly await the talk of how that clearly means that womenfolk shouldn’t be in Congress because their icky lady feelings get in the way of them towing the party line.

In which we are reminded of the importance of specificity. And also the deliciousness of apples.

7 Oct

So the food I set out to dig some info up on today is a pretty difficult one to research: apple cider! You’re probably thinking, “Jules, what’s so difficult about that?” In response to which I might punch you! It turns out, there is a lot that’s difficult about that.

Not only is cider about as old as apples (the only question seems to be whether the Egyptians were making it; while they grew apples, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that they were making any kind of juice or beverage from them), but trying to figure out which particular cider any given source is talking about is pretty tricky, too. American cider, which is unsweetened, unclarified juice (cloudy and brown, as opposed to the clear yellow stuff sold as juice), is completely different from what we call hard cider and the rest of the world just calls cider, which is also clear and yellow but will get you drunk! This brings me to a very important Serious Historical Research Tip: always specify your terms. A lot of the sources out there are just throwing “cider” around without any modifiers whatsoever. Is that useful to the Serious Historical Expert? It is not. Not when you’re trying to find information on one particular kind, anyway.

As far as other early mentions, a couple of different sources mentioned that when the Romans reached Britain, the locals in Kent introduced them to some kind of apple-based drink. But the earliest records of cider-making in England are from after the Norman Conquest, although there were references from France early in the ninth century, from no less a source than Charlemagne. It also turns out that in the late nineteenth century, cider actually outstripped wine as the beverage of choice in Paris! In America, meanwhile, during the early years of the colonial period, apples were a lot quicker and easier to grow than grains, so cider was generally more prevalent than beer.

But this ended up being as much a chance to talk about the Serious Historical Research Process as delicious autumnal beverages. Here’s the thing: in a lot of the sources where I found this information, I ended up having to deduce for myself which kind of cider the author was referring to (usually hard). In the case of an article from a website dedicated to alcoholic beverages, this was kind of a no-brainer, but in other cases, I’d have to go on references contrasting cider with beer, remarking on the differences in “fermentation processes”, and mentioning that a general decline in popularity was followed by the blow of Prohibition. These are the kinds of context clues that the Serious Historical Expert needs to be on the lookout for, you see. And while it’s easy to write one source off, especially one found by the Grueling Research Method of googling for two minutes, the need to pay attention to context because no one would specify whether they were talking about hard or soft cider was a constant one–even a New York Times article confused me for awhile until its middle, where there were references to alcohol content. This timeline, further, has an interesting graph at the bottom. I had assumed (from the fact that the URL is a UK-based one, and it’s generally only Americans who refer to soft cider as merely “cider”, without any modifiers) that it was generally tracking hard cider, and if you’ll look at that graph, you’ll notice something else that corroborates that assumption: there’s a huge drop-off in US cider consumption right after 1919. Again, this is an important context clue–Prohibition went into effect shortly after, and that would’ve affected hard cider sales drastically.

Personally, for dinner tonight I’m going to make these pork chops braised in (soft) cider. I suspect they will go down in history for DELICIOUSNESS.

In which a grudge is hinted at

6 Oct

Ugh what the hell, that was supposed to post around nine AM this morning. My eternal quest to master the “Schedule Post” feature continues.

So, as you have probably noticed, I love food history. I would like to give you guys more in the way of hilarious anecdotes from history, but a lot of what I end up studying tends to involve material culture and attempts to find out how the general populace lived in a given society, rather than the oustanding few whose names we know. This means that a lot of what I’ve got tends to be more on trends and fashions, instead of the kind of delightful stories one gets from biographies. But I’ll try to work on that a bit more, because I’m sure I just need to dig a little deeper!

Anyhoo, this isn’t so much an anecdote, but it’s kind of awesome: while poking around a couple of food history sites, I came up with this: Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, written by Jefferson himself, is over here at the Library of Congress web site! Oh Thomas Jefferson. Here is the deal with me and Thomas Jefferson, guys: you know how sometimes you meet someone, or you watch a TV show and there’s some character on it, and you can’t explain why, but you just really want to punch them a lot? That is how I get with Thomas Jefferson. I don’t even know! He did a lot of great stuff for the United States, and humanity in general, and he was a pretty interesting dude, objectively, and yet somehow I just want to get a time machine, go back to the eighteenth century, and (after I have gone on my amazing date with George Washington) punch Thomas Jefferson in the face.

Now, if you are like me and you grew up in Virginia, you spent a whole lot of time hearing about how freaking great Thomas Jefferson was, and among his many accomplishments was credit for bringing ice cream to America.* Turns out this is BS! While the earliest known recipe for ice cream in America is Jefferson’s, according to Monticello, “George Washington’s papers contain a prior reference to an ice cream maker”. IT ALL COMES BACK TO GEORGE IN THE END, MY FRIENDS. Seriously, though, the deal was that TJ was just kind of famous for serving it a lot at Monticello, and that’s the earliest known recipe in America (although there are ones in England from as early as 1718). Sorry, TJ, you are just going to have to rest on that whole Declaration of Independence thing and hope it is enough to keep me from punching you. No promises, though; that’s just not how I roll.

* In fairness, I spent a lot of time tuning out whatever my teachers were talking about, especially when we returned once more to the subject of how great Thomas Jefferson was, so maybe I am just piecing this together from hearing about how much he liked ice cream and the approximately five billion other things he is credited with bringing to America (not to be confused with the six billion things Ben Franklin invented or brought to America.

In which there is awkwardness all around.

5 Oct

The happy little stars this layout uses for bullet points just add to the effect, really.

  • Hey remember when you made a big deal out of Holocaust denial and then it got out that your family converted from Judaism when you were little? Hahaha, man, that was awkward.
  • Or hey remember when you were a German pen company and you marked the birth of a dude who embraced an ascetic lifestyle and “shunned foreign-made products” and was pretty known for making hunger strikes by selling a $25,000 pen? Oh man, that was awkward.
  • Oh man remember that time you used the White Man’s Burden as an excuse to wipe out the indigenous people and then it turned out they had canal systems thousands of years before you got there? Hoo boy was that awkward.

Oh man, sorry dudes, I am out with a pretty fierce cold the past few days so I pretty much got nothing. Also why would you need a $25,000 pen at all, seriously.

In which my excitement is no enigma.

4 Oct

…sorry about that.

I was really jazzed last week when I read this BBC article about how Bletchley Park has been awarded 500,000 pounds for development! This is one of those things that I just find so endlessly interesting and yet have somehow never managed to see the times I’ve traveled to England. Hopefully I’ll be getting back sometime in the next year or so and I can get to it then.

Basically Bletchley Park was the site of the British codebreaking efforts during WWII. It was located about equidistant between Cambridge and Oxford, the joke being that so many of their people came from one of those universities that if they seemed to be favoring one with the location there’d be no peace. If you pick up any kind of resource on Bletchley Park you will find all sorts of hilarious and/or tragic stories (for the latter, see Alan Turing’s ENTIRE FREAKING LIFE).

Here is the thing: a lot of the brains behind the operation were, to put it delicately, nerds, and if you are like me, you have noticed that while plenty of nerds do have normal social skills and hygiene, plenty of them don’t, so if you get a group of nerds together, add the normal nerd levels of neurosis and intelligence to super-code-breaking-genius levels of these, and place them under stress (like, say, having to break German codes and begin all over again every single day), hilarity will tend to result. As for the tragic bits, apart from, as I said before, Alan Turing’s ENTIRE FREAKING LIFE, it was all intelligence work, which means that to the eyes of most of the country, it was a cushy desk job that you took to get out of actually serving. There’s a story of one codebreaker who got this letter from a former tutor, ripping him apart for not enlisting when so many of his classmates had done, and for just taking some safe little government desk job when his country really needed him, and of course even though he was doing just as much as the guys who went off to fight, he couldn’t possibly say that on account of its being TOP FUCKING SECRET.

I’ve currently got Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park in my to-read pile, but having flipped through it a little, it seems pretty excellent! Basically I am a sucker for espionage history in general, and I am also a big fan museums/historical sites, so hearing that Bletchley Park had gotten a decent bit of money (and that there are plans for a 10-million-pound renovation over the next few years besides) was pretty awesome.