Tag Archives: America

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 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 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 I have thoughts on stage parents.

3 Oct

So there was an interesting letter in Salon’s broadsheet tying together the Polanski case and a recent incident in which a photograph of Brooke Shields was removed from the Tate Modern in London on the grounds that it might constitute child pornography. It got me thinking about how I am really bothered by everyone who blames the parents in situations like this! Like obviously what Brooke Shields’s parents did strikes me as pretty creepy. But the constant barrage of people saying “well, what about Samantha Geimer’s mother” in the Polanski case are making me really mad, because you know, it’s ultimately shifting the blame for his raping a thirteen-year-old girl to someone else, and a woman at that. And yes, it sounds like Samantha Geimer’s mother was a crappy exploitative stage parent for putting her daughter in a situation where she could be drugged and raped to begin with, but on the other hand, my parents sent me and my sister to a gymnastics school that was later closed down and our coach was arrested for raping students there. Possibly I am projecting a bit, but I don’t know, it’s still ultimately not their fault the dude was raping girls, it’s his fault.

I guess the insistence on tying it into terrible parenting—actually, not just terrible parenting, but terrible mothering, which I feel it’s important to note, because no one is talking about the fathers specifically in these situations, just the awful awful mothers—bothers me, because it’s a way of shifting the blame from the dude who actually drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl, and shifting it to a woman besides. And in an exploitation case like that of Brooke Shields, examining the parents’ behavior is valid, but when it’s a case like the Roman Polanski one, where Samantha Geimer was put into an exploitative situation and then raped, it seems really problematic to me to blame the mother instead of, you know, the guy who actually did the raping.

It’s also striking me as sketchy that Tracy Clark-Flory has reduced the judge in the Shields case to practically a footnote. Like, the focus is on how terrible the parents’ behavior is, not the judge who basically said that since Brooke Shields had done suggestive jeans ads as a teenager, she had no right to get upset about the creepy kiddie-porny picture that was taken of her when she was ten. This is a pretty classic example of what we in the Getting Irritated About Lady Matters biz call “victim-blaming”, and I would like to hear a hell of a lot more excoriation of that dude in this case, you know?

Like, there is more than enough blame to go around in our culture, because I do subscribe to the idea that we live in a rape culture and there are a lot of people who fucked up royally and betrayed both Brooke Shields and Samantha Geimer and, if they didn’t directly exploit them, at least allowed them to be exploited. But this just doesn’t sit right with me.

IDK, I originally intended to tell you guys how much I liked Zombieland! Maybe that will be an entry for tomorrow or something.

In which I cannot maintain my cynicism.

1 Oct

Man, I don’t even know what it was about this, but it basically had me all weepy and ridiculous when I read it. So, okay, awhile back, a high school teacher assigned his students a project in which they would collect oral histories from their family members to create a record of the town’s memories of the Second World War. And they ran across a story the American 30th Infantry Division who were moving through Germany at the end of the war, intercepted and then proceeded to liberate a train that carried thousands of people from the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen to a death camp. It turned out this story had basically been forgotten about, because Mat Rozell, the teacher who’d started it all, began getting emails from people who’d been on that train.

Like, the ABC article about it is kind of silly and manipulative soft journalism, but I’m not gonna lie, I was totally manipulated by it. This is also a really good example of how technology can be really useful for historical study; one of the survivors who was on the train said he had spent 44 years searching for some mention of the incident and found nothing until Matt Rozell’s high school history class posted what they’d found on the Internet.

Seriously this is ridiculous, I am crying all over again. I don’t even know, guys.

In which I’ve got nothing.

26 Sep

I went to Small Press Expo in Rockville today! That was good times. I was going to make you a ~brilliant work of Photoshop art~ to illustrate some of the highlights of my day (wishing I had a flamethrower to use on other drivers; finding and replacing a blown fuse in my car and feeling all competent about myself for it; having someone cut in line in front of me to see Kate Beaton and then hearing that same someone complaining about all the people jumping the line; feeling really bad for Kate Beaton, who looked a bit terrified at the crowd; starting my day by getting up at four AM to take my father to the airport so he can go visit Hawaii for work), but I got up at four, so mostly I am thinking I will just kind of nap for awhile. Sorry, dudes! Have this instead.

date

I’m also sorry about the white text. Life is a series of miseries followed by the peace of the grave, my friends. At least you’re not getting stood up and having to watch your army dwindle?