Tag Archives: news

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.)

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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 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.

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.