29 May 2003

US Soldiers Vandalized Ur

The Observer is reporting that US soldiers stationed at a new base close to the ancient Sumerian city of Ur have been vandalizing the city's walls by spray-painting SEMPER FE and by stealing bricks that are thousands of years old.

That's right--our brave men and women are liberating Iraqis by destroying their national treasures. And of this we are supposed to be proud?

Incidentally, the military is refusing to comment.

28 May 2003

Blogging Myself, Part II

The promised video of the Artemas Ward House, complete with some of my commentary, is now up on Harvard's homepage. The permanent link is here. This is my first experience in a documentary-like setting. I never knew I could sound so knowledgeable about barns.

26 May 2003

Red Sox 8, Yankees 4

Curse, what curse? I'd say the Bambino let Roger have it this time around.

22 May 2003

Blogging Myself

I never thought I would have occasion to blog myself, but here goes! The Harvard Gazette has published an article about a seminar I took two years ago with my advisor Laurel Ulrich about the Artemas Ward Homestead, which is owned by Harvard. My paper will be published as a scholarly article in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society next January--very exciting! Eventually there will be video on the web featuring Judy and me commenting on the house as well.

I guess this blows my anonymity. So much for "a university in the northeast to remain unnamed."

21 May 2003

Reproductive Rights for Women in the Military

In recent weeks we've heard much about the bravery of our women in uniform. Remember though, that these women stationed abroad cannot obtain abortions in military hospitals, even in cases of rape or incest. As Planned Parenthood says, Under the current ban, a U.S. servicewoman or female military dependent stationed overseas who needs an abortion may be forced to seek services in the host country, where abortion services may not be safe or legal. Alternatively, she may have to notify her superiors about her need for an abortion and wait until there is space available on a military flight back to the United States, sacrificing her privacy and increasing her health risk with potentially dangerous delays.

This state of affairs is hardly surprising. After all, the US military that idolized Private Lynch for her "spunk" (!) also gave us Tailhook and systematic rape condoned by supervisors at the Air Force Academy. Three women Senators are now seeking to overturn that ban, however. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Olympia Snowe
(R-ME) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) are sponsoring legislation to repeal the ban on abortions in military hospitals. Abortions would still have to be privately funded of course (the Hyde Amendment seems to be unkillable), but at least would not have to risk their privacy or even their lives to terminate a pregnancy overseas.

The US military remains one of the most misogynistic organizations I can think of. Ending its paternalistic approach to women's reproductive health care will go a long way towards both changing its image and granting true equality to the women it wants to call heroes.

Update: my excellent mother has pointed out that "heroized" is not a word. I have edited accordingly!

17 May 2003

Joss on the End of Buffy

One of the cleverest TV shows I have ever seen is airing its series finale this Tuesday. Click here to read Joss Whedon's comments on the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

African Women and Bush, Again

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column about the prevalence of obstetric fistulae among young teenage women in Africa. I won't describe the condition here; it is pretty graphic and Kristof does a good job of getting the misery of these women across.

Kristof makes two interesting points, one dealing with the Bush administration, and the other with "feminists."

It turns out that that $34 million in family planning aid that Bush refused to send because radical right wingers claimed the money paid for abortions was one main source of funding for fistula hospitals in Africa. This just gives me another reason to intensely dislike Bush. By bowing to pressures from the right end of his party (and the right clearly had the story wrong in this case) Bush is contributing directly to the lack of postpartem medical care for women in Africa.

The second point Kristof makes deals with "feminists," and how he is shocked that women's rights activists have not been more vocal on this issue. He writes that "Perhaps it's because Westerners can't conceive of the horror of obstetric fistulas (Americans haven't commonly suffered fistulas since the 19th century, when a fistula hospital stood on the site of today's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan). Or perhaps the issue doesn't galvanize women's groups because fistulas relate to a traditional child-bearing role." I think this is unfair. I have been aware of the problem of fistulae for some time, although not the connection of American family planning funding to it. Plenty of activists have shown interest in the problem. To accuse women's rights activists of not being interested in the issue because it deals with "traditional child bearing" is misleading and misinformed.

15 May 2003

Scholasticism and Scholarly Conversation

Invisible Adjunct posted a response to my comments on Bernard Bailyn's remarks yesterday. I do enjoy attracting attention! One of the comments on her post, though, says, "Most books should be articles and most articles should never be written." Sigh. At least I though my article was worth writing.

Having said that, I would like to address some of the comments of both Invisible Adjunct and Timothy Burke on scholarly conversation, because I think they relate to the problem of "scholasticism" and overspecialization. Invisible Adjunct nicely paraphrased Burke's remarks:

In a nice dissection of the heartlessness at the heart of the academy, Burke places his emphasis on the significance of fear. There is, for example, the "internalization of shame" and "paranoid wariness" that is too often the accompaniment of graduate school training. And there is also "the massive saturation of the intellectual marketplace with published knowledge and academic performances of knowledge at conferences, workshops and events," which makes academics "fear exposure of ignorance, because in truth, most of us are ignorant."

In place of "the ceaseless overproduction of derivative, second-order knowledge," Burke calls for a renewed embrace of the teaching mission and a revaluation of the vanishing art of scholarly conversation. Following Hume, we might call this a return to the ideal of conversibility, where the scholar does not work in "monkish seclusion" but rather engages with the problems and concerns of common life, mediating between the world of learning and the rest of the world. In any case, go read Burke's essay

I have a few thoughts on this.

1. I think the "paranoid wariness" Burke describes in graduate programs would go away if schools only accepted those they can fund. Everyone in my department is fully funded and has more or less equal access to travel money and other support. This makes the atmosphere much more congenial. I don't have to hide my thoughts for fear someone will steal them and use them to compete against me on a grant application.

2. As scholars we need to be more open to people who don't hyper-specialize. I have been a victim recently of the notion that one can only teach one's main field of study. I am an early Americanist. I know quite a bit (I think) about North America from 1400-1800. But I also did general fields in medieval Europe and early modern Britain. These fields led me to teach things Americanists don't generally teach--in my case, my university's Western Civilization class. I enjoyed the class so much the professors who teach it invited me back to be Head Teaching Fellow next fall. Now, this is mainly an administrative position and I'll spend most of my time ordering books and tracking down recalcitrant students. But it was whispered in my department among other grad students that an Americanist should not be teaching European history.

This made me pretty mad, but beyond that, I think it is symptomatic of the problems Burke and Invisible Adjunct were addressing in their respective posts. Are we so attached to our little specializations that we dare not cross our artificial boundaries to teach and to learn?

I agree that the publication of too many books and articles (in pursuit of tenure) is part of the problem. But beyond massive academic production, I think we also have an attitude problem.

Lastly, in her response to my post, Invisible Adjunct assured her readers that I had no doubt located much of the secondary literature relevant to my topic. I appreciate her faith in my abilities, but alas, while wandering the byways of my favorite used bookstore yesterday, I came across a collection of articles published in 2002 which is more than relevant. I didn't know about this volume until I saw it on a shelf. It never ends. Sigh.

13 May 2003

We've descended into Scholasticism

Yesterday I attended a fascinating event at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, that bastion of antiquarianism and male chauvinism inhabiting a Bulfinch mansion in Beacon Hill. The Society, in an attempt to not seem so antiquarian anymore (and thereby cease to be ridiculed by people like me), hosts an annual graduate student forum for students in the early stages of their dissertations. A friend was giving a paper so I came along for moral support.

The highlight of the day was almost certainly the presence of Professor Bernard Bailyn, the dean of historians of early America. Professor Bailyn brought his considerable knowledge and expertise to bear on practically every paper while periodically cracking hysterically funny jokes, including one about guns and probate inventories that would be funny only to those who have been following the Bellesiles controversy. But his concluding remarks were truly interesting. His take on the historical profession currently is that because of the volume of publishing, our professional dialogues are now carried on in the context of a sort of scholasticism. Meaning, we cannot write anything without having to master a lengthy bibliography. He pointed out that when he wrote his dissertation there was only a handful of books dealing with New England in the seventeenth century. My own topic, dealing with religion and race in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake, would thirty years ago have only encompassed a handful of books as well. Now my bibliography is stabilizing at three hundred items but I scarcely feel like I have fully researched all the secondary literature. Our debates are now predicated on a knowledge of secondary work that takes years to master and significant amounts of time to keep up with, as demonstrated by the proliferation of journals.

Professor Bailyn did not have a solution to this problem, beyond suggesting that the rising generation of scholars would no doubt find a way. But I also feel I am contributing to the problem--I am publishing an article that should appear early in 2004. While it was fun to write, and I daresay it is an interesting and entertaining read, it isn't going to significantly shape the conversation in my field. I am overjoyed to be publishing at least for the sake of my CV, but am I also contributing to the scholarly cacaphony that makes academic history so inaccesible to anyone who hasn't been reading in the field for years?

I think this relates back to recent conversations about the death of conversation in the humanities begun by Timothy Burke and continued by Invisible Adjunct.I wanted to respond to these but unfortunately I have been swarmed under by term papers and final exams that require grading. But Professor Bailyn's comments put me in mind of some of the troubles now facing those who work in history. I think scholasticism might be just the word for what we do. And that disturbs me.

04 May 2003

Big Blisters

My boyfriend and I walked twenty miles today, joining approximately 42,000 Bostonians who raised about $3 million dollars for Project Bread. Project Bread funds about 400 soup kitchens and food pantries around Massachusetts. Emergency food providers across the state are reporting sharp increases in the number of people seeking their services (a product of the Bushian recession, I suppose). At any rate, I only raised about $75 but I still feel pretty good about the whole experience. You can read an article about the Walk for Hunger here.