31 August 2005

Early Modern Carnivalesque...

Carnivalesque Button

On Monday September 5, I will be hosting the next Early Modern edition of Carnivalesque.

So please send on your nominations of quality blog posts (preferably posted since about the beginning of July) on any topic to do with the period between (approximately) 1500-1800 AD, to me by midnight 4 September, at: rgoetz{AT}fas{DOT}harvard{DOT}edu.

Please make sure you put ‘Carnivalesque’ in the title of your email so it will go through my junk mail filters.

I'm looking forward to everything you all send me!

27 August 2005

Unabashed Self-Promotion Blog

Last winter I wrote a piece for the new History Department Teaching Fellow Handbook on "Being a Head Teaching Fellow." This effort is now published online--starting on page 55 of the PDF file.

I'm really proud of it. Shortly after I agreed to write the piece, one of my friends told me that when she was a head TF, her professor-boss made her fetch glasses of water and make sandwiches. So, mostly I wanted grad students to know there are limits to what their responsibilities are, and I wanted to help them negotiate the Scylla and Charybdis of fellow grad students as Teaching Fellows on one side and professors on the other. I hope it helps!

Library Perfidy

Having praised Houghton yesterday, today I damn Widener.

Why, oh why, does the country's second largest research library (after the Library of Congress) completely shut down from August 20 (the end of summer school) until September 19 (the start of fall classes)? Well, not completely: I can still work here, but the library is open only 9-5 Mondays through Saturdays. No other library on campus is open and available for hard-working graduate students after 5pm on any day. To add insult to injury, there are no reference services on Saturdays. I just popped down to Loker Reference Room on a writing break, thinking I would beg the CD-ROM version of the Dictionary of National Biography from the reference librarians to look up a growing list of Virginia ministers. I was going to establish some biographical files before returning to Chapter Three. Alas, no reference services means just that: no reference services. And therefore, no CD-ROM of the DNB.

How can anyone get work done like this?

26 August 2005

Library Serendipity

One of the marvelous things about Harvard's Houghton Rare Books Library (and there are many marvelous things about it) is that a person who wishes to see a seventeenth-century English book won't automatically be escorted to the door with instructions to look at the EEBO version and never come back. (Such is the reception one gets at the Harvard Law Library Rare Books room.)

Yesterday, the writing was not going so well so I decided to look at a tract that has been on my list for awhile but that I never got to. As it turns out, Thomas Blake's The Birth Priviledge, or, Covenant-Holinesse of Beleevers and their Issue in the time of the Gospel Together With the Right of Infants to Baptisme (London, 1644) was bound in a volume containing five other tracts about baptism I had never even heard of. They were bound in chronological order, with publication dates ranging from 1641 to 1648, and some helpful seventeenth-century hand had recorded the different instances in which the tracts "talked" with each other. All were anti-Anabaptist, but all held varying beliefs on the meaning, efficacy, and availability of infant baptism.

Thomas Blake's comments were exceedingly helpful, as it turns out. For starters, he addressed the concept of heredity: The essentiall or integrall parts of a species, with the naturall properties, that doe accompany it, so one bruit beast brings forth another, one bird brings forth another, and man brings forth one of man-kind. He elaborated on this issue as regards religion: The priviledges or burdens, which in Family or Nation are hereditary, they are conveyed from parents to posterity, from Ancestors to their Issue: As is the father, so is the child, as respecting their particulars: The child of a free-man with St Paul is free borne: The child of a Noble man is noble. The child of a bond-man (where servants were wholy their masters to dispose) is a bond-man likewise. So the child, of a Turke is a Turke; The child of a Pagan is a Pagan; The child of a Jew is a Jew; The child of a Christian is a Christian: As by vertue of the grand Charter of Heaven among the people of God, this priviledge doth descend: So it is the nature of those things that are descendable.”

Wow. Religion was a heritable characteristic that served to bind not only families but also nations together. It's the strongest statement of a proto-racial ideology centered on religion I have found in English. And helpfully, the kind person who bound these tracts together allows me to easily trace the development of this idea, as well as scholastically arranged arguments for and against the idea.

Who was that helpful person? The inscription on the frontispiece of the first tract bound in the book reads "Increase Mather his book 1656." Increase Mather graduated from Harvard College that year and went on to study in Dublin. He returned to Massachusetts in 1661, and I entertained myself for awhile by imagining the young Increase, preparing for his ordination, reading this little collection against the backdrop of the synod that approved the Half-Way Covenant in 1662. Rev. Mather was later President of Harvard College and was even sceptical about the Salem Witchcraft Trials (at their conclusion he wrote a treatise denouncing "spectral evidence").

And now the marginalia of this master Puritan theologian will guide me through the thicket of English argument about baptism. That's a serendipitous find one would never have on EEBO.

Update! My father thinks Increase Mather is guiding my dissertation from the great beyond. I think I might actually now be creeped out by my library serendipity.

21 August 2005


My good friend William Crawford has relaunched his website and weblog.

Will is starting an MBA program at MIT and specializing in biomedical enterprise. He promises interesting commentary on business school, being a student again, software, biomedical enterprise, politics, and whatever else interests him. I guarantee fun and frolics for those who stop by!

BTW, Will is responsible for this blog...in July 2002 he encouraged me to start my own blog. (a)musings was the result!

18 August 2005

A New Kind of MeMe

New Kid has tagged me, at my request, with the following questions. I really like this game; it's different than your conventional memes in that the questions are personally tailored. So, if you would like me to tag you with five questions, drop me an email and I'll see what I can do!
  1. What do I like most/least about Harvard? Harvard is a place I ended up in almost accidentally. When I was applying to graduate school, I didn’t really think about the process in the same way many prospective graduate students do, in that I wasn’t assiduously comparing programs and aid packages, or making lists of potential advisers and departments. I wasn’t wise about it at all. I had met Laurel Ulrich at a conference, I liked her book, and I thought it would be fun to go to Harvard and work on learning to be an historian. I never even stopped to think what the job market was like! I also didn’t really believe I would get in. It was a shock when I did get in, and, as it turns out, Harvard is the only place that gave me a real aid package. (Both Brown and Penn expected me to take out loans for the first two years, and Yale rejected me outright.) So, Harvard it was. And things have turned out nicely. The Big H has fabulous resources. Widener Library, where I lurk now on a daily basis, has pretty much everything I need, and if it doesn’t have it, the helpful librarian folk will order it for me. And Harvard is probably the best place in the country to be an early Americanist. The History Department Faculty alone boasts not only Laurel Ulrich, but also Joyce Chaplin, Jill Lepore, and Vince Brown. My graduate cohort is a truly delightful bunch; we have a stimulating and engaging dissertation group and aside from the intellectual stimulation, Harvard Square is a fun place to be. Shops, restaurants (some of which I can even afford to eat in), bookstores, and Boston only a little ways away, with a symphony and a ballet company...In other words, I’m happy as a clam here.

    But Harvard, like any place else, has its issues. I suppose the thing I like least about Harvard is that gets crushed under the weight of its very own Harvard-ness. Harvard has a cultural sense of self-importance that I sometimes find nauseating. Recently, Harvard started allowing undergraduates to spend a year abroad during their junior year, but I still hear from undergrads who say that they’ve been told not to do it, that no other university can provide as sound an educational experience as Harvard can. That’s just poppycock, in my humble opinion. An undergraduate can have extremely valuable experiences elsewhere; Harvard cannot and should not be the be-all-and-end-all of higher education. Likewise, those in the administration are liable to respond to criticism with statements like, “you should just be glad to be at Harvard,” or “well, we’ll work on that, but you know, funding is scarce....” I’ve gotten both of those responses when I’ve asked pointed questions about the grad students’ substandard health care insurance and the cancellation of grad students’ dental insurance. For a university with the amount of resources this place has, it does a lot of corner-cutting when it comes to taking care of its students and employees. (Of course I realize that grad students in other places have it much, much worse.) The idea that one should just be grateful to be here rather irritates me.

    But, when all is said and done, I have spent five very happy years here and gotten a lot out of the process.

  2. How did I choose my dissertation topic? I didn’t choose it; it chose me! Seriously, I came to Harvard thinking I would work on Revolutionary War soldiers’ diaries. I was all set to commence work on that project when I enrolled in a required Early American research seminar centered on race. I was peeved, but went along with it. I decided to work on something south of New England for a change, and in the hunt for a topic looked in Hening’s Virginia Statutes at Large (1823). This is the most reliable compendium of colonial Virginia law. I started noticing that legislators constantly transposed the words “heathen” and “African” or “Negro,” or “heathen” and “Indian” or “tawny.” They also consistently transposed “Christian” and “English.” By the end of the seventeenth century, they were transposing “Christian,” “English,” and “white.” So I wrote a paper about the religious criteria Anglo-Virginians used to formulate an idea of heritable inferiority (race) and to justify slavery. I postulated that Anglo-Virginians believed both Africans and Indians, but Africans especially, to be “hereditary heathens.” This was much more exciting than all those soldiers’ diaries. I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read an abstract of my dissertation here.

  3. What are your favorite non-work activities? Well, like most academic types I read in my spare time. I like reading European hsitory for fun, since I don’t study it. I also enjoy memoirs and biography. (Currently on my nightstand: Lorna Sage’s memoir Bad Blood and George M. Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.) I read a ton of fiction, both “serious” fiction and “fun” fiction. (Right now: The Rule of Four and Faulkner’s Light in August.) I also adore science fiction and fantasy but I’m not reading any of those right now. (But hey folks, the next Honor Harrington novel is due out in November! Hurrah! For those of you not in the know, David Weber’s Honor Harrington books are like Horatio Hornblower, in space, with nuclear warheads. Start with On Basilisk Station. Have fun noticing the little Napoleonic references he sneaks in.)

    I also enjoy back episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve recently joined Netflix and so get a lot of DVDs that way. (On tap for tonight, after dinner, is Good-bye Lenin!)

    I like going to the ballet and the symphony when I can afford it. I have plans to spend a weekend in NYC early in November so I can go to the Met (oh happy day!).

    I’ve recently returned to an old hobby of mine—swimming. I swam competitively all through high school and really enjoyed it, but dropped it in college in favor of other activities. I joined the Cambridge Masters’ Swim Club and I’m now swimming twice a week. It’s been hard finding my sea legs again, but I’m really enjoying the physical activity. It sure beats sitting on my rear end all day in the library, staring at the computer screen and waiting for my dissertation to pour forth in all its brilliance.

  4. Cats or dogs? That’s easy: both! Also, horses, llamas, and chickens. I would also like to have a push-me-pull-you someday.

  5. What one thing do you most wish you could change about the US right now? Do I have to limit myself to one thing? I suppose if I take the easy way out of this I would say, get rid of Dubya and supplant him with a President with at least half a brain. But, Dubya is only one symptom of a much larger problem. I suppose I would like the US to be less chauvinistic, less militaristic, less inclined to think invasion is the answer to the terrorism problem. I would like the US to be more internationally-minded, more courteous towards its allies, more respectful of the rights of its citizens at home, and more respectful of the treaties it has signed. I envision a US less muscular in its export of “democracy” and “freedom” and more understanding of the political, economic, and social challenges other countries face. There. That would be my soapbox for the day!

Thanks, New Kid, that was fun!

16 August 2005

Coming soon to a blog near you...

Carnivalesque Button

Um, this blog actually! On Monday September 5, I will be hosting the next Early Modern edition of Carnivalesque.

So please send on your nominations of quality blog posts (preferably posted since about the beginning of July) on any topic to do with the period between (approximately) 1500-1800 AD, to me by midnight 4 September, at: rgoetz{AT}fas{DOT}harvard{DOT}edu.

I take the "approximately" part of that very seriously--if you've written a piece or seen a good blog post that's a little before 1500 or a little after 1800, send it along! The more the merrier, and I'm mighty interested to see what y'all send me. Please make sure you put ‘Carnivalesque’ in the title of your email so it will go through my junk mail filters.

If you haven’t written anything lately, you’ve got plenty of time! So, early modernists and early modernist-wannabes, get writing and send me your nominations! I'm a great fan of carnivals; I think they're a great way to showcase the best posts history bloggers have to offer. So let's make the next Early Modern Carnivalesque one for the history books! (heh heh)

Incidentally, History Carnival #14 is up at Philobiblon. It's a fabulous collection of great history stuff--I'm working my way through it slowly and enjoying every bit of it. (Here's my rule: if I write a page of Chapter Three, I can allow myself one entry from the Carnival. I like the carrot and stick approach to getting writing done.)

15 August 2005

I'm Watership Down!

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I read Watership Down for the first time in the seventh or eighth grade--I can't remember which. I came to it a little later than my other favorite childhood books (The Hobbit, the Chronicles of Narnia, anything by Madeleine L'Engle). But the tale of Hazel and his prophetic Fiver and the evil General Woundwort stayed with me. I can't think of a book I would rather be, except maybe Jane Eyre.

13 August 2005

Mr Justice Roberts...

...is probably a foregone conclusion. As a militant defender of abortion rights and reproductive freedom, even I can't think of a good reason to keep Roberts off the Court. He appears to my untutored eyes to be qualified to serve on the Court. What we should all hope for is that Roberts will be fair and persuadable on the bench, and not be a rigid ideologue like Scalia.

Jeff Cooper's corner of the blogosphere has been pretty quiet lately, but today, at long last, he has a post about Roberts. With all the speculation circulating about Roberts, in which commentators consult long-lost childhood friends and ouija boards to predict Roberts' probable voting patterns, Cooper reminds us that who a person clerked for is not even remotely an arbiter of how they'll behave on the bench. Judge Roberts's admiration for Henry Friendly suggests that he is not a rigid, blinders-on, straight-down-the-line ideologue, and to that extent it's reassuring. But to suggest that it shows any more than that is to place more weight on the evidence than it will bear.

For those with concerns about how Roberts will vote on cases involving Roe, I think it is important to remember that the Supreme Court is only one battle ground on which the war for reproductive self-determination is fought. Rather than relying on a few members of the Court to hang on to Roe, activists should be working for a legislative solution. All national polls show that Americans, while disliking abortion, favor abortion remaining legal with certain restrictions. With that kind of support, we should be working to get legislation passed in addition to pursuing reproductive rights in the courts.

12 August 2005


For lack of a better way of putting it, my dissertation will be due August 12, 2006. On that date I will have to file the final Graduate School of Arts and Sciences paperwork (and pay the fees) for receipt of the PhD in November 2006.

This seems like a good due date to me since my fellowship will end on August 31, 2006.

I think I should feel afraid. Instead, my task for this Friday evening will be to write a few paragraphs on New England's Half-Way Covenant. (It is actually pretty important for a dissertation about Virginia--long story, but trust me on this one.)

11 August 2005

Another Rare Map Thief

Boston Public Library and Yale University are both victims of an archive thief, the Boston Globe is reporting today.

E. Forbes Smiley has pleaded not guilty to grand larceny charges involving the theft of several rare maps from Beinecke Library.

The Globe editorial wants the BPL to take certain measures to protect collections:

Training for staffers is essential: They have to be vigilant of both colleagues and library users. Libraries can also mark maps and other rare materials with rubber stamps that leave deliberately easy-to-see marks. The monetary value of the document is not compromised, Berger argues, because once it's in a library, a document's worth is measured only in its research value. Berger also says libraries use invisible marks like microstamps and microtags.

Digital images or other copies of rare collections can also help, increasing access to documents and books while keeping them safe and eliminating some of the wear and tear of human handling.

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

I spent yesterday on beautiful Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. I frolicked in the waves, wallowed in the sand, observed several piping plovers (piping plovers are endangered but recovering, so I watched and listened to them only from a distance), took a nice long beach walk, and got a bit of a sunburn. I don't get up there very often; Crane Beach, like most Massachusetts beaches, requires a car for access (meaning public transportation won't get you there).

Mostly I enjoyed the 63-degree water and the stiff sea breeze that made the beach much more comfortable than 90+ Cambridge. My apartment usually soars to 87 during the day, falling to around 82 at night. I don't have air conditioning, and all my windows face the same direction, making the stimulation of a cross breeze impossible. So I move all that hot air around with a few fans.

And through the open windows comes the hum of air conditioners. Air conditioners, that is, for the office suite that manages this Harvard apartment complex. Let me lay it out for you: Harvard won't allow its workers, reasonably enough, to spend eight hours in unairconditioned offices. But it will allow students who are paying market rates for apartments to go without air conditioning. It will go so far as to force them to go without air conditioning: my lease expressly forbids the installation of an air conditioner. So I lay last night, very hot in my apartment, not really sleeping, but listening to the hum of the air conditioners in the (empty) office across the way. Lovely.

This is really only a problem a few weeks a year, when heat and humidity invade Boston and make the city very uncomfortable. But during those uncomfortable weeks, I really wish Harvard would let me put in AC.

09 August 2005

A Triathlete in the Family

My cousin Jessica Burgess is currently in training for a triathlon in Laconia, New Hampshire. Jessica won a competition to be able to do this; the local newspaper provides her with expert coaches in swimming, biking, and running and in exchange she writes a column once a week about her training. Here's her latest! The triathlon is in a few weeks.

08 August 2005

I got Tagged!

Helen over at Classics, Etc. tagged me with a meme--my first ever real tag! I've done memes before; just not on request. By the way, Helen is about to start her PhD program in Classics at the University of Nottingham. Good luck with that!

  1. First name: Rebecca
  2. Were you named after anyone? Not that I know of, although rumor has it that I was nearly named Sarah.
  3. Do you wish on stars? Absolutely.
  4. When did you last cry? Recently. :)
  5. Do you like your handwriting? Yes, I do actually. I got a fountain pen for my sixteenth birthday (which I still have and frequently use) and I think that helped me respect nice writings.
  6. What is your favorite lunch meat? Proscuitto.
  7. What is your most embarrassing CD? Ace of Base, The Sign.
  8. If you were another person, would you be friends with you? Um, probably.
  9. Do you have a journal? Yes. (But this isn't it. Sorry folks--the good stuff's not on the blog!)
  10. Do you use sarcasm a lot? Yes, but usually only when directed at the Shrub.
  11. What are your nicknames? Becky.
  12. Would you bungee jump? Yes. But someone has to hold my glasses.
  13. Do you untie your shoes before you take them off? Never.
  14. Do you think that you are strong? Sometimes.
  15. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Black raspberry, with chocolate sprinkles.
  16. Shoe size? 7 1/2.
  17. Red or pink? Red, definitely. Pink's too girlie.
  18. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? I lack confidence at inconvenient moments.
  19. What color pants and shoes are you wearing? Khaki shorts and no shoes!
  20. What are you listening to right now? The sound of silence.
  21. Last thing you ate? Cheese and crackers left over from my birthday party.
  22. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Blue.
  23. What is the weather like right now? Hot, humid, and hazy.
  24. Last person you talked to on the phone? The Cambridge Department of Public Health (she was conducting a survey).
  25. The first thing you notice about the opposite sex? His smile.
  26. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Well, I've never met Helen but her bloginality seems nice.
  27. Favorite drink? Sapphire and tonic.
  28. Favorite sport? Red Sox baseball.
  29. Hair color? Brown.
  30. Eye color? Blue.
  31. Do you wear contacts? No, but I have Vera Wang glasses.
  32. Favorite food? Any pasta. The more the merrier.
  33. Last movie you watched? The House of the Flying Daggers. (Skip it: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it wasn't.)
  34. Favorite day of the year? Thanksgiving.
  35. Scary movies or happy endings? Scary. Not into romantic movies these days.
  36. Summer or winter? Winter.
  37. Hugs or kisses? Both.
  38. What is your favorite dessert? Brownies!
  39. Who is most likely to respond? I don't know; I don't think I know anyone well enough to tag.
  40. Who is least likely to respond? See above!
  41. What books are you reading? Holly Brewer, By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, & the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (for dissertation) and William Faulkner, Light in August (for fun).
  42. What's on your mouse pad? Don't have one, actually. I don't use a mouse.
  43. What did you watch last night on TV? I watched the first episode from the third season of Buffy (on DVD--I don't have cable.)
  44. Favorite smells? Baked beans that have been simmering all day.
  45. Favorite sounds? Opera and cats purring.
  46. Rolling Stones or Beatles? Both!
  47. What's the furthest you have been from home? Sydney, Australia.
  48. Do you have a special talent?I can do cartwheels.
  49. What is your ring tone?I have an ancient cell phone...it just rings like a land line.

That was fun Helen. Thanks!

02 August 2005

History Carnival!

This is a belated note that History Carnival #13 is up over a WILLisms. Lots of interesting stuff to read--check it out!

Also, Happy Birthday Blogs go out to Another Damned Medievalist and New Kid. Congrats!