News and Notes: September 16, 2014

Here is a compilation of good reads and newsworthy events I’ve recently come across:

  • The Americanist Independent: Independent historian and fellow Grand Army of the Republic scholar Keith Harris started his own peer-reviewed journal of U.S. history a few months ago. He is currently offering one week of complimentary access to his journal, which you can find here. I signed up and am liking what I’ve seen so far.
  • References, Please: Tim Parks makes a compelling argument for reforming standard scholarly practices for referencing citations and footnotes. “In the age of the Internet, do we really need footnotes to reference quotations we have made in the text? For a book to be taken seriously, does it have to take us right to the yellowing page of some crumbling edition guarded in the depths of an austere library, if the material could equally well be found through a Google search? Has an element of fetishism perhaps crept into what was once a necessary academic practice?”
  • The Importance of Historical Thinking: Historian and education professor Sam Wineburg’s seminal essay “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts” was liberated from its academic paywalls. If you’re looking to learn about or teach others about historical thinking, start with this essay. It’s here.
  • Don’t Throw the Bums Out: Historian Jon Grinspan argues in the New York Times that claiming that all politicians are bums “makes it harder to throw out the real bums.” Grinspan dives into Gilded Age political culture in this delightful essay.
  • A Nation of Readers: Brandeis University history Ph.D. candidate Yoni Appelbaum writes about the efforts of book publishers to distribute free literature to U.S. soldiers during World War II. Appelbaum finds that a stunning 122,951,031 books were given away during WWII.
  • Addressing Brazil’s Complicated History of Slavery: Brazil has a complex and troubling history of slavery. The slave trade from African to Brazil was ten times the size of the slave trade in the United States, and the institution was not abolished until 1888, twenty-three years after the U.S. abolished it. “For the last century Brazil has tried to forget its past, refusing to accept the legacy of the slave trade. It has sought to project the image of a country of mixed descent, where the colour of a person’s skin does not count, a land unfettered by racism where cordial relations reign between citizens of Indian, European and African descent.” Enter ‘United States’ where Brazil is located in that last sentence and you’ve got the views of many Americans towards the legacies of race and slavery today, unfortunately.
  • The Scourge of “Relatability”: The New Yorker writer Rebecca Meade suggests that judging “good” art, music, and theater by its “relatability” reflects our lack of willingness to patronize artistic endeavors that challenge us to ask new questions and think differently about the world: “to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her.” This essay isn’t really history related, but I found it thought-provoking.
  • The Academic Job Market for Historians is Terrible: Just look at the data.
  • Finding Ways to Defeat Art Apathy and Museum Misery: Daily Californian writer Sahil Chinoy visited eighteen different art galleries and museums around the world this past summer. He left the experience unimpressed with the way Art Museums interpret and present their collections to audiences and criticized exhibit label writers for writing bland, uninformative labels that did little to enhance the museum experience. “The problem is that museum captions are unequivocally boring, yet they’re the only lens through which most visitors see art. Historical context is fascinating for some pieces, but for many, information like the place where the artist was born simply does not matter.”



3 thoughts on “News and Notes: September 16, 2014

    1. I am surprised by how often people get confused when I discuss slavery in Missouri before the Civil War.

      One time a person from Texas came to me and said, “You all teach the Civil War differently than where I’m from.” I lightheartedly responded (with a dose of seriousness) that “we’ve done our homework and have no problem interpreting the war the way we do.”

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