I want to commend and thank John Fea for modeling best practices when it comes to not only acknowledging but also citing informal academic work, including blog posts, in more formal, peer-reviewed scholarship.
Last fall, I got some pushback from one of my dissertation readers on my capitalization of the word “Black,” with a marginal note along the lines of “Why are you capitalizing ‘Black’ and not ‘white’?” I’m quite certain the reader in question was not championing the cause of “White Pride” or any similar cause, but was asking me for some scholarly justification for what may have seemed to be a stylistic eccentricity or inconsistency — house styles in major newspapers don’t capitalize “Black,” Chicago doesn’t recommend capitalizing “Black” (though, as I will explain shortly, the style guide allows it), and I don’t believe MLA suggests capitalizing the word either. (The reader was a lit scholar, not an historian, so curiosity about differences between MLA style and Chicago could have been behind the question.)
As it happens, I saw a really interesting conversation roll across my twitter feed the other day about the question of when/whether to capitalize the term “Black.” I will recap the twitter convo first and then say more about the matter below.
The Society for U.S. Intellectual History will be sponsoring up to two panels at the 2017 Organization of American Historians conference in New Orleans. We have posted a call for papers here at the website. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2016 – less than two weeks away! Please consider submitting a panel proposal.
At next week’s OAH conference, the Society is sponsoring two panels. If you will be in Providence for the conference, we would be glad to see you at one of our sessions: Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, at the tail end of a quick trip out to the San Joaquin Valley to attend to some family business, I took a detour on my way back to SFO. After I crossed the San Mateo bridge, I headed south and went to Stanford.
A steady rain was falling — not so heavy that I needed an umbrella, but heavy enough that I could have used one. But rain has always struck me as a benediction, and this is especially the case now for drought-stricken California, so I was doubly glad to let that rain fall on me.
At 9:30 on that rainy Saturday morning, the campus was all but deserted. There were a few tourists snapping pictures. I guess I was a tourist too, though I never feel like one when I go to back to Stanford. But I also never feel like I belong there — I mostly just wonder at the fact that I once did. It is all now very like a dream.
The campus is beautiful any time — in summer and winter, in sunshine or rain. But rain always brings out one of the often hidden aspects of Stanford’s beauty: the sweet, fresh, faintly spicy fragrances of its edenic mediterranean landscaping. In the rain, the whole campus turns into a perfumed garden of paradise. Continue reading
Yesterday I started reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Apparently, I’m not the only one who was recently inspired to delve into this 1980s bestseller; when I went online last weekend to order a copy from amazon, they were out of stock, and the estimated delivery time was 2-3 weeks. Then I went by my local-ish Barnes & Noble last Monday, and they were sold out. So I went home and rooted around online and found a used hardback copy that sounded all right – it’s in pretty decent shape, and it didn’t cost me any more than a new paperback would have, even with express shipping. (Apparently, someone has finally cranked up the printing presses; if you order a copy of Eco’s novel on Amazon today, you can get it by Tuesday.)
Surely, Eco’s novel is selling especially briskly these days because of the sad news of his recent passing. Many people who had long said to themselves, “I really ought to read The Name of the Rose some day,” were simultaneously moved to pick up a copy of the novel at last. And I am indeed one among that multitude.
Yesterday I signed a contract with UNC press for a book based on my dissertation. The working title of the project, which differs slightly from the title of my dissertation, goes like this:
The 1980s Western Civ Debates at Stanford and
the Triumph of Neoliberalism in Higher Education
As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I’m a little skittish about the “wars” part of the title, and I’m hoping I can come up with something better when it’s time to worry about such things.
But I’m not skittish about the use of the term “neoliberalism” — though plenty of my historian friends think I should be!
I am working under the assumption that “neoliberalism” is a useful umbrella term to describe the interconnected and (generally) explicitly articulated ideas, principles, political views and ideological commitments that have ended up running the table in higher education and much else besides.
[Editor’s note: the guest essay below is adapted from award-winning journalist John McCaa’s commencement address at the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony at the University of Texas at Dallas on December 17, 2015. — LDB.]
Lots of Questions, but No Shortcuts
By John McCaa
Fellow scholars, I know what you have been through.
I stand here reminded of the times I had submitted for my advisor’s review the latest draft of my dissertation — reminded of the hope, the confidence, I felt, as I drove toward campus to hear his thoughts (most assured that I had dazzled him!), only to sit down in the chair in his office opposite him and see that look most of us have received from our advisors at some period or another in the writing stage.
And I returned to the house despondent, knowing how much more work was ahead of me before I would be ready to defend. And yet, dejected as I was, I also recall the comforting words of my wife, reminding me, “This is supposed to be hard; they don’t just give away PhDs.”
So never mind “that look” — I can still remember the smile on my face and the faces of my professors when they called me back into the room after my defense and said to me, “Congratulations, Doctor McCaa.”
See, you have a right to be proud, and to enjoy these moments.
But just know that in the days ahead, you will probably encounter fear about your work again. This may be especially important for some of you younger graduates to know ahead of time.
Are the Culture Wars for Women?
by Bethany Nagle
At the AHA meeting earlier in January, I had a chance to attend the panel on the historiography of the culture wars, recently featured on this blog. Now, to confess: my original motivation to attend this panel was not a passion for, or interest in, pursuing research in the Culture Wars. I chose to attend this panel because I had read Andrew Hartman’s book just a few weeks earlier in a graduate historiography course. So I was familiar with the topic from my reading and felt I could engage well with this specific panel.
Because of the variety of issues addressed by the speakers, from political battles to education controversies, one would think this kind of panel would draw a diverse audience. However, as I glanced around I noticed only a few women. Female graduate classmates of mine mentioned how the panel seemed intellectually stimulating and were excited to follow tweets about the panel and hear my thoughts afterwards. These classmates are all women. But where were the women in the audience for this panel? I became particularly nervous that as a first time graduate student I was in the wrong place. Yet as Hartman continued to speak, I knew I was in the right place.
Last night was family movie night, and the selection was Inside Out. This is the Disney-Pixar film that takes place inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl. There, five characters – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust – “see” out through the girl’s eyes and negotiate her responses to the challenges of her world at a control panel with buttons and levers. We saw the film when it came out in the theaters and were watching it again on DVD, at the urging of my eldest, also an 11-year-old girl. The film is brilliant and moving, but as I watched, I began to wonder whether she and her brother would see the logical problem of its central conceit. The protagonist, after all, is not the girl but the emotion, Joy. Like the girl does, Joy has a body. Like the girl, Joy displays a range of emotional responses as she confronts a series of challenges in her world. Does that mean Joy also has a set of five characters inside her head standing before their own control panel? And do each of them have sets of characters at control panels inside their own heads?
Joy and her colleagues are examples of homunculi, little creature-like beings inside human beings that help us explain difficult things like intention, conscious behaviors, and other end-directed activities. As Terrence Deacon, the neuro-anthropologist and professor of cognitive science at UC-Berkeley explained in his book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (2012), homunculi were what early naturalists imagined to be inside spermatozoa. Although science long ago rejected homunculi of this type, they still mark, Deacon argues, “an explanatory hole” found in many of our accounts of reality (22). This is true not only for obvious aesthetic accounts like those of Inside Out but for scientific ones, too, where the homunculi tend to be subtle and well-hidden. In the same way that Joy operates at the interface between an 11-year-old-girl’s mind and body, scientific homunculi continue to hide the lack of connection between mentality and materiality in our most authoritative accounts of how things work and what’s real.
The theory of natural selection, for example, hides its own homunculi. Why are organisms striving to adapt, to organize themselves within their environments? Why, it’s because there’s a tiny creature at a control panel inside them pushing the “adapt” button, pulling the lever marked “survive.” “Function” is another common placeholder for mind-stuff, covering the explanatory hole where, in our official accounting of reality, mind and matter fail to connect.