Writing History As If It Matters (to Lots of People)

tennessee_gentleman_portrait_of_andrew_jackson_by_ralph_e-_w-_earlIn a series of classic science fiction stories, Isaac Asimov imagined a scientific discipline called “psychohistory”: a way to predict the future of an interstellar empire. Psychohistory could not foresee individual choices, but it could supposedly predict collective behavior over the course of millennia. At one point in the Foundation series, however, a charismatic figure named the Mule threatened to upend psychohistory’s predictions: he was a mutant, acting in ways the original model could not anticipate. In the universe Asimov imagined, the Mule alone seemed to possess true individual agency. Resisting a powerful model of human behavior, he offered instead a story about a person.

Continue reading

Building Intellectual Community at SHEAR

Students of the early American republic: I urge you to apply to SHEAR 2016’s Graduate Research Seminars!

The program, which debuted last year, brings together grad students and senior faculty clustered around four “hot” themes in the field for an hour and a half or so of small-group discussion. Lunch is free. The sessions are open to current graduate students and those who earned a Ph.D. during the 2015-16 academic year. A one-page dissertation abstract is all it takes to apply. Best of all, this year’s lineup of topics and faculty is just as wonderful as 2015’s was. Continue reading

Trials and Tribulations of Writing while Sleeping

iphone notes screencapA few weeks ago, I dropped my iPhone in water. If you were wondering, those things do not float. As I pulled the phone out and dried it as best I could, all I could think about was my dissertation. I was in the throes of finishing a chapter, and I had a lot of really good ideas on that phone. In this post, I want to explain why my phone has become so important to my scholarly life. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAH

Let’s kick another weekly roundup of early American history links off with this fascinating and fun look at Revolutionary-era pronunciations of the word “Huzza(h)!” over at Journal of the American Revolution (hint: it rhymes with “fray”). Continuing with the general theme of historical language and pronunciation, Sam Sack’s New Yorker review of Ben Tarnoff’s newly-released, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers who Reinvented American Literature, includes some reflections on Twain’s use of “unrefined idiomatic English” and “how America learned to hear itself talk.”  Continue reading

The History Carousel, Episode 3: Teaching Across the Pond

The History CarouselToday’s episode, “Teaching Across the Pond,” features Tom Cutterham, Ken Owen, Ben Park, and Rachel Herrmann discussing historical teachers, and debating the merits and pitfalls of teaching in the United States compared to the United Kingdom. Come for the boat race jokes; stay for the pedagogy! Continue reading

Guest Post: Dramaturging The Tower: A Historian’s Cannibalistic Adventures in Theater

Today’s guest post come from Maya Rook, a writer and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She is pursuing her PhD in American Cultural History at Drew University. Collaborating on The Tower has inspired her to write her dissertation about the Donner Party. If she were to eat a piece of human flesh, it would likely be from the belly or rear—braised until the meat is tender and then broiled so the skin reaches crispy perfection. Check out her food blog and personal website.

TOWER_POSTCARD_FRONT-1 (2)Just over a year ago, I was at a celebration with friends and overheard someone talking about the Donner Party. My interest was piqued, as it isn’t everyday you hear people casually chatting about this group of California emigrants who resorted to cannibalism during the winter of 1846-47. I’d always been fascinated by the topic and was soon deep in a conversation with Adam Scott Mazer about his plans to write a play called The Tower based on the history and mythology of the Donner Party. Strangely enough, I’d recently wanted to get involved in theater but didn’t know how, so the timing seemed quite auspicious. When Adam discovered I was a PhD student in American Cultural History we decided to work together on the project and I was brought on board as the dramaturg. Continue reading

Some Reflections of a First Time TA

Or, How I Stopped Hating Finance and Learned to Love the Business Major[1]

Branch Bank

Settling in to my first semester as a TA this fall, I was stoked. Yes, stoked. Unbelievably enthusiastic about my teaching assignment: Early American Maritime Culture. I thought about all the port cities we would study, the trade routes we would map, and maybe for good measure we’d throw in an impressment or two. This first-time TA was assigned to a course in her field. Huzzah!

But a week into the semester I received an email stating, “We write to inform you that your teaching assignment has been changed to The History of Finance.”[2] Continue reading