Following the Fashions: A Basic American Pastime

AJ1Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Amy Sopcak-Joseph, a doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Connecticut. She is working on her dissertation, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Periodical Publishing in the Nineteenth Century.” Follow her @AmySopcakJoseph.

It’s that time of year again: time to stash away all of your white pants and head to the nearest Starbucks for a PSL. Love it or hate it, that sugary “Pumpkin Spice Latte” is more than just a drink that allows us to ingest autumn. The PSL reached cultural-icon status when it became the trendy accessory of someone “basic”–a term encompassing a larger set of consumer choices linked to appearance, food, and leisure activities that signal an uncritical devotion to trends. Calling someone “basic” became a kind of epithet against people who like things that are mainstream or, as some writers have suggested, feminine.[1] Some women have taken ownership of “basic,” embracing it as an identity (see social media posts enthusiastically tagged #basic).

Is being “basic” really that bad? Is someone superior–morally or intellectually–for not liking things that are mainstream? Judging other people’s consumer choices and assigning them political or cultural meaning is as American as apple (or pumpkin?) pie. In the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, when the United States was transitioning from an agrarian economy to a capitalist one, considerable anxiety emerged about the consumer choices of the burgeoning middle class. Not unlike the criticisms of 21st-century women whose tastes and identity might be called “basic,” some found women’s purchases and self-fashioning to be particularly alarming. Ministers and reformers argued that these choices demonstrated women’s uncritical adherence to the “tyranny” or “evils” of fashion, a devotion that could negatively shape the future of the republic. Continue reading

Geographies of Power on Land and Water: Space, People, and Borders

I recently spoke at an event for Early Career Researchers hosted jointly by the British Group in Early American History, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians, and the Institute of Historical Research about funding initiatives for Americanists based in the UK.[1] I was there to talk about applying for and winning a networking grant (in the UK, it’s called a “networking scheme grant,” which I LOVE because it makes me feel extra sneaky) with my co-investigator, Jessica Roney. On the assumption that some of the advice I offered there might be helpful to our readers, I wanted to rehash some of those ideas in a blog post here today.

But first, I must rant a little bit about the state of immigration in the United Kingdom—a problem not unique here, by any means, but one of relevance to non-British Americanists working in the UK. Continue reading

Roundtable on How NOT To Write Your Second Book: Tamara Thornton on Choosing New Topics

We are pleased to have yet another excellent contribution to our “How NOT To Write Your Second Book” Roundtable. Tamara Plakins Thornton is professor of history at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the author of Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1785-1860 (1989), Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (1996), and Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life (2016).

And Now for Something Completely Different

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Remember this old chestnut? “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” It applies to historians too, and you’ll probably find out which one you are when you turn to your second book project. Building on your first book, making a new contribution to that historiographical conversation? Hedgehog. Or are you drawn to a topic pretty much unrelated to your earlier work? Fox. Make no mistake. Neither is smarter, more original or creative, or produces more important scholarship. But their experiences do differ. Let me share a fox’s perspective on the risks and rewards to your scholarship, intellectual development, and professional standing if you follow your nose into brand-new territory.

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Roundtable on How NOT To Write Your Second Book: Timothy Mennel on Publishing

Continuing our roundtable “How NOT To Write Your Second Book,” Timothy Mennel, an executive editor of University of Chicago Press, looks at how the second book differs from the first.

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Tell me if this sounds familiar, either for yourself or for scholars you know: “So my plan is to complete my dissertation by next May. After that, I’ll be on the market. I’ll take whatever job I can, but my focus is going to be on getting a book contract from a university press, speeding through the peer review process, and getting the leverage I need to move to an R1. And then I can start my real work. The second book is where I’ll do what I really want to. And it will be trade. I’m tired of writing just for SHEAR.”

Now, what happens, of course, is that the dissertation takes three years to finish, the job market is worse than anyone could have imagined, the peer-review process is brutal, but the book does finally come out. And no matter what else has happened—that dream of doing what you really want to, which often is framed as writing that second book as a trade book, lives on. Continue reading

Roundtable on How NOT To Write Your Second Book: Paul Erickson on Fellowship Applications

Continuing our roundtable on “How NOT To Write Your Second Book,” we are pleased to have Paul Erickson, the Program Director for The Humanities, Arts, and Culture; and American Institutions, Society, and the Public Good at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, talk about Fellowship Applications.

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When I was asked to participate in a roundtable on how not to write your second book, I felt like a bit of an outlier, since my CV makes it clear that the best way to not write a second book is to never have written a first book. So instead of giving advice on how to write (or how not to write) a second book, I will share some thoughts on how to ask (or how not to ask) for fellowship support to write a second book, based on 9 years I spent as Director of Academic Programs at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. I hope that these suggestions will be useful to anybody thinking about applying for fellowships, but will be directed at Junto readers who are contemplating how (and when) to apply for fellowship support for second book projects. Continue reading

Roundtable on How NOT To Write Your Second Book: Kathleen DuVal, “Treating Your Second Book as a Job”

We continue our roundtable on “How NOT To Write Your Second Book” with a post by Kathleen DuVal, Gray Distinguished Term Professor at the University of North Carolina and author of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution.

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If you are reading this, you probably have a goal for yourself that in a certain number of years from now—say ten—you won’t be saying to yourself or others, “I don’t feel any closer to finishing my second book than I was ten years ago.” But you probably also don’t want to be saying, “All I have done for most of my adult life is to try to work on a book every spare minute, or feel guilty about not working on a book.”

In hopes of keeping either of those from happening, I suggest thinking of the second book as a job. I mean that in two ways. First, (if you really do want to write a second book) researching and writing it should feel like work that is part of your job, work that you have to do. But second, this book should feel like part of your job in that your job is just part of your life, alongside the other important pieces of your particular life. Continue reading

Roundtable on “How NOT To Write Your Second Book”: Introduction by Emily Conroy-Krutz and Jessica Lepler

This week we are privileged to feature a roundtable that was organized by Emily Conroy-Krutz and Jessica Lepler and presented at SHEAR’s 2017 conference. It was such a wonderful discuss that it deserved a broader audience. We are grateful that they all agreed to share their remarks in blog-form. Today we feature Emily and Jessica’s introduction, with individual contributions posted each day between now and the weekend.

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How do you start a new book that’s on a wildly different topic from your last book? Or written in a different style? And how do you write a book while teaching new preps and serving on committees? What if you’re also raising kids and caring for aging family members? If a book could be articles, should it be articles? In a packed conference room on a hot Saturday in July, five incredibly generous, funny, and thoughtful scholars shared their tips and tricks for “How Not to Write Your Second Book,” and the laughter and nods around the room suggested that the comments, questions, and conversation spoke to concerns that are widely shared among mid-career scholars and that had sparked the creation of the SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop (2BWW). Continue reading