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.

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Q&A with Sowande’ Mustakeem

slavery-at-seaThis is an interview with Sowande’ Mustakeem, who is an Assistant Professor in the departments of History and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Today she speaks with The Junto about her book, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage, which Casey Schmitt reviewed yesterday. Her previous work has appeared in journals such as Atlantic Studies and the Journal of African American History, and edited volumes such as Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, Teaching Lincoln: What Every K-12 Student Needs to Know, and Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Power in Maritime America. Continue reading

Seeking Sabbatical Advice

editsIt’s a fun time for me to be a Juntoist. I joined the blog while I was ABD, on the brink of defending my dissertation. I had thoughts about research and writing, many untested theories about teaching, and opinions about where historians needed to eat when visiting archives in different cities. This was a blog for junior early Americanists, and I didn’t think too much about how the blog would grow and evolve over the next several (!) years. Definitions of junior scholars (“early career researchers” here in the United Kingdom) vary across the UK. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s definition is someone within eight years of the PhD or within six years of their first academic appointment. Within my faculty, ECRs include “level 4” staff within four years of being hired or recently hired. Thus when I passed my probation, was promoted to level 5, and became a permanent member of staff, I became a non-ECR by my faculty’s definition but still eligible to apply for AHRC ECR funding and funding from other schemes.[1] All this is a long way of saying that I’m a Not So Early Early Career Researcher™ about to embark on her first sabbatical, and would like your advice about how to approach this period of leave. Continue reading

The Book as a 400 Individual Medley

poolWhen I swam in college, I had a teammate named Liz, who probably swam every event in the meet lineup at least once during the three years I swam with her. This versatility is unusual in a swimmer; we tend to be specialists who have one to three events we hone over the course of four years. But Liz’s ability to take on different events, distances, and strokes made her a perfect (or unfortunate, depending on how you see it) candidate for the ironman of all swim events: the 400 yard individual medley. Shorter than the mile by far, but just as grueling because of its demand that swimmers be proficient in all four of the strokes, this race was one I never had to swim. I was a middling backstroker, and my coaches used to make me swim breaststroke when they wanted a laugh. I was a butterflyer, an occasional middle-distance freestyler, and a relay sprinter—but I knew the theory of the 400 IM. You had to pace yourself on the ‘fly, especially if you weren’t great at it, work the underwater kick off the walls on the backstroke, keep the breaststroke long and strong, and get the hell off the wall and head for home with everything you had left in your lungs for the freestyle.

Remember, way back when, when I said I’d check in to talk about the book-writing process? Those of our readers who’ve written a book or two probably thought that promise was hilariously ambitious, and I’m inclined to agree. Continue reading

The Wandering Essay: A Lesson Plan for Teaching Writing

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Image by Zazzle.com

Before I even started teaching I knew that one of the most difficult parts of the job would be teaching writing. It’s not that I consider myself a great writer; I know I’m prone to tangents, and I’ve never met a dash, comma, or semi-colon I didn’t want to use. It’s just that I find writing pretty intuitive. For informal pieces like this one, I tend to write the way that I talk, and for more structured academic writing my first drafts are pretty crappy—but they get written and then ironed out in my editing process. The takeaway here is that I’ve had to think hard about how to teach writing because the process of writing isn’t really one that I had to articulate before I had students. Knowing that many of you are almost ready to collect first essay assignments, I thought I’d talk a bit today about how we teach writing to students. My Wandering Essay lesson plan is one of the meanest, most productive approaches I’ve used because it makes clear the fact that writing is a process. Here’s how you do it: Continue reading

A[n] Historical Talk about Publishing with Gil Kelly, Gent.

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Earlier this spring, we had the great pleasure of sitting down and enjoying a lemon chiffon pie with Gil Kelly. Gil recently retired after spending about thirty years as the Managing Editor of Publications for the renowned Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. In his long and storied career, he has worked on many of the books that have proved to be foundational for early Americanists of all sorts. He was kind enough to share some of his wisdom with us, and we’re now returning the favor. May you learn as much as we did! Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing the Book Proposal

Today’s guest poster, Craig W. Gill, is the Editor-in-Chief and Assistant Director of the University Press of Mississippi. He has worked at the Press for more than 17 years and has served in publishing for almost 25 years. He acquires primarily in American history, Southern history, Caribbean history, folklore, and music, as well as regional books on Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Gulf South.

10419036_10206199988895624_9006360509666085073_nAlmost all university presses prefer to first receive a proposal from a potential author, rather than a full manuscript. Alas, no editor anywhere has the time to read the huge number of manuscripts that come our way, and the situation would be even worse if we attempted to read manuscripts from every potential author seeking a publisher. This makes the proposal an ideal introduction to a topic and a crucial step in the process towards publication. Although an author may have chatted with an editor prior to submitting a proposal (if not then I urge you to get to an academic conference and chat up editors in the exhibit hall), the proposal is the first formal representation of a book project from the author to the publisher. Continue reading