Crowdsourcing historical research: an experiment

Yesterday I put on google docs an article draft. The piece is called "Landscape Projections" and it is about the presentation of Australia's environment in historical film. You can see it here:

I am interested to gather people's responses to the piece, and any suggestions they may have for improvement. (I was also curious to see how many people actually read it, and I've been pleasantly surprised on that score).

So, take a look, and let me know what you think.

Damn it feels good to be a #twitterstorian

Since the uses of twitter were featured on the AHA blog, including the #twitterstorians, a whole bunch more have emerged!

@hmprescott - AKA Knitting Clio
@history_doctor - Taylor Stoermer
@commitz - Mike Commito
@wrigbe - Beth Wright
@wunderplatz - Kate D.
@gordonchls - s.e. gordon-salway
@Brujuli - Juliana GómezMerchán
@lostinhistory - Jason Warren
@notplainjane29 - Jane Rothstein
@drhonor - honor sachs
@GeoffPolHist - Geoff Robinson
@jhrees - Jonathan Rees
@itshistorygirl - Emily MacLeod

And some institutional accounts:

@virginiacw150 - The Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission
@BMAGimages Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery Picture Library
@HistoryWJ - History Workshop Journal

Twitterstorians is not limited to academic historians, but anyone with an interest in history. If you want to see the rest of the list, click here.

Whenever, whatever: or, SWF seeks History Dept for LTR.

So, I'm on the job market (again). Although I never really left, I've been applying since the year I finished my PhD, I've just been lucky enough to have a job this time around that allowed me to stay in one place for two years. And since I apply for jobs all over the world, I haven't had an "off season" since 2007.

But the ads for North American jobs have begun (and in a promising turn for historians, it looks like there might be more available than in the last couple of years). For this reason, a few other historians have recently written with advice, such as Chad Black on writing job letters, and Tanya Roth on her experiences on the job market. (I wrote a few months ago for the Chronicle on international job seeking).

Right now, I'm writing to my mentors and asking them to put updated letters for me on Interfolio. Meanwhile, I'm also wondering if my apps would be stronger with personal, specific letters written for each one - although I cringe at the thought of asking anyone to do that much work for me, and know that I would then be in a state of panic for each application over whether all the letters had arrived on time (having been burned before, when an absent LoR cost me consideration for a position, I've tended to rely on Interfolio ever since. It's been suggested to me that this puts me at a disadvantage. I don't know). 

I'm also waiting to hear back on article submissions, wanting to have them to add to my cv, and anticipating plenty of job market chat on the wiki. Mostly, I'm intrigued to see what happens. I'm finishing my second book, and I'm curious about how I'll look to Search Committees this year.

If your dept is hiring, in world or urban history, call me.

Every you, every me

I was struck by something Timothy Burke wrote at Easily Distracted, as a comment on one of his own posts, which was progressively threadjacked.

He was writing in relation to the discussions of rioters in London, vs. the bankers responsible for the economic meltdown. The contrast between those scrambling to make excuses or find cultural explanation for rioting, while not looking at financial practices in the same way, reveals a blind spot in a lot of people's thinking. As Professor Burke wrote:

But you’re singing my song on a point that I frequently harp on (including in classes, to my poor students) which is that for a very long time much qualitative social science has shown very little interest in elites or powerful social groups like soldiers or bureaucrats in the same terms that it takes an interest in many other social groups, e.g., as groups that have “cultures”, that are the products of social conditions, and so on. Lazy or simple versions of the social-conditions-produce-and-justify-practices ought to be just as forgiving of neoconservative bombing of Iraq. Admittedly, part of the reason that there are very few ethnographic studies of military or security force cultures of torture (for one example) is methodological: the powerful have very little interest in welcoming ethnographic inquiry into their habitus, even when that’s not strictly secret in some sense. But part of it is also the assumption by a lot of people on the left that the elite are already fully understood in this sense. Which I don’t really see: if I had to teach a class on the everyday cultural world of the most elite financial capitalists, I would have very few studies to put on the syllabus that would compare with what I can offer in a course on everyday life in rural southern Africa. I’d have to use memoirs, novels, and journalism, which is fine, but it’s still a notable gap. Unless what people mean by assuming that these worlds are already known to inquiry is because academics or leftists typically believe that they themselves are part of or known personally about such elite social contexts or that the self-representations of elites in the public sphere are accurate or useful guides to their everyday practices.

This relates to the kind of problem I bump up against regularly in my research, which involves assessing the cultures of colonialism at different sites. I don't often see scholars finding culturally determinist explanations for European empires. However, at the the high point of European expansion, we could easily say it was a longstanding part of European culture to beat people up and take their land. The defeated either sucked it up and learned to bow to a new king, or they rallied their friends and pushed the invaders out. (see Spain, reconquest of). And pretty well every part of Europe had been on both sides of that equation (conqueror and conquered) at some point in their history.

Historians, whether we like it or not, tend to vew the colonialist elites of the past as our equals, to be judged on our terms, while the subaltern groups are condescended to and excuses are made for their culture-bound hopelessness. I'm reminded of this response to the Aztec exhibition at the British Museum, which said a lot of what I was thinking at the time. If an exhibition of the history of the slave trade showed shackles and whips and did not say "look at this evidence of human cruelty" but "look at the fine workmanship on that!" most of us would be horrified and outraged. Why wasn't the Aztec show seen in the same way?

If Europe’s explorers and conquerors are condemned as invaders, pillagers and exploiters (which means judging them by our contemporary standards of morality), then we have to hold other groups to the same standard. Otherwise it’s like saying “oh, those poor benighted tribal people, with their simple understanding of the world, we can’t condemn them for their child sacrifice/cannibalism/cruelty. But those white Europeans, we can condemn them for witch hunts/slavery/torture, because they should have known better.”

Evil people and nasty practices have existed everywhere, at all times. So have good people. I am certain there would have been some Aztecs who thought the murder of children was wrong, and who tried to stop it. Diversity of opinion within a group isn’t something we in the educated West have exclusive claim to, either. “People of [group], believed x....”. Really? All of them? Can you think of one thing today that “everyone believes”?

Either we're all trapped by our cultures, or nobody is. I'm frequently annoyed with people who describe themselves as "very spiritual". This irks me because I regard "spirituality"—in the sense of having an interior life, rather than adhering to any particular religion or philosophy—as an essential element of being human. To say one is "very spiritual" is like saying one is "very human".

Which brings me back to Professor Burke’s useful point about rioters and bankers: if we’re to excuse the rioters for their culturally determined behaviour, the same excuses have to apply to the bankers. Or conversely, theft is theft. If you expect better from someone because they wear a suit and work on Wall St than you do from a teenager in a hooded sweatshirt, what kind of class snobbery is that?


Twitterstorians keep the faith

Many more historians have appeared on the Twitter, I find them because they follow me or reply to me—I also browse around for new members but I can’t be comprehensive. So if you want to be added, please list yourself in the comments.

– Amy Louise Western
@lbary – Leslie Bary
@philmedman – Brendan Clarke
– Louise Côté
@dawudart – David Chavarria
@thompsonwerk – Robert Thompson
– Tamson Pietsch

@conversiontales – research group on religious change in Early Modern Europe.
@oldbaileyonline – Old Bailey and London Lives digital projects.
@totalgettysburg – Battle of Gettysburg information.

Black interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg

This is a great film from Mondo Black about the role of African American interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg. Starting with considering what people will do for employment in the recession, this documentary asks: would you be willing to play a slave? 

I've written about Williamsburg before, and it has wrestled in the past with how to present the history of slavery for visitors.

Hat tip to Larry Cebula of Northwest History for posting this video.

If you're going to hand me a bottle of f****** SoCo, something just comes over me....

....and I keep finding more #twitterstorians. So if you like following historians on the twitter, you should check out these:




@outofmischief - Richard Hemming

- Håkan Forsell

- Jennifer Nelson

Ian Blunt

Sally Large

Caroline Shenton

Felicia Lind

Caroline Sharples

Jeff Wasserstrom

And if you want to find out what people are talking about that's history-related, just search for the tag #twitterstorians

It's raining Twitterstorians

Here are some more historians and history enthusiasts I’ve discovered on twitter. Follow them and look for the hashtag #twitterstorians for discussions history-related.

Quinn Slobodian
@amstott1789  Andrew McConnell Stott
@Kwwojcicki Kathy Whitacre Wojci
@jliedl Janice Liedl
@HPS_Vanessa Vanessa H
@lmsahistory  Molly Myers
@shewolfmanc Hannah
@milhistorian Ken Reynolds
@lauraemacdonald  Laura MacDonald
@seelix Emily
@jnthnwwlsn Jonathan Wilson
@Beady77  Julie Day

Journal Announcement: Transnational Subjects

Later this year, the first issue of my new journal, Transnational Subjects: History, Society and Culture, will be published by Gylphi.

This is a fully peer-reviewed journal that will focus on transnational and cultural history post-1500 and also have interdisciplinary themes (members of the editorial board include people from architecture, art and literature as well as history). One of our goals is to carry short pieces as well as full-length research articles. 

We invite essays on the nature of researching (and teaching) transnational history (4,000-7,000 words) and shorter report-type articles (<3,000 words) demonstrating transnational history work.

We also particularly welcome digital submissions, including audio/visual work that would not be suitable for a traditional journal. Digital content will also be peer-reviewed and published on our website.

The website will be up soon, but in the meantime this is an interim CFP. You can submit articles to me via email.

Style guide: British and American spellings are accepted, but you must be consistent. References are to be Oxford style notes, as endnotes, not footnotes. Please limit notes to bibliographic references and brief explanations if necessary.