After I wrote the Ten Commandments of Twitter for Academics, a whole bunch of Twitterstorians came out. We've now been keeping the history conversation going on twitter for over three years!
So here are some more for you to follow:@modernmack
After I wrote the Ten Commandments of Twitter for Academics, a whole bunch of Twitterstorians came out. We've now been keeping the history conversation going on twitter for over three years!
So here are some more for you to follow:@modernmack
Today I visited the Museum of Crime in Vienna, a wonderfully old-school museum. No interactivity here, or apologies to the squeamish. Tracing the history of criminal policing in Vienna since the early modern period, there are displays on numerous celebrated crimes for each period.
These are illustrated by (for the earlier periods), woodcuts, then newspaper illustrations (themselves entertaining, showing people being variously shot, stabbed, or thrown out of carriages in the best traditions of the sensational press).
But they also have various artifacts from some of the crimes. These include a mummified head, the skull of a multiple murderer which was said to demonstrate "abnormalities", plus fragments of clothing, murder weapons, and a guillotine. There are death masks, life masks, and wax models made of victims' chests showing stab or bullet wounds. There are even the skulls of two small children who were murdered by their father.
They have a photocopied leaflet giving some information (to call it a guide would be generous) - but the displays themselves are abundantly textual, albeit all auf Deutsch. Their English leaflet is itself an adventure in linguistic crime, which includes the sentence "Lively bloodcurdling ballads were distributed in ancient Vienna until the end of public executions in 1868, bringing a farewell to the idyll of the Biedermeier period". I've always found public hangings idyllic, haven't you?
What the museum does remind us are the graphic ways crime was reported in the past. Today, even as we hunger for more crime-focused stories (look at CSI, and murder mystery novels, many today with levels of gruesome detail that would have given Agatha Christie the vapours), the reporting of actual crime is ever more sanitised. At least in Western countries, we don't normally see photos of corpses or crime scenes in the paper.
One of the museum's displays relates to a crime in 1685, when the dismembered body of a woman was found (piece by piece, over successive days), and it was put back together and put on public display in the hopes that someone would identify the woman. Nobody did, however the tactic of displaying the bodies of unknown victims seems to have continued (we see both photos and newspaper illustrations of looky-loos lining up to gawp at the corpse).
The idea of putting a corpse on public display to aid identification seems unpalatable now, Even the Doe Network, dedicated to helping identify unknown (or "John Doe") victims, has identikit sketches of the deceased; not photos.
The museum also shows the evolution of police uniforms, and its displays cover celebrated crimes up til the 1980s. Towards the end, there is more about the development of forensics which is also interesting. The pictures here show a criminal's skull and a display relating to a couterfeiting case.
If you're in Vienna, and willing to look at this kind of thing, worth a visit. If you're of a gentle disposition, skip it and go to the art museum.
On Thursday I had the opportunity to walk through a house that is up for auction, near where I am living in Newburgh. I had been curious about this unusual property from the outside, and wondered about what the interior must be like. The answer is: in severe need of repair, but still retaining some of its best features, including the original wood panelling.
It has become city property due to non-payment of taxes, and they are auctioning it. This 1870 house was once a beautiful example of the city's heyday. Originally symmetrical, an early owner modified it to add the turret on one side. The rooms in the turret actually feature curved windows, with curved glass.
So the fate of this house will be decided by the purchaser. For someone with a passion for re-habbing (and deep pockets), this could be the one. From the back, there are views of the Hudson - this house has the potential to be a stunning home.
Whoever they are, they will join a growing community in Newburgh restoring these elegant properties. The city is keen to encourage these projects, and tax breaks and special loans are available for historic restoration.
The house is at 288 Grand St, and there will be further open house opportunities on October 5th and 12th.
Last week I was back in Cambridge to attend a friend's wedding. As I watched this marriage in a college chapel, I was staying in a guest room that had that Cambridge smell. The chapel was beautiful, and kneeling on that hard pillow with my back straining reminded me of so many evensongs.
I felt oddly nostalgic but reminded too of the reasons living in England again would be difficult. Cambridge remains as it ever was, a contradictory place. A short stroll will show you, by turns, elegant and trashy, beautiful and stark, crowded and still.
Seeing friends who have stayed on in academe—and those who have not—raised the usual contemplations of my career and what graduate school really does to people. But one of the things it has done for a number of my friends, including the one just married, is bring them together with their life partner.
The intellectual atmosphere and forced proximity of graduate school is the ideal venue for academic over-achievers to pair off. This is such a recent phenomenon (in terms of when many top universities got around to admitting women), it remains to be seen what effect this will have on academe long-term. Perhaps the notion of the social spaces within academia will change. We have already moved on from the—once common—acknowledgment of gratitude in book or thesis to the "wife who typed my manuscript".
Strange days indeed, to still be at the very tail end, generationally, of the bachelor dons who once filled Oxbridge colleges.
In Newburgh, where I am now working for the Newburgh Historical Society, there are many people fixing up old houses.
Just across the street from the Crawford House (the society's HQ), the owner put up this sign, asking for input on paint choice.
Which paint color do you prefer? (I chose maroon).
It shows the kind of community spirit often demonstrated in places like Newburgh by those involved in restoration. It invites neighbours to feel invested in what's going on in their environment. Those improving a house are not just fixing up their own home, but adding something to the area.
Many more twitterstorians have appeared, here are some:
I recently finished reading Caitlin Flanagan's Girl Land. She has copped a fair amount of criticism for this book here and there, and I think one of the main problems with the book is its description as a history of girlhood. It is nowhere near comprehensive enough for that. It is a rumination on twentieth century girlhood among middle-class white girls, seen through the lens of Flanagan's own childhood.
This aspect of her writing is what some people hate, the riffing on her own life. But I think it's when she's at her best. She is able to describe acutely some of the experiences of young girls and women. Although she's not a fiction writer, I would rate her alongside Alice Munro for her ability to recount female life in a way that produces a shock of recognition.
Of course, the reason I feel such recognition is that I lived a similar childhood. Although I'm almost a generation younger than Flanagan, we shared the same world of girl-dom: reading Judy Blume novels, spending hours alone in our bedrooms listening to music and styling our hair (and agonising over our physical imperfections). Interestingly, dieting and body-hatred are not issues she really delves into in this book. I guess she came of age just before the anorexia epidemic, which was in full swing by the time I reached adolescence.
Flanagan offers advice for parents of girls, which mostly boils down to keeping them away from porn on the internet, and indeed keeping them away from the internet altogether so they can develop their own imaginations. Although I'm well out of girlhood, the advice to stay away from the internet because it rots your brain is probably good advice for me too. So pervasive has the web become, I actually have trouble imagining how I spent all those long summers and afternoons as I was growing up.
I think that I was part of the very last cohort (among privileged white girls) to have the type of girlhood that Flanagan describes. I didn't have an email address til I went to university. Had I been born just a couple of years later, I would have had a laptop in high school. I suspect, sad as it is, that the kind of childhood she describes is gone forever.
Nonetheless, technology has a way of giving and taking: both often in ways unexpected. A glance at past predictions of the future show how far off they turned out to be (how's that paperless office working out for you?).
I have been asked several times recently where I think the future of digital humanities is going. I found myself clawing the air for an answer. But if history teaches us anything, it is that we never really know what's going to happen. Whatever we may hope (or fear) something different again is likely to emerge as new players enter the field.
Much like growing up, where we fear and hope for adulthood, and nothing ever really comes out as we planned. I hope digital humanities manages to keep its imagination growing, and develop in ways none of us expect.
Since the AHA (and my Cliopatria win), I've gained a bunch more #twitterstorian followers. I also got to meet a bunch more in person!
Here are some of those:
@polioandme - Elizabeth Kenny
@ChasingClaudiaK - Sarah LaVigne
@genghiskuhn - John Kuhn
@jhdavey - Jennifer Davey
@genealogydr - Amanda Forson
@medievalfacts - Tom Depue
@historybeagle - Lisa Smith
@newburghr - Johanna Porr
As ever, you can add yourself in the comments. And please feel free to use the tag #twitterstorians when you're posting history-related stuff on twitter.
Those of you who knit may be familar with two common styles: English (aka "throwing") and Continental. Recently, I encountered an interesting theory: that "English" knitting style was encouraged (I suppose at least in the UK) because of its palms-down, "ladylike" pose. This may be partly true, but I would also suggest that the technique is easy to learn, and produces even results, making it a good option for those who were only going to knit as a hobby, and for whom speed was not important. My historian's ear also perked up at the discussion, because of the implication that a ladylike posture was not valued in continental Europe, or indeed in Portugal (where they have a different style again).
My own knitting frustrations led me to the discussion. I have knitted since I was a child (sporadically), but with no great results. While I am an even knitter, I am so abysmally slow that I lose interest long before the project is done. To put it into perspective: championship speed knitters run at 100+ stitches per minute. Competent quick knitters are at 50+. I manage about 15-20. So everything takes forever.
Which brings me back to my curiosity about the speeds of knitting production, and particularly that Continental knitting is reputed to be faster than English. The "fast" option in the British Isles in fact seems to be "cottage" or lever style, in which the movement is streamlined by anchoring the right needle, in the knitter's armpit, in an attachment to a belt, or in the knitter's crotch (it's obvious why such a pose would not have caught on with Victorian ladies). Graceful it isn't, but damn quick. And for women in the Aran islands and elsewhere knitting for a living it was probably the fastest way to hand knit anything.
A couple of years ago, I discovered crochet (well, ok, I didn't "discover" it, I'm not the Christopher Columbus of textile arts). I taught myself (thank you, threadbanger!) and since then that's what I've mostly stuck to. Although it is the same basic concept: creating a fabric by looping and threading yarn together, it seems quicker than knitting.
Some beautiful crochet from the mid-19th century onwards have been digitised, showing some of the beautiful designs women used to make bags or cushions. As crochet, like knitting, shifted from being a manufacturing skill to a decorative hobby, it also became more generalised. Previously, different regions specialised in different crafts, and particular decorative motifs (part of the culturogenesis I research in urban spaces relates to the development of distinctive local costumes). The arrival of printed patterns made designs more general: you too can make an "Aran" or "Fairisle" sweater.
Domestic sewing machines (the Smithsonian has a fabulous booklet from 1929 online explaining the history of the sewing machine) and commercial dress patterns appeared in the mid nineteenth century, which made making one's own clothes (for the untrained seamstress) feasible. Although then as now, the amateur stitcher only made the occasional garment, not an entire wardrobe.
It's a romantic image of the woman sewing by candlelight to clothe her children, but before the machines arrived and sewing was by hand, most women did not make their own or their families' clothes. Rich women had no need (they used dressmakers) and poor women did not have the time. They repaired or altered clothes, and they bought second-hand or acquired hand-me-downs.Only professional seamstresses are likely to have made their own clothes.
I sew, but to make all my own clothes (let alone those for a husband and children) would take pretty much all my time. As in, it would only be possible if I didn't have to work. And it would still be more expensive than just buying them at a department store. (for me to buy the fabric, retail, for an outfit, can work out more expensive than getting the outfit when it's already been sewn together in a factory in some other country, where another woman's labour is being valued at much less than mine).
Perhaps because these are traditionally female crafts, the engineering skill is overlooked.
"I felt overwhelmed by the masses of circular creations that seemed to represent womankind's challenge to answer the riddle of pi in neverending cotton lace. It seemed odd to me that so many women could say that they are no good at math when they could create a perfect flat circle, or hexagon, or octagon, in lace pattern, no less.
Lace is a way of suspending holes within a stable fabric. So making a doily means a person creates pleasing, repeating geometrical pattterns with these holes, while at the same time making the number of stitches inrease by pi (3.14+) every time the diameter of the doily increases by the height of the average stitch's width.
― Sigrid Arnott
The mathematical and spatial ability in devising patterns can be quite high, as shown in the work of mathematician Daina Taimina, using crochet to model hyperbolic space.
The hours of work involved in making anything by hand mean those of us who do it (when it would be cheaper to just buy a machine-knitted sweater), are doing it for recreation - and perhaps to make something unique. But if anyone gives you a sweater they knitted this Christmas, remember that it probably took them hours each evening for weeks to make it.
Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht (or, night of broken glass), which occurred on the night of November 9, 1938. Supposedly as a response to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, (a German-born Polish Jew), a massive coordinated attack was launched on Jewish businesses and property across Germany. The broken glass reference was to all the windows being broken.
On November 8, Jewish newspapers had been forced to cease publication. The Nazis were moving to deny Jews all rights, and the vom Rath assassination gave them an excuse to move forward, in an outbreak of violence.
Although the Nazis tried to claim that Kristallnacht represented spontaneous rioting on the part of German patriots, it was in fact an organised attack. Stormtroopers (SA) and SS members wearing plain clothes were despatched to create mayhem in Jewish neighbourhoods. They had been ordered not to harm non-Jews.
Two hundred synagogues, more than 7,000 Jewish shops, and 29 department stores were attacked. Some Jews were beaten to death and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps. Some of these men were later allowed to leave the camps on the condition they left Germany permanently.
Image of damage to a department store in Munich, the morning after Kristallnacht.
The foreign press was horrified, and reports such as this one appeared in papers around the world.
Two Munich synagogues were among those destroyed. In fact, the Nazis had started destroying Munich's synagogues in June of that year: leaving only two to be trashed on Kristallnacht.
A short distance from where the original stood, there is a new Jewish Centre and synagogue. This was not opened until 2006. There is also a Jewish museum as part of the same complex. Its modern architecture and geometric shape make a different approach to a house of worship. And the use of so much glass in the cube on top, surely a historic fuck you to the Nazis.
More #twitterstorians have joined my twitterfeed, check them out!
This month there are also the nominations for the Cliopatria awards, given by the History News Network. I am one of the judges for the categories Best New Blog, and Best Group Blog.
Nominations are open through November, judging takes place in December, and winners are announced at the AHA in January. Anyone can make a nomination, and this year there are also categories for twitter and podcasts! So if you read history blogs, or twitter, or listen to podcasts, consider nominating your favourites here.
@ciaranon - Ciaran O'Neill
@ProfessorSheyda Sheyda Jahanbani
@MoreOnVictoria - Philippa Dissel
@humanifyingg - Alan Hwe
@seefootnote - Katy Layton-Jones
@SpartanLady1 - Jenni Irving
@Ms_Historian - Amy Lively
This week I was in Montreal, where I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Indian Ocean World Centre at McGill. While I was in town, I went to visit the Museum of Fine Arts.
There, I saw The King's Beavers by Kent Monkman, possibly the most disturbing and puzzling painting I have seen in a while. I stared at it for some time, the vividness of the image raising so many questions about its message.
In it, apparently Christian beavers are trapped and attacked by Europeans and Indians. Which king? Are these French beavers being killed by the English and their native allies, or loyal English beavers being butchered by the French?
We see Catholic priests evidently complicit in the massacre. Some beavers are trapped in a floating prison: are these slaves? Are the beavers African? Is this just a general allegory for the violence in all colonial encounters, or a parable on animal rights? (Beaver skin, after all, being a key item of trade in colonial North America). Were the beavers a persecuted minority from the Old World who had fled to the new? There are so many different ways of reading it, and perhaps that is the point.
The museum has hung this painting by the entrance to a gallery of art from colonial Canada, placing this modern piece alongside paintings from the eighteenth century, and the juxtaposition is striking (and deliberate). On researching further, I discovered that this piece is very new, having been completed this year for the museum.
I wonder what effect it has on visitors to the museum, that they are greeted with this allegory of frontier violence before they see the rest of the art in that gallery. I was unable to find any more detailed explanation by Monkman about his intended meaning of the work, and I would be interested to know if any readers have their own conclusions.
A few people on twitter have asked me about my career, and how I came to be where I am. So here is a rather lengthy explanation. Next month will mark four years since I submitted my PhD thesis. I started in October 2004.
My work was on women in the interwar period, and their ideas of gender and modernity in Asia and the West. (Buy the book!)
I'm very proud of the work I did for my PhD, but it wasn't an area I wanted to continue to work on. I felt I had said all I could on that topic, and my interests led me elsewhere, towards urban history and a broader timeframe. Or to put it bluntly: different focus, different place, different period from my PhD.
Rare is the person in history who seems to have made such a sharp handbrake turn in research interests. Those I can think of (Simon Schama, Cassandra Pybus, Alan Macfarlane), did so after their careers were well-established. Nonetheless, Richard Waterhouse mentioned in one of his books having colleagues who still regarded him as an "Americanist", even after he had spent over twenty years writing Australian history.
I covered my views - and trepidation - about changing areas in an earlier post. It remains to be seen whether my career choices (or rather, following my interests), will pay off. I've been told I've gone "too fast" (i.e. published too much, too soon). A friend was advised NOT to publish her doctoral book until after she landed a tenure-track job, so that it would count for tenure. I'll be finishing book two in the spring (with an edited volume on the side), and no tenure-track job in sight.
I was awarded a Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship at the National Library of Singapore. I moved in April. I wanted to study the city of Malacca, which had held a fascination for me since I first visited as a tourist some years earlier. I began researching how it had evolved as a colonial port. This research started with sources that were 400+ years earlier than my doctoral work.The fellowship was for six months, and gave me an office in the library, and a research assistant. I had a lot of fun, and it was a great opportunity. I studied Malay and started building up my reading ability of Portuguese.
OCTOBER 2008-SEPTEMBER 2009
That July, I was interviewed for, and offered a postdoctoral fellowship starting in October at the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research in London. There I expanded my project to incorporate Havana, comparing it to Malacca as two key port cities of early modern European expansion. I spent a great year with supportive colleagues, and worked on my side interest in the Pacific world, which was published in the Journal of World History this year. I had a visiting fellowship at the Institute of Asian Studies in Amsterdam, where I spent two months learning about the Dutch East Indies, and studying archives in the Hague.
The following May, I was awarded a two-year research fellowship funded by the Excellent Initiative at Ludwig-Maximilians University. I've been here since October 2009 (my fellowship ends later this month). This has given me the chance to get through all the research for my book, which has expanded to be a study of urban identity in colonial port cities. I have access to a wonderful library and it has been a good place to be based to complete my research.
I recently received (thank you, Gerda Henkel Stiftung!) a generous grant, which will enable me to finish my book, and will pay me a salary into the spring. This happy news came when I was only six weeks away from my last postdoc paycheque, so to say it was a "relief" doesn't begin to cover it. The uncertainty (indeed the pattern of the last few years of not knowing where I'll be going next until pretty late in the game) is wearing thin (though I must recommend the high-stress diet, seems to work wonders). The book is coming together and I look forward to publishing it.
INTERDISCIPLINARY! TRANSNATIONAL! UNHIRABLE?
Of course, all this time I've been applying for jobs. I never lifted my foot off in terms of writing apps, and when your job search is global, there is no off-season. After several years, it's pretty tiring. I look forward to one day not feeling like I'm working without a net. But my mobility has been my strength, thus far. Only the fact that I've been willing to go anywhere has kept me employed continuously. Friends of mine who have bound themselves to one country have not been so lucky.
My published work spans the 1500s to the 1960s. People who have encountered me, or my work, in different forums have described me as an early modernist, a nineteenth-centuryist, an Asianist, an urbanist, a gender historian. I suppose I am all of these, in varying degrees. But jobs seem to come in one of those flavours, and it's hard for me to sell myself as fitting into such categories, with disparate foci in my published work. Anyone hiring an Asianist would balk at my current project, and anyone hiring a historian of empires would look at my dissertation topic and think "What the...?". Urban/World are the labels I would use, though it's rather slim pickings for both of those at the moment.
I've spent longer working on my current book than I spent on my doctoral work, and more intensively too (the postdocs I have had have allowed me to focus fully on my research; during my PhD I was working various part-time jobs). I am at least as well up on the literature of what I'm working on now than on my doctoral area.
In general, I receive more interest from search committees in the US, especially those with world history programs, who look at my cv and think "wide teaching areas". While to hiring committees in the UK, where people tend to specialise more, the term might be (I'm guessing), "dilettante". The last AHA at which I had interviews was in 2008 (since then I've been interviewed by phone or straight to campus). If I'd landed one of those jobs, I would have had a mid-tenure review by now.
I am sure I am a better scholar, better teacher, than when I first went on the job market. I know my cover letters have improved! Nonetheless, I was wikijected this week for a job at which I thought I had a good shot. So, maybe my letter doesn't impress everyone. But I love what I do. I love history: reading about it, writing about it, sharing knowledge of the past with others. I've been lucky to have the chances I've had so far, and check in next year to see if this turns into a story of triumph or a warning of what NOT to do in academe.
@Past_Lives - Martin Robb
@historyrepeatin - Ian Curry
@ProfSigler - Krista Sigler
@outofmischief - Richard Hemming
@canenvirorock - Lauren Wheeler
@earlymodernpost - Lizzy Williamson
@KlecticAcademiK - Theresa Runstedtler
@hhtnsw - Historic Houses Trust of NSW
A few more #twitterstorians have come to light, and welcome one and all! Add yourself in the comments if you would like to be included, and check out these people for history-related twittertalk.
As many readers know, I am the editor of a new journal, Transnational Subjects: History, Society and Culture. Our first issue will be appearing in October 2011. The journal is print and online, and fully peer-reviewed.
Currently we have two open calls for papers. For our second issue, which will be published in May 2012, we invite essays on all aspects of transnational and cultural history (4,000–7,000 words) and shorter historiographical or pedagogical case-study articles (fewer than 3,000 words).
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. Send proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for issue 2 is 31 October 2011.
Issue 3 will be a themed issue: Gender, Sexuality, and the Transnational Subject, to be guest edited by Gregory Smithers.
For well over a generation, historians have enriched our understanding of the history of gender and sexuality in a variety of historical contexts. Insightful works by Anne McClintock, Ann Stoler, Philippa Levine, Robert Aldridge, and many others, have presented a vivid picture of how the "state" endeavored to control, channel, and at times manipulate gendered behavior and sexual activity. Despite an impressive body of scholarship, we still know relatively little about the individuals who were the objects of the state’s policies, laws, and policing. Transnational Subjects calls for essays that will shed historical, anthropological, and/or sociological light on the experiences of individuals as they navigated the socially and legally constructed concepts of gender and sexuality from the eighteenth century to the present. We welcome submissions that include, but are not limited to, small case studies, methodologically and theoretically innovative essays, digital work, and personal reflections on gender and sexuality in a transnational context. Essays should not exceed 7,000 words, and reflective pieces should not be more than 3,000 words.
Submissions will be peer reviewed and should be sent electronically to email@example.com Deadline for submissions is January 15, 2012. Selected papers will appear in the October 2012 edition of Transnational Subjects.
Direct inquiries about the special edition to Dr. Gregory Smithers, Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University.
You can also follow Transnational Subjects on twitter, @transnationsub