Saturday, February 19, 2005

Random Notes

I have been working hard trying to finish my current chapter by the end of the month, meaning that I have been rereading the same material. This stage of the graduate experiences is all about obsession. Valentine's Day was nice (I made a Caribbean stew with plantain and cod and a pear salad, served with a bottle of Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc. Our new bunny, Mildred, is developing -- she is showing signs of being a German Lop (chubby cheeks and a strong topknot).

Brdgt has been following the controversy surrounding Harvard President Larry Summers and his comments on paucity of women in the sciences.
[T]he relatively few women who are in the highest ranking places are disproportionately either unmarried or without children ... I think it is hard-and again, I am speaking completely descriptively and non-normatively-to say that there are many professions and many activities, and the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women.
Interestingly, these comments ought to reveal problems in how graduate study is structured, particularly how graduate programs can be hostile to students with families.

Geitner has a wonderful post on slavery in early Colonial America. One of the most interesting points: slaves were valued as transcultural agents, able to interact fluidly in different milieu. Some time back, Natalie had a post on how Greeks looked at slavery, not making any significant attempt to justify it. I think an interesting look at Greek attitudes comes from Aristotle's Politics, Book III, in which he defines citizenship against those people who do the work of society:
The necessary people are either slaves who minister to the wants of individuals, or mechanics and laborers who are the servants of the community.
King of Grub Street, Historian Robert Darnton, said something with which I completely agree (via Simplicius Simplicissumus):
I don't believe history teaches lessons. I hope it provides perspective -- that is, it helps us to see the present in relation to other times and places. It can give us a deeper sense of the human condition, and it can help us avoid the time-bound, ethnocentric tendencies that impair all efforts to understand the world in which we live.
Let me add this: get politics out of my history-- if you are doing history to support your political position, I'll bet you are doing bad history. (For a rebuttal, go to Spinning Clio's post on the Patriot's History of the US..)

Finally, check out this post on the film collaboration between Lew Mumford, Aaron Copland, and Ralph Steiner on the future of American cities.


At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Dresner said...

I would quibble slightly with the equation of politically-driven history with bad scholarship. It depends on whether it is the answer or the question which is politically determined.

My research is definitely (but subtly) an outgrowth of political and social ideas of my own, but the answers I find and write about are determined by the vagaries and complexities of the evidence available. I'm not looking to prove something, but to investigate it.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...


I agree. It's nice, and helpful, when history can be used to enrich our understanding of politics. What bugs me is when history becomes enslaved to politics -- events and objects receive narrow (rather than exhaustive) interpretations.


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