Argumentation of Historians

The collective noun for a group of historians is an “argumentation.”  No kidding!  So, what could be more fun than hanging out with a bunch of doctors?   That’s right, hanging out with an argumentation of historians.  And there are an awful lot of very smart people doing seriously good work — as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once said, “. . . history that is not controversial is dead history.”  And he of course was no stranger to controversy.

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association is in Denver, and I (via public transportation no less!) managed to attend a few sessions.  No question medical conferences are better managed, and the really good ones are quite efficient at getting the latest information out to the maximum number of people in well-organized chunks. History conferences, on the other hand, are somewhat nebulous.  The AHA does its best, but when 25 sessions are running concurrently in each time slot, it is difficult not to feel that you are missing out.  Because of course you are missing out, probably on a brilliant talk in the next meeting room.

At the presentation level, I would argue that doctors in general make better speakers.  Different material, certainly, but some skills are universal:  speak clearly, and please emphasize your key points.  I sat in on a session titled “Doing Indigenous History,” and I am sure I would have learned more had I been able to understand the speakers better:  (1) slow down and enunciate (preferably into the mic); (2) do not speak as though everything were an aside; (3) do not slide into vocal fry or inflect your sentences into questions unless you really are from Down Under (Angel Hinzo, you are doing important research, but you sounded like a teenage girl and not a serious scholar when you phrase your findings as questions, because that unconscious upward inflection undermines your academic authority); (4) and please please please observe the niceties and remove your hat (Jordan Lee Craddick, the hat may be your “thing,” but seriously, at a conference presentation?)

I pick on Craddick and Hinzo because I have high hopes for them.  Both of them are at the beginning of their career, and I think they can learn a thing or two from their panel moderator Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian who has been around for awhile and who knows a thing or two about being authoritative.  In the meantime, I think Craddick and Hinzo are both going to do interesting things, and I look forward to them making controversy and keeping American history challenging.

On a different subject:


I wonder if anyone else (that would be any other historian) were bothered by the apostrophe abuse.  Clearly whoever authorized the signs at the Colorado Convention Center never bothered to learn the rules.  As DH would say, my personal windmills . . .

You Mean, Aside from World War II?

The quote of the day, from reviewer “Shomeret,”commenting on Jacqueline Winspear’s Birds of a Feather on Goodreads (April  2012):

“Until recently I thought that World War I lacked any enduring significance.”


The reviewer is/was studying library science and has a book review blog.  I gave her credit for the “until recently” part of the sentence, which would seem to imply a change of heart.  Maybe she read some good history books, I thought.  But no.  She apparently changed her mind because “. . . . some of the most interesting historical fictions I’ve been reading this year take place during that period.”

She changed her mind because of works of HISTORICAL FICTION?!  Well, I guess it’s better than nothing.

Hey, Shomeret!  Ever heard of (among other things) the crippling reparations the Allies demanded of Germany after WWI, Hitler’s rise to power, the complete change in how wars were fought in the aftermath of the Great War, and a small event called WWII?

Of no enduring significance.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

BTW, I found Birds of a Feather tedious, and as others have noted, Winspear did not adhere to one of the cardinal rules of good mysteries: All clues, however obscure, must be available to the reader.  Sheesh.

Stardust to Stardust

For this perpetual student, Coursera has got to be the best invention ever.  So far, I have taken a philosophy course out of University of Edinburgh (land of Hume and haggis, what’s not to love?), exercise physiology from University of Melbourne, science of gastronomy from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Big Bang and Dark Energy from the University of Tokyo.  This last course, in particular, has fired my imagination.  In my less lucid moments I think I must have missed my calling as a particle physicist.  Or theoretical physicist.  Or what I really want to be, the Director of the Universe 🙂  I confess I never thought about the point of SLAC when I was at Stanford, and certainly when CERN went live, I still didn’t know what all the fuss was about.  Don’t we all want to know where we come from, and how it will all end?  I am fascinated by people who REALLY WANT TO KNOW what happened at the BIg Bang — not three minutes out, or one trillionth of a second out, or ten to the negative 26th second out, but the moment.  Stardust to  stardust . . . .

Up next, all about the angst of Kierkegaard from the University of Copenhagen, and something about city planning from University of Pennsylvania.  Massive Open Online Courses — who would have thought this twenty years ago?  I don’t participate in the forums or discussions, but there is something really cool about the idea of thousands of people all over the world participating in the same class, all — presumably — in search of human knowledge.  Now, if I could just get The Teenager to think of knowledge, rather than The Grade, as the goal!

Overheard at the Farmers’ Market, from a 4-year old girl:  “You can never have too much greens!”

CSA Share Week 18:  strawberries (2+ flats!), rhubarb, hakurei turnips, broccoli rabe, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, green onions, eggplant, tomatoes, eggs

Week 18 Recipes:  roasted turnips; strawberry rhubarb crisp; chard and green onion quiche (and who knew guinea pigs love chard stems!); curried lentil/barley/tomato stew; turnip greens with toasted garlic and bread crumbs; broccoli rabe in goat cheese sauce; eggplant in tomato basil sauce with rigatoni