Historians, Public Intellectuals in Waiting

When stupidity and mendaciousness rule the roost it is hard not to think that something has gone wrong with education. The last year -- probably much longer, but it was about a year ago that this piece appeared, and I've seen several like it since -- has seen a lot of accusations being hurled along … Continue reading Historians, Public Intellectuals in Waiting

Moving Targets

To move is to invite suspicion. For the period I study -- and perhaps especially in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries -- perhaps no word captures the variety of phenomena that exposed marginal people to the scrutiny of observers and the machinations of the state so much as "mobility." Homelessness, vagrancy, wandering, roaming the streets, running up … Continue reading Moving Targets

Giving Rare Books to Undergraduates

Not a great idea? I tried it this week in my seminar on historical research, in the course of trying to move beyond the idea of primary sources as disembodied texts to see individual books, letters, and manuscripts as objects whose physical properties and fates could be as or more interesting, if harder to trace, than their contents. I … Continue reading Giving Rare Books to Undergraduates

Statistics, Power, and Expertise

When we think of knowledge in the context of government, we often think of statistics. In fact, it's arguable that statistics are not merely an especially prominent form of politically useful knowledge, but that their increasing use, starting in the seventeenth century and gathering pace ever since, was precisely what gave rise to our very … Continue reading Statistics, Power, and Expertise

Alternatives to Reality: Bush, Trump, Empire, and Alt-Facts

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that."[1] "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's … Continue reading Alternatives to Reality: Bush, Trump, Empire, and Alt-Facts

Crisis and Elitism in Graduate Education

When I started this blog, late last March, I was just wrapping up a three-year term as Graduate Program Director in a middling-to-smallish history department at a large, urban, public university in Canada. Many of the problems associated with that kind of job, and with graduate training more generally, were fresh in my mind. Joining … Continue reading Crisis and Elitism in Graduate Education

Letter to a Prospective Graduate Student

Why study history in graduate school? A promising undergraduate student asked me this recently, not quite in so many words. My answer was inadequate; despite my own advice on the subject, and despite everything going on at the moment in politics and academe, when sitting in my office and put on the spot I floundered … Continue reading Letter to a Prospective Graduate Student

Happiness as a Colonial Science: new publication

In the wake of the Royal Society (London, 1660) and the Académie Royale (Paris, 1666), a slew of scientific societies formed in the later seventeenth-century European world, nodes in an expanding network of institutions devoted to experimental science, natural history, and kindred sorts of philosophical activity. A short-lived member of this scientific community was the … Continue reading Happiness as a Colonial Science: new publication

New Publication: Towards a History of Projects

In his 1697 Essay on Projects, Daniel Defoe referred to his era as a "Projecting Age": a time of schemes, plots and plans to make life (life in general, and the projector's life in particular) better. Many projects were what we would call scams, and many more looked that way. In a conservative and moralizing age, projects were … Continue reading New Publication: Towards a History of Projects