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

Against an Academic Boycott. For Now.

Many colleagues and friends whose ethical and scholarly judgment I greatly respect are calling for an academic boycott of the United States. Or, more specifically, a boycott of US-based academic conferences, which are probably the most frequent form of professional contact many of us have with US soil. A petition is doing the rounds. I waver on this both … Continue reading Against an Academic Boycott. For Now.

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

Don’t Make Graduate Students Freak Out about Publishing

Sometimes the title tells you all you really need to know. But I did write a little more on this than just the one line, and the piece -- a draft of which I tried out here -- is now in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in the Chronicle Review. I'd like to thank the Chronicle editors for vastly improving … Continue reading Don’t Make Graduate Students Freak Out about Publishing

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