Author Archives: Ari Kelman

March 15, 2013, 1:19 am

Rank amateurs.

The US News and World Report education issue is out! As ever, USNWR has taken on the critical task of ranking colleges and universities, including specific departments, and made a complete mess of the job. Kieran Healy has a couple of typically excellent posts on the subject (here and here). He concludes that USNWR‘s methods and conclusions are arrant nonsense and suggests that crowdsourcing the ranking of sociology departments might make more sense. Eric Rauchway, my once and future co-blogger, invites you to go here if you’re interested in doing the same for history departments.

January 28, 2013, 4:31 am

As shameless and self-serving a plug as you’re likely to see this side of facebook.

Okay, this is as close as I’ll come to shilling for my new book (which, you’ll note, has already been panned by a disgruntled reviewer at Amazon).  My friend Phillip Barron has just built me an author website.  Please check it out if you’d like.  There’s a blog over there that I’m sure I’ll use about as often as I use this one.

Update:  if you’d like to buy the book, it appears to be in stock here and here.

December 19, 2012, 9:54 pm

Erik Loomis on a stick

I don’t blog any more (that’s a discussion for another day — or not).  But since I still have the keys to the place, I’d like to add my voice to a growing chorus supporting Erik Loomis, who, as you may know, is now subject to a deeply hypocritical and craven witch hunt.  I wish I were more surprised by this turn of events, but alas, I’m not.

If you have a moment and are so inclined, the Crooked Timber post linked here and above has some suggestions about how best to express solidarity with Erik.

May 18, 2012, 3:20 pm

Help Put the Special in Special Collections!

A friend* at the National Archives asked me to post the following:

OCLC Research wants to know how researchers (you) use special collections.

Please visit this survey  to answer some questions about how you find – and find out about – websites and other research resources. The information you provide will help OCLC Research make it easier to discover materials in special collections.

*  Yeah, that’s how I roll.

May 8, 2012, 8:29 pm

All the good Jews are dying.

It’s going to be very hard to tell my older boy that Maurice Sendak has died.  I suppose I’ll sit down with the boy, watch the Colbert interview (here and here), and then break the bad news to him.  Also, I still get a kick out of this (warning:  self-referential).

Late edit:  this, today’s Fresh Air, is quite moving, though I find that Terry Gross interviewing Maurice Sendak is a serious confluence of Jews.  A conjewence?

May 5, 2012, 6:04 am

RIP Sir Stewart Wallace.

Fuck it, I’m not afraid to say it:  the video for “Sabotage” — which isn’t even close to being the best of the Beastie Boys’ songs — remains as cool now as it was then.

It’s weird how sad I feel about Adam Yauch’s death.

May 4, 2012, 5:44 pm

Please join the debate.

Parody aside, I have a few semi-substantive thoughts on the L’affaire Schaefer Riley:

1) The original post is a byproduct of a media culture that (increasingly?  I honestly don’t know) rewards people for ginning up page views rather than for producing high-quality work.  Which is to say, for more and more people working in more and more media, the rewards are there for getting an audience to pay attention.  It often doesn’t matter why the audience is paying attention.  In short, so long as the Naomi Schaefer Rileys of the world enjoy perverse incentives for generating controversy, that’s what they’re going to do.  For example, rather than engaging with her critics (or the people she attacked), Ms. Schaefer Riley chose instead to toss fuel atop the fire.

2) The dissertations that Ms. Schaefer Riley mocked are on topics of real merit to a variety of disciplines, including my own…

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May 3, 2012, 10:29 pm

The most persuasive case for eliminating Naomi Schaefer Riley’s position at CHE? Just read the post.

You’ll have to forgive the lateness, but I just got around to reading Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent post on Black Studies.  If ever there were a persuasive case for eliminating her position with any publication interested in matters relating to higher education, it’s this execrable piece of drivel.  What a collection of right-wing, know-nothing talking points about how the academy has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since master let the field Negroes into the big house.  The best that can be said of this sort of punditry is that it’s so irrelevant that anybody who bothers to read it will stop well short of engaging with the author and opt to parody her instead.

Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague higher education in this country:  from funding cuts at public universities, to runaway tuition costs everywhere, to meager job opportunities…

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May 2, 2012, 8:29 pm

Committee work.

The Executive Council of the UC Davis Academic Senate has just handed down its findings (pdf) regarding the events of of November 18 (we speak of that day in hushed tones around here).  The findings include the report of a Senate subcommittee on which I served, so perhaps I shouldn’t say anything beyond that.

For Edge-related background, see here.

April 5, 2012, 10:00 am


This article in Vanity Fair left me thinking that it’s only a matter of time before performance-enhancing drugs become the norm rather than the exception in the academy. I mean, what happens you realize that the assistant professor that your department just hired can concentrate for hours and hours without taking a break for weeks on end? What happens when you realize that s/he is far more productive than you are because of these extraordinary powers of concentration? And then, what happens when you learn that the secret to her or his success is a prescription for methylphenidate? What are you going to do about it*? As for me, I’ll probably go out for a bike ride and then take a nap. But that’s because I’m old and pretty much past my prime already. But if I could still be a contender — whatever being a contender means — I wonder if I’d think twice and call my doctor.

Here’s the thing:…

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March 27, 2012, 5:49 pm

Shill not shrill.

Given what an ignorant slut* he seems to be, I guess I’m willing to be more charitable than Timothy Burke and accept that David Levy (not the good one, mind you) only worked fifteen hours/week during his academic career.

Really, though, rebutting this sort of disingenuous crap is beneath my dignity. But I do think Corporate Spokesperson Levy should be shunned. Beyond that, take a look at the Burke post. It’s smarter and more thorough than Levy deserves. And unlike Levy’s pat drivel, Burke opens up some avenues of discussion.

* Corporate category; I don’t care about the man’s sex life.

March 23, 2012, 1:23 pm

Some lying, some exceptions.

I’ve probably never said this here before, but having finished my book on Sand Creek, I’m now co-authoring* a graphic history of the Civil War. As a consequence, I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. I don’t have much to add except this: I decided, very early in the process of writing the book, that we would NEVER put fictional words into the mouths of non-fictional historical figures. Which is to say, although my co-author badly wanted to insert a couple of gold bug stanzas into the Gettysburg Address, I put my foot down. On the one hand, this seems very much like what Silbey suggests should serve as best practices (both in literature and scholarship, if I understand him correctly). But on the other hand, I have to admit that we worked around the attendant problems by making up characters left and right to voice the dialogue and carry the weight of the story…

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February 29, 2012, 7:16 pm

Contraband of war.

Students in my Civil War class tend to be fascinated by the disjuncture between the Lincoln of memory, who stands tall as the Great Emancipator, and the Lincoln of history, who only very gradually embraced emancipation as a necessity of war and then later as a moral imperative.* One of the crucial moments in that evolution was the controversy over treating slaves as contraband of war, an episode during which several of Lincoln’s generals, in fall 1861, outstripped their Commander-in-Chief and began practicing not-quite-emancipation on the ground. They refused to return slaves that crossed the Union lines to their former owners, leaving those people in an odd situation: not quite free, but no longer enslaved either.

The BBC has a story up about one of the sites where that controversy played out: the South Carolina Sea Islands. I have to admit that this is the kind of article that …

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February 2, 2012, 1:18 pm

The past really is a foreign country.

Charles Pierce (who is awesome) included this in his touching remembrance of Don Cornelius. Ad agencies really should use historical figures as pitchmen more often.

January 20, 2012, 4:25 pm

The so-called Grand Experiment is a big lie.

Or so it seems. No, I’m not talking about Joe Paterno again [spits]. I’m talking about the description of the United States as a Grand Experiment in democracy or sometimes as a lower-case grand experiment in democracy. I always assumed that one of the founders* said that, that it was a quote in other words. But no, it seems that’s not the case. Unless I’m missing something — which is entirely possible; no, really, it’s entirely possible — the whole thing is a charade.

* Probably Jefferson [spits], right? I mean, he’s usually the guy who said the stuff about the things, isn’t he? But apparently not in this case. Unless, again, I’ve missed something. Which is to say, this is chance for you to note that somebody is Wrong on the Internet! And not just any somebody, but me.