Weekend Link-A-Palooza: Writing in Public and Cleaning My Desk

January 26, 2014, 11:09 am


What if the writing were on the wall? Photo credit

School is starting most places, except at chez Radical, where we are actors in a movie sequel called “Sabbatical Part II: Producing the Manuscript.” Yep, it’s true. What LD Burnett began at the #GraftonLine, now a thriving enterprise with 142 members (10 newbies have joined in recent weeks), I would like to push to the next level with this new book blog, How Feminism Survived the Age of Reagan. It is hosted on my own web page, and I will provide links here on a regular basis. I have been toying with this idea for a while, since many writers develop a platform specifically for a work in progress. Based on the wide re-tweeting of this post, I thought: what would it look like to write a book more or less in public, and demonstrate the work that goes into producing a draft, and then a final manuscript?

So there you go. I’m doing it. How does a scholar, who really believes in collaboration, bring crowd-sourcing to a work in progress? What would it look like to invite graduate students and junior scholars, activists and educated readers, to referee my book while it was still being written? Jeff Nunokawa, of Princeton’s English Department (and a comrade of mine from way back) has been writing a book as a series of Facebook notes.  Jason Mittell of Middlebury College is completing his own manuscript in an open process over at Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, where he is posting complete chapters (HT: Michael Trask.) For various reasons that involve the volatility of my topic, personal privacy, copyright, and my policy of allowing living subjects to review work about themselves before it goes to anyone else, I am choosing to emphasize process, methods, archives, historiography and ethics in my posts for some time to come.  So go over and check out the first post.

In other news, here are some terrific CFP’s that have come across my desk:

  • Speaking of publishing, this superb idea arrived in my inbox a few days ago. Penn State University is hosting the First Book Institute, June 8-14, 2014. Applications are due on February 17 2014 and should be from “scholars working in any area or time period of American literary studies who hold a PhD and are in the process of writing their first book (whether a revised and expanded dissertation or other project). Applicants should not have negotiated a formal agreement of any kind with a press to publish their manuscript.” Eight applicants will be awarded $1500 each to defray the costs of attending. (HT: Tina Chen.)
  • The theme for the CLGBTH program at next year’s American Historical Association is going to be “Promiscuous Interdisciplinarity.” The committee is specifically seeking fix or six panels. The full call, and instructions for putting your panel together, are here.
  • The Conference Committee of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) invites individual paper and panel proposals for its sixth annual conference to be held at the beautiful Omni Severin Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana October 9-12, 2014. This year’s theme is “Materiality of Ideas,” and the keynote speaker is Yale’s Katherine Lofton. If she is a fraction as good in person as she seems in her book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (UC Press, 2011), that alone is worth the price of admission.
  • Historiann posted some terrific links on Friday, including news that Matthew Pratt Guterl of Brown University, a #GraftonLiner who lapped us all over the summer in a three month writing binge, has started a blog on his new website. Welcome, dude.

Then there is always history in the news:

  • Activist Labor Historians on the Crisis in Home Health Care Organizing. Eileen Boris (UC-SB) and Jennifer Klein (Yale), authors of Caring for America: Home Health Care Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State (Oxford: 2013), who described the hair-raising process of finishing this book even as events overtook them in here, warn us that the right to organize for this critical group of workers is once again up for grabs. “Are Home Health Care Workers About to Get Screwed by the Supreme Court?” they ask in The America Prospect (January 22 2014). At the Dissent website (January 24 2014), you can download a podcast where Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Quinn interview these two activist scholars about Harris v. Quinn, a case being decided by the Supreme Court, aimed at undermining the public sector unions that fight for home health care workers.
  • Elementary school students do meaningful public research in the Bronx. Under the leadership of two intrepid and creative teachers, Justin Czarka and Grace Binuya, the students of P.S. 48 have located a lost graveyard in the Bronx where enslaved African-American people were buried. The students were part of a news conference last Friday where they, and community leaders, called on the state to make the site a historic landmark. The project was financed by a federal program called Teaching American History. Talk about meaningful teaching in the humanities: when young students see the work they do turning into something more tangible than a test score, it could really take them a long way.

Finally, I defy anyone to find anything new to say about the ASA boycott of Israeli universities, on any side of the question. If you can, fine, whatever side of this you are on, publish and send me your links. I will be eager to read them and pass them on. If you can’t think of anything new to say, it might be worth just saying nothing for a while, including in the comments section here, where the boycott is one of two topics that always seems relevant to some commenters no matter what the post is about. Having just said this, I also realize that I have now opened myself up to a raft of new comments, but maybe — if you have left similar comments here before — you could instead take them somewhere else where they have not yet appeared. My question is: what we have learned from the experience of debating global politics in the context of a professional organization?

  • Sometimes I think: nothing. In the department of things we should already know, today we are reminded by the New York Times that “Palestinians” are divided on the question of boycotting. There’s a surprise, since everyone else, of every conceivable social and ethnic category, is divided on this question too, should they be thinking about it at all. Some people have practical, political and ethical reasons for taking a position, others benefit by taking another, and many people around the globe have no idea why they should care about an American academic organization at all, given that it doesn’t help people feed or clothe their children. But referring to “Palestinians” as a homogenous group is stupid. Sorry, I have no other word for it.
  • Then we might say: new and important things have been brought to our attention that we have not thought about previously. The Occupaiton is now one of my reading topics. Should you too want to learn some new things about the deployment of “Palestinian” and “Arab” as homogenous categories of people, or why the conversation about BDS has the particular shape, and employs the language, that it does, you should probably start with Steven Salaita’s The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought (Zed Books: 2008). My favorite — although not sole — enlightenment was an explanation of why, early on in my involvement in this, I saw “liberals” emerging as a particularly odious category of person. These polemical essays explain Salaita’s view the liberals have been particularly damaging to the movement for Palestinian liberation movement.
  • In the spirit of everything old can be new again: here is an online conversation about professional associations and political engagement that was initiated by the Organization of American Historians in November 2010. A bigger conversation about the role of professional organizations in our lives that has been sparked by the ASA boycott (which is simply a fact now, however you choose to respond to it) might be worth having. What should professional associations be doing — if anything — about political questions? What should they be  doing about US foreign and domestic policy? What practical measures might they take to alleviate academic underemployment, if any? They aren’t unions, after all. They do play a brokering role in creating hiring norms, and they play a shaping role in what counts as scholarship; but they don’t control the creation or crafting of actual jobs university budgets or government funding. What should they be doing about making the broader case for what universities do in our society?
  • Annoying people make good points sometimes. Another conversation worth having (and I’m sorry, but in order to make this point I  have to point you to a particularly vicious, incoherent and bloglike screed in Forbes from NYU alum Richard Behar that goes on at length about something perfectly obvious that no one has yet discussed publicly) might be: is it good for professional organizations to have their leadership drawn disproportionately from a single institution? Might there be conversations that make perfect sense within a particular intellectual context and set of political comrades, but that need better care and handling when extended to the far less cohesive group that a professional organization invariably represents? Knowing also how very difficult it is to get people to commit to institutional work, and how much we owe to the people who agree to do it, I nevertheless think that the ASA — rather than worrying itself to death over this resolution — ought to take up the question of whether it ought to pursue a policy of institutional diversity in its leadership in the future.
  • Department of Unsolicited Advice. While we are at it, the ASA could also use some time and energy to revamp its website and membership systems. They went into a brief crisis that has been resolved, but neither has been in good shape for a very long time.
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