Category Archives: Activist Historian

August 29, 2014, 10:09 am

Natalie Zemon Davis “Gets” Twitter, Supports Steven Salaita


Natalie Zemon Davis being listened to.

Historian Natalie Zemon Davis has given us permission to distribute her letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise. Davis asks Wise to reverse the decision not to appoint Steven Salaita to the job he was promised at UIUC, and explains why. Furthermore, in a not unexpected star turn, Davis demonstrates her complete understanding of social justice and the use of Twitter as a rhetorical tool.

It is no secret to long-term followers of Tenured Radical that I am a huge admirer of Davis. She is one of the founding mothers of women’s history, a long term member of the Princeton history department and now retired to an appointment at The University of Toronto. When I was a relatively new blogger, I wrote this post, in which I discussed how, and why, Davis had become …

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January 19, 2014, 1:03 pm

Department of Manuscripts and Archives: The Obama Library


Should the location of a presidential library be a political decision or a travel decision? Photo credit.

It seems that national policy making may be more or less over until 2017 or beyond, so let’s turn to legacy: where should the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum be established?

Since it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who began the tradition, by turning over his own home to preserving his legacy, this is a relatively modern problem: most presidents don’t actually have their own libraries. George Washington just got one last fall at Mount Vernon, his former estate in Virginia. Calvin Coolidge donated his collection to the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA, beginning in 1920, making it the only public library in the United States to be charged with preserving a presidential collection.


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January 4, 2014, 10:30 am

AHA Day 2: Fun With The Humanities

Elephant SittingYesterday morning I tweeted a terrific session sponsored by the NEH, hung out with a Colorado group clustered around blog pal Historiann, went to the business meeting of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, went to lunch with an old friend I met years ago at Nancy Cott’s Schlesinger Library Summer Camp, and then attended the CLGBTH evening reception. 

After the helper-skelter of the fall on the Internet Highway, the American Historical Association Annual Meeting is downright soothing. Lots of coffee, conversations, and evening drinks, dropping into great panels and spontaneous meetings with old friends are reminding me why a conference is fun. The big work on Day 2 was a panel on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Report on the Humanities and Social Sciences, with Earl Lewis, Susan Griffin, Anthony Grafton, James Grossman, Estevan Rael-Galvez a…

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September 25, 2013, 10:06 am

Why, I Was A Sandinista Too: Bill de Blasio’s, and My Own, Recent History


Credit: Tony Auth

I was both alarmed and relieved when this article by Javier C. Hernandez, which recalled Bill de Blasio’s work on behalf of the Nicaraguan Sandanistas, came out in The New York Times. De Blasio, those of you living outside of the New York metropolitan area may need to be reminded, is slated to be the next mayor of New York. He is running on the Democratic party line — not the Marxist party line, as Republican candidate Joseph Lhota predictably asserted after this story was published.

I was alarmed by this. Once again, and this time in a civilized place like New York, the Republican strategy is to not talk about things that matter (health care, housing, feeding the poor, education) but to rile people up about things that don’t matter (for example, the relevance of nineteenth century radical …

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September 15, 2013, 11:29 am

Death In A College Town: Jeff and Val Butler’s Last Class

Katy Butler, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death (New York: Scribner’s, 2013). 320 pp.  $25.00 HB. $11.04 Kindle.


Jeff and Val Butler in Middletown, CT.

I used to think about what tattoo would be good to get in middle age. After reading Katy Butler’s book, I know. I want DNR, medical shorthand for “do not resuscitate,” in red Times New Roman, right over my heart.

I became alerted to Knocking on Heaven’s Door back in 2010 when Butler was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. ”What Broke My Father’s Heart” eventually won the Science in Society award from the National Association of Science Writers. It wasn’t far into this story about how the needless installation of a pacemaker destroyed her father’s dignity, her mother’s health, and the end of her parents’…

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August 13, 2013, 4:24 pm

The Five Big Lies About Campus Rape


From Project Unbreakable, encouraging healing from sexual assault through art.

I was reading Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Tackling the Roots of Rape” this morning and had two thoughts. One is that it is progress for a man to be interviewing a man about how to prevent sexual assault. Too much anti-rape activism is focused on lecturing women on how to protect themselves and too little on the largest potential pool of rapists and their destructive ideas about sex. Furthermore, men talking to men about rape, cutting through the myths about sexuality and masculinity that enable sexual violence, is an effective strategy.

My second thought was how glad I am that I no longer teach at a residential campus. (more…)

July 14, 2013, 9:19 am

No Justice, No Peace: Time to #StandOurGround #AgainstRacism

At Tenured Radical we, like so many others, are appalled and heartbroken at last night’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in murder of  Trayvon Martin. Between Shelby v. Holder and this travesty, it feels like we are spinning back in time.


To find a rally or Trayvon Martin protest near you, log on to Twitter or Facebook and use the hashtag #NoJustice or #HoodiesUp. Hat tip.

To join the NAACP, go here. (Update: be patient. The site is moving very slowly today, undoubtedly a direct outcome of the slow pace of delayed justice for the Martin family.)

To find your Congressperson to demand justice for Trayvon, go here.

To give money to The Brotherhood-SisterSol, a New York City community organization that organizes youth of color against racism, sexism, homophobia and violence, go here.

To call, write and email the Department of Justice to demand the reactivation of the…

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May 22, 2013, 4:59 pm

Being Good Web Citizens


If I were alive I would tweet Engels. Just saying.

Listen up! Vanessa Varin is trying to start a convo about ethical web practices over at the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History. She was kind enough to solicit the opinions of the #twitterstorians about the practice of live tweeting panels, and has written a couple of good pieces which aren’t getting enough attention. This may be because the comments section isn’t working. Varin’s new piece, “Being a Good Web Citizen” is also now up, and worth a look as well.

All of us who were solicited for comment came out against #snark while live tweeting a panel, you’ll be glad to know. Twitter seems to be more vulnerable to the regrettable riposte than blogging is, and since the emergence of Storify, it’s far harder to take back. Varin cites…

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May 3, 2013, 8:31 am

It Isn’t Easy To Be Marx: Recent History in the Nineteenth Century

14939251-karl-marx-image-in-a-cancelled-stampOn the way to the airport, I began one of my travel activities: catching up with the paper publications that accumulate despite my best efforts to keep up.  In this way I discovered John Gray’s review of Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life (Liveright, 2013).  It’s a beautifully written essay about what sounds like a must-read summer book. According to Gray, this is a major revision of Marx, of his impact on history, and of the various willful readings and misinterpretations that made Marx’s work such a powerful influence on the twentieth century.

From my perspective, this is particularly timely. If you are a subscriber to Jacobin (which you should be), you will notice that Marxism is undergoing a revival of sorts, as young left intellectuals try to grapple with the turns history is taking and how we might think our way through to activist interventions….

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April 8, 2013, 9:53 am

What A World Without Women’s Studies Looked Like


Before women’s studies, these signs were invisible.

Mariam Chamberlain, one of the founding mothers of women’s studies, died last week at the age of 94.  A Ph.D. in economics, as a program officer at the Ford Foundation she disbursed around $5 million in grants to identify key areas for curricular change, as well to establish research on women through institutes like the Center for Women Policy Studies.

It’s easy to forget how important women’s studies was to reshaping what knowledge looked like. In part this is because there are fewer and fewer of us who remember what universities that were almost entirely run by and for men looked like. But the success of women’s studies has led to its transformation — into feminist studies, gender studies, queer studies — and to inevitable (as well as important)…

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