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In these times of budget cuts, enforced furloughs, and layoffs on the one hand, and higher student fees on the other, it’s important for faculty and staff in higher education to evince an appropriate awareness of this atmosphere of austerity…. oh, you must be joking.

Spotted at a local community college, so don’t start in about the privileges of the UC….

I’m hoping that Amazon doesn’t actually put this into action:

Method and apparatus for programmatically substituting synonyms into distributed text content. A synonym substitution mechanism may programmatically replace selected words in textual data with synonyms for the selected words. The modification to an excerpt performed by the synonym substitution mechanism may not significantly alter the meaning of the excerpt to a human reader. By replacing one or more selected words in an excerpt with synonyms for the words, illicit copies of the excerpt may be recognized by comparing a copy of the excerpt to the original. Particular permutations of synonym substitutions may be provided in excerpts to particular requestors. The particular permutations may be recorded and used to determine a requestor as the source of a copy of the excerpt. Synonym substitution may make programmatic excerpt chaining difficult by substituting different synonyms for the same word(s) in an overlapping portion of two adjacent excerpts.

The dangers are obvious, albeit entertaining:

“We have nothing to fear, but apprehension itself.”

“I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears, and elbow grease.”

“We few, we happy few, we unofficial association of brothers.”

“I am a jelly donut.”

So much for textual analysis or the linguistic turn.

[Hat-tip to John Scalzi]

Is it not ill-advised that historians often identify ourselves by method as well as, or even rather than, by subject of interest? I.e., we often say “I’m a social historian” or “I’m a cultural historian” as well as or rather than, “I’m a historian of the US South.”

I think this way of talking and thinking is based on a faulty analogy to shop labor. It’s a bit like saying, “I am a lathe operator.” Except, the thing is, it’s fine to be a lathe operator if you’re a good lathe operator; there’s plenty of objects that need lathing and there will be for the foreseeable future.

The same is not true for history. In history, people are seized by methodological enthusiasms; it may suddenly seem like the lathe is the way to go, and there are projects that demand expertise in the lathe. So you train up on the lathe, and you lathe away, and your project’s done, and then you look around for another lathe-worthy project.

But in history, unlike in shop labor, it turns out there often isn’t another such project—they’ve dried up. The interesting lathe-answerable questions got answered.

At which point you either moan about how the AHA doesn’t want to put on panels about lathing anymore, or you try to use a lathe for a project that really, you ought to be using a jigsaw for, and make a complete mess of it, or—and this is of course the ideal choice—you train up on the jigsaw and you use it for the next project.

There’s actually a fancy French phrase for approaching history as a series of problems requiring solution: histoire problème.

Why don’t we all just say we practice histoire problème—I mean, Michael Kammen says it’s pervasive, right? or at least we could say that we’re problem solvers using whatever tools are useful—instead of getting in a lather about lathers?

Related: where is the American histoire totale?

Today this blog is two. For those of you who want more reminiscing, here’s the post on the occasion of its first birthday, which answers some FAQs.

Robert Arnesen’s egghead sculptures are a prominent feature of the UC Davis campus. I learned only recently that one was duplicated for an installation in San Francisco.

Reproductions of Arneson’s Yin and Yang Eggheads appear along the Embarcadero, situated together just east of the Justin Herman Plaza fountain, across from the Port of San Francisco Ferry Building. The sculpture was dedicated in mid-December. A plaque recognizes it as a reproduction of one in a series of five acrylic-on-bronze sculptures commissioned for UC Davis.

A native of Benicia, Arneson taught ceramics at UC Davis from 1962 to 1991. His Egghead sculptures were created for specific campus locations and were installed during 1991-94. The original Yin and Yang Eggheads sit outside the UC Davis fine arts complex courtyard, where they were positioned by Arneson himself shortly before his death in 1992.

The eggheads that appear in San Francicso were cast in 2002 from Arneson’s original molds. Installers positioned the two Eggheads in San Francisco, orienting them like those at UC Davis.

I don’t know what they think the word “like” in that last sentence means, but here is the San Francisco Yin and Yang, from that same page:

And here is the original Yin and Yang, as placed, according to the article, by Arnesen himself:

depression

The current print edition of the American Prospect has a center pullout section on Inequality Goes to College. It’s worth reading, though hardly cheerful. And the Golden State is all over it.

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a much more nuanced view of the state of the military history field than earlier efforts

The work, which has received both glowing praise and sharp criticism from other historians in the United States and Europe, is the most striking of the revisionist accounts to emerge from a new science of military history. The new accounts tend to be not only more quantitative but also more attuned to political, cultural and technological factors, and focus more on the experience of the common soldier than on grand strategies and heroic deeds.

More, it actually connects that new form of history (traditionally identified as the “New Military History” and starting with John Keegan’s The Face of Battle) with larger issues, both historical and present. If I was being particularly tetchy, I might note that the article is behind the times–Keegan’s book came out in the 1970s–and that military history is now pushing past the “New Military History” into what some have facetiously referred to as the “New New Military History.” That would be petulant of me, however, so I will simply be glad to see a sophisticated account of the topic.

I’d missed this till today:

A Russian historian investigating the fate of Germans imprisoned in the Soviet Union during the second world war has been arrested, in the latest apparent clampdown on historical research into the Stalin era by the Russian authorities.

Mikhail Suprun was detained last month by officers from Russia’s security services. They searched his apartment and carried off his entire personal archive. He has now been charged with violating privacy laws and, if convicted, faces up to four years in jail.

Suprun had been researching Germans sent to Russia’s Arctic gulags. A professor of history at Arkhangelsk’s Pomorskiy university, his study included German prisoners of war captured by the Red Army as well as Russian-speaking ethnic Germans, many from southern Russia, deported by Stalin. Both groups ended up in Arkhangelsk camps.

“I had been planning to write two books. I need another two or three years before I can finish them,” Suprun told the Guardian today. The historian – who described his arrest as “absurd” – said he had signed an agreement with local officials not to talk further about his case.

But the arrest has provoked outrage in Germany and among leading historians. It comes amid Kremlin attempts to rehabilitate Stalin and to clamp down on independent historical research – with political repression during the Soviet era and victims of the gulag system now taboo topics.

Today the historian and writer Orlando Figes described Suprun’s arrest as unprecedented, and part of a “Putinite campaign against freedom of historical research and expression”. Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck college, London University, added: “[It's] potentially quite alarming, if it means that the regime intends to clamp down on the collection of personal data about the Stalin terror.”

Plucked from one of Delbanco’s essays.

In 1912, Owen Johnson’s enduringly popular novel (most recently reprinted in 2003) Stover at Yale gave a picture of Ivy life as a gladiatorial contest among alpha males who, by beating out their rivals for a spot on the team or in the club, learned to achieve “victory…on the broken hopes of a comrade,” and went on to rule the nation.

You’re coming to the talk, right?

Notes for an event tomorrow.

Of course the answer is “because of the Sokal hoax”.1


1Joking! The Sokal hoax is a dismissible sideshow.2
2Joking! The Sokal hoax actually does touch on important elements of the crisis. But it has nothing to do with history, which isn’t in the humanities.3
3Joking! Sort of.

Ari and I are teaching the methods and philosophy seminar for incoming graduate students, all fields of history. If you’re interested, please have a look below the fold to see what we’ve assigned.

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Because she’s just basically popular in Maine:

Fascinating numbers for Olympia Snowe. Her approval rating with Democrats is 25 points higher than with Republicans- in fact her approval numbers with Democrats are better than they are for many of the Democratic Senators we’ve polled on across the country this year.

Like Ben Nelson on the Democratic side, she’s a GOP Senator in a state dominated by the other party. If the Republicans try to get rid of her via the primary, they’ll lose the seat, probably permanently.

(Hat-tip to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire)

Body-building philosophy professor.

Milk! 5 left at $69.99!

The reviews are priceless.

Via Leiter, and by way of my own following up on my earlier woolgathering on the under-representation of women in philosophy, this Chronicle piece by Regan Penaluna speculates that the all-male, very sexist canon in philosophy presents a significant barrier to entry for young women.  (She also discusses aggressive argumentation, but I want to focus on this question.)

It’s not an exaggeration of fact.  The canon is entirely male.  Most of them were deeply sexist by today’s standards, if not their own.  Plato suggests in Republic that the various talents and natures of humans are distributed, if not equally, without special regard to the sex of the person:

Then there is no way of life concerned with the management of the city that belongs to a woman because she’s a woman or to a man beacuse he’s a man, but the various natures are distributed in the same way in both creatures.  Women share by nature in every way of life just as men do,

Go, Plato, go!

but in all of them women are weaker than men.

Awwww. But radical for his time, given the Athenian alternative was house-keeping and anonymity.

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Breaking completely from the historical and philosophical focus of this blog, I offer (via Bill Simmons of ESPN) the radio broadcast towards the end of the Honduran soccer match last night. Honduras qualified for the 2010 World Cup when the United States tied Costa Rica at the very end of their game:

In a desperate historical nod, here’s a link to the “Football War” between Honduras and El Salvador as a measure of the sport’s importance in Central America.

Randy Cohen thinks you shouldn’t give to Harvard because they’ve got too much money already. Instead, give to a poorer institution where your donation will do more good.
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WH2Sur46a.jpg Wars tend to lead to significant medical improvements. In both World Wars, plastic surgery made significant strides, pushed by the frequent and crippling severity of wounds, especially facial wounds. Surgeons, doctors, and dentists found themselves confronted with the destruction of modern warfare written in intimate detail on human flesh. The demands were stunning, as one pioneer remembered:

Writing in the 1950s, Sir Harold Gillies, a pioneer in the art of facial reconstruction and modern plastic surgery, recalled his war service: “Unlike the student of today, who is weaned on small scar excisions and graduates to harelips, we were suddenly asked to produce half a face.”

Doctors confronted with such wounds made at least a start during and after the war in reconstruction, “in the treatment of fractures of the jaws, and in the repair of destructive wounds of the maxillae, by bone grafting and by adequate and ingenious prostheses,” (1) and the military began to institutionalize the lessons and pass them down. During the First World War, the U.S. Army created special programs at Northwestern and Pennsylvania to train both army doctors and dentists in reconstructive surgery. The Army Surgeon General reported in 1918 that:

The medical officers were given special instruction in plastic surgery, blood transfusion, and bone transplantation, and the dental officers in bone fragment fixation by intro-oral splints, the systemic effects of focal infections, and surgical anatomy of the face, jaws, and neck.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan have lead to their own medical improvements, as well as their own problems. Read the rest of this entry »

I was looking for something entirely else on my computer and I found this old data, which I’ve put in a shiny new graph for you. It shows average annual GDP growth 1913-1950 for selected countries as a function of the death rate per thousand of prewar population in World War I.

BEL=Belgium, FRN=France, GMY=Germany, ITA=Italy, JPN=Japan, UKG=Britain, USA=United States, USR=Soviet Union / Russia.

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