Monday, March 30, 2009

Judith Bennett Roundtable Finale

Judith Bennett Roundtable, the Finale

The final post of the roundtable on Judith Bennett's History Matters is now up at Notorious, PhD. It's a post by Bennett herself, and is well worth a read.

If you've just now caught on to this, you can find previous posts at Notorious, PhD, Historiann, and Tenured Radical, as well as at Magistra et Mater (even more here).

Join in and enjoy -- and thanks for participating in our first Women's History Month Roundtable!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thought for the day

Thought for the day

Apropos of discussions at Making Light, In the Middle, and A Corner of Tenth Century Europe (really, at Cliopatria, but I'm too lazy to find the link), I have a thought.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kalamazoo Blogger Meet-up

Kalamazoo Blogger Meet-up

I am so behind on reading blogs. So I kind of missed this the first time around. But if you go over to Medieval Woman's blog, details are there. It looks like Friday morning at 8 in the coffee shop whose name we can't remember in whichever Valley it is. The one where we always meet. Considering how many of us there are these days, we it's a good idea to get there early, though (unless it opens at 8?), because we always end up begging for chairs and tables.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Judith Bennett Roundtable, the Penultimate Part

Judith Bennett Roundtable, the Penultimate Part

Hmph. Here's me, trying to think up something original to say, when Notorious, PhD, Historiann, and Tenured Radical have already covered most of it! Not to mention that this series has also created some wonderful spin-offs over at Magistra et Mater. Let me tell you, these are tough acts to follow! But follow I must, so I'm going to revisit some things from the point of view of someone who comes at this from the perspective of the Early Middle Ages, who doesn't really have the chance to teach grad students, and who seems to be hitting every interstice possible in background and approach. I also freely admit that I may be opening myself up to criticism here, but there you are!

One of the first things that struck me about Judith Bennett's History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (besides the fact that I deperately want to call it "Feminism and the Challenge of Patriarchy") is how modern it all seems to me. Another is how good Bennett is at articulating clearly some of the issues that so many of us, whether or not we think of ourselves as feminist historians, need to deal with when we teach any history. Finally, I have to admit there was some, "but what about this???" going on, too.

In the discussion at Notorious, PhD's place, we turned to the issue of whether or not history should be political. I tend to think not, even as I admit that we all bring our own interests and beliefs to our scholarship and teaching. But I'm fairly uncomfortable with pushing a particular agenda with the idea that it will make a difference to how our students deal with the here and now, in part because I don't think that Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages really have much to do with the here and now, despite Bennett's arguments for continuity. I really do think that the study of history is every bit as much about acquiring a set of tools and skills for critical thinking and writing that transcends the study of the past, and that that is the continuity that is most important to us as teachers.

Having said that, Bennett's call to arms seems to me to be one that is natural. Bennett herself touches on this when recounting her experiences in re-writing Hollister's Medieval Europe. Adding more on women might be a feminist thing. It might be a response to half-hearted attempts to toss some more women into the mix because publishers feel they have to (who was it who talked about the 'chick boxes'?). But the reality is that adding women means offering a richer, better-developed picture of what was going on. While I certainly admit that it is down to feminist historians of a slightly earlier generation for pushing this aspect of history, for making it political, I think we may now be at a point where it is becoming much easier to include the history of women and minorities as necessities than it was even ten years ago. It occurs to me that in my own case, teaching about women allows me to engage students in things that they are interested in -- even though I teach at a SLAC where much of the student body is pretty conservative, the students, male and female, really do enjoy reading primary sources that have to deal with women's lives. And they often want to compare them in presentist ways. All I have to do is question their assumptions about 'choice' and 'oppression' -- and combat the "Oh, look! things are so much better now!" impulse. Which means, I suppose, that I've been pointing out the patriarchal equalibrium without the focus on the continuity that Bennett argues for.

About that continuity... Damn, but I wish that there had been more. I really enjoyed that section of the book, but it still seemed fairly narrow to me. All England, all pretty late. And I'm still leery of continuity when we can't really talk about the causation except in terms of general patriarchal equalibrium. This is a real problem for me, and perhaps for others. Patriarchal equalibrium feels like it exists. It looks like it exists. It explains so damned much. But I think Bennett shows enough evidence that it's an equalibrium made up of different factors in different times and places that it's ... hard to get a grip on. I want to dig deeper, splitter that I am. The continuity section also seemed to me to be begging for more in terms of both time-span and evidence. Most of the the evidence that Bennett uses is fascinating; I've used some 17th C English wills for teaching before, and am glad that some of my students noticed the disparities in how property was divided between men and women, and between widows and children, that Bennett mentiones (90). And obviously I can't fault Bennett for writing what she knows best. But as she admits, the continuity discussion is based mostly on wages and standards for working women in mostly urban environments. I wanted more. I wanted the laws, dammit!

The laws. They're problematic. If we look at women's legal status in the very long term, I think that examining various law codes supports the idea of patriarchal equalibrium in many ways. But it also throws a spanner into the continuity argument, if only because we have to unpack an awful lot that looks like (and sometimes is) transformation. But I think we have to do it. The fact that there are examples in so many law codes in the western tradition (including the Ancient Near East) of women-as-property, of violence against women punishable not because of the crime against the woman, but because a crime had been committed against a man and his family, seems to me an essential issue in teaching the history of women. I don't think anyone can argue with Bennett's evidence on the value of women's labour, but in teaching, at least, it seems to me that we cannot leave out the many ways in which women were themselves valued less. The problem is, I suppose, that we can look at the world around us and argue, as Bennett does, that the wage gap has been more or less constant for as long as we've been able to measure it. When we look at women's legal standing, there is difference. And in some cases, transformation. My question here is: how can we teach that transformation and still demonstrate that the idea of a patriarchal equalibrium really does hold true?

Another place where I feel we need more integration and study is on women and their ties to their birth families. Bennett's women are mostly defined as singletons, wives, or widows, i.e., their families are defined by their spouses. It makes sense when looking at the women she does. But from the perspective of someone more familiar with Rome, Late Antiquity, and the Early Middle ages, there is something lacking. The idea of husbands -- or even widowers -- blithely alienating away their wives' dowries may work well in the 14th - 18th centuries, but I'm not entirely sure that it works earlier on. The sorts of things I've been reading suggest that, at least before the High Middle Ages, there was an expectation among the elites (and who else owned and held enough property that their actions were recorded?) that daughters would act in the interests of their birth families. In these cases, patriarchy really did have to do with fathers. And again, I'm not sure that by looking more closely at how women were identified, or identified themselves, in terms of family we aren't opening up another can of transformational worms. It's always something, isn't it?

So ... even though I'm convinced by most of Bennett's arguments, and more convinced that there are ways to teach a stronger feminist history that is legitimate because it is interesting and necessary and just better history, I am not sure that it can be done as well as it needs to be, unless we get a bit messy, and figure out how all of these other things fit in.

Speaking of making things messy again ... I need to address the concept of "lesbian-like". I can see how it can be initially useful, but I think in the end it can distract us from a lot of questions that help us to write better history. As Magistra pointed out, if we use Bennett's definitions, we end up with Heloise living a 'lesbian-like' life, despite the fact that she is one of the most clearly self-identified heterosexual women in the MA! Hell, I fit in there, and there are women I know who identify as lesbian who don't fit Bennett's definitions. Tenured Radical deals with most of my concerns at length, so I won't go into too much detail here, except to say this: if we have to construct an almost asexual category of 'lesbian-like', how do we then deal with teaching our students about the differences in how people conceived of sexuality in the past -- at least of what we know? How do we deal with the idea that women in sexual relationships with women didn't exist in some people's minds because sex = penetration? And how do we deal with the growing corpus of evidence for ideas of masculinity where sometimes men having sex with other men is masculine and 'not gay' and sometimes it is gay and wrong? I think lesbian-like is a term that muddies the water more than it filters it.

So what's my point? I think it's that Bennett's book is an important starting point. I think it reminds us of many of the things that historians, especially younger women historians, often take for granted. The frameworks for dealing with women's history, especially the ideas of patriarchal equalibrium and remembering to look at continuities as well as transformations, are useful and can improve the ways in which we teach history. And although I think this is probably not what Bennett had in mind at all, I think that those frameworks make it possible to show that including women's history in the master narrative is necessary because the narrative is just plain better with extra! added! women!

Don't forget, the ultimate part of this discussion will take place next week at Notorious, PhD's place, where Judith Bennett herself will offer her own take on the discussion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Because you want to know what I think about AIG, right?

Because you want to know what I think about AIG, right?

And the rest of this financial SNNAFU, (that would be "not-normal") while I'm at it. Note -- I'm not an economist, and gods know, my pension is tanking, but I'm employed (yay) and my consumer debt is relatively low in comparison to the national average, I think. Higher than I like it, and I wish I'd downsized a year before I did. But I'm fairly sure I've got this year's England trip covered (maybe not if I go to St. Andrews, too), and part of me is still hoping to swing WorldCon/Anticipation -- if you are going, feel free to twist my arm -- mostly I am reticent because it's big and expensive, and I don't want to go unless I know I have people to hang out with).

So right -- I'm pretty normal for an employed recently divorced female academic -- If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd make it through another month, but then I'd be totally screwed. I'm worth more dead than alive.

So AIG. As I understand it, the bonuses are in their contract. So to me, that means they get paid. Period. This isn't up for argument. It SHOULD be up for negotiation, but the people receiving bonuses shouldn't have to give them up just because the taxpayer is paying them, rather than the customer. That's why we have contracts. I'd be very pissed if someone tried to not honor my contract.

And this newest attempt to tax the bonuses at 90%?? No, that's wrong, too. Federal laws should not be passed in order to punish/benefit one very small group of people. That's wrong. That's not the purpose of laws, although laws of those types are awfully interesting to historians. They really do provide a 'wtf?' quality to our research. So ... we get a law that taxes these guys 90%, and then there's a precedent to tax any bonus at 90%.

I've worked in sales, and earned commission and bonuses. Had my bonuses been taxed at a higher rate, I'd have made very little more than my base rate. But then, my commissions and bonuses were directly linked to my performance!!!

Having said all that ... I once worked for a company where we all took 10% salary cuts to help keep the company going. I'm wondering why this isn't happening at AIG. Honestly, I'm wondering how any of the AIG execs getting salary PLUS huge bonuses can live with themselves. Are they not ashamed? And I'm NOT sure that there shouldn't be more negotiations over reductions in pay for the execs at all of the companies getting the bailouts.

In the meantime, pay the bastards their money. It's a comparative drop in the bucket. Stop being distracted by this, and think about what is going on with the rest of the money -- where is it going, and what is it doing?? What safeguards are in place? And here's an idea for any of the people taking the cash -- name and shame. Publicize their names and pictures. hell, if you have the time, protest outside their homes and workplaces ...

And then think. Because what the hell allowed them to have contracts like this anyway? Anybody with half a brain should have been able to see that the kind of overextension of credit over the past 8-10 years was going to have some awful consequences. Anyone with half a brain should have noticed that top execs were making far more money than company profits -- real profits, not income -- justified. Hell, anybody could see that, when the people at the top are making hundreds of times what the people at the bottom are making, and there are still people in this country without health insurance and safe homes, that there is something just wrong with the world. Remember when suggestions that those people be taxed at even higher rates were dismissed (mostly by the GOP) were dismissed -- even attacked -- as a plot for socialist redistribution of wealth? You should -- it was happening as recently as ... last month?

The horse has left the barn. Congress, if you want to fix this, then put in lasting measures -- executives in any company or industry that gets a tax break can't get bonuses or compensation above 100 times the pay of the lowest-paid worker in the company, for example. And if a person makes over a million a year? Tax it at 50-60%. Own stock? Exercise your stockholder rights, and don't buy into this idea that you're paying for the best. Because if the best are stupid enough that they bought into the bubble? Maybe we need to redefine the best.

And by the way -- can somebody explain to me how having the federal government buy outstanding mortgages and re-finance them is not a smarter idea than just handing the banks some cash? Seems to me that the lenders would be out the interest, but would still be better off than having to unload property on a foreclosure market, and if the federal government is going to piss away taxpayer money, it might as well be on something that keeps people in their homes. But then, I want to see a new WPA and NRA. Some of my students would be better off working in construction.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Judith Bennett Roundtable, pt 3

Judith Bennett Roundtable, pt 3

Hi folks --

Part Three of our discussion of Judith Bennett's History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism is now up at Tenured Radical. If you've missed the first two parts, go catch up at Notorious, PhD's place , and at Historiann's blog. Lots of good discussion so far!

And next week, part four will be here. The wrap-up the following week will be at Notorious, PhD's place, where Judith Bennett will offer her own comments!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A cool blog I hadn't seen

This is cool, and useful

I hope the authors don't mind my publicising this, but I think it's very neat. An ongoing collaborative translation of Hincmar's De Divortio.

Friday, March 13, 2009

publishing in the humanities QAD

Publishing in the Humanities, an Introduction

Over at Historiann where, by the way, the discussion of Judith Bennett's (another medievalist) History Matters: Feminism and the Challenge of Patriarchy is still going strong (hint, hint, plug), Ruth Mazo Karras writes up a nice summary of "here's what happens when you submit an article to a typical humanities journal and why it can take so long for it to get into print." If you are thinking of submitting a first article, especially, this is good stuff to know. It's also nice for anybody who might feel that the process is less than transparent. Of course, double-blind reading is supposed to be not that transparent, and I think is a good thing ...

Also, Ruth puts in a plug for the journal she co-edits, Gender and History and explains a bit more about the sorts of articles they're looking for.

Monday, March 09, 2009

History Matters, part 2

History Matters, part 2

Hi folks -- after getting off to a great start at Notorious, PhD's place last Monday, the discussion of Judith Bennett's History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism has moved to over to Historiann's blog. Come and join in the fun. Even if you haven't read the book, there's a lot of good discussion. And don't forget, next week, the conversation continues at Tenured Radical, and then here the week after!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ah, Facebook ...

Ah, Facebook

So I have a facebook account, mostly so students can find me thre and don't look for me here. I don't put personal stuff up there, and am very careful even about my status, after a couple of students came by my office to check on me when I said I was depressed. But I have lots of colleagues and family, so they see a part of me. And occasionally one of my friends posts something a little unprofessional, but that's ok, too. I never look for my students, and only add them as friends at their request. I don't go to their Facebook pages and snoop. But ...

They sometimes forget that friending me means I can see stuff they do. So one of my advisees popped up in a photoalbum named after a local bar. And I clicked. And saw several students (a couple of my advisees) who are definitely underage getting blasted. Do I mention this to them? To anyone else? Or just put in a call to the alcohol board that they might want to do a check one of these nights? Or forget I saw it because there's a bar like that in every college town?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

History Matters, pt. 1

History Matters Roundtable Discussion, pt. 1

Hey everybody -- Notorious, PhD, Girl Scholar has posted the first post in our Roundtable discussion of Judith Bennett's History Matters. The conversation is fast and furious (but not angry) -- go there and join in!

Going to Leeds

Going to Leeds Bleg

Hello, Leeds Attendees --

I'm registering for Leeds -- just discovered that this has to be done by mail, wtf?

I'm checking boxes for accommodations -- where do I want to check? Do I want to share? HELP!!!

Any advice from people who have been (especially fairly regularly) would be appreciated.