Need to know

I’m reading Raup’s 1966 lecture on John Sanderson’s farm and the demise of New England agriculture. It’s significant, I think, that this essay was originally a lecture. Raup allowed himself to take liberties he might have avoided if he had been writing an article for his peers.

I’m seeing in it all the things I think are wrong about what he says (many of which, incidentally, I did NOT see a year ago, when I first read this). Wrong? Well, less than completely accurate. Or hiding assumptions that I question. Or complicated by later research, in the years between 1966 and the present.

So, as I’m thinking about this, it comes back to me, the reason I’m rereading it is I’m preparing a lecture for undergrads. How much of this do they need to know?

Then I read on, and cover Brian Donahue’s 2007 reappraisal of Raup. Donahue corrects most of Raup’s errors regarding nineteenth-century farming, even though what he really wants to talk about is conservation. So is it important for students to see how the historiography has changed between the 1960s and the present?

The short answer is, yes, because the professor chose these readings. But I suspect the long answer is also probably yes. Because Raup represents the standard view of agricultural change in America, that is still held by a lot of people. This view is based on the classic texts (Bidwell, Wilson, and Black); and if they were this wrong about the facts (or at least the interpretation) of New England agriculture, then the rest of their history is probably due for close scrutiny. Someday soon, someone should write a comprehensive history of American Agriculture, that incorporates all the new material that regional specialists have discovered. And, that incorporates rural history; which includes business, social, cultural, and…wait for it…biography. More on that, soon.

Can't resist...

Photo on 2011-01-24 at 11.26
"It’s noon on Monday, the 23rd of January. I’m not supposed to be doing this. I have books to read for my comps, which are in six weeks. But this reel of Bradlaugh material is just screaming out to me. The material on this one (the first of nineteen reels) is mostly from his early years. Weird letters to his girlfriend, then wife, Susan. Bad poetry. I’m up to 1867 on the document I’m scanning now, but hopefully they jump around."

By mid-afternoon I had scanned 323 pages.
Several photos of Charles Bradlaugh I had never seen before, like this one from 1864. Lots of legal documents, and page after page of transcripts from Bradlaugh’s 1863 arbitration meetings with George Jacob Holyoake. I didn’t have a chance to read them too closely, but I did get the impression that Holyoake was in over his head. Bradlaugh seemed to be scoring most of the points on the cross-examinations. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean he was in the right. I think it’s going to be a much more complicated story than the heroic tale told by his earlier biographers (His daughter Hypatia and the 1960s holder of his National Secular Society presidency, David Tribe). It will be interesting to see what Bryan Niblett says in the biography that’s on its way to me from

"Spring" semester begins

Started down to Amherst at 6:30. Arrived at 8:30. But I got to class on time. And we had a full room; nearly all of the 60 students enrolled seemed to be there. One familiar face, who I had in a previous section.

Funny that it's Environmental History, and the first day we get a practical lesson in how everything is contingent on the environment. UMass closed at 12:30, just about the same time I managed to get home.

This should be a good class. The syllabus looks good, and the group is a little older. Before class started I talked to a guy who's a Senior in Resource Economics. That was my old undergrad department. But when I was there, it was part of the Ag. School, and had Draper Hall all to itself. Now it's part of the Business School. I wonder how the old timer faculty members feel about that?


I've been reading articles about the different approaches to history taken by economists and social/cultural historians. Neither approach by itself is completely satisfying. What's needed is a way to balance the two.

This reminded me of other times I've run into statements about ideas that are absurd when taken to their logical extremes. When I was a kid, I copied a whole pile of pithy sayings out of a Robert Heinlein novel. They were conveniently arranged to make that type of copying easy, and I must have been just one in an army of Heinlein fans that did this. One of my favorites was:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something.
Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?"

A similar effect was produced by the second and third Star Trek movies. In The Wrath of Khan, a dying Spock says, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." A couple of years later in the third Trek movie, Kirk answers a rescued, rejuvenated Spock, saying, "The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many." Both statements are absurd, without the qualification, "sometimes."

Snow Days

It snowed. So I tried to work from home the last couple of days. That went surprisingly well, despite taking time out to play with the kids, shovel and bake bread. Started a series on reading primary sources, on the THS blog. Will probably want to put that together into a manual at some point. When I can talk about all the research I did for the dissertation, and use it as an example. In the meantime, these posts will give me a chance to think this through, and maybe get some feedback from people about what seems to work. Might be able to collaborate with Elizabeth at the Antiquarian Society, and put something on their blog Past is Present, as well as THS.

AHA Convention

Went to the American Historical Association’s (AHA) 125th Annual Meeting this weekend, in Boston. It was held at the Hynes convention center, next to the Prudential. There were hundreds of sessions, business meetings, receptions, and of course, a large vendor space filled with academic and trade publishers, a couple of government agencies, and the CIA, which was giving away some really interesting document collections that I can't find a link to, even keyword searching their website.

As commercial events go, AHA was just a pale shadow of trade shows like
CES (which was happening simultaneously in Vegas). I’ve never been to a CES, but I went to several of it’s predecessor COMDEXs, both in Vegas and in Chicago. Of course, there are no casinos in Boston, and book selling isn’t the main business of the AHA convention. At least, I assume it isn’t, or I wouldn’t have had to pay nearly a hundred bucks to go as a grad student! There were a lot of people bending the ears of junior publisher’s reps at many of the booths. And there were a lot of new books on display. So maybe the history world isn’t really coming to an end.

But seriously, I think the AHA convention’s role as the place you go to interview and/or sell your book project may be in decline. The profession seems to be getting more rather than less fragmented, travel costs are up, porno scanning and pat-downs are a disincentive even to those who can afford a trip, and there aren’t a lot of jobs. And many of the topics were painfully specialized, laser-focused -- this year’s theme was “
History, Society, and the Sacred.” In a period of retrenchment, of shrinking budgets, shouldn’t we be thinking about getting back to basics? Next year, the theme will be “Communities and Networks.” I’m not sure that’s any closer to “basic” than this year’s theme, but it’s closer to my interests. I wonder if I’ll be going?

With luck, this time next year, I’ll have a completed dissertation and I’ll be ready to talk to prospective employers. Maybe I should formulate part of my project into a paper on networks of family migration -- I have more than enough material. Proposal deadline is Feb 15th, so I guess I’d better think about it. I don’t mind being the exception, if there’s actually an opportunity for me to meet some people in Chicago next January. But I don’t think I’ll be depending on the AHA convention to get myself a job or a book deal.

Dump Facebook Day!

So I deactivated my facebook account today.

This has been a long time coming. I wasn't crazy about the "people from high school you didn't like enough to stay in touch with" aspect of facebook. But I thought it was a useful way to connect with people far away who might share interests. I was willing to put up with being tagged in yearbook photos, in order to do the occasionally useful peer-to-peer social networking.

But in the last few weeks, it seems that something has changed. Maybe these were just things I hadn't noticed before -- or maybe facebook has turned some type of corner. First, there was the total stranger (a friend of a friend I thought I'd deleted) who commented on pictures of my dog. Really, dude -- you don't have anything better to do than make fun of someone's dog pix you've never even met? Then, there was the "new profile." I looked at some people's new profiles, and wondered whether I really wanted that much info on the page. It's optional now -- but for how long?

And lately, I've started noticing a lot of those "Like" buttons showing up everywhere. I didn't think much about it, until I was looking at the underground pictures on the other night, and saw a little note next to the button. It said, "If you can see this text facebook is able to track your online behavior outside facebook." It had a link to a page describing how to prevent this. But I still thought it was pretty creepy of facebook.

Today I learned that our 18-year old made a New Year's resolution and deleted her facebook page. She decided she was wasting too much time finding out when her friends took a dump. Looking at the same pics over and over. I thought about that and realized, I
never look at anybody's page. Never read the news feeds. Don't really have the interest or the time. So maybe social networking isn't really for me.

Finally, this afternoon I found out there was an article about
Charles Bradlaugh published in 2003 that I have never seen. I searched for it online, and found it on a site called Scribd. I clicked to download it, and it asked me to log in. Rather than set up an account, I used my facebook account. I thought this would be similar to using my gmail account to log into blogger: that it would capture my info, for use by the people who own the sites. But it has another, much more alarming aspect.

Before I had even finished reading the article, I got an email message from Scribd telling me that two family members who are facebook friends had "subscribed" to my reading habits on Scribd. I tried to find out what type of notification they had seen, but I wasn't able to see it on Facebook. But apparently, anything I chose to read on Scribd would be broadcast on facebook for everyone to see! In this case, it was only an article about Bradlaugh and the freemasons. But do I really want everybody to know about every article I look at on the web?

Needless to say, I deleted the Scribd account. At least, I think I did. How can you really tell? And I sent out a message to my facebook friends that I was deactivating my account in 24 hours. But then Steph found this site that explained how deactivating wasn't really effective (because facebook keeps your stuff up on the web). It included directions on
how to really delete your account. So I went ahead and did it immediately. Hopefully, it works.