I just had a birthday. It was grand–well, actually, the day-of was hectic and busy, but that just means an extended celebration that lasts through the weekend! I was given gifts, too. Good gifts; gifts I liked. This brings me to my post, today. What do you get a historian for his or her birthday? Let me impart some advice (but, please, adjust accordingly for personality and preferences of the historian to whom you wish to give):
- Books. I defy you to show me a historian, or any scholar of the arts and sciences, who doesn’t have a book wishlist stacked a mile high–after some culling this week, I found my Amazon wishlist is 15 pages long! Plus, some of the really interesting and important books in our fields are often pricey. Academics seldom get to purchase the books in their field for NY-Times-Bestseller-prices. Having said that, we tend to have specific interests and needs in the field–there are a lot of marginal history books that we DON’T need.
- Maps. Atlases from the era we teach or discs that we can use in class are also of value both to us and our students–especially, for those of us who are adjuncts and get little departmental supplemental money for our teaching needs.
- The arts. Ok, so one needs to allow for personal taste, here, but most historians I know enjoy an array of music and the arts. Concert tickets, play performances, special exhibits at the art museum often fit nicely into this category, but movies may apply neatly, as well.
- How-to manuals for technology. Increasingly, technology is a necessary tool for us folks who study long ago dusty eras–some of which predate the printing press, let alone computers–so, the know-how for basic technologies, such as social media, blogging, and digital sourcing, can be of real value. The fact is that some of need to learn to use new tricks.
- Wine-tasting classes. This is just a useful, professional skill to have, even for preferred beer drinkers. (And, knowledge of alcohol is the gift that keeps on giving.) I’m not saying that tickets to the craft beer fest are off-limits (especially for me!!!), just that wine knowledge has many uses and is enjoyable to boot.
- Travel. Ok, so probably, most of the time, one is not in a position to give “travel” as a birthday present, but donations to upcoming trips, travel guides, or gift certificates to travel companies can go a long way. Most of us do not have the luxury of living in the areas we study, but we like to visit. Besides that, especially among the historians I have known, there is a deep appreciation for travel and seeing the world–a natural curiosity to see other places, encounter new cultures, and eat foreign foods.
- If you don’t know what they already have, there is no shame in gift certificates to Amazon or Barnes & Noble–with these we have limitless options in our media interests.
This is not a perfect list, but it is representative of some of the sweet acquisitions I hauled in from my birthday this week. My mother got me a book about Jean-François Champollion, who broke the hieroglyph code, and a handful of DVDs from the museums in Berlin covering their Egyptian collection, Near East and classical collections, and their Early Modern masters–we’re going to Berlin this New Years. In addition, our family got me a trip to The Shakespeare Theatre Company to watch The Government Inspector adapted from the Nikolai Gogol story. Oh, and a slice of baklava cheesecake. It was a lovely!