Monthly Archives: November 2012

The overwhelming body of written stuff [I want to read]

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 My curiosity often seems fairly boundless to me.  There are so many things I want to explore and I never will have time to read even a quarter of it.  My interests are pretty wide: various fields of science, current events, virtually every location and era of history, and countless tales, fables, stories, and poems all fascinate me.  Every day could be filled with reading the various articles of interest from my Twitter feed alone.  I could very literally spend an entire day reading through it.

It would help if I read faster than I do–it would have helped in grad school, too.  But, puzzlingly, I am not particularly speedy when reading the written word.  Sometimes I get bogged down in hard thinking over the reading, or thumbing through the filing cabinet of my brain seeking a dialogue with some other text (or several) that my current subject provokes.  That latter scenario is often when additional texts, articles and notes start piling up around me at my desk and next to the couch, on the night stand and on the already stocked shelves an arm’s length from my side of the bed.  The former scenario usually leads to mad scribbling in various journals–maybe its the journal I use for possible projects, maybe its the more personal journal in which I record my more personal thoughts.

This extensive curiosity is one major reason why I stopped at the Masters of Arts in history, unsure of how to proceed to a dissertation that would focus my energies  for a number of years on one particular problem–completion of my Ph.D. seemed unlikely to occur in an acceptable time period.  It is also why freelancing was so appealing, I could work on longer projects that require long-term focus, but pick up smaller projects of other interests along the way.  Ideal really.  (Homeschooling my daughter has ended up filling in most of those smaller projects for the time being, but we don’t plan on homeschooling her for college, too.)

Another challenge I have is the cultural literacy I have developed that has given me access to many stories despite the fact that  I haven’t read all of them.  To this day, I cannot remember if I have read Romeo and Juliet in its entirety, from start to finish, or if I have only read various excerpts and seen it a hundred times in a hundred ways–I can probably quote more lines from it than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, but I am still not certain I ever read it.  I still haven’t seen Hitchcock’s Pyscho on a related note, because I already know the plot and have seen the most famous scenes from the movie.  It’s not my intention to avoid these classics–quite the opposite I assure you–but it is difficult to prioritize my reading when there is such a long list and such tall piles waiting for me.

Antique book with German text

When it is time to start a new book or story, I often suffer from option paralysis because the stacks are so many.  Not only that, but I often try to “schedule” reading certain books before others when I know that there is an open dialogue between texts A and B, and the author of B largely relies upon the fact that I, the reader, have already read A.  Plus, there is the self-experienced truism that many of the greatest works offer something more in each new reading, and I hate not returning to the great works.

It really isn’t a bad problem to have, but sometimes I get a little depressed when I consider just how few of the many books, articles and papers I want to read will actually be read.  As a historian, my work is reading and writing.  I just finished explaining to my students in the 101 history course I am teaching this semester that a historian wants to consult as many sources as possible to engage a particular event and really understand and interpret it.  This is much easier to say in a 101 course, for which we have so comparatively few sources and the authors’ existing canon is fairly limited and well-known by comparison with the early modern era and the increasing proliferation of sources, expanding with increased literacy and technology.  Even comparing a research project of the American Revolution with one of the Norman Conquest reveals a laughable gap in the available sources, though knowledge of Latin is far less necessary for the Americans.

This holiday season, I will be traveling–hours in a car and in a plane mean I will get some reading done, but not a ton.  It also means I will, much to my pleasure, acquire more than a handful of new reading materials, both as gifts for the holidays and as the result of my travels.  In other words, my list will only grow.  That’s ok.  If nothing else, it means I should never be bored, and I always have something to look forward to as  I get tied up in one project or another, building book castles all around my abode.  Although, I will always be grateful that I live in the 21st century and am thus not likely to become a historian of the era and all the many, many multi-media sources it will produce!

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Newspapers – the most well-rounded of primary sources

Newspapers provide one of the most thoroughly fascinating and insightful snapshots of an era, including both the major news items and advertisements.  How the major news items are covered is always interesting, but the advertisements, while often entertaining, also speak to the consumers, market, and companies operating in that age.  Additionally, the smaller tidbits can fill in the blanks about leisure activities and cultural norms/deviations.

Earlier this year, I acquired a handful of newspapers from the UK company Historic Newspapers (http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/).  The company provides a service of supplying historical newspapers for gifts (i.e.: newspaper from the recipient’s birthday) and educators.  Their supply includes both originals and reproductions from around the world, but the bulk being from the U.S. and the U.K.  Their staff includes a dedicated research team.  Educational support packs are available free of charge!

To purchase from them, follow the link and use this discount code: 15TODAY

One of the newspapers I acquired was from the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, June 2, 1953.  Take a look at Edmund Hillary’s successful journey to Mt. Everest’s pinnacle, the coronation route and service, murder, comics, and advertisements:

The Front Page story

The Coronation

Other News Items

Radio and TV schedule

(This was the first televised coronation and the decision to televise it provided a huge boost to the television industry.)

Comics and Crossword Puzzle

Advertisements

It is a great way to take stock of an era in one single snapshot, one single day’s news.  (The next paper I highlight will be the UK coverage of the lunar landing–stay tuned!)

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What is history? A web-based picture comic series in 3 parts

 

For Part II, click here:  Hellenism spreads history and other Greek ideas… Part II

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Some Thanksgiving thoughts as we head into Turkey Week

Friends, Romans, Countrymen (at least, those of you not discussing secession),

Thanksgiving day harvest

Thanksgiving is at this time a largely secular holiday about feasting, family, camaraderie, and [less happily] shopping.  It was originally, of course, a holiday born out of a people noteworthy for their particular brand of religious fervor, but it has become a national holiday much more closely associated with a general notion of thanks for what we do have, family, and … football.

I think we have a lot to be grateful for even as we face challenges.  Everyone can discern this for themselves, but I know in my own circumstances, while my family and extended family face some stiff challenges, we have much for which we can and will give thanks.  Not a few people around us and among our neighbors are owed a portion of that thanks, as well, and I will be sure to make that known.

I know shopping has become a big part of this holiday, as well.  On some levels, I think this largely harmless and probably good for our economy right now.  I don’t mind the occasional foray into our halls of commerce–especially if there is a book store, or the like–but I will almost certainly do no Black Friday shopping unless it is online.  If I happen to go out this week and do some shopping, I personally will target the local mom and pop shops in my community and city.  The flip-side, naturally, of this developed habit is the pervasive consumerism and greed that has gotten us into credit debt throughout our country.  Don’t forget to enjoy the good and low-cost things in life this week: good food, good company, and good times–not necessarily costly times or “great sales.”

Now, I’m not going to cover the history of Thanksgiving, but you can take a look  at the Plimoth Plantation.  The history is, as I hope everyone knows, not quite the story we learned in elementary school or as we performed it in our school plays.  The holiday obscures historical injustices associated with events that precipitated and coincided with the original Thanksgiving, but I rarely see it as a holiday in any historical context, anymore–especially because the myth is so detached from the reality.  It is increasingly the most present of holidays, emphasizing you, your family, your neighborhood and community in the now more than any other.   So, I won’t belabor the point, here.

I just wanted to share some brief thoughts on a really cool holiday, if you think about it, in our nation that emphasizes so many of the things that are good about people–even if some people simply treat it as an opportunity for greed.  (My thoughts go out to all the poor folks working hard throughout the week, too.)

Please, be happy, safe, generous, and grateful this Thanksgiving.

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Can I get a printer? More minor struggles in book-editing

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I want 8 x 11 1/2 paper, with 2 pages on the front (i.e. 1 and 2) and 2 pages on the back (i.e. 3 and 4). Why is this so hard?

I usually am fairly loyal to Office Depot, but they’re making me nuts for my book-editing.  I’m sorry, but I need to have my text on paper to edit.  Apparently, this is a huge problem–one that I could probably solve if they let me set the printer settings.  All I [frickin’!] want is print two-to-a-page, double-sided.  Two tries, two strikes.  As a child, I could never figure out if a three-attempt situation was more apt to be a strike-out or a charm.  Here’s hoping, I guess.

Attempt 1

My first attempt to print my first rough draft ended up being  a small enough problem–small being the operative word!  I shared that experience in a previous blog: Oh the little, little things! Minor struggles in book-editing. | Brush off the dust! History now!  Four pages were printed on one side, the back remained empty.  I was fine for most of the first three quarters of the tiny, tiny book.  Around that time I, discovered how much easier it was to delete “extraneous” material than to edit it.  A lot more material became “extraneous” than I would have first anticipated.

I was determined that this would not be repeated this time.  I monitored the situation.  I was ready to say, no I won’t accept that, but I should have known by how long it took them to “figure it out” that something was amiss.  I just didn’t pick up on the actual problem until I got home.

Attempt 2

Having edited my first draft, I was ready to print it and edit my second rough draft.  The first woman struggled, so she called her manager.  Somewhere several points of mis-communication must have ricocheted through the space between the three of us.  Before she called for help, the employee had reconfigured my document into two columns–not what I wanted.  But, the manager thought I wanted it printed as a book, and I did not make the calculation to figure out what this would mean for my page numbers.  I thought she had the right idea: four pages to a sheet of paper.  So close!  But, I wanted consecutive pages.  I wanted my document to go in sequential order so I could hole-punch it, put it in my binder and then edit the mo-fo!  Instead, she printed my document and folded it in half before handing it to me.  And, I still didn’t get it!

Needless to say, the current half sheets I have in my binder are stupid.  This will be obnoxious and a pain in my posterior.  Again.  I am trying to save a little money on my nearly 150-page manuscript and still stay on top of it to keep editing.  Office Depot is not helping.

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I voted.

This morning, I voted.  It was actually the first time I have not voted by an absentee ballot.  As a result, it was a much better experience–which is to say, it was an experience.  Our polling station opened at 7 am.  We were just inside the school’s double-doors by 7:05.  There were 7 electronic polling stations (1 clearly handicapped accessible) and, after checking in a getting our electronic voter card, we went through the lines fairly quickly.  We had walked home before the clock ticked 8 am.  My daughter, too young to vote, participated by standing outside with a sign while we waited in line and voted.

I spent most of yesterday studying, and studying.  In my state, Maryland, we had 7 questions to vote on, and in my county, Anne Arundel County, we also had a large number of questions (up to Question N, I believe, but I am not interested enough to count it out).  As a historian, I am always, always, cognizant of the limitations of my sources.  For some of the questions under review I had changed my mind in the last 24 hours after doing more research, but I still worry that I may not have had all the information I needed to make the best decision.

For a moment, though, I did not care about the outcome of the elections.  For a blissful moment–after long hours of frustration, yesterday, sifting through candidate platforms and rival analyses of the questions on the ballot–I was thrilling in what I was doing.  I was voting, participating in the democratic-republic as a citizen of my county, state and country.  My whole household was participating as each was able.  I know there will be charges of foul-play with the votes and ballots after the election; I know that Maryland is gerrymandered and the votes for candidates are fairly predictable; I know I will be disappointed with some of the results; and is all going to come later, but for that moment, that moment which was so powerful I am still a little high on it, I was proud and grateful to cast my ballot.

I’m luckier than many this election day and I know that, too.  I was raised by parents who believed in an active citizenry and raised me to fully understand the importance of my vote, the importance of lobbying my representative government at the state and national level, and the importance of being aware of political current events.  I also vote at a polling station that is not easily overwhelmed by volume–people will undoubtedly have to wait in chilly lines running into the school parking lot, but no one will wait hours on election day as happens in some polling stations (though, the early voting polling stations did have long waits this year).  And, I also work at home and do not need to jump through any special hoops to accommodate my work schedule to voting hours.  This makes me fortunate and I am keenly aware of that, but the knowledge that people will overcome some of these very obstacles that  I do not face inspires me even as I hope we gradually work to eliminate such difficulties and even though (or, especially?) I know I undoubtedly do not agree with all of the voters who are overcoming these challenges.

I have never had the same feeling in casting my absentee ballot–except for that very first time when I was in college, perhaps–as I had, today, waiting in line with my neighbors and those coordinating the process at the polling station.  It is good to wait in line with people whom you do not know, alongside those you do, and who may not agree with you when they cast their ballot in peace.  There is a certain solidarity of having participated in the great (if at times flawed) civic process that exists in our country.  This solidarity, this participation that gives me my euphoria also makes me reflect gratefully on the many pioneers who opened up the vote to those who were for so long disenfranchised.  It makes me grateful for the efforts made by so many participating and active citizens who helped improve the civic process and those who will continue to do so.  It was easy to look around at just the folks who attended my polling station this morning while I was there and who voted, today, only because we improved upon the original conceptions that were written into the founding of our nation.

So, for right now, from that moment that hasn’t quite worn off yet, I am still happy.  Later, I will certainly go through a much wider array of emotions, but for right now I am inclined to grin like a fool if I don’t catch myself.  I voted.

 

I would love to hear others’ experiences and emotions, too!  Please, share in the comments, below.

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Historic Election Results (and other related resources)

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Click on this link and watch the country change colors: Historic Election Results!  Of course, what is missing are the changes in party platforms to accompany the color-shifting map.  For comparison of those, follow this link to The American Presidency Project.  The same site also has the nomination acceptance speeches–some linked to YouTube–available going back to Lincoln for the Republican Party and to Wilson for the Democratic Party.

It is a piece of cake to tap into the history of electing our POTUS and to make comparisons from year-to-year, especially from the 20th century to the present.  This is potentially useful tool for specific historically-focused units or more general election-focused civics and government classes.  Or, it is of simple interest to those of us who like to be informed when it comes to the election of the POTUS and who are conscientious of the historical background surrounding the elections.

I would love to hear peoples’ comments, below!

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