Monday, March 18, 2013

Blog CXLII (142): Eight Questions: Many Thank Yous

I want to take a moment and thank everyone that contributed to the “Eight Questions” series.  It was an eye opening experience for me.  I learned a lot about the diverse fields that make up history.  We can get a little balkanized in our areas of expertise and can be woefully ignorant of the issues facing others in the profession, even when they are down the hallway from us.  Case in point, a senior historian at a conference came up to me and said he was learning new things about different fields. 

This project, though, was far more difficult than it looks to the outside world and I need to thank a lot of people.  First, let me thank those that wrote some early essays in this series: Isaac Land of Indiana State University, Peter Messer of Mississippi State University, Angela Lahr at Finger Lakes Community College, Jonathan Winkler of Wright State University, Maureen Smith of Cal State Sacramento, Douglas Ford, then of the University of Salford now at the University of Birmingham, and Greg Smits of Pennsylvania State University for their essays.  I know all of them, some better than others.  Land and Messer taught with me at Texas A&M University—Commerce and Lahr replaced me when I went off on a series of fellowships that became a new job.  Smits was finishing his Ph.D. at USC when I was just starting.  Ford, Smith, and Winkler I know from the conference and summer workshop circuits.

The basic point is that I had some type of contact with those six and since they knew me, they did a favor for me in making their contribution.  That makes those that I want to thank next even more special.  Most of the people that wrote in this series do not know me and committed to this project believing in either its intellectual merit or out of a sense of service to the rest of the profession, or maybe both.  These type of thanks are pro forma in a lot of books, but two points are worth making: first, this series would not have existed without them; and two, a lot of people turned me down—some were rather rude about it, and others (including several people I know personally) never bothered to respond.   Either way that makes me extremely grateful for the contributions from John D. Hosler of Morgan State University and Chad Williams, then of Hamilton College and now the chair of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University, wrote his essay at a difficult time in my personal life and I am grateful I had something to keep me preoccupied. I also am deeply grateful for the contributions from Denise Ho of the University of Kentucky and Nic Clarke of the Royal Military College of Canada and the University of Ottawa who also has the distinction of being the first foreign contributor to the series.  Jason Philips of Mississippi State, Timothy Stanley of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, Susan Rensing of the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and Lauren Kientz Anderson then of the University of Kentucky now of Luther College wrote thoughtful essays.  Anderson was at the time a regular contributor to the U.S. Intellectual History Blog run by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History.  She posted on that blog about the “Eight Question” series, which led to a lot of new visitors to In the Service of Clio.

Nine minutes after I sent Jim Giesen of Mississippi State an e-mail requesting that he contribute, he wrote back: "I've read your blog on a few occasions so I'm delighted by the invitation to participate."  The speed and positive nature of that response was stunning.

Tiffany Trimmer, then of Bowling Green State and now a faculty member at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse  wrote her essay as she was in the early stages of packing and preparing her move.  That might have been above and beyond the call of duty. Siobhan Talbott of the University of Manchester and Daniel Amsterdam of The Ohio State University contributed meaningful and useful essays.  Amerstadam also gave me some useful guidance on his field that I will end up using in my next book project.   
Eileen V. Wallis of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Daniel L. Schwartz of Texas A&M University, and Edward Frantz of the University of Indianapolis wrote the next set of essays.  Frantz and I first made contact with one another through the book review process, when I was both trying find a reviewer for his book and asking him to review another title.  (If you have a new book hit the bookshelves, do not be surprised if you start getting requests to review books; a lot of book review editors do this.)  Frantz also went out and promoted his essay on Twitter, which once again led to a lot of new visitors to In the Service of Clio.
Margaret Peacock of the University of Alabama, Neilesh Bose of the University of North Texas, Robert Bender of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell and Felice Batlan of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology were next.  Batlan then got me to write a book review for the History and Law Review. Steven Bunker of the University of Alabama, Will Hanley of Florida State University, Owen Stanwood of Boston College, Marla Miller of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Joy Rohde of Trinity University, Ruramisai Charumbira of the University of Texas, and Charlotte Brooks of Baruch College, City University of New York wrote the reviews that rounded out the series.

The voices of this series represent a wide, diverse range of experiences in addition to fields of expertise.  These 33 people attended 27 different schools for the Ph.D.  I think these experiences give the series some real authority.  Consider the wide rang of institutions:
  • Harvard University
  • London School of Economics
  • Michigan State University
  • New York University
  • Northeastern University
  • Northern Illinois University
  • Northwestern University
  • The Ohio State University
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • Rutgers University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Tufts University
  • University of Arkansas
  • University of Cambridge, Trinity College
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Ottawa
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of St. Andrews
  • University of Southern California 
  • University of Texas
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wisconsin
  • Yale University
Several people helped me from behind the scenes. Knowing people in 33 different fields is a bit difficult.  I leaned on a number of people for introductions and recommendations.  They included Peter Messer, John Beeler of the University of Alabama, Galen Peras of the University of Ottawa. Michael Creswell of Florida State University, Mitch Lerner of The Ohio State University, and my departmental colleague George Satterfield of the U.S. Naval War College. Anne Marshall of Mississippi State University, Sana Aiyar of the University of Wisconsin, and John Dichtl, the executive director of the National Council on Public History, all turned me down when I asked them to write essays for the blog, but they went out of their way to recommend other possible contributors.  In each and every case, those individuals said yes.

While there is some good diversity in these scholarly experiences, the schools where they were educated, and where these scholars found employment, there are some shortcomings with the series and I am well aware of them. There were a couple of fields I wanted to include, and never did. There are two reasons. First, at the begining, I established the fields I would approach. I went for several overarching topics. Some of that follows a Americentric definition of history and might reflect the breakdown of teaching responsibilities in a big, research university like the one in which I earned my BA. Guilty as charged...sort of.  Yes, there were several subfields in U.S. history, but other national narratives were covered, and at some point I could not pursue a contribution from every small group. The American Historical Association requires that at least five people indentify themselves in a certain subfield for it to be included in its listings of specializations. I simply could not pursue someone to write a post on New Zealand enviromental history and Utah religious history. Second, I pursued entries representing some fairly big fields and faced constant rejection from specialists in these topics.  Such is life.  No one was under any obligation to contribute, but it really did make me feel particularly grateful towards those that contributed. 

This blog has a lot of readers outside the United States and that is particularly gratifying.  I tried to get foreign scholars to contribute to talk about what is happening in the history profession in other places.  I succeded in several instances.  While this list might still seem a little heavy on the American side, I would point out that several of the scholars that earned degrees from U.S. schools and work in the United States are citizens of other nations.  Long story made short, the list is a little more diverse than it looks at first glance.

To bring this essay to a conclusion, I am quite proud of the work that was done in creating this series.  It could have done more, but what it did was really quite good.  Most of that was not due to me, but others and I am extremely grateful to them. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blog CXLI (141): Eight Questions: Asian-American History

Today's posting represents the last entry in the "Eight Questions" series. This essay is from Charlotte Brooks, an associate professor of history at Baruch College, City University of New York. She earned her BA in Chinese history at Yale University and worked in China and Hong Kong after college. She received her MA and Ph.D. in U.S. history from Northwestern University and taught at the University at Albany-SUNY, before coming to Baruch College. Brooks is the author of Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (2009), which received an honorable mention for the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award. Her articles have been published in the Journal of American History, the Pacific Historical Review, and the Journal of Urban History. In 2005 the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association presented her with the Louis Knott Koontz Memorial Award for best article published in the Pacific Historical Review the previous year. In 2010 the History News Network-in its second rendition of the list-named her as one of the top 100 young historians under the age of 40.

She is currently finishing her second book, Between Mao and McCarthy: Chinese American Political Culture in the Cold War Years. Based on extensive research in both English and Chinese-language sources, it is a comparative study of Chinese American political activism in New York and San Francisco between the end of World War Two and the late 1960s. She has also begun research for a third book, The "Problem" of Overseas Chinese Education, the Back to China Movement, and the Creation of Chinese American Identity, 1900-1949. Here is her essay:

What is the greatest strength of your field? In the history profession?
Asian American history includes a wide array of communities and an impressive range of subjects, from immigration to religion to labor, just to name a few. It is also a relatively young discipline in which whole areas have received relatively little attention. That gives researchers, even graduate students, the chance to do really innovative and path breaking work, often with new or rarely used sources. In addition, although some historians outside the field think of Asian American history as an unimportant sidebar to "real" history, our field offers an intriguing lens through which to view some of the most complex issues in U.S. history: race, identity, immigration policy, and many others.

As for the greatest strength of the history profession, that is such a complicated question that it is difficult to give a short answer. However, one of our greatest strengths is the quality of work that scholars are producing right now. I just finished serving on the OAH's Frederick Jackson Turner Award committee (the award is for an author's "first scholarly book dealing with some aspect of American history"), and the quality of the many submissions we received just blew me away. And these were all first-time authors.
What is the biggest issue facing your field? The history profession?
I worry that Asian American history is becoming less important than it once was to the field of Asian American studies. In the last decade or so, other fields, especially English and comparative literature, have become more significant to Asian American studies. I do not doubt the importance of cultural studies, but I would like to see Asian American history remain central to Asian American studies as well.

As for the history profession as a whole, in addition to the simple lack of jobs in our field, I see the standardized testing craze and emphasis on data and measurable outcomes as a huge issue, especially for public universities. Either historians will be pushed to "teach to the test," which will diminish the quality of history education (and the liberal arts as a whole), or we will see administrators cut our resources and classes because the standardized tests do not include history. It is not a pleasant choice.
What is the most interesting work being done in your field? Why?
I really enjoy scholarship that uses Asian-language sources, such as Eiichiro Azuma's Between Two Empires, Richard S. Kim's Quest for Statehood, Xiaojian Zhao's Remaking Chinese America, and Madeline Y. Hsu's Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home, among others. In addition, the work of historians such as Ellen Wu, Judy Wu, Chiou-ling Yeh, and Meredith Oda on the post-World War Two era is helping us understand a largely unexplored period in Asian American history. Scholars like Mae Ngai and Moon-ho Jung, who look at Asian American history in a multiethnic and multiracial context or through the lens of labor history, are also doing exciting work.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
I think teaching is tremendously valuable to professional development. To start with, teaching experience is absolutely a requirement on the job market these days, and many campus interviews include a teaching demonstration. If you have no teaching experience, you cannot really fake your way through such a performance! I also believe that putting together courses and lectures makes one a better researcher and writer. Teaching undergraduates forces professors to learn how to explain difficult ideas clearly and concisely; it also makes us think about how to illustrate our arguments effectively and use narrative and analysis together. Those are useful skills when we are writing books and articles.
What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
I would push new Ph.D.s to continue focusing on traditional types of publishing and, if possible, to have an article out in a peer-reviewed journal by the time they are on the market. Books and articles are still what hiring and tenure committees value, despite the availability of new opportunities in online journals and blogs. Scholars in other fields tend to view Asian American history with a bit of skepticism-some feel that it lacks importance or rigor-and so for career reasons people in our field need to succeed in traditional publishing. That is not to say, however, that other forums are not valuable or worthwhile. For example, many scholars now have a blog or website, and those can be good ways to interact with the public.
What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma matter, etc.?
The most important issues usually vary by individual. However, popularity of field is a tremendously significant factor. Someone with a Ph.D. in 20th century American history is going to have more problems finding a job than someone in another field where fewer Ph.D.s are competing for jobs. The reputations of one's alma mater and one's thesis advisor do matter, but an excellent, innovative dissertation and some record of publication are more important. One's family can be a huge issue; many of us know at least a few couples where both people are academics and have been unable to find jobs at the same institution or even near each other. Such situations usually require some tough choices and sacrifices.
What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
Don't do it! That's probably not a nice thing to say, but the job market is so bleak that I would not be able in good conscience to recommend a career in academia. At the very least, I would be brutally honest with the student, because he or she should know what the reality of the history job market is now. If the person was still determined to get a Ph.D., I would advise him or her to wait a year or two after college and not to go straight on to grad school. That would at least prevent the student from burning out within his or her first year or two of grad school. And the student might also find another interest or career path before committing to graduate school.
What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
Do not blame yourself and do not think of yourself as a failure. Also, I would tell the person to remember that historians tend to be excellent writers and researchers, with terrific analytical abilities, and none of these skills are liabilities in the larger job market.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Blog CXL (140): Eight Questions: African History

The next entry in the Eight Question series comes from Ruramisai Charumbira who is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin. She was previously an assistant professor at Denison University. Her teaching and research interests include: pre-1800 history of (Southern) Africa, Africa's colonial histories, particularly its impact on women's lives. She also does research and teaches on comparative women's and gender history; historical memory; ethno-archaeology; and Africa's 20th century intellectual life. She earned her Ph.D. from Yale University. Charumbira is the author of the forthcoming book: Strangled by the Ancestors: Memory in the Making of Zimbabwe. She has had articles and chapters appear in History in Africa, History Compass and the anthology Wither National Myths?. She is also a published poet and short story author.

What is the greatest strength of your field?  In the history profession? 
When students can say within two weeks of reading course material that they have learned more about Africa than their entire lives, I always think it is a win for the history profession. One of the greatest strengths of African history within the history profession is its default multidisciplinary sources and research methods – a practice, I am happy to say is now almost default in the profession in general.
What is the biggest issue facing your field?  The history profession?
The fact that students come to college/university with barely any African history background is very disturbing. It would be a huge improvement if high school teachers had some basic African history background that they could teach their students so transition to college is not so basic as to take up a third or so of the semester debunking infomercials about Africa’s poverty, etc., stories.
What is the most interesting work being done in your field?  Why?
The most interesting work that is currently being done in African history is through archaeology, I think. A former professor of mine, Roderick McIntosh at Yale University, is one of those that has changed the ways we think about African, if not international ancient urban history. People like him are historians at heart, and they involve local communities who participate in the reconstruction of their local areas’ pasts. By working through disciplinary boundaries, the new historiography is less interested in just insider talk, but engagement with a wider audience who in turn become invested in history for its own sake.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
Teaching is invaluable because it feeds research questions that in turn produce scholarship to move the field and the profession forward – including pedagogy itself. More importantly, it is a terrific forum for reminding professional historians that historical knowledge is not just for other professional historians, but for a wider audience. Nothing takes the veil off the ivory tower better than teaching, especially undergraduate

What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
I would advise a student to ask themselves what she/he wants to do with that Ph.D., because that dictates the type of publishing they should pursue for their careers. In a word, it depends.

What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma mater, etc.?
I would say all and none of the above. I say that as an immigrant who has had some and not all of the above; one who has also learned that the culture of the place where one works maybe a more determining factor than any other issue. Most importantly, personal integrity and “keeping one’s eyes on the prize” – to borrow a phrase – is what will carry one’s career successfully.

What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
I would have to know the particularities of the student, but the most important would be passion for the subject she/he wants to study. There is no substitute for passion.

What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
I planted seeds in my garden once, thinking they were orange trees, and out came lemons. Make lemonade, as the saying goes. Remember some of most important ways people consume history is not through departments of history, but through public history at museums, or through historical fiction, and film, to name a few. You have a Ph.D. and most do not; the world is much smaller (so to speak) than it used to be by way of aviation and the internet. Step over the comfort zone and see what’s beyond the grove of lemon trees.