Author Archive

Chick-fil-A and the History of Queer Boycotts

August 28, 2012

Recent furor over Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s funding of organizations explicitly opposed to same-sex marriage has made consumers across the political and social spectrum evaluate how their spending habits are in fact political decisions.

Opponents of marriage equality and some free market supporters have asked what gay men and lesbians hope to achieve by calling for boycotts against Chick-fil-A. Many see economic action against Cathy and Chick-fil-A as anti-Capitalist, even un-American, arguing incorrectly that it violates his freedom of speech. The history of queer economic activism, however, demonstrates just what is at stake, and what boycotting can achieve.


McArts Degree

September 15, 2011

A McArts degree? NO! (Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the fall term last year, every time I entered the Arts Building of my campus I had to walk over the words “McArts Degree.” In the first week of term someone had painted them in two-foot-high, whitewashed letters at the entrance to the building. They were impossible to miss. It dominated the small outdoor plaza. These words remained there, confronting me and everyone else who entered the building, until they were finally obliterated by the snow and cold.

This message affected me every day that I went to the university.


School’s Out: A Postdoc’s Life (Year I)

March 31, 2011

Wow, is it really the end of the (Canadian) semester? Well, almost. Classes end next week, my students’ final is a week later, I’m at a conference by the end of the month, a stop at home, and then Europe one more week after that. Whew…not a moment too soon!

Everyone here is feeling the strain, and straining for the relief that the end of term promises. The winter has been unseasonably cold and long in Saskatoon. Many of us are looking forward to research trips abroad. And of course, grading responsibilities and other duties tend to hit hardest at the end of the term.

University of Saskatchewan's Thorvaldson Building (Wikimedia Commons)

Reflecting on the year behind me though, I’ve gained so much at the University of Saskatchewan. I’m surrounded by generously supportive colleagues who have never wavered in helping me adjust to the unfamiliar life of a junior scholar. I can’t speak highly enough of our Chair, support staff, History Department faculty and grad students, and my fellow postdocs, all of whom have welcomed me and answered innumerable questions and requests with poise and kindness. My postdoc supervisor, a kind and gentle elder scholar, has become a mentor and friend. And with their collective help I’ve gained professional experience, credibility, increased my publishing output, and laid the foundations for a potential future in academia. I owe them more than I can express, and this blog post is in part a thank-you.


Publishing your Dissertation

March 17, 2011

A few weeks ago the University of Saskatchewan Department of History held a “Publishing your Dissertation” workshop. Organized by the graduate students, the workshop was an important opportunity to treat grad students not just as students but as junior historians, as future professionals. And the benefit was not limited just to them, the postdocs were avid participants as well. None of us are writing dissertations and manuscripts purely to earn a credential, but rather as a first step in a professional trajectory that will include publication and dissemination of our research.

How do we publish our work? (Wikimedia Commons)

The most important and inspiring statement of the day was a comment made by our department Chair, Valerie Korinek. She concluded by assuring the audience that they had already made the first step to publishing their manuscripts simply by participating in the workshop. By attending, by engaging, we had taken ourselves and our work seriously on a professional level, and this was truly the first step to publishing our work as professional historians.

I was inspired by Prof. Korinek’s comments more than I expected.


Is Wikipedia the Devil? Or the Devil we Know?

March 3, 2011

Students rely on Wikipedia. Professors can pretend that their threats of Fs on assignments matter, but in reality it offers little deterrent. Students can and do weave facts, information, opinions and interpretations that they find online into their papers. If the material seems reasonable, or general, or cited elsewhere, it might not even draw our attention, particularly when we have to grade 50 or 75 or 90 term papers on a weekend. What is the solution?

One answer, probably the most common, is to scold and threaten. We tell our students that Wikipedia is an inappropriate and unacceptable source for historical research and writing. We threaten them with Fs and rewrites. Another answer is to explain to students why Wikipedia is an unreliable source. It lacks appropriate documentation of sources, and is written by individuals with uncertain research skills who base entries largely on sometimes-dubious secondary material. And then we threaten them with Fs and rewrites. But is there a third solution? We know our students use Wikipedia. Can we use this to our advantage? Can we teach them about online sources and how to determine the credibility of what they read and discover?  Can we undermine their reliance on Wikipedia, while at the same time use it as a teaching tool?


History Compass Interview: Paul Deslandes on the History of Male Beauty

February 17, 2011

Paul Deslandes, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Vermont, is a scholar of modern Britain and the history of gender and sexuality. He has published widely on the history of masculinity, male sexuality and British education. Deslandes is the author of Oxbridge Men: British Masculinity and the Undergraduate Experience, 1850-1920. His current research explores the history of male beauty in modern Britain.

In his recent History Compass article “The Male Body, Beauty and Aesthetics in Modern British Culture,” Deslandes explored the historical significance of male beauty. Across studies of sport and physical culture, disability and WWI disfigurement, and queer history, he argues, awareness and understanding of beauty and aesthetics offer insights not only to histories of masculinity but histories of British society as a whole. For this reason, Deslandes argues, historians must pay greater attention to physical appearance, value placed on male beauty, and the adornment and manipulation of the male body to better understand the British past.

I had the opportunity to interview Professor Deslandes about the arguments in his History Compass piece, its broader implications, and place within his current research.


Where we Fail our Students: Writing Skills

February 3, 2011

Let's find less need for the red ink in grading. (Wikimedia Commons)

I firmly believe that one of the great benefits of an education in history is the development of writing skills. I strive for that in myself, and encourage it in my students. Writing skills will continue to benefit them beyond my classroom, in other disciplines, and beyond the academy. I’m certainly not alone in this belief, and almost universally I hear from other professors, lecturers, and TAs how important writing skills are to them as well. But what do we really do about it? We mark up papers, we make ourselves available for consultation, and we direct students to university writing centres. Is that really enough?


Re-teaching Gender and Sexuality

December 17, 2010

Issues related to homosexuality are currently at the forefront of public discourse. Globally, but particularly in the United States, marriage equity, military service, queer youth and bullying are not just matters of policy debate, but have engaged popular concern and action as well. Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s recent ‘It Gets Better Project’, for instance, has captured an extraordinary degree of public interest, using short video clips of ordinary people, celebrities and global figures to help draw attention to bullying and suicides among queer youth.

But it is another short online video, titled ‘{THIS} is Reteaching Gender and Sexuality’, which is in part a criticism of the ‘It Gets Better Project’, that challenges us to reconsider our understandings of sexuality while drawing attention to the plight of queer youth. In the ‘Reteaching’ video, queer youth appear in their own right, speaking for themselves, demanding immediate social and cultural change, not just the promise of something better somewhere down the road. But far more than draw attention to bullying and structures of oppression, they want us instead to recalibrate how we define sexuality and sexual identities. As two speakers put it, ‘I can like boys and girls. … I can be none of the above’.

So how does this relate to history? Well, we can be part of the re-teaching project, in fact, we already are.  In our case, it’s not re-teaching, it’s simply telling the histories of our subjects in the context of their own worlds, rather than through the limitations or needs of our own.


Why (and how) do we teach history?

November 5, 2010

One of my responsibilities as a postdoc at the University of Saskatchewan is to teach one course per year. This isn’t entirely new to me. I TAed for a dozen years, and was the instructor of record for a course last year at the University of California. But I’m still pretty junior in terms of running my own classes.

In anticipation of teaching a course in twentieth-century European history this coming term, I’m thinking about how I want to structure the course, organize themes, and what I want to impart to my students. Essentially, the purpose of the course will affect its structure. But what is the purpose of the course? Why do we teach history? And how does this affect our delivery?


How can we use this space most effectively? (Wikimedia Commons)


A Postdoc’s Life: Can you publish too much?

October 25, 2010

When should I aim to publish my own book? (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve written before on the issue of publishing, and whether graduate students should actively publish their work. Consensus would seem to show that yes, they should, so long as they do so strategically and effectively without compromising the timely completion of their own degrees.

But what about postdocs? We’ve already finished our degrees. We don’t necessarily have a concrete deliverable (dissertation) expected of us at the conclusion of our contracts. What should postdocs consider when thinking about publishing more articles, or even a monograph?


Location, Location, Location: Does Environment Affect Your Work?

October 12, 2010

We write a lot on the History Compass Exchanges about tools, methods and issues relevant to scholars undertaking major projects. It’s something we’re all working on and struggling with, whether it be the completion of a dissertation, revisions of an article, or the drafting of a book manuscript. Jean Smith has asked, for example, whether we can write our dissertations in “15 minutes a day.” Jean has also identified the integral link between thinking and writing. That piece has struck a chord with me this week as I struggle to find a place to think, a place to work. As I’ve been settling into a new city, snuggling into my own apartment for the first time in years, and visiting home for Thanksgiving, I’ve become acutely aware of how my own work environment profoundly affects my ability to think and to write.


An ideal writing retreat at the Burn House, Scotland. (Photo: Justin Bengry)



Head of the (middle) class?

September 27, 2010

The Guardian reported today on the fear that the humanities were becoming increasingly gentrified. Reports in Britain show students from lower-income backgrounds avoiding programs like history and philosophy in favour of career-oriented studies. Why?

The study shows a fascinating, and terrifying, situation. Not only are low-income students systemically barred from higher education and advanced degrees on account of their economic resources. But we are simultaneously creating a culture around the humanities where the lowest income students are unable to take same the risk as their more affluent colleagues to pursue degrees in history and other humanities disciplines.

Will working-class students be able to pursue the Humanities? (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


It’s a Post-Doc Life

September 9, 2010

University of Saskatchewan (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve landed! I’m a Saskatooner, no, scratch that. I’m a Saskatoonian. Hmmm, not sure about that one either. I don’t know yet what we call ourselves here. But I’ve got an apartment and a local café. I know where to buy wine (critical) and how to find my office (essential). No more the uncertainty or instability of an unemployed academic for me. No thank you! I’m now officially a postdoctoral fellow in History at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The “Paris of the Prairies”…my Lonely Planet guide tells me.

Blogging has taken a back seat for a couple weeks in favour finding an apartment, buying furniture, and getting to know my department. But now I’m back with a new focus on post-doctoral life, projects, and survival.


Does Publish or Perish apply to grad students?

August 12, 2010

Wikimedia Commons

Publish or perish has become a truism in academia where the pressure is always on to write the next article, get a contract for the next book, or edit a journal issue. But what about graduate students? Do they face the same pressure to publish or perish? Or do they perish if they publish…without planning?

The reasons to publish are obvious: to increase your academic profile, to put your work before your peers, to network with other scholars, and most of all to make yourself more competitive in this dire academic job market. Anything to set you apart from the hundreds of other under-employed scholars is critical.

But are there also dangers in publishing as a grad student?


Review of Reviews: Should Grad Students Review Books?

July 29, 2010

There are always piles books to review. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m of two minds regarding grad students writing book reviews for publication. On the one hand, they give you regular and consistent publication credits, access to the newest monographs in multiple fields, and of course free books. They are never as valuable as peer-reviewed articles, but they do keep your CV active and up to date. On the other hand, unless the books are directly related to your field of study, reviews divert your attention away from completing your own research and writing. As a grad student, however, there can be few opportunities to publish, particularly in major journals. Book reviews offer an opportunity to get your name out there.

But how can you be considered for review opportunities? And how do you get the most out of them?



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