All posts in the History category

Twenty-One Things Academics Hate

Published February 11, 2013 by Tabby

‘Professor, why are we doing this?’

While every job has their annoyances, this post includes those specifically encountered by graduate students and those working in academia. Unless you actually work in this field, do not automatically assume we all have cushy, easy jobs and just like to complain about the lack of coffee packages for our Kurigs. Like others, we also face extreme high unemployment and debt, low salaries, and underappreciation. There have been several articles released lately on how Ph.D.’s are facing reliance on foodstamps due to unemployment or low salaries despite earning four college degrees. So why do we endure this craziness and suffering? Because we love it…and we are slightly masochistic.

Madison Moore, “21 Things Academics Hate,” Thought Catalog, January 13, 2013 (accessed February 11, 2013).

1) Being unemployed. Not that other people don’t hate being unemployed, too. But unless you’re a lucky person who has already secured that coveted mirage of a tenure-track job — and even then you’ve only got six years to get it together — being in academia means that, at some point, you could be an unemployed person with a lot of degrees!

2) REVISIONS. (Everything that is done must be redone at least twenty times before it comes close to being good enough)

3) Ratchet departmental politics. There are always office politics in any career. But in academia, everybody’s heard the story about how so-in-so didn’t get tenure because the department chair kind of hates her or thinks her research is silly. Or has been on a search committee where somebody thinks a candidate who works on anything after 1832 is totally irrelevant. Or how about why we can’t have the department holiday party at Stephanie’s house because Stephanie and Blake do NOT get along.

4) Being in debt — credit card debt — from all those broke ass years in graduate school.

5) “The Administration,” because it seems like they get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make things as complicated as possible, for everyone, at all times.

6) The “heterosexual matrix” and/or patriarchy.

7) When people ask how the dissertation/book manuscript/article is coming along and you honestly don’t know because you haven’t touched it.

8) Formatting academic articles to the exact specifications the journal requires. And you thought academia was just about ideas — HA!

9) When Word freezes when you’re in the middle of a streak of brilliance and you forgot to save your stuff.

10) Feeling anxious about every interaction with a senior scholar, because senior scholars are the GATEKEEPERS. Do they like me? OMG do they think I’m an idiot?

11) When someone asks a long-winded question during the Q+A that has absolutely nothing to do with what your talk was on, so now you have to maintain your composure, smile and respond WITHOUT seeming like an A-hole.

12) When student papers begin with sweeping claim like “since the beginning of man.”

13) Going on the job market.

14) Tenure reviews.

15) Being underpaid for the amount of work you do. You’re teaching four classes a semester, plus you’re on 12 committees and you have a book manuscript to work on. And if you don’t find the time to finish that, you’re gonna get fired!

16) Overly negative reviews from blind, peer review publications. Because the reviewers don’t know who you are, that means they get to be even meaner.

17) When students email you about the grade they got at the end of the semester, instead of putting the work in DURING it.

18) Anxiety and the diverse medical issues associated with it.

19) When someone has ripped several key pages out of a library book.

20) If someone says that academia isn’t a “real” job.


I am working on my fourth degree, have a professional job, and still eat ramen at least once a day


End of the World Racism: From a So-Called “Corn Worshipper”

Published December 28, 2012 by Tabby

Mayan temple

I had an experience a few days ago and was quite surprised with how much it affected me, so I had to write. That day, in the modern year 2012, I experienced a racial prejudice similar to that in the 1920s. I realize that our society is not so enlightened and there are plenty of white supremacists and such, but wow. I was blown away by the ignorance and prejudice I encountered.

While the remark was not aimed at me personally, I still felt personally affected by it. I am not an easily offended person by any means and was surprised that I became more and more enraged as the day went on. This isn’t about being overly sensitive and wishing for a perfectly politically correct world, it’s about respect and correcting ignorance. The remark read (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘Well the world didn’t end. That’s what you get for listening to Mayans who were worshipping corn.’ The remark went on to further offend Mayan culture but the extremely mature person has since deleted me from Facebook despite my saintly restraint from commenting. (Sarcastic voice: Oh however will I sleep at night knowing that I have been unfriended on Facebook? Really, people? I don’t care).

The remark pretty much insulted Mayan culture and spewed unknowingly an offense to all American Indian culture. I can’t decide if the mockery of Indian culture or the blatant ignorance of culture and history is more offensive.

Without getting too much into cultural or historical detail, here’s a lot of what’s wrong with that person’s remarks. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a historian working on a Ph.D. and the brief history I am providing comes from graduate coursework as well as personal cultural experience. In addition, I will provide some links to Mayan culture.

 First, insulting Mayan beliefs offends modern Indians as well

While numerous differences existed between Indian tribes, their culture and religion had a lot in common and they often exchanged this culture when interacting with other tribes. Therefore, Mayan culture has some things in common with modern tribes and insulting their way of life is an insult to all Indians’ culture.

 Second, Indians do not worship corn

Most American Indian religion focuses on nature and giving constant thanks to its resources. This is not worshipping corn. They are thankful to the spirits, earth, and ancestors that make the growth of corn and the sustenance it provides possible.

 Third, Anglo Americans have no right to ridicule Indian beliefs

If you think about it out of context and logically, all religions have odd stories. While some may think the Indians’ belief in thanking nature is hilarious, they may find the Christian story of their god appearing as a burning bush hysterical as well. This is not meant to ridicule anyone’s religion, just to point out that all are based on faith and entitled to believe whatever they wish.

Fourth, the Mayans were not backwards, savage, heathens, or whatever offensive terms used

One calendar was created by the Mayans in the year 3114 BC and was more accurate than the European Julian calendar revised in 1582. At this time, white Europeans did not live in blissful harmony surfing the web on their Ipads. The 3000s BC marks the Bronze Age for Europe, a time when the “civilized” were conquering and killing each other, marrying their siblings/cousins, farming, and discovering how to smoke weed (in Rome). Every culture has their achievements and ridiculous moments, just please take a few history courses (or maybe read that thing called a book) before you butcher my profession and sound like a moron.

Fifth, the Mayan calendar was not meant to predict the end of the world

The Mayans had several astronomically correct calendars to signify various things. Some reports state their calendars were often accurate to within thirty minutes. Similar to other tribes, the Mayans viewed their world and time cyclically, which can be seen in the circular nature of their calendars. The end of the calendar did not mean the end of the world; it meant the end of an era. The completion of that time meant a rebirth, the beginning of a new time. The Mayan began and ended their calendars according to an astronomically important date-the so-called “end of the world” occurred simply on the Winter Solstice.

Mayan elders still exist; all of their people did not disappear. Most of the end of world predictions come from people that are incorrectly translating Mayan glyphs. (The glyphs are difficult to translate to outsiders due to the closeness of some symbols. I had to translate a few for a final in class). The Mayan elders are angry that this incorrect rumor has prevailed-I would be upset too if someone had butchered my culture as well…oh wait, that’s the point of this post!

In closing, the point of my post was not necessarily to mock the ignorance of the offending person (although I do feel better). I also do not intend to insult any other culture. I am simply striving to point out that no culture really has any right to criticize another. This post serves as my rebuttal to the frequent dismissal of “savage cultures” and the butchering of a people’s beliefs. American Indians still exist, even the descendants of ancient cultures of South America.

 For further reading:

There are several great books on the Mayan culture, these are just quick references. If you know of any historic, professionally written books on the Maya, feel free to add!

McFadden, Steve. Steep Uphill Climb to 2012: Messages from the Mayan Milieu. http://www.redrat.net/thoughts/prophets/index.htm (accessed December 28, 2012).

Maya World Studies Center. “The Maya.” Centro de Estudios del Mundo Maya. 1996-2001. http://www.mayacalendar.com/introduccion.html (accessed December 28, 2012).

Facts about First Ladies

Published November 1, 2012 by Tabby

Marriage is a partnership between two people. First ladies have provided advice and insight to the Commanders in Chief throughout the entire history of the country. I thought I’d post some fun facts about the first ladies while we’re all so tired of political campaigning and ready for the election to be finished.

Photo of Jackie Kennedy

Abigail Adams

1,200: Number of letters John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, throughout their marriage, often seeking her political insight.
1: Number of months into his presidency that he wrote to her: “I can do nothing without you.” His critics seemed to agree, calling Abigail “Mrs. President.”

1,200: Number of letters John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, throughout their marriage, often seeking her political insight.
1: Number of months into his presidency that he wrote to her: “I can do nothing without you.” His critics seemed to agree, calling Abigail “Mrs. President.”
Martha “Patsy” Jefferson
29:Age of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph when she began serving as her father’s unofficial First Lady in 1801. Thomas Jefferson’s wife had died 19 years earlier, and he promised her he would never remarry. Patsy’s son was the first baby born in the White House.2:Number of years Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, accidentally lived as bigamists. (Her first husband apparently had permission to file for divorce in 1790 but didn’t.) The Jacksons quietly remarried when her divorce was final in 1794, but their initial illegal marriage became a scandal leading up to the 1828 presidential campaign.20: Days after her husband’s win that Rachel Jackson died. She was buried on Christmas Eve in the white dress she’d bought for the upcoming 1829 inauguration.
Harriet Lane
11: Age at which Harriet Lane was orphaned and requested to be left in the custody of her uncle, Senator James Buchanan. When Buchanan, a bachelor, became president in 1857, the then 26-year-old Lane served as his First Lady.2.5:Inches Lane had her seamstress lower the neckline of her gown for Buchanan’s inauguration. Historians compare her fashion influence to that of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Mary Lincoln
1818:Year Mary Ann Todd was born. As a child, she allegedly declared that she would marry a man who would become president.18:Months after Abraham Lincoln broke off his engagement to Todd that the pair reunited and married. His reason for the break: He didn’t think he was worthy of her.$7,000: Amount that Mary Todd Lincoln went over the White House decorating budget in 1861
Frances Folsom Cleveland
22:First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland’s age when she married President Grover Cleveland at the White House in 1886. Twenty-seven years her senior, Cleveland had been a longtime friend of her father and had purchased a baby carriage for her shortly after she was born.1886: Approximate year Frances’s image was used in ads without her consent and devoted fans began adopting her clothing and hairstyle. One detractor of President Cleveland quipped: “I detest him so much that I don’t even think his wife is beautiful.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
400,000:Approximate number of troops Eleanor Roosevelt visited on bases and in hospitals in the South Pacific during World War II. She famously said: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” Both Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton later paraphrased her quote.5′11″: Eleanor Roosevelt’s height; she’s tied with Michelle Obama for tallest First Lady.
Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson
1:Number of dates Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor and Lyndon Johnson had been on when he proposed to her in 1934. 10: Number of weeks of courtship conducted almost entirely by letter, telegram, and phone later that Lady Bird agreed to marry Johnson.$10,000: Amount of her inheritance that Lady Bird used to fund her husband’s last-minute congressional campaign in 1937, beginning his political career.
Jacqueline Kennedy
1951:Year that Jacqueline Lee Bouvier worked as the “Inquiring Camera Girl” for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper, photographing and interviewing interesting people on the street. One of her subjects was Richard Nixon.9: Years later that as Jacqueline Kennedy, she took another newspaper gig, writing the syndicated column “Campaign Wife.” Kennedy was pregnant and on doctor’s orders to stay home as her husband campaigned. “I decided one way to keep from feeling left out was to talk through this column to the friendly people all over the country,” she wrote.
Pat Nixon
40: Number of states Pat Nixon traveled to during her husband’s presidency. She also visited an active combat zone in Vietnam.
Betty Ford
2:Number of months into her husband’s presidency that Elizabeth “Betty” Ford learned she had breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She invited journalists to photograph her in her hospital bed, saying, “Maybe if I, as First Lady, could talk about it candidly and without embarrassment, many other people would be able to as well.”55,800:Number of thank-you and get-well cards she received.1975: Year that Ford told McCall’s magazine that journalists had asked her just about everything except for how often she and the president had sex. “And if they’d asked me that I would have told them…as often as possible,” she said. Pro-choice, pro-psychiatry, and pro-face-lift, she was referred to as “No Lady” by more-conservative Republicans, but Ford had a 75 percent approval rating.
Nancy Reagan
12:Number of films actress Nancy Davis appeared in. In Hellcats of the Navy in 1957, she costarred with her husband of five years, Ronald Reagan, the former president of the Screen Actors Guild.1981:Year Nancy Reagan hired celebrity decorator Ted Graber to give the White House family quarters an estimated $1 million makeover.$822,000: Amount of that money that came from tax-deductible donations.
Barbara Bush
1992: Year that a campaign button featuring the faces of First Lady Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle read: “Faith, Family, Future.” A Democratic button the same year read: “Washington wants Hillary’s Husband for President.”
Hillary Clinton
20: Estimated number of major news publications that compared Hillary Clinton to Lady Macbeth in 1992.
Michelle Obama
2009:Year Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress to her husband’s first congressional address, sparking some controversy and more praise.1,872: Approximate number of workouts, with a nine-minute arm routine each time, that Obama did between 1997 and 2009, according to her personal trainer.

Photo by: Condé Nast Archive

How to Fail a Ph.D.

Published October 23, 2012 by Tabby

This is a great blog I found elsewhere. I’m so guilty of many of these and they make complete sense. And I agree getting a Ph.D. is monastic.

“10 easy ways to fail a Ph.D.” http://matt.might.net/articles/ways-to-fail-a-phd/

The attrition rate in Ph.D. school is high. Anywhere from a third to half will fail. In fact, there’s a disturbing consistency to grad school failure. I’m supervising a lot of new grad students this semester, so for their sake, I’m cataloging the common reasons for failure.

Read on for the top ten reasons students fail out of Ph.D. school.

1. Focus on grades or coursework
No one cares about grades in grad school.

There’s a simple formula for the optimal GPA in grad school:

Optimal GPA = Minimum Required GPA + ε
Anything higher implies time that could have been spent on research was wasted on classes. Advisors might even raise an eyebrow at a 4.0

During the first two years, students need to find an advisor, pick a research area, read a lot of papers and try small, exploratory research projects. Spending too much time on coursework distracts from these objectives.

2. Learn too much

Some students go to Ph.D. school because they want to learn.

Let there be no mistake: Ph.D. school involves a lot of learning.

But, it requires focused learning directed toward an eventual thesis.

Taking (or sitting in on) non-required classes outside one’s focus is almost always a waste of time, and it’s always unnecessary.

By the end of the third year, a typical Ph.D. student needs to have read about 50 to 150 papers to defend the novelty of a proposed thesis.

Of course, some students go too far with the related work search, reading so much about their intended area of research that they never start that research.

Advisors will lose patience with “eternal” students that aren’t focused on the goal–making a small but significant contribution to human knowledge.

In the interest of personal disclosure, I suffered from the “want to learn everything” bug when I got to Ph.D. school.

I took classes all over campus for my first two years: Arabic, linguistics, economics, physics, math and even philosophy. In computer science, I took lots of classes in areas that had nothing to do with my research.

The price of all this “enlightenment” was an extra year on my Ph.D.

I only got away with this detour because while I was doing all that, I was a TA, which meant I wasn’t wasting my advisor’s grant funding.

3. Expect perfection

Perfectionism is a tragic affliction in academia, since it tends to hit the brightest the hardest.

Perfection cannot be attained. It is approached in the limit.

Students that polish a research paper well past the point of diminishing returns, expecting to hit perfection, will never stop polishing.

Students that can’t begin to write until they have the perfect structure of the paper mapped out will never get started.

For students with problems starting on a paper or dissertation, my advice is that writing a paper should be an iterative process: start with an outline and some rough notes; take a pass over the paper and improve it a little; rinse; repeat. When the paper changes little with each pass, it’s at diminishing returns. One or two more passes over the paper are all it needs at that point.

“Good enough” is better than “perfect.”

4. Procrastinate

Chronic perfectionists also tend to be procrastinators.

So do eternal students with a drive to learn instead of research.

Ph.D. school seems to be a magnet for every kind of procrastinator.

Unfortunately, it is also a sieve that weeds out the unproductive.

Procrastinators should check out my tips for boosting productivity.

5. Go rogue too soon/too late

The advisor-advisee dynamic needs to shift over the course of a degree.

Early on, the advisor should be hands on, doling out specific topics and helping to craft early papers.

Toward the end, the student should know more than the advisor about her topic. Once the inversion happens, she needs to “go rogue” and start choosing the topics to investigate and initiating the paper write-ups. She needs to do so even if her advisor is insisting she do something else.

The trick is getting the timing right.

Going rogue before the student knows how to choose good topics and write well will end in wasted paper submissions and a grumpy advisor.

On the other hand, continuing to act only when ordered to act past a certain point will strain an advisor that expects to start seeing a “return” on an investment of time and hard-won grant money.

Advisors expect near-terminal Ph.D. students to be proto-professors with intimate knowledge of the challenges in their field. They should be capable of selecting and attacking research problems of appropriate size and scope.

6. Treat Ph.D. school like school or work

Ph.D. school is neither school nor work.

Ph.D. school is a monastic experience. And, a jealous hobby.

Solving problems and writing up papers well enough to pass peer review demands contemplative labor on days, nights and weekends.

Reading through all of the related work takes biblical levels of devotion.

Ph.D. school even comes with built-in vows of poverty and obedience.

The end brings an ecclesiastical robe and a clerical hood.

Students that treat Ph.D. school like a 9-5 endeavor are the ones that take 7+ years to finish, or end up ABD.

7. Ignore the committee

Some Ph.D. students forget that a committee has to sign off on their Ph.D.

It’s important for students to maintain contact with committee members in the latter years of a Ph.D. They need to know what a student is doing.

It’s also easy to forget advice from a committee member since they’re not an everyday presence like an advisor.

Committee members, however, rarely forget the advice they give.

It doesn’t usually happen, but I’ve seen a shouting match between a committee member and a defender where they disagreed over the metrics used for evaluation of an experiment. This committee member warned the student at his proposal about his choice of metrics.

He ignored that warning.

He was lucky: it added only one more semester to his Ph.D.

Another student I knew in grad school was told not to defend, based on the draft of his dissertation. He overruled his committee’s advice, and failed his defense. He was told to scrap his entire dissertaton and start over. It took him over ten years to finish his Ph.D.

8. Aim too low

Some students look at the weakest student to get a Ph.D. in their department and aim for that.

This attitude guarantees that no professorship will be waiting for them.

And, it all but promises failure.

The weakest Ph.D. to escape was probably repeatedly unlucky with research topics, and had to settle for a contingency plan.

Aiming low leaves no room for uncertainty.

And, research is always uncertain.

9. Aim too high

A Ph.D. seems like a major undertaking from the perspective of the student.

It is.

But, it is not the final undertaking. It’s the start of a scientific career.

A Ph.D. does not have to cure cancer or enable cold fusion.

At best a handful of chemists remember what Einstein’s Ph.D. was in.

Einstein’s Ph.D. dissertation was a principled calculation meant to estimate Avogadro’s number. He got it wrong. By a factor of 3.

He still got a Ph.D.

A Ph.D. is a small but significant contribution to human knowledge.

Impact is something students should aim for over a lifetime of research.

Making a big impact with a Ph.D. is about as likely as hitting a bullseye the very first time you’ve fired a gun.

Once you know how to shoot, you can keep shooting until you hit it.

Plus, with a Ph.D., you get a lifetime supply of ammo.

Some advisors can give you a list of potential research topics. If they can, pick the topic that’s easiest to do but which still retains your interest.

It does not matter at all what you get your Ph.D. in.

All that matters is that you get one.

It’s the training that counts–not the topic.

10. Miss the real milestones

Most schools require coursework, qualifiers, thesis proposal, thesis defense and dissertation. These are the requirements on paper.

In practice, the real milestones are three good publications connected by a (perhaps loosely) unified theme.

Coursework and qualifiers are meant to undo admissions mistakes. A student that has published by the time she takes her qualifiers is not a mistake.

Once a student has two good publications, if she convinces her committee that she can extrapolate a third, she has a thesis proposal.

Once a student has three publications, she has defended, with reasonable confidence, that she can repeatedly conduct research of sufficient quality to meet the standards of peer review. If she draws a unifying theme, she has a thesis, and if she staples her publications together, she has a dissertation.

I fantasize about buying an industrial-grade stapler capable of punching through three journal papers and calling it The Dissertator.

Of course, three publications is nowhere near enough to get a professorship–even at a crappy school. But, it’s about enough to get a Ph.D.

Conflict between Academic and Public Historians

Published August 31, 2012 by Tabby

This is more of a blog for my colleagues or new professionals who are wondering why some historians do not like or sometimes even speak to others. This probably applies to anyone’s work place. Quickly: historians are classified as either academic historians (work as professors in universities or research and write several books) or public historians (work with the public, mostly in museums, preservation, etc.)

This post originates from public history books I have had to read for my public history minor. My boyfriend is currently taking the same class and asked me if academic historians are really assholes and as full of themselves as the authors stated. As I started to get a small twitch in my eye, I started to explain why there are those perceptions. Then it hit me: I have never read a published work in which an academic historian spends an entire book, chapter, or even a mention of a dislike of public historians. (If I am wrong, PLEASE send me the title of the book).

With the highly biased dislike, almost hatred, of academic historians, in the public history book, I think that a more complete description of the friction between the two is needed. As I tried to explain the differences to my righteous boyfriend, I created this post.

I will try to be as unbiased as humanly possible. I professionally “play both sides of the field.” I started my career and have two degrees in public history and still currently work in public history as well as an academic professor as well. I don’t think one is better than the other; both are needed and contribute to the field. Since public historians are the only ones I know of that actively post against academics, this blog is to kind of explain the tensions academic historians have since public historians have published their side. I don’t wish to offend anyone or try to sway that one side is better than the other. I’m just pointing out some of the thoughts.

-Public historians have published and spent chapters or at least a couple of paragraphs stating that academic historians are arrogant, pompous, assholes. As far as I know (I fully admit I could not know) academics have not published how they dislike public historians. Being attacked in publication probably doesn’t make academics happy. I’m sure public historians have received scorn or ridicule while in college, and that isn’t right, but I don’t know of anything actively published against them.

-Public historians often insinuate that academics are unimportant and spend all their time locked in ivy towers and do not contribute to the field. They mostly ignore that academics spend their time preparing lectures, researching and writing history. If it is mentioned, public historians state academics write only long, boring, useless monographs that no one reads but the author.

-Public historians often are clueless about citations and copyright restrictions, sometimes intentionally. Not all, I’m aware. Often when one is putting together a public guide or project, they will use the original research/writing of an academic historian without giving them any credit or citation in the article or in the bibliography. Yes, if used to educate others there is a “Fair Use” clause to copyright laws but that only goes so far and it is still professional to add a citation. This is called stealing and understandably makes people a little cranky after putting blood, sweat, tears, and Taco Bell into this work.

-Without academic historians, public workers would not have new interpretations or information about different aspects of history. Public historians are busy working with the public and do not have the time (or sometimes training) to research and write as much as academic historians.

-Public historians are trained by academics. Before they earn their professional experience from internships and public history courses, they are taught the field of history by academics. A little appreciation would be nice.

-Some public historians are not professionally trained. That is phasing out as more universities are building museum studies/public history departments. The ones who are not trained, however, are constantly butchering what academic (and professional public) historians are working hard to create and correct.

-Both public and academic historians are important and the work of each contributes to the other. Academic historians research, write, and teach history while public historians take that knowledge and training and disseminate it to the general public.

Historians of both types are horrendously underpaid and underappreciated. This factionalism does not help. How can people like us and think we are important if we don’t even like each other? I understand both have offended the other, but it doesn’t help anything. Until historians are appreciated by everyone, pay is raised to at least a comparative level of people who did not work near as hard to get to their job, politicians stop butchering history to use for their purpose to their campaigns, and all high school students know who the president is, we need to stick together. Those things will never happen, but all the more important to unify, to be stronger and better at what we do.

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