Archive for August, 2010

Dear weekend awaiters,

This is the second installment of a new Lazy Scholar feature, pairing news items with historical archives.

Slate‘s TV Club is diligently following and debating the new season of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched (is that possible?), it’s a 60s scholar’s dream, with carefully reconstructed interior design, fashion, and, yes, language. A few weeks back, Ben Zimmer at the New York Times Magazine offered an inside look at the writers’ efforts to keep the dialogue historically accurate. Scholars of advertising and consumerism, of course, will be thrilled, too, even if the show fictionalizes the origins of many real-life advertising campaigns. Sorry folks, Don Draper did not coin Lucky Strike’s slogan. People were enjoying their “toasted” cigarettes as early as 1919, as this ad shows. Until next Sunday night, you can ponder more of the history behind Mad Men by checking out the beautiful exhibit, The High Art of Photographic Advertisement, thanks to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. One wonders, were those “Luckies” even more tempting in color?

• Moving on to the big screen, top critics are divided about Eat, Pray, Love, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about her post-divorce trip to Italy and elsewhere. You can follow the globe-trots of some earlier American women courtesy of  Brigham Young University’s American Travelers in Italy archive, with digitized copies of travelogues by Sophia Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. The Little Women author had this to say about Rome: “Felt as if I had been there before and knew all about it. Always oppressed with a sense of sin, dirt, and general decay of all things.” Not exactly the stuff of summer movies.

• Officials and locals in Louisiana debate whether it’s safe or wise to re-open commercial fishing grounds after the Gulf oil spill. Between 1921 and 1932, LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employee Percy Viosca, Jr.,  documented the state’s coasts, and captured many photos of its fishing industry. You can view images like the one below on the Viosca Collection from LSU.

• After much research, McSweeney’s presented the “Editor’s Choice Award” to their favorite “e-Reader”: the Newspaper. It “outclassed its rivals both in terms of size and elasticity” and its “display could be read at full size or, when flipped open, twice its normal width.” Fellow ironical Luddites will enjoy the Library of Congress’s amazing, easy-to-navigate, and free Chronicling America Archive, with searchable copies of newspapers dating from 1860 to 1922, including The Texas Jewish Herald, The Salt Lake Evening Democrat, The Ohio Valley Worker, and the Daily Tombstone of Tombstone, Arizona. Here’s a look at some beachfront fashions from a 1916 issue of the New York Herald-Tribune, “an afternoon gown of black silk.”

• Speaking of fashion, this just in: Urban Outfitters’s fall catalog was shot entirely in and around my adopted summer home, Northampton, Massachusetts. Have the grounds of Smith ever looked so co-ed? You can download the catalog here. And you can see historical images of Smith here, thanks to the college’s library. Below, some ladies play leapfrog on the ice for the Sophomore Carnival of 1922.

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Yours currently,


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Dear Panama-Hat-sporting summerers,

Most of what I knew about fraternities I learned from watching Animal House and Old School. Until, that is, I read The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities by Nicholas Syrett, assistant professor of history at University of Northern Colorado . Published in 2009 by UNC Press, Syrett’s lucid, ambitious, and dizzyingly well-researched book follows the birth and growth of the American fraternity from the 1800s to the present, with anecdotes and evidence from chapters across the country. Casual readers will certainly walk away with plenty of fascinating facts to wow their friends (first fraternity: Kappa Alpha Society at Union College, founded in 1825; first residential frat house: Zeta Psi house at UC Berkeley, built in 1876; first instance of beer funneling: okay, no evidence on this one just yet). But the book truly excels in tracking the shifts in “manly” and “masculine” behavior among fraternity brothers over two centuries, as standards around scholarship, intimacy, sexuality, and aggression continually changed.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on two projects at the moment.  One, that will probably result in an article considers a male couple together from the 20s to the 60s in Illinois and Hawaii, who lived as father and son though they were not biologically related.  The elder actually adopted the younger in the 1960s.  The second is what I’m hoping will be a book about the history of child marriage and the regulation of child sexuality in the nineteenth and twentieth-century United States.  I’m interested in how the institution of marriage has been used to legitimize that which we otherwise prohibit (child sexuality) and also the ways that children themselves manipulated the law because they recognized this.

What digital resources do you rely on?
Given that the web existed by the time I got to college, I am remarkably un-savvy about matters technological. I use JSTOR religiously for academic articles and am a recent convert to the American Historical Newspapers database.

What is the best research or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Someone once told me that if writing wasn’t going well, and if you were the type of person who could generally recognize when it was (as most of us probably are), then just take a break.  As a result I saw many movies at the Angelika, Sunshine, and Paris (my very favorite) theatres in the middle of a weekday afternoon.  And was much better able to return to writing the next morning.

What was the inspiration behind your dissertation?
I was really fascinated by the way that men (mis)behaved in groups and the history behind this sort of behavior.  Why was it that I found myself scared when I walked down the street and noticed that a group of young men approached from the other direction?  Why was this fear actually a rational response, given what sociologists and anthropologists have told us about young men’s behavior in groups?  From there I just picked a group of men (white college fraternities) and started researching their history.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
I concur with Tania Modleski’s earlier advice that you should pick something that you truly love.  To that I would add that you should envision your dissertation as the book that it will most likely become.  I have seen many people postpone a crucial area of research while writing their dissertations, thinking that they will leave it “for the book.”  Once you get a job, finding the time—in the midst of the rest of one’s life as well as that job—to do all the extra research and transform a dissertation into a book is hard.  If it’s in a state of looking and reading like a book already, your first few years of teaching are a lot easier and a lot less stressful.

What’s the one book or article published before 1970 that has most influenced your work?
I’m going to pick two, but they’re both by the same person.  Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) and Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963).  In both of them Goffman is really smart in talking about everyday behavior and the ways that we, as humans, are cognizant of how we behave and what it says about us as people.

What was the last thing you read to seriously inspire or haunt you?
Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You has little to do with my own academic interests but it still haunts me, as does most of his fiction.

What primary source do you dream of finding?
Of course the answer depends on the project, but right now: the diary of a child bride, circa 1850.

What website most often draws your attention away from work?
I am much more likely to be distracted by things non-web related—cleaning, food, the telephone—but I tend to check email obsessively (sort of a website?) and I do love the ladies of GoFugYourself.

What do you see as the most annoying tendency in contemporary scholarship?
I get really irritated by self-conscious affectation in writing.  When people invent new words to describe things for which words already exist, it just seems such a transparent attempt to link one’s name to something in hopes of securing a reputation.  Claiming the invention of a new and innovative methodology that looks suspiciously similar to what many of us are already doing is also rather precious.

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Dear regular readers,

Today the Lazy Scholar is experimenting with a new feature called Old News, in which current news items are paired with archival finds. Let me know if you like it!

• The New York Times ran a taste-test of strawberry ice cream, only to find that the not-so-local, not-so-artisinal Häagen-Dazs variety beat out the pricier competitors. You can try making your own from scratch, following this recipe for Crushed Strawberry Cream from 1907’s Ice Cream and Candy Makers’ Factory Guide, courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Trade Literature Collection. Many more cool images and texts can be found on their Flickr page.

• You might have heard: the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage. But the fight for marriage equality has deeper roots than you might think. Listen to track 4 from this digitized 1970 episode of “Gay Perspective,” a radio show produced by the Milwaukee-based Gay People’s Union. In this installment, a lesbian couple relates how they sought a marriage license from the Milwaukee County Clerk and were quickly denied. As one woman put it, “Love is not meant to be hidden…. And I won’t hide it. If I don’t get a license now, I’ll keep trying, and keep trying, and eventually I’ll get one.” There’s much more to hear and see in the Gay People’s Union Collection, brought to you by University of Wisconsin.

• Speaking of marriage, in Real Simple, Daily Show correspondents and spouses Samantha Bee and Jason Jones offer advice to make your holy matrimony “divorceproof,” including this useful bit of wisdom: “If you’re irritated by your partner, imagine him as a small child.” For some more tried and true advice, read Marie Carmichael Stopes’ 1918 text Married Love, digitized by UPenn. Its frankness so scandalized readers, the book was banned in the U.S. until 1931. Here’s one of its raciest images: a”curve showing the Periodicity of Recurrence of natural desire in healthy women.”

• The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Postal Service is apparently ailing, as, wouldn’t you know it, people have switched increasingly from paper mail to the electronic variety. You can start mourning the passing of stamps by checking out Arago, the collections site of the National Postal Museum. Take, for example, these 1979 “Endangered Flora” stamps. Because one endangered species deserves another.

• Courtesy of the Library of Congress, the Denver Post has put online 78 beautiful color photographs taken from 1939 to 1943 for the Farm Security Administration. To those used to imagining the 1930s and 40s in black and white, the color images have a way of bringing that period a little bit closer. You can view many, many more on the Library of Congress site, including this photo of a Florida “juke joint.”

Yours currently,


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Dear obsessive Netflix queue updaters,

I went to San Francisco last week to do some research at a couple of non-digital archives—you know, the kind with actual, physical papers and books—but spent much of my time wondering what my life would be like on the west coast. Would I indulge in olive oil ice cream everyday? Teach in HistCon? Overcome my fear of driving on steep hills? What made Californians different from the Brooklynites and Bostonians  I’ve known?

My on-the-ground research remains inconclusive—one person described liberal Californians as passive-aggressive, in contrast to plain-old aggressive New Yorkers—but my digital research promises more answers, thanks to the archives of Sunset. As explained by historian Kevin Starr in this nice Stanford exhibit, the periodical eventually known as “the magazine of Western living” was founded in 1898 by the Southern Pacific Railroad in hopes of attracting the upper classes. To the right, you can see the cover of the first issue, beckoning readers beyond Yosemite. (Check out many more cover images on the Stanford site here.) Thanks to the ever-resource-full Internet Archive, as well as Google Books and the Harvard archives, you can also read some of those early volumes. The June 1900 issue featured, for instance, the sonnet “Before the Twilight Comes” by San Francisco accountant and lawyer John Franklin Forbes:

When down the flaming causeway of the west
The regal sun, refulgent in the gleam
Of sacred fire and the paler beam
That reaches into nothingness in quest
Of laggard eve, is passing to his rest,
And in his wake, like babbling of some stream,
Or soft, uncadenced voices of a dream,
Sound murmurs of the gentle night wind’s guest.

Then ere the tides grow dark as they flow in,
A blush of gold comes rippling down the bay
To kiss the Berkeley hills, and o’er Marin
A purple vapor veils each mountain height
For a brief while—then slowly fades away
Within the dusky coverlet of night.

Perhaps it’s a good thing Forbes left poetry behind to teach accounting and auditing at Berkeley. On the more serious side, the magazine also featured Mary Edith Griswold’s first-hand account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath. One of the more stirring moments from her narrative: “As we stopped on Stockton street to watch a toppling-wall I found myself next an old colored man. As he spoke I recognized in him the negro exhorter. I had sometimes listened when he was holding forth from his open-air platforms. Now he was exclaiming: ‘Haven’t I prophesied all this? Haven’t I told you this wicked town would be consumed with fire and brimstone? But now I’m sorry I spoke.'”

By 1914, the Pacific Railway decided to get out of the magazine biz, but as Starr points out, the magazine had already outlived its early promotional goals, publishing famous and soon-to-be-famous writers including Sinclair Lewis, Damon Runyon (read one of his poems here), and Jack London.

Another major shift came in 1929 when the magazine was purchased by publishing mogul Larry Lane and his wife, who expanded the focus of the magazine to include the Great Indoors. This new attention towards the home may best be revealed by two of the covers from the thirties, below.

That decade also saw the release of the first Sunset cookbook, the All-Western Cook Book by Genevieve Callahan, available on the Internet Archive and on Google. Honestly, who had time to worry about the Great Depression when you were preparing artichoke soufflé? As Callahan exhorted, “Don’t let yourself fall into the routine of cooking just a few old familiar vegetables! Explore! Experiment!” Irony aside, I have to say, I love this illustration of a fashionable lady buying vegetables from an ambiguously ethnic market man.

As far as I can tell from this brief browse, the Western ethos according to Sunset hasn’t changed much since then. The current issue still features awe-struck memoirs of trips to the wilderness, delectable recipes, gardening tips. But then again, so does the New York Times. If anything, it seems the West Coast no longer has much of a hold on Western living after all.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

Yours escaping the Massachusetts humidity,


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