Dear hump day hurdlers,
Welcome to the second Lazy Scholar interview, this time with Margot Canaday, Assistant Professor of history at Princeton University. Professor Canaday’s first book, the insightful and inspiring The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America, came out from Princeton University Press last summer. Drawing on a wealth of diverse sources, the book traces the regulation of what would become known as homosexual behavior and “the homosexual” throughout the twentieth century, particularly in the realms of immigration, welfare, and the military. That story still has immense relevance for Americans, gay and straight, today—just read the review of Canaday’s book in The Nation for evidence. (You can read the introduction here. Or if you read just one page, try 53, as Canaday recommends.) Professor Canaday’s new project, if I can use her university bio against her, is an interdisciplinary look at the queer workplace in America. If I could pre-order it on Amazon, I would.
What digital resource do you rely on, or would you recommend?
Law professor Nan Hunter’s blog, “Hunter of Justice: A Blog about Sexuality, Gender, Law, and Culture.”
What non-digital resource would you recommend?
G.T. Kurian, A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government.
What is the best research and/or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’ve been talking a lot with colleagues of late about the difficult problem of the second book (perhaps a struggle that as a profession we should be a bit more vocal about since so many seem to suffer with this one more or less alone. We all knew we needed support groups for writing dissertations, but after that?). So someone recently gave me advice on this that I found really liberating. She said to ignore all the people who tell me to find something “small” and “manageable” for the second project. She said you have to write the kind of book that is *your* kind of book—for the second just like the first. If your kind of book is either “big” or intensely archival, you should do it anyway. This is such a refreshing perspective…one that momentarily released me from my fears that I am not sufficiently strategic.
What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
Selecting a dissertation topic might be the most important intellectual and professional decision you will ever make. So do it carefully. And not *before* you arrive at graduate school.
Name one book or article published before 1970 that has inspired or haunted you?
Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom. (Okay, it’s 1975).
Name the last book or article you read to inspire or haunt you.
Nancy MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace. It has inspired rather than haunted. A truly astonishing piece of scholarship.
What website most often draws your attention away from work?
I definitely passed through the standard Facebook phases: 1) fear; 2) fascination; 3) fatigue. I now go days, even weeks, without looking at it. So right now the website that more often draws my attention away from work is “The Slatest.” It makes me feel a lot better about myself on the days I can’t manage to read the paper.
What do you see as the most annoying tendency in contemporary scholarship?
I think there is currently too much pressure exerted on even first time authors to write books that are commercially successful beyond the academy.