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Archive for the ‘leisure’ Category

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,

Stephen

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Dear catnappers,

My first semester in college, in an effort to stymie all academic progress, one of my suitemates unveiled an aging Nintendo console along with a cache of video game cartridges. Mind you, this was 1999, at which point the original Nintendo—a not-very-sexy gray box—was decidedly outdated. It was hardly unusual, for instance, to walk into the common room and find a friend hunched over, blowing into console, then the cartridge, then the console, as though giving mouth to mouth, just to get the damn think working again. Despite these low-tech troubles, however, I think we all felt a nostalgic thrill playing games like Castlevania and Super Mario Bros, sort of like revisiting your old elementary school (“I can’t believe how small everything is!”) Most things I remember from early childhood tend towards the traumatic—my first visit to the hospital, my first day of summer camp—but I can vividly recall the marvel I felt the first time I saw someone play Nintendo. And still I don’t quite understand how that Duck Hunt gun works.

The Internet, of course, was practically invented for nostalgic pleasures like these. So it’s no surprise to find a wealth of Nintendo-related material online. For starters, there’s the Nintendo Game Archive where you can view screenshots of everything from A Boy and His Blob to Zombie Nation Samurai. You can even view the game boxes, like this one from Zelda II.

Even more evocatively, you can listen to music from countless Nintendo games at the Video Game Music Archive. Just listen to the victory music from Super Mario Bros and tell me your heart doesn’t race just a little bit.

Not all Nintendo touched turned to gold, of course. Long before the Wii, there was the power pad (Dance Aerobics anyone?) and, this ad reminds me, a robot that, as far as I remember, did nothing.  (YouTube’s Irate Gamer offers a more nuanced historical view on “R.O.B.” as he was known .) My mother and father deserve credit for buying us only the most basic system.

Before Nintendo, my brother and I did manage with another game system—our beloved Atari, which was, in its own way, groundbreaking. How groundbreaking you ask? Groundbreaking enough to warrant its own magazine, now digitized over at Atari Age. The graphics, needless to say, looked nothing like those pictured on this cover. But we were skilled in the art of imagination! And where else could you find answers to questions like these? “Dear Atari Club, I have learned that on Space Invaders if you hold down the reset button at the same time as the power switch is being turned on, your laser cannon will fire double. My question is, will this hurt either my space invaders cartridge or my Atari console unit?” (The answer: it would!) New York magazine on the other hand saw fit to ask this question, “Can Atari Stay Ahead of the Game?” (The answer: it couldn’t!)

Alas, I have left video gaming behind, but the memories linger on. And my hand-eye coordination is better than it might otherwise be.

Yours playfully,

Stephen

P.S. Check out videos from the Nintendo-“inspired” cartoon series Captain N the Game Master.

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Dear sun bathers,

Today the Lazy Scholar talks to a decidedly un-lazy historian, Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College. Baldwin’s  first book, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life, published by UNC Press in 2007, offers an inspired look at the labors and leisures of African-Americans who settled in Chicago in the 1910s and 20s. Touching on figures from famed boxer Jack Johnson to “beauty culture” pioneer Madame C. J. Walker, and topics from “race films” to baseball, Baldwin deftly reveals the political, economic, and social debates behind urban consumer culture. Anyone who studies race, gender, or popular culture should prepare to add it their summer reading lists, and maybe their fall syllabi, too.

What projects are you working on now?
I am actually working on two pretty major projects that have me both excited and overwhelmed. One I am completely done researching, which is Land of Darkness: Race and the Making of Modern America. In this project I take on the long-held axiom that the U.S. social sciences have provided us with modern ideas about race.  I use a close reading of the ‘Chicago School’ at its turn of the twentieth century origins to examine how the lived experiences of race in the city in fact shaped the rise of the U.S. social sciences and their impact on urban public policy throughout the twentieth century.

The second project UniverCities offers a series of case studies to unpack the meaning of urban universities and their attendant medical centers as the dominant employers, real estate holders, policing agents, and educational and health care providers in almost every major metropolitan center in the country.

What digital resource(s) do you rely on, or would you recommend?
For my earlier work, I loved “African-American Newspapers and Periodicals,” but now for my more contemporary studies, I must admit that reading the responses to articles and essays on blogs and websites is quite telling for me about the tenor, especially of a heated cultural issue. So for example, when there was all of this uproar around the comments Serena Williams made to a line judge, the pages of comments did not offer a scientific data set but were fascinating and horrifying nonetheless (can you tell I am working on an essay on the Williams Sisters?)

What non-digital resources would you recommend?
I still love Raymond Williams’ Keywords and the new American Studies version is quite helpful as well.

What is the best research or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Especially for historians, who have to manage both the archival and the transmission of that material, we can tend to get bogged down in endless archival work which then makes getting to the writing very difficult even after the archival bits are “completed.” The best advice I got was after you feel like you have done enough archival research to establish a basic argument and vision and all the research is fresh in your head…just write the story. Many of us tend to write and pause at every sentence to find relevant sources. Don’t worry about all that, draft the story and then go back and find the appropriate quotes and sources. Again this is after you have a pretty firm sense of the data. I have been told, by people with whom I shared this advice, that it’s quite liberating!

What was the inspiration behind your dissertation?
I definitely think it was a my mother. She worked in a factory in the Midwest, but once she got off work (and even on the job) she told these amazing stories, was a mathematical genius and wore these amazing haute couture dresses. SO my basic premise was that everyday folk think and produce knowledge and it is our limitation as scholars for not peering into the world and ways in which people think, create, and debate ideas beyond the church and the seminar room, so in my case consumer culture and consumption itself.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
Someone has already said it here but write on a topic that you LOVE, something that can sustain you for many years on even the days when you don’t want to write. Also even though the current academic marketplace in some ways requires us to write award wining dissertations. I really see the dissertation as a glorified data dump, simply because once you think about a book version the ways in which your imagined audience changes (from a committee of maybe 5 to hopefully hundreds) profoundly transforms your written voice. So that is also some advice: audience. Be clear about who you are speaking to and why, in any piece of writing.

How does your teaching connect to your research?
Trying out ideas on students is amazing, not just to see if the ideas fly but to gauge whether you, the writer/teacher, has delved deep enough into an idea (and come out) with an ability to make that idea legible to a wider audience beyond specialists. But also I have tended to move away from teaching just my research. I think the academy went through that general trend and now we have a generation of students who can speak expertly about their teacher’s expertise but struggle to situate it within larger conceptual, temporal, and spatial contexts.

What’s the one book or article published before 1970 that has most influenced your work?
CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary. I was abhorred (in some ways) by his Edwardian haughtiness but that he could be so pretentious and still come out with this amazing examination of colonization/decolonization through CRICKET! Truly Amazing! I don’t think enough culture scholars read that book, but then most don’t know cricket, but in some ways you don’t have to.

What was the last thing you read to seriously inspire or haunt you?
I think Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums, both because this factual account almost mirrored sci-fi work that I had been reading by people like Paolo Bacigalupi and also because of its amazing global breadth without losing a depth of argument.

What primary source do you dream of finding?
The blueprints that the shopping cart man was pushing around in Ellison’s Invisible Man.

What website most often draws your attention away from work?
Definitely music websites and blogs, especially BBC Radio’s Benji B show…I ALWAYS have to have music to make it through writing projects.

What do you see as the most annoying tendency (or tendencies) in contemporary scholarship?
I definitely see beautiful prose, great stories, polished arguments, but I am missing a messy sense of urgency in writing and thinking out loud THROUGH, not before writing. I am most annoyed by conferences where, the constant spectre of the market, forces young scholars to take a polished 40 page paper and boil it down to 15 minutes with perfection. I miss the days of conferences when you brought an idea at the start of your thinking and tried it out on an audience expecting critique and revision…I miss that.

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Dear poolside readers,

Believe it or not, before this lazy scholar came to know the pleasures of American Studies, he was a full-fledged Anglicist (or is it Britishist?). Wordsworth, Eliot, Woolf, Forster—I would surely have carried a card if there were one. Don’t worry, I’m not crossing the pond just yet, though I am feeling in a transatlantic mood lately. So I can’t resist sneaking a peak at an archive devoted to a British artifact: the Victorian yellowback, courtesy of Emory’s DiscoverE Database.

A forerunner of the paperback, the cheaply-printed, cheaply-purchased yellowback caught on just as railways were spreading across the country (see the intro to John Plotz’s Portable Property for more on the link for more on this new mobility). The texts included many American works, whose copyrights, a British Library exhibit reveals, were not protected under British law. Too bad for Bret Harte and Mark Twain.

At least one New York firm, though, sensed a marketing opportunity: Beadle & Co., inventor of the dime novel, struck a deal with Routledge to found the “Beadle American Library” to peddle its pulp for the Anglo masses.

The books especially stood out for their lurid covers, like those of Ann Sophia Stephens’s Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter and Esther: A Story of the Oregon Trail.

Apparently, she never met an unlikely heroine she didn’t like. Nor did yellowback readers, to judge by a handful of other covers. If she could be thrown onto the frontier, all the better.

To be fair, the British were fascinated by more everyday American concerns, as well. Take for example Jonathan and His Continent, a Toquevillesque travelogue by Max O’Rell (pseudonym for French author Léon Paul Blouet).

Here O’Rell remarks on the literal battle of the sexes:

“If men may not tar and feather a woman, women occasionally give themselves the pleasure of tarring and feathering a man, which shows once more how privileged woman is in America. On the 12th of August, 1887, the editor of a paper in a little town in Illinois had to submit to this ignominious operation at the hands of about five hundred of his townswomen. His crime was that of having spoken cavalierly of the feminine morals of the township.”

Those looking for a good railway read of their own, however, might best be advised to check out Struggles and Triumphs, or the Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Here, Barnum recounts the meeting of Queen Victoria herself and a member of Barnum’s troupe, “General Tom Thumb.”

“Surprise and pleasure were depicted on the countenances of the royal circle at beholding this remarkable specimen of humanity so much smaller than they had evidently expected to find him. The General advanced with a firm step, and, as he came within hailing distance made a very graceful bow, and exclaimed, ‘Good-evening, ladies and gentlemen!’ A burst of laughter followed this salutation. The Queen then took him by the hand, led him about the gallery, and asked him many questions, the answers to which kept the party in an uninterrupted strain of merriment.”

The Butlerian in me want to say something about queerness, disability, and performance, but I will restrain myself. Back to my twenty-first century reading for now.

Yours perusing the paperbacks,

Stephen

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Dear seventh-inning stretchers,

With President Obama’s high and wide pitch, baseball season is officially upon us. So I turned to Matthew Mugmon to dig into the archive for signs of the pastime’s past. Matthew is a graduate student in music at Harvard, whose dissertation looks at the relationship between American modernism and the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. And when you’re done reading his musings about baseball, check out his recent guest post on Gershwin at Amusicology.

Warm weather, the smell of hot dogs and stale beer, the sound of summer songs blasting from car radios, and the sight of too many Jonathan Papelbon jerseys all make me think about one thing: baseball.  I’m the first to admit that it’s not a perfect sport.  Actually, let’s face it — baseball is about as interesting as NASCAR.  Nothing happens for 10 minutes, then the batter calls a timeout, then the infielders meet on the mound, then the manager calls the bullpen, then a kid runs out to get the relief pitcher’s jacket, then…  Maybe this is why baseball has so much ephemera.  We need a real way to pass the time while consuming America’s painfully boring “pastime.”

There’s no better way to get into the baseball mood than to think about what music you might hum to yourself while you’re at the game waiting for something to happen.  And so to get ready for the new season, I browsed the Baseball Sheet Music Archive, one of the digital collections of the Library of Congress’ online Performing Arts Encyclopedia.  Among other things, these scans from the late-19th and early-20th centuries shed light on an innocent time, an era when baseball moves hadn’t yet developed into a kind of crude code for specific kinds of sexual activity.  Take the song “Base Ball Game of Love” by Edith Barbier and Arthur Longbrake, whose cover is pictured.  After some corny lines that we might imagine A-Rod telling Cameron Diaz (“When first I gaz’d into your eyes, Your image made a home run to my heart,/ I tried to tag the feeling which into my heart was stealing,…”), things get racier to modern ears, especially with the chorus:

I was on first and you on second,

Cupid held the third base down,

He coax’d me to lead off and catch you,

But you saw me start I found;

And as we two reach’d third together,

Cupid gave me such a shove,

That we both slid for the home plate,

In our baseball game of love.

Nice.

And from the cover, Monroe Rosenfeld’s “I’m on the right side of the right girl at the right time and place,” would seem to have nothing to do with baseball.  But only a few seconds in, it starts to sound like a high-school cafeteria conversation:

I have been as far as Third Base,

That’s as far as I ever got;

It’s a Home Run this trip,

I’ll take care not to slip,

It means winning or losing a lot!

And that’s all before the chorus.

If music isn’t your thing, you can always chew gum during the next string of 30 foul balls.  And if you’re like I was as a young Baltimore Orioles fan, you got some of that sugar-coated, rock-hard gum in packs of baseball cards that you bought to make you forget that your heroes made absurd salaries for standing around spitting and doing other unsightly things with their bodies for three or more hours a day (except for Cal Ripken, Jr., the greatest player of all time).  As a kid, Senator Richard B. Russell had a similar idea, but his cards seem to have gotten him into smoking, not gum-chewing.  The late Georgia politician’s collection of American Tobacco Company cards from 1909-1911, “Forgotten Heroes of the Dead-Ball Era,” resides online at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Science at the University of Georgia.  (By the way, it’s called the “dead-ball era” because the games — believe it or not — were even less exciting than they are today.)

Here, I perked up my hometown spirit by searching for John McGraw, an early Orioles legend who shared a nickname with me: Mugsy.  As the archive’s section “It Aint’ Cheatin’ If You Don’t Get Caught” notes, Mugsy — who in this card looks a bit like George W. Bush — “routinely cut inside bases, impeded baserunners by blocking them or pulling on their belts, and maddened umpires and the opposition with his short fuse and sharp tongue.”  Russell’s six McGraw cards depict Mugsy as manager of the New York Giants.  Mugsy’s antics as manager, we find out from the archive, apparently got him ejected 131 times.  If only Mugsy’d had access to the Library of Congress’ baseball sheet music collection, he could have sung “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth.  Or maybe Mugsy secretly wrote the song.

Sadly, in the years of Russell’s collection, my Orioles were a minor league team.  The modern pro Orioles would migrate from St. Louis in 1954; the previous pro Orioles had moved to New York in 1903 and eventually became today’s New York Yankees.  I can’t imagine collecting minor-league cards, but it wasn’t so ridiculous in Russell’s day.  Aside from players on teams you’ve probably never heard of — like the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers — I found nine Orioles in the senator’s stockpile.  This includes Jack Dunn, shown here because it’s one of those unusual cards that shows the subject actually doing something baseball-related.  This guy ran the Orioles and was responsible for having sold the great Babe Ruth from the O’s to the Red Sox in 1914.  (For a nice account of this disaster, see Kal Wagenheim’s Babe Ruth, pp. 24-25).  So here’s to you, Jack, for starting an Orioles’ tradition — acquiring and then getting rid of good players.  The baseball sheet music collection has a few Babe Ruth songs, but you can bet Mr. Dunn never reached first base with any of them.

Baltimoronically yours,

Matthew Mugmon

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To the spring-attired,

I never imagined myself an auto enthusiast. In fact, for years, I had nightmares about losing control of my car on the parkway, and wasn’t sure if I should interpret them as a Final Destination-ish prophecy of my own demise or a mere anxiety dream. Yet after driving 3000 miles through Southwestern mountains, deserts, and valleys last month, I think I feel a little bit more of the sense of possibility and freedom Americans must have experienced when automobiles were new. Every couple of hours, it seemed, we stopped and stepped out of our car, only to gaze back on what looked like a Hyundai commercial. Case in point:

To judge by the images in the New York Public Library’s Taking the Wheel Collection, even the earliest car drivers expected their vehicles to cross any terrain. The Franklin car company, for one, went out of business during the Great Depression, but not before taking its owners into the woods and to the horse race!

Alas, the auto catalog below from the now-gone Haynes company  seems less interested in showing how well their cars navigated water, than suggesting how poorly women steered not only cars, but, to judge by their suffragette style, the country.

But, you ask, were these exciting images just a promoter’s fantasy? Thankfully, The Making of Modern Michigan’s Automotive Collection holds hundreds of photographs, which come closer to the catalogs than one might expect. Yes, now women could travel to political conventions in style: cramped in an open-air car, in multiple layers of clothes.

The nascent AAA also sponsored what became known as the Glidden tours, where cars were sent across the country to see the types of roads they would encounter. The results were sometimes disastrous.

If all this auto-arousal is too much for you, then you might prefer to check out a new book by Brian Ladd titled, Autophobia. Also, a shout-out to the Journal of American History whose excellent reviews of web archives pointed me to Taking the Wheel.

Until next time, I remain yours on the passenger side,

Stephen

P.S. You can now follow the Lazy Scholar on Facebook. Become my fan here!

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To students seldom awake before ten,

Like many scholars, I’ve relied on coffee as a lifeline for most of my academic career. By senior year of high school, I was already bringing a plastic mug full of instant Maxwell House (terrible, I know) to class. In college, I even considered footnoting the local convenience store in a freshman year philosophy paper, since I owed their machine-made vanilla lattes at least as much as Kant.

My thoughts turned to coffee this week after reading a great paper-in-progress by a fellow graduate student here at Harvard. Still I wondered, where was the history of coffee on the web? Look no further than the Victorian trade card collection at Miami University in Ohio . Trade cards became popular in nineteenth century America, as a way of advertising products from soap to lawnmowers (to learn more, check out the Baker Library’s online exhibit). In the example below, Uncle Sam himself endorses one brand. The back of the card features these inspiring verses, “Take this from me my people dear / If you’d keep war away/and fill the land with peace and cheer / Do just what I shall say: / I know a beverage full of charm, / there’s magic in the cup. / To cure all ills, to keep from harm, / Drink when you dine or sup.” Sorry, Anglophiles, your Earl Grey tea won’t help you escape the traumas of sickness and strife!Other cards, while produced by coffee companies, didn’t bother to picture the product itself. Arbuckle Brothers, for instance, came up with a number of collectible series, including “sports and pastimes of all nations.”  Check out the gentlemen athletes in the image below, and the coffee instructions on the reverse.

For more coffee-related trade cards, click here. And for yet more cards of all types, check out the collections at the Brooklyn Public Library and University of Iowa.

To see where coffee advertising would go a few decades later, surf over to the always remarkable Prelinger Archives. You’ll quickly discover the theme in these Folgers ads from the 1960s: make a better cup of coffee for your husband, or he’ll be back “at the office” faster than Mad Men‘s debonair Don Draper.  Click on the images below to watch.

Yours perkily,

Stephen

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