January 02, 2017

A fresh-ish start.

Hi all, 

A forty-degree New Year, here in Athens, so far.  

i. Image.
Back cover, Winter in New England, promo pamphlet for the Boston & Maine Railroad, 1923 (via Harvard's The Shelf blog). Must be the Bretton Woods Hotel, in the background there? Missing those mountains this winter. 

ii. Things I wrote, published since last we spoke. Five of the ten funnest digital history sites I browsed in 2016. (More to come, tomorrow or Weds.) And: I bought a chest freezer and stocked it from bottom to top. Here's what's in it

iii. The blog Nursing Clio reviewed my book, and Laura Ansley interviewed me about it

iv. Year in review. My writing year in 2016 felt a bit like a splintered-up mess, fragmented by what happened in early November, which has frankly left me wondering whether some of the ways I've been writing about history are still worth pursuing. The "look, isn't this [piece of ephemera] [story] [person's life] interesting" mode feels like it might be dead. But easy historical parallels and consolations are (as I have banged on about ad nauseam) simple and odious. Add to this the fact that I'm about to go on maternity leave, and I feel somewhat at a loss for working direction in 2017. (See section v., "Resolutions," below.) 

That said, this year:  I published a piece of what you might call popular historiography, on the new history of Native American slavery, the success of which I will always and forever point to as proof that non-academic readers do enjoy reading about historical argument. My colleague Andrew Kahn and I did this data project about the gender of history-book writers and subjects, which was very satisfying to see come together. I wrote a few reviews and Q&As—about the movie The Witch, about Hamilton—that felt like good, critical, interesting integrations of historical research with analysis of popular culture. I wrote a few newsy things pretty fast—a piece about Andrew Jackson's adopted son Lyncoya; another wondering whether gun control could ever have its own Uncle Tom's Cabin; a third about Yale's Renaming Committee—that I was happy with, and happy to have been able to turn in relatively quickly. I wrote three pieces that were more personal and domestic than my norm—on fridge organization, holiday calendars, and freezer-stocking—and enjoyed it. I finally wrote about prepper fiction, which I'd been meaning to do for years (just in time, too, since Nov. 8 has left me never wanting to read another thing about a fictional apocalypse). With another subgroup of pieces—about some Bill O'Reilly foolishnessabout Hillary's ambition and health, and about the boyishness of Donald TrumpI tried my hand at giving some American Studies-style, cultural-historical depth to contemporary politics. Finally, I had fun launching and running Slate's daily newsletter The Angle: a great new part of my job that gives me a work-sanctioned excuse to read more of my colleagues' writing. 

Actually, I feel better now. Thanks, Year in Review! 

iv. Resolutions. How can a person who is two weeks, give or take, from becoming a parent make any resolutions at all? I have a pile of ideas for things I could do during maternity leave—everything from "finally update my iMac's OS" to "process personal archive" to "write book proposal"—but what will the baby be like? How will I feel? Everyone says "You can't imagine how it will change you," and I wonder what that will mean. Will these books I've started to receive that will be published in Spring 2017 even appetize? I just got a few good-looking ones the other day: galleys for American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream, by one of my dissertation supervisors, Julia Mickenberg, and a review copy of Anya Zilberstein's A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early AmericaBut when the baby is real, will these books start to look as unappealing as coffee did back in the bad old morning-sickness days? 

Those are personal goals and habits, but then there are the external resolutions—what I want to do in the world, in this year of what I hope will be recovery and retrenchment and strengthening. I am of the "time to get local" school; I think some of the best moves we can make in the years of Trump will be to get to know people in our communities better, to run for office, to have more in-person conversations. Will being parents make this easier or harder for us to do? I just can't picture it. 

I guess I need to adopt Virginia's resolution no. 1: "To have none. Not to be tied." At least for a little while. 

Happy untying, or tying, whichever you prefer,

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