Monday, November 9, 2009

Pop Art and the Everyday

As the snow comes, a little reminder of warmer times to come:

Beached from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thank You, Professor Orwin

While the ignorance and sloppiness of Margaret Wente's original column in the Globe and Mail is undeserving of anyone's attention, here is a mature, civil, and most-welcome response from Clifford Orwin.


In autumn, a professor's fancies lightly turn to thoughts of teaching. As I told the students in my (monstrously large) introductory course at the University of Toronto last week, I've never attended the Toronto International Film Festival, never felt the least excitement about it. That's because it falls during the first week of classes, when the real action is on campus. I noted that a glimpse of Natalie Portman wouldn't change their lives, while their courses well might. I didn't tell them what is also true - that well into my fourth decade of teaching, I still never sleep the night before my first class.

This piece is not about me, and I mention these things only in response to a recent column by The Globe's Margaret Wente. To hear her tell it, professors don't do much, and what they do accomplish is short on what matters (teaching) and long on what doesn't (research).

I'll ignore the suggestion that professors are lazy. That's, like, so 1973 (the year I started teaching). There were in Canada then many pseudo-Oxford dons whose claim to fame was that unlike those awful American professors, they didn't do very much of anything. That's all changed. Today, the indolent are an endangered species. My colleagues in political science and I can announce that we are all Americans - by which I mean workaholics. A great deal of that work is teaching. Universities take teaching not less but more seriously than they did a generation ago.

True, I spend just six hours a week in the classroom. Ms. Wente grants that there must be preparation time and grading - "But it's still not much." Much must be a relative term. I spend 40 hours a week on preparation (times 24 weeks) and something like 120 hours a year grading (80 essays times 90 minutes), plus supervising the grading of my teaching assistants.

And true, we're not free to spend all our time on teaching. We're also expected to administer, be active in our respective professions, be public intellectuals, show the flag for our programs by delivering lectures elsewhere, practise community outreach, recruit graduate students, raise money for those students and eventually find jobs for them, write research grant applications, pen countless letters of recommendation, referee an endless procession of manuscripts, answer thousands of e-mails, assess colleagues for tenure and promotion, and so on.

So I work 70-hour weeks. Some colleagues work less, but some work even more. You can forget the mythical sherry-slipping slacker. We do enjoy long summers, if you want to hold that against us.

Just a blurry haze of mint juleps, summer, as I try to get a year's worth of research and writing in. And my teaching depends on that research. To teach is to communicate enthusiasm for learning, and what sustains that enthusiasm is continuing to learn yourself. It's also to set an example of progress to nourish in your students the hope that they too can contribute to progress. No, not all research done at universities is valuable. The surprise is how much of it is. And yes, there is always room for another study of Plato or Tolstoy, for great works are both inexhaustible and must be presented anew to every generation. You can't rest on the laurels of the past, for anything worth learning requires to be constantly relearned.

As for devoting more time to teaching, that's not up to us. Society demands that we be research machines, our heads always smoking with relevant discoveries, and not only in the sciences. It's also society that prescribes, through underfunding, that our teaching be wholesale, not retail. I didn't ask to teach a class of 500 this year, and my department (which cares very much about teaching, thank you) didn't ask to offer one. It had no choice, and I drew the short straw.

If you want your kids to be in classes of 20, you'll have pay for it, like the parents who shell out $45,000 a year for their offspring at Swarthmore College [], near Philadelphia.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not seeking your sympathy. I differ from a tree in that my sap rises twice yearly - once in the spring with the approach of research season, and once in the fall with the return of the cycle to teaching. While I would rather teach fewer students, you shouldn't confuse that with wanting to do less teaching. My colleagues appear equally sappy. Teaching may not be our only business, but we're serious about it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Errol Morris

A friend of mine wrote to tell me that he had just watched The Thin Blue Line and in his words: "I had only read about it previously, but the real thing utterly blew my mind. I have never been so totally mesmerized by a visual narrative over a sustained period." Morris has produced what I consider the very best documentaries of the last 25 years -- but don't take my word for that. Go to his website and Youtube, and then, please, to a good video store, and discover for yourself what a relentless commitment to storytelling, to truth, to justice, and to humanity can produce. Morris teaches us about ourselves but he also has become, arguably, one of the great historians of modernity. That he mostly makes films rather than writes books and journal articles is part of my rationale: Morris understands that the image is one of modernity's greatest inventions. The image can be salvation and liberation. The image can also lead to domination and imprisonment. The image, Morris seems to understand, is both life and death.

Here is a small reason why I am hardly alone in feeling as strongly as I do about Morris

Here are the trailers for his latest two films, Standard Operating Procedure and The Fog of War. I urge everyone, everywhere, to watch these films. They will not leave you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mapping the Recession

Richard Florida has an essay in the March 2009 edition of Atlantic Monthly, and in it he provides a rather intriguing representation of the current economic malaise and the similarities / differences it has with those of the 1970s / early 1980s. Here are the paragraphs that caught my eye:

"But that was then; the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.

The housing bubble was the ultimate expression, and perhaps the last gasp, of an economic system some 80 years in the making, and now well past its “sell-by” date. The bubble encouraged massive, unsustainable growth in places where land was cheap and the real-estate economy dominant. It encouraged low-density sprawl, which is ill-fitted to a creative, postindustrial economy. And not least, it created a workforce too often stuck in place, anchored by houses that cannot be profitably sold, at a time when flexibility and mobility are of great importance.

So how do we move past the bubble, the crash, and an aging, obsolescent model of economic life? What’s the right spatial fix for the economy today, and how do we achieve it?"

Florida's emphasis on rupture, discontinuity, breakage, fissuring between the relatively recent (80 year) past, the present, and the future, opens up for him a whole new way of imagining the social and physical geography of the United States. It is no longer about people's labour making things or even providing services: for Florida, the economy is all about "ideas". He points to Pittsburgh as a model example: once home to a thriving steel industry and a population of 700,000 people in the mid-20th century, it is now a city of 300,000 people focussed on high tech industries and the creative, intellectual work of its universities and colleges. So where did all the people go? They went to places like Mesa, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix that now has more than 500,000 people, the bulk of whom arrived since 1980. And what ought to happen to Mesa, Arizona? Florida says that the government should speed up and "ease" the foreclosures that are currently occurring in Mesa (and other Sun Belt suburbs) by compelling the banks to offer previous owners the chance to rent their homes from the new owners, the banks. And if people have to move, this, for Florida, is not a bad thing at all: he seems to lament a time when people were more apt to move every year.

Movement, or what Florida likes to call "velocity", is fundamentally good because, we are told, it allows people, societies, and most importantly it seems, "the nation", to have an economy that is nimble, light-on-its-feet, adaptable, malleable. You can see why Florida has so much disdain for an economy that would strike to make material goods: unlike ideas, the making of cars, furniture, computers, and so forth, needs to be anchored in place for a long time. It requires investment, commitment, and fidelity on the part of manufacturers in the same way that workers invest, commit, and stay loyal to jobs that treat them fairly. But who would want that?

Certainly not Richard Florida who, despite seeming to have some empathy for those being dislocated by the recent economic downturn, is fueled by a sort of anti-humanist fever for "systems" and "flows" and the creative destruction of free-market capitalism and by a willingness to allow globalization to write its own story of "inevitable" and "natural" change. With all due respect, Florida's prescriptions for the present carry with them the same set of assumptions (ideological and political) that made possible the deregulated horrors of the current condition of things.

The narrative has to change: how we talk about "the economy" has to change. Macroeconomic mappings of the type offered by Florida are "big pictures" that pay too little attention, and offer too little understanding, to the immense burden being carried by those people who can least afford to do so. The very meaning of the word "economy", as the Oxford English Dictionary reminds us, has changed:

"The art or science of household management, esp. with regard to expenditure. Now only in domestic economy (see DOMESTIC adj. and n. Special uses).

The manner in which a household, or a person's private expenditure, is organized or managed. Now rare.

The proper management of the body; (also) the rules which control a person's mode of living; regimen, diet. Obs. rare."

What kinds of "economic" stories might we tell if we broadened our analytical lens to once again talk about what people are able to eat, how they are able to rest, how they are able to work, to relate to one another in a household?

I am not sure what the answer to that question is, but I do know those kinds of economic stories are in short supply right now even though the demand is very high.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Undeliverable Blog Post

There is a quiet, but determined assault being unleashed by the current federal government on scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences. Petitions are being written, signed, and submitted by those of us affected, but I only realized how bad things were getting when the chief funding agency, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC, pronounced “shirk”) sent out an email re-assuring scholars that everything was fine. Yes, they conceded, some cuts were coming, and yes, they further conceded, new funds were being earmarked for research directed towards the benefit of “business”, and yes, SSHRC would no longer be funding medical-related research in the humanities and social sciences. Of course, what else should we expect from SSHRC since its leadership has the unenviable task of representing the interests of scholars doing research in the humanities and social sciences to a federal government that has long been disdainful of its mandate and many of its members. The current president of SSHRC, Chad Gaffield, has been working tirelessly to champion our research efforts in ways that would be read more favourably by such a sceptical audience. I don’t blame anyone at SSHRC for the current state of affairs, nor their anti-Chicken Little email of reassurance. I would no doubt have written the same email should I have been in their shoes. (And I think everyone, including me, ought to be thankful I am not!) But getting that email made me feel like a coach of a professional sports team mired in a horrible losing streak who reads in the paper that his boss has given him a “vote of confidence”. Cue the fat lady; update the c.v.; call the movers. The end is nigh!

If anyone can navigate SSHRC through these troubled waters, however, it is Chad Gaffield and while I lament the business-speak that has now infested our scholarly discourse (we need to talk about “deliverables”, for example, when we apply for funding), I also understand the practical and pragmatic reasons for this. But I will not cede ground on that which I believe to be fundamental: scholarly work should make the strange familiar, the familiar strange, and always, always, should it seek and speak truth no matter how seemingly relevant or not it is to the profit margins of business.

And now, if you will excuse me, I need to go work on a deliverable so that I can affect a paradigm-shit in this knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Et tu, Iggy?

The decision to cancel the planned re-enactment of the battle of the Plains of Abraham has caused a firestorm of blustering and denunciation. Feeding this has been the media's rather lazy declarations that the reason for the cancellation was the "threats of violence" posed by "the separatists." The Globe and Mail: "Separatists win Plains of Abraham battle"; The National Post: "Quebec separatist army claims victory".

James Moore, current federal Heritage Minister re-cycled this same line of argument, lamenting the decision to cancel the event in language like this: "“I think the Bloc Québécois and those who played politics with this event …, to the detriment of recognizing a fact of Canadian history, have done a real disservice to the City of Quebec,” (Globe and Mail, 17 February 2009). His ignorance pales, alas, when compared to that of someone who ought to know better: "Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff lamented the debate surrounding the re-enactment of the battle was hijacked by sovereigntists. "What I don't like, frankly, is that sovereigntists are trying to dominate a free debate. As someone who likes Canada and knows a thing or two about its history, I want to have my say," Ignatieff told reporters at a separate event in Quebec City." (Ottawa Citizen, 17 February 2009). The comments of Moore and Ignatieff have been echoed, and given a much more virulent tone, in the Comments section on various media websites where a nationwide (and beyond) public has been thundering its general outrage.

To be fair, there have been many voices speaking differently, both in the Comments section of these sites and in the media itself. As the CBC reported on its website: "However, Sylvain Rocheleau, a spokesperson for Le Réseau du résistance du Québécois, said he was not convinced by the reason given. "We were a bit surprised that they cancelled the event because of fear of violent acts," said Rocheleau. He said any threats of violence or confrontation came from a small minority of the overall movement against the re-enactment. "I think the commission wants us to believe they cancelled the event following threats from extremist movements," said Rocheleau. "[I think] they had to cancel the event because it was insulting a majority of francophones. They had to cancel it because it was a bad idea."

The free Metro newspaper ran an editorial cartoon this morning (18 February 2009) that seeks to visualize all of this as follows:

It is comforting to think that "HISTORY" and "POLITICS" are separated by some nebulous "GREY AREA" but this episode reveals, again, that HISTORY and POLITICS are always on the same bookshelf, struggling with each other for space, to have their spines prominent, their stories told. All history is political, and all politics have history. To pretend it is otherwise is to continue to re-cycle, re-circulate, and re-inscribe the wonderful, terrible subjectivity of history as objective fact. Dr. Ignatieff may know "one or two things", and in fact he knows a lot more. But he has forgotten about the present's enduring role in the past and thus he, too, seems unaware that lots of folks, self-identified "separatists" and otherwise, rejected these re-enactments because they made no sense to our efforts to forge a better collective present. The real debate here should not be about why the re-enactment was cancelled, it should be about why it was even considered.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Canada Bound May 1953

Every immigrant kid has a picture like this. Often the picture is a photograph, maybe one in a series of photographs arranged in one of those pre-digital photograph albums, trapped beneath the clear-plastic cover that was intended to shield the photograph from the dirty fingers of eager kids and the coffee and cake crumbs that always seem nearby when an album was opened up. Those big, heavy pages would be turned and each reveal would bring a new (old) story about who was in the photograph, where it was taken, when it was taken, and so forth. I don’t recall many photographs, much less an album, documenting my mother’s family emigration from West Germany and immigration to Canada but even though there were few photographs, there were lots of stories. And so long before I saw the photograph above, I knew this picture.

It is more accurate to say that I thought I knew this picture. The dark-haired girl with the pigtails, eyes cast down to the ground, is my mother. My mother was one of two people who helped me draw a picture about leaving West Germany in 1953 and coming to Canada, the other being my Opa, the man standing right behind my mother. As storytellers, they always described for me what they saw: my mother, for example, telling me stories about her impish little sister being spoiled on the steamship by the Italian crew and delighting them with her cutesy looks and behaviour; Opa telling me about the tragedy of making the decision to come to Canada primarily because of the scholarly genius already shown by their eldest daughter, Doris (back row, far right), who, only a year after arriving, died from complications resulting from a burst appendix. I heard funny stories, sad stories, exceptional stories, and everyday stories. I heard stories about all the other people in that photograph and even about the person taking the photograph, my uncle Horst. Despite all of the stories they told me, I lost track of these storytellers being in the picture, especially my mother. But there she is. In the picture.

Narrators rarely appeared in the stories I loved as a kid, especially comic books. I might have been able to read Batman’s thoughts (his doubts about vigilantism, his self-awareness of an aging body beneath the rubberized suit, his frustration when, sigh, Dick Grayson / Robin entered his life) but the adventure he was engaged in got its narrative thrust from the God-like perspective provided by the images and by the multi-perspective dialogue crafted by comic writers. Comic books shaped my earliest understandings of narrative and they also shaped the picture I made of my background as the child of an immigrant.

Very innocuously, my mother e-mailed me the above photograph asking if I had a better copy of it. A better copy?! I did not even know what I was looking at when I first opened the e-mail’s attachment, for I had never seen this picture. But there, at the top of my picture viewer, was the title my uncle Claus had assigned it when he scanned the original, taken from what was scratched and faded across the back of the original: Canada Bound May 1953.

Here was an old photograph. Here was a new picture.


Update: My mother continues to re-make the picture. She sent me a new version of my Opa's memoirs, edited by my Uncle Claus, and it included, among other things, this image:

Thanks, Mom.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Monumentality in Post-Bush Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- For the war-beaten orphans of the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, this big old shoe fits. A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex. A huge sculpture of the footwear hurled at President Bush in December during a trip to Iraq has been unveiled in a ceremony at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

Assisted by children at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri erected a brown replica of one of the shoes hurled at Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi during a press conference in Baghdad.

Al-Zaidi was jailed for his actions, and a trial is pending. But his angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero. Demonstrators in December took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release.

The shoe monument, made of fiberglass and coated with copper, consists of the shoe and a concrete base. The entire monument is 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) high. The shoe is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.

The orphans helped al-Amiri build the $5,000 structure -- unveiled Tuesday -- in 15 days, said Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director.

"Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush's war," al-Naseri said. "The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist."

"When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it," al-Naseri said.

"Then their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadhir al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit."

Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader toppled by the United States in 2003, was from the Tikrit region.

Al-Zaidi marked his 30th birthday in jail earlier this month. One of his brothers said he is "in good health and is being treated well."

Al-Zaidi's employer, TV network al-Baghdadia, keeps a picture of him at the top left side of the screen with a calendar showing the number of days he has spent in detention. The network has been calling for his release.

By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world.


I think the last sentence in that CNN report (see original here) is one of the master strokes of insipid journalism, but, for me, it is the icing on this cake of wonderfulness. Somehow, someway, I will need to tell this story the next time I speak about monumentalism and public memory. I just hope I don't ruin it by talking about it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Governmentality -- This Time with Feeling

The emergence of Michel Foucault's College de France lectures are starting to shift the scholarly landscape in some interesting, exciting ways. This is perhaps strongest around Foucault's concept of "governmentality" which constituted all of ONE published essay, the well-known collection The Foucault Effect. That single lecture was actually taken from the middle of a series of lectures Foucault was giving on security, territory, and population. (This brilliant summary by me is actually the title of the book that all these lectures now appear.) Read back in this context, governmentality starts to be more wide-ranging than was once thought (especially with respect to the role of the state) and more intelligible than the earlier, sole essay conveyed.

Reading those lectures a couple of years ago, I realized that my own book on governmentality would need to be re-considered and I am really glad for it. Books like Stephen Legg, Spaces of Colonialism (2008) and essays by folks like Stuart Elden, Jeremy Crompton, among others, are giving me a very useful community of scholars with whom to re-consider governmentality as an analytical concept.

Now, of course, it is time to get this book done and join that conversation!

Friday, January 23, 2009

History, Historians, and the News

Here is why I am often "unavailable" when contacted by the media.

From the newswires;

"A Canadian government-sponsored initiative to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham this summer has baffled the small group of historians in France who specialize in Canadian history. The National Battlefields Commission is helping to finance the re-creation this summer to mark the 250th anniversary of the 1759 victory by British forces over the French at Quebec City. This year's event, involving up to 3,000 volunteers, has triggered consternation in Quebec over whether a folkloric celebration involving history buffs could inflame Quebec nationalist sentiment. Many nationalists view the battle as a humiliating defeat and the start of English domination over French-speaking inhabitants of North America. French historians have similar concerns about the wisdom of the re-enactment, and even question the battle's historical significance. "This is stupid," said University of Caen historian Andre Zysberg. "This celebration of a military event will just revive old political, religious and ethnic antagonisms. It is the use of history as a political weapon." Francoise Le Jeune, who heads the University of Nantes' Centre for the Study of Canada, said it is important for a young country like Canada to find unifying landmarks."

I am always impressed by scholarly discourse that includes the expression "This is stupid." Who wouldn't be? Now I doubt Professor Zysberg said to the reporter, "okay, is the recording device working? Good. Here comes my opinion on this issue: This is stupid. Did you get that? Should I repeat it? No? Good. I look forward to the article. Good bye." (If this was, in fact, what happened, then I have a whole other kind of respect for this quotation.) But the dreaded sound-byte mentality of contemporary media makes reflective, and, yes, digressive, discourse nearly impossible. This is hardly news -- although if it were it would be "Media is Stupid!" --but it still breaks my heart.

But the above article is useful for it reminds us that when you want to really get insight into the politics of memory and history involved with something like the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the first stop better be specialists of Canadian history working in France. I feel better knowing this.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Audacity of Hope

Cynical as I want to be about the possibility of effective, lasting, and meaningful change, I am succumbing to the winds of hope blowing up here from Washington, D.C.. It has put into motion for me the idea of a research paper on how the Canadian media responded to Lincoln's two inaugural addresses, especially the now-mythic second one given at the end of the American Civil War. Today, though, it is about the audacity of hope.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Place, Memory, and Youtube

The family album, travel diary, and scrapbook is still alive and well in the digital age, except now it appears in websites like Flickr and Youtube. Historians are S-L-O-W-L-Y coming to terms with all this, and public historians and historians interested in memory, have been quickest off the mark. I have had really good success teaching undergraduate students (a first-year class in "Landscape and History" and a third-year class in "Historical Representations") taking advantage of the accessibility of these digital archives. Here is what we do:

1) Students are asked to read Steve High, "Deindustrializing Youngstown: Memories of Resistance and Loss following ‘Black Monday’, 1977–1997," History Workshop Journal, 54, 1 (2002): 100-121.

In that article, Steve makes several important points, but among these is how the narratives of loss told about Youngstown, including those by Bruce Springstreen in his "Youngstown", followed closely the narratives of loss told about the American Midwest during the Great Depression, by people like John Steinbeck.

2) Before discussing Steve's article in much depth, I begin class by showing the following:

Not only do students "get it", more importantly this exercise opens up far ranging discussions about the urge to document place, self, community and so forth, through things like mash-up music videos. They wander back into their own experiences, and those of their family, and start to talk about things like "family albums, travel diaries, and scrapbooks". This requires only a modest amount of intervention from me. Students have a terrific capacity for, and interest in, working through stuff from their own lives but from a perspective they had not yet considered. To me this is what being in a university classroom is all about.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Revising, Revising, Revising

Michael Chabon is the best wordsmith in American literature. He writes sentences that make other writers (read: me) weep with a combination of joy and envy. I sometimes read his writing aloud to better savour, and deconstruct, the rhythm of his prose. My respect for Chabon was deepened, however, when I read, listened to, and watched a number of interviews he gave in support of his most recent books, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Maps and Legends, and Gentlemen of the Road. He talked a lot about the process and, lo and behold, here was the "secret" to his remarkable writing: discipline. He writes everyday, from 9-3, aiming for a minimum of 1000 worthy words. While also blessed with more than a trace of talent, Chabon's story is in many respects unexceptional. He puts his butt in a chair, his fingers on the keyboard, and gets to work.

I have been thinking of Chabon quite a bit these days as two readers' reports have me (and my co-author) grinding hard on revisions. There is no way to shortcut this process and, if I am honest, I would be saddened if there were: the suffering, sleeplessness, and frustration of revision is also one of the strangest pleasures a writer has.

Revise, revise, revise.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Teaching and Reading

Today marks the start of my graduate class. I love this class because I get to listen to, and learn from, a group of very smart people who, if I have done my job correctly, are reading good historical writing. As much as any course I have ever taught, this one is the most revealing about my own (professional) self. And it is also the class in which I say, by far, the least. Terrifying but also least as these things go for academics.

We start with one of the finest books written in Canadian history: Alan Greer's Mohawk Saint. I have recommended this book to all sorts of readers, inside and outside the university, and have yet to hear a bad word about it. It is a book about a remarkable historical figure, about a fascinating and distant historical era, and yet it is also a book that manages to be about history and about historians without losing a focus on the story and its actors. I have read it three times cover-to-cover and learn something new every time. What a great way to start my teaching in 2009.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Year, Hopefully, Of Blogging

Reading so many good (and, sometimes, less good) books and not talking about them has become rather depressing. If reading something makes my stride a little bouncier, my mood a little better, and my brain a little livelier, why keep these good feelings to myself? It is time to blow the dust off of this blog and get to the historiography that is mattering to me.

There are also some very self-serving reasons to do this: I have three books in progress right now, all of which are under contract, in addition to the work I am doing in preparation for the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. I am so grateful to my students for inspiring me to not scale back on my teaching and supervisions: being in the classroom, reading drafts of graduate thesis chapters, exchanging emails with former students, remind me daily that all of my scholarly work is deeply and profoundly connected. I want to think out loud about these connections and this space seems ideal for just that. And so...

First up is the new Ann Laura Stoler book, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton UP, 2009). Stoler is writing a book about how the Netherlands Indes were archived, how they were written about, photographed, studied, reported upon, and talked about over a 100 year period, from the 1830s to the 1930s. It is not a book about life and death in the archives, about the odd dissonance involved with holding scraps of paper on which an unimaginable number of histories collide and bounce away. Nor is it a book about power-knowledge practices, technologies, and strategies which have become so important for governmentality and state formation scholars. It is both of those things, partly, but it is also a book that is committed to understanding how the making of colonial archives were endemic to the making of colonial histories. Stoler's breath-taking reading across theoretical and disciplinary traditions opens up some exciting meditations on the colonial archive of the Netherlands Indes that move in some significantly new directions from those opened up by other scholars interested in these issues, such as James C. Scott, Antoinette Burton, and Patrick Joyce. Selfishly, I wish Stoler would broaden what constitutes the "colonial archive" and probe how other locations of archiving might reveal about the patterns and processes she identifies in more official (i.e. statist) archival spaces, something, for example, Burton's Dwelling in the Archive does quite nicely. Like everything she writes, though, Stoler's Along the Archival Grain has much to offer scholars from all over the university and I hope historians in particular read, debate, and respond to the challenges this book makes.

Less scholarly, but no less important to me over the last couple of weeks has been John Hodgman. If you want to know why, head over to his website or his Wikipedia entry and prepare to laugh. That is all.