On the embargo question

I’d been waiting to start this until my dissertation abstract was actually available through Proquest, but I’ve recently learned that it might take as few as 8 and as many as 20 weeks (~2-5 months) from the time NYU submitted the darned thing, which was three months after I submitted final revisions, to appear.  That’s between 5 and 8 months between my final version and the world of accessible-via-Proquest.  This, frankly, seems like something worth throwing into the debate about embargoing.  I embargoed my dissertation – largely because of some truly horrible stories I’d heard from people who found their work used by more senior scholars, or in more cases, had found that the archival road-map laid out in their dissertation had been used by someone else to publish more or less the same argument before they’d been able to get a book contract.  I know that there are many and varied reasons not to embargo, and I’m toying with the idea of asking Proquest to lift it, but as a junior, untenured scholar, the risks seem to outweigh the reward.

That being said, as an advocate for the digital humanities generally, and as someone who has benefited from open-source dissertations particularly (an aside – what I’d really like to see is for the AHA to have some mechanism for young scholars to make their dissertations widely available, and to work with acquisitions editors to create a culture where an available dissertation is almost never an impediment to a book deal.  The former, because I find it frustrating that my only venue for dissertation publishing is through a for-profit company) I’d like to make some of my work generally available to a wider audience.  It seems like conference papers are a good place to start.  For one, this is intellectual work that’s already been put out in a public space (though attendance at conferences and particular panels obviously varies), and for another, a lot of the material I’ve presented at conferences over the years has been excised from the dissertation, or changed so much as to make it truly different work.  In that spirit, I’ve created a new page here – one at which I’ll post selected delivered conference papers that aren’t a part of anything that’s currently in process or out for review.

I’d also like to say – both in this post and at that new page – that I’m happy to share my dissertation with anyone who wants to see it.  Just e-mail me and ask.  I know that this is far from the spirit of true open source access to academic work – but for me it’s a start.

On starting new projects

I’m deep in the next-year’s-research planning phase of the summer, which is mostly comprised of figuring out what other donor communities I want to look at for the book manuscript.  I chose sites for the dissertation largely based on news production – locales in which a lot of news was being produced, reproduced and consumed – but for the book I’ve been thinking about how to better center the experiences of non-elite donors, which means looking for places from which donations flowed, rather than places in which people were merely reading about the famine in Ireland.  As part of this, and as part of a related project to collect the names of donors to a wide range of 19th century philanthropic projects, I’ve been working on a database which tracks not only individual donations, but also biographical information about donors.  I’ve been using this data – and in particular donations to national famine relief funds (the American Society of Friends rather than the New York Irish relief committee, for example) to try to map places where donations came from, but that I haven’t yet explored.

So: a very few, very preliminary findings:

  • Most of these donations are coming from cities.
  • Many are on behalf of relief committees of entire cities – it’s not clear yet whether these are Quaker relief committees or ones without religious (or with another religious) affiliation, but I hope that’s something I’ll be able to check out at the Haverford Quaker archives.
  • Of those donations made on behalf of urban relief committees, the people doing the collecting were almost entirely merchants.

The orange circles are the places I’ve yet to explore – lots to do!

CRC donor locales

Post-defense euphoria

It’s been a week plus since I defended, and while I’m very excited to have passed this particular milestone, I also sometimes feel like there’s a dissertation shaped hole in my life that needs filling.  One of the major themes of the defense was how to take a series of narratives about discrete geographic spaces, and make them into a cohesive scholarly monograph, so much like when I began this project five years ago, I’m going back to the secondary literature to begin thinking about relating the research I’ve done to broader themes of stitial and imperial governance, and the moral authority that giving lent to donors who might not otherwise have the means – social or economic – to voice their opinions on how their governments were taking care of them.

I’m also using the next few months to learn more about the opportunities afforded by GIS.  I was at a talk yesterday at NYU’s humanities initiative on deep mapping (like deep narrative) that raised a whole host of possibilities for creating a digital component of my dissertation research.  In many ways (and despite William Cronon’s dispiriting story of undergraduates who were unable to tell the difference between books and websites in the most recent AHR) textual narratives are the best ways to tell stories about the political possibilities afforded by famine philanthropy, but some kind of visual aspect is needed, I think, to really give a sense of the extent of donations.  I’m sure that static images would do this just fine, but I hope to really get into dynamic visualizations as another way to tell stories about nineteenth-century donors.

In my dream world, and with infinite resources, there are two projects here.  The first would map participation in Irish famine relief projects, showing both from where, and in what amounts donations came, and the ways in which news of the famine spread over time.  The second is somewhat more ambitious.  Having spoken with other people who work on nineteenth-century philanthropy, I think that it would be really productive to have a collaborative, searchable online database of participants in nineteenth-century philanthropic projects.  In a perfect world, anyone could upload both images of donor lists and enter donors’ names in a shared database, which would link multiple contributions to different organizations made by the same donor.  This would require a platform like Zooniverse, or the NYPL’s digital menu project, but might – if enough people working on enough different philanthropic projects – produce a really robust source for studying historical philanthropy.

Forming Nations, Reforming Empires

It was a long time (more than 3 years from the first conference meetings to now) in the making, but the special issue of Early American Studies that I co-edited and co-wrote the introduction to is “live” on Project Muse, and paper copies are wending their way from Penn Press.  Historians don’t tend to write with other people, and learning to do so was a challenge, but I think that the issue and our introduction to it are much better for both Jerusha and my contributions.  It was a great learning experience, and I’m both delighted with the final product, and to have completed this particular project.

A quick note about sexism, psychology, activism and history

So, my father happens to be a psychologist, and because of this, I happen to be more aware of trends in psychology than I might otherwise be.  Over dinner tonight, we were talking about institutional sexism, and I was pointed towards a few articles that seem to echo many of the claims made by gender theorists about how gender effects perceptions of individuals’ social value and utility.  One argues that among men who demonstrate some gender bias, sexist jokes were more likely than not to prime listeners to discriminate against women – in this study discrimination was measured by inclination to fund charities that benefited women. (More than “just a joke”…)  The other uses social psychology tools to make an argument for why things that are gendered female are valued less  than things that are gendered male. (Glick and Fiske in Revisioning Gender.)  I am still working my way through these, but on first blush they seem to confirm a lot of what gender theorists (and others) have been saying about perceptions of gender norms and discrimination.

The contention that “sex is the primary category by which people automatically classify others” (Glick, Fiske) seems a lot like the claim that we need to think about issues of gender when pursuing projects of social justice, to think about how gender intersects with other categories (race, class, age), how the negatives in those categories are feminized or masculaized and how that gendering denotes value.  For instance – women who exhibit aggressive behavior “are penalized for being successful in domains that are considered to be male, and are disliked and interpersonally derogated as a consequence.” (Madeline Heilman, Sex bias in work settings project description) Similarly, the notion that sexist jokes are bad for perceptions of and reactions to women is a common-place assertion for people (wonderfully demonstrated in many ways at Shakesville) who talk about rape culture and how it is perpetuated.  In fact, a lot of what psychologists of gender are saying seems to sync with what activists and gender theorists have been saying for awhile.

At the AHA before last, at a panel on the history of emotion, the suggestion was floated that historians and psychologists might benefit from working with one another.  I think that we might add activists to the mix, both to give us more tools to de-center the oft-poorly-reported evo-psych stories that perpetuate tired gender stereotypes without much cause, but also as a means of connecting the people who are approaching the same problems from different perspectives.  This is not, by the way, an argument for “science justifies arguments that other people have been making for awhile, but only with the addition of science are those arguments valid.”  Also, the discussion of how certain disciplines are valued and gendered is an important one, but for another day.  I know that my work has  benefited from social scientific and psychological work on philanthropy and social obligation, and this brief foray into psychological studies of gender suggests the same is true for other fields as well.   Perhaps this is already happening – in which case, I’d love to hear about interdisciplinarity in action, but if it’s not I think we (wearing my academic hat) need to make a better effort.