A week ago I came down with a horrible respiratory infection that left me bedridden for several days and caused me to miss nearly an entire week of TA duty. It also left me unable to make much progress on my dissertation research. The problem wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d planned; the problem was that days passed without me doing anything to move my project along.
Some of my mom’s friends who are involved in creative writing used to say, “You’ve got to touch it every day.” I didn’t know how right they were before I started in on my dissertation in earnest. If you’re working on a substantial project, don’t let a twenty-four-hour period pass without doing something—no matter how small—to keep it moving along. It’s not so much a time issue as a quality-of-work issue. I find that if I let a day pass without engaging the project, I end up losing more than just the hours. I lose my bearings and my momentum, too. When I get back to it, it’s like walking into a room that’s been sealed off for weeks; the air is stale, the furnishings are unfamiliar, and there’s a fine layer of dust everywhere. You’ve got to keep everything in motion or a kind of general funk settles in, and you won’t be at your best until it dissipates.
I should add that you don’t necessarily have to be writing every day. The resolution to do a little something every day doesn’t necessarily mean you should always be churning out prose. (Most of what I’m doing at this point doesn’t involve putting words together.) But you should be getting your hands dirty somehow, whether that means locating and poring over sources, reading through notes, juggling bibliographic entries, or knocking out grant proposals. Even if you’re just putting in twenty or thirty minutes a day, do it. The point isn’t those twenty or thirty minutes, but making sure you’ve engaged with your project before hitting the hay.
The only exception to this rule comes when you’ve completed a draft, at which point it’s best to let it sit for a while before you start revising. But if you’re still in the research or rough draft phase, a day off will ultimately do more harm than good.
And on that note, I’ve lost too many days to recovery already. Time to pop a cough drop and get back at it.
Here’s an event to commemorate the centennial of American involvement in the Great War that might be of interest to those of you in the Knoxville area.
On Thursday, Feb. 23 UT’s Department of History and the Center for the Study of War and Society will co-host the Second Annual Fleming-Morrow Distinguished Lecture in African-American History. Chad L. Williams, Associate Professor and Chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis University, will discuss “Torchbearers of Democracy: The History and Legacy of African American Soldiers in World War I.” Like his book of the same name, Williams’s talk will examine the 380,000 black soldiers whose WWI service was part of a larger battle waged both at home and abroad.
The lecture is at 5:30 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Building, Room 210. It’s free to the public, with a book signing to follow.
UPDATE: Check out this HNN piece by David Shorten, who notes the problems inherent in interpreting current events with simple historical analogies. He urges us to “give up on historical comparisons and replace them with historicism—to quit analogizing and start contextualizing.”
Well, look on the bright side. This administration is going to be a freaking bonanza for historians looking to get on the talking head circuit. The Lincoln folks had all the fun for eight years, but now we’re less than two weeks into the new regime and the Jacksonian scholars are already passing the mic to the Nixon experts.
U.S. President Donald Trump fired the federal government’s top lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and saying the Justice Department would not defend his new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.
The White House said on Twitter that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would replace Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, as acting U.S. attorney general.
…There have been only a handful of instances in U.S. history of top Justice Department officials publicly breaking with the White House. The most famous example was in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
And it looks like things are only gonna keep spiraling down from here. If society totally breaks down, maybe us backcountry Rev War guys will get our fifteen minutes on C-SPAN.
NSFW but apropos and amusing:
A horribly misguided proposal from 2014 now rears its head again. From The Hill:
Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.…
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.
Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.
The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.
You’d think an organization called “The Heritage Foundation” would be more serious about programs that protect and interpret our, y’know, heritage.
Look, I don’t like extravagant federal spending any more than the next guy. But killing the NEH to reduce the federal budget is like cutting out a Tic Tac because you want to lose weight. Last year the NEH requested a budget of $148 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s only 0.003% of federal spending. The NEA’s budget for last year was about the same, so eliminating both agencies would’ve saved a whopping 0.006% out of the $3.9 trillion the government spent in 2016.
And that 0.003% isn’t just for ivory tower academics. It benefits everyone. Ever read a popular history book? Watched a Ken Burns documentary? Used the Internet or microfilm for genealogical research? Visited a museum or historic site? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve benefited from an NEH grant.
Contact your representative and tell them the humanities are worth 0.003%.
Here’s a timely event for those of you in the Knoxville area as we move closer to the centennial of America’s entry into the First World War. On Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 6:00 P.M., Ernest Freeberg will present “Eugene V. Debs and the Fight For Free Speech in World War One” in UT’s Hodges Library, room 212.
Dr. Freeberg, head of the Department of History at UT, is the author of a prize-winning book on Debs and civil liberties in wartime titled Democracy’s Prisoner. His other works include The Age of Edison and The Education of Laura Bridgman, which won the AHA’s Dunning Prize.
Steven Wilson, my pal and former boss at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, just published a new historical thriller. Roosevelt’s Jubilee pits TR against a group of assassins in Victorian London:
Future president Theodore Roosevelt and his new wife, Edith, travel to London on their honeymoon in 1887. After a chance encounter with the Prince of Wales, they uncover a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria. When the criminals kidnap Edith to use as leverage, Theodore teams up with Inspector Frederick Abberline of Scotland Yard.
Roosevelt discovers that Abberline’s boss is one of the conspirators and that an Irish separatist group is behind the evil scheme. Roosevelt and Abberline learn that the would-be assassins are planning a deadly, explosive spectacle during the queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration in hopes of destroying the British monarchy.
Author Steven Wilson weaves fact and fiction together in this suspenseful historical novel set right before the turn of the century, when the British government is struggling to remain relevant. This is London just before Jack the Ripper terrorizes the city, as social classes battle and war looms on the horizon.
As Theodore and Edith discover, it’s a place where no one can be trusted and everyone has a second trick up his or her sleeve. And unless they can outwit the tricksters, the sun will be setting on the British Empire.
And while you’re at it, check out Steven’s earlier novels set on the high seas during World War II and the realm of Civil War espionage.
Here’s a bit of news for those of you who are kind enough to follow me on Twitter as well as this blog. In an effort to facilitate networking with other historians and institutions and to develop a professional online profile, I’ve now set up a second Twitter account for myself: @mlynchhist. I’ll be keeping my aspiring-early-Americanist hat planted pretty firmly on my head while tweeting at that handle.
I’ll still be tweeting at my original Twitter account (@mlynch5396), too, and will probably cross-tweet most of my historical stuff there. It’ll just be mixed in with my exclamations on dinosaurs, religion, news, regional matters, the human condition in general, and whatever else strikes my fancy.
While I’m talking Twitter, let me encourage those of you who read the blog but don’t follow one of my Twitter accounts to keep up with me on that platform, too. A lot of the links and comments on American history that I would’ve posted here a few years ago now end up on my Twitter feed, so if you’re interested in what I cover here, I’d love you to join in on the rest of the conversation.