Your Links to History: April Links Round-up


(Photo from the 1943 Detroit riot:  Walter P. Reuther Library)

Erstwhile blogger Caroline Grego compiles a short list of history-related news links from the past month.

What Graduate Advisers Can Do by Vicki L. Ruiz

President of the American Historical Association, Dr. Vicki Ruiz of the University of California – Irvine, has placed a personal moratorium on accepting new doctoral students – certainly a controversial statement. Graduate advisers, Ruiz argues, have a responsibility to assist their doctoral students beyond the completion of their Ph.D. and into their careers – but the lack of academic jobs for doctoral students has begun to make this a difficult and wearing task. Only 44% of Americanists and world historians, for example, land a tenure-track job at a four-year institution. Ruiz does point to counteractive measures. The AHA itself has landed a $1.6 million grant to launch a Career Diversity for Historians initiative, designed to encourage ‘the exploration of varied career paths’ that could forge new ways of doing history outside of the academy.

Academic jobs are certainly at a scarcity, but Ruiz does not delve into the reasons behind this: I think especially of the preponderance of adjunct positions, which extract cheap labor from highly qualified teachers. I would argue that faculty, administrators, and universities as a whole have a responsibility to throw their weight behind hiring practices that privilege full-time positions and more ethical treatment of adjunct faculty.  Surely that would better benefit doctoral students as they transition to a career. An individual response – no longer taking on doctoral students – to an institutional problem – the exploitation of graduate and adjunct labor – seems backwards, despite the understandable intentions behind it.

The Other Mental Health Crisis by Scott Jashik

A study conducted at the University of California – Berkeley found that 64% of arts and humanities graduate students have suffered from depression. The 790 graduate students interviewed were asked a series of questions related to their mental health and well-being, and their responses were judged based on clinical definitions of depression. In what I believe few of us will find surprising: “Interestingly, arts and humanities and social sciences students give the highest ratings to their advisers, though they are the least likely to say they have the space and resources they need to succeed.”

I see two issues emerging from this study. First, as graduate students, we work for little money, and we do this work because we love it – but unfortunately, that our labors are out of love is easily taken advantage of by universities that habitually under-fund humanities graduate students. If we love our work, we won’t mind the long hours and low pay. However, this mindset promotes a certain kind of inertia by which perhaps we humanities graduate students do not advocate for collective resources as fervently as we otherwise might, and universities can trade in on our passion for low pay. Second, this study highlights the need for departments and graduate programs to provide mental health support for their students and to be conscious of the strain their students will likely be under. 64% is an unconscionably, unacceptably high percentage. What can universities do differently for their students?

Rioting: An American Tradition by Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson writes about rioting throughout American history, framed by the protests in Baltimore over the horrifying death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody. She points to the Boston Tea Party, the New York draft riots of 1863, the Ludlow conflicts of 1914, and the Watts turmoil of 1965. What, she asks, do these have in common? She argues that ‘the issue at stake was that government appeared to be favoring one group over another.’ Disparaging the protestors in Baltimore for the “violence” of their approach, she contends, misses the point and de-historicizes their action.

How ‘religious liberty’ has been used to justify racism, sexism and slavery throughout history by Zaid Jilani

As we approach a presidential election year in 2016, so politicians are drawing lines on the political battlefield. Emerging Republican candidates are taking their stands on a number of issues – including gay marriage. Jilani uses this topic to look at how Americans have used claims of religious liberty to perpetuate oppressive systems. Slaveowners often employed religious rhetoric to justify slavery. Opponents of suffragists touted Bible verses that declared the inequality of men and women – and their use of the Bible was so vociferous that Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote The Woman’s Bible to “directly challenge religious oppression of women.” Finally, the racist supporters of Jim Crow, including Governor George Wallace, also invoked the Bible in opposition to integration.

It is, of course, no surprise that religious rhetoric can be twisted to support bigotry – here in the U.S., though, we need to be particularly mindful of that history.

From the Archives: Scientists’ Conversations About Rachel Carson and DDT, 1944 to Today by Katie L. Burke

And last, we have a timeline in honor of Earth Day and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. Burke compiled a timeline from 1944 to 2015 to examine how American Scientist discussed the insecticide DDT and Carson’s advocacy for its discontinuation. Throughout the 1940s, DDT is described as a ‘godsend’ to farmers. In the early 1960s, the magazine hedges mentioning Rachel Carson or Silent Spring, ignoring it for review, until an article in March 1964 that discusses the wide influence of the book.

As a whole, the timeline traces the course of the modern environmental movement, with Rachel Carson’s work shifting throughout that narrative. As the U.S. government passed environmental legislation, including the banning of the agricultural use of DDT in 1972, Carson seemed vindicated. However, a new set of debates emerged in the 2000s over the utility of DDT as a tool for stopping malaria around the world, complicating Carson’s legacy. Burke ultimately argues that Carson made an important contribution to ecological and activist knowledge through her recognition of the impacts of industry on our world and climate.

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