Erin Bartram on Leaving Her Students


If you heard our interview with Erin Bartram on Episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you will, at times, hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the end of her career as an academic historian.  Many of us know Bartram as a gifted historian and teacher who announced she was leaving academia in her powerful essay “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind.” If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so.  Then go to the podcast and listen to our conversation about it.

In her recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bartram reflects on leaving her students behind.  Here is a taste:


If you decide to tell students that you’re leaving academe, you will face the inevitable questions about why, and what you plan to do next. You may have made your decision to leave months earlier, but explaining it now — even if you think you have come to terms with it — can be stressful. Your students’ reactions may well bring up emotions you thought you’d dealt with.

This is also a situation where bureaucratic slip-ups — endemic in large institutions especially — can make things worse. Say, for example, that the registrar or the bookstore uses software that automatically populates the next semester’s courses with the names of the faculty members who most recently taught them. A departing scholar can find herself forced to explain to eager students that no, she won’t be teaching here next semester, and no, she isn’t going to be a professor anymore, and yes, she wishes things were different.

When you tell them you’re leaving, students may tell you how they’d hoped to take such-and-such course with you next year, or how they always thought you’d advise their honors thesis when they were seniors. They may cry and get upset and ask you to stay or at least not give up on the career itself.

And when any of these students persist in asking why you can’t just keep trying, it’s OK to be blunt and tell them exactly why. You don’t need to give a multipoint analysis of the dismal faculty-job market, but you shouldn’t feel that you have to downplay what has happened to you.

It can be hard to bear the emotional weight of their reactions along with your own. Think about that as you approach how and when to tell your students about your departure.

Read the entire piece here.

What strikes me most about this piece is the fact that we are losing someone with a passion for teaching history and a love for students.   Believe it or not, you don’t often find this kind of passion in academia.

How to Advise Ph.D Students


Many of you recall Erin Bartram‘s viral post about her decision to leave academia.  We blogged about it here and will be talking to Erin in a forthcoming episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Her recent piece in The Chronicle Education offers some advice for professors who advise Ph.D students.  Her two main points are:

  1. Be honest about the limitations of your advice
  2. Try to recognize how little you may actually know about us as individuals

Read the entire piece here.

*Inside Higher Ed* Covers the Erin Bartram Blog Post on Leaving Academia


Headquarters of the American Historical Association, Washington D.C.

We blogged about this yesterday.  Get up to speed here.

Here is a taste of “Calling Academe’s Bluff.”

Janet Watson, an associate professor of history at UConn, worked with Bartram in graduate school and reached out to her about her essay.

That Bartram is now in such a position “is further evidence of how the academic job market is increasingly dysfunctional in ways that are harmful both to students and to the people who teach them,” Watson said Monday.

Joshua Eyler, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an adjunct associate professor of humanities at Rice University, shared Bartram’s essay on Twitter. He told Inside Higher Ed that there isn’t “a lot of space for this kind of grieving, which is why the kind of frank and open discussion of it in her essay is so important.”

Agreeing with Bartram, he said, “I think it is still true that the dominant reason people enroll in Ph.D. programs in the humanities is to one day be faculty.” That doesn’t mean everyone does so for that reason, he said, “but it is a major motivating force.”

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said his organization and the Modern Language Association are working on career diversity precisely because they’re confident that keeping people like Bartram “in our respective communities benefits us, the individuals and public culture.”

“If we cannot find good ways to maintain productive relationships among historians who follow diverse career paths, there is not only individual loss but also for the discipline and public culture,” he added via email.

Read the entire piece here.

Erin Bartram: “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind”


Mary Sanders Bracy (l) and Erin Bartram (r) at 2013 AHA in New Orleans

I am a big Erin Bartram fan.  We have been on a panel together.  She has written multiple posts here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I have learned a lot from her about teaching.  Frankly, I can’t think of a person more deserving of a tenure-track teaching job in a college or university history department.

The academic profession needs to deal with her post about leaving academia:

Here is a taste:

It happened during AHA.

I was sitting at home, revising my manuscript introduction and feeling jealous of all of my historian friends at the conference, when I got an email telling me my last (and best) hope for a tenure-track job this year had evaporated.

I’d promised myself that this would be my last year on the market. Now, I’d promised myself that last year, and I’d decided to try again, but this time, I knew it was over.

I closed my laptop and walked out of my office. In that moment, I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by the trappings of a life that had just crumbled around me. The perfect reading lamp, the drawer of fountain pen ink, the dozens of pieces of scratch paper taped the walls, full of ideas to pursue. The hundreds of books surrounding me, collected over nearly a dozen years, seemed like nothing more than kindling in that moment.

I cried, but pretty quickly I picked myself up and started thinking about the future. The circumstances of the job I didn’t get were particularly distressing, so I discussed it with non-academic friends, explaining over and over again that yes, this is the way my field works, and no, it wasn’t surprising or shocking to me, and no, I won’t be able to “come back” later, at least in the way that I’d want to, and yes, this was probably what was always going to happen. And then I started looking forward.

Only now do I realize how messed up my initial reaction was.

I was sad and upset, but I didn’t even start to grieve for several weeks, not because I hadn’t processed it, but because I didn’t feel I had the right to grieve. After all, I knew the odds of getting a tenure-track job were low, and I knew that they were lower still because I didn’t go to an elite program. And after all, wasn’t this ultimately my failure? If I’d been smarter, or published more, or worked harder, or had a better elevator pitch – if my brain had just been better, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it had happened, and if I were ultimately to blame for it, what right did I have to grieve?

Read the rest here.  Today I grieve with her.

Erin Bartram on Day Three at AHA 2015:

The American Converts Database
Here is Erin’s final post from AHA 2015:–JF
Now that I’m home and sifting through the pile of handouts, pamphlets, and business cards I picked up over the last few days, it’s time to write my final dispatch from AHA.
The morning began with my own panel, “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and InterpretReligious History.” I was presenting alongside Kyle Roberts and Chris Cantwell, with comment by the illustrious John Fea himself. I have to say, it was an absolute pleasure listening to Roberts and Cantwell talk about their projects. Roberts presented both the Jesuit Libraries Project, a recreation of the late 19th century library of St. Ignatius College, and the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project, which explores ownership markings and annotations in the books that remain from that original library and makes them available on Flickr.  Cantwell’s Faith in the City: Religion and Urban Life in Chicago, 1870-1920 is a sprawling project mapping the religious geography of the city at the turn of the century, complete with digitized sources.  Portions of the project are still in the building phase, but Cantwell let us preview some of the maps, and the whole thing was pretty spectacular. Both Roberts and Cantwell echoed a sentiment that I’d heard a lot in the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round the day before, which was later reiterated by John in his comments: let your students dig in and build these projects with you.
After the panel, I headed downstairs to check out the first poster session. I saw a lot of great projects, but I’ll just mention a few. One of the most interesting things I saw the poster and Prezi for “Spreading the Light in New York: 1880-1882,” by Rob Allen of Auckland University of Technology. He had this Prezi (set up on a touch screen, something I’d never really seen before). His argument about radical ideas moving through informal networks of friends as opposed to simply moving through unions, clubs, and other organizations resonated with my own work. You can view the Prezi or read more about the project here
Next, I talked with Damayanthie Eluwawalage of University of Wisconsin-Stout about her project on penal attire in the 18th-century British Empire. In particular, she focuses on how prisoner uniforms were designed to divide and humiliate prisoners through the use of color and stamped slogans and emblems. She had a photo of one of the only surviving copies of a specific parti-colored uniform which I remarked looked very silly, almost like a harlequin costume. She said that was reserved for the worst criminals.
Working my way down the line, I was immediately drawn to a really well–designed poster by Katie Lambright, a graduate student at Minnesota. In her project “Cleanliness, Clutter, and Working Women: Fashioning Gender and Class in Sitcom Set Design,” Lambert examines the “choreographed clutter” of three sitcoms – Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and The Cosby Show – in order to think about the arguments made in the 1980s about domestic spaces, class, gender, and personal responsibility. She points out that Roseanne and  Murphy Brown might be different in many ways, but both come home to cluttered houses of one variety or another, while Claire Huxtable “has it all,” with a family, financial security, and a neat and tidy house.
Finally, I visited Sarah Purcell and had a grand chat about that perpetual bridesmaid Henry Clay, whose coffin and funeral procession were the subject of her poster. I encourage you to read her full article on the subject, as she does a marvelous job using Clay’s death to examine many facets of a particular moment in the antebellum period.
After that, I grabbed a quick lunch with a friend of mine from Northeastern and was off to the train station. It sounds like I missed some good stuff in the afternoon, but all of the twitterstorians helped me feel like I was still there. If it’s possible to feel intellectually drained and energized at the same time, that’s where I am right now, but I’m looking forward to letting what I’ve absorbed over the past few days shape my research and teaching in the coming weeks and months.

Erin Bartram’s Busy Day at AHA 2015

Erin Bartram is back.  As some of you read this, Erin will be presenting at American Society of Church History session “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”  I am looking forward to chairing and commenting. Here is her latest AHA post.  I can’t believe she got a lanyard! –JF
My day began not-so-bright but definitely early at the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast. It was such a treat, but also such a shame that it was so short and I didn’t get to meet many of the people whose projects were so interesting to me.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the graduate students from the breakfast at the ASCH reception in the evening. Perhaps the most important development at the breakfast – I got a lanyard from ASCH Executive Secretary Keith Francis!
My first panel of the day was “Doing More with Less:The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge.” Kathy Nasstrom talked about the Oral History Review’s foray into short-form articles which you can read more about here. She said most of the submissions so far had come from traditional university-based scholars but that she hoped to see more from alternative kinds of scholars. Ben Railton spoke about blogging, tweeting, and writing pieces for websites like Talking Points Memo. One of his main points, echoed by the others on the panel, was that blogging is very generative, but that there’s no built in audience (except your parents) so you have to find a way to connect to your desired audience. Stephanie Westcott spoke about the overabundance of knowledge being created by scholars in an online form, and offered two ways to help us manage that deluge. The PressForward plugin helps scholars stay up to date on a given topic by aggregating blog posts of interest, and Digital Humanities Now curates and promotes new and interesting DH projects.
Finally, Kristin Purdy of Palgrave Macmillan talked about the Pivot series, which publishes works longer than an article but shorter than a monograph. Of the many benefits to this series, most interesting to me was something all of the panelists extolled as a virtue of short-form scholarship: the relative speed with which material can get to its audience and make an impact. Purdy said that while monographs spend months in the editorial process, Pivot books can make it to press in nine weeks. She cited the example of Peter Conn’s book Adoption: A Social and Cultural Historywhich was cited one month after its publication in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case. The potential of all of these new forms was palpable in the discussion, but the comments did return several times to that perpetual question whenever innovation in form is considered: “How will this count towards tenure?”
On I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round, where nearly two dozen of us took two minutes each to pitch or explain a way to use digital methods in teaching. The ideas came fast and furious and I gave up taking notes, but I urge you to read the #s95 hashtag to see all of the amazing things presented. The main thing that struck me, however, was that all of this technology was being used to help teachers help their students as people, not just learners, whether by empowering students to create history in new and interesting ways or helping professors streamline assessment to leave them with more time to focus on the meaningful connections that can drive learning and keep students engaged and enrolled. I pitched my own project, and hopefully after a few conversations tomorrow, I’ll have something to share in my next update. One major benefit to a DH session like this? You pick up a dozen newTwitter followers in a couple of hours!
I had planned on choosing from one of several panels in the afternoon but when it came down to it, coming back to my hotel room and resting my brain a little bit won out. Thankfully, with John tweeting the public intellectuals panel, I felt like I didn’t miss a thing. Feeling a bit more refreshed a few hours later, I wandered over to the book exhibit, made a list of a million books I want to read, and tried to avoid the throngs of scholars clutching their complimentary wine and cheese. I didn’t buy anything, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold out tomorrow.
Tonight, all that’s left is to pack up and prepare for my presentation tomorrow morning: “The American Converts Database: TheDatabase as an Expression of Scholarship on Religious History.” For anyone who might be coming to the panel tomorrow morning on American religion online, feel free to take a look at the database beforehand. (

Erin Bartram on the First Day of the 2015 AHA

I am once again happy to have Erin Bartram, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Connecticut, blogging at The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  You can read her bio and access a link to her posts at AHA 2013 here. –JF
For my third trip to the AHA, I’ve found myself drawn to panels on pedagogy and methodology rather than those on historical topics relevant to my research. To that end, my first panel of the day (after finally registering only to find out they’d run out of lanyards!) was Session 3, “Teaching Students Chronology: Strategies to Help Students Develop Chronological Framework.” This panel, sponsored by the College Board, featured three high school teachers presenting on various aspects of chronological thinking: causation, continuity & change, and periodization. Honestly, I was a bit wary of the session, as I’m not convinced AP courses always accomplish what they set out to do, and I often find they indicate the social background of my students more than they indicate their mastery of historical thinking skills. The three panelists, however, were really engaged in thinking about pedagogy, and overall, it gave me some good ideas to think about for the coming semester.
I particularly enjoyed the first speaker, Patricia McGloine, who teaches in Virginia Beach. She took us through how she helps her students understand the complexities of causation, beginning with assigning them to each select the most telling word, phrase, and sentence from their nightly reading. The students then use these selections to identify short- and long-term causal factors for the topic in question, which for today’s purposes was World War I. McGloine supplements these choices with her own, and then distributes all of the short-term causes among the students, which she did with us today.  Around the room she had posted signs for the “main” causes of the war – militarism, alliance system, imperialism, and nationalism – and had us do what she has her students do: walk with our short-term cause and stand with the long term cause we thought it was most connected to, something more challenging that it first seemed. She then asked us to go stand by the long-term issue we believed was the most fundamental cause for the war and make an argument for it with the rest of the participants assembled there. While my classrooms rarely have the space for anyone (including me) to move around, I found the concept of this exercise tempting. I am often frustrated when my students cannot make connections beyond short-term causes, and I think I’ll try this sort of structured assignment this coming semester.
Geri Hastings spoke next about using simulations in class. She has her students each research and inhabit a historical figure in preparation for two 83-minute simulations in which the students act and speak as their characters. In the scenario she presented to us, students inhabited black leaders in the U.S. throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, and held a simulated colloquium in 1968 to discuss “the degree to which the visions of political, social, and economic equality…[had] been realized” at that point in history. I found the project compelling, but I struggled to figure out how I might integrate it into my own very different teaching schedule. The final speaker, Erik Vincent, argued that it was important for students to engage in discussions about periodization, but discussed the difficulty of finding useful periodization for the “long nineteenth century” that was applicable in a world history context. Several times in the presentation he cited a recent piece by Peter Stearns () which I will definitely add to my reading list. Unfortunately the panel ran a bit long and there wasn’t time for questions, so I didn’t get to ask whether anyone in the room had used Timeline JS, which I’m hoping to use next semester so my students can collaboratively construct a timeline as we go along. If anyone out there has used Timeline JS this way, I’d love to hear about your experience with it.
From there, I went to my first ASCH panel. Well, I waited for elevators and hunted for stairwells for fifteen minutes and thenwent to my first ASCH panel. When I finally got to “Doing History,” I discovered, with a crowd of people, that a panel featuring some of the most prominent scholars of the history of religion in America had been put in a room the size of a shoebox and we couldn’t fit. The panel started, but a few minutes later everything stopped, and they moved the whole thing into another room with more space so we could all attend. “Doing History,” like tomorrow’s “Believing History,” was held in honor of Grant Wacker. It featured papers by David Steinmetz, Catherine Brekus, and David Hall, with comment by Peter Kaufman. Steinmetz’s paper explored the difficulty of crossing the cultural divide and “going native” in our study of the past by considering the difficulty of inhabiting the intellectual worlds of Reformation thinkers. Brekus explored the possibilities and problems of individual agency, criticized by theorists who would argue that there is no self, only subjectivity, on the one hand, and proponents of “big history” and “deep history,” particularly Guldi and Armitage, for whom the extreme longue durée is the only appropriate way to study history and give it an impact in our contemporary world. Hall used the examples of Elizabeth Knapp and Anne Hutchinson to consider the ways that historians avoid interrogating the mediating factors that affect our texts and may diminish their authority and, in his words, their “magic.” Kaufman’s wide-ranging and expertly-crafted comment joined Brekus in a rejection of the push for big data and big history as a path to influencing policy. To paraphrase his final plea to the audience, is it not enough for historians to enlighten and entertain, to foster critical thinking, to unsettle people and make them sympathetic to the lives of those in the past, and to cultivate compassion? Or are these things, in Guldi and Armitage’s terms, too sentimental to be the ultimate goals of historians?

Tomorrow I’m starting the day with the Women in Theology & Church History breakfast, which I’ve never done before. I’m really looking forward to it. After that, I head to “Doing More with Less: ThePromise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge,” followed by a break in the afternoon to trim a hundred words or so from my paper so John doesn’t have to give me the “stop talking now” sign on Sunday morning. If I get lucky, I might even find a lanyard somewhere along the way.

Editor’s Note:  Thanks Erin.  We can also expect an update on the “Doing History” session from Mandy McMichael.  Stay tuned.  And I need a lanyard too.  Let me know if you find one!  Oh, and by the way, the paper looks fine.  Keep the 100 words.

New Blog: The Digital Grad Lounge

You may remember Erin Bartram and Mary Sanders from our AHA coverage here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Erin is a doctoral student in history at the University of Connecticut and Mary is a doctoral student in history at Oklahoma State University.

I want to call your attention to their new blog: “Digital Grad Lounge.”  What I like about this blog is the fact that Erin and Mary have an open call for contributors. They want to have a conversation with fellow history grad students. Here is a taste of their introductory post:

This blog is growing out of the conversations between two young historians at the 2013 meeting of the American Historical Association.  Erin Bartram is a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut, where she studies religion and gender in 19th-century United States history.  Mary Sanders is a PhD student at Oklahoma State University, where she studies the religious responses to terrorism.  We think that we are not the only two people who are having these conversations.  The Digital Grad Lounge is our attempt to reach out to those of you who might be out there, like us, having long, passionate conversations about the life that we’ve chosen to live. 

We are inspired by William Cronon’s 2013 AHA Presidential Address, which focused on the importance of storytelling.  We think that graduate students have important stories, and that we should share them. 

One of Cronon’s inspirations was the 1931 Presidential Address by Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian.”  We thought we would inaugurate this blog by reading Becker’s address, which can be found at this link. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it? Read Becker’s address and give us your thoughts on how it relates to our contemporary mission as historians.  Please limit your responses to 200-400 words, and email them to by January 20, 2013.  Please include a one-sentence bio about you and your work.

Anonymous submissions will not be posted; this rule will stand in general on the blog.  We hope to cultivate a professional place for conversation, and do not feel that anonymous submissions have a place here. 

On January 21, we will publish whatever you have sent us in the hopes of beginning a conversation about the discipline and our place in it.  Thank you…and good luck!

OK history graduate students.  It is time to weigh in on Becker’s seminar article.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (8)

Erin Bartram checks in after a busy Saturday at the AHA –JF

I attended a fascinating panel this morning entitled “Liberal and Evangelical Women, Social Reform, and the Problem of Categorization” The four panelists asked us to consider whether or not “liberal/progressive” and “evangelical” were actually oppositional categories in the 19th century. The conclusions drawn by all four suggest that, like many things in history, the reality is rather complex.

First, Dennis Durst of Kentucky Christian University reconsidered Frances Willard’s religious groundings, arguing that her activism mixed progressive and evangelical social values. He pointed to her extensive use of Biblical motifs, her emphasis on the maintenance of the traditional family, and her view on sexual purity. Willard, he noted, was incensed when other evangelicals called her reform movement “secular.” Durst also asked us to be careful not to read the fundamentalist/modernist controversy back too far.

Leah Payne of Vanderbilt focused on Pentecostal leader Maria Woodworth-Etter. While many have presumed that Pentecostal eschatological views would dampen any impetus towards social reform, Payne argued that Woodworth-Etter’s advocacy for women’s ministry fits into that tradition quite neatly.

Heather Vacek of Duke examined the religious backgrounds of Dorothea Dix, and how they contributed to her advocacy for the mentally ill in the nineteenth century. Raised for the first 12 years by her father, a fiery evangelical Methodist preacher, she spent the rest of her early adulthood with her extended family, a group of metropolitan Boston Unitarians. Vacek argued that Dix inherited piety and perfectionism from her father, but turned her focus outwards as a result of her Unitarian influences.

Lydia Willsky, also of Vanderbilt, touched on Unitarianism as well in her exploration of the religious and philosophical life of Caroline Healey Dall. For Dall, like for many others, Unitarianism led to Transcendentalism. Many historians argue that Transcendentalism was not a religion but a philosophy, bu Willsky argues that for Dall, who was influenced by the sermons of Theodore Parker, Transcendentalism was very much a religion.

Bret Carroll of California State University at Stanislaus gave a wonderful comment, tying all four papers together and asking some significant questions about the theme that tied the panel together: categorization. He asked if these papers revealed significant overlap between evangelical and liberal/progressive reformers, and if so, how useful was it to think of these categories as oppositional. He praised the way each panelist had used gender to highlight and tease apart the assumptions long built into the work on these women and their religious movements.

After my morning spent pondering evangelical reformers, and a wonderful lunch at Antoine’s with the American Catholic Historical Association, I had a really exciting meeting with one of the most prominent historians blogging today: John Fea!

I have one more day of panels and perhaps some sweet deals at the book exhibits. I’m mentally exhausted but also excited and rejuvenated. It’s wonderful to be around so many of my peers doing so many interesting things, with a speech like Cronon’s presidential address to get us fired up for the spring semester. One of Cronon’s major points was that history helps us talk about how the world got to be the way it is today, which can be the entry point for so many of our students, and for members of the general public too. For many of us, untangling those threads that tie us to the past – a past that is familiar yet utterly foreign – is one of the most exciting things about our discipline. I leave this conference excited to head back to my classroom, to explore the foreign countries of the past with a new group of eager travelers.

The "Way of Improvement Leads Home" AHA Blogging Team

It has been a great weekend of blogging and tweeting at the AHA-New Orleans 2013.  I will be around tomorrow, but I am not sure if I will be tweeting or covering any sessions.  I may spend my morning trying to find some good deals in the book exhibit.  I actually have my eye on Kevin Philips’s 1775Penguin was selling it for $10.00 hardback but I am hoping that they will go lower tomorrow.  The same goes for William Hogeland’s Founding Finance at the University of Texas Press.
Those who have been following us through this journey through the “Big Easy” know that Mary Sanders and Erin Bartram have been doing a great job as correspondents.  This afternoon I had coffee with these passionate advocates of history.  I left our chat very energized and excited about the future of the profession.  Thank you Erin and Mary!
l to r: Mary Sanders (Oklahoma State), unknown historian, Erin Bartram (UCONN)

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (5)

Erin Bartram reports on a Friday session on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade–JF

I spent the early part of the morning practicing my own paper in front of the mirror in my hotel room, and then headed out to the Hotel Roosevelt for a panel exploring the legacy of Roe v Wade on its fortieth anniversary. A quartet of scholars teased apart the threads of the often black and white discussion on abortion rights in the United States, revealing, as only historians can, the importance of specificity and a close attention to chronology.

Johanna Schoen, of Rutgers – New Brunswick, dealt with the evolution of the controversy over late term abortion in the 1970s, beginning with the case of a Massachusetts doctor prosecuted for manslaughter for performing an abortion. Key to her analysis was the move on the part of anti-abortion activists to shift the debate from abstract moral principles or discussion of the medical reasoning behind different types and timings of abortion to aesthetic concerns.

Sarah Rowley, of Indiana University Bloomington, examined “Roe” as a symbol, noting that for the first decade of its existence, it was rarely mentioned by name in discussions of abortion rights. In the 1980s, Rowley argued, the rhetoric of “Roe” changed. She claims that for American social conservatives, “Roe” came to signify all that they feared from an overreaching government acting through an unelected court that endangered local control. “Roe,” therefore, could remind one as much of one’s personal anger over the removal of prayer from schools as much as any feelings about abortion.

Sara DuBow, of Williams College, began her paper on the history of conscience clauses with several court decisions from previous weeks, serving as an effective reminder of the pressing importance of her work. In examining the 1973 conscience clause, DuBow noted the very different political landscape that allowed it to gain bipartisan support, not necessarily because legislators agreed with it, but because many of them felt its effects would be minimal. In light of current debates, and in light of the fact that 87% of U.S. counties now have no abortion provider, DuBow closed by pondering whether the legislators who voted for the conscience clause out of pragmatism not conviction would vote for it again today.

The final paper, by Mary Ziegler of Saint Louis University, examined the conflicts within groups like NARAL and NOW in the wake of the decision. Activists had hoped that implementation and education would be the next step after the court’s decision, and for many of them, that meant a broader agenda of reproductive health and social justice issues, focusing on intersecting racial and social issues. When state level limitations on abortion began to pile up in the 1970s, however, many activists disagreed on whether or not to pursue a single-issue agenda to defend a woman’s right to choose. The Reagan revolution and the increased attention on a state’s rights agenda from some in Congress caused many activists to resign themselves to a continued focus on abortion rights.

After a brief comment from Reva Siegel (Yale) because the panel itself was only 90 minutes, the audience had a chance to weigh in. The discussion shifted quite quickly to the issue of sources, more particularly to a discussion of the availability of archival holdings for the anti-abortion movement, and the effect that the dearth of sources has on historiography of that part of the movement. Nancy Cott testified to the fact that her attempts to work with archives to preserve the anti-abortion movement’s history for the use of scholars had met with resistance from those within the movement, and all present agreed that the nuanced, complex arguments necessary in understanding this issue could only be helped by the preservation of more of the relevant documents from all perspectives.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (4)

Erin Bartram weighs in on Thursday afternoon panel on Canadian Catholic Influences in America –JF

This afternoon, I attended a panel on Canadian Catholic influences in America which provoked a lively discussion on borderlands, cultural transformation, and identity politics. Molly Burns Gallaher, of the University of New Hampshire, discussed the Madawaska region, on the Maine/New Brunswick border, and the way that its residents, settled Francophone Catholics used to managing their own religious affairs, resisted the imposition of control from the Diocese of Portland. Jack Downey, of La Salle University, told us about one of Dorothy Day’s spiritual influences, French-Canadian Jesuit Onesimus Lacouture, whose retreats were “translated” for an American audience by Father John Hugo. Marion MacLeod, from the University of New Brunswick, examined the structures and lyrics in Acadian and Cajun music, focusing on themes of pilgrimage, traveling, and longing for home. After an excellent comment by Elizabeth McGahan, complete with maps to help the Americanists in the audience unfamiliar with the Canadian borderlands, we all had a good conversation about lay-clerical relationships in the 19th and 20th century, and the ways that space and ethnicity inflect those relationships. 

After a break for lunch, I took some time to wander around the book exhibits, and resisted the urge to buy, though I will say I was rather tempted by a few at the University of Massachusetts Press booth. They had lots of great books on gender, religion, and disability in U.S. history, so I might need to stop by again and indulge.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (3)

In this dispatch, Erin Bartram and Mary Sanders team up to report on a Thursday afternoon panel on “Tuning the History Curriculum.”
After I (Mary) picked Erin up at the airport yesterday, we started playing our favorite AHA game: “Guess the Historian.”  We looked for what John has already referred to as the “uniform”—khaki pants, blazer, anything made out of tweed.  (Our conclusion thus far has been that the female variant of the species of “historian” is harder to spot in the wild.)  We checked into our non-conference hotel (where all the jubilant Louisville fans were staying) and immediately went in search of beignets.
This morning, we headed over to the one of the panels in the Workshop on Undergraduate Teaching, “Tuning the History Curriculum: The Vision and the Reality.”  We’re both interested in talking about undergraduate teaching because, let’s face it: many graduate students often end up being the primary face of teaching to undergraduates.  Frequently, we are the ones who grade their papers, answer their questions, and try to guide them to a greater understanding of the skills that historians use and the topics that we love.  Erin had read about the Tuning Project, but the project itself hadn’t been open to graduate students, so we were interested to see what it was all about.  John Savagian, from Alverno College in Milwaukee, impressed us with his emphasis on creating measurable learning outcomes with the participation and investment of the students themselves.  He provided us with a handout that shows how Alverno’s institutional goals are translated into discipline-specific, course-specific, and student-specific outcomes.  John Bezis-Selfa, from Wheaton College (MA) described the Tuning Project itself, including the difficulties of using data collected by a variety of sources with no uniform goal in mind.  The last two presenters were Liz Lehfeldt (Cleveland State University) and Ken Nivison (Southern New Hampshire University).  Both spoke of the ways that the existence of the Tuning Project has already helped them in their attempts to rethink departmental curriculum in the face of increasing institutional pressures.
The question and answer period indicated the diversity of the audience: there were faculty members from community colleges, top-tier research institutions, liberal arts schools, and non-U.S. universities.  We were struck, though, by something that seemed to be missing: Where do graduate students and adjuncts fit in the tuning process?  Because of the emphasis on long-term curricular development linked to specific institutional goals, it makes sense that the primary actors in the project itself are tenure-track faculty.  Still, we hope that the project will consider incorporating, at least in an observational sense, senior graduate students and adjuncts who are also concerned with the same issues.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (1)

The Way of Improvement Leads Home is already hard at work at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New Orleans.  Erin Bartram is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Connecticut where she is studying 19th century U.S. gender and religious history.  She is working on a dissertation, under the direction of Richard D. Brown, which examines New England women converts to Catholicism.  

Erin will be reporting “from the floor” of the AHA.  Her first dispatch is published below.  –JF

Like many AHA attendees, my conference got started in the departures lounge at the airport.  I was dutifully reading my latest issue of Perspectives in History when a gentleman approached me and asked if I was presenting a paper.  And thus I met my first new historian of the trip, Jonathan Elukin of Trinity College in Hartford.  Now that I’m settled in, and I’ve had my first (but certainly not last) beignet of the week, I’m looking forward to Thursday’s lineup, starting with a panel on the AHA’s tuning project.  For those of you who are at the conference, make sure to take advantage of the app the AHA is providing if you can.  It provides you with an easy way to make a schedule for yourself so you don’t end up flipping through that bulky program trying to remember where you’re off to next.  I can already tell it’s going to make navigating the conference much easier!