Fickle Fates of History
NEWS FROM NON-BORING HOUSE: How Fickle Fate Affects Historians and NBH Posts, PLUS EXCLUSIVE FOR NONNIES: Legendary BBC Blue Peter Presenter Responds to NBH!
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And now (drum roll, please) HERE’S ANNETTE!
Hello, Nonnies and readers!
Not to gush or anything, and not to confuse my American readers further, but my Brit readers will be as gobsmacked as I am by this: Peter Purves, iconic presenter of the equally iconic BBC TV program Blue Peter, has responded to last week's post Flying the Blue Peter Flag.
I am delighted to share Peter’s message with Nonnies at the end of this edition of News from Non-Boring House. If you have been on the fence about becoming a Nonnie, may I gently suggest that now is a good time for an annual or monthly subscription?
Fickle Travel Plans
I wanted to surprise you by writing from the UK next week, but this plan has been scrapped, for many reasons too boring to relate.
Although I'd been quite looking forward to a bit of hand-to-hand combat with pandemic-crazed fellow passengers while trapped in a germ tube at 35,000 feet, I sent Delta my regrets for now.
Fortunately, I have no shortage of unique material to fuel the creative fires here at Non-Boring House, photos and stories from my many UK trips over the past three decades.
Okay, that admittedly sounds like me asking you round to see my holiday snaps on the slide projector.
But I don't take normal holidays.
Those of you who are fond of my Road posts know that I have a love of the unexpected, at least, I do in retrospect. Who knew that Hoosen’s brilliant suggestion that we ignore Google Maps’ squawking, and turn right out of the museum in Nebraska, rather than left to meet the freeway, would lead us on a disturbing Mad Max trek through a semi-desert on a long dirt road all the way to Wyoming, as though we were covered wagon pioneers except with no survival skills?
When I write about my travels in the UK, I even surprise my British readers, who (let's be honest) don’t travel much in Britain, because they strongly prefer to take their holidays reclining with fruity drinks or ice-cold beers* on warm overseas beaches, to tromping around historical sites in say, exotic, tropical Lancashire.**
*If a beer is ice cold, doesn’t that mean it’s frozen? Sorry. This has bothered me for years.
**Americans: Lancashire is very nice. But tropical? No. Exotic? Possibly to you.
Or maybe at this point in the series of dismal global events we call modern life, British holidays have changed again in the past three years. Maybe Brits will now settle for a wet weekend at Clacton’s Essex Museum of Useful String that I just made up?
So let me get to work pulling UK and US travel highlights from the files at Non-Boring House. I'll also start planning adventures stateside, while plotting to get back to the UK, even if I have to swim the Atlantic wearing an N95 mask, and towing an anti-tank missile in my wake.
And we'll also travel soon with a Brit who took an American honeymoon . . .in 1857.
Academic History Needs Us In These Fickle Times
Mike Sowden (Everything is Amazing) forwarded me this satire of the attitude of the Braindead Empty-Suited Predators (typically failed academics and cradle bureaucrats) who have stealthily seized control of university administrations from academic faculty over the past three decades.
I wish it were just a silly joke.
But no, while very funny, it's a satire, which means it gets disturbingly close to the truth about how these awful people treat history departments in particular.
History departments are on red alert: They are being subjected to death by a thousand cuts in faculty positions, with the savings going to (and I wish this weren’t true) hiring more empty suits. Just ignore the article's reference to Critical Race Theory, which, I swear, is not what historians do.
What historians do, at the first sign of attack, is bravely burrow even more deeply into their warm, cozy archives, and pretend everything is hunky dory. This is why they need allies. If NBH is making a case for why we should be among them, yay.
Now, on with the promised satire:
How to Reverse Declining History Major Enrollment Numbers (which are all the faculty’s fault)
Thanks to Mike Sowden for bringing this to my attention.
Oh, and when I said “red alert” I don't mean the invasion has started. I mean that conquest is almost complete. It's that bad.
The Fickle Fate of Historians
Sharp-eyed NBH readers may have noticed my annoying habit of promising to write about something, and then writing about something else entirely.
Strangely enough, this apparent fickleness is not too far from life in academic history, where we learn not to get too wedded to our plans.
Historians set off merrily into archives, all enthusiastic to write about a subject, armed with a nice, shiny thesis, only to discover that the monstrous documentary evidence pushes us in a totally different direction than we meant to go. We do go, although sometimes while kicking and screaming, as the mean evidence monster shreds our nice thesis with its horrible sharp teeth.
What, you thought I set out to become a scholar of popular religious culture in early America? Hahahahahahahaha(increasingly hysterical laughter) hahahaha (sobs).
But changes in subject can also be welcome and less painful to historians, and that's in teaching. We can do a quick change of subject in a classroom to reflect something that has grabbed our attention, assuming our students are not too opposed to changing the syllabus (like they even read it! 😂😂😂)
It helps a lot that college (UK: university) professors, unlike teachers, aren't forced to follow the terrible fossilized US school curriculum that’s been pulled from politicians’ backsides and sprinkled with nonsense glitter by parents and activists with Opinions.
Not that I feel strongly about this, or anything.
So, yes, while the past doesn't change, history, which is the interpretation of the past, certainly does. Why? Because we do. And by “we” I don't just mean historians.
An example? Let’s look at what's happening with historians of Russia right now.
American historians of Russia have spent the last few decades consoling themselves with vodka. Since they fell out of fashion since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have drowned their sorrows in the green room of life, waiting for Russian history to be interesting again to anyone apart from them.
And look at them now! They have hurriedly shaved their messy beards (the men, anyway, and except for the famous Dr. Fiona Hill, most are guys). They have bought new suits, or at least had the old ones mended. As we speak, they’re getting ready for a BBC Zoom interview (with their children trained to interrupt them cutely on air for maximum news and Twitter coverage), while planning to submit a hastily-written conference paper, or maybe that book no university press was interested in until last week.
It’s a new and exciting day for Russian history, I tell you! Historians of Russia have a spring in their step, and are already picking out new offices on campus, ones with actual windows, and not just dogeared posters of Moscow’s Red Square tacked to the wall, and pretending to be windows.
Historians who are still stuck in the green room, awaiting our fifteen minutes of fame, are those of us in less fashionable fields of history like, totally random example, early American popular religious culture.
We brood over the fact that nobody outside Episcopal church seminaries cares very much anymore that we have interesting things to say about church shopping among colonial Americans.
That’s okay. We sit back, relax, and reach for the rum punch to toast the 18th century. Our time, we know, will come again.
Fortunately, I don't have to wait for sudden public interest in 18th century religious culture.
Here at NBH, I have great fun writing for you about whatever I feel like, while knowing that all of it will prove relevant in the end. Because I write more often, and about a wider variety of US and UK history topics, than I could as a scholar, there's a better chance that something I've rambled about at NBH will pop up in the news.
This means that, despite my frequently repeated warning that historians are crap at predicting the future, there’s still a good chance you will eventually gasp at a news headline that reminds you of something I’ve written, and marvel at my psychic superpowers of prediction.
Wow, you will say, Laing already wrote months ago about this thing that’s in the news today!
And voila! I look like a bloody genius, or, even better, a prophet!
Nah. I’m a conjuror, not a magician. My goal? Widening my readers’ sense of what’s out there in HistoryLand will bring home the value of knowing what may appear like irrelevant stuff at first glance.
Academic history is never irrelevant, truth be told. It’s education. It's nice to be aware of it, and feel a little less at sea when times change around us and throw us off. Rest assured, NBH isn’t just clickbait or me puffing myself up claiming to know everything. . . .
This is how you can tell I’m actually a historian, because (unlike the People Claiming to Be Historians Many of Whom Seem to Be Tall Handsome White Guys Named Ben) I flat out deny I know everything. Not even close, even about my own field of early American history. I am learning all the time, and learning with you, but learning as a historian does.
I am always happy to hear from Nonnies who have found it all enlightening. Or any of it, for that matter.
Now, I'm not denying I can be fickle. That’s why there are half-finished books strewn all over Non-Boring House. If you like, just imagine me as Dug the talking dog in the Pixar movie UP, who gets distracted and yells SQUIRREL! every time a squirrel passes by. Which brings me to . . .
Previewing What I’ll Write About Soon . . . or Eventually. Maybe. I’m Notoriously Fickle.
So what’s allegedly coming down the pike, as we say in the States? What do I have planned?
A British woman takes a long honeymoon in the American South, and talks to everyone she meets. And I do mean everyone. No, she wasn’t in Florida. No, she wasn’t me. This is before the American Civil War.
A Corner of the American Deep South That Is Forever WWII England. Hiding in plain sight off a major freeway, a spectacular museum commemorates the American bomber crews who were stationed in England, and flew missions over Germany during WWII. And this museum is really not about planes. It’s about people.
What was it like to be an American tourist in England 250 years ago? And what does that tell us about how the love affair between Britain and its American colonies soured, then rekindled?
New Podcast! Subject TBA! My engineer/spouse Hoosen (He Who Shall Not Be Named On The Internets, or HSNBNOTI, or Hoosen Benoti) and I looked at each other yesterday and went “Uh oh.” That’s because we realized we’ve fallen behind on podcast production. It’s been busy: Hoosen, Jr. has been home for spring break (well, part of it), and I’ve just come off the busiest part of school visit season. But we hope to have a new podcast for you next week.
Snow’s a-thawing in Wisconsin, so I’m also planning to start writing from the Road soon!
How a teaspoon in a kitchen drawer in Scotland commemorated an American future that never was. Ooh, how mysterious!
War and Chocolate. How does anyone get through a war without chocolate? Good question. Here’s a further hint about this subject from the Blue Peter Ninth Book, which I wrote about last weekend, because this story started half a century ago with Little Annette enthralled by a feature about war and chocolate on BBC’s Blue Peter. This eventually led me to Pete (no, British Blue Peter fans, not that Pete), a man with a ramshackle booth selling antiques on the Portobello Road in London in 2018, and other tales to be told.
Next up, our letter from Peter Purves (yes, Brits, that one) which is for Nonnies only. Not a Nonnie? Read it free with the 7 day free trial offer from the Non-Boring House Subscription Management Gnomes!
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