Early Modern Carnivalesque…

Carnivalesque Button

On Monday September 5, I will be hosting the next Early Modern edition of Carnivalesque.

So please send on your nominations of quality blog posts (preferably posted since about the beginning of July) on any topic to do with the period between (approximately) 1500-1800 AD, to me by midnight 4 September, at: rgoetz{AT}fas{DOT}harvard{DOT}edu.

Please make sure you put ‘Carnivalesque’ in the title of your email so it will go through my junk mail filters.

I’m looking forward to everything you all send me!


Unabashed Self-Promotion Blog

Last winter I wrote a piece for the new History Department Teaching Fellow Handbook on “Being a Head Teaching Fellow.” This effort is now published online–starting on page 55 of the PDF file.

I’m really proud of it. Shortly after I agreed to write the piece, one of my friends told me that when she was a head TF, her professor-boss made her fetch glasses of water and make sandwiches. So, mostly I wanted grad students to know there are limits to what their responsibilities are, and I wanted to help them negotiate the Scylla and Charybdis of fellow grad students as Teaching Fellows on one side and professors on the other. I hope it helps!

Library Perfidy

Having praised Houghton yesterday, today I damn Widener.

Why, oh why, does the country’s second largest research library (after the Library of Congress) completely shut down from August 20 (the end of summer school) until September 19 (the start of fall classes)? Well, not completely: I can still work here, but the library is open only 9-5 Mondays through Saturdays. No other library on campus is open and available for hard-working graduate students after 5pm on any day. To add insult to injury, there are no reference services on Saturdays. I just popped down to Loker Reference Room on a writing break, thinking I would beg the CD-ROM version of the Dictionary of National Biography from the reference librarians to look up a growing list of Virginia ministers. I was going to establish some biographical files before returning to Chapter Three. Alas, no reference services means just that: no reference services. And therefore, no CD-ROM of the DNB.

How can anyone get work done like this?

Library Serendipity

One of the marvelous things about Harvard’s Houghton Rare Books Library (and there are many marvelous things about it) is that a person who wishes to see a seventeenth-century English book won’t automatically be escorted to the door with instructions to look at the EEBO version and never come back. (Such is the reception one gets at the Harvard Law Library Rare Books room.)

Yesterday, the writing was not going so well so I decided to look at a tract that has been on my list for awhile but that I never got to. As it turns out, Thomas Blake’s The Birth Priviledge, or, Covenant-Holinesse of Beleevers and their Issue in the time of the Gospel Together With the Right of Infants to Baptisme (London, 1644) was bound in a volume containing five other tracts about baptism I had never even heard of. They were bound in chronological order, with publication dates ranging from 1641 to 1648, and some helpful seventeenth-century hand had recorded the different instances in which the tracts “talked” with each other. All were anti-Anabaptist, but all held varying beliefs on the meaning, efficacy, and availability of infant baptism.

Thomas Blake’s comments were exceedingly helpful, as it turns out. For starters, he addressed the concept of heredity: The essentiall or integrall parts of a species, with the naturall properties, that doe accompany it, so one bruit beast brings forth another, one bird brings forth another, and man brings forth one of man-kind. He elaborated on this issue as regards religion: The priviledges or burdens, which in Family or Nation are hereditary, they are conveyed from parents to posterity, from Ancestors to their Issue: As is the father, so is the child, as respecting their particulars: The child of a free-man with St Paul is free borne: The child of a Noble man is noble. The child of a bond-man (where servants were wholy their masters to dispose) is a bond-man likewise. So the child, of a Turke is a Turke; The child of a Pagan is a Pagan; The child of a Jew is a Jew; The child of a Christian is a Christian: As by vertue of the grand Charter of Heaven among the people of God, this priviledge doth descend: So it is the nature of those things that are descendable.”

Wow. Religion was a heritable characteristic that served to bind not only families but also nations together. It’s the strongest statement of a proto-racial ideology centered on religion I have found in English. And helpfully, the kind person who bound these tracts together allows me to easily trace the development of this idea, as well as scholastically arranged arguments for and against the idea.

Who was that helpful person? The inscription on the frontispiece of the first tract bound in the book reads “Increase Mather his book 1656.” Increase Mather graduated from Harvard College that year and went on to study in Dublin. He returned to Massachusetts in 1661, and I entertained myself for awhile by imagining the young Increase, preparing for his ordination, reading this little collection against the backdrop of the synod that approved the Half-Way Covenant in 1662. Rev. Mather was later President of Harvard College and was even sceptical about the Salem Witchcraft Trials (at their conclusion he wrote a treatise denouncing “spectral evidence”).

And now the marginalia of this master Puritan theologian will guide me through the thicket of English argument about baptism. That’s a serendipitous find one would never have on EEBO.

Update! My father thinks Increase Mather is guiding my dissertation from the great beyond. I think I might actually now be creeped out by my library serendipity.


My good friend William Crawford has relaunched his website and weblog.

Will is starting an MBA program at MIT and specializing in biomedical enterprise. He promises interesting commentary on business school, being a student again, software, biomedical enterprise, politics, and whatever else interests him. I guarantee fun and frolics for those who stop by!

BTW, Will is responsible for this blog…in July 2002 he encouraged me to start my own blog. (a)musings was the result!

A New Kind of MeMe

New Kid has tagged me, at my request, with the following questions. I really like this game; it’s different than your conventional memes in that the questions are personally tailored. So, if you would like me to tag you with five questions, drop me an email and I’ll see what I can do!

  1. What do I like most/least about Harvard? Harvard is a place I ended up in almost accidentally. When I was applying to graduate school, I didn’t really think about the process in the same way many prospective graduate students do, in that I wasn’t assiduously comparing programs and aid packages, or making lists of potential advisers and departments. I wasn’t wise about it at all. I had met Laurel Ulrich at a conference, I liked her book, and I thought it would be fun to go to Harvard and work on learning to be an historian. I never even stopped to think what the job market was like! I also didn’t really believe I would get in. It was a shock when I did get in, and, as it turns out, Harvard is the only place that gave me a real aid package. (Both Brown and Penn expected me to take out loans for the first two years, and Yale rejected me outright.) So, Harvard it was. And things have turned out nicely. The Big H has fabulous resources. Widener Library, where I lurk now on a daily basis, has pretty much everything I need, and if it doesn’t have it, the helpful librarian folk will order it for me. And Harvard is probably the best place in the country to be an early Americanist. The History Department Faculty alone boasts not only Laurel Ulrich, but also Joyce Chaplin, Jill Lepore, and Vince Brown. My graduate cohort is a truly delightful bunch; we have a stimulating and engaging dissertation group and aside from the intellectual stimulation, Harvard Square is a fun place to be. Shops, restaurants (some of which I can even afford to eat in), bookstores, and Boston only a little ways away, with a symphony and a ballet company…In other words, I’m happy as a clam here.

    But Harvard, like any place else, has its issues. I suppose the thing I like least about Harvard is that gets crushed under the weight of its very own Harvard-ness. Harvard has a cultural sense of self-importance that I sometimes find nauseating. Recently, Harvard started allowing undergraduates to spend a year abroad during their junior year, but I still hear from undergrads who say that they’ve been told not to do it, that no other university can provide as sound an educational experience as Harvard can. That’s just poppycock, in my humble opinion. An undergraduate can have extremely valuable experiences elsewhere; Harvard cannot and should not be the be-all-and-end-all of higher education. Likewise, those in the administration are liable to respond to criticism with statements like, “you should just be glad to be at Harvard,” or “well, we’ll work on that, but you know, funding is scarce….” I’ve gotten both of those responses when I’ve asked pointed questions about the grad students’ substandard health care insurance and the cancellation of grad students’ dental insurance. For a university with the amount of resources this place has, it does a lot of corner-cutting when it comes to taking care of its students and employees. (Of course I realize that grad students in other places have it much, much worse.) The idea that one should just be grateful to be here rather irritates me.

    But, when all is said and done, I have spent five very happy years here and gotten a lot out of the process.

  2. How did I choose my dissertation topic? I didn’t choose it; it chose me! Seriously, I came to Harvard thinking I would work on Revolutionary War soldiers’ diaries. I was all set to commence work on that project when I enrolled in a required Early American research seminar centered on race. I was peeved, but went along with it. I decided to work on something south of New England for a change, and in the hunt for a topic looked in Hening’s Virginia Statutes at Large (1823). This is the most reliable compendium of colonial Virginia law. I started noticing that legislators constantly transposed the words “heathen” and “African” or “Negro,” or “heathen” and “Indian” or “tawny.” They also consistently transposed “Christian” and “English.” By the end of the seventeenth century, they were transposing “Christian,” “English,” and “white.” So I wrote a paper about the religious criteria Anglo-Virginians used to formulate an idea of heritable inferiority (race) and to justify slavery. I postulated that Anglo-Virginians believed both Africans and Indians, but Africans especially, to be “hereditary heathens.” This was much more exciting than all those soldiers’ diaries. I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read an abstract of my dissertation here.

  3. What are your favorite non-work activities? Well, like most academic types I read in my spare time. I like reading European hsitory for fun, since I don’t study it. I also enjoy memoirs and biography. (Currently on my nightstand: Lorna Sage’s memoir Bad Blood and George M. Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.) I read a ton of fiction, both “serious” fiction and “fun” fiction. (Right now: The Rule of Four and Faulkner’s Light in August.) I also adore science fiction and fantasy but I’m not reading any of those right now. (But hey folks, the next Honor Harrington novel is due out in November! Hurrah! For those of you not in the know, David Weber’s Honor Harrington books are like Horatio Hornblower, in space, with nuclear warheads. Start with On Basilisk Station. Have fun noticing the little Napoleonic references he sneaks in.)

    I also enjoy back episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve recently joined Netflix and so get a lot of DVDs that way. (On tap for tonight, after dinner, is Good-bye Lenin!)

    I like going to the ballet and the symphony when I can afford it. I have plans to spend a weekend in NYC early in November so I can go to the Met (oh happy day!).

    I’ve recently returned to an old hobby of mine—swimming. I swam competitively all through high school and really enjoyed it, but dropped it in college in favor of other activities. I joined the Cambridge Masters’ Swim Club and I’m now swimming twice a week. It’s been hard finding my sea legs again, but I’m really enjoying the physical activity. It sure beats sitting on my rear end all day in the library, staring at the computer screen and waiting for my dissertation to pour forth in all its brilliance.

  4. Cats or dogs? That’s easy: both! Also, horses, llamas, and chickens. I would also like to have a push-me-pull-you someday.

  5. What one thing do you most wish you could change about the US right now? Do I have to limit myself to one thing? I suppose if I take the easy way out of this I would say, get rid of Dubya and supplant him with a President with at least half a brain. But, Dubya is only one symptom of a much larger problem. I suppose I would like the US to be less chauvinistic, less militaristic, less inclined to think invasion is the answer to the terrorism problem. I would like the US to be more internationally-minded, more courteous towards its allies, more respectful of the rights of its citizens at home, and more respectful of the treaties it has signed. I envision a US less muscular in its export of “democracy” and “freedom” and more understanding of the political, economic, and social challenges other countries face. There. That would be my soapbox for the day!

Thanks, New Kid, that was fun!

Coming soon to a blog near you…

Carnivalesque Button

Um, this blog actually! On Monday September 5, I will be hosting the next Early Modern edition of Carnivalesque.

So please send on your nominations of quality blog posts (preferably posted since about the beginning of July) on any topic to do with the period between (approximately) 1500-1800 AD, to me by midnight 4 September, at: rgoetz{AT}fas{DOT}harvard{DOT}edu.

I take the “approximately” part of that very seriously–if you’ve written a piece or seen a good blog post that’s a little before 1500 or a little after 1800, send it along! The more the merrier, and I’m mighty interested to see what y’all send me. Please make sure you put ‘Carnivalesque’ in the title of your email so it will go through my junk mail filters.

If you haven’t written anything lately, you’ve got plenty of time! So, early modernists and early modernist-wannabes, get writing and send me your nominations! I’m a great fan of carnivals; I think they’re a great way to showcase the best posts history bloggers have to offer. So let’s make the next Early Modern Carnivalesque one for the history books! (heh heh)

Incidentally, History Carnival #14 is up at Philobiblon. It’s a fabulous collection of great history stuff–I’m working my way through it slowly and enjoying every bit of it. (Here’s my rule: if I write a page of Chapter Three, I can allow myself one entry from the Carnival. I like the carrot and stick approach to getting writing done.)