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May 26, 2005 10:04 am

Some Noted Things ...

Yesterday, when I looked out of my bedroom window, I saw a chipmunk sitting on the stump of an old oak tree. It was a beautiful day in Atlanta and, instead of scurrying about as our chipmunks usually do, she seemed to be sunning herself and doing her nails. As a historian, I don't think much about how animals live their lives, but Prof. Blogger jerked me back to reality about our interaction with them. You have to know that Prof. Blogger is a medievalist and medievalists are their own peculiar sort of animal. So, I'm reading his blog and come across this note about a 13th century method of contraception from Martha A. Brozyna's Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages:
"Item testicles of a live, male weasel, castrated by a woman, and wrapped in the skin of a goose or similar, avoids conception" (p. 168).
"The Professor wonders what woman has been so desperate for pregnancy-free sex," writes PB,"that she attempted the castration of a live weasel. He suspects that the weasel might not be cooperative." This is really Hugo's area of expertise, but I had some additional questions: Must it be the woman who does the castrating? How is that different from ordinary human experience? Has PB not known of men to be so desperate for sex that they would castrate a live weasel? Were we preventing conception of future weasels or of little people? Can the goose be dead when you skin it? If you skin a live goose does that prevent conception of future little geese? What does the woman actually do with weasel testicles wrapped in goose skin to prevent conception? Where does she put the little bundle?
Update: Like a great Prof. Blogger, Prof. Blogger responds to all my questions. Like a slow student, I'm still assimilating all of this.

Tim Burke's"Welcoming New Arrivals to the Sekrit Clubhouse," Easily Distracted, 25 May, responds to the comment thread at Eszter Hagarty's"Isolated Social Networkers," Crooked Timber, 19 May. The subject? Our attitude toward those who come late to a new theory or field of knowledge. Tim's post is a good example of his generosity of spirit that makes me one of his great admirers. Every time we have one of our periodic academic donnybrooks, I keep meaning to ask myself"What would Tim Burke do?" But I keep doing what Ralph Luker does. Didn't St. Paul say something like that?

Do not miss Scott McLemee's"Listening to the Witness," Inside Higher Ed, 26 May. It is the second part of his look back on the life and thought of Paul Ricoeur. It is a great testament to the meaning of being and of having been a teacher, a professor.

I recommend Crooked Timber's discussion of"Academic Bestsellers." It's encouraging to see many fine works of history on the lists. What academic books would you most highly recommend? On a related question, at Political Animal, Kevin Drum asks a question we explored at Cliopatria several months ago: Excluding textbooks, what one volume history of the United States would you recommend? The question drew lots of interesting responses in discussion over there. Still, I gag at some of the suggestions (Schweikart and Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States or Wood's The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History) and turn up my nose at others (Johnson's A History of the American People and Zinn's A People's History of the United States). You may have other suggestions, but my own recommendation is: Hugh Brogan's The Penguin History of the United States of America. Other recommendations are welcomed in comments.

Scott Jaschik's"Academic Freedom or Intolerance of Faith?" Inside Higher Ed, 26 May, reports on the controversy over the chairman-elect of Brooklyn College's sociology department, which KC Johnson posted about here at Cliopatria.

Finally, I continue to be amazed at what some people will post on the net, even under cover of anonymity or pseudonymity. I got into trouble once for remarking about a female history blogger who posted photographs of herself hefting her bosoms at the camera's eye. In the last two months, we've had a similar situation of a young male history blogger. He speculated about the adequacy of his -- ah -- his male organ, complained about the lack of direction from his graduate school professors, and confessed to indiscretions with privileged information about his fellow graduate students. Such candor won him favor in some sectors of the blogosphere, but just within the last 24 hours acquaintances from his institution guessed his identity. Suddenly, his blog was no more.

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HNN - 5/26/2005

I read Thomas Bailey's American Pageant in high school. I loved it then. It's even better now. His strong voice comes through. I may be the only person who ever enjoyed reading a textbook. But I swear. I did!

David H. Noon - 5/26/2005

I'm biased, as David W. Noble was one of my graduate advisors, but his book <em>The Free and the Unfree</em> (written with Peter Carroll) is just fantastic.