Friday, September 30, 2011

The Academic Job Search Handbook

I just got a copy of The academic Job Search Handbook (2008, 4th ed.) by Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong. Wow. I wish I'd known about this earlier.

Not only does it include a timetable for planning job searches, but it has examples of vitas, cover letters, teaching philosophies, etc. There are also discussions of the job interview, and strategies for job searching when your partner is also an academic. I haven't read the whole thing yet, and I realize that it is not tailored to our particular discipline, but it looks like a great way to get familiarized with the general process in a way that is not overly intimidating.

I ILLed it, as the on-campus copies apparently don't allow borrowing privileges. You can preview it at Google Books.

Have any of you come across this before and have any opinions about it before I dive completely in? As far as I know, there's not another book like this (though many online discussions of similar topics).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“The Canadian Reindeer Project: Experimenting with Science and Development in Northern Environmental History”

Hello readers of this blog!

I'm hoping I can use this space to share some writing with you--to gather your input and to let you know what I've been working on recently.

I have been invited to contribute a chapter for an edited volume on northern environmental history. This field of scholarship has academic kin in environmental history, Canadian and Alaskan history, and Arctic studies. The longer piece of writing below is actually a blog post about my chapter for this edited volume. (I know, this is a very involved introduction--but please, dear reader, keep reading).

The blog post is part of a series of posts released by the contributing authors, meant to promote the collection and to start conversations among the authors. We are gathering as a group in late October to offer feedback to one another and to build cohesion into our project. You can check out the existing posts and read more about our group here.

Any feedback on this post is welcomed and appreciated. You'll soon see that I'm writing to a very specific audience, so apologies for jargon and ambiguous references. Also, to learn more about the shape of my contribution to the book project--and my dissertation--please attend next week's brownbag. I will be presenting on the Canadian Reindeer Project and adding flesh to the skeleton of an argument I lay out below.

All the best-
Andrew Stuhl


On December 8th, 1948, a motley crew of civil servants, military officials, and academics huddled together at the Royal Canadian Air Force mess on Gloucester Street in Ottawa. Calling themselves “The Arctic Circle,” they formed to confront matters of national importance in the north. At this inaugural meeting, botanist A.E. Porsild reported on the reindeer experiment in the Mackenzie Delta, a government program he helped establish in the 1930s. Admitting some difficulties in recruiting local Inuit as herders, Porsild boasted that the Canadian Reindeer Project had demonstrated “considerable and sustained progress."

This scene hints at several themes I will explore in my contribution to this collection. Consider first the interplay between expertise and administration embodied in A.E. Porsild. Hired by the Department of Interior to study the Alaskan reindeer industry in the mid 1920s, Porsild had no academic training in botany nor experience managing reindeer. He was selected as the man for the job despite internal grumblings in a nascent northern bureaucracy—a so-called systematic botanist was no match for a “practical reindeer man” who could travel in the remote, unforgiving north. Yet by the 1940s, Porsild was hailed as an authority on Arctic vegetation, partly because of his tenure with the body assembled to manage the Canadian Reindeer Project, the Interdepartmental Reindeer Committee. His career is a rich case study for understanding the conditions by which professional scientists entered the realm of Arctic leadership.

At the center of Porsild's report to The Arctic Circle sat reindeer, an animal he had grown to know well. The story of reindeer has heretofore been confined to popular accounts of the drive from Alaska or presented as a corollary to histories of game management. Thanks to historian John Sandlos, we understand the reindeer as representative of conservation politics in the early 1900s and as emblematic of a pastoral Arctic ideal. Emerging from a Royal Commission on developing muskox and reindeer industries, the reindeer experiment created a 7,000 acre Reindeer Grazing Preserve, protected by permits for trapping or hunting within its boundaries. Yet the introduction of a foreign species to the Western Arctic has more nuances to unpack, beyond the ways officials used reindeer to regulate northern life and landscapes.

At play with the Canadian Reindeer Project was not just a politics of conservation, but also a politics of conversion. We glimpse this as Porsild bemoans the issue of attracting Inuit from the trapping economy to the grueling practice of herding. Enchanted by the animal's innate abilities to transform barrenlands into grazing pastures, bureaucrats hoped the animals would convert primitive hunters to domesticated herders—creating Canadian citizens who, by their labor in a new reindeer economy, demonstrated sovereignty in the Western Arctic. Here, in the reindeer, we witness a tool capable of restricting the “wanton slaughter” of caribou—and establishing a wholly different commerce among bureaucrats, Saami, and Inuit. The Reindeer Project thus begs for contextualization alongside other Canadian imperial gestures in a post-Depression era push for low-cost paternalism and high-value development.

The timing of this first meeting of The Arctic Circle presents a final riddle, for my chapter and for northern environmental historians. One of the grand narratives of northern historiography postulates that Ottawa neglected northern territories until mid-century, when defense needs provoked unprecendented intervention into Arctic life. That The Arctic Circle would convene in 1948 to consider a twenty-year-old development scheme may then seem out of place. Building on recent scholarship that challlenges the simplicity of this narrative, I argue that relationships between the government and the north should not be measured with post-World War II characteristics as a baseline. Rather, we must situate manifestations of expertise and development, as has been achieved with the idea of “the North,” in historical, geographical, intellectual, and political contexts. Doing so yields a complex, if more complicated, picture of northern environmental history.

Indeed, as native northerners, scientists, and civil servants made sense of the federal presence in the Western Arctic in the 1950s, they turned to the reindeer for guidance. Like Porsild above, officials in Ottawa found in the animal hope for a happy union among science, enterprise, and government. In contrast, for Inuit in Aklavik and Inuvik, reindeer epitomized governmental exploitation of and experimentation with northern lands and people. Reindeer had not suddenly appeared as symbols of progress or control. Rather, these meanings were imbued in the animals because of a deep history and despite a radically changing present. For those at mid-century and for us today, then, the Canadian Reindeer Project brings into focus textures of northern environmental history that might otherwise be overshadowed.

Using the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Recently, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) asked me to answer some questions about how I use their database for their ongoing blog series of BHL users. If you do anything related to the history of the life sciences, you probably already know what a helpful resource it is. How do you use BHL or similar databases? In the interview, I brought up the fact that I have found it helpful to use hardcopies alongside the BHL's searchable text for some types of sources. Have you had similar experiences? Other reactions to the post?

FYI, they asked me to do this after commenting on one of the BHL's Facebook posts, so it pays to interact online!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Brown Bag (September 23, 2011): Oral History

This week's brown bag was our second at the beautiful new Union South, this time in the Governance Room:

We hear our own Judy Houck and Troy Reeves, of the UW Oral History Project, speaking on the topic of oral history.

Troy started the discussion off by discussing the role of his project: the Curate, Communicate, and Collaborate oral history related to the University. Some of their projects are as recent as the political protests that began this February in Wisconsin and others go back much further, such as the history of the GLBT community in Madison.

Then Judy shared her experience as a "reluctant oral historian" on her recent project on Feminist women's health centers in California. The clinic she is focusing on still exist and therefore have no archives beyond boxes in someone's attic, so oral history is essential for it's content, access to written documents, and for finding futher subjects to interview.

In her own work and through her study of oral history different problems and challenges have come up, such as finding contacts, their reluctance (or alternatively, exhuberance), the difference between documents and memory, the power dynamics of interviewing, what is left unspoken, the ethics of speaking for someone else, conflicting agendas, interviewing people you may not like, and how to deal with "off the record" information as a historian.

Some useful sources and discussions concerning oral history that were brought up include:

Victoria Nourse on Eugenics Laws in 20th Century America

My apologies for posting this late: Here are my thoughts on the first brown bag of the year.

History of science can boast a long standing concern for interdisciplinarity, and, in this spirit of bridging departmental divides, it seems appropriate that our first brown bag speaker should be a guest from outside the History of Science. On Friday, Victoria Nourse, Burris-Bascom Professor from the School of Law, discussed her book, In Reckless Hands (2008), which has provided enlightening social and historical texture to the landmark Supreme Court decision of Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942).

We can assume that Professor Nourse’s research offers fresh insights and challenges to the field of legal history. For instance, Nourse argues that the Skinner v. Oklahoma decision, striking down certain eugenics laws by invoking the “Equal Protections” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, has wrongly been depicted as vindicating individual rights. Characterizing the case in terms of privacy and personal liberties, as many legal experts have done, would be anachronistic even if Skinner v. Oklahoma does seem to resonate with later court decisions advocating these rights, such as Roe v. Wade (1973). Nourse also pulls no punches in her depiction of Oliver Wendell Holmes (a sweetheart of many contemporary legal scholars) as a champion of the eugenics movement and a staunch defender of compulsory sterilization.

In addition to these historical revisions, Nourse also levels a methodological challenge for legal historians to engage in “dirty history.” Apparently in the field of legal history, most historical evidence is drawn from the published pages of court opinions and case law. Nourse is calling for more work to be done on the individual people who successfully brought their cases to trial.
Recalling the grit and dust that accumulated on her fingers while flipping through files in the Oklahoma Historical Society, she explained that the term “dirty history” does not simply refer to the nitty-gritty details of social history, but also the tactile experience of handling documents that have gone unnoticed for decades.

The story of Skinner v. Oklahoma is not simply a legal history, however. It is also a history of science. Nourse begins her book with a quote from the renowned biometrician and founder of the eugenics movement, Francis Galton (1822-1911): “Eugenics is a virile creed, full of hopefulness, and appealing to many of the noblest feelings of our nature” (as quoted in In Reckless Hands, pg. 13). Scientific pronouncements on the heritability of deviant and criminal behavior became the foundation of an argument for control over certain races and social classes. In many respects, Nourse’s is a cautionary tale of what can happen when scientific theories enter into the social, political, and legal arena. It also documents the malleability of certain categories, which, initially, may seem firmly established. For instance, the word “race” itself took on multiple meanings as it was used in the documents that Nourse uncovered in her research. It could be used to identify a person’s ethnicity, but also their social class or gender.

Nourse’s presentation serves as a reminder of the many research opportunities that might be discovered at certain intersections of a society. The dynamic interplay between legal and scientific thought – in the United States and in general – seems to be an area of study that has yet to be fully explored.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Topic Brainstorm!

We discussed potential blog topics at our last grad meeting, but I thought I'd get the conversation going again here. What do you want to see on this blog? Remember this is our blog--all HSTM grads are welcome and encouraged to share ideas and links here!

Here are some things that came up when we talked, plus a few I've thought of since:
  • Summary and further discussion of HoS brownbags and colloquia
  • Ideas for future brownbags
  • How to approach your first journey into the archives (organizing notes, etc.)
  • Using Scrivener (I volunteered to do this one-- should be coming out in the next week or so)
  • Using citation managers
  • Writing grant applications/getting outside funding
  • Brainstorming, outlining, organizing your writing
  • Discuss your current research (a seminar paper, MA paper, dissertation) and get feedback on a problem, or just share a cool primary source
  • Discuss a photo or image
  • Discuss a book or share a reading list (or ask for reading suggestions!)
  • Teaching ideas, experiences, and resources
  • Share what you do in your spare(?) time
  • Just finished/in the depths of some part of the process (prelims, dissertation proposal, job search, etc.)? Share what you learned!
Add to the list of posts you'd like to see in the comments section below, or claim a topic that you want to write on. Some things, like visiting the archives, could certainly be a series with multiple authors.

This is an informal space for sharing ideas in our community. And blog posts are short. Contribute!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Hopefully, we are now set up to feed this blog through an HSTM Facebook page. I'm going to test it with this post before inviting you all!

UPDATE: It appears to be working. If you are a grad (or alum) who happens not to have gotten an invitation yet, please find the page here and join!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Demystifying the Dissertation Proposal"

I thought some of you might be interested in this article on "Demystifying the Dissertation Proposal" at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Two posts? I guess I am on a roll today...

I just signed up for some Writing Center workshops on preparing material for the job market (cover letters, statements of teaching philosophy, etc.). I'm not sure if you folks are aware of all the workshops like this that are available on campus, so here's a round-up:

Maybe I will see you there?

Writing Your Dissertation

If you know me, you know I am not normally a big "self help" literature fan. But over the summer, as I set out with a goal of writing my first two dissertation chapters, I felt I needed some advice managing such a big and emotionally draining project. Several other current or recent dissertators suggested the following three books, which I have found incredibly helpful:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Thanks to Andrew Case for recommending this.)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (And, thanks to Christine Manganero for recommending this.)

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker (Thanks Lynnette Regouby for lending this to me for so long awhile back. I'm now hogging the library's copy, but all of you should feel free to recall it!)

Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones are both directed at fiction writers, but much of the advice still applies. The practical and psychological issues around creativity, self-doubt, and discipline apply equally to fiction and non-fiction writers. Both of these books helped me feel like a writer, not like a person who had to produce a dissertation.

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day is more obviously and directly relevant to the specific process of dissertation writing, from choosing a topic and selecting a committee, to finishing and publication. But this is a book by a psychologist, and it's at its best when confronting the emotional aspects of the process––including sections such as "On Ownership," "On Dissertation Paranoia," and "About Creating a Writing Addiction."

The only drawback of these three books is that they are getting to be quite a bit old. They don't discuss software, like Scrivener for example, that can help organize notes and "shitty first draft" writing. Nor do they address the specific problems of internet procrastination (including wasting time searching for new "productivity" software!).

Nevertheless, they still get at the heart of the writing process and can really help you avoid, or at least deal with, some of the roadblocks you encounter when setting out to write. And, in spite of their very different styles, all three books have the same core message: Make writing a part of who you are. Make it part of your day, every day. If you do this, you will have before you not one huge insurmountable task, but a daily practice (or addiction even!) of writing.

Do you have any other reading suggestions for writers?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Anna Zeide's Dining and Opining

Anna Zeide is a PhD candidate in the History of Science and the Department of Medical History and Bioethics and a graduate student affiliate of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE). In addition, she is an excellent cook who is deeply interested in the politics, ethics, emotion, and eating of food! She has a wonderful blog, that I've just added to our links. Please check it out!