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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Always room for improvement

Writing is to an historian like math is to a physicist, and no matter how good you think you are as a writer, I tell my students, you can always do better. On this point, the New York Times offers Verlyn Klinkenborg's testimony this morning in his "appreciation" of Miss Gould, the New Yorker's "venerable arbiter of style" who died the other day:
I never met Miss Gould [he writes]. But deep in a box at home are the proofs of articles I once wrote for The New Yorker, and in the margins is the handwriting of Eleanor Gould Packard . . . . I thought I knew a lot about the English language at the time. I had a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton, an old-fashioned kind of doctorate with an emphasis on literary history and textual editing. So it came as a surprise to see those proofs. . . .

I reacted the way I suppose many writers did when they first saw a Gould proof--with disbelief and dismissal. But a writer soon learns to welcome anyone who can offer real insight into the nature of prose, and that Miss Gould could certainly do. I learned from her neatly inscribed comments that even though I was writing correctly--no syntactical flat tires, no grammatical fender-benders--I was often not really listening to what I was saying. That may seem impossible to a reader who isn't a writer. But Miss Gould's great gift wasn't taking writers seriously. It was taking their words seriously. No writer, at first, is quite prepared for that.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, "The Point of Miss Gould's Pencil," New York Times, natl. ed., 2/16/05, A26.

Shall I admit it? I love Verlyn Klinkenborg's writing in the same way that I love Marc Bloch, discoveries in archives, a good mystery, and estate-saling.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Where are the women capitalists?

Harvard Library has just opened a new online collection called "Women Working, 1870-1930." This is the first in its Open Collections initiative, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It provides online access to digitized resources from Harvard's collections on women's work between the Civil War and the Great Depression. The collection currently includes 2,396 books and pamphlets, 1,075 photographs, and 5,000 pages from manuscript collections.

It may give incidental attention to women as capitalists, but, as is true in the academic field of women's history generally, the emphasis is overwhelmingly on women as laborers.

Democracy and corporate governance

An article in the business section of the Times on Sunday profiled Emil Rossi, a California hardware store owner and corporate investor who for some thirty years has been agitating for greater "democracy" in corporations. He reminds me of Lewis Gilbert, "America's corporate conscience" (according to a media account), who was active from the 1930s through the 1950s (maybe longer--I'm working from memory here; for details, check the intro to my book when it finally appears).

What is striking to me as a historian is how severely limited the concept of democracy in corporate governance has been in the twentieth century. Here it means "[t]he notion that the majority of shareholders should rule," which, despite the Bush administration's pursuit of it in the Middle East, the author tells us, "is still treated as a quaint one, at best, in most American boardrooms." But "the majority of shareholders" doesn't mean majority in numbers of individuals, which is how one normally thinks of democracy, but majority of shares. Still, making shareholder resolutions binding on boards of directors would constitute a big step in restoring control by the owners of the corporation--and in that limited sense restoring democracy.
Patrick McGeehan, "The Agenda: No Democracy on These Ballots," New York Times, 2/13/o5, 3:4.

Female authority in the classroom

Want some insight into the "work" of being a female faculty member? Check out Dr. Crazy's post, "Thinking About Authority" (which I got onto via

I once happened to mention to a couple of male colleagues my annoyance at undergraduates, invariably male, who address me by my first name -- a transparent power play, even if they don't always realize what they're doing. My colleagues were astounded that any undergrads would do such a thing; they had never experienced such a thing. Which left me astounded in turn.

New source of higher ed news

The NY Times carries a report this morning on a challenger to the Chronicle of Higher Education,, which was founded by veterans of the Chronicle. It's available online only and is free.

What isn't clear on the site or in the Times article is who is paying for it. "Where did the money come from to do that?" -- it's amazing how seldom people (e.g., students) stop to ask this basic question. Here's an example in a story that appeared, believe it or not, in the newspaper's business section! The article does discuss the Chronicle's advertising revenue, so one might infer that Inside Higher Ed will live off advertising, too. But there are no advertisements in evidence on the site, and its "Who We Are" page lists eight staff members. Who's paying for all this?