Apr 18

Collection of Postcard Greetings from Houston, Texas  (by Boston Public Library)

Collection of Postcard Greetings from Houston, Texas (by Boston Public Library)

(via Texas Slave Narratives | Ben Davis)

(via Texas Slave Narratives | Ben Davis)

Apr 09

Stephanie Camp

The Rice University History Department has posted a statement expressing the grief that many at Rice are feeling at the news of Stephanie Camp’s recent passing:
Professor Stephanie Camp, a former associate professor in the History Department here at Rice (2008-2010), passed away April 2nd 2014 from a year-and-a-half-long battle with cancer. Although Professor Camp was only with us for two years before she returned to the University of Washington, she made an impact as a member of our Rice family. Professor Camp was a leading scholar of mid-Atlantic slavery, gender, and the American south. In addition to being valued in the discipline, she was a dedicated colleague in her home department, a beloved faculty affiliate of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a dedicated mentor. She worked with many graduate students here at Rice in various capacities even after she returned to UW, and after she became ill, right up to what turned out to be the last weeks of her life. She was a fantastic colleague, a great intellectual and wonderful friend. She will truly be missed.

The day after Stephanie died, I spent much of the day looking back over our past email conversations—a modern mourning ritual that is both consoling and heart-rending at the same time. Consoling, because an old email from a friend who is gone looks just like a brand new email on the screen. It might have been sent today, from all appearances short of the date in the header. But that makes the pain of seeing it more immediate and painful, too.

Stephanie and I both joined the history department at Rice in the fall of 2008, so we learned to navigate a new institution and city at the same time. Scattered in my archived e-mails are memories of Stephanie emailing to ask me, a native Texan, what to expect from the rodeo. There is the snapshot she took of my two-year-old daughter at an election night party held at a colleague’s house, and a message expressing the joy mixed with suspended disbelief we all shared the next morning after Barack Obama’s election. And there is the invitation to the cookie decorating party she hosted for the department’s kids.

But most of all, what I found in my email were constant reminders of Stephanie’s support for me as a junior colleague struggling through the completion of a book and beginning to find my way in the profession. The impact of Stephanie Camp’s scholarship on the history of American slavery will rightly reverberate for a long time, as I was reminded again when teaching Closer to Freedom to my undergraduates this semester. But if my experience knowing her is in any way typical of the experience of others (and the outpouring of grief on Twitter and Facebook suggests that it is), her impact on the historical profession will go far beyond the pages of her scholarship. For she was also an extraordinary colleague who taught me a great deal about what collegiality means.

I could point to many examples here, from her encouraging handwritten note about my early draft of a book chapter, to her going out of her way, as a senior colleague, to attend OAH panels in which I was presenting a paper. But the example that stuck out to me last week, as I perused through my email, was one that she sent in October 2008, not long after we both came to Houston.

At that time I had agreed to share a rough draft of what became an article on John Brown of Harper’s Ferry with a small faculty writing group. But as the deadline approached, I was finding the writing impossible and began losing sleep over the prospect of presenting the little that I had to a group of brand new colleagues. With a stomach in knots, I finally decided to send a rambling, angst-filled mea culpa to the writing group, explaining why I had come to think that the article I was working on was really two articles, and needed a major reworking from the ground up.

Not more than an hour later, Stephanie replied:
Dear Caleb,

It sounds like you are deep in the trenches of revision & rethinking. I was looking forward to reading your work & will continue to look forward to it—whenever you are ready. Good luck with your work.


Even today I can remember the blessing that this email was at the time, and the relief it gave me from the typical writer’s depression into which I had sunk. Though brief, it speaks volumes of the person Stephanie was—a brilliant writer who never lost or failed to express her empathy to those for whom writing was more of a struggle, a sensitive colleague who knew exactly what a junior scholar needed to hear, and a valuable friend.

She will not be replaced, but I will try to emulate the lessons she taught, and hope, in that small way, to keep her influence and memory alive in the profession she loved.

Mar 04

Currently on repeat at my house.

Currently on repeat at my house.

Feb 25


Feb 07

“This advice is half-joking, but only half. For Auden is reminding his Harvard audience that all the official apparatus of the university is extraneous to its highest purpose, which is to cultivate freedom and inwardness. It is a message that still needs to be heard today, when the expense of higher education forces so many students to look at it as an investment, rather than an adventure.” — Adam Kirsch in A Poet’s Warning | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2007

Feb 06

Useful advice from Cornell historian Ed Baptist about how to read and understand the WPA Slave Narratives:

@KidadaEWilliams @cliotropic I discuss my techniques for reading WPA a bit in a chapter here 1) read ALL of them

— Edward Baptist (@Ed_Baptist) February 5, 2014

@KidadaEWilliams @cliotropic 2) think with your brain (!) i.e. assume the interviewees are smart and using strategies

— Edward Baptist (@Ed_Baptist) February 5, 2014

@KidadaEWilliams @cliotropic3) attend to statements recorded against interviewers’ interest 4) don’t think you are smarter than interviewees

— Edward Baptist (@Ed_Baptist) February 5, 2014

@jmjafrx @KidadaEWilliams @cliotropic Read them all so you “get” the strategies, understand them as window on long process of talking.

— Edward Baptist (@Ed_Baptist) February 6, 2014

“Mr. Hancock recounted, for example, one extraordinary moment in Stockholm in 1967, during a performance by the quintet. “This night was magical,” he remembered. “We were communicating almost telepathically, playing ‘So What’”—one of the group’s signature pieces. “Wayne [Shorter] had taken his solo. Miles was playing and building and building, and then I played the wrong chord. It was so, so wrong. In an instant, time stood still and I felt totally shattered. Miles took a breath. And then he played this phrase that made my chord right. It didn’t seem possible. I still don’t know how he did it. But Miles hadn’t heard it as a wrong chord—he took it as an unexpected chord. He didn’t judge what I played. To use a Buddhist turn of phrase, he turned poison into medicine.”” — The Genius of Miles -

Feb 05


The Haitian Declaration of Independence disappeared in the 19th century and was considered lost for over a hundred years. This is the remarkable story of how it was found - as told by Julia Gaffield, who discovered it. 


The Haitian Declaration of Independence disappeared in the 19th century and was considered lost for over a hundred years. This is the remarkable story of how it was found - as told by Julia Gaffield, who discovered it. 

Feb 03

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” — Flannery O’Connor (via amandaonwriting)

(via profkew)

Jan 24

“Again and again, Word is defeated by the basic job of contemporary writing and editing: smoothly moving text back and forth among different platforms.” — Microsoft Word Is Cumbersome, Inefficient, and Obsolete. It’s Time for It To Die.

Jan 23

“Do digitized images carry ghosts? Is haunting doubled and complicated by the conversion of memory into property?” — "Slavery, memory, property" by John E. Drabinski

Jan 21

via @captain_primate

via @captain_primate

Jan 20

Not always the case, but … (via xkcd: Automation)

Not always the case, but … (via xkcd: Automation)

Jan 10

“Humanists and scientists alike, trained in the language of survey research, tend to ask of data sets: “Is it a representative sample?” I doubt there is a single dataset of interest to historians that is. But while attempting to normalize away the biases in a sample is the best scientific solution to the problem, the humanistic approach is to understand a source through its biases without expecting it to yield definitive results.” — Sapping Attention: Reading digital sources: a case study in ship’s logs