Freedom IS Free

“Freedom is not free:” We hear this a lot. In the DC area, we hear it also in in the form of thousands of motorcycles that arrive ever Memorial Day, under the guise of “supporting” veterans and prisoners of war. [1. I’ve never been sure how driving a loud motorcyle around “supports” veterans, but it’s […]

book costs again

I’ve had some very interesting exchanges about “saving the AHA.” Just to revisit the idea, let’s imagine you wrote a very nice piece of very specialized research. The ready audience for the book is probably 1000 people, including academic libraries. Imagine you sent it to the AHA, and they sent it to reviewers who were […]

Saving the AHA

Recently a colleague recommended a book, an academic history, and I went to amazon to look for it. They were charging  $45 for the hardcover, $42.35 for the Kindle edition. I won’t mention the book, or the press, so no one is embarrassed, but I don’t have to–this is an increasingly common phenomenon. It took […]

Technology and individualism

I recently re-read C.J. Chivers book The Gun, a history of the Kalashnikov (the AK-47) and its American-made rival, the M-16. Basically the story goes like this: the USSR produced a weapon of hideous destructive power, an automatice rifle capable of shooting a LOT of bullets very quickly. It was made all the more hideous […]

Academic ethics and material necessity

At one time, not so long ago, access to archives was very scarce. It took time and money, discipline and focus; university affiliation and professional reputation, to get into special collections and archives and even the stacks of the Library of Congress. It took a socialization into a culture, a discipline. An historian would sit […]

The slave and the dollar.

The following is adapted from my book Face Value, which is supposedly coming out in May from the University of Chicago Press. In 1788, an anonymous satirist proposed using the body parts of black people as money, since their bodies were already for sale. To save trouble in “counting or calculating the value of this new […]

Formalism and the article

Getting a Ph.D. is pretty hard. You have to amass a lot of information, but beyond that, you have to learn a specific language–not just professional jargon, but the form of academic discourse. That form is usually casually taught, by experience, rather than formally, as a set of precepts. But there is a form, and […]

The Humane Sensibility

Years ago, I can’t remember exactly where, I read a Norman Mailer argument that cops feel nervous and anxious even at traffic stops not simply because there’s danger, but because at that moment the cop is confronting his fundamental desire to be the criminal. People who go into police work are people who feel the […]

No thing’s any good

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet) “A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.” (Aldous Huxley) With those words in mind, consider the music of Shooby Taylor, “the Human Horn” Stout Hearted Men Lift […]

The Strange Career of King Louie

Millions of kids grew up watching Disney’s 1967 version of The Jungle Book. The most memorable scene probably comes when Louie, the King of the Apes, tries to convince Mowgli to tell him the secret of fire. There are a number of secrets in the scene, it turns out. Here’s the clip: I saw it […]