Pardoning an Underground Railroad conductor; whistling Dixie; Mary Todd’s unfair rep; improving academic conferences; academia’s lack of ideological diversity; digging for Nefertiti


hith-Samuel_Burris

Pretty cool story here: the governor of Delaware has just formally pardoned a free black man named Samuel Burris that was convicted 166 years ago of working for the Underground Railroad. In addition, a new monument to this brave champion of liberty is soon to be erected. These kinds of efforts may seem empty and hollow after 166 years, but they strike me as one of the best ways to combat Lost Cause iconography.

There are a couple of good new essays from We’re History. One is from last week, (but I failed to post because it came at the end of the week when I was feasting on Halloween creepiness) and is by Christian McWhirter (author of the brilliant Battle Hymnson the subject of Daniel Decatur Emmett and the irony of his hit song “Dixie” becoming the de facto national anthem of the Confederacy. The other one appears today, and is from the esteemed historian Douglas Egerton writing about Mary Todd Lincoln and the unfair treatment she has often gotten from historians. Both are great reads, which is what we have come to expect from We’re History.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not a big fan of the big academic conferences (although I have had great experiences at smaller ones,) so I read with interest Megan Kate Nelson’s recent thoughts on how to make the conferences better. She has some good ideas here (especially about dropping the paper commentators), to which I would add only one thought: do away with the job interviews that bring so many stressed out people to the conference (including myself at times). This is the age of Skype, after all!

And while we are on academia, did you see this story about a new research report that argues that there is a lack of diversity among our higher ed academic departments? Not enough minorities? Nope, they argue that there are not enough idealogical conservatives, that there is a bias against scholarly conservatives, and that departments won’t hire them. The reason this needs to change, they insist, is that “Improving ideological diversity is not a fundamentally political undertaking. Rather, it is a question of humility. Proper scholarship is based on the simple virtues of tolerance, openness and modesty. Having people around who think differently thus improves not only science, but also character.” I imagine that this article is going to get blasted, but I can’t disagree with that concluding statement.

Remember that story about some archeologists that believe that King Tut’s tomb may also include the intact tomb of Queen Nefertiti? Others have disagreed, but it looks like the search is going to start over the next few days. If they find what they are hoping for, this is going to be a big deal.

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