I'm lucky to have lots of good colleagues. Smart, down-to-earth, varied in their interests, open to new ideas, available to reason and above all, willing to help. A few have perspectives I particularly value. Carole Fink, for instance.
Carole is everything you want in a professor. She's an accomplished teacher, a terrific graduate mentor and advisor, and a highly visible figure in the profession. The high visibility owes in part to her generous record of academic service. Mostly, though, it's because she's an exceptional scholar.
Her first book, The Genoa Conference: European Diplomacy, 1921-22 (1984) won the American Historical Association's top prize in European international history. Her second, Marc Bloch: A Life in History (1989) has been translated into five languages. Last year she came out with a third book, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938. In between she's published five edited volumes, a translation of Bloch's war memoirs, and numerous articles.
Military historians should especially read the second book. It is the standard biography of one of the twentieth century's most important historians (he helped found the Annales School)--as well as a citizen-soldier (in 1914-1915 and 1939-1940), military analyst (Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940), and resistance fighter (captured and executed by the Gestapo in June 1944).
The other day I dropped by Carole's office to talk about career stuff. I was in a quandary. On the one hand, I'm under contract to write a short book for Oxford University Press on the interconnections between the political and military campaigns of 1864. On the other, it's not a book that will gain me promotion to full professor.
In academe there are three ranks: Assistant Professor (not yet tenured), Associate Professor (tenured), and just plain Professor (you've arrived). To save confusion, the latter are more usually called full professors, or "fulls." The notional reward of promotion to full is a goose in salary. By"goose" I mean less than I already earn each year from consulting and royalties. The actual reward is more departmental, college, and university committee work. By "more" I mean tons of it. So I've never been on fire to become a full professor. On the other hand, I'm terrified of becoming what's known as a "stalled associate." That's an associate professor who stays in rank longer than about ten years. At that point people start to wonder if you'll ever produce the second big book; i.e., a major book that makes an original argument, mainly based on archival sources.
My second big book was originally called Race and Culture in American War-Making, 1832-1902. That seventy-year period offered four different case studies on the intersection between race and war: whites v. Indians; whites v. Mexicans, whites v. African Americans, whites v. Filipinos. Of course, the title didn't sing. Later I hit upon The Wars of the White Republic. Better--but having a good title did not translate into having a good book. Or more to the point, any book.
The book was too big. Editors and grant committees liked the idea of it, but it involved not just four case studies but four massive sets of research. It also involved becoming conversant with a vast theoretical and historical literature on white racism. Basically it was not a book at all, but rather a lifetime project. It took me years to realize that, and a bit longer to face the implications, let go of the book, and find something else.
Still, I learned a lot about the subject area, and when I asked myself what chunk of the project most appealed to me, I decided it was the post-revolutionary period, when a racist order characterized primarily by "white privilege" metastasized into one characterized by hysterical, often lethal levels of racial contempt and hostility.
There were several ways to get at this metamorphasis, but the one that struck me as most workable was a study of the wars for control of the Old Northwest Territory. When those wars began in 1790 (Harmar's defeat), United States policy toward the American Indian was based on assimilation. ("Our blood will mingle together," Jefferson once promised a group of Native Americans.) By the time the final war ended in 1832 (the Black Hawk War), the U.S. had adopted a policy of removal and exclusion. Although it would take longer for scientific racism to stigmatize the Indians, in a political and sociocultural sense the shift to racism had already occurred.
I liked the project because it was manageable--the archives are mostly right here in the midwest--and because we actually need a good, solid military history of these wars anyway. This meant I was guaranteed a book even in the unlikely event my research led me to conclude that the wars had not been a significant influence on the shift from assimilation to removal. In other words, I was in less danger of producing a book that was thesis-driven.
I didn't yet have a cool title for the book. The working title was just The Wars for the Old Northwest, 1790-1832. But I did have a problem. Should I write the Oxford book first--which could mean enduring the dread label of stalled associate--or should I turn directly to the "big" book?
Carole and I hashed this out for over an hour. At first she thought I should start on The Wars for the Old Northwest, both for career reasons and because the topic appealed to her and she wanted to read it. But after hearing me lay out all the issues that had a bearing on the matter (e.g., possibly having to return the advance to OUP), we decided that I should first complete the 1864 book. To signal activity on the big book front, however, I should publish a couple of essays or articles related to that project.
That made sense. It also seemed do-able. I've already got a paper, given at last year's AHA, that's ready for expansion into an article. And the kernel of another article is in a previous blog entry. More on that soon.
PS - Perhaps I could solve my problem just by ordering the OUP book from Amazon.com, where it's already listed as 1864: The Union: Ordeal and Redemption, and as being 224 pages in length. Where's the twilight zone when you need it?