Daily Archives: May 19, 2013

Weekends and life

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed week one of this reading and writing project though I’m thoroughly aware that its ambitious scope is probably in need of a reassessment.  First, other folks who have done similar work – 365 days of reading, quest to read a book a day, etc. – don’t always write about everything.  Second, as anyone who has tried, writing can be difficult.  I don’t mean the kind of writing I do here – this style is not particularly elegant nor, frankly, difficult.  It’s when I sit and scrunch up my face, purse my lips a bit and think about what I want to say about a text that I run into problems, blocks etc.

Then there’s life.  I’ve been able to work through a lot of these texts this week because my daily grind of advising and grading has been slashed, but that doesn’t stop graduation ceremonies, t-ball, first communions, dates with my wife, eating, etc. from getting “in the way” of the book or pen/computer screen.

Also, I did not set any parameters for this project – no rules about how many or how few pages or style of texts.  I fell into a pattern this week of every other book being pulled from the bookshelf while the others emerged from the library collection of potential source books for courses I’m teaching or research.  This decision means a wide range of lengths and styles, some heavy with citations and others completely absent of footnotes.   The Breen text was the longest thus far and was a push at some 326 or so pages.  As a result, I decided that Sundays might be a good day to collect myself, edit or add material to the previous week’s posts, and prep for the next week’s round of books.

Then there’s my preferred writing style which I’m not sure is going to work for this project and, frankly, which I have yet to employ.  I like to grasp a nice flowing pen, preferably some kind of gel ink type, a legal pad, and simply write.  Whatever words come down on the page are fine by me, even if they have nothing to do with the books I’m reading and reviewing.  It’s in the typing that the real edits start, and even then I’m not always that conscientious.  We’ll see if I can get back into this style at some point during the summer months.

A final thought or two should be offered on reading I suppose.  Years ago, when preparing for either grading undergraduate papers or my graduate level comprehensive exams, I got in the habit of constantly reading material whether it be fiction or non-fiction alongside coursework assignments and necessary historiographies, book reviews, and research articles.  The fiction particularly, but some non-fiction news articles, aided me immensely, though on more than one occasion a professor looked askance at me and said “How can you possible have time for that?”  What worked for me was what I called ‘priming the pump.’  I read, say an Agatha Christie novel, while preparing for my comprehensive exams in the history of the American west.  I might read a chapter or two of Christie and then drop it, switching to Patty Limerick or Richard White or Donald Worster.  These books, perhaps challenging in many ways for style, content, etc. almost opened themselves to me – there’s no other way to describe it.  The texts became light and swift to my eyes and I could both read quickly and retain information better, having read the novel(s) first.  Here’s hoping that this summer this old strategy works once more, and that I’ll finally dig into research on reading enough to find out what to officially call my habit.


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Filed under Teaching and Learning History, Writing

Enter the market

T. H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Years ago, I was assigned a reading by Pr Breen that was either “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America,” Journal of British Studies or “Persistent Localism: English Social Change and the Shaping of New England Institutions,” William and Mary Quarterly, or both. Or neither, though I am fairly confident the answer is the former.  At any rate, the author’s name and import in the field of colonial America and the revolutionary period is such that readers of the period should make the point of reading through Breen’s catalogue.

Pr. Breen’s Marketplace of Revolution won the Colonial War Society prize for best book on the American Revolution, a well deserved award for the Yale Ph.D. who has worked for most of his professional career in Evanston, IL at Northwestern University.  Breen’s argument in Marketplace is that English colonists, often from very difference backgrounds (ethnic, religious, etc.) were able to create a commonality and joint purpose based largely on consumption.  Because these individuals possessed shared knowledge and understanding of the greater British economy, they were able to stage political protests against the imperial government.  While the term boycott, as Breen points out, is anachronistic to the 18th century (the word evolved in the 1800s), the effect of colonial actions was the same.   A political movement galvanized English colonists in the context of disrupting economic markets.

Breen argues clearly, throughout this well researched text, that English colonists found their voices through the process of boycotting products.  These goods, ranging from silk patterns for waistcoats to cord and looking glasses among others were all to be found in a variety of shops along the Atlantic coast.  As colonists began putting off the purchase of such goods and the importation of products from the hands of the English a common purpose emerged, joining together colonists who might have otherwise remained disconnected and unaware of shared frustrations.  Long before the Declaration of Independence, argues Breen, Americans were “busily pursuing happiness, a personal quest for comfort and pleasure that assumed that all free colonists had a right to spend their money however they pleased.”  I’ve been well served pursuing this text, and interested readers in the American Revolutionary period would do well to examine it likewise.


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Filed under Teaching and Learning History