Tag Archives: Writing

Re-organizing the paper

Readers will note that I’ve been working on shaping up a conference paper I delivered last January at the American Society for Church History conference for submission to journals.  (See the abstract here.) The writing group with whom I am working this semester has been extremely helpful in keeping my ear to the ground for making adjustments to my piece.  Below is a current proposed “re-organization” model for the paper.  We’ll see how closely I hold to it in these final weeks prior to submission.

Outline draft, Nicholas Aieta, “Listen to Your Father’s above”

1. Purpose of paper
2. Intro to missionaries under discussion – Merrill, Allis (more background here?)
3. Geographic/topographic discussion of Nebraska (human and physical)
A. White historical
B. Physical nature of plains
C. Native inhabitants – Pawnees, Otoe-missouria (extend sourcing here? Difficult given limited quality secondary source accounts on these tribes)
4. Introduction of white-native interactions
A. Traders
B. Gov’t sources (agents, military, treaties, etc)
C. Missionaries – connection with work of gov’t
5. Moses and Eliza Merrill
A. Personal background
B. First Nebraska arrival
C. Work among Otoe-Missouria
6. Samuel and Emmeline Allis
A. Personal background – should be extended?
B. Interactions with Merrill family
C. Work among Pawnees
7. Historians’ debates regarding the work of missionaries (move?)
A. Tinker
B. Fisher
C. Rollings (some comparisons with Osages and work done by Merrill and Allis – move?)
8. Regard for natives held by Merrill and Allis
A. Does this contradict or reinforce historians’ debates about missionary work?
B. Conclusion regarding this study and work of Merrill and Allis (Tinker & Axtell discussed)

Self-Assessment – paper needs significant revision and tightening; if purpose is to use the Merrill and Allis missionary work as an example that fits within larger conversation about historians’ analysis of missionaries among natives, then the purpose section needs reworking; current section 7 should be elevated to earlier in the paper? Background on Nebraska and the native people in general might be lifted or restructured? Make connections between Coleman’s call for more individual missionary studies and what I am proposing here more obvious? Tie the observations about Merrill and Allis to historians like Tinker, Rollings, Fisher,  etc.

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Abstract for ASCH paper re-write

Today’s post is an exercise engaged with the writing process I am following this semester based on a campus writing group and Wendy Laura Belcher’s workbook on creating journal articles.  Submission of the full-length version of this paper is one of my projects for the semester.  Below is a draft of an abstract based on this paper (originally presented at the American Society for Church History conference in January 2014) .  Writing and revising the abstract was an exercise for this week.  What I am posting is abstract 8.0, and I’m  certain it needs some additional revision but hopefully readers can get the gist of the paper from this piece.

“‘Listen to the words of your Father above.’ Ministering the Natives of Nebraska in the early 19th Century”

Christian missionary efforts among Native Americans have both a long history and historiography.  Christian priests, ministers, and missionaries have attempted to convert native people in North America to Christianity for centuries and during the last 50 years or so, historians have increasingly attempted to understand the relationship between such missionary efforts and their impact on native life.  Nearly fifty years ago, Robert Berkhofer demonstrated that missionaries had a tremendous impact on native life and culture, arguably because the main goal of missionaries was to alter that very life and culture.  Thirty years later, pastor and historian George Tinker took this view to an extremely harsh interpretation, stating that missionaries were nothing less than partners in “cultural genocide.”

For native people as a whole, one must wonder, what was the appeal of Christianity or American civilization at all?  How might access to this new faith and/or new products enhance people’s lives in any way? Would, as historian Willard Rollings describes, “individualism” hold a torch of progress aloft for Native Americans and how might one define “progress” in the first place?  In the last thirty-five years, historians Michael Coleman, James Ronda, and James Axtell have all called for fresh examinations of mission history – the former encouraging critical case studies of individual missions and missionary societies.  The latter two, along with Tinker, see missions as culturally revolutionary and seek to focus attention on native responses to such intrusions.  This study seeks to ask questions  about the experience of specific missionaries in the period of the Early Republic and whether these particular missionary experiences fit the model of “cultural genocide” as enunciated by Tinker.

Around 1819 at Fort Atkinson, one of the first Christian sermons was delivered in what would become the territory, and later state of Nebraska. By the 1830s, missionaries such as Baptist Moses Merrill, and Presbyterian Samuel Allis were preaching their message among the Otoe-Missourias, Omahas, and Pawnees. In preparation for his journey, Merrill spoke of his desire to have the Lord’s help in preparing for service, “among these benighted Indians. May we be the honored instruments of turning many from darkness to light.”

Allis arrived in Bellevue after the Merrill family did in 1834 and then moved farther west and served as missionary to the Pawnees until 1845.  After 1845, Allis built and briefly ran a boarding school for natives before returning to the Bellevue area in 1851.  Also in the 1830s, the Belgian Catholic priest Father Pierre-Jean De Smet conducted services and baptisms in the area, chiefly among fur traders, those of French descent, and certain natives who had taken on the Catholic faith.

Men like Merrill, Allis, and De Smet thrust themselves into largely ‘foreign’ environments within the boundaries of property owned by the United States but contested by various native people.  These frontier missions were both probes into native space and extensions of white American culture that differed from trading posts and military encampments.  The missions, and those who ran them, sought to both build relations with native people and, in most instances, challenged and changed native culture. To that end, Allis went so far as to suggest that missionaries who committed to marrying into native tribes would have greater success.  Despite this somewhat ‘radical’ thought, Allis also subscribed to at least one traditional approach. Conversion for natives was more likely to be successful once people like the Pawnees shed aspects of their lifestyles and came to mimic white farmers.

Other missionaries believed that conversion had to come first in order to lead natives to civilization.  Ultimately, disagreements over conversion efforts (style, sect, speed, etc.) led to debates and discussion as to the purpose and intent of white men such as Allis living among the Pawnees and other native people.  In many ways, debates between some of the Christian missionaries and other Americans were more lively than any discussion between native people and missionaries in general.

This is not to suggest that there was not some level of respect for native culture. Allis in particular was an admirer of the Pawnees and their ways of life, even suggesting that native people like the Pawnees had a lot more positive to be said about them then the white settlers who displaced them. Allis pointed out after two winters and one summer among the Pawnees that he had learned aspects of their language and culture in his time living among these native people, but also much about their character as fellow human beings.

Allis and Merrill can be described as both sympathetic to their native neighbors and conversion targets, and still judging from their own world view.  My reading of the experience of these two particular missionaries in Nebraska does not reveal a concerted effort at “cultural genocide” as Tinker might conclude.  To successfully judge the Pawnees, Otoe-Missourias, and New England missionaries by their own standards, as should be done according to James Axtell, is difficult because we are examining a clash of two societies.  This study focuses on the perspective of Allis and Merrill – the views of Otoe-Missourias and Pawnees living near the missionaries are only presented through the lens of their American neighbors.  Here is where Tinker has a point – Allis and Merrill may have been well-intentioned, but their actions still, in the end, could be viewed as causing harm and perhaps, due to conversion efforts and cultural interchange, limit our ability to achieve Axtell’s vision of interpreting native society by its own standards.

I would like to thank a number of people who have aided this project – panel chair Lindford F., panelists Joshua R., Brian F., and the audience at the ASCH session who all provided valuable resources and feedback to the original paper; writing group members Chalet S., Brian C., Cindy G., and Stephanie G. who all pointed out that the “lede” was buried!  Thanks to writing group members Hillary S. and Joe C. as well for help with another matter on the native imagery project!

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Sabbatical synopsis

This fall, I am embarking on the first sabbatical of my academic career. I began teaching twenty years ago in January 1994 as an adjunct at Northeastern University; other than a brief break when I was a non-teaching assistant in graduate school, I have been working. Part of my sabbatical plan for this fall is to engage with historical research and writing in a more regular manner than I have since about 2009. I have been fortunate in engaging with teaching a subject I truly enjoy – the methodology of teaching history – but that coursework, and advising future secondary school history/social studies teachers, has occupied the majority of my time over the past five years.

My application was relatively simple: “I am requesting a sabbatical in Fall 2014 in order to complete research and begin analysis of the ways in which visual culture represent Native Americans in the nineteenth century.” In addition I pointed out that this particular project stemmed from some rudimentary work I did in relation to the National Endowment for the Humanities program in summer 2012 (see blog posts from July 2012).

I have had the great fortune of finding a campus-sponsored writing group this semester as well. A group of fellow faculty and myself are all working through Wendy Belcher’s text on writing articles for publication. I have set the goals of editing a paper I presented in January 2014 on missionaries in Nebraska in the early nineteenth century as well as completing a book proposal based on my research into frontier community development in Nebraska. In addition, I hope to get a draft worked through of this research on how Native Americans are represented in visual culture.

This past Tuesday I re-visited the NY-Historical Society and was delighted to discover a number of sources that will aid me in research and perhaps even inspire a few additional avenues of writing. The bulk of today’s post is focused on writing up what I found on Tuesday, with a few thoughts on the steps I might take from here.

Several pieces from the manuscript side struck me as useful for courses I teach such as Native American History or the United States history surveys.  I quickly made notes on a few items referenced below that would likely require return visits and perhaps photographs.  In some instances, I wrote down quotes that I believe might prove useful as exercises with students in future classes – perhaps providing the students with the quote and some historical context and then working through quick analysis schemes.

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 1

  • 22 August 1710 – brother we are told that the great queen of great brittain had sent a considerable Number of People with your excellency..to Setle upon the Land Called Skokere?, which wasa great Surprise to us and we were much Dissatisfied at the news, in regard the land belongs to us as your excellency has seen yesterday by the instructions which were given by the late Lieutenant Governor John Nansan to Hendrick…dated the 19th of May 1699…
  • June 21 1842 – letter from Quakers referring to Indians invoking the “present evil and destroyer of the human race is whiskey” you cannot prosper in any undertaking without refusing to taste, touch, or handle this unclean thing.  Your white brethren are so well convinced of this truth that a great change has come over them in this respect.  It is considered among them to be unmanly and disgraceful to use firewater…

Years ago I completed a long bit of research on factionalism in the Cherokee Nation from the 1830s through the Civil War period.  I had originally intended to return to this field for my Ph.D. research and then I wrote on other topics but I am always interested in finding new materials – in this case I was able to hold in my hand an original letter written by Principal Chief John Ross!

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 2

  • February 15 1864 letter from John Ross regarding the suffering Cherokees
  • September 26, 1871, office of US Agent for the Cherokees

I was curious about these comptroller records that seemed to indicate how land sales were conducted in lieu of the residents (natives) paying some form of tax.  It’s not a project in which I’m engaged, but it interested me from the perspective of providing some different types of documents for students to work with in class.  The second item had a number of “animal totems” for signatures to represent assent on a treaty agreement by Delawares.  The particular images fell outside the purview of my study in both chronology and type (I’m trying to discern why people outside native culture choose to portray natives in a certain way) but I found the animals intriguing and discovered them on another document.

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 3

  • Comptroller, New York State lands sold in 1843 includes reference to Buffalo Creek Reservation for paying of tax? Total is $26.24
  • Reduced facsimile removed from Charles Heartman auction catalog book? June 11, 1932; treaty from 13 July 1765 featuring animal signatures for a variety of Delawares – deer female?, turkey, porcupine, wolf?, turtle?, possom, buck, fox or wolf?, beaver

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 4

  • Treaty/petition to the legislature of New York 12 January 1788 mixture of names and animal signatures, turtle, fox?, bear? Hendrick Onaghtoron…

My first find in the manuscripts side of the NY-Historical Society came only five folders into the process and immediately at the front of said folder.  It was the type of image I was not surprised to find, being an ad for tobacco products and featuring an image that uses regalia as well as a pose reminiscent of late 16th and early 17th century European perceptions of native people.

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 5

  • West Jersey Press, Wednesday June 23, 1869 ad for JP Grant manufacturer and dealer in cigars, tobacco, wholesale and retail, no 3 market street Camden NJ, ALL goods sold at Philadelphia prices native male leans on barrel and sack, loin cloth and breech clouts, leggings, tobacco Clay pipe on left hand smoking, musket in right, roach atop scalp, necklace of some type with shells?, plug of tobacco at his feet
  • Very interesting translation of Indian interpreter extract from book of town records Salem county New Jersey

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The translations of certain dialects I found fascinating as well and certainly the material from folder 6 I plan on revisiting for a separate project related to missionaries among native people.

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 6

  • Translations of prayers Abenaki, Penobscot

The alleged portrait of Black Hawk was one of the few items I expected to find in this collection and for awhile I thought it might have gone missing from the box.  The sketch is purported to be the work of Dr. Samuel DeCamp, a military surgeon who served in the U.S. Army from at least the 1830s through his retirement in 1862.  The portrait is different from others of Black Hawk (a Sauk chief) I have seen, including a famous George Catlin piece.  The side profile is one such notable issue as is the pronounced nose – whether the work is therefore that of an untrained artist and any less “accurate” a portrayal I can’t say.  I’m curious to dig into this piece more and DeCamp’s background to see whether the claim in the file can be supported.

American Indian Collection, box 1, folder 7

  • Sketch supposedly of Black Hawk by Dr. Samuel DeCamp

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The following collection was a great example of the kind of unexpected stuff that happens when you walk into an archive.  As soon as I explained my project to Tammy K. she immediately suggested I look at the Gosman papers.  It’s the kind of collection I never would have stumbled on with my own efforts, yet because she was paying attention at some point to these documents, they came to my attention.  Young Richard Gosman was between the ages of 11 and 13 when he produced what, in Tammy’s words, were in effect ‘zines of the nineteenth century.  He wrote articles, created the names of the papers, illustrated them, and drew up his own ads for each as well as kept track of volume numbers, etc.  If you peruse my rough notes below, you can see some of the cool observations one can make out of this type of primary source.  As my artist/actor friend Tony W. pointed out – something must be done about these papers!

What’s fascinating to me is the level of work and creativity Gosman placed into his creations – the recipes are likely from his own family kitchen in Long Island City, the most common add is for eggs from the RHG company (him), and there are great stories about seeing a variety of shows at Madison Square Garden.  The images Gosman creates of natives are exclusively those representing native people from the Great Plains, and, arguably, are largely Lakotas.  The young boys and older men are almost exclusively in fringed leggings and shirts and on horseback, often adorned with complex feather headdresses.  As some of Gosman’s drawings appear to be real people, one has to wonder whether he saw their images in programs from Wild West shows or in actual newspapers, etc.  Regardless, this particular collection opens up a lot of possibilities – there is ample material with which to work on the question of visually interpreting native people, but there is also much to consider in terms of the entire project.  Are there other such examples?  I feel as though there are multiple directions for this particular resource.

MS 257, Gosman papers 1747-1932

  • Richard Gosman school composition books
  • Gosman has created these interesting newspaper/club journals that reflect some interests of his (stories, fables, graphic representation) and he also populates his journals with ads, often for an egg producer who bears his own initials!
  • People’s paper January 1887 – article on how to get to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show from Blissville Long Island City to Madison Square Garden: gleasons car for three that would five cents, then the 34th street boat for 8 cents, then the 4th avenue cars for 38 cents if it is two persons and a child
  • Image in back “the Wild West soon to be managed by RHG – two plains Indians on horseback riding in saddles with reins, war paint is applied, fringed leggings and shirts, one native holds aloft a spear and has a long eagle headdress; the other no discernible weapon but feathers in hair;
  • March has recipe for queen muffins – quart of. Milk, 3/4 cup yeast, 2tbs white sugar, 1 tbs butter or lard, 1 tsp salt, flour to make a batter, 2 eggs; set batter leaving eggs out, to rise overnight, beat eggs very light stir into batter, bake on muffin rings on a quick oven twenty minutes; natives on back named Cut Meat, Rocky Bear, Sun Eagle; Rocky is “chief of the souixs” hand drawing a bow, Indian horseback saddle blanket and reins, spear, fringed leggings and shirt, one feather; natives on bottom have necklace, earring, two feathers minimum except rocky bear who has larger eagle feather headdress
  • Reference to PT Barnum show and John L. Sullivan, the boxing elephant? (from a rival circus show run by Adam Forepaugh?), as well as the skeleton of Jumbo
  • July 1887 Sioux boys breaking ponies image no saddles but reins; leggings with fringe at least one feather
  • April 1887 Flies Above and Red Bear; scene at bottom with trooper getting shot by native with pistol; one native down, several on horseback
  • August 1887 Indian fight ad in reference to circus
  • September 1887 how we brought the mail to Cisco features tale told by older man and illustrated with natives firing arrows at stage
  • December 1887 includes Father Christmas modeled after Nast? Long wolf with eagle headdress and earring; Indians running with fringe etc
  • January 1888 – Tim Tooley dying as struck by an arrow; native shot with pistol  one feather fringed sleeves, arrow, “fell like a log from his horse”
  • February 1888 native running no shirt, two feathers fringed leggings
  • Illustrated monthly no date native with eagle headdress on horseback no saddle, reins, fringed leggings, fringed shirt; hunting scene natives watching white hunter they are in background and have larger headdresses; native on back rides away from pistol bearing other
  • Harpers young people 1885 – several illustrations some native people with dogs, etc

Much of the Patriotic Envelope collection has been digitized and you can see some of that collection via a Library of Congress digital exhibit that the NY-Historical Society put together with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

PR 117 Patriotic Envelope Collection Box 7

  • AJ89017 – the school of The Indiana zouve – union soldier zouve but in buckskins, fringed, moccasin, musket, powder horn, dead deer at feet
  • AJ90010 – USA published by car bell hartford, ct – Indian bare chested, breech clout, gun, blanket, necklace with bear claws, feathers overlooking waterfall and pine trees
  • Death to traitors envelope
  • AJ92004 – interesting sunny south our country babe (Hercules?) strangling snake of abolition and holding confederate flag
  • Admiral William T. Sampson image and native above him holding the American flag,  native has necklace and blanket, etc

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PR 117 Patriotic Envelope Collection Album 4

  • Sailor next to native dressed in red blanket leggings, moccasins, holding hatchet, gold arm band, feathers in headband, background has natives in dugout canoes but they are spearing a deer????
  • America? Reclining against shield and with eagle roman type toga and headdress with feathers
  • Wigfall on his promised descent to Washington breech clout, leggings, fringe, tomahawk in hand (reference to Texan secessionist Louis T. Wigfall)
  • Envelope featuring Washington holding a musket and looking on a portrait of himself dressed as roman, Columbia or liberty is with him and there are two natives  one with scalp lock feathersm blanket, breech clout, and other with longer hair, feathers, spear and blanket

PR 117 Patriotic Envelope Collection Box 8

  • Maybe in the future look at folder five as it has some interesting language choices in terms of calling for a “greater” United States Spanish American war era

PR 301 Decorative Envelope Collection Box 1

  • Nothing really in here though there are a few firsts that could be interesting to some people with Olympics envelopes and a series from the White House that lists presidential dates?

As in manuscripts, I was aided in the print collection by some folks who, once they heard what I was looking for, made some suggestions.  The Bella Landauer collection was something I had a vague recollection of from my visit in 2012, but I hadn’t read the finding aid online as yet.  This collection clearly exhibits characteristics of a needed deep read because in two folders alone from one box I found quite a few examples that will prove useful.

PR 031 Bella C. Landauer Collection Series II, Ephemera Box 37

  • Folder miscellaneous – need to examine some dates but this one is worth a deep return visit as it includes numerous illustrations as well as a fantastic pamphlet from Edwin Eastman “captured and branded by the Camanche Indians in the year 1860” which includes a long listing of medicines Eastman learned about while captured; several pieces in German which is useful, and a Cherokee medicines and rejuvenating elixir pamphlet from Dr. Merwin and Company
  • Folder Kickapoo – “the Indians as a race, represent the embodiment of perfect health.  From the time the pilgrim fathers…”

All in all, it was a profitable visit and one I am likely to soon repeat so I can take more time with the collection.  Along with looking at these objects directly, I’ve been reading a variety of secondary sources to help contextualize the images I’m looking at in this archive and others I hope to visit this fall.  Meantime, you can find me on occasion near 79th and Central Park West, hanging with Frederick Douglass or perhaps Abe Lincoln.

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The Mini Saga exercise

Several years ago I chose to assign Daniel Pink’s  A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainer’s Will Rule the Future to my budding secondary history/social studies instructors.  Pink’s thoughts on slightly different ways to think about the world are not necessarily “new” nor unfamiliar to some of my students.  In addition, the ideas are not, strictly speaking, related to education, yet I found the text generated the most consistent discussion in class (for good or ill).  A close second, in terms of sparking conversation, remains John Arnold’s good History: A Very Short Introduction, particularly when pushing students to think more expansively about history in general.

Whole New Mind offered some intriguing exercises that I found helpful in getting students to think about teaching and education from slightly different angles.  Pink divided the text into section on themes like empathy, symphony, play, and story among others.  Each section included a “portfolio” section that made suggestions for the reader to continue exploring the theme either through the internet or on ones own.

In “story” I fell for the mini saga exercise described in the portfolio.  A London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, had run a contest a number of years ago asking writers to submit tales in 50 words – no more, no less.  I’ve adapted this exercise for the classroom, giving students ten minutes or so to develop a 50 word mini saga on a particular historical topic, biographical portrait, or concept. Most students choose a person or event – in addition, they find the exercise both challenging and entertaining, particularly as each class begins to chew on words a bit, frantically counts words, edits, curses a bit, etc.  I participate as well, typically choosing an event or person I know well, and attempting to capture the essence of the story or person in that small amount of words.

I explain to students that “writing small” is a massive challenge, yet a good exercise in which to engage as it will help them in their own classrooms.  If you can’t break down events, I argue, into small, consumable bits, you cannot effectively reach students and string together a lesson that will make sense and create connections across the class period.  In addition, it’s a great academic workout for students who struggle with longer essays and can serve as a substitute assessment for students who are acquiring both social and academic English language skills.  While the purpose, ultimately, is to craft a great piece with good syntax, sometimes, getting students who won’t (or can’t) string together three paragraphs, to write even these small 50 word stories is enough to get a sense as to understanding and retention.

I’m way over 50 words in my explanation, so I’ll close with one of my essays from an earlier semester – see if you can figure out what historical story I’m telling!

The people before them were unlike their nation yet perhaps they could be useful?  In addition, they appeared so weak as to not be a threat of any kind.  Striking up a conversation, such as it was, could not be too dangerous?  In this second year, all people must share.

Final note – if you’re hoping to get students to have fun while learning a few habits of grammar (including picking on my 50 word mini saga for its lack of pronoun specifics) check out Weird Al’s Word Crimes:

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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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