Chpt 1/Day 2: Rearranging the Mental Furniture

I had a pretty good day yesterday, considering the fact that it was a million degrees and so humid that blinking caused me to break into a sweat. It was gross. I spent most of the day holed up in the study hovered over the air conditioner. I did a lot of blogging – I had to catch up on what everybody was doing after all my time away. It is amazing how fast time moves in the blogiverse.

Then, in the afternoon, I could stand it no more, so I took myself to the local Evil Corporate Bookstore with Embedded Even More Evil Coffee Company because they have wicked cold air conditioning. It was yummy. And the Iced Decaf Mocha I had wasn’t bad either. I was really, really productive. It was some kind of alchemy of cold, coffee, chocolate, and screaming children that did it, I guess. (Seriously, not to gripe because I don’t have kids so lord knows what the hell I would do in this situation, but there was a child who was seriously screaming at the top of his lungs, and his mother just walked around the store and let him follow her around. It was like she didn’t want to even acknowledge that her kid was in hysterics. Maybe it was a bold parenting strategy. But, as I saw her take her 9th or 10th lap past the coffee shopish area, I was tempted to buy the kid whatever the hell he wanted to get him to stop screaming. The Complete Harry Potter Collection? Grande Mochachino and Super Deluxe Enormous Brownie? Big Bottle of Bourbon? Eh, kid? What’ll it be?)

So, here is what I did when not watching the Screaming Child 500: I sorted through all of the existing material I have for the Intro, for Chapter 1, and the stuff I cut from Chapter 2. It was really great. I laid out a plan for what has to happen next, and was sort of surprised that it was all clear in my mind. I think that what I am going to do is to turn chapter 2 into the Chapter Formerly Known as Chapter 2, a.k.a. Chapter 3. Then, I’’ll take the stuff I cut from that chapter and put it into the New Improved Chapter 1. THEN, I’’ll take half of old chapter 1 and turn it into the New Chapter 2, plus some stuff I had cut out earlier because it didn’’t work with my old organizational schema but that I was really sad about having to cut.

After I had worked all of this out, I kind of got a bit terrified about what I was up against, and so decided it would be a good time to call it quits. (And besides, the 500 was over. I think the kid won.) Then, I went and got Spousal Unit from work. We went home and had leftovers so that there was absolutely no creation of any additional heat whatsoever from the kitchen. We spent the evening together huddled around the air conditioner. He worked on MatLab and I sat on the floor surrounded by 15 different Intro textbooks completely overwhelmed by trying to decide which one to use in my course this fall. As far as I can tell, they’re all totally alike and completely different at the same time. I’m kind of daunted at the thought of shaping young minds by my book choices. Even if they won’t really read what I assign anyway, I still have to decide if I want to emphasize the experience of American unfree workers, Native Americans, women, or dead white men with funny wigs. It is sort of overwhelming. Any suggestions?

Anyway, my new dissertation organization looks like this:
New Chapter 1: The Politics of Reconstruction
New Chapter 2: “The Doctrine of our Fathers:” Reconstructing the Family Politic
New Chapter 3: The Rights of Manhood
New Chapter 4: “Awakening the Public” or “Blocking the Wheels?” Woman Suffrage Petitions and the Politics of the Fourteenth Amendment
New Chapter 5: The Racist Turn

I just noticed that almost all of my chapter titles start with ““the.”” Oh well. Something to deal with later.

So, today, I am going to dive into the New Chapter 2. Today, I’’ll do a little reading and start in on the new intro. Later in the week I’ll do some serious hedge trimming on the old material. Maybe this time it will be less like clear cutting and more like topiary. Hopefully I’’ll end up with a chapter and not a giant hemlock dog when it is all said and done.

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11 responses to “Chpt 1/Day 2: Rearranging the Mental Furniture

  1. Wow — what a trick. You completed Chapter 3 without lifting a finger! Seriously, I think structure is the biggest hurdle to someone as obviously creative as you, so having such a clear roadmap is great progess. I think I will meditate on the possibility of structure being a positive tool. (It always looks like a trap to me!)

  2. i agree. re-organizing a paper can make it so much stronger. i don’t often see it myself, though. and when someone suggests a little re-shuffling of sections or paragraphs, i think, “how briliant, this is better! why couldn’t i see that?”.

  3. As they say.. long-time reader; first time writer.

    Hopefully, this won’t seem too nitpicky…

    By modern standards, weren’t all (or most) 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s white Americans “racist” even those who were more progressive on African-American rights?

    Without having read any of your work… might I humbly suggest a more descriptive title for chapter 5, along the lines of:: The White Supremacist Turn; or The Abandoment of Black Rights; or The Segregationist Turn?

    As a scholar of race relations in the late nineteeth century, one of my pet peeves is the use of the word “racist” to describe nineteenth century attitudes. This word – especially retroactively – has been so overused as to mean almost nothing yet everything all at once.

    Just a small suggestion/comment/rant. Good luck finishing!

  4. Hey, if you DO end up with a hemlock dog, I’m all about it. Feel free to send it my way.

  5. New Kid on the Hallway

    The whole planning/restructuring thing (which is what I’m doing now too) is simultaneously exciting and terrifying – it’s so exciting to think, Hey! I can see now how I can make this completely better! – but then it’s terrifying to think you have to follow through on it!

    On a completely different topic – a fellow iced decaf mocha afficionado! (It’s the only coffee I ever drink. :-D)

  6. Anon – Welcome, and thanks much for the comments. I absolutely agree with you that the term “racist” gets thrown about without much precision, and often serves as an ahistorical judgment of people in the past, substituting for a rigorous analysis of what past attitudes about race were and how they created and maintained systems of power. “Racist” certainly was not a term that nineteenth-century Americans used. In my sources, the word I have seen to refer to people who were judged to have gone too far on the scale of racial prejudice was “negrophobic.” And, as you rightly point out, there were very few nineteenth-century white Americans who did not harbor ideas about race that were problematic, at best. In the primary sources I work with, even those who advocated some measure of racial equality among whites and African-Americans were uncomfortable with ideas about “social” equality, and vehemently rejected any kind of equality between Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and white Americans.

    I haven’t talked about this last chapter much in the blog mainly because I haven’t gotten to revising it yet. In it, I am attempting to carefully analyze the way that race-based systems of power are created and perpetuated through language. To do this, I am discussing how a group of privileged white women social activists adopted racialized language to create power for themselves at a critical political moment. This choice cost them their alliance with most white advocates of a comparatively more egalitarian racial vision and with most African-American activists. In this moment, I argue, they deliberately and explicitly chose to “play the race card” in order to capitalize on the power of their whiteness, and unfortunately, they did this in the name of gender equality.

    I had opted to use the word “racist” here because of its impact, and, essentially, use it to make a judgment because traditionally most historians (with a few critical exceptions) have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge this group’s use of race to advance their own power. I wanted to, essentially, lay the smack down on this issue. Woman suffragists hold a hallowed place in the literature, particularly among women’s historians, who I have found to be hostile to (or at least uncomfortable with) the idea that the “feminist foremothers” made some pretty reprehensible choices in their early campaign for (white) women’s equality.

    If the last chapter was about the “redemption” of the South, or the resurgence of white supremacy in the post-Reconstruction era, I’d totally be with you on the title. But, as it is, I had thought to shake things up a bit and to declare definitively that these women were using white skin privilege to advance their own power at the expense of others, particularly African-American women. I will keep thinking about it, though, because my use of the term may be ahistorical and imprecise. Thank you so much for the reminder to be historically rigorous, particularly on this issue that is quite central to my project. In the next few months as I get to this chapter, I will keep these thoughts in mind.

  7. NK –
    Iced Decaf Mochas are the closest I can get to a milkshake and still think I’m virtuous because I’m not actually having a milkshake, I’m drinking coffee. 🙂

    I loved your post a while back on what that says about me from the Starbucks Oracle: Yes, I readily admit it, I am a freak. I also often order it with skim milk. Which, is even more ridiculous. What is the point, really? No caffeine, no fat, sheesh. But again, I say think Milkshake….

  8. Yeah, loved the Starbucks Oracle, too.

    Regarding the screaming kid’s choice, I’d go for the Super Deluxe Enormous Brownie.

    I think if all your chapter headings start with “the” it’s pretty cool. Kind of a pattern.

  9. New Kid on the Hallway

    Yes, definitely skim milk! And I skip the whipped cream (as lame as it sounds, I just don’t like whipped cream, except sometimes on fruit when it’s the real deal). One of the guys at the local coffee place just looks at me like I’m nuts when I order this. 😉

  10. NK-
    We are clearly the same person. I always skip the whip. I am particularly picky about my whipped cream. It has to be Real whipped cream made at home with powdered sugar and bourbon and vanilla or nothing The stuff that comes out of a can is just not worth bothering with.

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