U.S. Intellectual History Blog

2016: The End Is Near

Next week I will write about the apocalypse; today let’s just talk about 2016, which is – what? – the fifth seal? the sixth trumpet? the abomination of desolation?*

This has been a long, stressful, difficult year, and instead of looking ahead to 2017 with hope, many of us – many more of us than is usually the case, I’d wager — are approaching the New Year with dread.  As bad as 2016 has been, many of us feel that Things Are About to Get Worse.  Not Get Worse Before They Get Better – just Get Worse.

Observations of this kind – about a year being good, or bad, or worse, or (in the case of 2016) downright evil – often inspire a chorus of well-actuallying.  “Well, actually, a calendar year is just an arbitrary division of time; there’s no real difference between December 31 and January 1.”  “Well, actually, people are always dying; 2016 is no different than any other year.” “Well, actually, 2016 hasn’t been the worst year ever; in the aggregate, there’s less violence and death on the planet this year than any prior year in history.” “Well, actually, ascribing malevolent agency to a year is an example magical thinking.”

This is “me at the beginning of 2016 vs. me at the end of 2016.” Seriously.

Well, actually, that’s not a helpful response right now – not helpful to those of us who are in the 2016-is-just-the-worst frame of mind, anyhow.  On the other hand, well-actuallying probably helps the well-actuallyers, so if you need to “well, actually” in the comments, go ahead. We’re all in this together, and we must try to be patient with one another.

But here’s something that might help all of us: reflecting on some of the good things that happened this year. If good things could happen in 2016, good things can happen in 2017 as well.

Here’s a brief recap of some Good Things That Happened Around Here in 2016:

We added two wonderful new colleagues to our roster of regular bloggers here:  Sara Georgini and Peter Kuryla.

We have had the pleasure and privilege of publishing several fantastic guest posts / guest series.  Our thanks to Anthony Chaney, Bethany Nagle, Mark Edwards, John McCaa, Jon Lauck, Timothy K. Minella, Holly Genovese, Randall Stephens, Christopher Cameron, Paul Murphy, Michele Rosen, Jeremy C. Young, Emily Rutherford, David Weinfeld, David Steigerwald, Stephen J. Whitfield, Timothy Nunan (interviewing Robert Vitalis), Matthew D. Linton, Ruben Flores, Wesley R. Bishop, Christian Olaf Christiansen, Drew Starling and Sean Nadel, Michael Schapira, Louise W. Knight, Clancy Smith, Timothy Messer-Kruse, Ravynn Stringfield, Jeremy C. Young (encore), Kahlil Chaar-Pérez, Michael Todd Landis, Mattie Fitch, Kerry Candaele, Kahlil Chaar Pérez (for his series of posts on Lin-Manuel Miranda), Holly Genovese (for her ongoing series of guest posts), Daniel Oppenheimer, Drew Maciag, Mark Thompson, and Jeremy C. Young (hat trick).

I think that’s everybody – but if I somehow missed a guest blogger, please let us know in the comments below.

I know that I speak for all of us regulars at the blog when I say that we are always and truly grateful for the opportunity to share your work with a broader audience and to include as many voices and views in conversation here.  And in all honesty, we’re also grateful to be able to take a break from our own deadlines here and give someone else our spot on the roster for a day.  The rewards of being a “staff blogger” here at USIH are not material but they are certainly real, and we are all glad to be here.  But deadlines are deadlines, and they can weigh on a feller. So thanks to our larger community of writers and readers for helping us keep the conversation going here.

There were a lot of good real-world, real-time USIH conversations that happened in 2016.  This year was the first year that USIH was eligible to sponsor a panel at the OAH conference.  We ended up sponsoring two panels, a milestone in the history of our young but growing organization.

Claire Potter and Heather Richardson, two of my favorite people, meet at OAH 2016

(On a personal note, at the OAH 2016 conference, I not only had the opportunity to hang out with two of my most esteemed mentors in the profession, but I had the privilege of introducing them to each other.  Claire Potter and Heather Richardson had not met in person before, and it was fun to be on hand and help make that connection.  And now that they have met in person – well, look out, world!)

Many of us in the society had the chance to meet and mingle at the well-planned and wonderfully-done S-USIH 2016 conference at Stanford in October. If you were not able to join us there, we encourage you to submit a panel or a paper for the 2017 conference here in the Dallas “Metroplex.” We have already received a few submissions, and we are looking forward to seeing all the wonderful proposals that will be coming in. (Don’t delay; send yours today!)

So 2016 was a Good Year for the S-USIH as a group of colleagues.  And I know 2016 was also a Good Year for many of us individually, in our professional lives and our personal lives and in the overlap between them.  I know lots of you have had great successes and have accomplished some wonderful things in the past year, and it would be mighty fine if you would take to the comments here to share that good news with our readers.  Don’t be shy; let us celebrate with you.  (I know, I know: academics as a social type all desperately long for recognition but must never appear to want it, never mind to seek it.  Y’all, do yourselves a favor and leave that nonsense in 2016.)

In my professional life, 2016 has been a good year.

In February, not two months after I graduated from my PhD program, I signed a contract with UNC press for a book enlarging upon my dissertation research.  I am mighty pleased with that turnaround, glad that I was able to pivot quickly from “former grad student” to “professional scholar.”  For various reasons that I will elide for now, I have not found it easy or natural to regard my intellectual labor as real work, or as valuable work. That was true right through the PhD program. (I reckon I’m not alone in this.)  So being able to negotiate that contract, including a modest advance – the first time I’ve been paid to write something of my own – was not just a professional but a personal validation for me, a validation that has been a long time coming.

I published three pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education / The Chronicle Review – one in May, one in August, and one in November.  (They also pay, and I have a good relationship with my editor, and I’d be more than happy to help you connect if you are looking for a writing opportunity there.)

And I received two gracious invitations to be a guest speaker at a couple of universities in 2017.

On the teaching front, I can say that I successfully survived a trial by fire as a full-time part-time professor:  I taught five sections (three preps), on three different campuses, for two different employers.  As much as I love teaching, I will never work that kind of schedule again —  never, ever. Not for love nor money, as my granddad would say.  I know that many of my colleagues and friends carry heavier, tougher teaching loads than mine was — and not by preference.  Adjunctification — the casualization of academic labor — devalues education and destroys livelihoods and demoralizes people.  I don’t know how to fight it while I’m in it – maybe I can’t. But somehow I’ve got to try; we’ve got to try.

Anyway, looking back on 2016 as the Year Everything Went to Hell in a Handbasket is an understandable perspective here on the last day of the year in what feels like the Last Days. But there are some lights that still shine in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome them yet.

If you have some good news from your own life this past year that you’d like to share, please do so.  We would be happy to celebrate with you.  And if you’re too shy or self-conscious or worried about offending academic norms of modesty to share some of your own shining accomplishments from the past year, please consider using the comments to call our attention to other good things happening in the field, the profession, the wider world of thought and culture.

Go for it; we could all use a good word.  And maybe, when the clock strikes midnight, we can find the last word of the year in this one:


12 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for this roundup, LD. And thanks a million to all of our guest bloggers—including those guests who wrote book reviews and/or participated in roundtables. – TL

  2. Agreed with Tim–thanks to all those who wrote book reviews for us, whether stand alone or with roundtables.

    As for myself, I *really* dislike talking about my accomplishments. I did, however, start off 2016 being awarded as a “Breakthrough Scholar” among the entire Graduate School here at South Carolina: http://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/research/news_and_pubs/news/2016/20160115_2016_BT_Awardees_Announced.php

    Also I was published at a few places, such as *Jacobin,* *The Nation,* and *The Chronicle Magazine.* I was lucky enough to teach The New South as well.

  3. I did the three-campus operation back in 2008 after completing my first Masters; it induced feelings just as you described. I needed the money, but my body could not last over the long haul.

    I love the Kate Mulgray photos (visually, it definitely communicates your message).

    Thanks also for the links to your articles. Maybe someone will do a future post on the arguments found therein?

    If you plan on doing a long-term project on apocalyptic or doomsday modes of thinking, you might find Patrick Sharp’s Savage Perils: Racial Frontiers and Nuclear Apocalypse in American Culture (Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 2007) interesting. . .

  4. Thanks to all for commenting.

    @Tim, I tried to catch all the guest blog posts, but I may have missed some. I hope not! In any case, yes yes yes and thank you to the many guests — at least 35, by my count — who have contributed here this past year.

    @Jeremy, what a fantastic year! Glad for the book, and glad that you toughed out the job search one more year. So happy for you. But I know what you mean about Nov. 8 (and the cascading cavalcade of crap that is following from it).

    @Robert, congratulations on the prestigious fellowship and the growing portfolio of first-rate work. Like it or not, you are a resident public intellectual here. (I like it!)

    @Mark, I have never been so thoroughly tired in my life. I called this my Five-Zero teaching load — teach five, write zero. And I taught five days a week, and drove quite a distance one-way to one of my gigs. I asked for a schedule change from one of my employers, so I am just teaching 4 sections total in the spring, and I’m just teaching on the main campus of the CC, not a distance/dual credit class, so that should help a lot.

    I suppose I’m gathering all the threads from these disparate pieces as I creep my way towards my revision goals. (I got a *lot* of reading and research, and even a little writing, done over the semester break. Have been/will be unpacking some of that at my own blog.)

    As to a long-term project on apocalyptic / doomsday thinking — I think we’re all doing that by default. But thank you for the reading rec — I will look at it for sure. (But yes, I am looking at the particular inflections of apocalyptic doom in the 1980s, from War Games to R.E.M.)

    Also, I made a slight correction to my above post: I have been paid to write before, but it wasn’t my writing. I was the “public relations writer” for a seed company, so I was paid to write catalog copy for different varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers and whatnot, and I wrote press releases about our new varieties and sent them to outlets like The Packer, Onion World, and American Vegetable Grower. (All real publications — I think I may even have a byline in some.) But that was an entire lifetime ago, and getting paid to do that was, it seems to me, very different from getting paid to write a book that has my own ideas in it. Feels different, anyhow.

    I hope more folks will share their good news on this thread, even as the new year turns. There’s lots of neat stuff going on, and lots of people doing good work, and it’s important to signal boost, but also to keep encouraging each other.

  5. What a lovely shoutout, LD, thank you! It’s been a pleasure to write for USIH (more of A Woman’s Work to come in 2017), the Junto, and Smithsonian–not to mention finishing 2016 #withaPhD. I look forward to reading you all more, here and around the web. Huzzah for a new year of making history!

  6. I finished my diss, graduated with my PhD, became a dad, accepted an exciting job offer, moved back to the Northwrn Plains and closer to family, and started writing a book proposal for a couple presses that are interested. It’s been a busy year.

  7. In late spring my co-editor and I were presented with the seriously messed-up copyediting of our essay collection — which we didn’t initially spot. Luckily we caught the problems and — with a lot of extra work we weren’t expecting — we managed to rescue the book. We also found a great image for the cover, and got some money to pay the AP Archive for the license. We managed to complete the page proofs just before Xmas. Stories of Nation: Fictions, Politics, and the American Experience coming out with the U of Tennessee Press in spring!

  8. Hearty congratulations, Dr. Georgini — and many thanks for envisioning and presenting this fine series, “A Woman’s Work.”

    Jason, what a fantastic year — so happy for you, on all counts!

    Martin, warm congratulations on the forthcoming book. We will look for it in the spring.

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