Episode 86 (Finishing Hold)

 

Episode 86

Click on Sheppard’s face for a hum-dinger of a story.

 

The newest episode of  The Memory Palace is out, and it’s a doozy. 

Quick peak behind the scenes: this was actually the first topic I researched for Nate, not Leo the Lion, the MGM mascot to whom you were introduced in March. As you’ll quickly realize, though, this is a far more complicated story, and the complexity only grew as we waded deeper and deeper into the archives. If my memory serves me correctly, I told Nate in one of our first phone meetings that I was really impressed he was taking this subject on, because the more I read, the more I—as an academic—wanted to “run screaming into the night.”

Nate did not run screaming into the night. Instead he put together nineteen beautiful minutes of audio, audio I feel honored to have contributed to in a small way. I hope you enjoy listening to Episode 86 (Finishing Hold) half as much as I enjoyed researching it!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

I Have A New Job!

new job ahead

Way back in 2014, I wrote a blog post about this history podcast I’d recently discovered called The Memory Palace. In that blog post I described the show as “is all the reminder one needs that history can be not just fun, not just accessible, but freakin’ lyrical.”

In the time since I wrote that post, a good bit has changed at The Memory Palace. The show is now hosted by a different podcasting network, RadioTopia. Radiotopia in turn is run by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, which—per the highest of authorities, Wikipedia—is the largest on-demand catalog of public radio programs available for broadcast and Internet use. So, that’s pretty exciting.

The show is also now released every other week. So, that’s pretty exciting.

The show also now has a Research Assistant. So that’s pretty exciting.

That Research Assistant is me.

So, that’s pretty exciting.

Lucille.gif

I am of the opinion that things happen for a reason, which is why I couldn’t stop thinking about a recent episode of The Memory Palace, which ended with a call for applications. The show’s host, Nate DiMeo, was looking for somebody to help him out. Shockingly, putting together narrative history podcasts based on archival work is kind of a lot of work, and he’d been doing it all by himself for all these years (which explains why, in the early days, the show didn’t come out very often). Now that he has an actual production schedule, he needed somebody to help him speed the process up a bit.

The announcement he made on the podcast specifically asked for a Ph.D. student studying history in the LA-area.

I am that thing.

I half-heartedly tweeted at Nate, and then promptly went back to the mountain of work under which I was buried at the time. I’m writing a dissertation, teaching two courses of my own in the next six months, and already do a pretty significant amount of extracurricular work—service to the department and the profession, public writing, and intensive pedagogical training. Adding another thing—even a really cool thing—to that list seemed, well, bat-shit insane.

4.1.2016 2.jpgBut I couldn’t get the damned job out of my head. I finally did the thing I always do when I need to be talked out of a bad decision: I called my mother.

She told me I’d be an idiot if I didn’t go after the job. It was… unexpected.

After that, the process went fairly quickly. I sent in my C.V., and wrote up my various and sundry journalism credentials. I also fangirled out just the tiniest bit… and who could blame me? Not only had I listened to every episode of the podcast (going so far as to post about how much I enjoyed it on my blog), I’d gone to the most recent LA live show. I get the impression that even Nate was a little surprised by how freakishly well I fit the job description he’d put out. Short story shorter, I got the job, and now my name appears in the credits of a podcast I love.

I’d be lying if I said taking on a part-time job is easy, even when—like this one—you can make your own hours. It’s also not a choice for which a graduate student is likely to be commended. My advisor is quite possibly the best human on the planet, and she shares a great many of my political commitments. When I told her, her response was, “I’m of the opinion that’s it’s none of my business what you do with your personal life. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you. Just finish your dissertation.” And here’s the thing: I literally can’t imagine a nicer reaction coming from a graduate advisor, which is, to my mind, utterly hilarious. Ph.D. Comics, take note!

PhDcomics

It’s not easy taking on part-time work in the home stretch of my graduate career, but I’m loving every minute of it. So, from here on out, in addition to posting about my academic work, and the trials and travails of graduate school, I’m also going to be posting episodes of The Memory Palace. My first episode, “Episode 85 (AKA Leo)” came out last week. Give it a listen if you want to learn about the incredibly bizarre, and dubiously fortunate life of Jackie, the second MGM Lion. And let me know if you have any questions about the work I’m doing! I’ll definitely post about MP again, so I’ll tailor my writing to your interests insofar as I possibly can.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello From the Other Side

Hello1

Hello. It’s me. How are you?

It’s been a long time since I last posted on this page, but I have a lot to show for my time away, including my first-ever blog post for the African-American Intellectual History Society (of which I’m a huge fan), my first-ever article for the Coordinating Council for Women in History newsletter (CCWH Newsletter), and a brand-spankin’-new post for Nursing Clio. Add to that four or five fellowship applications, accepted CFPs for two national conferences (fingers crossed for a third!), and two nearly-finished chapters of my dissertation. With a list like that, I’ve got myself a hiatus for which no apology need be offered… she typed halfheartedly.

Just because I’m not particularly inclined to apologize for my time away doesn’t mean I want to stay away any longer. As some of you know, I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions—and “Academic New Year’s” resolutions, for that matter. So here’s my resolution: I’m going to write for SMDS at least once a month (and twice this month, since I already missed January). This goal is born of the realization that there’s only one person I routinely fail to accommodate in my writing schedule: myself. I don’t miss deadlines for anybody else. It’s not uncommon to talk about writing as a form of exercise, and I’m finding that fitness, be it physical, emotional, or artistic—is not a high enough priority in my life.

I’ve got a list of topics I want to write about that’s about as long as my arm, and I look forward to digging into that list over the coming year. Until then, though, I want to thank your all for bearing with me, supporting my non-SMDS ventures as much as you have, and understanding that, to a certain extent, this—posts like this, where I point out the conjoined nature of my successes and failures as a grad student—is what SMDS is about.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The SMDS Listening List: History Podcasts

PART TWO OF THREE:

The Memory Palace

Most episodes of The Memory Palace are ten minutes or less, but packed within that tiny space is poignant prose that often leaves me shaking my head in admiration.

Nate DiMeo, the show’s host and writer, is phenomenal. His work is all the reminder one needs that history can be not just fun, not just accessible, but freakin’ lyrical. Between his NPR voice (he’s done appearances on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace) and his gift for writing, DiMeo is storytelling incarnate.

Nate DiMeo looks literally nothing like the way  imagined him. Great putting a face to the voice!

Nate DiMeo looks literally nothing like the way imagined him. Great putting a face to the voice!

The vast majority of episodes are based in the US at the turn of the 20th century. DiMeo is especially captivated by scientific innovation, and—just like a good professor—he so skillfully communicates his passion that listeners can’t help but share in his awe. Seriously, he did a podcast on the invention of the elevator (a topic that, on its face, I consider exceedingly boring) and did it in such a way that I found it riveting.

If you have children and are interested in democratizing history, I strongly suggest playing an episode of The Memory Palace at bedtime. Nate DiMeo is the kind of writer who can get kids hooked on history.

The biggest problem with The Memory Palace (which, by the way, is part of the Maximum Fun family of podcasts).[1]

is that episodes are incredibly addictive, incredibly short, and released infrequently at best. DiMeo does all his own research and writng, and that takes time. I binge listened to the show during the course of a day devoted to doing all manner of housework, and The Memory Palace managed to make even that, well, memorable. I wish I’d had the discipline to listen slowly, and will probably go back and re-listen to every episode soon.

It’s time to raise the profile of this podcast. Give it a listen, and tell your friends. Art this good demands an audience.

[1] The Memory Palace has since left Maximum Fun. It is currently hosted by Radiotopia, PRX’s podcasting network.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

SMDS Listening List: History Podcasts

PART ONE OF THREE:

STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS

I crawled out from under my rock and started listening to podcasts late in the game. When I decided to give podcasts a try a little over a year ago, Stuff You Missed in History Class was the first one I downloaded.

Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey are truly prolific. They come out with two episodes every week, each of which never fails to reflect a tremendous amount of research. The geographic and temporal range their episodes offer is both remarkable and refreshing. Graduate school is about mastering an incredibly specific topic, and every once in a while it’s nice to climb out of the bubble and learn about a place and time that I’m not required to lecture on. Biography driven episodes are where SYMIHC truly shines, and I especially enjoy listening to the podcast around Halloween, when they delve into spookier fare… historical haunted houses and the like.

I think—as is the case with most of the blogs coming out of HowStuffWorks.com—most listeners only play episodes of SYMIHC on topics they suspect they’ll enjoy. I think that’s a wrongheaded approach, and would instead encourage you to weather episodes on subjects you aren’t immediately inclined to. The podcast has surprised me more than once.

Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Learn more about them at missedinhistory.com!

Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Learn more about them at missedinhistory.com!

Some reviewers have complained about the podcaster’s voices, which—in addition to being rude—doesn’t really resonate with me. I’m from the South (as are the hosts), so I actually find their voices quite soothing, and sometimes put on old episodes when I’m having trouble sleeping. The only downside re: performance is a result of the sheer volume of information the hosts communicate within a single podcast. They have to read their notes, and with any presentation that’s read aloud, that can get dull from time to time. It’s not a big problem for me, but I’m an historian, so I have a really high threshold for the “reading aloud” voice. I’ve also listened to these two ladies talk for long enough that I kind of feel like I know them. Which isn’t creepy at all.

Check out the Stuff You Missed in History Class website by clicking on this image!

Check out the Stuff You Missed in History Class website by clicking on this image!

At the level of content, I have mixed feelings about SYMIHC. The podcast has run for many years, and its quality has varied as a result. Some of the previous hosts had me throwing my iPhone against the wall, but Holly and Tracy seem hip to the cultural turn, and don’t devote a ton of time to worshipping America’s old dead white men. All I’m saying is listen to back episodes at your own risk.

Even with competent and engaging hosts like Holly and Tracy, professional historians might be turned off by exactly same elements that make the podcast appealing to others. It is true that exceptionally few of the topics the podcast covers make it into the average history class curriculum, but I don’t think that the actual approach to history is so radically different from what you’d see in high school: the hosts communicate facts and anecdotes, but don’t do a tremendous amount in the way of analysis. The topics are rarely of a subversive nature, and only rarely does historiography enter the discussion. But that’s okay; SYMIHC isn’t a podcast targeted towards professional historians; in fact, there are more than a couple of precocious young children listening. So yes, listeners sacrifice analysis for thick description but—especially given the medium—I think that’s a feature, not a bug.

In short, I highly recommend tuning in to SYMIHC; as long as you understand exactly what it is Holly and Tracy are selling, you’ll be a happy buyer. (Not that you have to pay for the podcast. You can download it for free. You know what I mean).

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The SMDS Listening List: History Podcasts

INTRODUCTION

This is almost exactly what I looked like when I figured out how to play podcasts on my  newfangled iPhone. Click to see the website the image came from.

This is almost exactly what I looked like when I figured out how to play podcasts on my newfangled iPhone. Click to see the website the image came from.

In a recent post I mentioned that I almost never watch TV anymore. What I didn’t mention is that podcasts have more than filled the television-shaped void in my schedule. I’m something of a Luddite, so it took me a long time to fully understand what a podcast was, and still longer to decide that they were worthwhile additions to the universe. I finally gave in and tried them a little over a year ago; at the time I was walking two to five miles a day, and getting increasingly tired of listening to music.

These days I tend to listen to audiobooks when working out, but that’s because audiobooks represent a break from the ordinary. Podcasts have become the soundtrack to my life. I listen to them in the morning walking to school, in the afternoon walking home, while cooking, while cleaning, even while trying to fall asleep. Thanks to this new habit of mine, I have party-friendly nuggets of information a plenty! (I guess that depends on the kinds of parties you go to.)

Over the next couple of days, I want to introduce you to three of the podcasts in my rotation. All three focus on history, but do so for very different perspectives, and with wildly different results. Not only do I consider myself a better historian for the time I spend listening to these podcasts, their very existence is a reminder that there is indeed a place in our culture for public history. Makes me feel relevant… nay, hip!

So get excited, and get your various and sundry podcast-listening-enabled technological platform devices set to “GO.”

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Truth About Archival Work

The New York Public Library (aka: my home for the next week)

The New York Public Library (aka: my home for the next week). Click to see the website this image comes from.

Tomorrow I’m getting on a plane and heading to New York City for a research trip. I have a lot to accomplish in one (VERY expensive) week in the Big Apple, so I might be less verbose than usual. I hope that isn’t the case though, because—though it would be very easy to forget it thus far—this blog is called “The Six Million Dollar SCHOLAR.”

More likely my posts will be short, moderately successful attempts at synthesizing what I’m seeing in the archive. Like a voice memo, only, you know, not vocalized.

A lot of folks don’t truly understand what historians do, what it actually means when we say we’re doing archival work, so I thought it might be nice to devote a blog post to a discussion of what my archival work looks like.

Majestic much? This is the view from Special Collections. No wonder I keep coming back. Click the image for a link to the website it came from.

Majestic much? This is the view from Special Collections. No wonder I keep coming back. Click the image for a link to the website it came from.

Thus far in my career, I’ve only been to one archive. This is highly unusual for an historian (and within the next month, will no longer be true), but it’s also unusual to have SO MUCH material in one place. I first visited my archive—which is housed in the beautiful New York Public Library—in the winter of 2008. I still haven’t even seen half of what there is to see there. I don’t need to see everything, but my research focus has changed over time. As result, I’ve never seen the same thing twice.

All archives are different. I study ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which means the majority of the sources informing my research come from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I’m not exactly breathing in the dust of ages, but that doesn’t make the work any less exciting.

Okay, who am I kidding, it totally makes the work less exciting. When I get buzzed into Special Collections, I fill out a request form, and instead of getting boxes of old documents, diaries, and assorted ephemera, I get reels of microfilm. Within about an hour of receiving said microfilm, I receive an awful migraine… because microfilm.

And on the seventeenth day, God said, "Let there be migraines!" and delivered microfilm readers unto the historians. And it was bad. Click upon the image for the website  from whence I summoned this foul image.

And on the seventeenth day, God said, “Let there be migraines!” and delivered microfilm readers unto the historians. And it was bad. Click upon the image for the website from whence I summoned this image most foul.

Sometimes I will spend hours staring at material that’s useless to me because I can’t know for sure what reels will hold the information I need. In fact, half of the reason you do archival work is because you don’t know what you’re looking for. You rarely go into research looking for specific documents, and it would be bad practice to cherry pick sources to prove yourself right. So you wade through thousands of pages of stuff, trying to determine what is going to be useful to you later, which pages will be the building blocks of a story you haven’t written yet.

So basically the next week of my life will be spent scrolling. Scrolling and scrolling through less-than-organized reels of stuff, looking for information that will put flesh on the bones of my dissertation. I am actually hoping to look through a couple non-microfilm-filled boxes this time around… in fact, that’s going to be my first stop. Still, the collection I’m using is comprised of an amazing/horrifying 180 reels of microfilm, so I’m resigned to the fact that, instead of hanging out in Special Collections with fancy looking folks and sexy sources, I’ll be in the decidedly less regal basement, staring at a 1980’s computer screen, trying to avoid contact of any kind with my fellow microfilm inmates.

(Last time a creepy dude in sweatpants with a boil on his back—visible through his flimsy white cotton t-shirt—helped me fix my microfilm reader. Then he began volunteering baseball stats, which is apparently what brought him to the Microform Reading Room like, all the time. Then he “gifted” me a copy of USA Today, because I was nicer than all the jerks who told him to stop talking to them. It was… uncomfortable.)

Archival work can be tedious, migraine inducing, and occasionally creepy. So why do so many people want to be historians? After all, there are more of us getting PhDs in the subject than there are jobs in the field. Why, if I hate this so much, have I decided to devote my life to doing it?

Theirs is the story that keeps me coming back to the NYPL. Can you blame me? (Click to be directed to the website I borrowed this image from)

Theirs is the story that keeps me coming back to the NYPL. Can you blame me? (Click to be directed to the website I borrowed this image from)

Because later, when I’m home, I’m going to lay out the hundreds and hundreds of primary sources I’ve gathered, and I’m going to think. I’m going to read—really read—everything I collected. I’m going to remember that the scraps of information I braved migraines and mentally unstable microfilm fans to acquire aren’t just scraps. Not at all. They’re pieces of people’s lives. The anger, the rage, the sadness, the resolve, the hope, all the emotions that fueled ACT UP, will become more real, more palpable. I’m going to remember why this work is work worth doing. I’m going to start seeing connections I never could have anticipated, patterns that may not have mattered to anyone at the time, but that speak volumes about that historical moment in retrospect. I’m going to get ideas. I’m going to realize that I have something to say. And then, I’m going to say it.

No, there’s no Indiana Jones-style action happening in the basement of the New York Public Library. Archival work isn’t like it is in movies. In many ways, it’s much, much better.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.