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The digital life

on Sat, 08/03/2013 - 22:26

For my latest article in Humanities, I dug into the history of what we now call digital humanities as the field was just starting. I loved how scholars and dreamers found ways to put computers, also then in their infancy, to use to solve literary problems, solve authorial questions, and dispense with some of the organizational grind. I’ve also been embracing digital tools for my book project, exchanging photocopies for PDFs and digital photos. Adapting to a new process can always be a challenge, as I discovered along the way. 

The company you keep

on Thu, 05/09/2013 - 01:02

It’s been a busy spring and I’ve spent it in the company of two fabulous women. For the January/February issue of Humanities, I wrote about Jane Austen on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Like many female writers, Austen struggled to find a balance between the demands of her family, her purse, and the page. It was also bittersweet to read Austen’s letters chronicling her crush on an inappropriate suitor. From there I jumped 160 years ahead to take a ride on the Lady Bird Special for the May/June issue.

Admirals, poets, and historians, oh my!

on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 02:07

I really enjoyed writing about Barbara Tuchman. First, there was the pleasure of revisiting The Guns of August, a book that I hadn’t read for more than two decades. There are lots of lessons for historians interested in writing popular history to be found in Tuchman’s book: the way she uses a grand scene as an entry point into a complicated story, her ability to describe the people she’s talking about, and a willingness to use big sprawling sentences. Second, I loved getting know the feisty woman behind the books.

Buried under a pile of books

on Tue, 08/14/2012 - 15:40

Oouff. I’m behind on blog posts. But I have a good reason: I’ve been writing up at storm this spring and summer, and all of the essays have required lots reading. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) It’s a good thing that I get excited rather than intimidated by a stack of thick books or a pile of documents.

I followed Gouverneur Morris while he trekked through Central Europe after leaving his post as the American minister in Paris during the French Revolution. Morris was one of those Founding Fathers that I’d heard of, but not done much reading about. When I interviewed Richard

On Brown and Lincoln

on Mon, 01/16/2012 - 01:37

I’ve posted two more pieces that I’ve recently done. The first is a book review of Tony Horowitz’s Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. There are many admirable things about this book, but one of the things that I particularly liked was Horowitz’s willingness to let Brown be something more than the religious zealot that he is frequently portrayed as. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I came away liking Brown—I remain appalled by the disregard he had for the welfare of his family—but I understand him better.

I also revisited the Trent Affair, but this time