I worked at the museum yesterday. IT had to install a new program on my work MacBook, which they should have done weeks ago when they had it to fix another problem, but our IT people are not the smartest group I’ve ever come across. Anyway, yesterday should be my last day working on campus until February. I will be working from home for the time being. A few weeks ago, the university sent out a directive that said if anyone goes out of state, even for a medical appointment, they would not be allowed to work on campus until after students return. Our students will return around mid-January but will be in quarantine for two weeks. During the quarantine period, no one but essential personnel will be allowed on campus, meaning only those who are there to take care of the students’ needs.
On Monday, I am going down to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire for my next set of Botox injections for my migraines. Because of this, I cannot return to campus until the student quarantine is over on February 1. The State of Vermont has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering Vermont from another state, but the state waives the 14-day quarantine if you leave for a medical procedure. The governor understands that a lot of Vermonters go to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for medical appointments. I am very glad that I don’t have to shut myself up in my apartment for 14 days and not be able to venture out for anything.
The Botox injections can’t come soon enough. This tooth that I have been having problems with has been causing me to have some pretty bad headaches. With the combination of the Botox injections on Monday and my dental appointment on Wednesday to finish dealing with this tooth, I hope this time next week I will be headache free again. Yesterday it was rough being at the museum because I had woken with a headache, and it never improved. I eventually just went to bed early last night.
With Vermont having a surge of COVID cases, we are under a new set of restrictions. My museum has once again closed to the public. Technically, we are open for appointment only, but no one all semester has requested an appointment. I don’t expect that to change between now and Wednesday when students leave for Thanksgiving and will not return before the Spring semester begins. Our little town has been pretty safe throughout the whole pandemic, but now we are at the epicenter of the outbreak. The larger towns around us have been reporting more and more cases each day.
Most of this week has been spent watching the virtual New England Museum Association (NEMA) Conference. It was supposed to be in Newport, RI, but that changed because of the pandemic. I had been looking forward to spending some time in Newport. I became fascinated with it watching A&E’s America’s Castles. Do any of you remember that show? I loved it. I’ve always wanted to see the famous “cottages”: The Breakers (Cornelius Vanderbilt II), Chateau-sur-Mer (the Wetmores), Miramar (the Wideners), Beechwood (the Astors), Marble House (Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt), Rough Point (Frederick William Vanderbilt), and The Elms (Edward Julius Berwind). I’m particularly interested in seeing Chateau-sur-Mer because I’ve done extensive research on the Wetmore family because of two paintings the museum owns that came from the mansion. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over by next November, and NEMA can hold their conference there in 2021.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Oral History Association conference virtually, and it was a good experience. I have not been able to say the same for NEMA. The sessions have been lackluster. The only session that I found interesting was titled “Coming Out and Inviting In: Case Studies Interpreting Queer History.” It centered around historic house museums and interpreting LGBTQ+ stories associated with the houses. I attended because I found it interesting, not because it had anything to do with my job.
One of the people presenting was from the Gibson House Museum in Boston. The museum was founded by Charles “Charlie” Hammond Gibson, Jr., a writer, a preservationist, a gay man, and the last resident of 137 Beacon Street. I had heard about this museum before and have always wanted to visit. They give a specialty tour called “Charlie Gibson’s Queer Boston,” which explores the Gibson House and the gay subculture of early-twentieth-century Boston through Charlie Gibson’s eyes. It looks like it would be a fascinating tour. Once this pandemic is over, I want to take a trip to Boston, especially to take this tour.
Thankfully, today is the last day of the conference. There is one more LGBTQ+ session which I will watch, but the education and programming session have all been disappointing. Then it will be back to working from home. I will be off the Monday after Thanksgiving for my birthday, and then two weeks after that, I go for my next Botox injections for my migraines. Since I have to drive into New Hampshire for the procedure, I will not be allowed back on campus until students are back in the spring, per our provost’s instructions. Even though it is just a few miles over the border, she was explicit that if we leave the state of Vermont for any reason, even for a medical procedure, we would not be allowed back on campus before the students return.
Yesterday’s conference sessions were really interesting. Yesterday was a pretty good day all around. My lunchtime program for the museum with our guest speaker went very well. This was my first time hosting a virtual event like this with another speaker. I introduced the speaker. I had written a nice introduction if I do say so myself. The speaker gave a fascinating talk on women warriors through history, and when it came time for the Q&A portion, I came back on the screen and acted as a moderator, having some lovely banter with the speaker. All in all, I don’t really think it could have gone any better.
The only hiccup in the day was that for some reason, the desktop computer in my office would not let me load the conference webpage, but that wasn’t too bad because it meant I had to go home early and participate in the conference on my laptop at home. I will be leaving early today to do the same thing. Today’s sessions are not as attractive as yesterday’s, but they may surprise me. Today, there is one on publishing books based on oral histories and then a session on museums and oral histories. The plenary session (a session of a conference which all members of all parties are to attend) will be a live oral history interview, which might be interesting, but we will see. I’ve watched people conduct oral history interviews before, so it might be interesting to see someone else’s techniques.
The thing about all conferences is that in the conference program, they list all of the sessions with a title, a description, and a list of the participants. As a general rule, you can only count on the list of participants being correct. Session titles and descriptions never convey what the session is actually going to be about because when you propose a session, you send in an abstract. Then you have basically until the conference to write your paper. I think most people who have ever written anything will say that the end product is rarely what you initially imagined it would be. At least, that is how it is for me. Even with these blog posts, they have a life of their own once I start writing. My first session yesterday was like that. The description didn’t convey what the session was about, and it ended up being about highly technical issues, which quite frankly went over my head. I should have realized that because I have seen one of the speakers present numerous times, he is always over my head with the technology and programs he is discussing.
The other session, though, was one of the few that lived up to its description. I was about the Human Rights Campaign Oral History Project at Columbia University. Something happened at the beginning of the session that surprised me and probably would not have occurred if it had been in person and not virtual. I logged onto the session a few minutes early so that I wouldn’t miss anything. I did not expect that the lead facilitator for the panel would start up a conversation with me. It caught me off guard, and I had to scramble to turn on my microphone to answer him. We had a friendly little chat as everyone was setting up and getting ready. He also later gave a fascinating talk using some of the oral histories from the HRC project. If this had been an in-person session, I would have come in, sat down, and probably busied myself with my phone waiting for the session to begin. I have struck up conversations with someone sitting next to me at these things, but I have never had one of the presenters strike up a conversation with me. The exciting thing is that I would love to work on this oral history project about the HRC, especially if they were to delve into the campaign to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With my oral history and military history background, I would be well suited for that aspect of the project. Who knows, maybe I made a good contact yesterday.
As a general rule, whenever I mention who I studied under for my oral history training, people are inevitably impressed. One professor went on to become the head of a major oral history project in North Carolina and was on the board of the state’s oral history project. Another professor is now the head of the Baylor University Oral History Project, which, under his leadership, has become the most respected oral history program in the country. Both, I believe, were also past presidents of the OHA. My third professor is the Executive Director of the OHA Executive Office. In the history field, it’s not always about where you studied or where you work, but about who you studied under, and I studied under three of the best.
One of the things I enjoy about the OHA’s Annual Meeting is that I never feel out of place or out of my depth. Yes, some of the technical issues about website design and such is a bit over my head. I am not a computer science person, though I know my way around a computer for the most part. However, when it comes to oral history, I do know my stuff. I have researched legal aspects of the discipline, best practices, and methodologies. I have taught oral history workshops, and I give an annual lecture to my current university’s historical methods class on oral history and its importance. I don’t often toot my own horn, but I am very knowledgeable about oral history. There are still things to learn because no matter what your field of study is, there is always more to learn. What I am saying is, I feel confident when I discuss oral history. I can’t always say that about other things.
This week is the annual Oral History Association (OHA) Conference. As a member, I do like this conference. I’ve been to several academic conferences in the past, and some can be very contentious and pretentious. Academics want to show off in front of each other, and they can be very critical of historians presenting a paper at one of these conferences. When a historian presents a new interpretation of historical sources, other historians like to stand up and tell them what is wrong with their research. I always hated this about conferences. The Southern Historical Association (SHA) was always the worst one I attended. I loved the various places it was held, but the personalities were horrendous. The SHA is somewhat unique in that its members both comprise historians who study the American South and historians who are in the American South, so there is always a wide range of topics presented. However, the bulk of the panels are about Southern history. By the nature of the organization, you have many groups and cliques that just don’t get along: neo-confederates (a dying breed in academia), the Civil Rights historians, Civil War historians, African American historians, etc. You can see how this could be a contentious group.
The OHA, on the other hand, is an enjoyable conference to attend. The main topics are social justice, how to advocate for oral history, and best practices for oral history. They rarely ever argue on the methodology of oral history; in fact, I don’t think I have ever seen an argument at the OHA. They are, by nature, a delightful group of people. Basically, if you are an asshole, you will not make a very good oral historian because you won’t have the people skills to conduct a good oral history interview. I have to admit that some of the social justice people are a little overboard at times because, for them, no one should be marginalized in history, and there is always a new cause for which to fight. (Museum professionals are the same way at their conferences.)
The other conference I try to attend since I became a member of the organization a few years ago is the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA). You won’t meet a nicer group of women. I seem to be one of the few male members, and while some women’s historians don’t like for men to study women’s history, I was welcomed with open arms by the RWSA. If you read the Washington Post, you will often see historian Katherine Jellicoe interviewed for various historical subjects. She is the co-chair of the group, and she is so kind. She took me around the first night of the conference introducing me to nearly everyone. I had presented a different version of the paper I presented at the RWSA conference at a graduate student conference in Mississippi. Since it was about a community of female African American landowners, I was criticized for telling the African American community’s history when I am white. It’s not a fair assessment as a good historian can write about anything as long as they are objective. I reworked the paper for the RWSA conference a few years ago, and it met with great applause and interest. I have an essay in a forthcoming cookbook being published by the RWSA. Their triennial meeting is next May, but they have already decided to make it virtual. It was supposed to be at the University of Guelph in Canada, which likely meant I would not be able to attend, but I will be able to participate since it is virtual, and I will be able to go to the virtual book launch.
Speaking of the RWSA conference being virtual, the OHA conference this year is also virtual. It was supposed to be held in Baltimore, and I was hoping to get to go. It wasn’t sure I would have been able to afford it or that the museum would have paid for me to go, so the fact that it is virtual allows me to attend this year. Monday, I had a pre-conference workshop, which went very well. I am not sure I learned anything new, but it was nice to discuss issues with people in the field. Yesterday was not as pleasant. The two sessions I attended were not exactly what they had advertised them as being and turned out to be quite dull. Had I been in Baltimore for this conference, I’d have likely snuck out the back and gone to my room or a café and gotten a coffee. I hope today’s sessions will be more enjoyable. There is one about the Human Rights Campaign, so I am looking forward to it.
Today is going to be a hectic day. I have my next COVID test today. (We are being tested every three weeks at the University.) At noon, I am introducing our first live virtual program with a speaker on warrior women in history. It should be interesting. After that, I have two different one and a half-hour sessions to attend virtually for the OHA conference. This evening, there is a welcoming reception, which I sincerely doubt I will participate in because, at the same time, is the annual Pritzker Gala in Chicago, which will also be virtual. Col. Jennifer Pritzker (the first transgender billionaire) owns the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, which hosts the Gala. Col. Pritzker is also a major benefactor of my museum. Today will be a busy day. It’s going to be a busy week too, as the conference doesn’t end until 5 pm on Friday.
Today marks my fifth anniversary at my present museum. When I started five years ago, I was the oral historian. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since. While I knew I was hired under a grant, I did not realize that my job was a three-year position scheduled to end on this day in 2018. After the university fired my original boss for mismanagement/embezzlement in late 2017, my new interim boss came into my office and asked me if I knew that October 19, 2018, was supposed to be my last day. The news floored me, and I began scrambling to look for a new job. I had several interviews at some major oral history programs in Chicago, Oklahoma, and Stanford University, but none of them panned out.
When the university promoted our museum registrar to be the new director, he reorganized the museum’s staff and created my new position in the process. While they advertised internally for my position, they did not make a public appeal for it, and I had to interview but was the only one interviewing and thus got the job. It came with a nearly 25 percent raise. It’s been a series of ups and downs at the museum. However, for the most part, I do enjoy my job, even if I don’t always enjoy my coworkers.
Today is my first day at my new job. I’m very excited, and I’ve never been excited about a job before. I’ve always had jobs that were supposed to be temporary until a “real” job came along.(Little did I know that this job too was supposed to be temporary.) I went to graduate school, thinking I’d teach college. I’ve always loved teaching college, but I ended up teaching high school instead. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know the story.
One thing though that I did when in graduate school was to diversify within the field of history. I covered military, Civil Rights, American, European, Women, and Native American history, as well as various research tools, such as language, oral history, public history, literary analysis, and art history. By doing so, I wanted to make myself marketable. While it has taken many more years than I expected for that strategy to pan out, it finally has. I landed a job in which I was uniquely qualified for because of my diversification, and while it is not a teaching job, it is a job that I am very happy with beginning.
So today is my first day. I’ll get the keys to my new office and get to work making this position mine and molding it as I see fit. I’ve basically been given free rein to make this position, and the program I’m taking over into what I know it can be. I Will Try to do my very best because that’s all we can do is try to do our very best.
That was five years ago. I am now a professor at the university and a museum curator. I also earned my museum studies certification in the process. I would have never predicted any of that five years ago. I would have never thought that I’d be working from home on my five year anniversary. My how things have changed!
My life is very different here in Vermont. I am more out and open about my sexuality than I have ever been, and I am much more comfortable in my sexuality. I am also in a politically and socially liberal state for the first time in my life. Even though we have a Republican governor, Vermont Republicans are more akin to Alabama Democrats than the National Republican Party. Vermont has a robust Progressive Party, which forces the state Republicans to be more of a center party.
One last thing, last week, I talked a lot about politics. I plan not to do that this week. That could change if something significant happens in politics this week, but I don’t want to be a political blog. I have other things I want to write about and discuss. Next week will be the last full week before the election, so it will probably be filled with a bit of politics, if not a lot of politics. I hope everyone has a good week.
Per Roderick’s request, here are some pictures of outside my old apartment:
At our museum, we are coming up on a significant anniversary of an event in the life of one of the university’s alumni. My boss decided that we needed to have a small ceremony to commemorate the occasion since we are also receiving a priceless artifact in connection. I say it’s invaluable because it is illegal to sell the object we are getting. The family must donate it, and the family is finally ready to give the item to us. I know I am being cagey about this, but it is a big secret, and I can’t even tell you, my readers.
Late last week, my boss gave me the task of creating an exhibit unveiled at the museum’s ceremony for receiving the object. Let me first say, I am in charge of education and public programs for the museum, not exhibitions. We have someone else that handles the museum’s collection and the exhibitions. However, they decided I was more well-versed in this particular subject than they were, so they tasked me with doing it. Usually, we have months to work on an exhibit. They gave me less than a week, and only four hours at the museum to set it up. Since I work on Thursdays with our exhibits person, yesterday was the only day I had to set it up, since I needed her help to do some of the things only she can do.
I’ve busted my butt getting all of the labels (that’s what museum people call informational panels) written, picking out the other objects that will accompany the new artifact, and put together all of the visuals. As I said, this usually takes weeks, if not months of planning. Yesterday, I was working flat out to get it finished in time. What I ended up being able to do was show the exhibits person my design and give her all the material to be printed. She will be the one to install everything. The preparation is often more work than the execution. She says she will be finished with it on Monday in time for the ceremony.
The problem, though with everything I did yesterday, is that it aggravated my hip. By the end of the day, I was so tired, and my hip hurt so much that I had to go home and rest on a heating pad. Hopefully, when I wake up this morning, it will feel a little better. My hip generally feels better first thing in the morning but begins to hurt as the day progresses. Luckily, I have another appointment with my physical therapist on Monday morning. The ceremony we are preparing for is in the afternoon, and I will be rushed to be at the ceremony and then get to my doctor’s appointment after that. Monday will be another busy day, but hopefully, my doctor will be able to do something about the bursitis in my hip, and I will feel better afterward.
I do have to work today, but I am working from home and can take it easy. I can rest when I need to rest. I won’t be running around the museum, trying to make sure everything is done correctly. I just have to hope that our exhibits person executes my plan as I planned it. What had been done when I left yesterday was looking pretty good. I hope the final product will look as good as I imagine it will.
In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released its updated campus sexual assault regulations under Title IX. The law prohibits sex discrimination at federally-funded institutions. Schools were given only until August 14, 2020 to adopt compliant policies and procedures while Betsy Devos and the Department of Education (DoE) spent the last three years drawing up these new Title IX regulations. In 2017, the DoE withdrew the Obama Administration’s guidance documents on the subject; a year later, it issued a lengthy notice of proposed rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act. This was the first full rulemaking on a major Title IX issue since 1975, and the only one ever dedicated to sexual harassment. It is not without controversy. What do you expect from a Secretary of Education who is neither an educator nor an education leader? The woman has NO experience in public education, never even attending a public school.
Sexual assault is a serious issue on college campuses, but it was not initially addressed in Title IX; however, the Supreme Court did address sexual assault, but only in discussing whether an institute of higher learning receiving federal dollars could be held responsible. In 2011, the Obama Administration issued a lengthy “dear colleague letter” spelling out the many measures schools must implement to “end any harassment, eliminate a hostile environment if it has been created, and prevent harassment from occurring again.” Still, the Trump Administration withdrew the “dear colleague letter” to reframe Title IX. The 2016 Republican platform devoted an entire section to Title IX charging that the Obama Administration’s “distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted.”
So, what are the issues with the new Title IX regulations? The general outline was laid out in the November 2018 proposal. Its central feature was a return to the framework established by the Supreme Court in 1998-99. No longer would schools have broad responsibility “to take effective action to prevent, eliminate, and remedy sexual harassment” by “changing the culture.” Now, the focus was on schools’ responsibility to address cases of serious sexual misconduct. Simultaneously, though, the new rules have gone far beyond the Supreme Court in establishing what constitutes harassment, what schools must do to identify and adjudicate cases of misconduct, and the remedies they must provide to victims of such misconduct. As a result, the new administrative regulations are less radical—and more demanding—than the DoE’s critics often suggest.
What forms of harassment require a response from educational institutions? Under the new guidelines, the following are considered forms of sexual assault: rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object, fondling, incest, and statutory rape. While the Supreme Court held that harassment must be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” to trigger Title IX, the Obama Administration pushed schools to address harassment before it “becomes severe or pervasive” to prevent the creation of “a hostile environment.” Schools are now to address the incidents, but are not expected to address the culture that causes such incidents. The entire matter is very complicated (if you want to read more, you can read this article from InsideHigherEd.) I was asked instead to read my university’s new policy and comment on it.
I immediately noticed the definitions of sexual assault and its archaic language. It differentiates between rape and sodomy.
Rape is defined as penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person without the victim’s consent. Sodomy is defined as oral or anal sexual intercourse with another person forcibly, and/or against that person’s will (non-consensual), or not forcibly or against the person’s will in instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of age or because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity. This is what I don’t understand: Why is the federal government requiring separate definitions of rape and sodomy? Both are defined as forcibly or non-consensually having the victim’s vagina, anus, or mouth penetrated with another person’s body part or sex organ. I don’t see the difference. Why must the two terms be spelled out? In my opinion, the use of the word “sodomy” is intentionally using homophobic language.
Sodomy is a word that has been demonized as a weapon to promote intolerance against gay people which is the main reason for my objection. The word promotes negative stigmatization, prejudice, and discrimination to practices such as anal or oral sex which have been associated mostly with the gay community. The term is sometimes even replaced with “crimes against nature.” Originally, sodomy was derived from church law designed to prevent nonprocreative sexuality anywhere and any sexuality outside of marriage (in some cases, any intercourse not in the missionary position between a man and a woman). Historically, the term has been used as a form of discrimination against gay men.
Though sodomy has been used to refer to a range of homosexual and heterosexual “unnatural acts,” the term “sodomite” usually refers to a homosexual male even though the real meaning is nonprocreative sex. The term is derived from the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Christian churches have referred to the crimen sodomitae (crime of the Sodomites) for centuries. The modern association with homosexuality can be found as early as AD 96 in the Jewish historian Josephus’ writings. Sodomy, in historical biblical reference, probably did not even pertain to homosexuality, but the acts of bestiality and female and male castration for sexual slavery. The story of Sodom’s destruction and Abraham’s failed attempt to intercede with God and prevent that destruction appears in Genesis 18–19. The connection between Sodom and homosexuality is derived from the described attempt by a mob of the city’s people to rape Lot’s male guests. Some suggest the sinfulness for which Sodom was destroyed might have consisted mainly in the violation of obligations of hospitality which were essential according to the original writers of the Biblical account.
In essence, the new regulations are forcing educational institutions to use derogatory and homophobic language to differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual sex. The DoE is forcing colleges to violate Title IX, a law passed to protect people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX covers students and employees at these institutions. Therefore, the new policy contradicts the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex.
Aren’t we supposed to be past using derogatory and discriminatory language such as sodomy in our laws? If you include anal and oral sex in the definition of rape, why is it necessary to also include sodomy and give virtually the same definition? Am I the only one who finds the term “sodomy” offensive?
Yesterday was another headache day. I am going into the museum on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but I left after lunch yesterday. My head was hurting so bad, and I just couldn’t stand the thought of being there all day. I went home and went to bed.
A week from Monday (September 21), I will have my first Botox treatment. I’m praying that it helps. I really need some relief from these headaches. I have not had a headache free day in over four months. It hasn’t been a constant headache, but they come in waves of intensity.
What do you do when it’s Monday, and you have no clue as to what you are going to do at work today, especially when you are working from home and you have to log your work hourly? I know, I shouldn’t complain because I have a job, I mostly like working from home, and I don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want to. However, trying to find something to do all the time can be a bit exhausting too. I had this problem a lot when I was in the office, but since I’ve been home, I have actually been very productive, much more so than at the museum. I’ve created videos for virtual public programs. I’ve written several new curriculum guides. I’ve done a ton of research, endless webinars, virtual meetings, and even a class. The webinars are often quite boring and not all that informative. The meetings are all a waste of time. Working for a university makes things a little uncertain right now, so no one really knows what’s going on. The plan (and the “plan” has changed many times) is for students to come back to campus and take classes but the public won’t be allowed on campus. The museum can’t have public programs, we can only teach limited classes, the public can’t come to visit (meaning no tours either), and students can’t use us as a walkthrough to the library. What are we even going to be there for? I’m honestly scared the administration is going to figure this out and furlough us all, but they keep saying they are going to “keep the family together.” So, today is another day. I will probably do research most of the day. I can’t even watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on BBCAmerica because they are doing what looks like nature shows this week. I’m not sure what else to do. I’ve just about exhausted all of my projects.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about last night before I went to bed.