Via Common-place, I see that the colonial records of Connecticut are available in their entirety online. This is a fantastic resource, and it’s remarkable to see more and more of these projects coming along all the time.
November 27, 2007
November 24, 2007
While I was out to dinner at a local pizzeria just now I got proselytized. A little girl walked up to my table and, without saying a word, handed me a tract. I read it and it turned out to consist almost entirely of exhortations to accept Jesus as my personal savior, with the evidence that I should do this being quoted verses from the New Testament, many of them defending the importance of salvation by faith rather than works. There was also a little bookmark inside promoting this book.
I was a bit puzzled at the time about who the tract was aimed at. It seemed to be going for people who were inclined to trust the New Testament as an unimpeachable source, but not inclined to accept Jesus as their personal savior. This combination seemed odd to me as I thought about it, but the tract was clearly not aimed at non-Christians like me, who couldn’t care less what the New Testament says, or even non-practicing cultural Christians, who presumably are mostly aware of what the Bible says and are just insufficiently inspired to follow it.
As I was walking home, after passing the family who had been handing out the tracts in the pizzeria handing out more to passersby (as I walked by the father said “God bless you” to me), it suddenly occurred to me that their target demographic was obvious. Faithful Christians who don’t consider salvation dependent entirely on faith rather than works? There’s a rather prominent group along those lines whose members include a majority of the population of this state.
November 21, 2007
I finished Empire last night. I was glad to be done with it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I started reading it the day my dad died, when I went over to my parents’ house in the morning to stay with him until my mom got home to take him to his doctor’s appointment. I continued to read it throughout the initial mourning period when I was spending a lot of time at my mom’s house without much to do, then took a break for a few weeks when I went back to work. I started up again when I decided to spend less time reading blogs, and when I bought a bunch of new books I began to accelerate my reading of it to finish it and move on to those.
Additionally, though, it’s just not a very good book. There are a lot of books on the subject of the Spanish empire, and while this is the only one I’ve read, I’m quite sure it’s not one of the better ones. Its premise, that the Spanish empire was totally dependent on the contributions of non-Spaniards for its survival, is interesting enough, but the way it’s presented is not very focused and oddly adversarial, assuming a bit more familiarity with the “traditional” scholarly approach than I think is warranted in a book aimed at a general audience. It’s not entirely clear who Kamen is taking aim at here, since he names no modern scholars by name in the text and his footnotes are spare, but from the way he phrases things it seems that his main target is the perception of the empire among the historical community within Spain (he lives in Barcelona). In a book written in English and published by a large trade house it might have been better to spell this out a bit more clearly.
The question of who the potshots are aimed at leads me to a more fundamental problem of the book, namely that it’s written and organized rather confusingly. The prose is plodding and repetitive, and Kamen has an annoying tendency to make general statements that seem to be directly contradicted by other general statements a couple paragraphs later, with no attempt to explain what he means and how he sees the differing statements as compatible. As for organization, while the overall progression of chapters is roughly chronological, within each chapter sections are organized primarily thematically, and it is not always clear where straightforward narrative ends and discussion of specific themes begins.
Another broad problem is that the topic of the book is perhaps overly ambitious, or at least not sufficiently focused. Basically it seems like Kamen could have written two or three shorter, more focused and more interesting books using the material in this one: one on the importance to the empire of Italian bankers, one on the interactions between the Spanish and the peoples they “conquered,” and perhaps one on the unlikely support given to the empire by the rival European nations that are usually thought of as its enemies. Of these, I think the first would have been the most interesting, as this seems to be a woefully under-studied aspect of the imperial system, and is the part of Kamen’s actual book that I found the most interesting and informative. The second has been done many times, but Kamen makes some interesting observations about it and a full book on the subject would likely have been worth reading. The third, though Kamen only makes occasional reference to it in this book, might also make a good book on its own if more fully fleshed out. Empire itself, however, largely treats these three phenomena as aspects of the same general issue, which leads to a great deal of vague pontificating and unnecessarily general conclusions, as well as enough repetition to make for tedious reading at times.
What I’ve said so far sounds pretty harsh, but it’s not a terrible book. The subject matter is interesting, and Kamen does have some thought-provoking observations to make about it. One of the reasons I like reading nonfiction is that even if a book isn’t all that good, if it’s on a subject I’m interested in I’ll still usually learn enough from reading it to consider it in retrospect a good use of my time, and this is a good example. I wouldn’t really recommend Empire, but I don’t regret reading it.
Next up: 1491, which I’ve just started. I like it a lot so far.
November 13, 2007
So I went to lunch today at a place I often go to and ordered what I always order when I go there, but when they brought it out it turned out that they had made a mistake and given me something very similar (and basically identical-looking) but with ingredients that I can’t stand. After taking a couple of bites and realizing this, I sat there for about ten minutes wondering if I should go up to the counter and tell them, or wait for a server to come nearby, or what. I wasn’t very hungry, so there wasn’t much of a sense of urgency to it, but the longer I waited the more ridiculous it seemed that I would wait so long to say something. Eventually I just decided not to bother, finished my drink and went home.
On the way home I saw a roadrunner, so it wasn’t all bad.
November 11, 2007
I’m reading this book, which I bought about four years ago and have been meaning to read ever since. It was the last book on my meaning-to-read list, so once I finally started it I decided to go out and spend some gift certificates on new books.
Last weekend I went over to Page One and spent the remainder of a gift certificate that I had been slowly drawing down for a while. Since Page One has both new and used books, I decided to use that gift certificate to get used books. I ended up getting 1491, which I’ve heard good things about, these two books which I saw and thought looked interesting, and this Natick dictionary which I’d had my eye on the last few times I’d gone over there, and which was considerably less expensive than the copies that seem to be available through online booksellers.
Today I went over to Borders to spend the gift cards I got as graduation presents. I got King Leopold’s Ghost, which is another book that people often recommend, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s history of the Reformation, another book by Alan Taylor, a previous book of whose I liked a lot, and this book, which had been sitting on the shelves there for years and years, and which I would always consider buying when I saw it there but then decide to buy something else instead.
There’s a pretty clear pattern to these purchases, and they give a good idea of the sorts of books I like. I’m now set for reading material for a long time.
November 10, 2007
I had my third date with the latest girl today. We went to an anthropology museum. It was fun, and she seemed to enjoy it, but we didn’t talk much and it felt a little awkward. Afterward I asked if she wanted to get some coffee or something and she said no, she really had a lot of work to do. I said we could do something again sometime and she said maybe, but that she really was thinking of this as just friends and that we didn’t seem to have enough in common. I said that was fine.
She was right, of course, as the fact that we didn’t talk much at the museum illustrated. We have some things in common, but I was always concerned about whether it was enough for anything to happen. She never really seemed that interested in a relationship with anyone, actually, which is what sometimes happens with these set-up situations. There were also some logistical issues, not as bad as with the previous girl who lived extremely far away, but still potentially problematic; she doesn’t live very far away from me, but it’s still a non-negligible distance, and she doesn’t drive, which meant I would have had to put a lot of effort into seeing her. That would have been worth it for someone who seemed to be really into me, but I never got that impression from her.
So I’m not too upset, and actually a little relieved. It ended well, and now I don’t have to worry anymore about any of the problems I had been worrying about recently regarding this.
November 5, 2007
Recent events have reconfigured my future plans in unexpected ways, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about that, but it’ll have to wait until I’ve done some more thinking and talking to people. In the meantime, this discussion of terminal MA programs is interesting. This is a subject of some importance to me because several of the possible paths I’m considering involve getting one of these degrees at some point (although others involve getting a professional degree, which is similar in some ways but involves different issues from an institutional and academic perspective). Given that, my sympathies are naturally with Rob rather than PTJ, but I’d be interested in hearing other thoughts on this issue, preferably from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.