That's a primary source for the long 20th century, yes, along with Freud and Spengler and a few other characters. :)

What Is “Western Civilization”?

Filling in the gaps from the Early Modern era to the Enlightenment(s)

The first draft of my chapter on the discourse of “civilization” during the American Enlightenments—to borrow Caroline Winterer’s designation—is finished and I have received editorial feedback on that.

Logically, the next thing to do would be to move forward and trace the uses of “civilization” during the Early Republic and through the Era of Good Feelings (LOL) to the Age of Jackson.

But the logic of argumentation and the logic of composition are two different things. Completing the Enlightenment chapter left me with the sense that before moving forward in time, I need to back up and look more closely…

This Writer’s Life

When you find your voice, you will find your audience

Rather than restore this antique writing slope, I reimagined it for a different user. Photo credit: author.

My foray into the world of eighteenth and nineteenth century portable writing desks — “writing slopes,” in collectors’ parlance — has become a passion. I don’t buy very many specimens, because I can’t afford it, but I do watch the auctions/sales on eBay, Etsy, and other venues, so I have some sense of what’s out there and what things are worth.

Having a sense of what’s out there is important as a writer. You need to listen to and read other voices in your genre or your field. Watch the sales; watch what sells. Watch what sells for less than…

The real threat to “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses is the precarity of faculty employment

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Most college profs in the United States — over 70% — don’t have tenure and aren’t even on the tenure track. We are on year-to-year or semester-to-semester adjunct contracts. We are perilously vulnerable to the prospect of punitive treatment for our viewpoints, from conservative administrators, from boards of trustees drawn from “the business world,” from “angry taxpayers” hollering over the controversies deliberately ginned up by Campus Reform or The College Fix or right wing radio shock jocks.

The biggest risk to viewpoint diversity on campus is the precarity of the professoriate: how can we dare to foster difficult, challenging conversations…

The famous rapper and accomplished musician is also a diligent scholar who drops pearls of wisdom for working writers

MC Hammer has been using his social media presence on Twitter and more recently on Clubhouse to foster conversations about reading and to encourage the culture more broadly to make space for serious reading and engagement with longer texts and something more than “bite-sized” ideas.

He is also, as I learned this evening, an absolutely brilliant writing coach. Tonight, he dropped some wisdom that I will never forget.

Let me set the scene…

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Several of my online and in-real-life colleagues were tuned in to Hammer’s Clubhouse chat tonight to listen in while our much-admired fellow historian Dr. …

This Writer’s Life

Don’t judge yourself or others for trying on a style

As I work to restore this antique writing slope — or, at least, to refurbish it for future use — I am learning about craft, and these are lessons that apply to the craft of writing.

I had mentioned in a prior post that the entire inside of the writing box, including all its dividers, was covered in a “decorative” brown mottled paper that was anything but decorative. After over a hundred years of age and wear and spills and splits in the wood and exposure to sun, the paper was decidedly unattractive. …

I co-hosted a chat last night and now I am hooked

Earlier this week I joined Clubhouse, the voice-based social media platform where “chatrooms” are an audio-based experience. I hope Clubhouse software engineers are building in robust accessibility features for deaf and hard of hearing participants, because this is a fun platform.

I didn’t really know what to expect before I logged on. I listened in on a few conversations, popping from room to room, and at first I felt like I was tapping into old style telephone party lines, where anyone who picked up the receiver could overhear everyone else’s conversation.

Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

But a friend of mine gave me another metaphor…

How the format of American colonial newspapers explains Substack’s publishing model

Photo by Marco Djallo on Unsplash

We are at a moment of intense controversy over issues of free speech, the “marketplace of ideas,” the editorial functions of online publishing platforms, and the government’s interest (legitimate or illegitimate) in regulating the content or the content moderation of those platforms. As a historian, I find this an interesting moment to think about the form and function of the newspaper in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, particularly when I consider the debates over the corporate decision-making of the owners of the newsletter platform Substack.

Between these two sentences yawns a significant temporal and explanatory chasm, so…

This Writer’s Life

Instead of envisioning the completed draft, work on addressing one problem

I wanted to fix this split in the bottom of the box before I moved on to anything else.

The writing slope I am restoring was not manufactured by a fine furniture maker. It was quickly and cheaply assembled. Some of the wood in the box had not even cured before it was pressed into service. In fact, I spent part of today straightening out a warped divider that had been papered over when the pine was still fresh. When I soaked the thin board for fifteen minutes to scrape off its coating of paper, the board’s long edges curled toward its center.

That put a kink — literally — in my restoration process. However, a quick internet search…

This Writer’s Life

Revive your writing voice by stripping some things away

This battered writing slope will never look like new again, but I can make it look better. Photo by author.

As I attempt the restoration of an antique writing slope, I am learning as I go about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to repairing what seems beyond salvaging. That holds true for this writing slope, and it holds true for my book manuscript. Each step in the process of restoring this writing tool offers a lesson that applies to restoring my writing. In this series of posts, I will share those lessons with you.

The writing slope I am restoring now is a lot like my (theoretically extant) book manuscript: a mess.

Like this battered writing slope…

L.D. Burnett

Writer, historian of American thought & culture. Editor of, a little magazine publishing new & established authors. Book under contract.

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