Putting together your writerly “bug-out bag”

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

As a native Californian, I have long kept something like a “bug-out bag”—a pre-packed backpack or duffel bag filled with essential supplies that I would need if my home were struck by a major earthquake: so much bottled water for so many people for so many days, flashlights and batteries, an emergency radio, dried fruits and high protein snacks for meal replacement, photocopies of crucial documents, and so forth. …

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What Is “Western Civilization”?

In her early work of science fiction, Utopia is an academic conference

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

The seventeenth-century writer Margaret Lucas Cavendish was — and is — a phenomenon. She had no formal schooling, but educated herself through both intensive reading and intellectual discourses with her brother, an established scholar. She was a polymath: poet, philosopher, natural scientist, playwright, fiction writer. Indeed, Cavendish’s best-known work of speculative fiction, The Blazing World, is widely regarded as an early work of science fiction. …


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

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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…

L.D. Burnett

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

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