>Man, even the Library of Congress thinks I’m a historian

>I’m back from my conference trip and hard at work on correcting my book’s page proofs and writing my index. It’s a good thing they left me 24 pages for it, because it’s going to be close to that when it’s done. I’ts ridiculously long because I went and wrote a book with overlapping categories of concepts that need separate lists as well as cross-listing. Damn me for being complicated. And can I just say that for some of the index entries I really, really want to say, “see the entire frakkin’ book.” Te-hee!

Anywho, now that I have the proofs, I can see the Library of Congress number I’ve been assigned. And it’s an HQ number, putting me in the cultural history category that is indeed, a major subject of the book. But I think of it as first and foremost about a particular genre of medieval literature. That designation, according to the Library of Congress, however, comes second among all the categories listed. (Well, at least someone doing a search by LC subjects in literature will still be able to find it by the appropriate category.) Maybe being in the HQs will bring me readers I wouldn’t already have — people browsing the shelves in that subject of cultural history — but I’m kind of bummed I’m not with my literature peeps in the PRs.

And I’m having an identity crises. Blog categorizing sites think this blog is a history blog, and now the Library of Congress thinks my book is primarily a work of cultural history. And meanwhile, I’m finding that a lot of what’s been written relevant to my newest project on a certain manuscript and its owners is done by historians. (Hello, Dr. V., there’s a reason why it’s called the history of the book! Duh!) And at this weekend’s conference, the two keynote speakers were both historians, but their work seems awfully close to the kind of stuff I do and think about. Hm. Sure, I do have a new historicist approach to literature, but I thought I was a literature person first.

Maybe I’m the academic equivalent of an adopted kid, and I’m now just realizing that my “parents” aren’t really my parents! This is all rather shocking. I mean, I’m sure my “real” parents, historians, are great people and all — heck, maybe they’re cooler than the literary people I thought were my parents — but who am I?

You know, next time our admins give lipservice to how it’s the age of interdisciplinary work and we need to be doing it (without, of course, any institutional structures to support it), I’m going to pipe up and say, “Well, I’m in an English department, but everyone thinks I’m a historian, so there you go.”

And PS — Just out of curiosity, where do you fall in terms of the “a historian” vs. “an historian” usage?

PPS – This is my 300th post, just so you know.

21 thoughts on “>Man, even the Library of Congress thinks I’m a historian

  1. >I definitely say “a historian.””an historian” only makes sense if the “h” is silent, right? You wouldn’t say “an horse.” I say “historian” just like a say “horse” – you hear the “h.”

  2. >”A historian”.Nice post–I think I’ve been reading you as a lit prof, but I think I first saw your blog in a context that made it clear.I once came across a book where the LC number had clearly been misprinted, as in switched a 3 for an 8. So the book lived in a completely random place–but if you switched the 8 for a 3, it all made sense. But the LC number was wrong on the copyright page, so you know it was never going to get fixed. I’m glad you brought up how subject we are to these things.

  3. >”A historian.” I sympathize with your dilemma since I am a most literary historian who feels more methodological kinship with the English department than with some of my peers.

  4. >I hear ya about the identity crisis. By far most of the stuff I’m reading for my dissertation was written by historians, and I’m also a folklorist by training. My adviser sometimes frets that my work might not be “literary enough,” and I’m feeling a tad confused.I always say “a historian,” but I think I sometimes hyper-correct to “an historian” when I write the phrase.

  5. >Congrats on your 300th!A historian, with my dialect, etc.Maybe you can frame this as a bonus? Go all interdisciplinary and see what falls out? We’re all over lipservice to interdisciplinarity around here.

  6. >To all re: historian…OK, I know, as an American, I’m supposed to prefer “a historian,” but how come I find it easier to *say* “an historian”? (But not, in Dr. Crazy’s example, “an horse.” Weird.) Is it because I secretly want a pretentious fake English accent just like Madonna?Btw, Dr. Crazy, when I read your comment, I thought, “Well, you don’t pronounce it if you’re doing a bad cockney accent a la the musical Oliver!” And now I’ve got “Consider Yourself” stuck in my head. Great.Rob — my editor’s assistant thought I was stupid/crazy/annoying for asking her how LC numbers were picked. And then, when pressed, she said something mysterious like “we submit it as [my subject], but then it’s out of our hands.” I like to think oracles, priests, and vestal virgins are involved.Dance — Man, I’m glad my LC number isn’t that messed up! At least I’m in an obviously related section of cultural history.

  7. >I say “a historian” in conversation, though I think I sometimes write “an.”And I spent a lot of my time in grad school feeling like a lit scholar hiding in a history department! I once told a couple of lit people that I was a historicist and they looked at me funny and said, “Well, yeah…because you’re a HISTORIAN.” Heh.

  8. >I’ll chime in as the minority and say that I always say and write “an historian” – but when I pronounce it somehow the “h” gets dropped.My blog is listed under history blogs in some listserv somewhere and often people meander there under “false pretences” and are probably shocked to find that my blog rarely has anything to do with medieval history OR literature.But I think it’s also just the kind of medieval work we do (having recently heard about your penchant for manuscripts and cultural history – and your cool new project)- “cultural history” is something that easily gets read as “history” not something that many “new historicist” literary critics do!Good luck with the print proofs and indexing! I will go into the HQs to find your book (I’m there anyway – funny that that’s where they put all the cool stuff!) 🙂

  9. >Well, it all depends on how you pronounce “a,” eh? If it’s like that final Canadianism, “a historian” sounds good. If it’s more like “uh,” it just sounds weird to me. “I’m, uh, uh historian” and such. Or is that just me? Now if you do it like the Fonz….

  10. >Congrats on your 300th Blog Entry, Dr. V! When I’m pretending to be American, I say “a historian”, when I’m pretending to be English, I say “an historian” – when I’m pretending to be Finnish, I say “historioitsija.” Te-hee! I think it’s hard to be a scholar of MedLit without belonging to both categories. Maybe you’re still the child of your “Literature” parents, but you have gained a new “History” family as in-laws (albeit in-laws that you like)?

  11. >I say “an historian” and write “a historian” because everyone tells me that that is correct. I will note that my “h” is still present, though admittedly lighter than in saying “horse.” So I have a theory about this. When I say “a”, it sounds schwa or “uh”, which is pronounced a low and mid-back in the mouth. So I go from that low, backish point to a labial h to a short i which is a front vowel. I think the “n” added to “a” for “an historian” helps migrate from the low back position to the front labial. BTW, “an” is pronounced in my dialect with a aesc sound, the “a” of pat, which is also low and back.Now, if I pronounce my “a” as a long a, as in pate, and “ay” historian, it sounds and feels just fine, but then that’s a more frontal sound and towards the end, we’re getting very close to the front middle point of the mouth, and so easily move to the “h” position. So that’s my theory. Re: the identity crisis: I’m a medievalist. That for me means that though getting an English degree and being a “lit” person, I also do history, theology, art history, folklore, and linguistics. That I think might be a problem with some parts of the academy and the job hunt, but I’m a medievalist, that’s what we do.

  12. >Swain, you rock for independently verifying my own seceretly-held theory re “an historian.” In fact, I was going to state in in the post or the comments, but I’m kind of crap at linguistics unless I have reference books in front of me. But seriously, the whole front-vowel/back-vowel distinction was my hunch, too. I tried to explain it that way to Bullock, but he’s a political scientist, and he just said, “Now I know how you feel when I go on and on about router bits” (he does woodworking, too).As for the identity crisis…well, yes, I guess being a medievalist does solve things a bit. But then I’m bothered by feeling like an outsider in my own department. (And my chair thinks I’m a linguist, which is just *weird* — especially in light of my last paragraph! She thinks this when I talk about history of the book stuff, even. I’m not sure she knows what a linguist does.) And really, what I think all of this is about is feeling a little guilty that anyone thinks I’m a historian, because I’m sure the historians would say otherwise!!!

  13. >I write “an historian.” I have no idea what I say in conversation.Rob Barrett, a librarian who specializes in catloging sitting in some dungeon out in the wilds around D.C. working for the Library of Congress assigns call numbers and subject heading to books. They don’t tend to consult the author, as far as I know.I once found a book about plantation mistresses, as in the white women who owned slaves, classified with books about the other kind of mistress.Ironically, my own story is the opposite of all of yours. I am a historian, and wrote a biography of a woman who also did some writing in addition to running a plantation and a hospital. I never considered it a literary biography, but guess where it got classed? Like Dr. Virago, I felt a bit ashamed because literary scholars probably wouldn’t want my book in their company. At the same time, a literary scholar had edited two volumes of this same woman’s writings. One volume ended up with literature and the other with history. It’s all up to that one, lone cataloger.

  14. >Clio B – Thanks for all that. It reminds me of what I tell my students about using the MLA Bibliography: *humans* code and categorize the articles and books in it, so you have to think of every possible way to search for what you’re looking for. Case in point: my two articles on the same subject as my book have *completely* different sets of categories assigned to them.This is why students shouldn’t rely of shelf browsing, either, as their main method of research (as some of my students do).

  15. >I switch back and forth from ‘a’ and ‘an’ historian. I wonder if the an comes in not because it’s a silent ‘h’ but because in Greek it’s not a hard-aspirated ‘h’? (by the way, I’m not sure about that at all, because I can’t remember what the Greek looks like).And what TR says — I’d invite you to parties, and think of you as someone who knows about history, but not as a historian. Hm. Just realized, I tend to write ‘a’, and say ‘an’ — Which means I could confuse people who think I’m saying ‘a Nestorian’

  16. >TR and ADM — See, this is why I’m *embarrassed* when the LC or Amazon.com or whomever thinks my book is history, because I know the *real* historians wouldn’t think that!And ADM, I really did LOL at “a Nestorian”!

  17. >It was not just “silent” h for which the rules requires “an”; it used to also be h-starting words with an initial unstressed syllable (hence “an historian/historical” but “a history”). However in my dialect this rule does not apply. I only use “an” with silent h.Ling.Lass

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