I am already grappling with the realization that this space is going to be a bit muddled at times. Over the next few months I will be emphasizing the Grandpa’s Letters project as I build it out (both in terms of research and audience) and prep the manuscript, and then at some point next year I will shift backs towards horse stealing as my book arrival date nears. And throughout that process I may periodically touch base with my documentary.
Obviously, all three of these projects are very different, and only one of them is attached to my scholarly background and training in the American West. Neither the Pacific War and New Madrid earthquake prediction projects fall easily within the rubric of Western history, nor are they within the nineteenth century or even the Great Plains. That being said, one of the benefits of not currently residing within the tenure stream at a research school is that I can do whatever the hell I want, so unless or until that changes I am going to keep pursuing the projects that I am most excited about completing.
Upon further reflection, though, I see several connections between these projects that reveal much about both my own interests and the subjects I am tackling. First, I am interested in – and always seem to come back to – the middle of the country. Despite moving to California eleven years ago most of my stories come from the Midwest. Nebraska, the Missouri Bootheel (where I went to college), and the experiences of a St. Louisan in the Navy all serve as excuses to continue talking and writing about the places in the middle. Most of my other ideas fall somewhere in the Midwest or Great Plains as well. Perhaps I should more fully embrace the recent explosion in scholarship on the Midwest (pioneered by Jon Lauck), which may in the long run be a better home and community for my work (anyone hiring Midwest historians? Anyone?).
Aside from geography, I am also very interested in several overarching themes, such as alienation, hysteria, and comparative culture. My book on horse stealing reflects heavily on all three, while the documentary is a case study on public hysteria in the modern Midwest. If there is anything that really interests me, it is the history of people freaking out. My World War II work takes several opportunities to compare Midwestern and Polynesian and West Coast culture, and while it doesn’t delve too deeply into alienation, there are points when my grandpa feels very cut off from both his home and from the war surrounding him. In any case, every historian gravitates towards certain things in their research and writing, and without spending a great deal of time pondering the subject these are some of mine.
Please pardon me writing yet another self-indulgent “this is what I want to do” post, but I hope that by putting these thoughts down here that readers will have a better sense of what I am interested in as an author, and in turn I hope that this will help me work towards making better connections between these different projects in my blog and in my writing in general.