Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The glass ceiling of punditry

AHB wonders: where are the ladies? There are not too many cracks in the glass ceiling of historical punditry. Doris Kearns Goodwin is the only prominent woman historian who regularly appears as a commentator on national television. The only other historical pundit who shares the gender of the goddesss Clio to break through is New Hampshire's Ellen Fitzpatrick, who joined PBS's rather tired squadron of talking heads in the 2004 election and continues to appear on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Fitzpatrick's matter-of-fact style is a rather refreshing contrast to the inarticulate bloviation of Mark Shields and the blow-dried history as trivial pursuit practiced by Michael Beschloss.

In the aftermath of the historic Hillary Clinton campaign and now the GOP's troubled selection of Alaskan Sarah Palin, yr humble servant offers up these suggestions for the next female talking heads.

First, AHB eliminates a few candidates. George Washington University historian Allida Black, best known for her scholarship on Eleanor Roosevelt, spent her capital rallying the embittered supporters of Hillary Clinton in the last, dying days of her candidacy. And a few leading women historians might just be a little too controversial for prime time. Surely the teleworthy Glenda Gilmore would be hounded by those watchdogs of the so-called liberal media for her comment a few years ago that George W. Bush was "all hat and no cattle." Chicago's Christine Stansell has the media connections and the scholarly gravitas but is rather too soft-spoken for prime time.

Who better to cover the tiresome recrudescence of family values politics in the Republican party, not to mention the failure of coitus interruptus in the case of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston than University of Minnesota historian Regina Kunzel? Gigi, as she is known to her peers, is a rising star in the history of sexuality and author of the most important book on the history of illegitimacy. Is Bristol Palin a fallen woman or a problem girl? Kunzel could hop into a taxi and be in CNN's convention booth within minutes.

Two scholars of real wit and presence who could liven up the commentariat are Iowa's Linda Kerber and Santa Barbara's Laura Kalman. Neither have that perfectly coiffed made for TV appearance, but both are formidable scholars. Yr faithful gossip would find our political discourse elevated greatly by Kerber's reflections on women and national service. She has also trained a number of students who have researched conservative women, giving her special expertise in the topic du jour. Kalman, a leading legal historian, would surely have wise things to say about judicial appointments and the legal issues that are sure to be on the agenda of the new president. And one last suggestion, mostly for color. U.C. Riverside's Catherine Allgor, despite the fact that her last name is a homonym with the failed candidate turned environmentalist, is a former actress who would certainly perform well in front of the camera. Her work on historical women in the early Republic and on Dolly Madison plays to the media's enduring Founder-philia. And her flamboyant style is tailor-made for the small screen.

Good readers do you too have suggestions breaking the talking head glass ceiling?


Anonymous said...

Lisa McGirr?

Anonymous said...

Joanne Freeman?

Anonymous said...

Sarah Deutsch

Ambrose Hofstader Bierce III said...

All interesting suggestions, Anonymous 1, Anonymous 2, and Anonymous 3. Any more, Anonymous 4?

Anonymous said...

beverly gage?

Richard said...

Linda Gordon is now at NYU and has been there for some years.

Anonymous said...

Jane Kamensky's recent appearance on NPR is radio, not TV, but worth a listen for a historical perspective on the subprime mortgage fiasco.

I'd say, in general, that TV people looking for commentators could do worse than to walk down the list of historians who've been consulted by NPR.