Like most people who’ve seen it, I’m feeling that the new Netflix series on the history of the video game industry is… lackluster. The problem is that it’s a history of the industry. The major points in the story are technological paradigm shifts, legal battles, and corporate marketing strategies. These highlights are filled in with personal stories from people who enjoyed the commercial product as kids, people who are overwhelmingly white or male. But even when the series manages to highlight contributions or experiences from a more diverse group – the Black engineer who developed the cartridge system, the woman who pioneered graphic RPGs, the gay man who made a pride game in the middle of the AIDS crisis – these just feel thin, like drops in the bucket that don’t capture what made video games important. Part of the problem is the storytelling, which seems to assume that its audience is simultaneously middle aged white men who grew up playing games or programming, and young kids who know absolutely nothing about anything. But the bigger problem is one of historical discipline – video games might be an industry, but they are also a cultural phenomenon, and their history has to be a cultural one.Read More
Recently, I’ve seen a couple different variations on this meme:Read More
I got irrationally angry today when I read this New Yorker article. It should be obvious by now that I have very strong opinions about history in general and certain topics in particular, one being the Black Death. And so when large publications make claims about the Black Death that I find … problematic … I react strongly. My exact words to the person who sent me this article were “I despise what they wrote”. So, I’m here on my personal soapbox to shout into the void that the Black Death didn’t cause the Renaissance and this kind of silver lining thinking is misguided.Read More
A brief history of mental health over the last 20 years.
Amid the Coronavirus scramble that has left my local Costco completely bare of hand soap, sanitizing wipes, and tissues, I had the completely irrelevant thought this morning that I haven’t washed my hair in weeks. I’ve done plenty to care for my hair – cowash, conditioner, combing, rinsing – but I haven’t used shampoo in an effort to bring my deflating curls back to life. This may sound gross or weird initially, but as the many curl support groups are fond of explaining, I’m just allowing my natural oils to coat my hair again, while only removing dirt and buildup. As disconnected as these two phenomena are, they have a common cause: since the early 20th century, we have been obsessed with disinfectants.Read More
It’s just as unreasonable to think that a piece of paper gauze will stop you from getting sick as it is to think that a plaster mask stuffed with herbs will. But that’s the problem with how we remember major infectious disease events of the past – we remember that people died, but we don’t think a lot about how we might be repeating their mistakes.
When a pandemic worms its way into our collective consciousness, fighting the disease is no longer just about fighting the virus, but also about fighting the social anxieties that surround it.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I am not offering medical advice.Read More
If you are an avid PBS fan, you may have seen the premier of a new documentary titled Ornament of the World in the last month. It’s a piece about the interfaith world of medieval Spain, and given that I work on the very related field of cross-cultural contact in medieval Sicily, I should have been excited to see it, but, frankly, I was surprised and somewhat exhausted at the thought that this movie had been made. Because not only was its perspective on interreligious contact left behind by the field of medieval studies almost 20 years ago, but its entire approach to the question assumes that peoples of different religions should be inherently separate.Read More
Last year, my husband and I were looking to buy a house in the small California city of San Leandro, on the edge of Oakland. Being a historian and a nerd (redundant, I know), I looked into the history of the town and its name. I was surprised, delighted, and eventually horrified to find it rooted in medieval history, and it showed me just how deep-seated America’s racism is in its visions of the Middle Ages. Read More