Humor in Ethnohistory
THE OCCASIONS WHEN A SCHOLAR CAN PUBLICLY "LET IT all hang out," can write about the subjects closest to his heart with relative disregard for the niceties and proscriptions of scholarly discourse, are rare. We simply don't expect our button-down scholars to operate with the abandon of poets, novelists, and satirists, to drop the mask of cool, dispassionate reason to reveal the warm or silly humanness beneath. I can think of only three places where scholarly writing is allowed such latitude (and then only after the granting of tenure): book acknowledgments (where purple prose is tolerated if not expected), inaugural lectures of endowed chairs (when it is too late to retract the prize), and presidential addresses (preferably at the end of one's tenure rather than the beginning).
When I was elected president of the American Society for Ethnohistory for 1988-89, I felt so comfortable and familiar with our relatively small membership that I decided to throw caution to the winds and to deliver the kind of post-banquet address I have always wanted to hear. As it turned out, our convention hotel in Chicago had not laid on enough desserts for the buffet banqueteers, so my address had to provide the only "light confection" many of the audience got that windy afternoon in November 1989.
Initially, I had entertained the notion of speaking, in a