Books for babes, and more SoCal beauty for those of you still suffering from the Alberta Clipper

children'sbookshelfToday’s post is a query from a reader about children’s books related to one’s field of history.

Dear Historiann,

I don’t know if this would interest you, but I’m stumped on my own. A colleague is having a baby, and another colleague is hosting a department shower. The host has requested that we each, in addition to any other gift, bring a book for the baby’s library. Specifically, something related to our field of history.

I think it is a lovely idea, but I have no idea if there are good, current children’s books in my field, which, broadly construed, is American Women’s History. Do you think your blog readers would have ideas?  

Would this interest me?  It’s been a subject that, for a number of mundane reasons, has been at the front of my mind for at least the last decade. Continue reading

Tomorrowland is today! On fresh starts, feminist protest, and the citizens of Greater Shut-upistan


It looks like I completely failed to blog a single word last week.  Once this blog starts to feel like another job, I’ll pull the plug, so in the meantime I’ll enjoy my off-line life when I will!  I hope you’re all having lovely winter breaks/holiday seasons/time away from the classroom/unstressful time with family and friends.

Two weeks ago, I sent my book off to begin its long and winding journey to eventual publication.  So now what do I do with the rest of my sabbatical?  I’ve got some fun ideas that I want to explore that have to do with women’s bodies, material culture, fashion, and citizenship in the Early U.S. Republic, and there are more sources at the Huntington Library than I can probably process in the next five and a half months.  But I can dream, can’t I?

While it may seem perverse, I hope that I don’t see any readers’ reports for at least a few months, because then I won’t feel obligated to respond to them and make a plan with an editor.  I want some time to dream and play, and to think about the second half of my scholarly career.  Tempus Fugit, my friends.  I’ve now written two books that several people told me I couldn’t write, shouldn’t write, and/or was stupid to write because everybody already knows that, nobody cares, and I should just stop talking about my ideas. Continue reading

Whatever happened to Bowe Bergdahl?

bergdahlRemember him?  The man who either deserted or was captured and held captive in Afghanistan for nearly five years and was released last spring?  Richard Benedetto wonders why the U.S. news media have completely dropped the Bowe Bergdahl story, and so do I because I want to see how the story ends!  Regular readers will recall that I wrote about him here twice last summer because of the intriguing possible links between his experience and the experience of former child captives I’ve written about in both my first and second books.

Media interest in the Bergdahl affair dried up once he ceased to be a political football in Washington.  Benedetto explains that “Bergdahl, who after extensive medical and psychiatric testing quietly returned in July to active duty at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream media radar screen. Few seem interested in following up.”  Few” seems to be an understatement.  After noting that it’s only the right-wing media who have continued to pursue the story, and only in a half-hearted fashion, Benedetto writes:

The only other recent news story on the matter came Nov. 6 in The Hill, not considered a conservative news source. It reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said unnamed sources told him the U.S. military unsuccessfully tried to pay a ransom for Bergdahl’s release.

In a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, The Hill said that Hunter wrote, “It has been brought to my attention that a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary who ‘disappeared’ with the money and failed to facilitate Bergdahl’s release in return.”

“Hunter said ‘according to sources’ that the payment was made between January and February 2014 through Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose activities are mostly classified.”  

That story also disappeared into the ether with little to no news media follow-up.  Hotshot investigative reporters who once might have jumped at the chance to sink their teeth into this kind of story mostly sat back and yawned. 

(N.B. Fox news reports that the Pentagon has denied that they tried to pay ransom for Bergdahl, but “[Rear Admiral John] Kirby [the Pentagon spokesperson] was less adamant, however, on whether money was provided to an alleged informant who claimed to have knowledge of where the soldier was being held.”  That happens, I guess!) Continue reading

Mothers’ compulsory little helpers

wehelpmommyI have a new intellectual crush on LA Times TV critic Mary McNamara. She’s a feminist who’s not afraid to bring the sass and the cheek like a blogger.  Check out the analysis she published today, inspired by her irritation at two television shows, Homeland and Jane the Virgin, headlined “The Tyranny of Maternity on TV.”  

Although two very different shows with different audiences, “they share a troubling and unexpected theme: Socially Enforced Motherhood.”  In other words, “despite their contrasting tone, form and intent, both shows insist that, deep down, every woman wants a child no matter the conditions, even when the woman in question has made it very clear that she does not feel this way at all.”

First, we have Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes,

For months, she denied the existence of the pregnancy, and then did not abort due mostly to psychological inertia and the writers’ need for her to have something nice to tell Brody just before his death. But Carrie never wanted the baby and, in fact, planned to put him or her up for adoption, a decision that shocked her sister, who then convinced her not to do this.

The same sister who, at the opening of Season 4, expressed intense frustration over the fact that Carrie still doesn’t want to be a mother. “You bring a child into this world, you take responsibility,” she says in the premiere, referring to the child Carrie, you know, wanted to put up for adoption. “There isn’t even a diagnosis for what’s wrong with you,” she adds, when Carrie fails to bond with baby Franny.

Yes, there is, it’s called Not Wanting to Have a Child. Something that might have been synonymous with insanity during the Inquisition but should not be so now.

Not that anyone told the writers, who could not resist throwing in a tempest-provoking scene in which Carrie contemplated drowning the baby. See? Insane.

Continue reading

Randomly generated spam comment, or Camille Paglia?


Random spam generator?

Random spam generator?

It’s increasingly difficult to tell them apart:

Sex crime springs from fantasy, hallucination, delusion, and obsession. A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.

Continue reading

Like Bowe Bergdahl, many 18th century captives didn’t go home again

librarywithcaptivesPer my comparison of recently freed Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl to Anglo-American captives of the eighteenth century, the Wall Street Journal reports that so far, “Sgt. Bergdahl has refused to see his parents or speak to them on the phone, the official said. The decision by Sgt. Bergdahl, who returned to regular duty on Monday, suggests a deeper estrangement between the soldier and his parents than the military understood when he was released. Still, officials said, they don’t know the precise cause of the tension or when it began.”

Slate comments that “the news that Bergdahl has refused to speak to his parents is an unexpected plot twist in a story already full of hairpin turns.”  Actually, no.  The eighteenth-century evidence suggests that Anglo-Americans who were adolescents or young adults and who were adopted by new Native or French families frequently chose to remain with their new families rather than return home again.  (I wrote about these captives, especially the girls and women who didn’t return, in chapter four of Abraham in Arms.)

Many captives became very attached to their new families and caregivers.  In the case I cited last month in my analysis, Sylvanus Johnson–a child captive from age six to eleven–forgot how to speak English, forgot his own parents, and for the rest of his life allegedly “so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization, that he often expressed regret at having been ransomed.  He always maintained, and no arguments could convince him to the contrary, that the Indians were a far more moral race than the whites.” Continue reading

RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

cowgirlhayoopsFrom the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:

A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness.  While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues.  Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling.  And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.

It’s true.  I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history:  Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’  Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT:  I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor:  Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution.  That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense.  Skemp continues: Continue reading