David McCullough beats the dead like they owe him money.

I don’t know why I find this Onion article so funny and yet feel so awkward laughing at it at the same time (h/t anonymous, who put this link in my comments yesterday.)  Historians and other humanists:  how do you feel about it, and why?

I think it has something to do with shame about exploiting the dead, plus slavery, neither of which is very funny.  (But of course, my opportunities for exploitation are much more limited than McCullough’s.)

This, on the other hand, is just shamelessly funny. Continue reading

New research on Nazi slave labor camps shocks even Holocaust scholars

This is certainly shocking to me as well. From the New York Times article:

[R]esearchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.

Interestingly, the researchers at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. have uncovered a number of camps and slave labor sites in which sexuality and reproduction were central to the torture inflicted on women.  Continue reading

No wonder Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique

As most of you probably know, this year is The Feminine Mystique‘s fiftieth anniversary. For those of you who wonder why she wrote it, here’s a two-minute and 46-second explanation.

It’s worth seeing the whole video to get to the woman in diamonds and furs peeling potatoes at the end. Can you guess what’s on her head? (I kind of felt for the daschund in the jeweled toque.) The Pathé Fashion Archive is full of fascinating little timewasters–enjoy!

The big reveal! Historiann has a face for C-SPAN 3.

You can see me lecturing to my HIST 358:  American Women’s History to 1800 students from this semester on the politics of early American women’s underwear (srsly!) on C-SPAN 3, American History TV, this weekend.  I’m on Saturday 8 p.m. EST/6 p.m. MST, again on Saturday at midnight/10 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m./11 a.m.  If (like me) you don’t get C-SPAN 3, it streams online over the weekend, too.  I also throw in some bits about the 600-year old bra, John Paul Gaultier, and Madonna into the lecture, just for laughs.

(Amazingly enough, there is a blog called Eighteenth-Century Stays, where you can see more photos like the one’s I’ve borrowed here, as well as other examples of both eighteenth- and seventeenth-century stays, with instructions for how to make them yourself.)

How did I get interested in early American undergarments, and why on earth do I think this is an appropriate subject for an undergraduate student lecture?  Continue reading

Falling down the Alice of Old Vincennes digital rabbit hole

“Alice of Old Vincennes” float, 1929

I know that I promised around the New Year not to buy any more books.  I’ve held to that promise, and have been pestering my subject-area librarian at Baa Ram U. with requests, as well as drawing heavily on our in-state library exchange system.  It’s been fantastic to read, enjoy, and return the books I’ve been reading!

However, as I warned you, I might make an exception for books I find in used book shops and old junk stores, and I’m afraid that last Sunday I did buy a book, Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson (Indianapolis:  The Bowen-Merrell Company, 1900), which was a popular smash and among the top ten best-selling books of 1900 and 1901.  I paid all of $4.50 for my first edition copy, although you can pay eight or nine times more for it online.  (I love my old junk store haunts here in Northern Colorado!)

Who cares about some musty historical novel from the last century?  I bought the book because it is a story built around the capture of Fort Vincennes (now Vincennes, Indiana) from the British in 1779 during the War of the American Revolution.  Vincennes was originally a French fort, and the book purports to tell the story of a beautiful but willlful orphaned teenager named Alice who was adopted by a prominent French family at Vincennes.  Of course, SPOILER ALERT, she turns out to have been originally an Anglo-American girl who as a child was taken captive by Indians before she was “rescued” by the French family that raised her.  In short, it’s a typical turn-of-the-twentieth-century set-piece of Colonial Revival romanticism that portrays the French and Indian presence in the Old Northwest as a charming but doomed relict of the past, and it comes complete with the dashing young Anglo-American military hero ready to sweep Alice off her feet and return her to life among English- speaking Protestants.

Why are you still reading this post?  This is a post not so much about Alice of Old Vincennes as it is about the amazing power of the internets to elucidate and explain what otherwise would have been a long-forgotten historical novel that would interest few of us as a literary novel.  Continue reading

Sunday round-up: friends & neighbors edition

Me & my best friend!

Howdy, friends!  It’s lovely, sunny, and warm, so I’m off on a run.  Here are some interesting tidbits I found elsewhere on the world-wide timewasting web for those of you not enjoying perfect autumn weather today:

  • Via RealClearBooks, Eleanor Barkhorn on “What Jeffrey Eugenidies Doesn’t Understand About Women,” after reading his new book, The Marriage Plot:  “There’s one way, however, in which [the protagonist] Madeleine defies believability: She has no true female friends. Yes, she has roommates and a sister with whom she once had ‘heavy’ emotional conversations, but these relationships are characterized more by spite than affection. And, sadly, The Marriage Plot is just the latest story to forget to give its heroine friends. There are countless other Madeleines in modern-day literature and film: smart, self-assured women who have all the trappings of contemporary womanhood except a group of friends to confide in.”  Have you noticed this about recent books and films?  I have to say that I hadn’t until Barkhorn pointed it out.  She concludes, “The great irony, of course, is that the old-fashioned, marriage-plot-bound books that Eugenides attempts to modernize in his new novel actually do a better job of portraying female friendship than The Marriage Plot.”  I think I may read this anyway–a library codex copy of the book, of course–because I’m a huge fan of “marriage plot” authors like Jane Austen and the many Brontes, but Barkhorn makes an interesting argument here.
  • Isn’t it cute when right-wing religious nuts start condemning each other to hell?  Robert Jeffress vs. Bill Donahue, plus all Catholics, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, of course.  Taking victimology to new heights, Anita Perry cries that her handsome husband Rick has been “brutalized . . . because of his faith.”  Mark my words:  the majority of Americans will not reward this kind of religious pride, which just stinks of hubris and un-neighborliness.  Even if they privately agree with him, Americans are fundamentally uncomfortable with the Jeffress style of public religious condemnation.
  • 1970s flashback:  Do any of you remember the sensational book Sybil, about the girl with multiple personality disorder?  Continue reading

American ingenuity: Steve Jobbed?

Has the over-the-top coverage of the sadly premature death of Steve Jobs (1955-2011) struck anyone as perhaps a telling sign of anxiety over the prospect of American decline?  Specifically, I’m writing about the decline in technological innovation, but I think it speaks to anxities about the future of the United States in all kinds of global leadership questions as well as the current state of the U.S. economy.

From my perspective, Jobs is an odd person to lionize.  Don’t get me wrong–he helped develop and sell a number of remarkably nifty gadgets, but he wasn’t the inventor.  He was the CEO of Apple–a company that moved most of its manufacturing to China.  Continue reading