Returning POWs, eighteenth-century style

The recent redemption of captive Bowe Bergdahl has interested me–not the political pissing match, which seems as drearily predictable as the plot of a Harlequin Romance.  The details coming out about his experiences as a prisoner of war are what I want to know more about.  The news that he has trouble speaking English now is especially fascinating to me.  It called to my mind this passage from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French.  First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire.  Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven.  He was eleven before she saw him again:

In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).

Little Sylvanus Johnson has been on my mind recently, because I wrote an essay last summer about child war captives in early America, and I focused on his experiences in one portion of the essay.  In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story.  From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:

In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald.*  I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. How and her family, who had returned from captivity.**  The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father.  It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old.  During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian.  He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French.  But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).

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Women’s History & Public History: NWHM update, Berks alert, and the Peg Strobel Travel Grant winner

cowgirlrarintogoI won’t be at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women this year, but I wanted to alert you to a few sessions in particular that focus on women’s history and public history, the National Women’s History Museum controversy, and finally, the winner of the first Peg Strobel travel grant competition.

First, Sonya Michel has informed me that she has posted a number of relevant responses to the breakdown between Joan Wages, President and CEO of the NWHM, and professional historians at the Coordinating Council for Women in History website.

Second, there are two events that will interest folks gathering in Toronto at the Berks that pertain to the NWHM fracas:

  • Session 123: “Women’s History Meets Public History,” Saturday May 24, 8-10 a.m., University College 144
  • Open Meeting re: Historians and the Women’s History Museum in Washington, DC, Sunday May 25, 9:30-11:30 a.m., University College 44 (lower level)

cowgirl3Third, congratulations to Tracey Hanshew, a Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University, who won the Peg Strobel Berkshire Conference Travel Grant!  And you will not believe what she’s writing about, friends:  cowgirls! Continue reading

New Journal: History of Women in the Americas

History of Women in the AmericasCommenter Susan alerted me to a new English language journal which will likely be of interest to readers of this blog:

History of Women in the Americas (ISSN 2042-6348) is an open-access journal publishing cutting-edge scholarship on women’s and gender history in all parts of the Americas and between the Americas and other nations across all centuries. The journal provides a unique forum for interrogating women’s history from a hemispheric perspective that stretches from Canada and the United States to Latin America, Central America and Mexico to the Caribbean.  History of Women in the Americas is a showcase for historians of North American, South American and Caribbean women from postgraduates and early career scholars to well-established academics. The journal places a spotlight on the significant contributions to the history of women in the Americas that researchers are continuing to make. At the same time, History of Women in the Americas aims to assist scholars by publishing book reviews on related areas and publicizing conferences and other similar items of interest.  

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Shorter Margaret Wente: porn fine by me, just leave it unexamined.

craftmasterHere’s my brief summary of Margaret Wente’s predictable, by-the-numbers shot at the academic study of pornography:

Provocative lede!  Bad puns.  Academics write only jargon-filled articles that no one will ever read.  Also:  the stupid feminists used to be against porn, but now they’re pro-porn, but they’re still stupid (duh).  Irrelevant academics can’t even make porn interesting.  But you should be very alarmed by this trend!  Academic research on porn will take over our universities!  This research is trivial and therefore all higher education is unworthy of public support.  All college students should watch porn, just not for college credit.

I don’t carry any water for porn studies here, but I also don’t think it’s the most irrelevant thing ever studied in an academic setting.  (Because the internetContinue reading

Sochi 2014 opening ceremonies: the fashion beatdown

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY

Lifties, terrorists, or Team Ireland?

You have to feel some sympathy for the designers of the team uniforms for the opening ceremonies for the winter Olympics.  After all, it’s an all cold weather sports event held at midwinter in the Northern hemisphere, so the team look has to be built around parkas, and perhaps accessorized with touqes and mufflers.  Aside from that, you need to find a look that’s flattering (or at least not deeply un-flattering) to people whose body types range in both sexes from tiny figure skaters to thick-thighed speed skaters and to ginormous hockey players and curlers.

But, honestly friends:  can’t we do any better than to make most of the international teams look like lifties or Teletubbies (see Argentina for the former, and Germany for the latter)?  And Ireland:  did you want to make your team look like IRA terrorists?

sochimexico

Team Mexico: kind of awesome

Mexico is getting slammed by some, but I thought their getups were pretty stylin’.  I like team uniforms that try to connect to the national identity of the country represented, and it’s quite a challenge when you have a tropical or subtropical country.  Cross your eyes a little bit and they look like matadors in traditional costume.  The U.S. uniforms probably seemed like a good idea when viewed in isolation, but having 200+ people in a great mass wearing that getup was just ugly and confusing. Continue reading

An update (and lessons learned) on the Liturgy of the Book

I would have made a poor nun!

Last autumn I wrote a blog post in which I described my plan to finish a draft of my book by the end of 2013.  My scheme involved waking up at 4 a.m. several days a week to write for a few hours while the house was dark and quiet.  Well friends, I have failed to do that, but in many respects I consider the experiment a success.  Furthermore, I learned some things that may be of use to the rest of you.  To wit:

  • I did not complete a draft of the entire six-chapter book, but I produced a pretty polished draft of chapter 4 and I have something called chapter 5, which is probably better  than I would have done without even trying this early morning experiment.  So, I would say that I have about 5/6 of the book drafted, and would therefore give myself a B for effort and a B-/C+ for achievement.
  • The main reason I didn’t finish all six chapters is that I pooped out after about five weeks of very steady writing and engagement.  I caught a cold in early October, went to a conference, and then midterm papers and exams came in.  In early November I had a trip out of town, and then it was Thanksgiving and I caught another cold, and that’s where October and November went.  And then December, with final exams and papers and grading, not to mention the rest of the holidays and family visiting?  You can imagine.
  • Biggest lesson learned?  The 4 to 6 a.m. writing experiment is a great thing to do for two weeks or a month at a time, but expecting to keep up that schedule amidst the demands of my day job was unrealistic.  Continue reading

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Busy busy day–no time to blog until now, and not much time for that anyway, but:  one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize in Literature today! (See also this nice notice in which she makes a feminist point about being only the thirteenth woman to win the prize, and also includes a link to a CBC story.)

Her work is especially relevant to women’s historians, I think, because so many of her stories span several decades and are frequently compressed little nuggets of twentieth-century North American women’s history.  If you’ve never read Munro before, don’t start with her much-hyped (and sure-to-be-emblazoned-with-gold-foil-stickers) latest collection, Dear Life.  Start with some of her earlier works like The Beggar Maid:  Stories of Flo and Rose (1978), a fascinating document about girlhood and young adulthood in an Anglo-Canadian provincial Ontario town and the relationship between two women of different generations.

Talk about a writer of domestic fiction who addresses universal themes like shame, lust, and all varieties of love and disappointment.  Continue reading