Social media for dummies, in which I remind myself not to be a jerk.

jerkJoseph Adelman and Liz Covart were at the Huntington last weekend talking about the digital humanities and early American history.  (Wish I were there!  My ears were burning, though–I hear that this blog came up a lot.)  Joe got a lot of questions about use of Twitter for academics, and published a post explaining his approach in “Is there a right way for academics to tweet?”  He writes:

For me, the most important decision to make about using Twitter is to decide what you want from it and use it clearly that way. My own strategy, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is to treat Twitter like the hallways of a conference, where you can discuss serious matters about academia and the news, but also shares stories with friends about one’s kids, sports, pop culture, and the news.

The “conference hallway” is a great way to think about Twitter.  It’s a public space, so although not everyone at the conference is listening in on your specific conversation, anyone can if they choose to do so.  Joe concludes his essay with some great advice: Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: Cannibalism, whaaaat?

James Peachey, ca. 1785, Library and Archives Canada

James Peachey, ca. 1785, Library and Archives Canada

Remember a few weeks back when I asked “What’s for breakfast in early New England?”  Today’s Teaser Tuesday from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwrightis about food as well, although it’s not nearly as savory as my earlier exploration of colonial foodways.  Indeed, today write about the privation that many Wabanaki people suffered as a result of the cycles of warfare and famine that were unleashed by colonialism in Acadia.

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

All of the available evidence suggests that the people that Esther (or as I rename her in chapter 2, Mali) lived with for five years often suffered from extreme hunger.  When once I imagined Esther at age 7 skipping off into captivity in August enjoying the bounties of the blueberry and salmon harvests, the brutal reality that awaited me in the archives was of nearly unrelieved suffering, especially of children, as you will see if you read on.

This excerpt is like last week’s, from chapter 2, as Esther followed her captors into the Maine woods, and explores a recurrent calumny we see in intercultural conflict in the early modern period:  cannibalism!  Continue reading

Sexual humiliation in American women’s political history: the longue durée

On my way to and from work lately, I’ve been listening to the original cast album of Hamilton, which is of course as catchy and terrific as everyone says it is.  (Trust me:  it’s worth even more than the hype, and I bow to no one in trashing the so-called Founding Fathers, although I do have one misgiving which I describe below.)

It’s especially interesting to listen to alongside the news about the current presidential campaign.  In particular, I’m thinking about the middle part of the album, which  features several songs about Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and its exposure, as well as the revelation of his extortion by Reynolds’s husband.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton illustrates the partisanship at play in this political and sexual scandal by showing Hamilton essentially accused of corruption by Thomas Jefferson (the new Vice President under John Adams in 1797), and his fellow Democratic-Republican allies James Madison and Senator Aaron Burr, who had recently defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in the New York Senate race.

This is pretty rich, considering that Jefferson and Burr had their own extramarital sexual affairs–Jefferson’s longstanding liaison with Sally Hemings, whom he owned; and Burr’s relationship with his wife Theodosia, which began long before she was widowed in the Revolution.  Confronted with the prospect of political ruin, Hamilton published his own pamphlet admitting to sexual incontinence but defending his honor as a steward of the public trust, saying that he paid the blackmail with his own money. Continue reading

“The great life-long mistake”: young marriage in the United States


University of North Carolina Press, 2016

Friends, today I give you a guest post from Nicholas L. Syrett, my BFF and neighboring historian in Northern Colorado.  His second book is out now–American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States.  (That’s the cover on the left, featuring a striking photo of “Peaches” and “Daddy,” a.k.a. Frances Heenan Browning and Edward West Browning.  They were among the biggest tabloid sensations of the 1920s–she was 15, he 51. when they married in 1926.)  Here below, Nick gives us some of the deep history behind anti-child marriage activism in the U.S., and concludes with some thoughts about a 70-year old presidential candidate this year who as he gets older, marries women who are younger and younger.  What does age asymmetry in marriage say about gender roles in our era?

When most Americans hear the phrase “child marriage” they probably think about it happening elsewhere: India, Africa, the Middle East. The practice is indeed widespread in other parts of the world but thousands of legal minors marry in the United States every year as well. Every single state allows teenagers below the age of 18 to marry with some combination of parental or judicial consent. In some states the minimum marriageable age goes as low as 12.

All of this should concern us. But as I discovered in researching my new book, American Child Bride, these have been longstanding concerns of feminists in the United States. Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: How and why did Esther become Mali?

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

We’re back again on another Tuesday with yet another free sample from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwrightthis time from chapter 2, in which Esther is taken captive by the Wabanaki, who care for five years, from age 7 to 12.  How did Wabanaki women and men go about turning little Anglo-American girls and boys into their daughters and sons?  Unfortunately, that’s something that Esther never wrote about or described in any detail at all in any of the documents that record her life.  Chapter 2 is probably the chapter that stretched my imagination the most–you tell me if it ventures too far from history and veers into fiction.

One of my techniques in writing this book was to imagine the bodily sensations Esther might have experienced at each stage of her life and journey.  You’d be surprised how generative it is to ask simple questions like,  was Esther warm or cold?  What was she wearing? What did she eat for supper? Whose bed or blanket did she share at night? Throughout my career as a scholar, clothing has always struck me as a vitally important issue in cross-cultural encounters in early North America–everyone talks or writes about it, and moreover it’s also a vehicle for thinking about labor, trade, politics, and cultural change.

Here’s a little sample of how I approach Esther’s introduction to life among the Wabanaki.  I introduce here a recurring motif through the book of Esther being stripped of her clothing and redressed in garments appropriate to the new culture she’s living in and/or the new stage of life she has entered. Continue reading

The captivity and redemption of Derek Black, or, the power of education and engagement

Derek Black, photo by Matt McClain in the Washington Post, October 16, 2016

Derek Black, photo by Matt McClain in the Washington Post, October 16, 2016

I know this blog has been a little heavy on the book promotion these days, but here’s a modern captivity narrative with that most elusive of all endings, a happy one!  Drop what you’re doing now and go read Eli Saslow’s “The White Flight of Derek Black” in today’s Washington Post, which describes the disenchantment of one of the young scions of white nationalism over the past eight years.  Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black and the godson of David Duke, has renounced his former views and apologizes for participating in the racist movement.

What caused this charming, homeschooled, young white supremacist to change his views over the past eight years, from age 19 to 27?  In one word:  college.  Specifically, a liberal arts college, where he majored in history with an emphasis in medieval Europe. Continue reading

Historiann on The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast!

twoilhpodcastHey, Kids–go to iTunes or just click here to hear my interview with The Way of Improvement Leads Home‘s John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling about my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  We all had a great time recording this and talking to one another.  I was extremely gratified to hear how much John and Drew like the book, especially because John is an important historian of religion, and I’ve been a little nervous about what those folks might think of my treatment of the subject (which is pretty extensive, given that there is a giant nun face on the cover of the book!)

The subject of this episode was not just Esther Wheelwright, but biography in general.  John’s first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home:  Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), was a biography of a young early American diarist.  In the podcast, he reflects on some contrasting reviews this book received.  One review described it as a “deeply sympathetic” biography, which made him reflect on whether or not he had achieved objective distance from his subject; and another, which called Fithian “an insufferable prig and schlemiel,” which made John feel defensive:  “How dare this historian describe Philip this way?  I felt like I needed to defend a friend from a bully.” Continue reading