As you while away the hours today waiting to vote tomorrow, and/or obsessively clicking on political news stories and the latest, last polls–click on over to my refreshing, totally non-political chat with Sara Damiano at the Junto about The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Sara asked what I’d like people to take away from my book about a woman I say has been “doomed to obscurity:”
I’m not optimistic that anything is going to change any time soon. Take a look at Bonnie Smith’s book about the discipline of history systematically erasing women in history and as historians, then take a look at the books that win the Bancroft Prize, the National Book Awards, or really any list of prizewinning books outside of prizes specifically for women’s and gender history. Books with “Empire” in the title have been doing really well (#BecauseEmpire!) Biographies of male political and military leaders are still huge.
I know I chose poorly in writing about Esther Wheelwright. I chose to write about a little girl and a woman in a man’s world using the tools of a male-dominated discipline. I wrote about a Catholic in a language and historiography that privileges Protestant men and sees Catholics as superstitious, backwards, and anti-democratic. I wrote about a victim of warfare and captivity in a culture that privileges winning and winners at all costs. I wrote about someone who crossed borders and so doesn’t fit into any one national history or historiographical tradition. What was I thinking?
I was thinking that what we see as important and who we see as central to the story are choices, not self-evident truths. Nothing is inevitable. Everything is eminently evitable.
Check it out, and consider where the intellectual tradition of the Great Man has wrought on our current politics.