Yale University Press. 2016
Theresa Kaminski kindly published an interview with me on her blog on Monday night, the night that she cleverly dubbed “Esther Eve,” because it was the night before my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright was officially published. Here’s a little flava of your favorite snappy cowgirl in action:
Q. Did you confront any challenges in researching Wheelwright’s life? How did you deal with them?
A. This was an impossible book to write, because Esther never wrote a captivity narrative describing her experiences. For all that, however, her life was better documented than most middling North American women because she entered a convent, and the convent recorded her progress through the ranks there from student to novice to choir nun. Convent records also recorded a few brief versions of her biography, but I have almost nothing in her own hand about her own life and family ties.
I was told by a senior male scholar that writing this book was “daft”—both my ideas for it and the fact I was spending time pursuing them. I was lectured by a literary agent that my introduction was just out-of-date feminist cant. Feedback like this only made me more determined to write this book and to write it on my own terms. The fact of the matter is that it’s still controversial to insist that women’s lives are important and of historical significance.
Hey, kids: It’s publication day. Huzzah! The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, 2016) has officially dropped! Now you can read all about the 7-year old Anglo-American girl from New England, taken in wartime by the Wabanaki, who became a student and then choir nun at the Ursuline convent in Québec. She then became the one (and still the only) foreign-born mother superior of her order. What a life! Or more properly, what lives, plural.
I’ll be offering a few tantalizing excerpts from the book every Tuesday until it gets optioned for a screenplay, or until I make my massive advance back for the press, or both. Ha! So if you want to stop seeing this lady’s pink, squinty face peering out at you from that old wimple, do your part and buy a copy. If you can’t afford a copy, ask your university and local libraries to buy a copy, so you can share.
Future topics may include: What did children play with in early New England? How did warfare affect Wabanaki foodways? How did Esther become a Wabanaki child? What was it like to be at the Governor’s house for dinner in Québec? How did girls and women deal with menstruation in the eighteenth century? Why did the Ursulines call Esther Anglaise rather than Abnaquise? Did the Ursulines engage in bodily mortification? What was daily life like for the soeurs converses (lay sisters), who performed the domestic labor in the convent? Let me know about your questions, too–I take requests. Continue reading
The New York Times apparently has an inexhaustible supply of so-called liberals who are baffled and enraged by any criticism of their views by the so-called “left.” Desperately worried that Yale’s 2015 Halloween memo has faded into distant memory, they publish Lionel Shriver’s complaint that young people criticized her opinions on social media! As the kids these days say: Srsly!
When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.
. . . . .
As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.
The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in this morning’s Maine Sunday Telegram (the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald, FYI):
Ann M. Little’s telling of Esther Wheelwright’s story illuminates issues of class, status and gender through the 18th century and across continents.
In her intriguing new biography, “The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright,” Ann M. Little asks a rhetocial question: Why would the portrait of this Ursuline nun be there in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection “amid this collection of prominent Puritans and wealthy merchants, in the company of men she would have disagreed with on nearly every issue, great or small?”
“And yet, there she is,” writes Little, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, “the pink face floating in the glowing white wimple, wearing that determined look.”
For the past year, I’ve wondered if my choice to put her portrait on the cover was the right one. My initial rationale was, “hey, biographies of the so-called “Founding Fathers” always feature one of their many oil portraits on the cover–my argument here is that Esther Wheelwright is worthy of the same treatment, so of course!” On the other hand: what do Anglophone Americans think when they see a nun on the cover of a book? They probably don’t see “Important Early American,” but rather “representative of subculture” or even “flashback to Catholic school thirty, forty, or fifty years ago!”
This review by William David Barry ratifies my decision to put the portrait on the cover and to write about it on the first few pages. (Nevertheless, I still wonder: I just found out yesterday that the book’s Library of Congress call number is in the BX section, with other biographies of famous Catholic religious people. The portrait of the nun right on the cover probably overdetermined this, but I had wondered if my book would be in the F1-100 section (New England History) or the F1000s (early Quebec). I never thought I’d have a book in the religious history section, but I understand. Continue reading
(Deep background: This post recalls some of my earlier arguments about the dynastic nature of American politics, about which Americans are mostly in denial, at least when the dynasties involve male pols only. American politics became even more royalist in the first half of the twentieth century, when the U.S. emerged as a major international player. They’ve become even more royalist in the succeeding 70 years since World War II, in the years that the U.S. became a “superpower” and then the global hegemon.)
Queen Elizabeth I, 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts
Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia last week. It’s an entirely treatable condition suffered by more than one recent pol on the campaign trail, but looking at the media coverage of this ridiculous non-story, you’d think that she was Henry VIII on his death bed without a male heir. And that’s the American press coverage–it’s almost as though reporters on the 2016 campaign trail are unaware that the health of the nation is not entirely dependent on the health and heartiness of our Dear Leaders. Continue reading
Richard (Rick) Beeman
My friend Wayne Bodle, another alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, wrote to me yesterday with some remembrances of an emeritus Professor, Richard Beeman, who died Monday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He has agreed to let me share them with you, and we both invite any of you who knew Rick to share your memories too–whether you are “Old Pennsters” (as Richard Dunn calls us) or not.
Here are Wayne’s memories of Rick, which go back almost as far as Rick’s “freshman year” as a professor in 1968– Continue reading
I’m pretty underwhelmed by Georgetown University’s offer to give “preference in admissions” to the descendants of the enslaved people whose sale (and breakup of their families) financed the university in its earliest days. For those of you who missed the story this week:
In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000, or roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars, to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions,” and families were broken up, according to a report issued by the school committee.
The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.
. . . . .
The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that’s given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, [University President John] DeGioia said. Universities around the United States have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, but several historians said the establishment of an admissions preference is unprecedented.
NPR had some good coverage of this story too this week.
It’s nice of Georgetown to offer legacy status to the descendants of people they sold, but let’s rewind: what does it take for student to apply for admission to Georgetown and possibly to take advantage of this benefit? First, she or he will need 1) a high school diploma, 2) with a strong academic record, and 3) an awareness of family genealogy. Even then, admission is not guaranteed, it’s merely “preferred.” Continue reading