That old snag again?
I’m just back at the ranch after half a week at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting 2017. I didn’t have a minute to blog or tweet about much of anything, seeing as I wanted to take full advantage of having so many friends and colleagues in Colorado. Blogging and tweeting is what I do when I’m back here all by my lonesome–so expect to hear plenty from me now that everyone has cleared on out! As you may recall, the Longhorn Parade for the 2017 National Western Stock Show was cancelled because of cold and snow, but the historians converged upon Denver fearlessly last week.
It was wonderful to see so many of you, and I’m grateful to those of you #twitterstorians whom I didn’t know in person who took the time to grab my elbow to say hello. It was particularly fun to meet finally some of the young scholars like Rachel Herrmann and Erin Bartram, with whom I have corresponded and grab-assed over Twitter. I’m just sorry that I only got to see or talk to most of you for a minute or two in-between conference sessions or at a busy cocktail party. I did get to have several nice lunches and dinners on the town with old friends. How did we get to be the old people at the conference? Some of my age peers are starting to look like they were rode hard and put away wet. Continue reading
Max Nelson offers a fascinating overview of a current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, “Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America.” I find this subject both touching and horrifying, especially considering the understandable impulse to commemorate lost children. But as Nelson notes (per the exhibition), the practice of painting or sculpting the recently deceased continued long after the invention of photography and the democratization of family portraiture. In fact, “mortuary photography”–photographs of the recently deceased, especially babies and children–was a big chunk of the business in early photography.
There’s a painting I’ve been using in my classes to illustrate the changes in how free Americans envisioned marriage and family life from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The Ephraim Hubbard Foster Family presents such a lively contrast to the dour mid-eighteenth century puritan portraits of husbands and wives–the fresh, blushing complexions! The number of children, who appear to have been painted as individuals! The focus on parental youth and beauty! I’ve wondered for a long time if the child so extraordinarily costumed on the window sill is in fact a dead child, but having reviewed the online images this exhibition offers, I don’t think this is the case. Here’s the portrait: Continue reading
Yale University Press. 2016
Teaser Tuesday is back after a three-week holiday hiatus with a penultimate post, this one from the penultimate chapter of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Today I offer you a little eighteenth-century intrigue surrounding Mother Esther near the time of her first election as mother superior in late 1760, after the British conquest of Québec. Anglo-American and British officials were reflexively suspicious of French and French Canadian religious women, whom they routinely portrayed not just as religiously dangerous but also as political schemers. While the Jesuits were thought to be the most dangerous of the religious orders because of their “Turbulent and Intriguing Genius,” as we’ll see in this excerpt, religious women–especially mothers superior–were also regarded as potentially dangerous and destabilizing of British imperial control: Continue reading
WARNING: Inflammatory post ahead. This is a follow-up post to yesterday’s post, A woman’s work is never done, part I: the daily churn.
My return to blogging yesterday was inspired by a recent conversation over winter break with a former student of mine who’s now enrolled in an impressive Ph.D. program. She was telling me all about the interesting syllabus she read through for a readings course in early American history, a version of which she took eight years ago as a master’s student with me at Baa Ram U. As she was telling me about the books she read and her opinions about them–it was an interesting list and she had worthwhile and frequently spiky opinions–I was gripped by a horrible dread. I hadn’t heard her mention any books that featured women or gender as either subjects or authors. So I asked:
“Did you read any books about women’s and gender history, or the history of sexuality?”
“No,” she said, “and come to think of it, I don’t think we read many books by women, either.”
A popular meme I’m repurposing here.
You might think that’s my excuse for the silence around this old blog. Instead, friends, it’s my call to arms. Let me explain:
I know it’s been a little quiet around here lately–what with all the papers and exams, then winter graduation and the grades were due, then the family travel and holiday merriment, and the eating of the all the sadness of 2016. So much sadness to eat this season, friends!
I’ve been at a loss about what to write about since the election last month, and the awful triumph of the Human Stain. What can I say after all of my blithe confidence about electing our first woman president? I feel like a chump who spent most of last year leading you down the path of chumpitude with me. What good are my opinions and analysis, anyway? I’ve been feeling defeated even before I can begin to write about something, anything here lately. Continue reading
The Good Elves failed to mark all of my exams last night, so I spent this morning packing for a holiday trip and grading 21 final essays by my women’s history students. And they rocked it! Broadly speaking, I asked them to analyze five primary sources (two of them published engravings from the American Antiquarian Society’s collections) using the last three books on our syllabus and make an argument either for continuity or change in free women’s lives in the period 1750 – 1820.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they chose to emphasize change in women’s lives, although most still recognized the challenges these women faced in the societies they lived in, which were still characterized by a great deal of continuity in its gendered expectations of marriage and sexuality. While I find that students are eager to seize upon any evidence that things might be getting better for anyone, that message may be particularly important in the wake of the electoral college victory of the Human Stain. My students in this stack of exams put a great deal of emphasis on the change women were enacting in their own lives, regardless of broader efforts at social control.
Because I think the images they got to write about are so fantastic, and because I think more of you should check out the rich collection of digitized material that the American Antiquarian Society makes freely available, here they are (above and below), along with a link to the larger database they’re from, the Charles Peirce Collection of Social Caracatures and Ballads. Take a look at the top image carefully–I’ve included a link to the AAS site’s digitization, which is enlargeable to a fair-thee-well–so rich with wonderful details about the unhappy marriage it depicts.
This is the collection that features the only copy of the famous “A Philosophic Cock,” one of the most explicit political jokes in American history, and the AAS has digitized it! It’s also the only known attempt to depict Sally Hemings in her lifetime–although I’m sure it wasn’t drawn from personal knowledge, it’s notable for its existence at all.
(Warning: bad rape joke straight ahead.) Continue reading
Yo yo—What time is it? Showtime! OK, I’ll stop setting everything that goes through my head to the tune of various Hamilton: An American Musical songs. Sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder (why she even brings the thunder!) Sorry–that was the last one, but as it happens, our subject is the thunder of British cannons that laid siege to the city of Québec in 1759 and set the stage for the British occupation (from 1759-ff, according to Québec!)
The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright spans all of the colonial wars that spanned her life, and no wonder: her life from start to end was indelibly shaped by war and various invading armies. Born in 1696 at the end of King William’s War (1688-97), in which many of the Anglo-American towns in what’s now southern Maine were attacked by French-allied Wabanaki, Esther was taken captive in another series of raids conducted in the next war, Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). Although she found a great deal of security and stability inside the walls of the Ursuline convent in Québec by 1709, war followed her throughout her life from the failed British invasion of that city in 1711 to the successful invasion and occupation in 1759 in the Seven Years’ War to the unsuccessful attempt of Americans to take the city in 1775-76 in an early skirmish in the Revolutionary War. Aside from these conflicts, Québec was (and still is) a city with a massive military installation, so you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a man in uniform throughout the eighteenth century.
But they weren’t inside women’s religious orders, were they? After the invasion and occupation begins in 1759, they are! General James Murray, the occupation governor, surveyed the institutional buildings in the city and saw the advantages of setting up his temporary base of operations inside the Ursuline convent! But here’s the funny part: you’d never know it from the Ursuline records. Thus, the case of the missing men–and their missing trousers! (I know, 1759 is still squarely in the knee breeches era, with modern trousers being at least 50 years in the future for most men. But you’ll see a mention of “trowsers” in the primary source quoted below). Continue reading