I’ve been inspired by the recent coverage of the fall 2017 collections during New York and Paris fashion weeks to think about the many ways fashion is deployed as a critique of women’s vanity. Here are a couple of brilliant prints I came across recently that are great to consider together. First, we have “The Inconvenience of Dress” (1786), which mocks the late-1780s demand for “false rumps” or “cork bums” to fill out the rear portion of women’s skirts. The poor dear needs help from a false rump because she can’t get consume enough calories to build her own, given the fashion for generous neckerchiefs in women’s wear in this period, too. Aye, but “Who’ll not starve to lead the Fashion?” as the ditty below asks:
The Junto is on fire this week! First, they published Casey Schmitt’s review of Sowande’ Mustakeem’s Slavery at Sea, and then followed it up with Rachel Herrmann’s in-depth interview with Mustakeem about the writing of the book. Here, Mustakeem reminds us of the importance of thinking critically about the entire population of captured Africans who became our ancestors in the U.S.–it wasn’t just healthy, able-bodied young men, but it included older people, sick people, and of course, girls and women as well as men.
Today, Sara Damiano has published a wonderful guide to assigning and using more primary sources by women in the first “half” of the U.S. History survey. (I say “half,” because when one starts a class in 1492 and ends in 1877 that’s 385 years; so if the following course begins in 1877 and goes roughly through 2001, that’s only 124 years. I’m not sayin’–I’m just sayin’.)
Damiano says that in making a concerted effort to include primary sources by women throughout the course, rather than limiting their appearance to a sprinkle here and there, meant that she could engage questions about gender across time and space, and that it forced her to rethink the whole purpose of assigning students primary sources in survey classes. Check it out. She’s got a nice checklist that outlines her method.
Be sure to take full advantage of every source you see:
Finally, did you know that there is a new blog called the Stars Hollow Historical Society? This seems totally brilliant, and well-timed to correspond to the Gilmore Girls reboot that debuted over the holidays. They’re accepting pitches and submissions from anyone who wants to write about “public history and heritage tourism” in the Gilmore Girls. (I love the concept of the blog but the bright salmon-pink background is just too much. It hurts to read, whereas anything involving the Gilmore Girls, public history, and representations of heritage tourism in Stars Hollow should be nothing but a pleasure! I love the pink, but tone the shade down a bit to enhance the contrast?)
More girls, just for fun. There are some things you can’t cover up with lipstick and powder/Thought I heard you mention my name, can’t you talk any louder?
Take it away, girls and boys–
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
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
Teaser Tuesday is back with more secrets of the convent from chapter four of my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, namely: who’s doing all of the laundry, cleaning, and cooking inside the Ursuline convent in Québec? The aristocratic daughters of (often literally) entitled colonial officials, military officers, and fur trade merchants performed only the apostolic labor of the order–they were the elite choir nuns, and so worked as teachers and artists. It was the lay (or converse) sisters who got the dirty jobs done.
My excerpt today explains the differences between the choir nuns and the lay sisters, and tries to give you an idea of what daily life was like for these servant-sisters in the eighteenth century: Continue reading
Please forgive the relative silence on this blog lately, friends. I’ve been busier–in the words of my late, profane grandmother–“than a cat covered in $hit!” Much to my surprise, I’ve found it psychologically more comfortable these days to immerse myself in the eighteenth century rather than so-called “reality” these days. Not that the eighteenth century was a time when things were “great”–far from it! But, the eighteenth century has the virtue of being over and done with for more than two centuries, so I don’t have any responsibility for making it better. That’s its primary virtue for me now.
But look what happens when you listen to the Hamilton: An American Musical soundtrack on your drive and walk to work every day: you (I) wake up with #Hamiltunes on your mind, and you (I) walk around humming “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home. . . “ or “The Room Where It Happens,” and saying out loud to colleagues “sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder.” (Oops!) You (I) make irritating allusions to Hamilton, like adding “Sir,” to the ends of sentences, and sign your emails “I have the honor to be your obedient servant, H.Ann.”
Other historians are doing much better than I am in the creative and fun ways they’re using the Hamilton pop culture phenomenon in their classrooms and in public outreach. Here are some recent examples–and since I plan to play at least one song a day next semester in HIST 341: Eighteenth-century America, the course in which I teach the American Revolution, I am eager to learn of other examples like these, so please add your links and ideas in the comments below: Continue reading
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