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.
Oxford University Press, 2015
Today we bring you Part II of my interview with Theresa Kaminski, the author of Angels of the Underground: the American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II. (You can find part I of the interview here.) Yesterday when we left off, we were discussing the gender and sexual politics of women’s heroism. Why can we tolerate imperfection in men and even valorize them, especially when it comes to the history of war, but women must conform to an inhuman standard of virtue for us to remember them as heroes?
This conversation takes me back inevitably to the last election, in which an admirably accomplished and competent public servant who stored emails on her own (unhacked!) server was seen as less honest than a man who is a celebrity/grifter, a confessed sexual assailant, serial liar and fabulist, and a stoker of toxic and dangerous racial ressentiment. We must reckon with the question of why we tolerate and even reward this sociopathy in men, but punish any deviance whatsoever in women, even at the hazard of other people’s safety and the security of the republic. Patriarchy, we just can’t quit you!
In todays convo, Theresa and I talk more about why we love to forget about women’s heroism in war (even when their stories get a Hollywood movie!), and about the environmental history of the invasion and occupation of the Philippines and what it meant in terms of the long-term health of the women in her story. Andiamo! Continue reading
Oxford University Press, 2015
Theresa Kaminski, the author of Angels of the Underground: the American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II, agreed to let me interview her about her recent book for a post to commemorate the beginning of the American war in the Pacific 75 years ago today with the attack on Pearl Harbor. And boy howdy, this is something to read–the interview here, but of course the book!
I’ve written here before that I just can’t read histories in my field for “fun,” and that I tend to gravitate to 20th century political history and celebrity gossip for my fun nonfiction reads. Angels of the Underground is an absolutely engrossing read that also taught me a great deal about a period and place I know very little about. I loved this book, and want to recommend it to you for your holiday gift-giving or (-receiving) needs. The war buffs will love this book; the people who like women’s history will love this book; and anyone who loves a great story will love this book.
In brief, the book follows the lives of four American women who live in the Philippines before and during the war: Gladys Savary, the adventurer and restaurateur; Peggy Utinsky, the nurse and organizer of the resistance; Yay Panlilio, the journalist-turned-spy; and Claire Phillips, the nightclub singer and entertainer whose sexual escapades left her vulnerable to charges of opportunism over heroism. You will be impressed by their adventuresome careers before, during, and after the war.
Once again: this book demonstrates that women are always there in wartime, always doing important things for the war effort. Each of these women also published memoirs about their wars shortly after they ended–they didn’t leave their memories in a private diary for a historian to discover. And yet, I guarantee you that unless you lived in wartime Manila and/or are already an expert on the Philippines during World War II, you’ve never heard of any of these women or their amazing stories. Why is that? Why do we have an unlimited appetite for stories about PT-109 and Iwo Jima, but not about the more varied and complex stories like the ones in this book?
Let’s see what Theresa has to say about these questions, and more. Part I starts now: Continue reading
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter. . . Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792
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
Yale University Press. 2016
I feel like I’m dancing into a funeral wearing a party dress and a lampshade on my head, but in case you’re interested in a break from the general gloom, click on over to Ben Franklin’s World and check out my interview on Liz Covart’s podcast.
Yale University Press. 2016
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:” Continue reading
Hey, 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