Who is Bowe Bergdahl? Now we know.

atlasshruggedSome of you may remember my occasional blogging about the recently returned U.S. Army captive of the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.  I wondered about whether his experiences were similar to those of other “redeemed captives” of eighteenth-century Anglo-American wars against Native people and their French allies, and why the U.S. media seemed to have so little interest in following up on his story.  (As I suggested, the story was probably complicated and wouldn’t fit easily into a politically useful narrative for anyone on any side of U.S. politics.)

Serial, Sarah Koenig’s hit podcast, has been focused on his story in its second season, and the story it’s telling is indeed very complicated.  Check out Koenig’s efforts to get Bergdahl’s story, and to fact-check it against the stories told by his Army colleagues, commanding officers, and sources with connections to the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The story she tell is of a young recruit with fairly weak ties to his fellow soldiers who were all in a bad situation in Afghanistan.  Bergdahl became convinced that his commanding officers were corrupt, and decided to alert the U.S. military to the corruption by going “dustwun” (duty status whereabouts unknown) in order to get the attention of military leadership. Continue reading

Teaching the sixties: what do you think?

ValleyoftheDollsposterMy colleague and co-conspiritor in teaching History of Sexuality in America over the past several years, Ruth Alexander, has suggested that we develop and co-teach another course on the 1960s. She has correctly deduced my excitement over the multi-media primary sources that modern historians can use–primarily video and audio clips that are available widely on the internet, as well as material culture and clothing that we find at Goodwill and garage sales! Wow!

When we had Carrie Pitzulo, author of Batchelors and Bunnies:  The Sexual Politics of Playboy as a special guest in our class last term to talk about her article on Hugh Hefner’s and Playboy‘s engagement with feminism, I couldn’t believe that there was an entire episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line on YouTube, starring Hefner and engaging his ideas about the sexual revolution and feminism!  Amazing.  It’s also fascinating as a style of TV production that never happens now, even on PBS.  Buckley draws Hefner out on “the Playboy philosophy” and where it fits in American intellectual history.

The sad truth about teaching the early modern period is that the video is totally inferior. Continue reading

Supporting women’s work with money is a feminist issue

excellenceThis blog has mocked the notion of “Excellence without Money” as the guiding meme of universities these days, because excellence has a price, and a price that can’t be paid without actual money.  (It’s like all of those people who tell you that “breastfeeding is free!”  These people must never have breastfed a child and/or think that women’s time and labor is worth nothing, because no one who thinks about this for 15 seconds could say anything that stupid.)

But in our new media landscape, we have the option of scooping up a lot of excellent podcasts and public radio shows without paying for them.  I seriously hope you’ll reconsider this, especially if you earn a paycheck yourself, because it’s all too frequently women’s work we undervalue and take for granted.  If more self-avowed feminists looked around and started paying other women what they’re worth, it would benefit all of us–women and men, feminist and non-feminist alike.

Liz Covart of the podcast Ben Franklin’s World is asking the thousands of people who read her blog and listen to her podcasts to support her work financially. I donated some coin a few days ago, and want to urge you all to think about supporting her or another independent feminist and/or or history blogger, podcaster, or someone whose volunteer labor entertains and educates you. Continue reading

Georgia O’Keeffe, Claudia O’Keeffe & Joan Didion: three original cowgirls

cowgirlropeMy beach reading this week is Joan Didion:  her famous essays on the 1960s collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album (1979), and her novel from that era as well, Play it As it Lays.  I’ve completed the essay collections, and came across this 1976 article about Georgia O’Keeffe that reminded me about the conversation a few days ago about women writers and artistic creativity and confidence: Continue reading

“Scent of a Woman’s Ink” updated for a new generation with no good news

womanwritingThe title of this post refers to a 1998 essay by Francine Prose, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink:  Are Women Writers Really Inferior?”  Nearly twenty years later, the results aren’t encouraging for women.  Over at Jezebel, Catherine Nichols writes about sending out queries to agents for the same novel, with the same cover letter and writing sample, under both her real name and in the name of a male alter ego.  The results are even more depressing than you’d imagine (h/t Megan Kate Nelson for the RT that alerted me to this article):

The plan made me feel dishonest and creepy, so it took me a long time to send my novel out under a man’s name. But each time I read a study about unconscious bias, I got a little closer to trying it.

I set up a new e-mail address under a name—let’s say it was George Leyer, though it wasn’t—and left it empty. Weeks went by without word from the agents who had my work. I read another study about how people rate job applicants they believe are female and how much better they like those they believe are male.

Her hit ratio as Catherine was two requests to see the whole manuscript out of fifty queries, so 1:25 positive requests.  As George, her hit ratio was 17:50.  Nichols concludes that he is “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.”

Who was is brilliant new writer, George Leyer, and when can we read his brilliant novel? Continue reading

Crossing over, part III: The uses and limits of literary models

lauramaryattic

Mary with Laura holding Susan. Illustration by Garth Williams, Little House in the Big Woods, 1932

Today’s post is an unanticipated part III in my series Crossing Over, on writing and publishing an academic book that aims to be a “crossover” title with a popular audience.  Part I can be found here, “What is my book about?”, and Part II here, “Will I ever publish this book?”  Many thanks to those of you in the comments on those posts who encouraged me to write a Part III.  I hope to hear from the rest of you as to the writers and titles you see as your historical and literary models.

One of the challenges in writing The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2016) was the fact that her life is very eventful early in childhood and adolescence, and then again in old age–a reversal of most biographies, which tend to focus on the adult years of a subject’s life, and offer only scant attention to their youths and their decline in old age.  But while her childhood was very eventful–taken captive at age 7, brought to New France at age 12, and announced her intention to become a nun at age 14–most of it before she enters the Ursuline convent as a student at age 12 is only very lightly documented.

How does one write the history of an eighteenth-century childhood, especially one almost entirely undocumented?  Although I was powerfully influenced by the historians I’ve been reading all my professional life, especially those who have focused on telling the story of a single life, I saw this as more of a literary problem than a historical one.  That is, I knew what I could do as a historian–I just didn’t know how I could bring it all together.  Or, as I wrote in part I of the Crossing Over series a few weeks ago: Continue reading

Book collections: his, mine, and yours? Also, my plans for a home office rethink.

1819INtownsOver at Chancery Hill Books, Tom Bredehoft wrote a few posts this week about collecting books and the ways in which his book collection has shaped his scholarship.  He wonders, “Why aren’t literature professors also book collectors?,” when his research has been immeasurably enriched by his book collecting and bibliographic interests:

Being a book collector has given me a far broader experience of books and their texts than my academic training or my academic pursuits alone could have done. Of course not every book I’ve collected will end up playing a role in the academic arguments I make, but that’s precisely the point: I do not know which books I will use until I use them. But I do know that I will probably not use a book I am not at least somewhat familiar with.

Do some of you collect books?  If so, what role (if any) have they played in the rest of your work or professional life?  I confess that I buy old books, but only if they’re of personal or professional interest.  I’m not into book collecting for the sake of collecting rare or important books, but I like to think that my purchases and careful stewardship of my books may someday be appreciated by antiquarians, bibliophiles, or even historians in the future.

I was particularly interested in Tom’s report on Victorianus Clark’s A Rhyming Geography; Or, a Poetical Description of the United States of America, &c. (Hartford: Peter B. Gleason & Co., 1819,) which looks like a fascinating document.  It recalled in my mind Kariann Yokota’s fascinating discussion of early American maps and geographies, which continued to plagiarize and reflect British referents and sensibilities for decades after the American Revolution.  Clark’s pedagogically innovative Rhyming Geography appears to flow from this vein as well–check out this discussion of Vincennes, Indiana:  Continue reading