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
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
Yale University Press. 2016
Today’s Teaser Tuesday excerpt from The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright features one of the more dramatic passages in the book–Esther’s clothing ceremony (or Vêture) in January 1713 at age of 16 that represented her formal admission as an Ursuline novice. The novitiate, characterized by the great scholar of French religious women in the early modern period, Diane Rapley, as a “military boot camp,” was designed to test the suitability of girls and young women for religious life. The Ursulines of Québec had a remarkably effective novitiate–16% of novices left before final profession, and there is no record whatsoever of a professed nun leaving the order after final vows.
Of course, with my enduring interest in clothing and material culture in history, the fact that this ceremony is called literally a “clothing ceremony,” I found it irresistible to write about it at some length. Even better, Abigail (Nabby) Adams Jr., our fugitive Latin scholar from last week, recorded in her travel diary a clothing ceremony she had witnessed in Paris in 1784 among the order that ran the school where Thomas Jefferson had enrolled his young daughters, Martha (Patsy) and Mary (Polly), when he was serving as the ambassador to France in the 1780s. In this ceremony, novices take the white veil, which distinguishes them from the professed nuns who in the Ursuline order wear the black veil as shown in Esther’s portrait on the cover of my book: Continue reading
Yale University Press. 2016
Teaser Tuesday is back, my friends. Today’s excerpt from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, focuses on the education of girls and the racial and cultural politics in the Ursuline convent and school. When she’s enrolled in the school, her name is first written into the boarding school records as “a little English girl named Esther.” After having called her Mali while she lived among the Wabanaki, I resume calling her by her given name, and I hint here as to why it’s important that she was identified as “English” rather than “Wabanaki” or “Sauvagesse.”
In this excerpt, I pull back a little from the particular experiences of Esther to analyze the problem of education for girls at the turn of the eighteenth century, which was seen by elites as both potentially dangerous but necessary. How much education was too much? How did European and North American cultures ensure that girls’ and boys’ educations remained separate and unequal? You’ll also see me indulge in one of my favorite tricks when I don’t have specific information about Esther. Can you spot it? 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.
Why were these ever popular?
UPDATED AGAIN, 1/15/16, 5:05 P.M. MST
AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN, see below.
How are you? To be honest, I’m not good. 2016 look like it’s ending as it began for me. It’s grief and fear, full stop. (At least last winter when I was grieving the deaths of friends, I wasn’t fearful of the future, just really sad they’d no longer be with us to enjoy it.) I keep bursting into tears randomly through the day. What a schmuck I am!
My undergraduate students last week wrote me sweet emails wishing that I felt better after I bawled in class right in front of them. I asked them to look out for members of our community who may be feeling vulnerable. I was lecturing about women and the American revolution, and ended on a slide quoting the Declaration of Sentiments (“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. . . “), which ordinarily I would read out loud to let the class hear clearly that ringing Jeffersonian language, but instead last Wednesday I just dissolved into tears. My students told me they liked my honesty–as though it were a strategy! As though I had any self-control.
I’m busy and tired too, so here’s an interesting roundup of opinions from (mostly) smart people. Caveat: too many white ppl. in these commentaries. I’ll revise and expand as I find commentaries like this that expand the pool. Also, please note that in this roundup it’s only women (except for David Frum! Go figure!) who talk about gender or misogyny and their influence on the results last week:
- How Historians of Tomorrow Will Interpret the Human Stain’s Election (watch out for Lynn Hunt’s stemwinder. She is pi$$ed!)
- We Are Witnessing the Politics of Humiliation–American women reflect on the election. (Spoiler alert: in this round-up, Maya Jasanoff says what I said last February in my post on women and political leadership in the longue durée.)
- David Frum, “Let’s have a fresh start. . . “
- UPDATE: Marie Henein, “Thank you, Hillary. Now women know retreat is not an option,” from the Toronto Globe & Mail. Sent to me by a friend over the border–
- ANOTHER UPDATE, 11/14/16 12:43 P.M. MST: Kurt Eichenwald: “A certain kind of liberal makes me sick. These people traffic in false equivalencies, always pretending that both nominees are the same, justifying their apathy and not voting or preening about their narcissistic purity as they cast their ballot for a person they know cannot win. I have no problem with anyone who voted for Trump, because they wanted a Trump presidency. I have an enormous problem with anyone who voted for Trump or Stein or Johnson—or who didn’t vote at all—and who now expresses horror about the outcome of this election. If you don’t like the consequences of your own actions, shut the hell up.”
- MORE: Jamelle Bouie, one of my favorite political reporters, at Slate: “There is No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.” Especially this part, white people: “To face [the fact of the Human Stain’s nakedly racist rhetoric and policy positions] and then demand empathy for the people who made them a reality—who backed racist demagoguery, whatever their reasons—is to declare Trump’s victims less worthy of attention than his enablers. To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration. At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic. At worst, it’s morally grotesque.“
- I’m going to paraphrase Margaret Atwood here and say this: Trump voters are afraid Clinton voters might criticize their language or their Halloween costumes; Clinton voters are afraid that Trump voters will hurt or kill them.