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.
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
Samuel de Champlain presides over Cap Diamant and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City
In today’s Teaser Tuesday, in which I present a snippet from my new book The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright and share a little information from behind the scenes, we follow Mali/Esther as she crosses the border into the city of Québec in the autumn of 1708. She was probably in the company of one of the mission priests who had worked with Wabanaki people for nearly thirty years, Jacques Bigot. When she arrived, she was installed at the home of the elderly Governor of New France, Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil. With his significantly younger Acadian-born wife, Louise-Élisabeth de Joybert, Marquise de Vaudreuil, he spent most of the 1690s and 1700s filling up their châteaux in Montreal and then in Québec with their eleven children, so Mali would have been in the company of a number of children close to her in age.
With her move to Québec, Mali moved into a highly status-conscious world dominated by French- and Canadian-born nobles. Why would a New England-born Wabanaki twelve year-old be taken into the home of the governor of New France? Read on and enjoy this excerpt from chapter 3 and a little smidge from chapter 4: Continue reading
James Peachey, ca. 1785, Library and Archives Canada
Remember a few weeks back when I asked “What’s for breakfast in early New England?” Today’s Teaser Tuesday from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, is about food as well, although it’s not nearly as savory as my earlier exploration of colonial foodways. Indeed, today write about the privation that many Wabanaki people suffered as a result of the cycles of warfare and famine that were unleashed by colonialism in Acadia.
Yale University Press. 2016
All of the available evidence suggests that the people that Esther (or as I rename her in chapter 2, Mali) lived with for five years often suffered from extreme hunger. When once I imagined Esther at age 7 skipping off into captivity in August enjoying the bounties of the blueberry and salmon harvests, the brutal reality that awaited me in the archives was of nearly unrelieved suffering, especially of children, as you will see if you read on.
This excerpt is like last week’s, from chapter 2, as Esther followed her captors into the Maine woods, and explores a recurrent calumny we see in intercultural conflict in the early modern period: cannibalism! Continue reading
Yale University Press. 2016
We’re back again on another Tuesday with yet another free sample from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, this time from chapter 2, in which Esther is taken captive by the Wabanaki, who care for five years, from age 7 to 12. How did Wabanaki women and men go about turning little Anglo-American girls and boys into their daughters and sons? Unfortunately, that’s something that Esther never wrote about or described in any detail at all in any of the documents that record her life. Chapter 2 is probably the chapter that stretched my imagination the most–you tell me if it ventures too far from history and veers into fiction.
One of my techniques in writing this book was to imagine the bodily sensations Esther might have experienced at each stage of her life and journey. You’d be surprised how generative it is to ask simple questions like, was Esther warm or cold? What was she wearing? What did she eat for supper? Whose bed or blanket did she share at night? Throughout my career as a scholar, clothing has always struck me as a vitally important issue in cross-cultural encounters in early North America–everyone talks or writes about it, and moreover it’s also a vehicle for thinking about labor, trade, politics, and cultural change.
Here’s a little sample of how I approach Esther’s introduction to life among the Wabanaki. I introduce here a recurring motif through the book of Esther being stripped of her clothing and redressed in garments appropriate to the new culture she’s living in and/or the new stage of life she has entered. Continue reading
Derek Black, photo by Matt McClain in the Washington Post, October 16, 2016
I know this blog has been a little heavy on the book promotion these days, but here’s a modern captivity narrative with that most elusive of all endings, a happy one! Drop what you’re doing now and go read Eli Saslow’s “The White Flight of Derek Black” in today’s Washington Post, which describes the disenchantment of one of the young scions of white nationalism over the past eight years. Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black and the godson of David Duke, has renounced his former views and apologizes for participating in the racist movement.
What caused this charming, homeschooled, young white supremacist to change his views over the past eight years, from age 19 to 27? In one word: college. Specifically, a liberal arts college, where he majored in history with an emphasis in medieval Europe. Continue reading