It’s International Women’s Day. What are you not going to do today?
Friends, if you’re in New England anywhere near the Piscataqua River, come out and see me talk about my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright*, at the Berwick Academy as a guest of the Old Berwick Historical Society’s Forgotten Frontier lecture series this winter and spring. Last night, I was a guest of Bowdoin College where I also gave a talk about my book–the audience there will be hard to beat. They were so attentive and asked so many questions that they kept me more than an hour AFTER my 40-minute talk with their questions and responses. Whew! And thank you! Continue reading
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
You might think that’s my excuse for the silence around this old blog. Instead, friends, it’s my call to arms. Let me explain:
I know it’s been a little quiet around here lately–what with all the papers and exams, then winter graduation and the grades were due, then the family travel and holiday merriment, and the eating of the all the sadness of 2016. So much sadness to eat this season, friends!
I’ve been at a loss about what to write about since the election last month, and the awful triumph of the Human Stain. What can I say after all of my blithe confidence about electing our first woman president? I feel like a chump who spent most of last year leading you down the path of chumpitude with me. What good are my opinions and analysis, anyway? I’ve been feeling defeated even before I can begin to write about something, anything here lately. 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