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
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
It’s definitely a day worthy of a Neely O’Hara meltdown:
It’s back–Teaser Tuesday, in which I offer you a little flava of what you might find in my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Today I give you a little hint from chapter one, in which I write about Esther’s life from birth up to age seven, when she’s taken captive in a Wabanaki raid on her hometown of Wells, Maine.
One of the most exciting developments in history lately is the emergence of age as a category of analysis. I had a lot of fun thinking about the ways in which age might have shaped Esther’s experience of the different worlds in which she lived–in an Anglo-American frontier town, in Wabanaki mission towns, and then in Québec as a student in the Ursuline convent school, where she then remained as a nun for the rest of her life.
Lots more, and even a very creepy doll, after the jump!
The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in this morning’s Maine Sunday Telegram (the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald, FYI):
Ann M. Little’s telling of Esther Wheelwright’s story illuminates issues of class, status and gender through the 18th century and across continents.
In her intriguing new biography, “The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright,” Ann M. Little asks a rhetocial question: Why would the portrait of this Ursuline nun be there in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection “amid this collection of prominent Puritans and wealthy merchants, in the company of men she would have disagreed with on nearly every issue, great or small?”
“And yet, there she is,” writes Little, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, “the pink face floating in the glowing white wimple, wearing that determined look.”
For the past year, I’ve wondered if my choice to put her portrait on the cover was the right one. My initial rationale was, “hey, biographies of the so-called “Founding Fathers” always feature one of their many oil portraits on the cover–my argument here is that Esther Wheelwright is worthy of the same treatment, so of course!” On the other hand: what do Anglophone Americans think when they see a nun on the cover of a book? They probably don’t see “Important Early American,” but rather “representative of subculture” or even “flashback to Catholic school thirty, forty, or fifty years ago!”
This review by William David Barry ratifies my decision to put the portrait on the cover and to write about it on the first few pages. (Nevertheless, I still wonder: I just found out yesterday that the book’s Library of Congress call number is in the BX section, with other biographies of famous Catholic religious people. The portrait of the nun right on the cover probably overdetermined this, but I had wondered if my book would be in the F1-100 section (New England History) or the F1000s (early Quebec). I never thought I’d have a book in the religious history section, but I understand. Continue reading
My 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
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