Yale University Press. 2016
Friends, I know it’s been a quiet month on the blog. What can I say? The news moves at the speed of light these days, and it’s difficult for me sometimes to conceptualize anything to add to the frantic online conversations. I wrote up a short article, “The Captivity of Otto Warmbier: Outsiders, Insiders, and Mad Kings,” for Public Seminar a few weeks ago, just before his death in Cincinnati was announced. I try to put his ordeal into context with the long centuries of North American captivities locally and globally. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas) 55.7×45.5 cm; © Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA, USA
I thought I’d also check in today to let you know that I’ll be in Boston this Wednesday night, June 28, at the Massachusetts Historical Society to talk about my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, 2016). I’m really looking forward to my visit to the MHS again, because that’s where the portrait of Esther on the cover of the book now resides. The talk starts at 6, but come for the reception at 5:30 to say “hi” and have a drink–both the reception and the talk are free for members, and only $10 for non-members. You can register online here. I’ve got lots of beautiful, full-color slides of images that I could only reproduce in black and white in the book, so come for the wine, and stay for the polychromy. Continue reading →
Philadelphia, 10th and Spruce Streets, April 15, 2017
I just spent 22 hours in Philadelphia this weekend, and I have to say that I was charmed by its persistent Philly-ness. It still is, and may always be, the Philadelphia that I loved and left nearly 25 years ago. At the time, I was thrilled to get out, but on my brief visit I was even charmed by some of the nastier details of life in the city.
I’m sure it’s because I no longer have to live there, and because I was on a high from my visit to give a book talk and meet students at Bryn Mawr College, my alma mater, but I was charmed by the somatic and sensory aspects of city life that I recognized instantly.
First, there’s the cigarette smoke on the street–surprisingly, that hasn’t changed in 25 years. (My hotel room also had a faint trace of cigarette smoke–that was less charming, but I’m kind of a bloodhound when it comes to my powers of smell detection and analysis.) Even the pee and vomit scents I detected in the daylight hours at many turns inspired nostalgia, probably because those aren’t smells I run into all that often in my life in Colorado. Continue reading →
To all of the very worried Democrats and Republicans fretting and rubbing their hands about the possible end of the filibuster: who cares?
The filibuster is a patently anti-democratic parliamentary tactic that should never have existed. The senate is anti-democratic enough to begin with that we don’t need to include all of these bullcrap measures that are about as timely and as fashionable as spittoons and antimacassars.
To liberals on fainting couches: have you reviewed the history of the filibuster? To conservatives huffing and puffing like the Big, Bad Wolf: go ahead and blow the senate down. You won! You get your pick for the Supreme Court! That’s how it works! That’s about all you’re going to get out President Human Stain, so enjoy your new Associate Justice of the Supreme Court–those Trumpstains probably won’t come out of your Federalist Society lab experiment, but I’m sure you’ll live happily with the shame. Continue reading →
Yale University Press. 2016
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 →
This situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.
I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet here lately–aside from the usual new semester kerfuffle, it’s been difficult to decide what to say or when to say it when one’s outrage-o-meter is stuck on full blast all week long. Being the sunny, positive person that I am, I’ve been looking for wisdom on the internets that notes that it’s going to be a slog, but that we’ve faced worse. I’m a historian: I know we’ve faced much more serious threats to American democracy than the Human Stain, Mr. Minority president, Mr. 36%.
The people whose analyses I’ve gravitated towards lately have been conservatives. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post is someone to follow now. Another example is Eliot A. Cohen, a loyal Bushie and advisor to Condoleeza Rice in her last two years as secretary of state, in “A Clarifying Moment in American History:”
This is one of those clarifying moments in American history, and like most such, it came upon us unawares, although historians in later years will be able to trace the deep and the contingent causes that brought us to this day. There is nothing to fear in this fact; rather, patriots should embrace it. The story of the United States is, as Lincoln put it, a perpetual story of “a rebirth of freedom” and not just its inheritance from the founding generation.
Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness. These are all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers. Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies.
Continue reading →
Hey–remember all of those stories that were written at the depths of the Great Recession back in 2008-2010 about “the high cost of higher education,” warning young people not to waste their time or money on college degrees because all of these elite university grads from the 1970s and 1980s were confident that higher ed was now just a scam to pick the pockets of the middle class?
Remember that? Well, that bubble has burst–not the “higher ed bubble” that conservatarians and right-wingers and the entire Wall Street Journal editorial page team have been predicting, but rather the bubble of the “higher ed bubble.” Behold, I opened my copy of the Denver Post this morning to read this headline:
“The pay gap between college grads and everyone else is now wider than ever.”
Who ever would have predicted??? Continue reading →
Welcome to Denver, #AHA17!
Happy New Year, friends! As many of you know, we’re expecting an invasion of historians next week in Denver with the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association. As a local, I thought I’d offer some practical tips and tricks for the coastal swells and dudes who will be staggering around like a tweedy herd of longhorns. The AHA’s paper program covers a lot of this information on pp. 2-4, but their map is pretty limited and you might appreciate some insider intel. So, jump in the saddle and let’s go! (You can also bookmark this site on your mobile device as it offers links to some handy maps and other info.) Continue reading →
My yoga teacher offers super-intense classes on several winter holidays in which we do 108 sun salutations (vinyasas.) The last 108 class I attended was on Thanksgiving day, when I allegedly announced that “2016 has sucked a bag of d!cks!” One of my yoga buddies–another historian–gave me a little present today in the New Year’s Eve 108 class to help send this year on its way: 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 →