Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas), at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
Modern and mostly secular folks probably wouldn’t think that religious people might teach us something about politics and leadership. But there are important lessons about leadership found in my study of a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious order over the course of 150 years or so. After all, Catholic women religious have been electing their leadership democratically for centuries before secular men thought elections might be a good idea for civil society.
These women ran triennial elections for their superior, her assistant, dépositaire (treasurer), scrutaine (overseer of elections), novice mistress, and other lesser offices. Some Ursulines in my book even engaged in early ratf^(king operations. It’s true!
I reveal all of the details in my soon-to-be released new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, but just with you, dear readers, I’ll share some of the interesting parallels I found to the challenges facing North American women politicians even today. Mother Esther (1696-1780) served in most of the elected offices in the Ursuline convent before being elected superior three times in the 1760s, a time of political, religious, and economic crisis in the wake of the British conquest of Quebec in 1759. Her leadership and entrepreneurial financial management of the order through the 1760s permitted the order’s school and novitiate not only to survive in this uncertain decade, but to expand and thrive before Catholics were guaranteed the right to practice their religion by the Quebec Act of 1774.
How did she do it? Continue reading
Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, PA, July 28, 2016
Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president last night. To quote Joe Biden from 2010, “this is a big f^cking deal.”
All through this campaign–and as some of you may recall, throughout the 2008 campaign season too–I’ve been disgusted by the irrational hatred that people direct towards Clinton and her supporters in the face of the facts and her obvious qualifications for the presidency, from both the left and the right. (But let’s face it: it’s 90% coming from Republicans and other conservatives, with only a token amount from fellow Democrats, liberals, or leftists, who proved themselves to be as impotent as still-anesthetized neutered kittens this week in Philadelphia.) Continue reading
Pull up a chair and have a cuppa joe with me, willya?
I’ve been up since the wee hours thinking about both communication and technology in our modern world, and how and in what contexts we encounter strangers. I seem to get more calls from people who have the wrong number than I get from people who want to reach me, specifically. It’s getting exhausting, especially this morning as I’ll explain below.
One of the first, and most terrifying, text messages I ever got was more than a decade ago when I first got a mobile phone. It was just a photograph–but some kind of awful bondage porn! (Thank goodness it was just a flip phone with a 1.5 square inch screen, so I couldn’t see all the details. Bleh!)
When I’d get friendly, innocuous texts from people clearly trying to make plans with a friend, I used to text them back and let them know that they had the wrong number. Weirdly, some would try to argue with me: “It’s Chelsea!!!” Sorry, but I’m not expecting any visitors–I’m a college professor with a family. But eventually the wrong numbers got so numerous I stopped arguing.
NOT my car.
Recently, I’ve been getting even more and crazier text messages: “Hey, it’s Rick! Sorry for the late notice, but are you free for poker tonight?” Or “Is the 2005 yellow Lotus still available?” (After a few of these, I figured out that this is a car. I got a lot of voicemails about the yellow Lotus, too. I am the last person in the world ever to buy or drive a yellow Lotus! Lord.) I used to get long text messages that alluded to recent family illnesses and sadness–he seemed to be making care arrangements for someone. I think these were from a man whose daughter we knew when she was in preschool. I finally texted him (anonymously) and suggested that he probably had the wrong number.
Early this morning, the wrong numbers took a turn from the virtual into real life. I was awakened about 3:30 a.m. by the distinctive sound of someone trying to open my locked front door. This is a sound I’m very familiar with–my kid never remembers to take her key with her, and because I spent the 1990s living in big cities, I am a habitual door-locker even in the daytime, even in the green country town in which we live. It’s one thing to hear that sound in daylight while I’m working away in the office next to the front door, which is usually followed rapidly with pounding on the door and a “Mom, let me in!” It’s quite another to hear that sound in the dead of night. Continue reading
That old snag again?
Eyal Press has written about his experiences teaching journalism at SUNY-New Paltz recently. Contrary to the most popular university-themed clickbait you might have seen at The Atlantic or The Huffington Post in the past academic year, he finds that complaints about “political correctness” fascistically controlling class discussions and about this so-called “coddled” generation of students to be overwrought. Says Press:
I’d been hired to teach an undergraduate journalism seminar that focused on polarizing, divisive subjects: abortion, immigration, Islamophobia, the gun debate, campus rape. Issues likely to touch sensitive nerves, in other words, and to stir considerable discomfort among my students.
Several of the students in my class felt strongly about these issues. A few chose to write term papers that drew on personal experiences as well as on research and interviews they did. But no one in the class seemed uncomfortable talking about them. Nor did anyone object when I told them that, especially when reporting on issues close to their heart in which they had a personal stake, it was essential to talk to people whose opinions they did not share and to imagine things from multiple points of view, including views that disturbed or repelled them. None of the students called for “trigger warnings” to be placed on any of the books or articles on the course syllabus, despite the fact that several contained vivid descriptions of abuse and violence. When students aired criticisms of the readings in class discussions, the objections were about the quality of the work, not the offensiveness of the content.
This is what I’ve been reporting from my perch at a public Aggie in the West. My students are far from privileged, and as Press reports, the issue they’re most worried about is the debt they’re accruing in pursuing higher education. In a class he visited with 15 students, Press asked how many would be graduating with student debt. Continue reading
Since I’ve got another book in the bag, this summer is all about readin’ and reflectin’. I’ve never had a summer in which I was not engaged in writing a monograph for more than twenty years: first it was a dissertation, then it was Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England (which was not a revision of my dissertation, oh well. . . ), and then it was my forthcoming The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. And that about covers the previous 24 summers!
So what the heck am I doing with myself?
I’m giving myself the gift of just reading and dreaming about what might be an interesting project that will bring together my interest in women’s and gender history, sexuality, fashion, the body, and material culture. I’ll be reporting here and there about what I’ve read and who else might be interested in reading what I’ve read too.
For example, I finally have had the chance to look over The First Book of Fashion: The Book of Clothes of Matthäus & Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), edited, translated, and with essays by Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward. It’s nearly a coffee-table kind of book in terms of its size and production values. I first heard about this book last winter via Twitter, which led me to Rachel Herrmann’s fascinating interview with Hayward about fashions in the courts of Henry VIII and Charles II of England. Continue reading
The Western Association of Women Historians is coming to Denver in just a few short weeks, May 12-14. We’ve got a fantastic program with a LOT of star power–if you’re in the area, stop by for just a day, or stay for the whole conference! If you’re flying in from out of state, you can take advantage of the brand-spankin’-new train from Denver International Airport to Union Station in Denver*, which is just one mile from our conference hotel (and a free Mall Ride shuttle bus away.)