A woman’s work is never done, part I: the daily churn.

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

Examinational-Harmonics, or, Historiann’s happy holiday liftoff

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

Roundtables: when they’re good, they’re very very good; but when they are bad they are horrid

littlegirlwithcurlMegan Kate Nelson at Historista reports today on her recent gallivanting at the Southern Historical Association.  She says that because she’s an independent scholar and gets all of the solitary writing time she wants, she “needed to be a part of some vigorous academic conversations more than I needed a swim in the ocean. And so I went through the program carefully, and chose sessions that fit my two criteria:

  • Subject matter that addressed my current interest in cultures of violence, Civil War history, and southern identity
  • Roundtable formats (if you’ve read my previous pieces on academic conferences, you know how I feel about the traditional 3+1 panel and my interest in other, more dynamic formats)”

Alas, some people haven’t gotten the memo on what constitutes a roundtable!  Megan reports that “what I attended were not roundtables, but panels disguised as roundtables.”  She continues, Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: Gender, race, and intellectual authority in the Ursuline Convent

Yale University Press. 2016

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

Sad.

David Remnick, “An American Tragedy:”

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

Please look out for one another.  As wise people who counsel children in the wake of trauma say, “look for the helpers.”  Be a helper.

Three lessons on women’s leadership from inside an Ursuline convent

Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas)

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

Zara Anishanslin on African American women’s voices and bodies in colonial America and today.

Today we feature a guest post from Historiann friend and colleague Zara Anishanslin (@ZaraAnishanslin), an Assistant Professor of History and Art History at the University of Delaware. Her first book, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World will be published by Yale University Press in September 2016.  An expert in eighteenth-century British and American material culture, Anishanslin pulls some of the threads of contemporary conversations about African American women’s words and bodies, and finds many suggestive connections to colonial America and the early U.S. republic.  In this lavishly illustrated post, she asks how were the images and ideas of African American women appropriated or deployed by others to their own economic and political ends?  Why is it still so difficult for black women to be heard and to represent themselves?  And finally, what does this say about the racialized and gendered nature of politics in the U.S. even now?

michelleobamaspeech“Let’s argue the history of this country, ok?’

So reporter April Ryan challenged, in a televised discussion on Monday, July 18, day one of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Ryan was responding to the remarks by her co-panelist on an MSNBC morning interview, Republican congressman Steve King. King, in a WTF moment for the ages, had just questioned what non-white “subgroups” had done to further western “civilization.” Ryan’s challenge was the last word she got in before MSNBC host Chris Hayes (who along with Esquire’s Charlie Pierce had been talking over her), went to commercial break.   On a Periscope video Ryan posted on Twitter, Chris Hayes announced his regret at not letting Ryan speak, but he had shut Ryan up when it mattered most.

That same day, Melania Trump, wife of presidential candidate Donald Trump, gave a plagiarized speech with word-for-word copies of one given by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008. The two events occurred on the same day, in the same place, in the shared context of the Republican National Convention. But they have something more fundamental in common.

Ryan and Obama are black women; King, Hayes, Pierce, and Trump are all white, and most are men. In both televised cases, millions of viewers saw white people talking over, or appropriating without consent, the voices of black women. Both were examples that offered viewers televised examples of white people denying, silencing, or stealing, the creative contributions of black women. Although the Trump campaign is notable for its naked racism, what happened to Ryan and Obama is nothing new. Instead, it is part of a very long American history of white people’s sustained attempts to silence black women’s voices and to control black women’s bodies. Continue reading