For the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we bring you Angels of the Underground, part I

angelscover

Oxford University Press, 2015

Theresa Kaminski, the author of Angels of the Underground:  the American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II, agreed to let me interview her about her recent book for a post to commemorate the beginning of the American war in the Pacific 75 years ago today with the attack on Pearl Harbor.  And boy howdy, this is something to read–the interview here, but of course the book!

I’ve written here before that I just can’t read histories in my field for “fun,” and that I tend to gravitate to 20th century political history and celebrity gossip for my fun nonfiction reads.  Angels of the Underground is an absolutely engrossing read that also taught me a great deal about a period and place I know very little about.  I loved this book, and want to recommend it to you for your holiday gift-giving or (-receiving) needs.  The war buffs will love this book; the people who like women’s history will love this book; and anyone who loves a great story will love this book.

In brief, the book follows the lives of four American women who live in the Philippines before and during the war:  Gladys Savary, the adventurer and restaurateur; Peggy Utinsky, the nurse and organizer of the resistance; Yay Panlilio, the journalist-turned-spy; and Claire Phillips, the nightclub singer and entertainer whose sexual escapades left her vulnerable to charges of opportunism over heroism.  You will be impressed by their adventuresome careers before, during, and after the war.

Once again:  this book demonstrates that women are always there in wartime, always doing important things for the war effort.  Each of these women also published memoirs about their wars shortly after they ended–they didn’t leave their memories in a private diary for a historian to discover.  And yet, I guarantee you that unless you lived in wartime Manila and/or are already an expert on the Philippines during World War II, you’ve never heard of any of these women or their amazing stories.  Why is that?  Why do we have an unlimited appetite for stories about PT-109 and Iwo Jima, but not about the more varied and complex stories like the ones in this book?

Let’s see what Theresa has to say about these questions, and more.  Part I starts now: Continue reading

Who’s doing all that domestic work inside the convent? Teaser Tuesday returns with some hidden labor history

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

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

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

Hamilton: An American Musical in teaching and public outreach

Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter. . . Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792

Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter. . . Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792

Please forgive the relative silence on this blog lately, friends.  I’ve been busier–in the words of my late, profane grandmother–“than a cat covered in $hit!”  Much to my surprise, I’ve found it psychologically more comfortable these days to immerse myself in the eighteenth century rather than so-called “reality” these days.  Not that the eighteenth century was a time when things were “great”–far from it!  But, the eighteenth century has the virtue of being over and done with for more than two centuries, so I don’t have any responsibility for making it better.  That’s its primary virtue for me now.

But look what happens when you listen to the Hamilton:  An American Musical soundtrack on your drive and walk to work every day:  you (I) wake up with #Hamiltunes on your mind, and you (I) walk around humming “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home. . . “ or “The Room Where It Happens,” and saying out loud to colleagues “sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder.”  (Oops!)  You (I) make irritating allusions to Hamilton, like adding “Sir,” to the ends of sentences, and sign your emails “I have the honor to be your obedient servant, H.Ann.”

hamiltonmusicalOther historians are doing much better than I am in the creative and fun ways they’re using the Hamilton pop culture phenomenon in their classrooms and in public outreach.  Here are some recent examples–and since I plan to play at least one song a day next semester in HIST 341:  Eighteenth-century America, the course in which I teach the American Revolution, I am eager to learn of other examples like these, so please add your links and ideas in the comments below: Continue reading

“An Election All About Sex & Gender.” Who ever would have predicted this?

What a surprise!

Who among us ever would have forseen this?  I’m not mocking Rebecca Traister; I truly appreciate her analysis this year and am glad she’s finally getting the teevee time she and her–well, our–ideas deserve.  Men’s marital infidelity and sexual adventurism, even sexual abuse, is fundamentally knitted into the spoils successful male pols in our republican (small-r) system have claimed since the U.S. began.

It is totally blowing our collective mind to imagine how a woman could inhabit the most important political role in our system, and our brains are being wrung of all kinds of socio-sexual anxieties around the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. president.  She doesn’t just represent change because she has a woman’s body.  Her presidency would force us to reckon (in good and ugly ways alike) about how political power works here and what we think winning pols are entitled to.   Continue reading

Social media for dummies, in which I remind myself not to be a jerk.

jerkJoseph Adelman and Liz Covart were at the Huntington last weekend talking about the digital humanities and early American history.  (Wish I were there!  My ears were burning, though–I hear that this blog came up a lot.)  Joe got a lot of questions about use of Twitter for academics, and published a post explaining his approach in “Is there a right way for academics to tweet?”  He writes:

For me, the most important decision to make about using Twitter is to decide what you want from it and use it clearly that way. My own strategy, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is to treat Twitter like the hallways of a conference, where you can discuss serious matters about academia and the news, but also shares stories with friends about one’s kids, sports, pop culture, and the news.

The “conference hallway” is a great way to think about Twitter.  It’s a public space, so although not everyone at the conference is listening in on your specific conversation, anyone can if they choose to do so.  Joe concludes his essay with some great advice: Continue reading

More from the mailbag: how can I write a good letter of recommendation?

elvgrenmailFree advice?  You’re soaking in it!  I put out a call on Twitter yesterday, and it’s like the loaves and the fishes, man:  For one tweet, I get five, seven, and seven times seven in response!  (Keep them coming–I’m all ears).

A correspondent wrote yesterday to suggest that we–dear readers, you & me both–offer some advice and ideas as to how to write a good letter of recommendation to get someone else a job.  Said correspondent is an American teaching at a British university now, and also offers some insight as to how American and British referees traditionally approach their task:

Dear Historiann,

Can you write a blog post offering advice for letter-writers? Obviously there’s some out there already, but it would be really useful to have more history-specific thoughts. I think your posts on the job market will be helpful for those going on it–this angle would hopefully add to that conversation.

As an American teaching in the U.K., I’ve noticed that British letter-writers tend to write more honest letters that trace the arc of a candidate’s intellectual development. These can come across as much more critical/not positive even though that’s not how they’re meant. If applying to U.S. universities, a candidate may wish to have a senior scholar or colleague look over that letter writer’s letter (if at all possible) to make sure it won’t sink the candidate.

–Call me Natasha (when I Look Like Elsie)

Dear Natasha/Elsie,

Thanks for writing, Natasha.  You’ve offered some really useful advice to search committees in the U.S. for understanding British letters of recommendation.  This is something I wasn’t aware of and I’m glad to know.

Speaking from my position as a American who has always worked in U.S. American universities, the most helpful letters of recommendation are written like the best letters from tenure and promotion referees.  That is, they’re experts in a subfield writing to peers who are experts in other history subfields, and so understand their charge to contextualize and explain the candidate’s research to an intelligent audience of non-specialists.  Did the junior scholar in question travel thousands of miles and spend months or years in remote, difficult to access archives in order to do her research?  Does she have a perspective on her sources that is totally original and possibly pathbreaking?  Does her work address major questions in her subfield in a creative and ambitious fashion?  A good letter of recommendation will point these out and elaborate on just what are her unique contributions to her field. Continue reading