I feel like I’m dancing into a funeral wearing a party dress and a lampshade on my head, but in case you’re interested in a break from the general gloom, click on over to Ben Franklin’s World and check out my interview on Liz Covart’s podcast.
UPDATED AGAIN, 1/15/16, 5:05 P.M. MST
AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN, see below.
How are you? To be honest, I’m not good. 2016 look like it’s ending as it began for me. It’s grief and fear, full stop. (At least last winter when I was grieving the deaths of friends, I wasn’t fearful of the future, just really sad they’d no longer be with us to enjoy it.) I keep bursting into tears randomly through the day. What a schmuck I am!
My undergraduate students last week wrote me sweet emails wishing that I felt better after I bawled in class right in front of them. I asked them to look out for members of our community who may be feeling vulnerable. I was lecturing about women and the American revolution, and ended on a slide quoting the Declaration of Sentiments (“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. . . “), which ordinarily I would read out loud to let the class hear clearly that ringing Jeffersonian language, but instead last Wednesday I just dissolved into tears. My students told me they liked my honesty–as though it were a strategy! As though I had any self-control.
I’m busy and tired too, so here’s an interesting roundup of opinions from (mostly) smart people. Caveat: too many white ppl. in these commentaries. I’ll revise and expand as I find commentaries like this that expand the pool. Also, please note that in this roundup it’s only women (except for David Frum! Go figure!) who talk about gender or misogyny and their influence on the results last week:
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.
I know this blog has been a little heavy on the book promotion these days, but here’s a modern captivity narrative with that most elusive of all endings, a happy one! Drop what you’re doing now and go read Eli Saslow’s “The White Flight of Derek Black” in today’s Washington Post, which describes the disenchantment of one of the young scions of white nationalism over the past eight years. Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black and the godson of David Duke, has renounced his former views and apologizes for participating in the racist movement.
What caused this charming, homeschooled, young white supremacist to change his views over the past eight years, from age 19 to 27? In one word: college. Specifically, a liberal arts college, where he majored in history with an emphasis in medieval Europe. Continue reading
Hey, Kids–go to iTunes or just click here to hear my interview with The Way of Improvement Leads Home‘s John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling about my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. We all had a great time recording this and talking to one another. I was extremely gratified to hear how much John and Drew like the book, especially because John is an important historian of religion, and I’ve been a little nervous about what those folks might think of my treatment of the subject (which is pretty extensive, given that there is a giant nun face on the cover of the book!)
The subject of this episode was not just Esther Wheelwright, but biography in general. John’s first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), was a biography of a young early American diarist. In the podcast, he reflects on some contrasting reviews this book received. One review described it as a “deeply sympathetic” biography, which made him reflect on whether or not he had achieved objective distance from his subject; and another, which called Fithian “an insufferable prig and schlemiel,” which made John feel defensive: “How dare this historian describe Philip this way? I felt like I needed to defend a friend from a bully.” Continue reading
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
I’m pretty underwhelmed by Georgetown University’s offer to give “preference in admissions” to the descendants of the enslaved people whose sale (and breakup of their families) financed the university in its earliest days. For those of you who missed the story this week:
In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000, or roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars, to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions,” and families were broken up, according to a report issued by the school committee.
The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.
. . . . .
The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that’s given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, [University President John] DeGioia said. Universities around the United States have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, but several historians said the establishment of an admissions preference is unprecedented.
NPR had some good coverage of this story too this week.
It’s nice of Georgetown to offer legacy status to the descendants of people they sold, but let’s rewind: what does it take for student to apply for admission to Georgetown and possibly to take advantage of this benefit? First, she or he will need 1) a high school diploma, 2) with a strong academic record, and 3) an awareness of family genealogy. Even then, admission is not guaranteed, it’s merely “preferred.” Continue reading