Teaser Tuesday: missing men & missing trousers! Whaaaaat?

Yo yoWhat time is it?  Showtime!  OK, I’ll stop setting everything that goes through my head to the tune of various Hamilton:  An American Musical songs.  Sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder (why she even brings the thunder!)  Sorry–that was the last one, but as it happens, our subject is the thunder of British cannons that laid siege to the city of Québec in 1759 and set the stage for the British occupation (from 1759-ff, according to Québec!)

The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright spans all of the colonial wars that spanned her life, and no wonder:  her life from start to end was indelibly shaped by war and various invading armies.  Born in 1696 at the end of King William’s War (1688-97), in which many of the Anglo-American towns in what’s now southern Maine were attacked by French-allied Wabanaki, Esther was taken captive in another series of raids conducted in the next war, Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). Although she found a great deal of security and stability inside the walls of the Ursuline convent in Québec by 1709, war followed her throughout her life from the failed British invasion of that city in 1711 to the successful invasion and occupation in 1759 in the Seven Years’ War to the unsuccessful attempt of Americans to take the city in 1775-76 in an early skirmish in the Revolutionary War.  Aside from these conflicts, Québec was (and still is) a city with a massive military installation, so you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a man in uniform throughout the eighteenth century.

But they weren’t inside women’s religious orders, were they?  After the invasion and occupation begins in 1759, they are!  General James Murray, the occupation governor, surveyed the institutional buildings in the city and saw the advantages of setting up his temporary base of operations inside the Ursuline convent!  But here’s the funny part:  you’d never know it from the Ursuline records.  Thus, the case of the missing men–and their missing trousers!  (I know, 1759 is still squarely in the knee breeches era, with modern trousers being at least 50 years in the future for most men.  But you’ll see a mention of “trowsers” in the primary source quoted below). 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

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

Busy, tired, sad, and fearful. And you?

sadbigeye

Why were these ever popular?

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:

  • How Historians of Tomorrow Will Interpret the Human Stain’s Election (watch out for Lynn Hunt’s stemwinder.  She is pi$$ed!)
  • We Are Witnessing the Politics of Humiliation–American women reflect on the election.  (Spoiler alert:  in this round-up, Maya Jasanoff says what I said last February in my post on women and political leadership in the longue durée.)
  • David Frum, “Let’s have a fresh start. . . “
  • UPDATE:  Marie Henein, “Thank you, Hillary.  Now women know retreat is not an option,” from the Toronto Globe & Mail.  Sent to me by a friend over the border–
  • ANOTHER UPDATE, 11/14/16 12:43 P.M. MST:  Kurt Eichenwald:  “A certain kind of liberal makes me sick. These people traffic in false equivalencies, always pretending that both nominees are the same, justifying their apathy and not voting or preening about their narcissistic purity as they cast their ballot for a person they know cannot win. I have no problem with anyone who voted for Trump, because they wanted a Trump presidency. I have an enormous problem with anyone who voted for Trump or Stein or Johnson—or who didn’t vote at all—and who now expresses horror about the outcome of this election.  If you don’t like the consequences of your own actions, shut the hell up.”
  • MORE:  Jamelle Bouie, one of my favorite political reporters, at Slate:  “There is No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.”  Especially this part, white people:  “To face [the fact of the Human Stain’s nakedly racist rhetoric and policy positions] and then demand empathy for the people who made them a reality—who backed racist demagoguery, whatever their reasons—is to declare Trump’s victims less worthy of attention than his enablers. To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration. At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic. At worst, it’s morally grotesque.
  • I’m going to paraphrase Margaret Atwood here and say this:  Trump voters are afraid Clinton voters might criticize their language or their Halloween costumes; Clinton voters are afraid that Trump voters will hurt or kill them.

Continue reading

The captivity and redemption of Derek Black, or, the power of education and engagement

Derek Black, photo by Matt McClain in the Washington Post, October 16, 2016

Derek Black, photo by Matt McClain in the Washington Post, October 16, 2016

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

Richard (Rick) Beeman, 1942-2016

Richard (Rick) Beeman

Richard (Rick) Beeman

My friend Wayne Bodle, another alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, wrote to me yesterday with some remembrances of an emeritus Professor, Richard Beeman, who died Monday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He has agreed to let me share them with you, and we both invite any of you who knew Rick to share your memories too–whether you are “Old Pennsters” (as Richard Dunn calls us) or not.

Here are Wayne’s memories of Rick, which go back almost as far as Rick’s “freshman year” as a professor in 1968– Continue reading

Georgetown University and the legacy of slavery

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