American biography in the age of the Human Stain

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

As you while away the hours today waiting to vote tomorrow, and/or obsessively clicking on political news stories and the latest, last polls–click on over to my refreshing, totally non-political chat with Sara Damiano at the Junto about The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  Sara asked what I’d like people to take away from my book about a woman I say has been “doomed to obscurity:” Continue reading

Trust, gender queerness, and Hillary Clinton

annetaintorpantsElizabeth Kolbert asks, “How can Americans trust Donald Trump?”  After all, as she notes, “As has been amply documented, Trump’s relationship to the truth is on par with his relationships with women—opportunistic and abusive. Daniel Dale, a Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, who since mid-September has been publishing a more or less daily tally of Trump’s false claims, recently called the Republican candidate’s campaign rhetoric a veritable ‘avalanche of wrongness.'”  He lies constantly, unabashedly, and aggressively.

This, as Kolbert goes on to note, is precisely why people see him as more honest than Hillary Clinton:  he lies with gusto and conviction, which makes his lies feel true to people:

One way to understand the up-is-down logic of this election is as an expression of what might be called American sentimentalism. What moves the electorate is not true facts but true feelings.

Donald Trump is the kind of jerk who authentically, genuinely, unabashedly inhabits his own jerkiness. The indifference to reality he’s displayed on the campaign trail is the same indifference he displayed as a businessman, a husband, a boss, and a taxpayer. His narcissism, petulance, and whatever other character flaw you care to choose aren’t under wraps; they’re on view for all to see and hear. In this sense, he truly is the real thing.

By way of contrast, Kolbert argues, Clinton’s emotional control and public presentation of herself feels inauthentic because it’s so polished.  “Clinton, meanwhile, is constantly role-playing. On the campaign trail, she displays an interest in people that, one can only assume, she doesn’t always feel. In her speeches, she invokes lofty ideals, when doubtless she’s often motivated by expedience. The high-minded, Presidential persona she’s committed to is constraining in many ways.”  In other words, she behaves like we expect most adults with any modicum of authority to behave. Continue reading

Remarkable providences: A November tomato harvest?

This is most unusual: a fresh tomato harvest on November 1, and no clear signal of a hard frost anytime soon.

tomato-harvest

Yes, it’s strange.  Frequently, we’ve already had a little, or even a lot of snow and/or a sleet storm on the Front Range.  Officially I think we had at least one overnight hard frost last month, but our tomatoes are in a south-facing garden against a very heat-retaining and radiating brick wall.  That, plus the fact that at this altitude, we rarely get to eat our own tomatoes until September makes these tomatoes very welcome. Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: What was it like to visit the Château Saint-Louis?

Samuel de Champlain presides over the Upper City of Quebec and the Chateau Frontenac

Samuel de Champlain presides over Cap Diamant and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City

In today’s Teaser Tuesday, in which I present a snippet from my new book The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright and share a little information from behind the scenes, we follow Mali/Esther as she crosses the border into the city of Québec in the autumn of 1708.  She was probably in the company of one of the mission priests who had worked with Wabanaki people for nearly thirty years, Jacques Bigot.  When she arrived, she was installed at the home of the elderly Governor of New France, Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil. With his significantly younger Acadian-born wife, Louise-Élisabeth de Joybert, Marquise de Vaudreuil, he spent most of the 1690s and 1700s filling up their châteaux in Montreal and then in Québec with their eleven children, so Mali would have been in the company of a number of children close to her in age.

With her move to Québec, Mali moved into a highly status-conscious world dominated by French- and Canadian-born nobles.  Why would a New England-born Wabanaki twelve year-old be taken into the home of the governor of New France?  Read on and enjoy this excerpt from chapter 3 and a little smidge from chapter 4: 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

John Fea & Rebecca Onion on being a historian in public

Rebecca Onion

Rebecca Onion

Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I did what I usually do when I can’t sleep, and started listening to a podcast.  This turned out to be a mistake–I should have listened to the soothing sounds of the BBC news overnight, but instead I dialed up The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast, and got to listen to the most recent episode featuring Slate‘s Rebecca Onion, Andrew Hermeling, and John Fea.  Many of you may know Rebecca as the doyenne of The Vault, Slate’s blog about historical documents and images.  That’s how she got her start there, but now she’s a staff writer.  (Her personal website can be found here.)

Episode 12/Season 2, “How to Be a Historian in Public,” is most definitely worth your while because John and Drew ask Rebecca to let us behind the curtain to hear about her journey to an alternative academic (alt-ac) career.  Rebecca is (as we learned this spring at the Western Association of Women’s History on the Presidential Panel) very forthcoming about how it all works, and how fortunate she is to be paid to put words on the internet. Continue reading