Living portraits of the dead and dead portraits of the living: “Posthumous Portraiture in America,” early Tennessee, and artist Ralph E. W. Earl

Baby in Blue, ca. 1845, William Matthew Prior. National Portrait Gallery

Baby in Blue, ca. 1845, William Matthew Prior.
National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Max Nelson offers a fascinating overview of a current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, “Securing the Shadow:  Posthumous Portraiture in America.”  I find this subject both touching and horrifying, especially considering the understandable impulse to commemorate lost children.  But as Nelson notes (per the exhibition), the practice of painting or sculpting the recently deceased continued long after the invention of photography and the democratization of family portraiture.  In fact, “mortuary photography”–photographs of the recently deceased, especially babies and children–was a big chunk of the business in early photography.

There’s a painting I’ve been using in my classes to illustrate the changes in how free Americans envisioned marriage and family life from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  The Ephraim Hubbard Foster Family presents such a lively contrast to the dour mid-eighteenth century puritan portraits of husbands and wives–the fresh, blushing complexions! The number of children, who appear to have been painted as individuals!  The focus on parental youth and beauty!  I’ve wondered for a long time if the child so extraordinarily costumed on the window sill is in fact a dead child, but having reviewed the online images this exhibition offers, I don’t think this is the case.  Here’s the portrait: Continue reading

#AHA17 update: too cold & snowy for cattle parade, but not for us

aha17_programFriends, I was sorry to read this morning that the National Western Stock Show has cancelled its longhorn parade in Denver tomorrow because of the cold and snow forecast for tomorrow:  a high of 12 degrees F., with up to 10 inches of snow set to fall in the next 27 hours or so.  Don’t worry about planes landing in Denver tomorrow–most of the snow will be overnight and done with by 11 a.m. Thursday, before most historians muster for the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: Puritan, Captive, Catholic, Spy?

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Teaser Tuesday is back after a three-week holiday hiatus with a penultimate post, this one from the penultimate chapter of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  Today I offer you a little eighteenth-century intrigue surrounding Mother Esther near the time of her first election as mother superior in late 1760, after the British conquest of Québec.  Anglo-American and British officials were reflexively suspicious of French and French Canadian religious women, whom they routinely portrayed not just as religiously dangerous but also as political schemers.  While the Jesuits were thought to be the most dangerous of the religious orders because of their “Turbulent and Intriguing Genius,” as we’ll see in this excerpt, religious women–especially mothers superior–were also regarded as potentially dangerous and destabilizing of British imperial control: Continue reading

Historiann’s guide to surviving the Mile High #AHA17

Welcome to Denver, #AHA17!

Welcome to Denver, #AHA17!

Happy New Year, friends!  As many of you know, we’re expecting an invasion of historians next week in Denver with the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  As a local, I thought I’d offer some practical tips and tricks for the coastal swells and dudes who will be staggering around like a tweedy herd of longhorns.  The AHA’s  paper program covers a lot of this information on pp. 2-4, but their map is pretty limited and you might appreciate some insider intel.  So, jump in the saddle and let’s go!  (You can also bookmark this site on your mobile device as it offers links to some handy maps and other info.) Continue reading

So long to 2016, suckers.

My yoga teacher offers super-intense classes on several winter holidays in which we do 108 sun salutations (vinyasas.)  The last 108 class I attended was on Thanksgiving day, when I allegedly announced that “2016 has sucked a bag of d!cks!” One of my yoga buddies–another historian–gave me a little present today in the New Year’s Eve 108 class to help send this year on its way: Continue reading

Let’s all go to the library!

furnisslibFriends, can you do me a favor?  Can you please try to find a book or two–any book will do–using the new library catalog at Baa Ram U?  (Fun challenge:  find your own book, or books!)  Find a book you know for a fact actually exists in the world, and report in the comments what happened.

Tell me if this website is any help to you at all, and if you can, tell me what the library needs to do about it. Continue reading

A woman’s work is never done, part II: and even when it is, it’s not on the syllabus.

annetaintorpantsWARNING:  Inflammatory post ahead.  This is a follow-up post to yesterday’s post, A woman’s work is never done, part I:  the daily churn.

My return to blogging yesterday was inspired by a recent conversation over winter break with a former student of mine who’s now enrolled in an impressive Ph.D. program.  She was telling me all about the interesting syllabus she read through for a readings course in early American history, a version of which she took eight years ago as a master’s student with me at Baa Ram U.  As she was telling me about the books she read and her opinions about them–it was an interesting list and she had worthwhile and frequently spiky opinions–I was gripped by a horrible dread.  I hadn’t heard her mention any books that featured women or gender as either subjects or authors.  So I asked:

“Did you read any books about women’s and gender history, or the history of sexuality?”

“No,” she said, “and come to think of it, I don’t think we read many books by women, either.”

thisisfinedog

A popular meme I’m repurposing here.

Continue reading