Archive for November, 2012

November 30th 2012
Thoughts on Little Women

Posted under American history & art & childhood & Gender & women's history

Little Women, 1933

Barbara Sicherman offers some interesting thoughts about Little Women on the occasion of Louisa May Alcott’s 180th birthday (yesterday) and its influence on generations of women around the world (h/t to reader LKK for this.)  She says that the book’s durability is due to its surprisingly modern sensibilities, perhaps most memorably in the person of Jo March, Alcott’s alter-ego:

Perhaps the most important reason for the novel’s survival is a heroine with unusual appeal. Some readers have identified with the other March sisters, but it is Jo March, the rambunctious tomboy and bookworm who is unladylike and careless of her appearance, who carries the story. The vast majority of readers, past and present, have identified with her. Jo’s presumed flaws are precisely the characteristics that speak to preadolescent and adolescent readers, themselves struggling with issues of growing up.

Alcott, who modeled Jo in her own image, created a character that continues to appeal. As J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and herself a “Jo,” observed: “It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a bad temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.”

For readers on the threshold of adulthood, the book’s embrace of female ambition has been a significant counterweight to more habitual gender prescriptions. For years there were few alternative models, although in my generation, the Nancy Drew books helped. Even today, some girls still respond to the portrait of Jo, the enthralled and enthralling writer.

It’s a good time of the year to consider Little Women, as the novel opens with Marmee and the March girls cooking Christmas breakfast.  I think I read LW when I was eleven, in the sixth grade.  I remember being so moved by the idea of Jo reading a pile of books while eating “russetts” in her “garrett” as to climb a tree with an apple in my teeth and the novel under my arm in order to re-enact Jo’s escape as best I could.  Continue Reading »

44 Comments »

November 29th 2012
CFP, Early American Studies: Beyond the Binaries

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

“The Publick Universal Friend”

Last week I received this call from Rachel Hope Cleves at the University of Victoria for a special issue of Early American Studies she’s editing on the subject of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America:”

Deadline for Proposal: 31 January 2013
            In a 1993 article in Sciences, biologist and historian Anne Fausto-Sterling provocatively argued that human sex could not be neatly divided into two simple categories, men and women. Instead, she recommended a five-part system of categorization, including men, women, merms, ferms, and herms. At the time of publication, Fausto-Sterling’s tongue-in-cheek proposal provoked more criticism than applause, but in the past two decades scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from neuroscience to gender studies, have added evidence to her assertion that binary sex categories are not a biological rule. With a few exceptions, however, historians of early America have been slow to question the binary of man and woman. In the uproar provoked by her proposal, few recall that Fausto-Sterling began her article not with a headline grabbed from the daily papers, but with an historical example dating to 1840s Connecticut.
            Now, recent work by historians including Elizabeth Reis, Clare Sears, and Peter Boag, indicates a growing attention to the instability of sex in early America. Their studies illuminate the existence and social knowledge of individuals whose bodies, gender identities, and desires defied neat divisions. Moreover, these works provoke questions about the coherence of the binary sex categories that historians assume as foundational. What did it mean to be a woman or a man in early America, if, as Reis points out, in 1764 a thirty-two year old woman named Deborah Lewis could change sex, becoming a man named Francis Lewis, and live for another six decades as an accepted patriarch within his community? How fixed were sex identities in early America? What possibilities existed for the expression of gender identities that stood at variance with embodied sex? What social practices created opportunities for the blending and rearrangement of sex identities? How did hierarchies of race and class destabilize or re-stabilize sex binaries? Should “men” and “women” be understood as variable rather than unitary categories?
          To encourage these questions, and others like them, Early American Studies invites proposals for essay submissions on the theme of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America” for a special issue to be published in fall 2014. Continue Reading »

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November 28th 2012
The Obvious: it eludes people.

Posted under American history

The attacks on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice are being advanced by Republican Senators who are allied with Senator John Kerry.  John McCain was widely rumored to have been asked to be Kerry’s running mate in 2004 Senator Lindsay Graham is an ally of Kerry on climate change, and Senator Kelly Ayotte is an ambitious pol from a neighboring state to Kerry’s who was probably brought on board to give the gentlemen cover from charges of sexism.  Notice how whenever McCain talks about Rice, he usually mentions that if Kerry were nominated for Secretary of State, his nomination would “sail through” a confirmation hearing.

Yes, GOP Senators are enjoying this opportunity to try to beat on President Obama, but the media have credulously fallen for the notion that this is a Republican hatchet job.  These senators appear to be working as Kerry’s advance guard in his bid for State.

 

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November 27th 2012
Education theater, old school style. (Really old school!)

Posted under European history & students & women's history

C’est ca, mes amis!

From Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French:  The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 41-42, a description of the some of the experiences of women in the Smith College junior year abroad program, ca. 1949-50:

At the Sorbonne itself, the experience of sitting in the “Grand amphi” set the tone.  It was an auditorium complete with balconies and seats for a thousand students.  The professor sat on a high stage, with statues and an enormous neoclassical mural as his backdrop.  This was the ultimate theater of learning, grandiose and also slightly ridiculous, from the moment the professor walked onto his stage, accompanied by the traditional Sorbonne appariteur, a kind of classroom concierge in a dark suit, whose job was to announce the master and keep the blackboard wiped clean.  Continue Reading »

26 Comments »

November 25th 2012
The historian’s curse, naturally

Posted under American history & happy endings & the body

I am so tired of reading books by people whose historical frame of reference is <100 years.  (I am not thinking of peer-reviewed histories here.  I’m talking about general-interest non-fiction, which is my usual “just for fun” bedside table reading.  But I’m of the firm belief that non-fiction should be based on research and grounded in research and a reasonable perspective.  Even polemics must be based in fact.)  What has my brassiere in a twist now, you may well ask? Continue Reading »

34 Comments »

November 22nd 2012
Mentoring and Mojitos: reflections on the 2012 Gay-S-A

Posted under American history & happy endings & Intersectionality & jobs & women's history

Well, well, well–we finally pulled up to the ranch late on Sunday night, but with all of the stall-mucking and fence-riding to be done, as well as another holiday to prepare for, I’ve had no time at all to blog about the great time and intense learning that was the 2012 Gay-S-A in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I won’t bore you with the specifics of the intellectual conversations that I had, but rather will instead entertain you with a “slice of life” overview of the conference that will perhaps offer some useful strategies for those of you prepping for MLA, AHA, or the other large disciplinary conferences that will meet in the next few months.  (Tenured Radical, Madwoman with a Laptop, and GayProf have all beat me to the conference round-up, so you can go there for the intelleckshul content.  This blog post is–mostly–a bagatelle, a lagniappe if you will–just for fun.)

Among the many interesting things I learned:

  • You can make new friends and impress important people if you show up at a graduate student panel at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.  I don’t want to go into it, but you can get a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for being a decent person for doing something like that, something you might have done anyway just because you were interested in hearing the papers.  Shhhhh!!!
  • This may be especially important if you disappointed a lot of people at your panel.  The panel was a great success, especially for a first-day, almost first-thing in the morning panel.  But as I whispered to GayProf as we were being introduced, “I have the feeling that thirty people in this room are disappointed, thinking ‘that’s not what I thought he/she looked like!’”
  • I like to go swimmin’ with bare-naked women and swim between their legs.  True!  (And that naked woman will apparently be me this weekend, because I foolishly left my brand-new bathing suit in the hotel bathroom.  Oh well–I didn’t like the bottoms, although the top was super-cute–see photo below.)  And it’s also true that you can have substantial intellectual conversations and engage in serious problem-solving while swimming in the ocean or pool, and while sitting around afterwards in your bathing suit or sundress.  I think this might be due to the fact that it’s difficult to be pretentious or cagey when you’re only half-dressed (or worse.) Continue Reading »

14 Comments »

November 15th 2012
Historiann is attending an important interdisciplinary conference

Posted under American history & fluff

Tenured Radical has all of the details.  What will happen when four academic bloggers meet to talk IRL and before an audience?  (We’re waiting to hear if a certain invisible plane has been cleared to land in U.S. airspace.)  At least we’re meeting close to Paradise Island, very close to the Bermuda Triangle.

And Madwoman with a Laptop doesn’t think I look like a cowgirl.  Phoo!  I say, this is what cowgirl looks like!

 

 

12 Comments »

November 12th 2012
The culture war next time.

Posted under American history & class & unhappy endings & weirdness

Thomas Edsall has some interesting thoughts about the Kulturkampf and the jobs crisis–go read.  I don’t agree with everything he writes–for example, I’m sure that he’s wrong to declare victory on behalf of the Left in the culture war, because the beauty of the Kulturkampfen mentality is that there’s always another front to advance to when forced to retreat on other fronts!  But this part of his argument caught my eye:

On a more sobering note for Democrats, a slight majority (51 percent) of voters agreed with the statement “Government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals” compared to 43 percent saying “Government should do more to solve problems.” This despite the fact that, as The New York Times reported in a Feb. 11, 2012 story, “Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It”:

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007.

The story points out that many people

say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.

And yet, of course, no Americans are refusing to cash unemployment or Social Security checks!  Some of them are voting for pols like Mitt Romney and Ayn Ryan, perhaps to assuage their guilt and feelings of failure.  Continue Reading »

22 Comments »

November 11th 2012
Tips for toads: don’t philander on digital media.

Posted under American history

This article, inspired by David Petraeus’s resignation from the CIA, is supremely silly.  Its major premise is that “there would seem to be nothing new about the weakness of otherwise powerful Washington figures in the face of temptation. But that is not precisely true: the difference these days is that it is virtually impossible to get away with it.

Here’s my take as a professional historian, friends:

  1. First of all, all of the historical cases cited are cited because in spite of the fact that they happened before 1990, we know about them anyway.  Sally Hemings was an issue in both the 1800 and the 1804 presidential campaigns.  Alexander Hamilton published a pamphlet in which he confessed to his affair with Maria Reynolds.  Clearly, the non-digital partisan press of the turn of the nineteenth century was enough to press the issue of sexual morality and political virtue more than two centuries ago.
  2. Secondly, if people are using their Twitter or email accounts to send raunchy photos or arrange trysts–something you’d think the nation’s top spy of all people would know to avoid– Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

November 11th 2012
Wolverine! (That’s singular, not plural).

Posted under local news

True thing:  After being tagged in Wyoming, M56 is alive and cruising through a truly impressive swath of north-central Colorado.

4 Comments »

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