Archive for the 'captivity' Category

August 1st 2009
Seriously–I need this doll for my research.

Posted under American history & captivity & Dolls & O Canada

I’m so glad I’m not the only historian with a dolly fetish!  Clio Bluestocking, the intrepid CC instructor and scholar of Frederick Douglass and the women in his family sent in her report about what she did this summer at an NEH institute in Baltimore.  On a field trip to a  Civil War museum in Virginia, she found a Frederick Douglass action figure!  Go check it out.  She writes, “He even has a small copy of The Narrative, as well as a pissed off expression.  Notice, too, that he was on sale.  This picture was not taken in the gift shop, but in my hotel room because, yes, I bought it. (And I just realized how creepy it sounds to say that I bought a Frederick Douglass.)”  This of course connects back to my post on Thursday about Marla Miller opening her book with a discussion of Colonial Barbie, and our discussion in the comments.  Why do some dolls based on historical periods or individuals get produced, and others don’t?  Many of you noted the elite and healthy bias of the historical dolls, compared to the miserable reality of the lives of most people in the past.


Can you see your book on my shelf?

A few years ago, Dr. Mister Historiann found some Seven Years’ War era lead figurines–made by a company that mostly makes lead soldiers, I’m sure, but to their credit they also made some civilian victims of war, too–and he gave them to me for my birthday.  So here are my English captives with their co-captors, who appear to be both Iroquois and Algonquian.  (Unlikely, unless they were Catholic mission Indians, but wev.)  You’ve never seen a 30-something year old woman so excited about a birthday gift as I was that year!  Continue Reading »


May 28th 2009
No more photos from Abu Ghraib because of rape scenes?

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history


That’s what the Daily Telegraph says that Major General Antonio Taguba told them!  (Hat tip The Daily Beast.)  How utterly predictable!

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

 What–you thought that invasion and occupation were going to be easy?  Continue Reading »


February 26th 2009
Two more days left in Black History Month…

Posted under American history & captivity & jobs & race

Slave cabins, The Hermitage, Nashville, TN

Slave cabins, The Hermitage, Nashville, TN

…so perhaps this idea won’t reach you until it’s too late!

(Kidding.  I assume most readers of this blog who are American historians do African American history ever month of the year, at least in months that you teach.)

Commenter Sharon recently wired me an idea that’s absolutely brilliant: 

Your blog entry about slave sites had me thinking.  Over the last few years, I have tried to incorporate slave-related sites into my travels so I can photograph them for a course I teach called Homescapes: the material culture of everyday life in America, 1600-1860.  Some historic sites do better at interpretation than others, but I’ve yet to see one that is truly admirable. (Of course, I tend to be disappointed about the interpretation of pretty much everything at historic sites–don’t get me started about women’s history.)

In this context, I just went into Picasa (the Google photosharing app) and searched on “slave quarters.”   The results are very interesting.  Clearly, tourists make a point of photographing slave sites, and the images are pretty amazing.

I wish more tourists labeled exactly where they took the photos they post to Picasa.  I might never have to leave home again.

I thought this was such a great idea that I’d pass it along to all of my readers.  My guess is that many of you are always on the lookout for great images to show your students, something that’s more difficult for those of us who teach in earlier periods, and it’s also harder for those of us who want to show our students examples of anything other than high style architecture or material culture.  (And, by the way, doesn’t Sharon’s Homescapes course sound fascinating?  Lucky students!)  Have some others of you found Picasa already?  How is it working out for you?

Sharon’s dispatch makes me think that museum studies people and other public historians might consider surveilling Picasa and other photo sharing sites like it (yes, even the dreaded Facebook and MySpace b^ll$h!t social networking sites!) to see what aspects of house museums and historic sites people photograph.  What Sharon has found at Picasa indicates that there is significant public interest in the history of slavery, and perhaps museums and local history organizations will be inspired to offer more of it.

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January 19th 2009
Martin Luther King holiday book review: Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & captivity & childhood & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & women's history

Over the holiday weekend, I finally had an opportunity to sit down and read Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.  As a colonial American women’s historian, it would have been a must-read for me anyway, but Morrison’s book surpassed my already high expectations.  I don’t know how useful my review of the book will be to non-historians, but in keeping with the spirit of the day, I’ll offer a review of the book along with some thoughts about using novels in history classes after the jump.  Spoiler alert:  continue reading only if you don’t mind learning a few key plot details! Continue Reading »


January 18th 2009
Le 18 Janvier, 1709

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & O Canada & women's history

Le 18 Janvier M. De Vaudreuil nous a donné une petite Angloise nommée Esther pour être a Nre pensionnaire elle payera sa pension sur a pied de 40 Ecus.

Translation:  “January 18th M. de Vaudreuil brought us a young English girl named Esther. She paid 40 ecus for her board.”

Today is the 300th anniversary of Esther Wheelwright’s matriculation at the Ursuline school for girls in Quebec.  She was twelve years old.  She had been taken from her natal family more than five years earlier at the age of 7 in an Abenaki raid on Wells, Maine in August of 1703.  Her admission to the school signified the loss of her Abenaki family and kin, who had adopted her, as well as her lifelong alienation from the Protestantism she was born into.  “M. Vaudreuil” refers to Madame Vaudreuil (despite the masculine-appearing title abbreviation “M.”), the wife of the Governor of New France, who enrolled her own daughter at the school later that year as well as paid the expenses for other girls who appear to have been English captives.  In the decades surrounding the turn of the century, the school served Indian, English-born, and French students alike.  Although the Marquise de Vaudreuil was an enthusiastic patron, other Quebecois in the local community also paid the fees on behalf of several English captive girls. 

Sister Marie-de-Jésus, "Arrival of the Ursulines and the Sisters of Charity in New France" (1928)

The Ursulines were a counter-reformation women’s order who are comparable to the Jesuits both in their zeal for founding New World missions and their dedication to educating young people for the preservation and spread of Roman Catholicism.  The school in Quebec taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the core of the experience was religious education.  The first day of school is a significant and usually memorable day in the lives of all children, but Esther could not have known in 1709 the role this school would play in her life.  Esther must have excelled as a student in spite of the fact that French was her third language, because she declared her intention to become a religieuse as a young teenager.  Except for a short time at the Ursuline convent school in Trois Rivieres, she remained at the convent for the rest of her life as a teacher in the first school she ever attended.  Continue Reading »


December 13th 2008
Weekend roundup: boob tube rubes and working class dudes edition

Posted under American history & captivity & class & happy endings & jobs & the body & women's history

How 'bout some coffee, friends?

Good morning, all y’all tenderfeet and dudes!  Here is a collection of some interesting news and views that Historiann roped up this morning.  I’ll be out mending fences this weekend before the next big Rocky Mountain snowstorm comes in tomorrow–pour yourself a cup of cowboy coffee to ward off the chill of that Alberta Clipper, and read on:

First of all, Judith Warner provides more evidence for the viewpoint that raising your children among the upper middle-class in these United States makes you a bad person.  (Don’t get me wrong–I admire her honesty, but it sounds like she would have been happier if she and her family had stayed in France.)

Here’s an evidence-based argument that the teevee–watching it and appearing on it–makes you stupid:  Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler says that cable TV and Washington village media politics have taken over Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC (see Wednesday’s and Friday’s edition especially.)  Sad, sad, sad.

Am I cynical about the teevee?  You bet!  Historiann has had brushes with TV documentaries:  I appeared in one historical documentary, “Captive:  the Story of Esther” on the subject of my current research.  I was interviewed several times over the course of 18 months before the shoot, and I believe that my ideas were influential with the filmmakers.  Around the same time, I was contacted by the producers of another documentary that wasn’t on my research topic.  When I told them that I had no particular insights to offer or research expertise in the topic and therefore felt that I was unqualified to appear in it, they replied, “oh, you’re very well qualified,” and went on to explain that the sole qualification for the job was basic literacy.  They wanted me merely to read a script, probably in front of a bookcase full of books to prove that I’m a “real” historian.  No, thankee!  That’s a job for a chimp–well, a chimp that reads, anyway.  The only TV gig I dream of is an appearance on C-SPAN 2:  Book TV.  Production values a-go-go, am I right?  (I love it, but it reminds me of community cable access in the 1980s.)

Memo to Tom Daschle:  Health care for all won’t happen if your plan is just giant subsidies for private, for-profit insurance companies.  Remember the $700 billion doled out to the banks this fall?  And how has that worked out for us?  Are you feeling the liquidity, my darlings?

In a related story, Susie Madrak reports on a trip to the University of Pennsylvania dental clinic, where it sounds like the student dentist needs an empathy implant.  (And she provides more evidence that upper middle-class and elite Americans are bad, bad people who seem to have forgotten a little amendment to the U.S. Constitution I like to call the No Slavery Allowed amendment.)

Finally, some good news for working women and men, also via Susie at Suburban Guerilla:  the United Food and Commercial Workers has successfully unionized the Smithfield Packing slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C.

Et vous, mes amis?  How are you planning to de-ice and warm up this weekend?

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October 20th 2008
Hard times on the distaff side in kiddie lit?

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & childhood & class

Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Profs asks an interesting question:  “is there a gender angle to the ‘financial hard times’ narratives and books marketed specifically to girls?”  It was inspired by this article at Slate by Rebecca Perl, who waxed nostalgic about her 70s recession/stagflation childhood and the large number of children’s literature titles that seemed to be about hard times:

One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late ’70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison—a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I’m not so sure this was an accident.

Crawford notes that the big-screen adaptation of the American Girl franchise’s Depression-era kid, Kit Kittredge, was released this summer, and notes that the other books Perl mentions all feature girls as main characters.  Thus her question:  is this a coincidence, or is there a gendered angle to hard times in kid lit?

I’m about the same age as Perl, and I have no memory of Ramona’s dad being out of work.  But that’s not to say that I was clueless about class and economic deprivation–I tended to read lots of historical children’s books natch, not just the Little House books, but also those beautiful books by Lois Lenski, which (more often than not) featured girls who wore flour sack dresses and took their lunches to school in tin pails (like Strawberry Girl, if I recall correctly.)  I also really loved a biography of Jupiter, who was a boy enslaved on Thomas Jefferson’s father’s plantation and grew up with Jefferson.  (At least, that’s what I remember–I can’t seem to find this title anywhere.  It was probably published in the 1960s.  Maybe I dreamed it up?)  On the other hand, the modern stories written in the 1970s (Are You There, Judy Blume?  It’s Me, Historiann) were more about “social issues” of the day like divorce, menstruation (Are You There, God…?), voyeurism (Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), and scoliosis, of course.  Scoliosis was a big fear of ours in the late 70s, thanks to Deenie!

(Hey, fellow early American/borderlands warfare freaks–how did I miss this Lois Lenski title when I was a child, Indian Captive:  the Story of Mary Jemison?  I guess I’ll put that on my Christmas list this year!)

All of this is to say, yours is a great question, Bridget, but I’m clearly lost in a fog of nostalgia and can’t venture an answer.  Maybe some of our lurking lit profs, folklorists, historians, and other ex-girls and former boys can chime in with their reflections and best guesses.  What do you think?


September 7th 2008
POWs in the eighteenth century

Posted under American history & captivity & Dolls & O Canada & unhappy endings

Did you know that John McCain was a P.O.W. in Vietnam?  Me neither, until I heard it about 600 times at the Republican National Convention!  (Someone, please explain to me exactly why Wesley Clark was wrong and was an ineffective surrogate for the Obama campaign.)

Anyway, this lovely September Sunday morning must have been much like the dry and sunny late summer days in which French-allied Abenaki typically attacked English houses and villages in Northern New England and Western Massachusetts, and marched away with their prisoners of war.  The winter attack on Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 notwithstanding, the vast majority of captive raids, like the vast majority of other eighteenth-century military engagements, happened from July through mid-October.  Any earlier than that interfered with the agricultural calendar, and any later than that made for rough overland travel into (or out of) the northeastern backcountry.


July 3rd 2008
Vive le Quebec libre!

Posted under American history & captivity & fluff & O Canada

Happy 400th birthday, QuébecJe me souviens–et vous, mes amis?  Do you remember the world before 1759?

Historiann’s most recent trip to Québec was late last August, and the city was shined up and ready for its international closeup in 2008.  Its nickel roofs were gleaming, and all of the historical sites and churches in Vieux-Québec were recently renovated, painted, and looking good.  All of you Englishers (or Bastonnais, as French Canadians used to call Anglo-Americans) either in Canada or in the U.S., should get on up there and expand your view of what early American history is.  By car from Maine, you could take the old route up the Kennebec and Chaudière River valleys through the Beauce region, which was the route that Benedict Arnold took to his ill-fated siege of Quebec in 1775.  It’s very pretty in the autumn, with the changing leaves, and very safe because there’s much less smallpox going around these days.  (This route is probably similar, if not identical, to the one that Esther Wheelwright and other mission Abenaki took to Québec earlier in the century, by canoe and portage, but it’s Arnold’s failed invasion that is commemorated along the way instead.  Right there is a little lesson on the importance of boundaries, language, and nationalism in historical memory–but I digress.)

To celebrate the anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s founding of Québec, here’s a seasonal new drink that I call a Québec Libre (Free Québec, after Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech declaring “Vive le Québec libre” on July 24, 1967.)  For each serving:

  • Two ounces of brandy (French brandy, natch)
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 t maple syrup (or to taste, up to 1 T)
  • seltzer water

Mix the first three ingredients well in the bottom of a tumbler (12-16 oz).  Fill the tumbler with ice, and then top it off with the seltzer water.  If it’s late summer and you’re in Québec, garnish with slices of locally-grown stone fruit on a fancy skewer, or (better yet) with a few ground cherries on a toothpick, with their papery skins still on.  (I suppose you could also call this the mojito del norte grand y blanco, but shhh…don’t tell!)

If you’re not in Québec, here’s the celebration’s theme song, “Tant d’histoires”(“So Many Stories”) by Danny Boudreau.  (Warning:  its not in fact sung by Celine Dion, but it’s not a stretch to imagine her singing it.)  You can see what’s going on in Québec today here.  It’s going to be a heckofa party–or très éspecial, as the locals might say.


March 7th 2008
Friday doll blogging, 18th-century “action figure” edition

Posted under American history & captivity & Dolls


Here’s another photo of my Seven Years’ War lead soldiers and captives, which were a very cool recent birthday present.  I’m considering using them on the cover of my next book–they’re much cooler, more ambigous, and more mysterious than the portrait of Esther Wheelwright that hangs in the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS, for short).  And, a portrait is what you would already expect in a biography cover, right?  Esther commissioned a portrait shortly after she became Mother Superior, and then sent it to relatives in Massachusetts as a remembrance.  According to the curator of paintings I consulted with at the MHS in 2001, Anne Bentley, the painting is probably singular in their collection because it’s a portrait of a woman that wasn’t commissioned by her father or husband.  It’s pretty good for an amateur portrait–I wish I could show it to you, but I don’t yet have a digital copy, and the MHS doesn’t have all of their paintings on-line.  It was likely painted by an artist in the convent, as the Ursulines were known for their artistic excellence in producing elaborately embroidered altarcloths and giltwork items for churches, as well as humbler embroidered objects for the tourist trade. 

The MHS has done a wonderful job digitizing a bunch of other documents and images and organizing them into web displays.  For example, you can find this most excellent bit of military intelligence there, along with other Seven Years’ War-era maps.  Other rich web installations are African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, and a featured “Object of the Month.”


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