Archive for the 'childhood' Category

June 11th 2014
Returning POWs, eighteenth-century style

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & O Canada & race

The recent redemption of captive Bowe Bergdahl has interested me–not the political pissing match, which seems as drearily predictable as the plot of a Harlequin Romance.  The details coming out about his experiences as a prisoner of war are what I want to know more about.  The news that he has trouble speaking English now is especially fascinating to me.  It called to my mind this passage from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French.  First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire.  Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven.  He was eleven before she saw him again:

In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).

Little Sylvanus Johnson has been on my mind recently, because I wrote an essay last summer about child war captives in early America, and I focused on his experiences in one portion of the essay.  In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story.  From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:

In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald.*  I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. How and her family, who had returned from captivity.**  The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father.  It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old.  During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian.  He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French.  But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).

Continue Reading »

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May 11th 2014
“Maternal Solicitude,” or, how to avoid both infanticide and suicide!

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & the body & unhappy endings & women's history

babydos&dontsFrom the very first paragraph of Mary Watkins’s Maternal Solicitude, or Lady’s Manual (New York, 1809), h/t to my graduate student, Clarissa:

WHEN a mother does not nurse her own infant, she, in many instances, does violence to nature; a custom unknown among the most polished in the purest ages of Greece and Rome.  The sudden check given to this great natural evacuation of milk, at a time when her weakly state renders her unable to sustain so great a shock, is often of the worst consequences to herself; and the loss to the child is much greater than in commonly apprehended.  A woman in this case, runs the imminent risk of her life from a milk-fever; besides the danger of swellings and imposthumes of the breast, and such obstruction in them as lay a foundation of a future cancer, (7).

Yes, a 205-year old breastfeeding manual on the first page threatens the reader with both the loss of her child and CANCER!  But let’s not get too smug today.  Maternal Solicitude is almost as subtle as modern pro-breastfeeding propaganda. Continue Reading »

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April 21st 2014
Josephine Baker’s postwar/Cold War “rainbow tribe”

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & European history & Intersectionality & race

The book that kept Matthew Pratt Guterl indoors all last summer was published last month by Harvard University’s Belknap Press.  Rebecca Onion gives it a nice rundown here at Slate:

Baker was born in St. Louis but moved to France in 1925. Her danse sauvage, famously performed in a banana skirt, brought her international fame. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and gathered intelligence for the French Resistance. After the war, married to her fourth husband, Jo Bouillon, she struggled to conceive a child. Meanwhile, her career waned. Guterl’s book is about this period of Baker’s life, as she built her large adopted family, became ever more active on behalf of the nascent civil rights movement in the United States, and re-emerged into fame.

Baker purchased her estate, known as Les Milandes, after marrying Bouillon in 1947. In addition to the chateau, the property boasted a motel, a bakery, cafés, a jazz club, a miniature golf course, and a wax museum telling the story of Baker’s life. As Guterl makes clear, the place was over-the-top, but its ostentation was a political statement. Les Milandes, with its fairy-tale setting, announced to the world that African-American girls born poor could transcend nation and race and find wealth and happiness.

Guterl makes it sound like Baker’s family was kind of a multicultural Trapp Family Singers or a Partridge Family, crossed with the Dionne QuintupletsContinue Reading »

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April 19th 2014
Saturday: Thank Dog.

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & childhood & class & jobs & local news & nepotism & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness

Lucky dog!

Lucky dog!

My weekends are just too freakin’ short this semester, as I’m teaching two lecture classes on a MWF schedule.  I honestly don’t mind teaching three days a week–I’m just frustrated that I don’t have a discretionary extra day to prep for Monday lectures, finish the neverending piles of grading, etc., let alone think for 20 minutes about how to get back to writing my book and figuring out what needs to happen archival research-wise before I make my base camp at the feet of the San Gabes.  What’s with the MWF; can’t we get a MWR, or a MTR, or a TWF?  Let the people who teach twice a week show up on Mondays and Fridays, as they’ll have three weekdays in-between without classes to TCB.

I know this is an academic blog, but you didn’t come here to see me b!tch about my mostly-imaginary and very temporary frustrations now, did you?  So here are some random tidbits of THC, TBD (The Big Dog), and OMs on TDIS (Thank Dog It’s Saturday).

  • Nepotism alert:  Sometime in the next generation, every single American roots music recording artist will be either a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan or of the Carter-Cash family clan.  Seriously:  are there no other worthy recording artists these days?
  • Recreational reefer madness 2014!  Earlier this week, some dip$hit in Denver ate some marijuana-infused candy and then shot his wife in the head and killed her in front of their three little kids.  Of course, the media conversation in Denver is all about the marijuana edibles instead of the gun in the home.  (Because that’s what all upper-middle class people need in their homes with three children in perfectly safe neighborhoods:  easily accessible handguns!)  You gotta love the politics of Colorado!  Or just shake your head in wonder at the criminal stupidity of it all.
  • Speaking of polidicks:  I’m reading Double Down:  Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (which, BTW, is pure political crackerjack, so delicious and so non-nutritious!), and I get to this paragraph: Continue Reading »

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March 19th 2014
Memo to Dems and CSU-P faculty: you need a little F.U.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & Gender & jobs & local news & race & women's history

Much prettier than Kevin Spacey

Much prettier than Kevin Spacey.

Hilarious headline at The Daily Beast by Dean Obeidallah:  “Dems Need to Channel ‘House of Cards’ Frank Underwood” in order to try to avoid electoral disaster this fall.  Actually, the headline was the only amusing part of that article; if only we had Democrats as tough as Frank!  The rest of the article is full of predictable and sensible advice like “turn out your base!” and “crank up the fear factor” about the Republicans!  Well, duh.  That might work, but it sure is a lot less fun to watch than House of Cards.

I was hoping that the article was itself a brilliant, murderous plot full of twists, turns, and of course SPOILER ALERT Continue Reading »

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February 18th 2014
Shocking news: grades, not test scores, more predictive of college success.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & class & happy endings & students & technoskepticism

Historiann1990Can we all just hold hands and shout “DUHHH!!!!” together?  NPR reports on a new study this morning:

Today, some 800 of the roughly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in America make SAT or ACT submissions optional. But before a new study released Tuesday, no one had taken a hard, broad look at just how students who take advantage of “test-optional” policies are doing: how, for example, their grades and graduation rates stack up next to their counterparts who submitted their test results to admissions offices.

.       .       .       .       .       .

[Former Bates College Deanof Admissions William] Hiss’ study, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” examined data from nearly three dozen “test-optional” U.S. schools, ranging from small liberal arts schools to large public universities, over several years.

Hiss found that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “non-submitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “non-submitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

How now?  It turns out that “high school grades matter–a lot:”  Continue Reading »

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January 12th 2014
Effective history teaching: passion and deep knowledge (and stay classy!)

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & happy endings & jobs & students & women's history

Eric Foner, a distinguished historian of the Reconstruction-era of the United States, makes a terrific point in an interview with David Cutler at The Atlantic.  (My apologies if the title of the article is his takeaway point:  “‘You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It.’” ) To wit, Foner says:

I tell my students nowadays who are in graduate school and going on to become teachers—the number one thing is to have a real passion for your subject and to be able to convey that to your students. Obviously the content is important, but that’s not as unusual as being able to really convey why you think history is important. I think that’s what inspires students.

In a follow-up question, Foner explains this in terms of the deficits in historical education he sees at the high school level:

The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. A lot of the history teachers in this country are actually athletic coaches. I mention this in class, and students always say, “Oh yeah, Coach Smith, he taught my history course.” Why? Well, Coach Smith is the football coach, and in the spring he’s not doing much, and they say, “Well, put him in the history course, he can do that.”

They wouldn’t put him in a French course, or a physics course. The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it’s ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it’s important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject. Continue Reading »

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December 26th 2013
Who pays the price for a weaponized nation?

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & local news & unhappy endings

Anyone who lives in a home with a gun is at risk to kill or be killed:

A man who told police he shot and killed his 14-year-old stepdaughter after mistaking her for a burglar is a 29-year-old Fort Carson officer with multiple deployments behind him and a Bronze Star for service.

Sources on Wednesday confirmed that 2nd Lt. Daniel R. Meade is at the center of the tragedy that has drawn headlines across the world.

A dispatch recording suggests that Meade opened fire on the girl about 6 a.m. Monday as she was crawling through a window of a home in the 4000 block of Ascendant Drive, off North Carefree Circle and Peterson Road.

She died of her wounds at a Colorado Springs hospital later that day. Continue Reading »

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December 21st 2013
The anti-Santas: on the plausibility of belief.

Posted under bad language & childhood & fluff & unhappy endings & wankers

Here’s a story about Christians who were raised without Santa ClausContinue Reading »

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December 13th 2013
Family responsibility, fantasy life, and American gun culture

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & race & unhappy endings

I don’t want to spend the day crying, but here are two interesting articles on gun culture and family responsibility that you might find interesting.  First, sociologist Randall Collins says in Lessons from Newtown for Gun-Owning Parents what I was trying to say in this post, only with actual knowledge and a sociological perspective.  He writes about the murderer and his mother:

How could she be so blind? Everything her son did, she interpreted as a manifestation of his illness. The windows taped shut with black plastic were to her just a sign of sensitiveness to light—even though he could go outdoors when he wanted to. The possibility that he was hiding something in the rooms she was forbidden to enter was masked in her own mind by the feeling that she must do everything possible for her son. He had drawn her into his mental illness, building up a family system where he was in complete control. She may have felt something was wrong, wronger even than having a mentally ill son she loved. Though it seems unlikely that they quarreled in an overt way, some signs of tension came through. According to the report, “a person who knew the shooter in 2011 and 2012 said the shooter described his relationship with his mother as strained” and said that “her behavior was not rational.” He told another that he would not care if his mother died. As usual, when one person loves the other much more than is reciprocated, the power is all on the side of the less loving.

The mother entered into and supported his obsession with weapons, while carefully staying out of his clandestine world. In this, as in the rest of their arrangements, they tacitly cooperated. The mother lost her capacity to make independent judgments. This is very close to the classic model of the mental illness shared among intimates, the folie à deux.

Next, Joan Wickersham buys three gun enthusiast magazines and analyzes what they’re selling their readers–mostly fantasies that combine total powerlessness (due to end times, the collapse of civilization, or maybe Barack Obama’s evil stormtroopers) with the belief that a lone gunowner can offer heroic resistance: Continue Reading »

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