Archive for the 'Dolls' Category

July 30th 2009
Colonial Barbie

Posted under American history & Dolls & Gender & women's history


$24.99 on EBay!

For my women’s history class this fall, I’m assigning Marla Miller’s The Needle’s Eye:  Women and Work in the Age of Revolution (2006) for the first time.  I was looking over my review copy from the press the other day, and to my amazement, her introduction starts with a discussion of “Colonial Barbie,” a Barbie produced in 1995 I had never seen or heard of before.  She writes,

[A]s a women’s historian studying early America I was drawn to her in both amazement and amusement.  Dressed in red, white, and blue, her costume the familiar mantua, petticoat, and mob cap, she would more accurately have been named Revolutionary Barbie, I remember thinking.  Most interesting to me, she held in her hand a piece of needlework.  Barbie was working on a quilt square, it seemed, depicting an American eagle.  Also enclosed in the box was a booklet recounting Barbie’s participation in the American Revolution and explaining the small object she held in her hand.  The title of the volume was “The Messenger Quilt.”  At first, I assumed that the usually adventuresome Barbie was involved in some sort of spy operation, cleverly inscribing and conveying military intelligence through a seemingly innocent quilt.  I was disappointed to learn that the quilt simply, if enthusiastically, celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a large red, white, and blue design reading “Happy Birthday, America.”

Poor Barbie–like so many other women in American history, reduced to commemorating the actions of Great Men instead of being a Great Actor herself!  Continue Reading »


June 30th 2009
Nun dolls, the sequel

Posted under American history & art & Dolls & fluff & happy endings & local news & women's history

dollnunsThe Michigan Historical  Museum in Lansing has a special exhibition called “Michigan Roadside Attractions,” which features a few samples from the Nun Doll Museum at The Cross in the Woods Shrine in Indian River (near Sault St. Marie, unfortunately–not really a day trip from Southern Michigan.)  How totally awesome is that?  Maybe we have a few clues as to why a vision of Mother Kewpie of the Sisters of the M-50 appeared in an antiques mall in Brooklyn to me yesterday…

Now there’s some early American history, and modern American history, that has yet to be told.  To the barricades archives, mes amies!


June 29th 2009
Vintage (and creepy) dolls, Brooklyn, Michigan, June 2009

Posted under American history & art & childhood & Dolls & weirdness

dollmenagerieI’m back in vintage doll heaven in Michigan–and by “heaven,” I mean “my parents’ garage and the local antique malls.”  (And by “antique malls,” I mean “somewhat better than garage sale stuff!”)  So here’s a selection of the fun, freaky, and just plain “why?” that I came across today in just one booth in one antique mall.  I apologize that some of the photos are a little blurry–I had to photograph some of these things through a glass case.  Abundant pleasures await you!  For example, next to the Eskimo doll is a Pepper doll with a crocheted dress in gold yarn with green trim.  Lots more, and more of the weird, on the flip!

  Continue Reading »


June 8th 2009
Sister Agnes explains why you still need to visit the archives

Posted under American history & Berkshire Conference & Dolls & European history & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & publication & women's history


Sister Agnes schools us on the archives

Like many historians, I have more than once discovered that the published version of a primary source is incomplete or even misleading when checked against the archival source.  One of my first missions as a graduate student was locating the archival court records for a New England colony whose records were published except for some cases of adolescent boys and young adult men who were convicted of sodomy.  (The sensibilities of the Victorian-era editor of the town court records were too delicate to include the details of those cases, and those cases only.) 

Indeed, the intimate details of historical documents–the marginalia, the burn holes, the water stains, the ink splotches, few of which are reproducible in published form or legible on microfilm or even in digitized versions–are some of the greatest pleasures of being a historian, archivist or librarian.  I have long felt that intimacy with the documents is not just desirable, but necessary–not just to be sure that published records haven’t introduced errors in my research, but because I like to touch things that the people I write about have touched.  I like seeing whose handwriting is clear and the product of an educated hand, and whose handwriting is crude and full of non-standard or phonetic spellings.  The rare letter from a desperate Anglo-American woman on the Maine frontier looks a lot different than an official dispatch from Governor Dudley, and those differences are flattened when the documents are published in books or transcribed digitally.  That stuff matters to me.

The immediacy and sheer volume of historical materials available on the world wide (and as it turns out, not peer-reviewed) internets demands our continued scrutiny and vigilance.  Here’s a recent lesson by Sister Agnes, who spent some time in a European archive recently and discovered that the compiler of an on-line series of summaries of medieval monastic charters provided false or incomplete data: Continue Reading »


May 6th 2009
Wednesday doll blogging: walking, talking man-barbies!

Posted under Dolls & fluff

That’s right–it’s Captain Scarlet again! Check out the computers that work like microfilm readers!  And Captain Scarlet, who looks and sounds exactly like Cary Grant (well, Grant ca. 1937 anyway)!  This episode is like a pop culture time capsule of the Cold War.  Don’t miss the Angels, the glam girl pilots–they appear (as usual) in the intro in part I here, and Symphony Angel swings into action in part II of this episode (at about 4:33).  This is actually an unusual episode in that Symphony is kidnapped–usually the Angels just fly their planes around and shoot people down or drop bombs strategically–more often than not, it’s they who save the day for Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue. It’s also unusual because poor Lieutenant Green, who’s always stuck behind that space-age desk, actually complains (finally!) about never being permitted off of the Spectrum cloud base. Continue Reading »


April 21st 2009
Driving “Miss Barbie?”

Posted under American history & childhood & Dolls & women's history

barbiemissbarbie4I treated you to Barbie’s Campus last month, courtesy of Found in Mom’s Basement (and thanks again to Erica at the good old days for the tip).  I returned there for inspiration last night, and found perhaps the strangest Barbie set I’ve ever seen (at right.  You can view an enlarged photo if you click here–”Miss Barbie” is right on top.)  What is up with this little number, also from the 1964 Sears catalog?  From the ad copy:

So lively. . . her knees bend, her eyes close

Miss Barbie with 3 Wigs, Lawn Swing and Planter, $4.89

Whose idea was it to sell the new bendable knees and blinking eyes Barbie by plopping her on lawn furniture and giving her a choice of 3 wigs?  Is this a scene that evokes youth, action, and vigor?  Are those her granddaughters she’s watching play tennis, dance, and ski, simultaneously?  (Those outfits are sold separately–don’t kid yourself.  “Miss Barbie” doesn’t swing that way.)  Why not a “Plastic Slipcovers Barbie,” who comes complete with bingo cards and canasta for her Midge, Ken, and Allan?  What’s up with the hat–is she really bald under there?  I’m at the stage of life where a lawn swing and 3 wigs look pretty good–or at least more useful than the ballerina outfit–so I think it’s cool that they made a crypo-geriatric Barbie back in 1964.  I’m just wondering how many girls would have wanted to play with this Barbie set back in the day?  (The wigs would have been fun, but even more fun would have been just letting her go bald, don’t you think?) Continue Reading »


March 19th 2009
“Barbie’s Campus” is probably a lot like yours

Posted under American history & Dolls & fluff & students

Remember when most college students went to college to learn?  Yeah, me neither.  Erica at the good old days sent me some Barbie links, and lookee here what I found, ca. 1964 (via Found in Mom’s Basement).  Erica is not a historian, but she’s led me to some images that perfectly embody the current historiography on American college life in the twentieth century, with its emphasis on good times and heterosociality:


Check out the matching bedspreads in Barbie’s dorm!  She and her roommate (Midge?) must have coordinated their decor carefully.  (Click to enlarge!)  The advertising copy for Barbie’s Campus promises “four true to life campus scenes in one cardboard unit!”  Here are the other three:  Continue Reading »


March 17th 2009
Tuesday roundup: Pure marshmallow fluff, but we like it! edition

Posted under American history & art & Dolls & European history & fluff & happy endings & students & women's history

The National Museum of the American Peep

The National Museum of the American Peep

Easter is so late this year and we’ve got several more weeks until we can cuddle fluffy baby bunnies and chicks, so check out these shiny, happy news tidbits:

  • Clio Bluestocking has created the Peep show di tutti Peep Shows:  “The National Museum of the American Peep” features her incredible energy, creativity, and artistry on display.  Don’t miss it!  Be sure to click through all of the photos here.
  • Feeling blue?  You won’t after you read this story and watch this video of The Compliment Guys at Purdue University (via Inside Higher Ed.)  Awwwww-don’t you just want to join a big group hug now? 
  • Part III of the conversation about Judith Bennett’s History Matters is just getting started at Tenured Radical–come on over and join the fun.
  • And now, the best news of all:  Notorious, Ph.D., Girl Scholar and Dr. Crazy at Reassigned Time have been awarded tenure and promotion!  Yes, my pretties:  our cowgirlropeMarxist feminist takeover of higher education is nearly complete!  I’ll be giving you your final instructions soon–you’ll know it’s me when I ring twice, hang up, ring twice again, hang up again, and ring a third time because I can’t figure out this damned text messaging business.  IF U CN READ THS U R DAVID HOROWITZ.  C U L8TR, H8TR!
  • Leave your good news in the thread below.  Fellowships?  Scholarships?  Sabbaticals?  Articles and/or books accepted for publication?  Negative medical test results?  Big tax refund?  Etc.  Sing it!


February 23rd 2009
Category crisis: how should I (re)organize my library?

Posted under American history & Dolls & Intersectionality & women's history

library1John Fea over at The Way of Improvement Leads Home had an interesting post called “How do you organize your library?” a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to get serious about (finally!) reorganizing my library.  But, I have no idea where to start, or how to proceed, and unfortunately, none of the suggestions in the comments on John’s post were very helpful.  (One commenter left just one word, “KINDLE,” in the comments, rather enigmatically.  I know what Kindle is, but John’s question was more about the intellectual categories of organization, not how to manage actual physical books.)

When I started graduate school in 1990, early American history was neatly divided by geography into five categories:  New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay region, the Lower South, and the Caribbean.  By the time I took my degree in 1996, there was another category added to the mix, “Atlantic World,” but astute readers will note that early American history was really in fact early Anglo-American history.  If students was interested in the history of New Spain or Brazil, they worked with Mexican historians and colonial Latin Americanists, not with the people who called themselves early Americanists.  (And–bien sur–no one was interested in New France!)  Although most of us were encouraged to read, think, and write about non-white peoples and non-English Europeans, it was expected that we’d confine our readings and research to lands under some form of English government. 

Nevertheless, the New England/Middle Colonies/Chesapeake/Lower South/Caribbean scheme is how I have organized my books since graduate school, with sections (and then later full shelves) also devoted to my books on the American Revolution, and the nineteenth century (since I was trained to teach up through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and I do that when I teach the survey.)  But since I was trained, early American history has moved from being divided into geographically and culturally distinct regions to more conceptual divisions that transcend geography and even macropolitical and linguistic borders.  This, in my opinion, is all to the good, and I’ve helped to usher along some of these changes in my own very modest way with my scholarship.  This dissolution of geographical and national borders is something that has happened throughout the historical profession, too.  Whereas once everything was filed neatly under histories of the nation-state, comparative and transnational history have confused these formerly (and deceptively) tidy categories. Continue Reading »


January 13th 2009
“I loved Nubbins”

Posted under childhood & Dolls & Intersectionality & race & the body & unhappy endings

Last weekend’s This American Life featured a story by Elna Baker that reminded me of the old days when TAL was brand-new and didn’t sound like anything else in the broadcast media.  In an excerpt at TAL called “Babies Buying Babies” (click here and scroll up until you get to 40:17 in the show) Baker tells about a job she took as an aspiring actor in New York at FAO Schwartz, where she wore a nurse’s costume and faciliatated “adoptions” of “newborn” Lee Middleton Dolls.  After the dolls were featured on a television show, they sold out quickly–of the white baby dolls, anyway–so the “nurses” were left to deal with hoards of irritated, wealthy white parents, most of whom resented paying $120 for a Latino, African American, or Asian baby doll.  (The little girls were more flexible about loving a doll that looked different from them.)

I don’t want to say much more lest I spoil the story for you.  I can say that it sheds light on disability issues as well as race and (disturbingly) sexuality, and the news is not good, folks.  (Baker herself sets up an invidious comparison of a “factory reject [white] monster baby” versus “a nursery full of perfectly cute black babies,” as though a “disabled” doll was unworthy of adoption compared to perfectly formed dolls.)


Equally interesting for me, Baker’s story also speaks powerfully to the mysterious power of dolls that other inanimate objects or toys don’t have.  Because they’re so clearly and recognizeably human, and because they’re generally representations of babies and young children, they demand not just to be preserved or displayed, but cared for.  But as those of us who have played with dolls know, we also feel aggression and take out our anger on dolls.  Baker speaks eloquently about these contradictory impulses:  of not wanting to let a factory-damaged doll go to a nasty family, although this was a doll that she and the other nurses had jokingly named “Nubbins,” and merrily dropped him on the floor and banged him into furniture to make each other laugh.

My guess is that most of you who used to play with dolls will recognize what Baker is talking about.


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