Archive for the 'women’s history' Category

November 27th 2013
Occasions for thanksgiving, 2013

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

thanksgivinggreetingsAn incomplete list:

Who or what is on your list?

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November 23rd 2013
JFK puts the zap on Peggy Noonan’s brain

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

Peggy Noonan desperately tries to find something nice to say about John F. Kennedy, because he was assassinated and because he was the only Roman Catholic U.S. President:

Two small points. It is interesting that JFK was celebrated as the first modern president, the first truly hip president, and yet the parts of him we celebrate most are actually the old virtues. He lied to get into the military, not to get out of it. He was sick, claimed to be well, and served as a naval officer in the war. In the postwar years he was in fairly constant physical pain, but he got up every day and did his demanding jobs. He played hurt. He was from a big, seemingly close family and seemed very much the family man himself. What we liked most about him wasn’t hip.

And he was contained. He operated within his own physical space and was not florid or mawkish or creepily domineering in his physical aspect. Continue Reading »

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November 20th 2013
An update on the “death of an adjunct” story at Duquesne, and a jeremiad against self-sacrifice.

Posted under American history & jobs & students & unhappy endings & women's history

L.V. Anderson has done some new reporting on the death of adjunct French instructor Margaret Mary Vojtko in Pittsburgh this summer.  The real story turns out to be more complicated than just “adjunct work killed Professor Vojtko.”  She earned a nursing degree but preferred medieval studies.  However, she never finished her Ph.D., apparently had signs of mental illness for years, and individual members of the Duquesne University community (NOT the institution itself) had repeatedly reached out to offer her help, appropriate housing, and similar assistance.  (It’s interesting that Vojtko once wanted to be a nun; she remained a devout Catholic, and to the end of her life lived like one–but more on the self-sacrifice later in this essay.)  UPDATE. 11/22/2013:  Last night, to my chagrin and embarrassment, I discovered that Flavia at Ferule & Fescue had already commented on this story in a post earlier this week, after having written about the story when it first broke this summer.  She offers some interesting thoughts about the Catholic perspective, hers and Duquesne’s.

This reminds me of the simplistic moralizing that flowed from the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the illegal downloader targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The larger story, as Larissa McFarquar reported in The New Yorker earlier this year, also included a history of mental illness and quite possibly chronic malnutrition, neither of which help people make informed decisions about their futures.

In addition to her reporting on the Vojtko story, Anderson published an essay explaining “Why Adjunct Professors Don’t Just Find Other Jobs” that I found pretty nutty.  She explains that adjuncts must teach such a heavy load that they don’t have much time left over for writing, publishing, and applying for jobs–all true.  But then she also explains–through the help of some adjunct faculty correspondents–that the academic calendar somehow prevents them from looking for work: Continue Reading »

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November 18th 2013
Dead feminist Nobelist novelist’s work described as “seminal.” Srsly?

Posted under art & book reviews & captivity & European history & Gender & women's history

Doris Lessing died yesterday, as you may have heard.  As I was making sandwiches for lunches this morning, I heard the NPR top-of-the-hour news announcement about her death, and it actually described her work as “seminal.”  SEMINAL!  I am serious, as well as seriously disgusted. Dr. Crazy offers some thoughts on her post-graduate discovery and appreciation of Lessing, both The Golden Notebook and her later works.

Last night I finished semi-binge watching Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black and am totally jonesing for season 2.  SPOILER ALERT:   Continue Reading »

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November 17th 2013
Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & class & Gender & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

The offending photograph of "privilege."

The offending photograph of “privilege.”

After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself.  So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome.  I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving.  I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.

Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule.  One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood.  She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose.  She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic:  before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.”  (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know?  Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!)  When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82).  Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.

Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.:  Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry.  Continue Reading »

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November 7th 2013
Competitve motherhood and envy meet the oppression olympics.

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & class & Gender & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

Just go read Cristina Nehring’s review of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013). I don’t want to exerpt any of it, it’s just so unbelieveably mean. So go ahead–I’ll wait.

I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me as completely appropriate (insofar as I can tell through this rather nasty review) that Adams writes about her own experiences of parenting a child with Down syndrome, as the subtitle suggests. As one commenter at the Chronicle notes: “I admire Adams’s restraint in focusing on herself. I am alarmed when parents seem to think that all aspects of a child’s growing up are theirs to tell. Adams has told a story about herself and is clearly careful to draw boundaries between her story and her son’s story, as any thoughtful writer would do.”

Word. Too many parents rush in to tell their children’s stories, making them props in their books or characters in blog posts.

I also think it’s an interesting and rather brave choice for a woman memoirist not to make herself the virtuous heroine of her own story. (I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think I could do it.) Continue Reading »

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October 28th 2013
Pauline Maier, 1938-2013

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

paulinemaierPauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History at MIT, died August 12 this year at age 75, a fact that this blog failed to note at the time.  (I can’t remember why, except to note that an extended family member of mine like Maier also died of a recently diagnosed lung cancer a few days earlier, so I suppose his death was on my mind instead.)  Mary Beth Norton writes to inform us that she will be speaking at a memorial service for Maier at MIT on Tuesday, October 29 in the Kresge Auditorium at MIT at 4 p.m.

You have to love the fact that in her obituary the Grey Lady 1) helpfully provides the pronunciation of Maier’s surname “(pronounced MAY-er)” and 2) called Maier the “Historian Who Described Jefferson As ‘Overrated’” right in the headline!  Awesome!  All historians should aspire to this irreverence, in my opinion.

The Jefferson-is-overrated comment is a reference to Maier’s brilliant history of the Declaration of Independence called American Scripture (1997).  Many readers and reviewers have failed to note that the title is ironic, given that the goal of Maier’s book was to illuminate the role of the hundreds of state and local declarations of independence that were issued before the Continental Congress got around to writing theirs in the spring and early summer of 1776.  It was a terrific book Continue Reading »

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October 10th 2013
Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Posted under Gender & happy endings & O Canada & women's history

Busy busy day–no time to blog until now, and not much time for that anyway, but:  one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize in Literature today! (See also this nice notice in which she makes a feminist point about being only the thirteenth woman to win the prize, and also includes a link to a CBC story.)

Her work is especially relevant to women’s historians, I think, because so many of her stories span several decades and are frequently compressed little nuggets of twentieth-century North American women’s history.  If you’ve never read Munro before, don’t start with her much-hyped (and sure-to-be-emblazoned-with-gold-foil-stickers) latest collection, Dear Life.  Start with some of her earlier works like The Beggar Maid:  Stories of Flo and Rose (1978), a fascinating document about girlhood and young adulthood in an Anglo-Canadian provincial Ontario town and the relationship between two women of different generations.

Talk about a writer of domestic fiction who addresses universal themes like shame, lust, and all varieties of love and disappointment.  Continue Reading »

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September 28th 2013
The Liturgy of the Book

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & happy endings & jobs & O Canada & publication & women's history

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

When Tenured Radical wrote a blog post about the “Grafton Challenge” this summer, I was both impressed and completely intimidated by the blistering pace at which Tony Grafton writes:  3,500 words a day!  Amazing.  Then when she followed up to report that Matthew Gutterl had drafted a book this summer by. . . sitting down to write every day and cutting out distractions like blogging!. . . I thought to myself:  how much longer do I really want to live with the book I’m writing now, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright?  Isn’t it time to move on?

So, I decided to finish a rough draft of my book this fall, with Christmas day as my drop-dead date.  When I finished the second draft of Abraham in Arms eight years ago, the only time I had to myself that was completely free of familial distractions or responsibilities was from 4-6 a.m.  So, several days a week I now get out of bed at 4 a.m. and try to write for two hours.  It’s not as difficult as you’d think.  Caffeine helps, as does a shockingly early bedtime the night before.  I’ve had a cold this week, and the high-test antihistamines I’m on also give me a kick.  (I think it’s the stuff they cook meth out of, so no wonder.)  I prefer the silence of the tomb when I work, and my brain is freshest first thing in the morning, so 4-6 a.m. it is.

(I was reviewing a chapter I had already drafted, and I re-read something I had written last summer about how the Ursuline nuns I’m writing about would rise at 4 a.m. to begin their day.  Coincidence?  Continue Reading »

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September 24th 2013
Ask a Slave!

Posted under American history & art & class & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & Uncategorized & women's history

A graduate student of mine alerted me to this brilliant YouTube series of short videos, Ask a Slave. (Don’t we get all the best ideas from our students? I sure do!) Ask a Slave, directed by comedian Jordan Black, is based on the real-life experiences of actress Azie Mira Dungey who worked as a “living history character” to portray an enslaved maid at Mount Vernon.

One of the things I think Lizzie May does very well is to suggest the ways in which white women were just as complicit in the creation and maintenance of slavery as white men. Continue Reading »

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