Search Results for "wheelwright"

May
23rd 2013
Bleg: Introduction to Historical Practice

Posted under American history & book reviews & students

Help me!

Howdy, friends:  today’s post is a transparent cry for help!  I’m teaching historiography again to our incoming graduate students.  (“Historiography” is the obscurantist term we use for a course that’s meant to be something like “introduction to historical practice.”  I think we should just change the name to the latter term and stop intimidating our graduate students.)  I’ve organized the course around an exploration of various scandals or ethical controversies in the practice of history recently, and I need your advice before I submit my book orders for the fall semester.

First, I’d like your suggestions for a memoir or reflexive book by a historian.  In the fall of 2011, the last time I taught the course, I used Richard White’s Remembering Ahanagran:  A History of Stories (1998; 2003), a book about White’s attempts to research the stories his mother told about her family and girlhood in Ireland.  It was very good, but almost too subtle for my purposes.  We also read the following week Debra Gray White’s Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008), which I will keep on the syllabus this time around because I found it incredibly effective and moving series of essays written from the margins rather than the center of the profession. Continue Reading »

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May
18th 2013
John Winthrop: still controversial after all these years.

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & European history

For a comment on a paper that I’m giving this afternoon, I needed to check a quotation from The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649 (1996), edited by Richard Dunn, James Savage, and Laetitia Yeandle, the most recent and authoritative edition of Winthrop’s journals.  I should have done this at home, as I own this 799 page doorstop of a book, but luckily I found that the relevant passage was available via Google books.  Yay!  Mission accomplished.  Thanks, internets!

But wait:  there are two online reviews of Winthrop’s journal, which I thought was pretty interesting as he’s been dead since 1649.   “Imi” wrote, “Thank God we only have to read a small part of it for a lecture, because even those couple of pages were really boring. Continue Reading »

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December
20th 2012
The big reveal! Historiann has a face for C-SPAN 3.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & class & Gender & race & students & the body & women's history

You can see me lecturing to my HIST 358:  American Women’s History to 1800 students from this semester on the politics of early American women’s underwear (srsly!) on C-SPAN 3, American History TV, this weekend.  I’m on Saturday 8 p.m. EST/6 p.m. MST, again on Saturday at midnight/10 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m./11 a.m.  If (like me) you don’t get C-SPAN 3, it streams online over the weekend, too.  I also throw in some bits about the 600-year old bra, John Paul Gaultier, and Madonna into the lecture, just for laughs.

(Amazingly enough, there is a blog called Eighteenth-Century Stays, where you can see more photos like the one’s I’ve borrowed here, as well as other examples of both eighteenth- and seventeenth-century stays, with instructions for how to make them yourself.)

How did I get interested in early American undergarments, and why on earth do I think this is an appropriate subject for an undergraduate student lecture?  Continue Reading »

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March
16th 2011
History and humor

Posted under American history & art & captivity & childhood & Gender & Intersectionality & publication & unhappy endings & women's history

Sit down and let me pour you a cup!

As you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this blog, I like teh funny, and even if my sense of humor ain’t exactly your cuppa joe, I like to write to amuse myself, at least.  My problem now is that I can’t find a lot of humor in the book I’m writing.  I wrote a book about guys and guns and warfare in the Northeastern borderlands of what’s now the U.S. and Canada, so although that wasn’t a happy story for most of the people I wrote about, there were a lot of really fatuous English men and women I could mock in that book.  I realize it’s a low trick, but having a mockable bad guy or set of bad guys in your book is one way to leaven the story and add a little humor.  After writing about warfare for the better part of a decade, I looked forward to what I imagined to be a retreat into the relative safety and comfort of the cloister in order to write about a little English girl (Esther Wheelwright, 1696-1780) who was taken captive by the Indians at 7 and wound up in the Ursuline convent in Quebec at the age of 12, where she remained for the rest of her life.  

But, the problem for me right now is that there just isn’t a lot of humor in the story of a little girl whose life was filled with warfare and trauma for her English family, and the starvation, disease, and eventual destrution of her Indian family.  She arrived safely at the monastery and lived to the age of 84, but early modern nuns are just so earnest with their apostolic missions, such do-gooders that I haven’t found a lot of humor or texture in that part of the story, either.  They were not late medieval mystics who wrote long, fantastic narratives or offered descriptions of the various ways in which they mortified their bodies.  They were not aristocratic European nuns who flaunted their wealth and had men jumping in and out of their cells in between secret plots to make another Borgia prince the Pope.  They were teachers!  I’m a teacher, and many of you reading this are teachers–you know how boring and earnest we all are!  Who wants to read about about a bunch of teachers?   

In short, I have a humor problem with this book, and no really obvious bad guys to target for the cheap yuks.  (At least I’m having a hard time making scurvy and smallpox variola take the fall for everything.) Continue Reading »

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January
26th 2009
Gender, history and biography

Posted under American history & Gender & women's history

From “The Kennedys:  A Fumbled Handoff of the Torch,” by Sam Tanenhaus:

In 1963, shortly after her husband was murdered, Mrs. Kennedy granted an interview with Mr. White, who had covered the Kennedy election and then written his classic account, “The Making of the President, 1960.”

“Once, the more I read of history the more bitter I got,” Mrs. Kennedy reflected. Her husband, who in childhood had devoured romantic history books, viewed it very differently. “For Jack, history was full of heroes. And if it made him this way — if it made him see the heroes — maybe other boys will see.”

“Maybe other boys will see?”  That seems to sum it all up, doesn’t it?  History is about heroes, heroes are men, and heroes are meant to inspire boys.  This is not a criticism of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis–she experienced reading history as alienating or even embittering, rather than inspiring, and that’s the fault of historians.  I think her comments about the gendering of history are accurate even today, 45 years later. 

This is why I’m interested in women’s biography right now–for a long time I’ve worried that my biography of Esther Wheelwright won’t be perceived as theoretically sophisticated enough, or cool enough.  But women’s history is still such a relatively new field, with many discoveries to be made.  Discovering new women’s biographies may in fact be a much more radical undertaking than it appears to be on the surface.  I’ve argued all along that what may seem to be the most traditional and staid of all historical genres might in fact be dramatically subversive both for history and biography when a little girl and/or a woman is at the center of inquiry. 

Biography insists that its subject is of paramount importance to history.  Biography is powerful:  Cataloging the lives of the saints worked pretty well in popularizing Roman Catholicism and moving it from the margins to the center of European history and culture.  If more women’s biographies are written, read, and incorporated into school curricula, then the argument about who and what is important in history will be won.  We don’t have to write “sheroic” history–that is too flat and old-hat for me, not to mention an approach that usually privileges the overly privileged and stories that conform to the old Whig trajectory.  We must simply write about women’s lives unapologetically, and with specificity, nuance, and telling detail that puts them at the center of history rather than at the margins. 

History isn’t therapy–or at least, it doesn’t function very efficiently as therapy.  It is, however, ideology, and from my perspective, women’s history hasn’t begun to make a dent on what most people see as “History.”

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