Welcome all to the sixty-third edition of History Carnival, coming out on All Fool’s Day (Australian time), 1 April 2008.
What you’ll find here is a series of links to blog entries on matters historical during March 2008. And because 8 March was International Women’s Day (indeed the whole of March was Women’s History Month in the States) this carnival will be largely devoted to posts on women’s history.
The Festival top 5
In past centuries, All Fool’s Day festivities were an excuse for the exchange of gifts and revelry. In this spirit, I celebrate my 5 top posts this month – an offering of treats from the blog-annals of women’s history:
One, Race and the Risky Game of Claiming Icons. In this a thought-provoking piece on Britannica Blog, Joseph Lane draws parallels between the Clinton/Obama contest and an earlier one between women’s suffragists and African-Americans in the 1860s. In this period, white suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that they were more deserving of the vote than black men. This, Lane suggests, was an eerie precursor to Hillary Clinton’s current political strategy. This discussion is well worth a read, both for its topicality and for its reminder that white feminism has often been uncomfortably implicated in the oppression of other social groups.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton & child
Two, Remembering Herschey Lang (1912-1917), posted by Penny Richards at Temple University’s Disability Studies blog. This post is a beautiful musing about a disfigured boy who lived in New York during the First World War. I’ve included it here because the boy’s sister was Bella Cohen Spewack, co-author of Kiss Me Kate, who wrote a memoir of her childhood called Streets. Now published by Feminist Press, Streets is ‘a fierce, funny, poignant memoir’, full of extraordinary detail about street-life on Lower East Side Manhattan in the early twentieth-century. I will definitely be searching it out after reading this lovely piece.
Three, a compilation of Asian feminists both contemporary and historical, by profbwoman at her blog. Of special note is the mention of Yuri Kochiyama, an activist who spoke out against the American internment of Japanese people during the Second World War, and who held Malcolm X after his assassination, watching as he died in her arms.
Four, a review of the Brilliant Women exhibition at the (British) National Portrait Gallery, posted by Natalie Bennett on My London Your London. Bennett draws our attention to portraits of women from the Bluestocking Circle, giving us a who’s who of 18thC English feminism.
Members from the Bluestocking Circle
Five, a glimpse into the lot of late 19thC female inventors in America, condescendingly dubbed “Lady Edisons” in their day. The post is written by Barbara West at Lupec Boston, a blog with a giddy mix of go-grrl feminist commentary and cocktail recipes, and comes complete with tips on how to make your own Edisonian Cocktail. I have to say that I don’t get the whole ‘I’m a feminist b/c I love cocktails’ thing – but enjoyed this, nonetheless.
Tongue-in-cheek kitsch on Lupec Boston
Petticoats & beading
Now, fellow fools for history, let me ask you this. Why is it that so many blogs on women’s history focus on the manners and customs of the womanly elite? Until reviewing the field for this Carnival, I had not realised quite how many bloggers are intrigued by fifteenth-to-early-twentieth century society-women’s lives.
This month one finds posts giving us the ‘real story’ on Mary Boleyn and recipes for Regency pound cakes on History Hoydens, for example – the latter not exactly a hoydenish subject, it seems to me. There’s a piece on Mary Tudor at Scandalous Women (setting the facts right for watchers of Showtime’s series, The Tudors); and on Marie-Adelaide, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, at Tea at Trianon. Lessons on the customs of refined Regency picnics follow on JaneAusten’s World; ditto a musing on what Elizabeth I might have felt if handed a lacy thong in a post for History Undressed (see two images from this below). There’s a write-up of the romance between Edward and Wallis Simpson from the gushing Writer of Queens. And for a much older example, there’s a post on a princess Zenobia, married off to an Iberian king a few decades after the death of Christ, on Zenobia: Empress of the East.
Elizabeth I & the thong. I mean, really…
Now I don’t want to suggest that the minute details of past women’s lives are uninteresting. Nor do I want to suggest that none of these posts are fun to read. On the contrary, one of the best-written blogs I know is Edwardian Promenade, which this month has an intriguing post on the craze for nipple-piercing and tattoos among aristocratic English women at the turn of the 20th century. (Edwardian Promenade also has a piece on English suffragettes this month, so it’s not all tea-dresses and calling-cards). Further, on Sail 1620: Discover History, Jeffery Bangs provides details of the 1613 marriage of Princess Elizabeth Stuart in admirably evocative prose, including information about music created in her honour by Pilgrim composer, John Coprario. Overall, however, there is such a focus on aristocratic women on these blogs, such a focus on the most luxurious aspects of their lives, that after a while one begins to stagger under the weight of the petticoats and beading.
The film and historical fiction industry seems to be driving much of this emphasis on opulent women. Given that both these cultural forms prioritise sumptuous visual imagery and sensual detail, they contribute to a view that the only women’s lives worth remembering are those that look and feel beautiful. This very argument was indeed made by Janet Mullany at RiskyRegencies this month. She writes a post helpfully explaining that the past lives of the English aristocracy are more interesting to read about than those of the “riff raff” because they were so very much more glamorous. Ouch.
Not so frothy
All Fool’s festivities were once celebrated by the riff-raff, friend fools, so think yourself lucky that the writer of this Carnival shares not Janet Mullany’s view. And thankfully, the same can be said of other bloggers on women’s and feminist history. At Progressive Historians, for example, Ralph Brauer has written about the wisdom of Fanny Lou Hamer, an African-American woman almost beaten to death by police in the 1960s for helping other African-Americans register for the vote.
Fanny Lou Hamer, image from Progressive Historians
At Feminist Review, Rick Taylor has written a review of Sally G McMillen’s book on the origins of the American women’s rights movement. This review talks about some of the 1860s feminist history critiqued in Joseph Lane’s post (above), and like Brauer’s post on Hamer is worth reading as a companion piece.
In addition to her exhibition review on My London Your London, Natalie Bennett has another review on her blog, Philobiblon, in this case of Sylvia Bowerbanks’ Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England. The book combines women’s and ecological history – an apt blend of Bennett’s concerns on Philobiblon - and will appeal to those with a similar convergence of interests.
After you’re done with these reviews, you can read about Lydia Parrish, an American nurse during the Civil War, on Civil War Women. If you can get past the ads and the we-Canadians-rock cheer-squad, you can find out about Jennie Trout, the first women to be licensed to practice medicine in Canada, from sassymonkey on blogher. And on The Reality-Based Community, you can catch James Wimberley’s sweet remembrance of the lives of five English women who lived through the Second World War.
On backlashes of one kind & another
In her post on the Brilliant Women exhibition (mentioned above), Natalie Bennett writes about the feminist backlash experienced by the Bluestocking Circle in England. Another 18thC backlash is detailed by John Holbo on Out of the Crooked Timber. This post looks at the views of German philosopher, Justus Möser, whose froth-at-the-mouth diatribe on single mothers and bastard children strikes Holbo as an almost note-perfect precursor to right-wing American conservatism.
Here at the Vapour Trail, you can also read about the hateful songs sung about battered married women on the 19th century English music-hall stage. The anti-feminism displayed there is worth remembering, given that memories of music-hall jesters such as Dan Leno now often come immersed in a bath of nostalgia for Victoriana and simpler days.
As Kristan Tetens points out on The Victorian Peeper, however, the Victorians are also in the process of being re-written as sex-mad in a Rupert Everett documentary series about to hit the small screen. It remains to be seen whether this series represents a simplistic backlash against old notions of the Victorians as the sex-hating repressed, or whether it produces a more complex view of Victorian sexualities. (Incidentally, although his career was over before the Victorian era began, I would be interested in Everett’s take on the womanising castrato singer, Giovanni Velutti, who appears this month on Providentia).
Dred Scott at Axis of Evil Knievel
For backlashes of another kind, check Axis of Evil Knievel’s post on the Dred Scott decision, 6 March 1857, which denied an enslaved man from Missouri the right to sue for his freedom in the US Federal Court. If you can cope with the thick white text on black background, see Yid With Lid on the anti-Semitism stirred up by the Dreyfus affair in ‘J’accuse! When anti-semitism became fashionable’. And also check Greg Laden’s piece on the ban on Irish gays joining the St Patrick’s Day parades in Boston and NYC.
‘Great’ Men in history
Of course, online women’s history is hardly the only historiographical field to be dominated by the mighty or the rich. The idea that history is the story of past giants – great men looming up from the historical sludge, as it were - is to be found plenty of bloke’s history blogs. Thomas Levenson’s piece on the rivalry between two such ‘giants’, Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke, relies on this assumption. But it still makes for a zanily informative read. His discussion of the fact that Newton is celebrated while Hooke is largely forgotten also stands as a reminder of the machinations through which certain white men made the cut as Giants of History, and certain men did not.
Saifuddin’s piece for his eponymous blog, on the pre-1800 history of Yemen, similarly draws attention to the machinations between the ‘Giants’ of that region. By detailing the struggles between various sultans and governors in the era of the Ottomans, he highlights the imperial conquest and exploitation to which much of the history of Great Men is tied.
In a wonderful post by dogboy at Executed Today, you can read about the executions which the Catholic Church once deemed necessary for the good of the masses, but not at all necessary for the edification of noble Great Men. This post looks at the executioner, Giovanni Battiste Bugatti - a man who began his bloody work for the papacy at the turn of the 19thC, aged 17, and who otherwise spent his working life painting umbrellas by the riverside.
On the tricksiness of historical sources
At Easily Distracted this month, Timothy Burke has a snappy rant about the angst attending memoirs later revealed to be hoaxes or frauds. His focus is on contemporary memoirs, but is obviously relevant to historical sources. The post is worth reading as an illustration of good bloggy sass. And it is also worth reading to see if you agree with its attack on identity politics and the survivor memoir-industry. In this month of celebration of women’s history, which still relies on a form of identity politics, what say you to this provocative piece?
On Transylvania Dutch, John Newmark has a nifty post on the unreliable details his ‘Irish’ great-grandfather gave about his life. His great-granda hailed initially from Warsaw, not Ireland, and changed a few more less-than-trifling ‘facts’ about his life along the way – a cunning jester, if there ever was one. Then on The Virtual Dime Museum, L H Crawley has a post about an 1860s’ air-gun murder in Gold St, Brooklyn, with complicated connections to her own family. Trying to piece together information both about the murderer and her ancestors is a difficult business, she notes, particularly given omissions of errant wives and the like by past family historians keen on preserving their clan’s good name. Both these post read as if written if to illustrate Burke’s point about the tricksiness of historical self-presentation.
As a counter-point to Burke’s post, one finds a considered discussion of recent debates about the education of French children on Design Observer. As Jessica Helfand writes, plans are afoot to have every 5th-grader in France learn the life-story of a French child killed during the Holocaust. Featuring Anny-Yolande Horowitz, a seven year old French girl deported to Auschwitz in September 1942, this post raises compelling issues about the ethics of Holocaust history and about history education at large.
On this and other Carnivals
I must say now that there were a few submissions sent to me this month about the teaching of history and the impact of digital technologies on the same. Since my intention here was to focus on women’s history – and since I had a strong-enough view of my own on these posts, I made these the subject of a piece which I posted on this blog yesterday. Check it out if you want to catch up on some recent debates about the impact of new media on historiography and tertiary education (or at least for my views on the same).
Before I get any further now, I want to thank Sharon Howard, who organises the History Carnival each month. Like any festival director, she puts in plenty of behind-the-scenes labour and energy into the Carnival, and heartily deserves our gratitude.
A couple of other Carnivals in honour of Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day are currently online. At Penny Red, you can catch The Carnival of Feminists. And for those of you who liked L H Crawley and John Newmark’s post about their forebears, there are a whole series of reminiscences about female relatives and ancestors discussed in the Genealogy Blog Carnival at Creative Gene.
If you are interested in becoming a host for a future History Carnival like this one, you can contact Sharon via the Carnival site. To submit a post to be considered for the next issue, you can make submissions via that site. The next host for the Carnival will be Felix (aka Fiona Thompson) at Bay Radical, and will appear on 1 May 2008. Looking forward to the next round of revelry and thoughtful exchange, Felix!
I will leave you now with a link to a List of Don’ts for women, published by a lady contributor to The Owl in 1903, which appears online at The Pen and the Spindle. I laughed when I first read this collation of foolish imperatives, but considering the fact that celeb pieces still offer us similar lists of what to wear and how to look (celebrity of course being the contemporary equivalent of historical lady-mania), perhaps it isn’t so jester-comic after all…