The Author’s Corner with Martha Saxton

SaxtonMartha Saxton is Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, Emerita at Amherst College.  This interview is based on her new book The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Widow Washington?

MSI wrote the Widow Washington because I discovered in researching my last book that Mary Washington and her son George had conflict over money and property like many other widows and eldest sons in Virginia.  I was puzzled, given his reputation for probity. Then I discovered that historians, based on very scarce evidence, have concluded that she was a selfish person and a bad mother.  I wanted to know more.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Widow Washington?

MS: Mary Washington, orphaned early and then widowed early, had a long and difficult life.  She struggled successfully to give her five children a good start in life and imparted to her first child, George,  many of his most  impressive qualities: persistence, stoicism and resilience, and much of the philosophy by which he lived.

JF: Why do we need to read The Widow Washington?

MS: It’s important to recognize that our founding father had a strong and influential mother.  It’s also important to get a sense of the violence  of slavery that permeated  eighteenth-century Virginia and how it blunted the empathy of  slave owners like Mary Washington.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MSIn college I thought that history was the most comprehensive approach to studying the world around me, and I majored in it.  I went on to graduate study some years later when I needed more training to complete a book  on women’s moral values in early American communities (published as “Being Good”) which I had started.

JF: What is your next project?

SR: I am not sure about my next project.

JF: Thanks, Martha!

Searching for Roots in San Felice-Circeo

San Felice 1

My cousin Jerry schools us in family history outside the old convent where my grandfather was born in San Felice-Circeo, Latina, Lazio, Italy

Last week I visited, for the first time, the place where my paternal grandfather was born.  San Felice-Circeo is an Italian village (comune) on the Mediterranean (Tyrrhenian) Sea about 100 km south of Rome.  In the 1930s Mussolini claimed large portions of the San Felice-Circeo shoreline and created a massive national park, the largest in Italy.  The centro storica (historic center) dates back to the Roman era and during the Middle Ages the Templars were in possession of the town.  San Felice-Circeo sits upon a hill overlooking the sea and many of its medieval features, including some of the old city walls, are still in place.

My grandfather–Giovanni Fia (sic)–was born in 1910.  A few months earlier his father, Andrea (Andrew) Fia, left San Felice-Circeo to join his half-brother in the United States, leaving his young wife Ermelinda (DiProspero) Fia and his daughter Angelina back in the village.  Like many Italian immigrants, Andrea was going to find a job and establish himself in America before he sent for his family.  Ermelinda was in good hands.  The DiProspero family was large and established in San Felice-Circeo.

(Andrea, I might add, was not from San Felice-Circeo.  He was a sheep-herder from the mountain town of Collepardo who often brought his sheep to San Felice-Circeo’s warmer climates in the winter.  He spent these winters living in a cave by the sea.  This was not uncommon.  Apparently people lived in caves in this region well into the 20th century).

What Andrea did not know when he left Italy was that Ermelinda was pregnant with twins.  Giovanni and Sisto Fia were born in the San Felice-Circeo convent.  Though the DiProspero lived literally next door to the convent, the nuns had the best medical facilities in town.  The convent served as a local hospital.  Three years later, Ermelinda and the children were reunited at Ellis Island and eventually settled in West Orange, New Jersey.  Three more children would come.

On June 19, 2019, my family met up with my father’s first cousin Jerry and his wife Jean for a tour of the old town.  Jerry lives in Connecticut, but he has been coming to San Felice-Circeo for three decades.  We all consider him to be the family historian.  His mother Anna (soon to turn 100) was my grandfather’s youngest sibling.  (My grandfather passed away in 2014 at the age of 103).  As it turns out, Jerry and Jean were in the final days of a one-month vacation in the San Felice-Circeo.  The timing could not have been any better.

Jerry schooled us in family history as we walked through the town.  He showed us (from the outside) the apartment where my grandfather was born, took us to the site of the church where he was baptized (and where Andrea and Ermelinda were married) and bought us an incredible lunch at a local restaurant located outside what was once the convent.

I am not much a traveler, and it often takes time for me to adjust to new surroundings, but San Felice-Circeo felt like home.  The proprietors of the restaurant were eager to hear our story.  They opened the dining area early for us and even gifted us with a tiramisu and pear torta. Another woman we met, who splits her residency between San Felice-Circeo and San Diego, California, bought us coffee.  We received a warm welcome.

A visit to San Felice-Circeo has been on my bucket list for a long time.  And while I am still processing the visit, I know that I have been somehow changed by it.  The experience of visiting this ancient village by the sea with my family, and with my cousin as a guide, was deeply emotional for me.

I can say one thing for sure. The visit to San Felice-Circeo brought me face to face with the power of the past.  It is one thing to lecture and write about historical continuity and contingency in relationship to the events described in a history textbook or interpreted at a historical site, but it is quite another thing to reflect on the connections with the past, and the human choices made by people in the past, when it has a direct impact on your own identity.

As I looked-up at the window where my grandfather was born and walked the grounds that my ancestors walked, I was acutely aware that I was part of a human story–a family story–that transcended my present moment.  My life, while certainly defined by the choices I have made and the paths I have chosen to follow, has also been shaped by the choices of others who lived in a particular place in a particular set of social, economic, and cultural circumstances that I have had no way of controlling.

And I am humbled by it all.

When Did Evangelicals Start Talking About Family Values?

QuakersOver at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz of Asbury University argues that “family values” is a relatively knew idea in American evangelicalism.   Here is a taste:

“Turning hearts toward home”—a phrase Dr. James Dobson has repeated so often over the last four decades that it sounds like scripture. It’s hard to believe now, but his unrelenting focus on the family would have been viewed as heretical by evangelicals a century and a half ago.

Indeed, revivalistic religion in the eighteenth century often tore families apart. As Christine Heyrman writes, “For those to whom Canaan’s language long remained an unintelligible tongue, the conversion of beloved relatives could lead to enduring emotional estrangement. Transformed by their newfound zeal, dutiful sons and daughters, affectionate siblings and spouses . . . [could become] remorseless, relentless, seemingly heartless in dealing with loved ones.”

The instinct to de-emphasize family continued in the nineteenth century. Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer suffered the death of two young children, and she interpreted these tragedies as divine discipline. “After my loved ones were snatched away,” she wrote in her journal in 1831, “I saw that I had concentrated my time and attentions far too exclusively, to the neglect of the religious activities demanded. Though painfully, learned, yet I trust the lesson has been fully apprehended. From henceforth, Jesus must and shall have the uppermost seat in my heart.” Palmer’s heart was sanctified at the moment it turned away from home.

Ironically, the nurture of family was first a mainline value. As historian Margaret Bendroth shows in her terrific book, Growing Up Protestant: Parents, Children and Mainline Churches (2002), white middle-class Protestants in the 1860s advocated for regular family devotions, recitations of the catechism, Bible memory, and careful attention to children’s dress and diet. Congregationalist minister Horace Bushnell wrote, “Dress your child for Christ if you will have him a Christian; bring everything, in the training, even of his body, to this one final aim, and it will be strange, if the Christian body you give him does not contain a Christian soul.”

Read the entire piece here.

I am not sure how Swartz is defining “evangelical” or “family values,” but certainly the seventeenth-century Puritans were quite concerned with family.  The nuclear family was part of their “values” system.  Or at least that is what Edmund Morgan taught us decades ago.

I would also argue, along with Barry Levy, that the modern middle-class family as we know it today had its roots in the Quakers of Pennsylvania.  As far as I know, Levy’s interpretation has not been challenged since he first published Quakers and the American Family in 1988.

And if a whole generation of women historians is correct, the Second Great Awakening had something to do with women’s role in preserving the family, preparing citizens of the republic, and the cultivating the domestic hearth.

As I argued in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment, the real threat to eighteenth-century “family values” was mobility, ambition, and education.

The Author’s Corner with Harry Stout

51RRD1lazEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHarry Stout is the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University. This interview is based on his new book, American Aristocrats: A Family, a Fortune, and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2017).

JF:  What led you to write American Aristocrats?

HS:  In 2012 I was awarded a year-long fellowship to the Huntington Library. I was free to pursue any subject that I wanted that was included in their archives. On my first day there I discovered a frontier family named Anderson whose patriarch, Richard Clough Anderson was a Revolutionary War hero and subsequently the Surveyor-General for the Virginia Military District, a vast body of land in present-day Kentucky and Ohio reserved for Virginia military veterans. There are nearly 2,000 letters and papers in collections at the Huntington and elsewhere. I began reading the day of my arrival on Labor Day and did not stop until I left for home Memorial Day. In many ways they were very different from my world but I sensed a strong connection that drew me to them in very powerful ways.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of American Aristocrats?

HS: While this is a family history, it differs from my family histories in that its focus—and my argument—features land as the central protagonist and anxiety as the interpretive theme that drives the narrative. Anderson family members participated in the greatest middle class land grab in world history and private property surfaced as the magnet that would draw Andersons and countless other millions to American shores in pursuit of an unprecedented American dream.

JF:  Why do we need to read American Aristocrats?

HS: Many Americans correctly see political republicanism as the primary driver of independence and nation-building in American history. But for republicanism to work it also required material abundance and capital leverage to “reward” republican self-government. Many countries today are unable to establish successful republics because they lack the underlying wealth necessary to make the “dream” come true. America’s unrivaled abundance in land, sea, and minerals meant that striving American citizens would be rewarded for their experiment in democracy in unprecedented ways that made the nation compelling attractive and, at the same time, incredibly anxious over gaining and preserving their abundance.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

HS: I had always enjoyed history and in my sophomore year in college determined on a career in history. Like many historians, I was drawn to the profession by the example of compelling professors who modeled a way of life and work that I found compelling.

JF: What is your next project?

HS:  In addition to this book, I also served as General Editor of a Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia that was published within a week of American Aristocrats. Between the two of them I’m quite busy and the “next project” is still in process. One possibility is a work on World War II that features a diary of my late father that I just discovered for the first time last year. It outlines his experiences in the Battle of Okinawa and offers a compelling example of the sacrifices and sufferings that ordinary sailors experienced in that horrific war.

JF: Thanks, Harry!


“The most scrutinized father-son relationship in American history?”

Houston Navy Week

The folks at Salon are playing fast and loose with their headlines these days.  Joshua David Stein’s piece on Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. is titled “The most scrutinized father-son relationship in American history.

So I ask my historian friends, is this true?

How does Trump-Trump Jr. relationship compare with:

John Adams and John Quincy Adams?

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush?

Ben Franklin and William Franklin?

Abraham Lincoln and Tad Lincoln?

Don Corleone and Michael Corleone? 🙂

George Scialabba on Christopher Lasch and the Family

Cultural critic George Scialabba revisits Christopher Lasch’s 1977 book Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged and tries to rescue Lasch’s argument from the feminists who bashed the book when it first appeared.

Sciaballa writes at The Baffler:

It was not feminism but mass production, political centralization, and the ideology of endless growth and ever-increasing consumption that had placed impossible strains on the family and made psychological maturity so difficult, Lasch argued. According to Askyourguide, an authority on psychic costs in individuals, every organism can flourish only within limits, at a certain scale. We have, in our social relations of authority and production, abandoned human scale, and the psychic costs are great.

The main developments of the last few decades, the information revolution and the triumph of neoliberalism, have only intensified the pressures besieging the family. Increased economic insecurity and the robotization of work—the central strategies of neoliberalism—have undermined the authority and self-confidence of parents still further and confronted adolescents with the prospect of adulthood as a war of all against all. Inside and outside the classroom, a tidal wave of advertising-saturated media aims to enlist children as fledgling consumers. The internet and social media diminish interaction among family members, especially across generations, while face-to-face encounters, with their greater emotional immediacy, are less and less the default mode of communication among adolescents. The hyperconnected life, for all its allure, is a centrifugal force.
The family, in whatever form, can only thrive within a healthy psychic ecology. It has gradually dawned on everyone who does not have a financial interest in denying it that massively tinkering with our physical environment is bound to have drastic effects on public health. It’s taking even longer to recognize that the same is true of our mental environment. The unending flood of commercial messaging, utterly empty of information or art, resembles the miasma of toxic particulates that infect the air of even the most developed countries. The continual stream of social messaging is analogous, in its lack of nourishing substance, to the ubiquitously available junk food that none of us can help succumbing to occasionally. The automation of work and the financialization of the economy leave most of us as bewildered and vulnerable as the progress of science and technology leave all but the intellectual elite, who can actually understand the seemingly magical forces that make our more sophisticated machines run.
It is just as the environmentalists (and, come to think of it, the Marxists and the Freudians) say: Everything is connected. Pull on one thread and the whole fabric unravels. To strengthen the family, we must rethink the division of labor, which means reevaluating productivity, efficiency, and growth, which means challenging the distribution of economic power and wealth. We may even need new conceptions of “rights,” “individuality,” and “freedom.”
Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Honor Sachs

Honor Sachs is Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. This interview is based on her new book, Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (Yale University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Home Rule?

HS: I went to grad school planning to study women and migration into the Deep South during the nineteenth century. But when I got to Wisconsin, everybody was talking about The Middle Ground and my interest in the West began to shift to an earlier time period. As I started poking around, it seemed like all roads led to Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. The eighteenth-century backcountry was having a historiographic “moment” but, for the most part, it was a scholarship of men – of land speculators, lawyers, hunters, soldiers, and statesmen. The experiences of women in early national expansion were largely invisible. One of the most important things that my advisor, the late Jeanne Boydston, taught me was to look critically at these places of invisibility. She taught me to question things that seemed natural or organic and to understand how they got that way. I wrote Home Rule as a way to figure out how manhood became naturalized into the early western landscape.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of HomeRule?

HS: I can even do that in two words: Families matter. Or, perhaps: Patriarchy matters. In the eighteenth century, it is hard to differentiate between the two.
In two sentences? Home Rule argues that myths of western bounty, prosperity, and self-sufficiency emerged against a backdrop of political instability, social unrest, and economic hardship. In the volatile context of early national expansion, political leaders achieved regional stability by incorporating ordinary men into a political culture that celebrated household order, patriarchal authority, and white supremacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Home Rule?

HS: Historiographically, Home Rule sheds new light on the experiences of ordinary women, slaves, children, and other marginalized populations in the early West and shows how gender and manhood became central to the project of national expansion. In a larger sense, I also think this book can help us better understand the present. Throughout my lifetime, I have watched the ways that ideas and myths about families and households have infused American politics. From the “family values” politics of the 1980s to current debates about same-sex marriage, our nation has placed debates about family structure and legitimacy at the heart of an ongoing conversation about national identity. Home Rule explains how such debates have been part of the American experience since the very beginning.

JF: When and why did you decide to become a historian?

HS: Arguably, I have been a historian since I was ten. In fifth grade, my class took a trip to Washington D.C. (which was quite a feat coming from California!) and one of our stops was at the National Archives. I distinctly remember being mesmerized by the Declaration of Independence. It was this sacred text that we learned about in school, but when I saw it in person, I realized it was really just piece of paper. Real people wrote on that paper with real ink. Something about seeing an actual document gave me such a strong sense of connection with the past; it collapsed time. Real people before me did normal things like write stuff down on paper, just like I did in school. Something about seeing an actual document changed me. I appreciated the past on an emotional level, and when I thought about all the people who lived before me, I never felt alone. That was comforting. By the time I got to college, I had decided to go into journalism and study politics, but I always felt like something was lacking and wanted to understand the deeper roots of modern issues. I turned to history and began studying personal narratives. Again, I felt that same experience of emotional connection that I had when I was a kid. At that point, it became very clear that I had found my calling.

JF: What is your next project?

HS: I am currently writing a collective biography of a Virginia slave family. This family, named the Colemans, descended from an Apalachee Indian woman who was captured during the English raids on Spanish Florida in 1704. In 1772, some members of the Coleman family sued for freedom in Virginia claiming Indian ancestry and won. It was the first case to link maternal Indian ancestry with freedom and it ushered in a new wave of slave litigation in revolutionary and early national Virginia. For several generations, the Colemans sued for freedom in multiple Virginia jurisdictions, and they continued to do so even as they were bought, sold, and transported across state lines into Kentucky and Tennessee. Over the course of fifty years, Coleman plaintiffs became savvy about the law and worked with some of the new nation’s top lawyers, including Thomson Mason, Henry Clay, and John Marshall. Many of the Coleman suits are well known to historians of race and slavery, but until now, nobody has ever uncovered the family connections between them. Through careful genealogical research, I have been able to link Coleman plaintiffs to some of the most significant litigation on slavery and race in the early republic. Ultimately, the book will examine issues of race, slavery, family, ancestry, and law, throughout the eighteenth century and antebellum America.

JF: Thanks, Honor!


The Author’s Corner with Lisa Wilson

Lisa Wilson is Professor of History at Connecticut College. This interview is based on her new book, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: Researching my previous book [Ye Heart of a Man: the Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England (Yale, 1999)]. I kept running across stepfamilies in the sources I was using. I realized after some sleuthing that only a few articles existed on the topic (written by historians) and only one on the United States. There was an obvious gap in the history of the family in America. Of course, we always write to our interests. I am also a member of a stepfamily and felt like families like mine deserved a history of their own.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: I argue that stepfamilies are not some sort of pathology due to modern divorce rates. They were common in the past and suffered some of the same prejudices still embodied in fairytales today.

JF: Why do we need to read A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: The title suggests that there are many histories of stepfamilies still to be written. I see my book as a first attempt. The cover is of a portrait titled, The Washington Family. It included the father of our country with his two step-grandchildren. He raised his stepchildren and two step-grandchildren but never had children of his own. Stepfamilies were part of our nation from the start. They were and still are “traditional” American families.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
LW: When I became a park ranger for the National Park Service at Valley Forge during the bicentennial I fell in love with eighteenth century. I caught the bug for teaching as well in this public history setting. I wore my Park Service uniform but also eighteenth-century replica clothes. I did living history. I was hooked.

JF: What is your next project?:
LW: My next project is aimed at including more women in Atlantic world history. Specifically, I am looking at British women in Barbados, Bermuda, Jamestown, and Plymouth to compare their experiences in the seventeenth century.
JF: Looking forward to hearing about it. Thanks Lisa.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Lorri Glover

Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon, S.J.  Professor of History at St. Louis University.  This interview is based on her forthcoming book Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries (Yale University Press, 2014).
JF: What led you to write Founders as Fathers?
LG: Many years ago, before the start of a session in my class on the American Revolution, two students were commiserating about their fathers’ high academic expectations. Our topic of the week was the Constitutional Convention, and we’d read some of James Madison’s notes from that convention. One student said to the other, “can you imagine being James Madison’s son?!” They then asked me if Madison had any children. I didn’t know, but promised to find out. The short answer was fascinating: only a single stepson, a ne’er-do-well of the first order who squandered every opportunity given him as well as tens of thousands of dollars on a gambling addiction before being thrown into debtor’s prison.  The long answer is Founders as Fathers.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Founders as Fathers?
LG: To fully understand the creation of the American Republic we must explore the intimate, personal lives of the Founding Fathers. Family values and revolutionary politics were so indelibly linked in the eighteenth century that we can’t truly know the founders until we meet them as fathers.
JF: Why do we need to read Founders as Fathers?
LG: I hope the book helps readers understand how much family life mattered in the public careers of men like George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. Americans have always been keen to celebrate the founders’ political and military accomplishments. But too often in that understandable quest, we’ve etched these men in amber, cast them in marble, and, inadvertently, stripped away some of their humanity. In particular, we’ve missed the “fathers” part of the founding. The leaders of the American Revolution took up their radical politics while heading families, sometimes leaving their relatives behind to serve the patriot cause and sometimes rejecting political offices to stay home with their wives and children. Always they struggled to balance domestic obligations with the relentless call to public service. Their family values also underlay their entry into revolutionary politics, driving their understanding of virtue, sacrifice, and independence. And the Revolution they led remade family life no less than it reinvented political institutions.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
LG: I am a first-generation college graduate, and I went to the University of North Alabama so that I could someday get a “salary” job. Not surprisingly, I floundered as I bounced from marketing to education to pre-law before a great teacher and historian, Larry Nelson, inspired and saved me. Halfway through the first lecture in his class, I thought, “This is what I want to be.” And I’ve never changed my mind.
JF: What is your next project?
LG: Right now I’m working on a book about the ratification debates in Virginia in 1787-1788. Virginia was the largest and most important state in the country at that time, and everyone in America understood that Virginia needed to ratify the Constitution if the federal plan had any hope of success. But when it came to the Constitution, Virginians were also the most deeply divided people in the United States. Led by Patrick Henry, a great number of Virginians fought ratification, convinced that the Constitution betrayed the principles of the Revolution. James Madison led the supporters, who insisted the Constitution was the only chance to save the republic. The final vote was razor thin: 89-79. Six votes swung the other way would have changed the fate of our nation. The Virginia debates offer a powerful reminder of just how controversial and divisive the Constitution was at its creation.
JF:  Thanks, Lorri


The Roots of "Christian Mingle"

Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, with his wife Marylyn

I know several people who have used matchmaking services like Christian Mingle to find companionship and even spouses.  And now, thanks to Paul Putz, I know that Christian matchmaking services have a long history.  Here is a taste of his short essay on the subject at Religion & Politics:

THE HISTORY OF MATCHMAKING as a mass-marketed commercial enterprise stretches at least as far back as the late nineteenth century. The earliest matchmaking bureaus advertised their services in newspaper personals sections. They developed a reputation for fraud because they often exaggerated and embellished the number of single, wealthy clients on their rolls. As a result, few Americans held commercialized matchmaking bureaus in high esteem. And most Americans simply did not need additional matchmaking help—friends and family played the part just fine…

Evangelicals—a small core of them at least—were early adopters of the online dating trend, and Clark Sloan was one of the pioneers. Out of a job in the early 1990s, Sloan drew entrepreneurial inspiration from an ink-and-paper Christian singles periodical published by his father. “Classified ads back then didn’t seem to work very well,” Sloan recalled. “I thought, ‘why not take this into the computer stage?’” The ensuing company, Christian Computer Match, utilized a computer program created by Sloan to match people based on answers to a 50-question application. Sloan advertised his new service in the handful of Christian singles newspapers still in circulation. By 1994, he claimed to have 8,000 members in his database, which, as far as he knew, was the only Christian-oriented computer-matching program on the market. His program, already technologically advanced for its time, was a natural fit for the transition to the Internet. He made the move online in 1995 when he started the Single Christian Network at, which launched around the same time as the first widely used, mainstream personals site, Sloan’s website caught the eye of Sam Moorcroft, who cited as one of the websites that inspired him to launch his own Christian matchmaking site,, in 1999 ( is now a site affiliated with

Are You Doing Research on John and Abigail Adams?

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 just brought my attention to a conference called “Abigail and John: 250 Years Together”  The conference will take place on October 25 to mark the 250th wedding anniversary of this revolutionary-era couple.  Here is the call for papers:

The conference organizers have issued a invitation to scholars to propose individual papers or complete panels. Those can cover “all aspects of the life and union of these two extraordinary individuals and their world,” though organizers ask for proposals to be keyed to one of these general topics:

  • Adams Family Lives
  • Courtship and Commitments in Colonial Massachusetts
  • Home and Hearth in Colonial Massachusetts

If you wish to propose a paper or session, e-mail a 300-500-word abstract to Michelle Marchetti Coughlin by 16 May. Presenters will be notified in June. Papers will have to be completed in time to be circulated to attendees before the conference, which will take place at or near the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth.

Using the Classroom to Connect Children’s History, Local History, and Digital History

Lisa Harmon, a Senior Research Associate, offers history teachers some creative ways of linking the history of children’s lives with local history and digital storytelling.  Here is a taste:

…Textbooks also omit local history. Where did children play, learn, and work in the past in your area? How might you and your students connect with that past?’s Daisy Martin suggests trying local museums, historic sites, and libraries. High school teacher Roseanne Lichatin has had good luck connecting students with volunteer opportunities at local history museums.

But what about digital media and tools? How can you combine those with children’s and local history? With the help of a still or video camera and digital storytelling tools, your students can recreate stories from your local past. For inspiration, check out our feature on the Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student project, a program of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground partnership. In this program, students visit local historic sites and write and film their own short documentaries or historical films “on location.”

Read the entire post here.

Quote of the Day

From Christopher Shannon’s review of Robert Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s.

I suppose I should come clean on my own family values. I suppose I would call myself a traditionalist with a great sympathy for the vision of family life presented in the work of Wendell Berry.  There can be no real family apart from a family economy, and so much of the ink spilled on “the crisis of the family” since the nineteenth century has been a futile evasion of this basic fact.  In parts of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan invokes the frontier wife as a model of woman as an economic actor; in the end, she chose middle-class professionalism over a true home economy that would have men and women working together within the home.  To the commentator who feared that I might be criticizing Self from a “monistic” understanding of sex and family life, I can only say that sexual novelty and experimentation make for a rather dull and shallow pluralism.  Family life, especially farm family life, took on diversity through ethnic and religious traditions rooted in specific local places.  The continuity in place over time require to foster and sustain any culture worthy of the name is exactly what a market economy that rewards rootless mobility refuses to tolerate. Among Americans of European descent, there is far less cultural diversity than there was a hundred years ago, despite all of our sexual experimentation.  How many of us speak the language of our ancestors?  In many ways, sexual and family experimentation is a symptom of the poverty of our post-traditional, consumer culture to satisfy the real and legitimate human needs once met by true culture. 

Help Me to Find My People

This is the title of Heather Andrea Williams’s book on the emotional toll that slavery had on African-American families and the attempts made many of them to reunite after long periods of separation at the hands of slave masters. Here is a taste of an interview with Williams at NPR:

Sometimes when people did find each other, you have these really awful situations. … I talk about a woman who had to make up her mind which husband she would be with. And she decided to be with the one who had no one else, she said, but it was a struggle for them.

“A parent would be searching for a child, but that child was no longer eight years old. The child is 28 years old. And so you have an image in your mind of your young son or daughter, but really that person is someone else. Children might find their mothers — a mother comes back to claim her son, and he says, ‘I don’t know you; I thought this woman who raised me was my mother.’ And then he says, you know, his mother spoke to him and she held him, and eventually he came to realize that this was indeed his mother and that she loved him.”