Springsteen’s Masculinity

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

This is a great piece by Canadian writer and poet Carter Vance.  Here is a taste of his The Smart Set piece, “Walk Like a Man: What I Learned from Bruce Springsteen“:

For all the working-class power bona fides in Springsteen’s music, though, I still come back to the men that populate the stories he tells. In many ways, they are traditional masculine archetypes, guys who work physical jobs during the day and burn rubber in big cars at night, but they are also so much more. By turns, they are sensitive, loving, defeated, angered, worldly enough to know they cannot speak for everyone but trying to better their empathy nonetheless. With the modern search for a model of masculinity which is untainted by toxicities of misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, the greatest hope that the men in Springsteen’s songs give us is that this is possible. They are still distinctly masculine, but in a way that allows in complexity of feeling, solidarity with those different from them (not for nothing was Springsteen drafted to write and perform the title song to Philadelphia, the first mainstream American film to deal sympathetically with the AIDS crisis) and loving, loyal connection to their families and communities.

In short, the Springsteen man, if not necessarily Bruce Springsteen himself, is someone I keep aspiring to be.

Read the entire piece here.

Loyalism in the Age of Revolutions (#AHA19)

loyalists

Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School on Gurnee, IL is doing yeoman’s work from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago.  Here is latest.  Enjoy!  (Read all of Matt’s posts here).  –JF

I wrote a research paper last semester on the ways in which evangelical women used religion to interpret and defend the American Revolution.  I included a section on Phillis Wheatley, but rather than rekindle the debate here over whether or not she was an evangelical, I’ll save that for my post on Saturday’s session, “Who is Evangelical?  Confronting Race in American Christianity.”  The original plan for my paper had been to include Loyalist women, whose evangelical faith led them to the opposite position, but space and time constraints forced me to narrow my focus to Patriots only.  Thus, I was thrilled to see two sessions titled “Loyalism in the Age of the Atlantic Revolutions” on the agenda today at AHA19.  Both sessions were arranged by AHA President Mary Beth Norton.

I’d be remiss at this point to not put a plug in for my graduate program, which is offered through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, in cooperation with Pace University.  The program offers K-12 history teachers, such as myself, the chance to earn an MA in American History online for a fraction of the cost of most graduate programs, and best of all, the lectures are all led by preeminent historians in their respective fields.  The professor of my course last semester on women and the American Revolution was none other than Carol Berkin, who chaired the second session today on new research.

Timothy Compeau started that session off with his paper “Retributive Justice? Loyalist Revenge and Honorable Manhood in the American Revolution.”  It offered a fascinating look at the ways in which Christian virtue and masculine honor culture were in conflict during the Revolutionary Era and how this acutely affected Loyalist men.  According to Compeau, these men provide an excellent window into studying that culture.  He pointed out how Patriots specifically attacked the manhood of Loyalist men, such as when Alexander Hamilton claimed that Samuel Seabury was impotent or when Thomas Paine wrote that Tories were unfit to be husbands or fathers.  He also explained how due to the war, Loyalist men were limited in the ways that they could respond to such questions of honor.  Many chose Christian responses of forgiveness and restraint, out of necessity if not desire.  But some did find ways to square the use of retributive violence with their Christian faith.  In the end, many Loyalist men were able to claim that their choice had been the more masculine one, as it took greater manhood than the Patriots had to suffer all the indignities that were forced upon them.  As Compeau succinctly put it, “by defending the Crown, loyal men gained nothing put honor.”

Elite, white, Loyalist women of the Delaware River Valley were the focus of Kacy Tillman’s paper and she brought up names that were familiar from my own research, such as Grace Growden Galloway and Elizabeth Drinker.  Tillman sought to parse some of the differences among such Loyalist women.  Some were what she called active Loyalists, others were passive Loyalists.  Some assumed the label while others had it attached to them.  And many of them were Loyalist by association, be it familial, religious, or both.  Tillman’s thesis was that all of these women faced violations of their bodies and their writings (“stripped and script,” as the title of her paper aptly put it) as a result of their Loyalism.  One of the things she noticed in her research was that one can learn just as much from what these women didn’t write than what they did.  Perhaps that’s why I had such difficultly using those sources for my own paper.  “It’s hard to read for silence,” Tillman said.  “But we have to be able to do so when reading the letters of Loyalist women.”

James Sidbury rounded out the session with some words of reassurance related to my own experience in researching Loyalists.  He started off his talk by defending the truism that history is often written by the winners, but then qualified that observation.  “There’s been a whole lot written about the Revolution,” he said.  “It’s inevitable that something is going to be written about [Loyalists].”  His paper focused on the Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia who helped found the colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone.  Those colonists, while remaining loyal to the British Crown, led an uprising against the company that ran the colony and attempted to create an autonomous enclave within the colony by using many of the Enlightenment ideals of rights and governance they had learned in Anglo-America.  As Sidbury’s talk made clear, despite the Nova Scotians’ embrace of some American ideals, the new United States explicitly excluded non-whites from political participation.  Thus, it makes sense that monarchical government still held much ideological appeal for Black Loyalists in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions.

Thanks again, Matt!

“What Kind of a Man is This?

Today on Fox & Friends, Donald Trump once again trashed his Attorney General  Jess Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia inquiry.  (Sessions pushed back). At one point in the interview the President asked, referring to Sessions, “what kind of a man is this?”

Watch:

Reminded me of this classic scene:

Vernon L. Parrington and Oklahoma Football

Parrington in Office 1905

Parrington in his University of Oklahoma office, 1905

If you’re like me, you know the name Vernon L. Parrington from your graduate-level course in American historiography.  Parrington won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1928 for his book Main Currents of American Thought.  Post-war students of intellectual history got to know Parrington through Richard Hofstadter’s 1968 work The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington.

But did you know that Parrington was also responsible for bringing college football to Oklahoma?

Here is a taste of Andrew McGregor’s post at Sport in American History:

Football morphed into a formalized campus institution following the arrival of Vernon Louis Parringtonat the University of Oklahoma in 1897. Hired to develop a department of English for the young university, he took on the added unpaid roles of football coach and athletic director. The extra duties were no bother to Parrington, who, like many of the leading Progressive thinkers of the day, viewed sport as an important part of training complete men. Football also played an important role in establishing a university culture. Parrington was intimately tied to both at Oklahoma.

Parrington, who is perhaps best remembered as one of the founders of American Studies, winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for History, and one of Richard Hofstadter’s “Progressive Historians,” embodied Theodore Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life.” He modeled a form of robust yet genteel masculinity, representing the ideal well-rounded man at the heart of intercollegiate athletics. Oklahoma could choose no better symbol to found their athletic programs.

Like Harts, Parrington came to Oklahoma from Kansas, where he was a professor of English at the College of Emporia. Parrington also coached the “Fighting Presbies” football and baseball teams. His interest in athletics first developed, however, while a youth playing baseball in rural Kansas. Parrington excelled at baseball and nurtured this interest while a prep student at the College of Emporia, likely helping to organize its first baseball team.

In the College of Emporia’s student newspaper, according to historian James T. Colwell, Parrington “urged western colleges to concentrate more on ‘the laurels of the arena’ and less on those of the forum; on athletics rather than oratory.” He focused on both while a student in Emporia, and continued to pursue athletics when he transferred east to Harvard University. Parrington played some baseball while at Harvard, but football caught his eye. “The first [organized] football [game] I ever saw was in Cambridge,” he later remembered. The Crimson were routinely one of the nation’s best teams, providing Parrington the chance to learn the game from the best. While sources disagree on whether Parrington actually played football at Harvard, he certainly studied their methods, bringing them with him back to Emporia.

Read the entire post 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 Mary Rizzo

Mary Rizzo is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Director of Public and Digital Humanities Initiatives for the Program in American Studies and the History Department at Rutgers University–Newark This interview is based on her new book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle (University of Nevada Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Class Acts?

MR: I grew up in the 1990s, which was a time when a lot of really interesting subcultures, like skaters, riotgrrrl, and grunge, among others, flowered. It was also a moment when it seemed like no sooner then a subculture was formed than it was commodified by some giant corporation (we might call this Hot Topic-ification). What this meant was that the politics of authenticity was a constant topic of discussion among me and my friends, even if we didn’t know to call it that. When I got to grad school in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, I wanted to examine the prehistory of that 1990s moment, to understand how that process that I was observing had changed over time. I was also always interested in class identity, which is really under discussed in the US. By examining how young men tried to subvert their class background through style and how that became part of mass culture, I brought those two interests together.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Class Acts?

MR: When young middle-class men in the 1950s and 1960s adopted working-class styles it was both an effort to be cool that traded on their class and race privilege and an attempt to critique how middle-class masculinity was defined in the Cold War era. By the late 1960s and the 1970s, though, the rise of lifestyle marketing commodified these class acts to define lifestyle as a chosen identity, disconnected from material circumstances.

JF: Why do we need to read Class Acts?

MR: After I sent my final manuscript off to the publisher, I was watching tv at the gym and a commercial came on for a household fragrance spray. The tag line was, “Smell like the lifestyle you deserve.” I only wish I had been able to get that in the book! The word lifestyle has become so ubiquitous in our culture that commercials like that one can use it and assume everyone understands what they’re saying. But when we dig a bit below the surface, it becomes clear that lifestyle has a slippery definition. I was amazed to find out that the word lifestyle was really pretty new, only becoming commonly used after the 1960s. So, I wanted to explore the ideological work that the concept does in different historical contexts.

As I show in Class Acts, lifestyle turns identities based in material realities into consumer goods that seem to be equally available to everyone. But they are not. Some people, like African Americans, become the source material out of which other people build their lifestyles. For the fashion industry, for example, black culture and black models have been used to represent an exotic “them,” rather than being part of “us.” Lifestyle is used in politics as well. I open and close the book with discussions of the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. As another presidential campaign heats up—in which candidates who are wealthy and recipients of vast amounts of corporate money again will fight to be seen as just regular folks with lifestyles like the rest of us—we need to have some critical engagement with that term.

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

MR: I still get a thrill out of being called a historian! There are two main reasons I fell in love with history. The first is my mother. She grew up poor and only became middle class after marrying my father. Her stories about the New York City of the 1950s and 1960s were so different from the world I grew up in. When she told us about urban renewal displacing her family, or how women weren’t allowed to work enough hours to earn benefits at the grocery store she worked at, it made me want to understand why those things happened and how she—and by extension me—got from there to the Jersey burbs. Equally as important were the history teachers I had in high school and college. They were always the most engaging and, frankly, the wackiest, teachers I had. They made learning challenging but also fun. I remember one day in 10th grade history class we were going around the room telling our teacher what we wanted to write about for our final paper. I said Napoleon and, without missing a beat, he responded, “What do you have a complex?” That kind of joke, which treated us like adults, also assumed that we knew something already. Plus, I loved the content. History seemed to be about telling fascinating stories. I hope I’m doing those teachers justice with my own work.

JF: What is your next project?

MR: My next project looks at cultural representations of the city of Baltimore from 1954-early 21st century. For a city of its size, Baltimore has been represented over and over again, from the films of John Waters to The Wire (among many others). I’m fascinated by the interplay between cultural representation and cultural policy. How do the imaginary cities created by artists affect the real cities that we live in? How does public policy shape (intentionally or not), the kinds of cultural representations that artists create? What’s been amazing about working on this project is uncovering forgotten cultural texts, like Chicory, a poetry magazine that published work mainly by blacks living in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods from 1966-1983, and putting them alongside the more famous examples I use. It’s also been a thrill getting to talk to the people who made this art! I’ve interviewed theater directors, writers, actors, and editors so far.

JF: Thanks, Mary!