Archive for February, 2012

Today In History – February 29: In 1940, at the 12th Academy Awards, actress Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar, when she took home the statuette for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Gone With The Wind”.

And we’re back!  This weekend was an exceptionally busy one for me and my husband, first as we tried to find a new TV stand for our den (we succeeded) and then put it together, and on Sunday we went to a welcome-home party for a friend of ours who is in the military and just came back from yet another deployment.  It was a great weekend, but it gave me little time for writing.

I love to knit, and I love participating in Ginny’s Yarn Along, although it really has been awhile.  I’m not doing too much knitting (sadly) due to the courseload and other things coming up.  But there’s going to be another huge crop of babies this summer (four that I know of already) and I’m going to have to start breaking out the baby knitting again.  Lord help me.

For now, I’m still plugging away on Selbu.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a recent picture.  So imagine that this has doubled in size.  Sorry 😦  I need to take more pictures.

For books, I’m reading Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896 – 1920.  It’s pretty good so far, describing how the so-called “color line” in the antebellum south was distorted and blurred through years of interracial marriages.  Pretty readable, though the print is small.

It doesn’t even matter, because I finished English Lessons!  And I never have to read it again!  *happy dance*  It really is the little things in life.


No snow yet in Connecticut, but it’s looking more and more like we’re going to get it.  My fingers are crossed for canceled classes tonight.

Hey, I may be dedicated to my M.A., but I’ll never turn up my nose at a good snow day.


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Happy Friday everyone!  It’s time for another round of Book Reviews You Won’t Care About (which should be subtitled “unless you love history, in which case, this might be your cup of tea”).

In BRYWCA, I will review the latest history-based book I’ve had to read for class (or chose to read, because I’m me and I love that sort of thing.  BRYWCA books will always be nonfiction, and will always be historically factual (or theoretical).  If you enjoy this sort of thing (or are looking for a book to read that challenges your mind or improves your historical scope) read on!  If not?  Well, I sort of wonder how you stumbled onto this blog in the first place, but read on anyway!  Or don’t.

This week will be a review of Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Nineteenth-Century Medicine by Carla Bittel.

ImageThe Victorian era was a time of great strides in the fields of both politics and medicine, but also a time of archaic treatment and views of women.  At a time when women were increasingly pushing the boundaries of society’s restrains, men were equally fighting to keep women in the home, keeping them concerned only with marriage, children, and housekeeping.  But some women resisted, and one of the most prolific of these was Mary Putnam Jacobi.  Daughter of the founder of Putnam Publishing, Jacobi fought tooth and nail to earn her medical degree, and then set her sights continually on pushing the envelope to prove that women were equal in all things to men.

One of the early pioneers of women’s rights, Jacobi is a shadowy figure and often unsung heroine.  Little is known about Jacobi, since (ironically) she is often relegated as secondary to her husband Abraham Jacobi, one of the fathers of pediatrics, and most of her work is only detailed alongside of his.  Yet Mary Jacobi is an interesting historical figure in her own right.  Bittel’s biography, the first of Mary Putnam Jacobi, takes the reader from Jacobi’s early years and struggle to balance religion and science, over to France to become the first female graduate of the Faculte de Medecine de Paris during the height of the Franco-Prussian War, then back to the United States to publish multiple treatises on the biological equality of women at a time when women’s natural biological functions (such as menses) were considered a weakness or an illness that needed treatment.

I read this book as part of my History of Gender class, and for a school book, this is remarkably readable and accessible.  I very much enjoyed it — the first couple of chapters simply flew by, and even the ones with a lot of scientific background weren’t too difficult to wade through.  Caution to the die-hard animal lovers: Jacobi was also a pioneer in the field of animalvivisection — experiments and dissections of living animals.  As an animal lover, those sections were difficult to get through at times.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in women’s studies, women’s medicine, or medical research in the 19th century.  It’s definitely a good, easy read.

Rating: *** and 1/2

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Random Historical Fact — February 23: In 1945, American photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous picture Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima which later won the Pulitzer Prize for photography.

Last month, everyone was in a tizzy over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s choice to pull funding from Planned Parenthood (and their subsequent rescinding of that decision when Komen executives realized how pissed off everyone was).  I followed the case as closely as I could from behind a computer, trying to weed out the truth from the propaganda.  (I know, I promised no politics — I promise that’s not where I’m going with this).

What really surprised me was all the evidence that many of these backlash websites were publishing about the causes of breast cancer.

Of course, you can tear up the internet and find a million websites that say that sugar is poison, and you can find an equal number of rebuttal websites stating that sugar (in moderation) is just fine.  But cancer runs in my family line, and if there’s something I can do to somehow lessen the risks, I’m going to take it.  Plus…I’m, uh, how you say?  Not exactly thin.  Or as my friend James puts it, “festively plump.”  Cutting sugar out of my diet would definitely not harm the weight loss goal.  Bottom line?  Sugar — especially white refined sugar — isn’t something that I need to survive.

SO.  As of February 22nd (Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent), I decided to start cutting sugar out of my diet. 

I quit white refined sugar cold turkey, and switched to raw sugar in my coffee (two teaspoons down from the four — four! — that I used to have).  I’m starting to look up more natural sweetners (I may try agave, and one of my friends recommended coconut butter — we’ll have to see), and realizing just how much I don’t need sugar or artificial sweeteners in my diet to survive.

It’s been about 36 hours since I quit white sugar cold turkey.  I’m not going to say it’s been easy.  I’ve had a raging headache since shortly after my morning coffee yesterday, and it hasn’t abated, it’s just moved from my left eye to my right eye.  I’m hoping that this is just a by-product of the weaning stages, and that after a couple of days it will even out.  I plan on hitting up Whole Foods on Saturday to see what I can find in the way of natural sweeteners.  The raw sugar isn’t bad in my coffee, but eventually I plan on cutting that out completely as well.

So we’re on Day 2, and we’ll see how long this takes, or how it goes.

Tomorrow: the return of Book Reviews You Won’t Care About.

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Historical Fact of the Day – February 22: In 1876, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was founded.

I don’t usually make it a point to make political entries.  But there’s a disturbing “trend” if you will, that I’m seeing on Le Facebook these days that I want to address.  I don’t like calling people out, I really don’t.  So I’m not going to use names.  But I do want to say…I find this really, really disturbing.

Last week, Jon Stewart lashed out at Fox News pundit Liz Trotta, who stated that female soldiers get “raped too much”.  In response, Stewart said, “Think about all the money that we’ve got to spend on women who have been raped too much. Think about how much cheaper it would be for all of us if they were raped just the right amount.”


I get what Jon Stewart is doing.  He is trying to point out how incredibly ludicrous it is to add the words “too much” after “raped.”  He is rebutting Trotta’s extreme stupidity in stating that the 64% increase in sexual violence among soldiers is a by-product of the sexes working together.  I get that.

What I don’t get is the increase in “rape joke” statuses that I’ve seen on Facebook in the past week.

I’m not saying that everyone has to go around worried about the PC Police here.  What I am saying is that…guys, rape isn’t funny.  Jon Stewart’s “joke” up there?  It’s not funny.  It’s sad.  It’s sad that there are actually people out there like Liz Trotta who believe that rape is a by-product of our society, that by putting men and women together in close quarters like an army barracks, you are guaranteed to have to deal with rape as a result.  And it’s sad that people think that rape in any way, shape, or form is something to be joked about.

According to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1 in 6 American women has experienced an attempted or a completed rape.  One in six.  These are sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, wives, best friends.  That’s not even touching the statistics of male rape.  Most of those cases go unreported, because of the social stigma attached to male rape, so we may never have an accurate number of how many men and boys are victims of sexual violence.

My point?  Rape happens, yes, but it’s not something that should be brushed aside as an inevitability, or mocked or joked about.  When you make fun of rape happening, and you do that publicly, you should be aware that your audience may include those who have been hurt by rape, whether they themselves have been raped, or they know and love someone who has been raped.  Rape hurts.  It’s not funny.  It’s not something that should be made fun of.  It’s brutal, it’s scarring, it’s devastating to the people it touches.

And maybe I’m being ridiculously sensitive.  Maybe the answer to this is “Gee, NH, if you’re so disturbed and upset and pissed off by these people’s FB statuses, why not just unsubscribe from them?  Or delete them?”

Well…Ihave unsubscribed from some of them.  And maybe Ishould just delete them.  But there’s another part to it, too.  Sometimes, when I feel really strongly about something that is an opposing POV from someone else, I like to write it down, write my feelings out, try and figure out if maybe I can find another way around it, or maybe I’m being pigheaded.  Maybe my POV is shallow or superficial and I’m refusing to see the “big picture.”  Or maybe I’m a stick-in-the-mud, and I’m just not accepting that you have to laugh about certain things…

…Okay.  Now at least I can say I tried.

Rape isn’t funny, guys.  Nothing anyone says is going to change my mind on that.

No politics tomorrow.  I promise.

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Happy Paczki Day!

Random Historical Fact – February 21st: On February 21st, 1848, the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, was first published.

For most of the Christian world, today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday.  It’s the last day before Ash Wednesday, signifying the start of Lent, forty days of fasting, prayer, and sacrifice in commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.  Traditionally, today is a day of celebration, the last day to eat all those fun things you weren’t supposed to eat during Lent (meats, fats, sugars, milk, etc).  Of course, the Christian fasting laws have changed a lot since those days — we can eat meat six out of the seven days of the week (excepting Fridays) and there’s no law that says we can’t have sugars, fats, or any of those other fun things.

In Poland, today is Paczki DayPaczki (pronounced POONTCH-key) are large, soft pastries that closely resemble filled donuts.  Traditionally, they are made with tons of butter, eggs, sugar and milk (all those good-tasting things that were forbidden during Lent), deep-fried, and once cool, are filled with all sorts of delicious fillings such as raspberry, blueberry, lemon, apple, and Bavarian creme.  Occasionally they are even glazed or dusted with powdered sugar.  They are delicious — and only available in the weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.


Glazed, unpowdered paczki

I am not Polish, but my husband David is half-Polish (even though he doesn’t eat paczki).  I love them, and so do my friends, so last night I bought two boxes (raspberry and lemon) at Price Chopper for our Mardi Gras/Paczki Day dessert.  Tomorrow Lent begins, and I’ll be giving up fast food and refined sugars.  But as for today…Happy Mardi Gras!

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Random Historical Thought of the Day:On February 20th, 1998, U.S. figure skater Tara Lipinski became the youngest-ever Olympic gold medalist in ladies’ figure skating, at the age of 15. (I was a figure skater from age 7 – 16, and I didn’t like Tara Lipinski, I was a Michelle Kwan fan at the 1998 Olympics.  C’est la vie.)

Remember when Presidents’ Day meant a day off from school, sleeping late, doing a whole lot of nothing (maybe even sledding if the weather cooperated)?  Yeah.  Presidents’ Day at age 28 is not nearly as cool as it was when I was a kid.  I did get to sleep in today, but unfortunately the remainder of my day is being eaten up by this:

ImageThe bottom book is pretty good — Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Nineteenth-Century Medicine.  It’s for my gender studies class, about one of the first American women to work in medicine and become a doctor.  I like it thus far.

The other?  PURE EVIL.

English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism on Nineteenth-Century China.  A book about the subjugation of the Chinese people by the English empire.  You’d think this could be interesting.  You know, a book about war, the English empire reaching out to control the whole world and meeting opposition?  NOPE.  Nothing.  This is the driest book I’ve ever read.  Period.

Our teacher warned us that this would be “tough reading.”  I have never rage quit a book in my life — and I have read some really, really dry stuff in my lifetime.  But this book?  This book I had to rage quit.  At least for the time being.  The prose is so dry that I had to re-read several pages multiple times just to get the message across.  Ugh.

Right now I’m taking a break from the literary madness to do a little knitting on Selbu…and finally seeing Midnight In Paris with my sister.  I’m loving it thus far, except Rachel McAdam’s character is making me want to punch her in the jaw.  Again…c’est la vie.

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As happy as I am to be back in grad school, I really do lament the loss of my spare time.  I have been working on the same knitting project for a month and a half now, with no hope of finishing it any time soon.  Time (and subjects!) for blogging has been few and far between.  I wish I had more things to write about.  But nothing’s really going on here in my little corner of New England…except for a lot of schoolwork.  And I do mean a lot.

A friend of mine is taking advanced courses in biology and chemistry, and the two of us were comparing notes the other day.  He asked how I was doing in grad school, and I…well, Ithink I’m doing well?  It’s difficult to say.  Graduate history, unlike graduate bio or chemistry, doesn’t involve memorization, doesn’t involve quizzes and tests, and in both classes, I only have one paper to do, which is worth a good chunk of my grade (the other two factors are class participation and attendance).  It’s really difficult to gauge how well you’re doing in a class where you have almost zero feedback from the professor.  When I was in undergrad, these were the kinds of courses I dropped almost instantly as soon as I got the syllabus.  But in graduate studies (in history), this is all there is!  Graduate history is incredibly subjective — the goal is for you to draw your own, independent conclusions based on your own research.  There isn’t any more hand-holding.  And while that’s extremely liberating, it can also be ridiculously nerve-wracking.

My weekly assignments involve reading a book a week for each class (so two books a week) and in one class, writing a one-page paper on one of the subjects the book pertains to.  Getting the reading done in seven (sometimes six) days is daunting, especially when you throw in work, meetings, errands, etc.  But.  This is grad school.  Not for the weak of heart.  (And I still have a perfect attendance, so…that’s something.)

I’m still also plugging away on my 2012 reading goal — which was 50 “new” books in a year.  Considering that I have (together) 20 books to read for this semester, it’s not that far-fetched of a goal.  I’m just sorry that most of my “reviews” are going to be boring as shit until May.  Unless you’re interested in history or women’s studies…in which case, more power to you!

The book I read two weeks ago for my Modern World History class that I mentioned in another entry was Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman.  This was a first-person memoir about an African-American woman, descended from slaves, returning to Africa to the land of her ancestors’ birth and chronicling the history of the slave route therein, while searching for the pieces of her lost heritage.  One of my classmates commented that the title of this book is not entirely accurate.  Hartman’s “journey” starts and ends in Africa, and instead of chronicling the slave route from Africa, across the Atlantic and to the United States, Hispanola, and South America, she instead works backwards further into the African continent, meeting with the native peoples and discussing the impact that the slave trade had on Africans through history.  The writing style is — as I said before — very good, very beautiful, but the subject matter was difficult to handle, and I was expecting a little more in the way of the history of the slave route, rather than a treatise on African societies today as a result of the slave trade.

The book I read for Gender Studies, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760 – 1820 by Susan Klepp, did not start off promising (holy cow is the introduction dry!), but captured more and more of my interest as the book continued.  In a time when a woman’s primary role was mother and caretaker, when women were barely allowed out of the house and were shunned from men’s professions, and when the scientific ideas of birth control family planning were completely unheard of, Klepp makes a case that women in American during the Revolutionary War period were actively making the decision to begin limiting their families and searching for “more” out of life than just a wife and mother’s role.  The chapter on women in art of the period was particularly interesting.  I liked this book very much (and am considering buying it outright — curse the renting system, if I had known I’d like it I would have just bought it!).


Lose Your Mother…: **

Revolutionary Conceptions…: *** and 1/2

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