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Archive for the ‘BRYWCA’ Category

Hello everyone!

That was certainly a blog outage.  Unfortunately, this is Holy Week, my busiest week at work for my day job (working at a church), and I’ve been running off my feet all week.  Fortunately, it’s almost over!  This is my Friday, and tomorrow I’ll be in Massachusetts for Friday and Saturday.

Since I will be trying to take advantage of the days off to read, research, and visit family members, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have time for a blog update.  But have no fear!  This week we’re going to do Book Reviews You Won’t Care About a day early!

(I know you’re all so happy you won’t be missing it)

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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).

This week was a particularly good one for assigned literature in class.  Both books were short, snappy, and very interesting.

ImageIn Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, author Greg Grandin writes about the automobile magnate and capitalist giant Henry Ford’s attempt to create a mini-American city and rubber plantation in the Amazon jungle in the early 20th century.  Believing that “what worked in the United States would work everywhere”, and having pioneered and perfected the assembly line model, Ford bought a tract of land in Brazil the size of the state of Delaware, and built a rubber plantation.  After building tiny streets of clapboard American cottages, and after hiring workers at the then-incredibly high sum of $5 a day, Ford’s dream of a tiny Americana seemed ready to take off.  But sociological differences between American and Brazilian culture, coupled by a biological ignorance of the growth of the rubber tree, lead Ford’s bustling little Fordlandia into economic ruin and failure.

Fordlandia is a really good book for both lovers of history and the public market.  It is a tale that those who study or are interested in imperialism will know well: a wealthy idealist chooses to buy or invade a country that he knows little to nothing about, tries to convince the natives that his way is the best way, ignores customs and biological differences, and his little empire collapses around him.  The difference between Ford and other leaders (like King Leopold we spoke of last week) is the lack of brutality mixed with his blind ethnocentrism.  While I shed no tears for the death of Leopold in King Leopold’s Ghost, I felt sad for Ford as his empire collapsed around him, and as Grandin described his last years as his plans deteriorated and he became largely conservative and technophobic, almost in a Howard Hughes’ manner.  As my teacher put it, this is the story of a “kinder, gentler imperialism.”

Condom Nation: The U.S. Government’s Sex Education Campaign from World War I to the Internet, by ImageAlexandra Lord, is a short, brief, but thorough look into the history of American sexual education in the 20th century.  Beginning with the outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among American soldiers during World War I and continuing into the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the culture wars of the 1980s, and the continued fights between conservatives and liberals during the 2008 presidential campaign, Lord gives considerable insight into the eternal arguments “Should sex education be only taught at home?  Does abstinence-only sex education work?  Should the government ‘interfere’ in our sex education?  Does it help more than it hurts?”

I really liked this book.  Like Fordlandia, it’s written for a more public, rather than scholarly, audience, and it was a quick and easy read.  It was interesting to see the pictures of the pamphlets, advertisements, and posters used to alert the public to the availability and advisability of contraceptives and avoiding venereal diseases.  Having grown up in the post-culture wars era, during the rise of the AIDS crises, I was really only familiar with the latter part of this book, and it was very informative as well as interesting.

Fordlandia: ***

Condom Nation: ****

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It’s time for everyone’s least-favorite blog topic!  The not-so-triumphant return of Book Reviews You Won’t Care About!

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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).  This week, we have two books (and have I been reading.  Sheesh.)

ImageKing Leopold’s Ghost; A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild, is a sad and compelling tale of a Belgian king whose dreams of owning an empire lead to tragedy and genocide.  In the 1880’s, King Leopold II of Belgium decided that he wanted a colony of his own, and snatched the opportunity in the Congo.  From his throne in Europe he commanded forces to enter the Congo, commandeer it, and maim, torture, and kill the inhabitants, while compelling them to harvest ivory and rubber to line Leopold’s own pockets.  The eccentric and ruthless king ruled his “empire” with an iron fist, while cagily manipulating the mass media, still in its infancy, until his death.

This book is, and there’s no better way to put it, depressing, but thrilling.  The stories are incredibly sad, especially because, as the author admits, many of the victims of the Belgian genocide in the Congo are nameless and faceless.  The photo section in the middle of the book is horrifying — children whose hands have been hacked off, a father crying over the hand and foot of his baby daughter, a man being beaten (most likely to death) by a chicotte whip — none of them are easy to look at.  The only part of this book that restores the reader’s faith in humanity, is the latter half, where Hoshschild writes about the media moguls who attempted to raise awareness about Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo.  Still, it’s a terribly sad, if wonderfully written, book.

Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America, by Ellen Chesler, was one Imageof the books I was looking most forward to reading this semester.  This 500-page biography is more about the life of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, than it is about the birth control movement in the United States.  Yet the two are forever entwined; Chesler shows that from an early age Margaret was pushed towards the mass market and social acceptance of birth control in the United States and even across the world.

I liked this book, even though it was super-long and took me FOREVER to finish, mainly because Chesler really does attempt to paint a fair and balanced portrait of Margaret Sanger, a woman who is usually either revered or maligned.  Although she does tout Margaret’s successes and strides in the birth control movement, she also does not sugarcoat Margaret’s “collateral damage” — her failed marriages, partial estrangement from her children, and the areas where she fell short.  Chesler claims in her afterward that she was trying to give Margaret “the biography she deserves”, and I do feel she hit the mark right on the head.

King Leopold’s Ghost: ***

Woman of Valor: ****

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Random Historical Fact of the Day — March 16: In 1660, the Long Parliament in England was dissolved.

It’s time for another round of Book Reviews You Won’t Care About!

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).

This week, we’re delving into the scandalous topic of the Kinsey Reports, with Miriam Reumann’s American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports.

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This book was not strictly about the Kinsey Reports (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female), but rather about the public reaction of Americans to both reports, and how true the reports actually were.  We tend to look back on the late 1940s – early 1960s as an idyllic time (Pleasantville, anyone?), but Reumann’s study proves without a doubt that the nostalgia for the 1950’s is somewhat skewed.  American culture during the post-World War II era was definitely not as sterile or as sexless as television programs such as Leave It To Beaver would have us believe.  Between World War II and the Cold War, America was caught up in a “sexual revolution” — where what went on behind closed doors was very different than the wholesome images that men and women were portraying for themselves.  The Kinsey Reports threw open the doors and windows onto sexual ambiguity, and opened the eyes of America to the fact that what was done in the bedroom and never spoken of was not inherently sinful or unspeakable.

Thus far, of the books I’ve read this past year, this was probably my favorite.  It’s mostly readable, despite some cryptic notes about the reports themselves.  The author also sprinkles in pieces of pop culture to emphasize the shock of the American people in reaction to the Kinsey Reports.  Some of them, such as cartoons mentioning the reports themselves, are satirically humorous; others (including one of a man striking his wife after readingSexual Behavior in the Human Female) are downright shocking.  Equally surprising (to me) and somewhat bleak is Reumann’s analysis that, while men were completely willing to believe the “sexual deviance” they found in Kinsey’s study of male sex behavior, they were quite willing and able to paint all of Kinsey’s female subjects as liars, embroidering tales of their lurid sex lives.  Sad, but in that day and age (hell, even today, I guess) not very surprising.

Rating: ****

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Random Historical Fact of the Day – March 9: In 1932, Eamon de Valera became President of the Irish Free State.

Well.  I am certainly not sorry to see this week come to a close.  After forgetting at least five times what day it was, and a LOVELY trip to the emergency room yesterday, I think I am more than ready for Friday.  Never a dull moment, I assure you.  And with any luck, the husband will be feeling better by tomorrow morning, I won’t catch the norovirus (::fingers crossed::), and life will go back to being as normal as it ever is.

If I don’t get sick (::knock on wood::) I have big plans for this weekend.  Plans involving some much-needed “girl time” with my friend Jess, going to Joann Fabrics, doing some sewing (I am an amateur sew-er at best), setting up the den (we got our new DVD stand in), and starting the preliminary work on my office!  It’s going to be a fun, busy weekend, and I’m looking forward to every minute of it.  Provided that I don’t get sick, of course.

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).

I had no new books due for my Modern World History class (we had a snow day last week, so we just pushed back all the lesson plans by a week), so I didn’t finish King Leopold’s Ghost yet (I have about 75 pages to go).  This week’s review will be Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurat Dreger.

Author Dreger does a case-by-case investigation of the history of medical personnel dealing with the rare cases of hermaphroditism (or as it is also commonly called, intersexism), where a human being is born with both male and female sex characteristics (organs).  Although the majority of the book mainly focused on the study of intersexism during the 18th and 19th centuries, “famous” intersexed individuals and the way that medical practitioners and society in general related to them, the epilogue does contain some first-person narratives of intersexed individuals from the latter half of the 20th century.

The book was well-written, thoroughly researched, a tad dry in areas, and left me with an overwhelmingly sad feeling.  All of these cases were about individuals who, through no fault of their own, were born with either ambiguous or dual sex organs, into a society that feels the need to constantly conform the sexes into one or the other.

The very first characteristic that we shape ourselves as humans by is gender — “is it a boy or a girl?” is usually the first thing that new parents say, either when viewing the ultrasound or when the baby emerges.  The intersexed individual — apart from being able to identify solely with either gender — finds him or herself also faced with cruelty and ridicule from society.  Apart from social stigma, the book also investigated the problems with surgical “fixing” of hermaphroditism — removing the “wrong” sex organs or creating the “right” ones, which can lead to complications (both medical and emotional) later on in life.  At least two intersexed individuals in the book ended up committing suicide; a number of others lived in unhappy marriages or dealt with painful stigma and ridicule when their intersexed organs were made public knowledge.  Occasionally, complications arose when an intersexed individual was assigned one gender, and ended up identifying with the other.  As a final slap in the face, in early days, the reaction of doctors to discovering that a married woman had male sex organs was usually to inform her not only that she was a man, but that her marriage to her husband was invalid.  Very sad.

Rating: *** and 1/2

Happy weekend!

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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).

Today’s agenda: one incredibly-boring book, and one very decent book.  Read on!

You know what I’m going to start with, don’t you?  I hardly even need to review it, considering that I already bitched about it here and here.  But I’m going to do it anyway.

ImageEnglish Lessons; The Pedegogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China by James L. Hevia, was the book I was dreading the most in my Modern World History class.  Not because the subject matter didn’t interest me (it did, sort of), but because our teacher said, on night one “This is going to be difficult reading.”  And because it’s the only book he gave us two weeks to read.  See that?  You know it’s going to be tough when that happens.  This is the first book I ever rage quit (as I stated here).  I will admit, the second half of the book (about the reprisals the English committed on the Chinese for the Boxer Rebellion) was more interesting and a little easier to read.  However, there are whole passages (and pictures — warning, although they are black and white they are quite graphic in places) concerning execution methods in China.  Damn.  Of course, they’re really not that bad compared to the English methods of hanging, drawing, and quartering that happened before the 17th century.  But at the same time…holy crap.

The research is incredibly thorough, which is why in all honesty I can’t give this book one star.  I’d give it four stars for the research and one star for readability.  So two and a half stars it is.  (I can’t believe this book was produced for mass market.)

ImageGender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896 – 1920, by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, is eminently more readable (and in my opinion, more interesting).  I learned so much from this book about the early days of the equal rights movements taking place in the South in the antebellum period, through Reconstruction and then into the Progressive Era.  The image of the African-American race in the south in the post-war period is usually defined as a constant struggle, black people living uneducated and constantly mistreated.  Gilmore destroys that stereotype with her (extremely thorough) research into the lives of several prominent African Americans, include Sarah Dudley Pettey and Charlotte Hawkins, two brilliant ladies who earned college degrees and went on to champion the rights of African Americans, especially women.  Also, it was sad/interesting to read the conclusions that Gilmore drew, that by stressing the dangers of black men raping white women, white men were also putting white women “under their thumb” of protection, insisting that it was for their own good that they stay home and never go anywhere, and never get the right to vote.

Because we were reading this book, we also watched The Birth of a Nation in class.  And damn, if you ever want to watch something that is so incredibly racist and skewed, this is the (silent) film for you.  You will see things that you only heard tell about in history books.  Spoiler alert: the Ku Klux Klan are the good guys in this film.  No, really.  If you DO have any interest in viewing this incredibly racist piece of white supremacy propaganda, you can watch it for free on Youtube (that’s how we got it) — I don’t think it’s available to buy anymore (for good reason).  You’re not going to be able to find this one in your local video store or on Netflix.

Happy Friday!  And Happy-Whatever-You’re-Reading, history-related or not!

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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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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!).

Ratings:

Lose Your Mother…: **

Revolutionary Conceptions…: *** and 1/2

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