Posts Tagged ‘History’

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)


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!


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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Step One: Complete

ImageAnnotated bibliography: done.  

Ten pages, word count unknown.  Seventeen sources cited, cut down from the original twenty-five.  I am proud of it.  It was a labor of love.  Well, apreliminary labor of love…the paper will really be the finished project (and clock it at fifteen pages longer).

Let’s cross our fingers and hope it’s enough for the History department.

(BTW, if you think I’m overselling this, it’s my first real graded paper since 2008.  So it has been awhile.)

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Today I have nothing to share for Book Reviews You Won’t Care About.  This is mainly because I’ve been spending my Spring Break mostly reading articles, and the two books I have to read for next week have largely fallen by the wayside (although I need to crack down this weekend because I still have over 400 pages to go for one of them).  And although I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and highlighting, my focus has generally been on journal articles.

And this book:


I bought this book as required reading back in 2008 (not really reading so much as reference), and it has become my pseudo-Bible for this semester.  You see, before I can write the paper, I need to do an annotated bibliography.  For those of you who chose not to click on that link (can’t say I blame you), an annotated bibliography is a fully-cited list of all the sources you plan on using for a paper, with a little summary or abstract about each one.  This paper is due a week from yesterday.  It’s three pages long, and I’m not even half-done with it.

You see, back in the day (in undergrad, a full 10 years ago…ugh), I wasn’t a History major.  I was an English major.  And English majors use the MLA method of citation.  So I spent four years of undergrad memorizing MLA.  By the time I wrote my senior thesis, I knew MLA so well that I could bang out a citation without double- or triple-checking it.

And then I became a history major.  History majors, btw, don’t use MLA.  They use the Chicago Method.  I do not know the Chicago method.  Therefore, I spend a LOT of time flipping through that book up there (also known as “that horrible Turabian book”.

I really, really don’t understand why there are multiple methods of citation.  Couldn’t the whole academic world get together and agree on ONE method?  Wouldn’t that be so much easier?  I will admit I felt slightly vindicated when I checked out Turabian’s profile on Goodreads and saw the following review:

“Why does this Turabian lady get to say how I document and cite my history papers and why, why, why can’t English, History, and Education people just get together and pick one style they can all agree on?! (frustrated sob)”

I feel your pain, I really do.

Fortunately, this weekend, the husband and I are going to have an absolutely delicious Saturday!  He’s promised to cook pancakes on Saturday morning, and then we’re going car shopping with my dad.  Then it’s off to see the Hunger Games movie (!) and then out to dinner.  I’m very much looking forward to an exciting, relaxing afternoon.

With no Turabian.

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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.


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 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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