Personal History: Martha Ballard, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and the Scholarly Guise in Early American Women’s Studies
Marion Rust, University of Kentucky
Female academics who study early American women continue to face particular institutional challenges that affect their willingness to write about themselves in their scholarship. The results can be deafening silence, as scholars reluctant to betray their autobiographical investment in their material turn away from the very literary and historical figures to whom they find themselves most drawn. “Personal History” takes on this crisis by suggesting that what we have managed to publish both betrays and benefits from attachments between author and subject that it often expressly eschews. As a case study, this essay discusses Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s award-winning and resolutely non-self-referential academic history, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, in the context of her moving and hilarious personal essays written for a distinct Mormon feminist readership. The Mormon pieces are both casually self-disclosing and imbued with a deep sense of purpose. They depend upon the first-person voice so markedly absent from Ulrich’s scholarly analyses and invite us to look back to A Midwife’s Tale for its own forms of implicit self-narrative. This newly sensitized reading, in which the academic treatise signifies by what it does not articulate as well as by what it does, helps us better understand both Ulrich and Martha Ballard. Reading literary history as personal narrative allows for new forms of insight not only into our current academic climate, but also, perhaps more importantly, into the past it illuminates through means both covert and overt.
Forum: The Personal Is Professional
Edited and Introduction by Marion Rust
Looking at a Candid Photo of Myself
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University
Feminism, Theology, and the Personal in American Studies
Joanna Brooks, San Diego State University
Negotiating the Personal and the Academic
Carolyn Eastman, Virginia Commonwealth University
Historical Scholarship and the “Personal Guise”
Robert Fanuzzi, St. John’s University
Martha Ballard’s Republic and Our Haunted Histories
Tamara Harvey, George Mason University
Family History as Personal Narrative: Writing Black Gotham
Carla L. Peterson, University of Maryland
“Outré-mer adventures”: Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home, Who’ll Follow? and the Maritime World
Melissa Gniadek, University of Toronto
This essay argues that Caroline Kirkland’s A New Home, Who’ll Follow? (1839) draws on popular maritime tales to reinforce its portrayal of the instabilities of western expansion and the speculation underlying the construction of frontier homes. Set in Michigan, far from the sea, A New Home’s maritime tales initially seem rather unexpected. But stories about the sea are part of Kirkland’s story about settling frontier spaces. The text does not simply harness marine metaphors to describe western landscapes, as so many contemporary narratives do. Instead, it contains entire oceanic plots through which the romance and speculation of the sea voyage becomes a way for the text to reinforce the romance and speculative nature of the west as a fiction. From maritime plots that conjure James Fenimore Cooper’s sea novels to references to fantastic global spaces like Symmes Hole, an imagined polar hole providing access to the center of the earth, Kirkland incorporates global, oceanic realms into A New Home in ways that question the stability and future of the domestic. Thus, global spaces and stories that might seem to stand in opposition to the notion of home become part of constituting and questioning home. This reading ultimately suggests how attention to transoceanic globalism might reorient our understanding of texts focused on domestic settlement.
Being In and Not Among: The Anti-Imperial Impulses of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Bits of Travel at Home
James Weaver, Denison University
Focusing on Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1878 volume of travel writing, Bits of Travel at Home, this essay examines how Jackson constructs an alternative to imperialist visions of the American west, substituting an ethic of intimacy and communion for one of domination and exploitation. Jackson’s text begins with a narrative of her 1872 trip to California, culminating with several sketches about Yosemite Valley. Although Jackson at times celebrates the extension of domesticity into previously “wild” spaces, she also casts a critical eye at such territorial expansion, expressing a concern over the costs exacted on marginalized peoples and recognizing her own complicity in her nation’s imperial practices. Moreover, Jackson portrays the fallibility of her own white, middle-class worldview, highlighting the limits of her perception and acknowledging that her perspective is simply one among many. In this way, Jackson’s Bits of Travel at Home dramatizes the author’s transforming political sensibilities, sensibilities that would be galvanized by her later activism on behalf of Native American tribal rights. Thus, while Bits of Travel at Home has generally been overlooked by much scholarship on Jackson, the text merits greater attention because of what it reveals about Jackson’s attitudes toward the natural world, toward marginalized minority peoples, and toward the power and privilege her own class and racial status afforded her.
Entomology, Fiction, Intoxication: Annie Trumbull Slosson’s Narratives of Obsession
Logan Scherer, University of Michigan
Short-story writer Annie Trumbull Slosson (1838-1926) didn’t discover what would become the central intellectual pursuit of her life until the age of 47 in 1886, when she decided to read a textbook about insects written for children. She went on to co-found the New York Entomological Society and established a reputation as both a literary regionalist and an entomologist, with more than a hundred insect species named for her. Intoxicating obsessions abound in Slosson’s short stories, many of which chronicle men and women in rural Connecticut who, like Slosson herself, become infatuated with narrow areas of interest. I call these plotless sketches that capture the ruminations of amateur, self-taught naturalists “narratives of obsession.” In these stories, Slosson offers us obsession in lieu of plot: the passions that these characters pursue—including ornithology, botany, entomology, numismatics, and ichthyology—are so intense that Slosson does not need to craft a plot in order to make them compelling material for fiction. In this essay, I introduce Annie Trumbull Slosson and her narratives of obsession as a new source that can enrich our account of the intersections between literature and science at the end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century when Slosson and other women writer-naturalists (including Sophia Bledsoe Herrick, Katharine Dooris Sharp, and Celia Thaxter) occupied dual positions as literary artists and amateur naturalists. I call attention to the generic hybridity of Slosson’s narratives of obsession, which borrow from both the nineteenth-century literary sketch and the natural science essay, and the ways in which Slosson herself embraced and theorized about the intersection between fiction and natural science.
Jessie Fauset’s Not-So-New Negro Womanhood: The Harlem Renaissance, the Long Nineteenth Century, and Legacies of Feminine Representation
Meredith Goldsmith, Ursinus College
This essay responds to two prevailing arguments about the fiction of Jessie Fauset—the one labeling her work retrograde, the other regarding it as subtly subversive—by viewing the writer’s work as part of a history of long nineteenth-century representation. Countering the dominant perception of the Harlem Renaissance as a break from the past—a view that has shunted Fauset’s work to the sidelines—I argue that Fauset’s work explores the legacy of late-nineteenth-century US culture in the emergent modernity of the early twentieth century. Excavating the literary, cultural, and scientific tropes of feminine representation that burst from the pages of Fauset’s fiction, I identify a recent literary past that informs Fauset’s constructions of her modern urban heroines. Through readings of Plum Bun (1929) and Comedy: American Style (1934), I note how Fauset engages with both the recent past of the late nineteenth century and the burgeoning popular culture of the 1920s and early 1930s. Finally, my reading moves from a close textual analysis of Fauset’s fiction to a metacritical reading, contrasting Alain Locke’s formation of the Harlem Renaissance canon around notions of youth, modernism, and originality—excluding Fauset almost by definition—with that of William Stanley Braithwaite, who celebrated Fauset and placed her within a tradition of female novelists of manner and regionalists. Noting how Locke’s terms have set the tone for subsequent critical discourse, I argue for a renewed appreciation of Braithwaite, who viewed the literature of the Harlem Renaissance as an outgrowth of, rather than a break from, the Reconstruction Era.
Legacy Profile: Barbara Pope
Jennifer Harris, University of Waterloo
Skimming the list of books by African American authors displayed at the “The Exhibit of American Negroes” at Paris Exposition Universelle de 1900, one recognizes many familiar names: William Wells Brown is represented, as are Anna Julia Cooper, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Keckley, Booker T. Washington, and many more. But readers might be surprised to find an unfamiliar collection of short stories by Barbara Pope, a late-nineteenth-century author who is absent from all period and contemporary studies of African American authors. This profile traces Barbara Pope’s life and career in Washington, D.C. and beyond. In the process, I demonstrate that she was not so much forgotten as willfully buried after a series of very public trials led to her unfortunate breakdown. One of Pope’s stories, “The New Woman,” is included, allowing readers to encounter her voice for the first time as she explores the gendered contest for power in what appears to be coded as a mixed-race marriage. Additional writings by Pope are touched on, as are her encounters with publishing and print culture, willful editors, and inadequate preservation.
One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit by Michelle Marchetti Coughlin
Karin Wulf, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the College of William & Mary
Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul
Bethany Schneider, Bryn Mawr College
Nineteenth-Century American Women Write Religion: Lived Theologies and Literature edited by Mary McCartin Wearn
Toni Wall Jaudon, Hendrix College
Panic Fiction: Women and Antebellum Economic Crisis by Mary Templin
David Zimmerman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps: Selected Tales, Essays, and Poems edited by Elizabeth Duquette and Cheryl Tevlin
Susan S. Williams, Ohio State University
Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry edited by Karen L. Kilcup and Angela Sorby
Monika Elbert, Montclair State University
Southern Women Novelists and the Civil War: Trauma and Collective Memory in the American Literary Tradition since 1861 by Sharon Talley
Sarah E. Gardner, Mercer University
Sacramental Shopping: Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism by Sarah Way Sherman
Gregory Eiselein, Kansas State University
Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and U.S. Modernism by Mary Chapman
Lisa Cochran Higgins, College of DuPage
Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature by Ayesha K. Hardison
Crystal J. Lucky, Villanova University
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