MyAmericanFuture

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MyAmericanFuture

Monday, July 24, 2017

July 24, 2017: Talks and Events: Facing History and Ourselves



[On Tuesday July 25th, I’ll be talking to the Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society on the topic of “Remembering the Salem Witch Trials: The Limits and Possibilities of Public History.” So this week I wanted to highlight five recent talks and events I’ve given or been part of—please share your own experiences in comments!]
On two unexpected results of connecting to a wonderful organization.
Earlier this spring, I had the chance to record a podcast for Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO), as part of their new series “What Makes Democracy Work?” FHAO’s global home office is in Brookline, Massachusetts, making them very much part of my local community; but the organization’s lesson plans, resources, and workshops for teachers and educators have achieved nationwide (and even worldwide) recognition and effects (leading FHAO to open ten global offices), making them a truly influential part of our 21st century conversations about history, education, and civic engagement. FHAO is perhaps best known for their truly groundbreaking and crucial work with Holocaust histories and education—it’s my understanding that History and Social Studies educators (especially at the middle school level, but really at every level) have long struggled with how to teach that vital but incredibly dark and complex moment, and that FHAO’s resources and support have fundamentally shifted those conversations for the better. But their American history materials and resources are just as important and inspiring, and I found two unexpected results of connecting my work to theirs (a connection that will continue at one of their courses this summer).
For one thing, the connection helped (well, forced, but in a helpful way) me to think about the histories and stories I was highlighting in entirely new ways. I have been writing and thinking about Quock Walker for many years, usually in this space, but for whatever reason had not connected him at any length to Elizabeth “Bett” Freeman, his fellow Massachusetts slave and the other who (like Walker) used the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution and America’s Revolutionary ideals to argue successfully for freedom and push Massachusetts toward the abolition of slavery. The time requirements for the FHAO podcast—as well as just my own recognition that the one story I had tended to focus on was linked to other stories, and I needed to do my due diligence and investigate and analyze them more cohesively—provided precisely the incentive I needed to think more about Freeman and her story, and then to build an analysis that considered both the two stories individually and (especially) how I wanted to connect them to an argument about these figures making the law and our democracy work for them. Now that connection between Walker and Freeman forms a central part of a chapter of my book in progress, Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America. AmericanStudier synchronities for the win!
The other result of my connection to FHAO that I want to highlight is much more preliminary, but also more broadly relevant. In many of their different units and resources, FHAO uses the concepts of bystanders and upstanders—of those who stand by while events like the Holocaust or bullying or other oppressions take place, versus those who stand up and say or do something (with saying just as key as doing, in this frame) about the oppression. While I didn’t bring those terms into my FHAO podcast, it’s fair to say that they could apply—that figures like Theodore Sedgwick, the young Massachusetts lawyer who took on Freeman’s case, or Seth and John Caldwell, the brothers who employed the runaway Walker on their farm and helped him fight his court cases, could be described as upstanders to slavery and its oppressions. But the area to which I’ve really begun connecting those terms since my FHAO link is my own evolving interest in public scholarly writing and work. That is, we’re in the midst of a historical moment that far too fully echoes both some of the worst in history and actions like bullying, and like many of us I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do with the time that has been given me. While of course public scholarly writing is far from the only possible (nor necessarily the most productive) such response, I believe it can be seen as a form of upstanding, and as such an important intervention in these dark times.
Next event recap tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Events or experiences you’d highlight? I’d love to hear about them!

PPS. My FHAO podcast also inspired me to write about Freeman and Walker for the Washington Post's wonderful new Made by History blog!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 22-23, 2017: Crowd-sourced Historical Fictions



[Last week, I began teaching my graduate American Historical Fiction: Practice and Theory class for the fourth time, this time as a hybrid course. So this week I’ve briefly highlighted (busy with teaching and all) a handful of exemplary historical fictions and related contexts, leading up to this crowd-sourced post drawn from the responses and nominations of fellow HistoricalFictionStudiers. Add your own in comments, please!]
Responding to Monday’s post, Bill Harshaw writes, “It's been 60 years or so since I was reading Kenneth Roberts' novels. Though Roberts was popular, I think one of the most popular historical fiction writers of the time, and apparently quite conservative, he did present Benedict Arnold as a hero. Would be interesting to see what a modern audience and modern historians make of him.”
Kisha Tracy also goes “Old School: Rafael Sabatini, Samuel Shellabarger, and Kenneth Roberts.” Of Roberts she writes, “Haven't read him for a while, so hoping he holds up. But I enjoyed him when I was younger.” And she adds, “Bernard Cornwell and Marion Zimmer Bradley too, and Baroness Orczy.”
Other nominations:
Paige Wallace writes, “I'm a big fan of the Outlander series. Gabaldon does an amazing job of recreating history and using historical events to shape her story.” She adds, “Robert K. Massie's Catherine the Great is a wonderful book as well. Sometimes Russian history can be difficult to get into because of all the names and details but he does a fantastic job of putting it all together that makes it not only educational but enjoyable!”
Kelley Smolinksi shares, “Lord of the Flies has become a favorite to teach - especially when comparing the events of the novel to events in the war. Especially when we look at how people fight each other and how quickly it spirals.”
Abby Mullen highlights “Patrick O’Brian!,” adding “I often joke that you should never read a history book about the Age of Sail unless one of its blurbs invokes his name.”
On O’Brian, Diana Muir Appelbaum Tweets, “Re-read O’Brian recently. Surprised by how 1980s/90s it felt.” She adds a thread of further thoughts on the series, beginning here.
Debbie Lelekis writes, “I love Isabel Allende's books: Island Beneath the Sea, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia. And anything by Geraldine Brooks (especially Year of Wonders and Caleb's Crossing).” She adds, “Caleb's Crossing would be really interesting to teach in a course about early America because it's about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the seventeenth century.”
Akeia Benard seconds Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea.
Michael Giannasca shares, “I read For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway a few months ago and I thought it was great.”
Veronica Hendrick highlights Upton Sinclair’s Manassas: A Novel of the Civil War and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, along with the historical epics of James Michener and Leon Uris.
Jonathan Silverman writes, “LeAnne Howe’s Shell Shaker is great.”
Michele Townes highlights, “Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk,” adding, “the narrator for the audiobook does all the dialects and makes the series come to life.”
Matt Ramsden writes, “George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is great. Also the audiobook is amazing.” Ilene Railton adds, “Just finished this and was blown away. Very powerful, strange, funny, and so tragic.” And Andrea Grenadier adds, “I LOVED that book! It just ambushes you throughout, with such crazy beauty and tragedy. I have never read anything like it.”
Tim McCaffrey highlights Louis de Bernieres’ (Captain) Corelli’s Mandolin [different names in the UK and US].
Rala Diakite nominates, “Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. It's about the 1937 massacre in Haiti. Loved this.”
AnneMarie Donahue highlights Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory., to which Veronica Hendrick adds Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Jennifer Fielding seconds the Weir recommendation.

James Golden shares, "I really enjoyed Sharon Kay Penman's The Sun in Splendour, about Richard III."
Petri Flint writes, “I semi-recently read Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun and loved it.”
Diego Ubiera nominates Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World.
Vincent Kling shares, “Mary Lee Settle has a fine set of five novels going from Cromwell's England to Mother Jones about the settlement of the present West Virginia. Collectively called O Beulah Land, not to be confused with other novels of the same title. The best one is the second, itself titled O Beulah Land.
DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld writes, “I like Timothy Schaffert (The Swan Gondola) and The Book of Harlan by Bernice McFadden is a quick and powerful read.”

Jeff Warmouth nominates John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor.
Andrew DaSilva highlights, “The Thorn Birds, as it’s not historical in the conventional sense but it takes place over like 50 plus years from the turn of the century to the 1970’s covering the life and times of this one family. In the background is the history and its effects on the family, whether something obvious like the 1st and 2nd world wars or something more subtle like the advent of the radio or screens on the windows to keep bugs out. And of course there’s the Stephen King novel 11/22/63 which too was a good read but tends to lean more on the sci-fi rather on the history aspect despite the whole novel taking place around one particular historical event.”
Jeff Renye nominates Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard.
Ilene Railton shares, “The Right Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman.”
Shelley Girdner Tweets, “Jane Smiley's recent trilogy (Some Luck, Early Warning, Golden Age) is a different approach: every chapter = a year. Loved the 1st book especially. But also like Dillard's The Living; & it's out of style, but I still think Michener's Centennial is remarkable.”
Erin O’Brien highights alternative historical novels such as Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, as well as Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.
Jeremy Neely shares Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad and James McBride's Good Lord Bird.
Brad Congdon nominates Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, “for foregrounding the fiction in historical fiction.”
Karen Shepard (author of a pretty great historical novel herself) highlights, “The Known World; almost anything by Jim Shepard; Silk; The Question of Hu.”
Sarah Robbins Tweets, “News of the World is a great read. I plan to teach it in spring 2018.”
Matthew Teutsch adds a bunch via Twitter: Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok, Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, Ernest Gaines’s Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Frank Yerby’s The Dahomean, Arna Bontemps’ Black Thunder, Edward P. Jones’s The Know World, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Fanatics.
Lou Freshwater agrees on Sedgwick’s novel, Tweeting, “Hope Leslie should be so much more well known.”
And Kari Miller comments, “I would love to teach a class on historical fiction! I am currently at work on a project exploring American literature on Pilgrims and Puritans. So far, I've found about 80+ novels, mostly from the nineteenth century, that have impacted the ways that most Americans think of Pilgrims and Puritans. I think it's especially important to see these works almost as conversations among the authors. Harriet Vaughan Cheney's 1824 A Peep at the Pilgrims should be discussed in conjunction with Hope Leslie and Hobomok; in fact, Sedgwick refers to the novel in Hope Leslie. And James Fenimore Cooper's The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish (1829) is, in many ways, a response to all three of these novels. As I'm working on this project, I'm discovering more intertextuality than I expected.” She adds on Twitter, “Jane Goodwin Austin's novel Standish of Standish (1889) is the origin of the ‘first’ Thanksgiving story. She has Pilgrims inviting Wampanoag.”
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Any other historical fictions or authors you’d highlight?