Rails and Tales

This weekend, I'm heading home to Holland, Michigan (yep, it still feels like "home") for Christmas . . . by train. It's twenty hours from Boston to South Bend, Indiana, by Amtrak, and in order to pass the time I'm taking--what else?--a big stack of books. Here's what's in the Nina Totin' Bag.
  • bitch magazine. My latest issue came in the mail last week, and I'm saving it for somewhere between Albany and Erie, PA.
  • Tiocfaidh ár lá: Our Day Will Come, An Exploration of Irish Nationalist Ideology, by my friend Hanna. This is her first pass at the topic that will eventually become her master's thesis, and I get to be one of her first readers! Hooray!
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. I've been meaning to read this all year, and actually sometimes between semesters I'm in just the right mood to contemplate grief, morality, and the meaning of the universe.
  • Spending: A Utopian Divertimento, by Mary Gordon. I've actually already started this novel, which is about a woman artist and her self-appointed muse, about art and work, relationships and sex, money and ethics, feminism, and a whole lot more.
  • A Lick of Frost, by Laurell K. Hamilton. Evil fey, not-so-evil fey, court intrigue, murder, and sex. What more could one ask for in winter break reading?
  • Murder at the Gardner, by Jane Langton. Langton's retired police detective turned Harvard professor Homer Kelly stars in a series of mysteries set around Boston; this one takes place next door to Simmons!
  • History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History, by Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward. With a title like that, how could I resist?
  • Dragonhaven, by Robin McKinley. I've been saving this one for a couple of months. It's always a treat when one of your favorite authors comes out with something new.
  • "Mingling of Souls Upon Paper": An Eighteenth-Century Love Story, edited by Bonnie Hurd Smith. This book contains the edited correspondence of Judith Sargent Stevens, telling the story of her love for, and eventual marriage to, Universalist preacher John Murray. The editor was a speaker this fall at the MHS.
It is entirely possible that between now and Saturday, noon, when the train pulls out of South Station, I will have added a volume or two to the collection. I have this 25% Barnes & Noble coupon burning a hole in my pocket and I think the Prudential Center has a copy of Julia Serano's Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which I've been meaning to read since July, and which I know I will need to own since it will be read with pencil in hand to make notes in the margins. And Mom tells me I simply must read Lauren Child's Clarice Bean Spells Trouble . . .

Then again, I have to fit those Christmas presents in somewhere too.

The Snow Storm (Boston, 2007)

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow; and, driving o’er the fields,
seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

--From “The Snow-storm” (1847) by R. W. Emerson


Let it Snow . . .

So today was going to be my last class of the semester (History Methods), but that snowstorm which has been making its way across the States has finally reached the Atlantic, and Boston has decided it can't handle a little snow. Everyone and their thrice removed cousins are shutting down and getting a head start on their commute home. Here's what the street outside the res campus looked like at 2:30 this afternoon:

So sadly (and I mean this genuinely), we were not able to hold our discussion about "Where is history headed now?" and eat the chocolate-chip-raisin-oatmeal cookies our professor promised us.

At the same time, I've got Glen Miller's In the Christmas Mood on the stereo and I'm sitting in my room with a mug of hot chocolate watching the snow from indoors . . . what's not to like about that?

Merry almost Christmas everyone . . .


Golden Compass: Feminist Theology?

. . . Not if you see it on the big screen, at least according to Hanna Rosin's review, "How Hollywood Saved God" in The Atlantic Monthly.

While I am very much looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, on the big screen this weekend (my first movie in the theater since . . . um . . . well, before I came to Boston, I swear on both volumes of my Shorter OED) it's been interesting to hear some of the debate about the film, the books, and their treatment of religious issues. While I'm not sure I would go so far as to label it a "controversy," as it was billed on this morning's "On Point" discussion on NPR, it does seem to have stirred up a little, shall we say, dust in Catholic and Evangelical circles.

In the books on the other hand . . .

"On Point" actually had some extremely thoughtful guests (Ms. Rosin among them) who were discussing the theological themes in both His Dark Materials, the book trilogy, and the movie-makers decisions to elide most of the deeper re-workings of Biblical and spiritual themes. Professor of Religion Stephen Prothero won my heart with his passionate defense of literature as a way for young people to explore the Big Questions and engage in meaning-making for themselves, as well as his delight in Lyra, the series' protagonist, as a feminist heroine:
My daughters get dressed up as Hermione for Halloween and for the Harry Potter parties, and you know Hermione is a wonderful character but she's sort of carrying the water for Harry Potter, who gets to be the hero . . . and I love that about the books [that Lyra gets to be the heroine]. I think it's wonderful to tell girls to question authority, to make a little trouble, to be suspicious when people talk in God's name as if God is speaking to them through an earphone.
Even more radical, of course, is Pullman's project of writing an "alternative Genesis" with Lyra as a new Eve whose initiation into sexual awareness is the catalyst for redemption. The narrative is an explicit "response to the church," Rosin points out, drawing on her interviews with Pullman himself, "this idea of patriarchy and misogyny and the idea that she should be Eve, and she should re-write the story of Eve."

"And I would argue," Prothero follows up, "that what we have there is something quite like feminist theology . . . that we shouldn't be thinking about God as this old man with a beard in the sky . . . why do we have to have the woman be the villain here? Why can't she be the hero?" Amen.

Plus, I hear that seeing the daemons on screen is worth the price of a ticket. So see you at the theater!

As an aside: My one reservation about the books, incidentally, is the way they are being marketed--much like the Harry Potter books--to a pre-teen audience when they are actually much more dense and in some ways more frightening, than Rowling's series.

Also, Tom Stoppard wrote one of the early screenplays--wouldn't you love to have seen that version??!


Need to Footle*?

My friend Hanna passed along this deadly website to me this morning, and I have already used it for many valuable minutes of procrastination. It's one of those play-a-game-to-defeat-world-hunger sites, and the particular gimmick is that you get to guess what words mean! If you are as excited about this as I am, then I know why we are friends. If not, we can still be friends (I don't mind).

Today, I learned the meaning of the following wonderful words:

scofflaw = repeat offender

paraph = flourish after signature
supernal = celestial

viviparous = producing live offspring

saponaceous = soapy

fruticose = shrubby
sibylline = prophetic

suspire = sigh

dipsomania = alcoholism

roily = turbid

Hanna also suggests that you enliven the game by trying to remember why you know the meaning of certain words. Why, for example, did I know that "abaca" is a word for "manila hemp"?

The semester's almost over!

*footle = waste time


Jesus Camp Grows Up

I spent part of this weekend reading God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, by Hanna Rosin. The book centers on Patrick Henry College, founded in 2000 by Michael Ferris, the fundi-gelical conservative Christian activist best known for his work leading the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. (Like it or not, he's one of the reasons people like me got to have the childhood we got to have . . . even if our home education didn't have quite the results Ferris is looking for!)

God's Harvard tells a story that is the natural extension of the 2005 documentary Jesus Camp, which explored Christian evangelical culture as experienced by children ages 7-13. We've leapt over the mid-teen years, and are now introduced to an academically elite group of Christian homeschoolers ready to enter college. You can check out an early draft of a chapter from God's Harvard, "God and Country", which was published by Hanna Rosin in the New Yorker (27 June 2005).

As usual, it is extremely irritating to have "homeschooling" become conflated with conservative Christian homeschooling with barely an acknowledgment. John Holt (whose papers have just been donated to the Boston Public Library!!) and the free school movement are mentioned only in passing, rolled into the early history of "the movement" in such a way that it's never clear there are other ways families choose to home educate besides plunking kids down in front of intelligent design videos, drilling them in the tenets of Christian nationalism, and preaching the evils of toxic popular culture, all the while enforcing dress codes and "courtship" standards.

At the same time, I always find an outsider's perspective on homeschooler cultures fascinating; Rosin's narrative is an ever-shifting mosaic of the familiar and the alien. Whether secular or sectarian, home-educated kids tend to have close relationships with their siblings and parents, be skeptical of mainstream culture and education, and enter their young adulthood with a disconcerting mix of maturity and naivete.

"Homeschooling families," Rosin writes, "tend to judge each other by their views on structure and authority; the Patrick Henry families tend to fall on the strict end of that scale. Homeschool families have no school communities or obvious support system, so they tend to group around gurus or schools of thought" (90). The problem is, the only examples she gives are of the Patrick Henry variety, not the hippie home-educator "free schools, free people" types. Proof, I suppose, of our dwindling numbers. Rosin reports, with numbers similar to those in Jesus Camp, that of the estimated 1-1.5 million home educators (unclear whether she's talking families or young people), a whopping 80% identify themselves as "evangelical Christian" (62).

Clearly, we home-educated feminists are outnumbered by the evangelicals; I guess we'll just have to raise a little more hell!

Further Reading about the Religious Right

Here are a few other fascinating books on the subject of conservative Christian counterculture from the last few years.

1. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg provides a good introduction to the political dimensions of the current conservative Christian counterculture.
2. American Facists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges provides less journalism and more philosophy than Goldberg, suggesting parallels between current Christian political thought and twentieth-century European fascism.
3. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, by Edward Humes and
4. The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, which is brilliantly and lucidly written by Judge Jones, both document the recent ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania schools.
5. God On Trial: Dispatches from America's Religious Battlefields, by Peter Irons (I haven't read this one yet, but it looks good!) provides historical-legal context for the current struggle over the relationship between religion and government.
6. Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith goes beyond its story of Mormon fundamentalism to explore the thin line between faith and madness.
7. The Battle for God, by historian of religion Karen Armstrong, is a dense personal favorite, charting the rise of religious fundamentalism as a response to the modern era.

*Images from www.powells.com and www.amazon.com


Thanksgiving on Middlesex Fells

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to take a mini-vacation from Boston proper, and spent a night at the Friendly Crossways hostel outside Harvard, Massachusetts (the small town, not the University), and then drive to Middlesex Fells Reservation for a hike around the system of reservoirs which supply water for the town of Winchester. Yes! I said drive! I rented a car and was vehicularly mobile (a word I just made up) for the first time in three months. It was both extremely harrowing (in the dark) and giddily liberating (in the daytime).

The hostel was comfortably bare-bones and dark and quiet, in a way only rural areas can be. And Middlesex Fells was beautiful and abundantly populated with people and their dogs. I am not exaggerating when I say virtually every party of walkers had more or more four-legged companions. One woman even exclaimed when she passed me on the path, "You're walking without a dog?!" as if it were an alien concept.

The photographs can be seen above or in larger format at picasa.


A Student at Work

Hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving week. I am actually looking forward, as geeky as this sounds, to having the mental and actual space to spread out my research papers and do a bit of writing. I have two papers due the week following the break, and they will take up most of my time. The way I organize my papers is by laying all the research out on the bed, desk, floor . . . anywhere there is space. So things start to look pretty chaotic when I am in the middle of a writing project!

As a late-night after-writing treat, I have discovered that the screen on my window opens, and that the ledge outside the window is just the right width to hold a wine bottle! So I am able to chill my wine, sans fridge, during the autumn months . . . I just have to be careful to bring it inside to drink before the temperature drops below freezing at night!

Who Will Comfort Toffle?

The Boston Bookfair on Friday was lots of fun, though everything I was remotely interested in exceeded my price range by at least hundreds and often thousands of dollars. There was a lovely photography book with black and white 1950s-era images of the Lake District; a medieval manuscript treatise on medicine, illustrated in full color; a pre-suffrage publication by a minister from Indiana arguing on a Biblical basis for women's right to vote; and a fascinating early obstetrics text by the dude who was responsible for switching the standard birthing position from upright to horizontal (for which he ought to have been flayed).

Children's books, of course, were wonderful to browse. I found a copy of Four Little Kittens ($75.00), which three generations of Cooks will remember, and several E. Nesbits in first edition (priced at in the hundreds).

The most charming new find was a book by Tove Jansson, Finnish author of the Moomin Troll series, Who Will Comfort Toffle? This is the story of Toffle, who is afraid and alone, and his quest for a friend, so that he will not be so scared anymore. One day, he finds a bottle floating on the water and inside is a message from a person named Miffle, who is also scared and lonely. Toffle sets off on a quest to find Miffle, so that they can comfort each other. Of course, the implicit gender roles are knight-and-lady stereotypes, but the pictures were totally charming.

*Images from One More River and The Moomin Trove respectively.


From the (Microfiche) Archives

I am working on a paper right now on the educational philosophy and practice in the utopian Oneida Community, which existed in New York state from 1848-1881 as a religious commune and continues to this day as a company manufacturing housewares. As part of this research, I visited Boston College's O'Neill library, which has a microfiche collection of the community's newspaper, the Oneida Circular. Microfiche is a pain to read--I have been known to get both migraine headaches and severely motion sickness--but the content it enables researchers access to is often excessively diverting.

The Circular functioned as both a venue for the community to evangelize to an external audience and as sort of community newsletter. They seem to have freely culled news items from other publications, usually unattributed, and also share miscellany from the life of the community, such as a note that "the wheat that was stored in the can-shop is nearly all saved, and but slightly injured" (1). Here are some oddments that I discovered while in the midst of "serious" research.

A large lithographic "View of the First American Railway Train" is on exhibition in the Library. It shows simply a line of old-fashioned stage-coach bodies connected together, and placed on car-wheels. Each vehicle contains six solid-looking gentlemen with stove-pipe hats; and their sharp noses and chins are all after the same pattern. The brakeman sits comfortably on the driver's seat with an iron lever in his hands (2).

Seneca Lake is frozen over and people skate from one end to the other. This has never happened before within the memory of white men (3).

Answers to correspondence: "J. Y., Rochester, N.Y.--We should probably have to deny your request for admission as we are full. In any case, very much more acquaintance with you would be necessary. Our Community is not of the nature of a cooperative union, but of a church." (4).

[The] cuttle-fish of the European coast are dwarfed by comparison with some from the coast of Newfoundland. In the American Journal of Science and Art for Feb., Prof. Verrill gives an account of a specimen which became entangled in herring-nets near St. John's, Newfoundland, and was secured after a severe battle. The body was nearly seven feet long with eight arms covered with suckers each six feet in length . . . (5).

We feel warrented in advocating romping girls. They seldom fail to make healthy, happy, useful and not un-refined women. Do let us have more of them! (6)

(1) 1 March 1875, p. 69
(2) 1 March 1875, p. 70
(3) 1 March 1875, p. 72
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) 1 March 1875, p. 70

Image found at the Oneida Community Mansion House website.


Fun With Old Things

Tonight, I am headed to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair to admire, well, antiquarian books, manuscripts, and prints, in an atmosphere of bibliomaniacal excitement. A group of us are headed down after work, and my friend Hanna is meeting us there. If I buy anything I'll report back with pictures! I doubt anything will be in my price-range (<$25) though. Oh, well, it's fun to window shop!

I also thought I'd share this link from the MHS website. It's our monthly object of the month, which a number of archives have started doing as a way to increase the visibility of their holdings online, and give people a taste of what sort of resources archives have to offer. MIT also has a fun collection on their site.

In the MHS collection, I particularly like the entry showcasing eleven-year-old Sara Putman's dairy, with an account of her 1862 visit to the aquarial gardens, which was an early Boston aquarium.

Everyone have a good weekend!


Charles River Walk

This weekend, we had more beautiful autumn days--colder, but sunnier--and I had enough time (because of the Veteran's Day/Armistice Day holiday) to take a long walk along the Charles this afternoon. The photos can be seen here in miniature or in a larger slide show at picasa.


From the Archives

One of the things I am learning to do at the archives is to answer "ready reference" questions (stuff that doesn't require a lot of knowledge of our actual holdings). One question this week which led me to a fun little discovery was a question from a collector of antiquarian photographs. He wondered if we could point him toward any online sites with images of photographs by 19th c. Boston photographer Elmer Chickering. A Google search brought up this interesting New York Times item from 1887:

A Rash Photographer

Back to research on the Oneida community and New England material culture.


Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

I was first introduced to Guy Fawkes Day as a child by the immortal author E. Nesbit in The Phoenix and the Carpet:

It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast--Robert's, I fancy--as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration . . .

Thus, Guy Fawkes will always, in my mind, be associated with magic carpets and imperious, mythical fowl. However, I thought I rather owed it to my profession to be a bit more informed about the actual history that gave rise to the holiday--a spot of unpleasantness, I gather, involving a failed attempt to overthrow the British government, as memorialized in this rhyme:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

So, tonight, my friend Jeremy and I are going from work to the Old State House downtown, where the Bostonian Society is hosting a scholarly lecture on "Bonfires, Effigies, and Brawls: Colonial Boston Celebrates Guy Fawkes Day." You can check out their online exhibit right here on blogspot. Sadly, we doubt that any actual bonfires, effigies, or brawls will be in evidence. . . perhaps we will have to foment a rebellion ourselves?


Emerald Necklace

One of my favorite walks to take in Boston is the route from my dorm along the Emerald Necklace (Olmsted's series of parks) to the Arnold Arboretum. This is the walk I took this morning, which was a glorious autumn day here in the city. I took my camera long and got some photos of the fall foliage (and one example of premature holiday decoration).

Or see the larger pictures at picasa.


From the (Daily Show & NPR) Archives

I don't have anything from the MHS for you this week, but I thought I'd share this video from The Daily Show instead.

I listened to a really difficult Diane Rehm show this week on the subject of our government's refusal to accept internationally recognized definitions of torture, thus leaving open the possibility that we are torturing human beings in the name of national "security."

The show left me feeling angry and frustrated that despite all the moral outrage and rational argument I hear against torture (from both the political left and right!), the administration carries on blithely ignoring us all. It's difficult to feel ownership in a government in which I don't see or hear myself meaningfully represented. And yet I believe we are all responsible, collectively, in some way, for the human rights abuses that our government perpetrates. I haven't figured out how to live up to that responsibility yet, but I guess recognizing it is a small step in the right direction.

Anyway, here's Jon Stewart on the language of the torture "debate."

P.S. I recommend the Diane Rehm segment too, for anyone interested in a more in-depth discussion.


Why I Go to Art Museums

On Sunday, Bethany, Patrick and I went out for brunch at the Kitchenette and then made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, when I almost got to live one of my childhood fantasies of being Claudia Kincaid in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who runs away from home with her brother Jamie. The two manage to hide themselves away in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and solve a mystery involving a statue possibly carved by Michaelangelo. It involves adventure, museums, and archival research--what's not to like?

As incisive as the Guerrilla Girls may be in their critique of the fine art world's lack of support for women artists, I still think one of the best things about visiting art museums is the women one finds on display. The variety of women's bodies is absolutely stunning in comparison to the visual representations of women in our daily media. Their very multiplicity attests to the volatile nature of standards of beauty throughout history and across the world, from era to era and culture to culture.

For example, on this particular visit I was fascinated to see a 1661 Dutch painting, Visit to the Nursery, which shows a couple presenting their newborn to relatives. The mother holding the infant is dressed, but you can clearly see the gap in the front of her bodice, suggesting she is ready to nurse her child at any moment, despite the formality of the scene.

Another picture I was enchanted by (Mom, this one's especially for you) was this portrait of a "mad" woman, Malle Babbe, which the museum describes as "in the style of Frans Hals." She is posed with an owl on her shoulder, which apparently symbolized foolish or "vulgar" behavior in the seventeenth century. I like the fact that "wise old owls" were once thought to be exactly the opposite.

And finally, in a modern art gallery, I came across this painting (forgive me, but I forgot to note the painter and title; I will remedy that when I have the time) which I have always liked because of the juxtaposition of the very "feminine" colors and floral motifs with the girl's confident pose and forthright stare. On the floor below the painting was a child or about eight, carefully drawing a copy of the portrait in her sketchbook. I hope she pays way more attention to what the art museums have to say about the beauty of the human form than she does to the monotonous version of "femininity" being pedaled by our consumer culture.

You can see all my pictures from the Met at Picasa.


Ceilidh NYC-style!

For those of you who don't know (and why should you?), a "Ceilidh"--pronounced "kay-lee"--is a Scottish dance party, usually featuring great music, food & alcoholic beverages, and traditional Scottish folk dances. This is not performance dance, but participatory dance, like a barn dance or square dance, where everyone can join in--and if they don't volunteer, they are often pressed into service.

My friend Bethany's husband Patrick is a graduate of the University of Glasgow, where he earned his MLitt in Philosophy, and the University was throwing an alumni dinner at the Harvard Hall of the Harvard Club in Manhattan. We went and gawked at the decor and enjoyed the food and wine, got in a few dances, sang "Auld Lang Syne" (obligatory at every ceilidh I've been to) and managed to stumble home not much later than midnight!

You can see all the pictures in my web album at Picasa.


From the Archives

I had my first full week at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) this week. I have a LOT to learn, but it's been generally invigorating and everyone has been very supportive for the newest member of the staff.

One highlight of the week was viewing the actual letter written by Abigail Adams admonishing husband John to "remember the ladies" when writing the Declaration of Independence (he didn't). Another was coming across a letter in the hand of M. Cary Thomas, the formidable first woman to be president of Bryn Mawr (1894-1922), written in 1906 on her presidential stationary!

All of these little brushes with the past made me think it would be fun to institute a regular Friday feature on the FFLA giving you all a sense of the sort of things we work with on a daily basis in the archives field (and more particularly, in manuscript collections such as those housed at the MHS). So here is my first sampling, which comes from the collection of Alice Bache Gould papers that I spent several hours photocopying this week for a researcher who had requested a long list of reproductions. The letter is to Alice from a friend from whom she has solicited a donation for a charitable fund which supported a nursing school in Porto Rico:
My dear Alice,
Your presentation of the case is masterly!
I wish I could give you $500. It is an unpropitious moment for me, as I am forced to turn all my energies just now towards San Francisco, though my cousins are not homeless, they have suffered sufficiently to need a 'boost' . . . My cousin . . . has lost everything at his office, furnishings, instruments, records, and unfortunately much scientific material that cannot be replaced. He writes, 'the work of 26 years.'
I have arranged to send him what instruments he needs, & have taken charge pecuniarily of the daughter who is at boarding school in Germany, so I fear I must forgo the luxury of assisting your most admirable undertaking . . .
(May 12, 1906)*
The writer is, of course, referring to the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fires, which devastated the city in April, 1906. I thought it was an appropriate manuscript to highlight, given the current wildfires in southern California, which are similarly causing so much disruption and damage to peoples' lives and property.

*Alice Bache Gould Collection, Ms. No. 1309 Box 15, Folder 20.


More Pics from the DCR

I had my camera with me at the Department of Conservation and Recreation yesterday (see previous post), so here's another batch of pictures of the various cool map details I came across. I took these mostly 'cause Dad's so interested in the cartography (and then I get interested too . . .). At least get a look at the compass rose that, I swear, was done by a drafter on LSD!


(click on the image to view the album)


Barnes & Noble Memorial Post: Teen Reads

Today was my last day at Barnes & Noble, and I thought I'd celebrate by highlighting some of the great books I read this year from the Barnes & Noble's teen section, which is where I find some of the most interesting and enjoyable books. So here is a lightly annotated list of some of my favorite young adult reads from the past 17 months.

  • Tithe, by Holly Black. This gritty urban fantasy is about a girl who discovers she's a changeling, and finds herself struggling to save herself and her friends from the violence of an amoral faery world that is all too real. And it's the first in a series: c'mon Holly, write a fourth!
  • Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan. A girl and a guy both on the rebound from problematic relationships meet at a concert and spend the night wandering Manhattan (and possibly falling in love).
  • S.E.X.: The all-you-need-to-know progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school and college, by Heather Corinna. Okay, it's not fiction, but it's a great read all the same. In my dream world, every school system in the country would be using this for their sex ed program.
  • Wicked Lovely, by Melisa Marr. Another modern fairytale about a girl who discovers she is gifted (or cursed) with the magical power to heal the world of faery . . . but at what personal cost?
  • Actually, anything by David Levithan, though my favorite (aside from Nick & Norah) is The Realm of Possibility, a series of interconnected narrative poems about a group of friends at a high school and their network of relationships, romantic, platonic, and every shade in between.
  • This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn, by Aiden Chambers. I thought the end of this novel was a cop-out, but the rest is a voluble, maddening, tender and fascinating account of a young woman's coming of age and her maturing relationships.
  • Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughn, et. al. Teenage superheros/heroines come into their powers and discover their parents are plotting to take over the world. Fun graphic novels that play confidently with the genre (and have some kick-ass young women as characters).
  • The Mislaid Magician; or, Ten Years After: Being the Private Correspondence Between Two Prominent Families Regarding a Scandal Touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm, by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermere. Besides deserving an award for Longest Title Ever, this third book in the Sorcery & Cecelia series provided me with one of the best quotes of last year: "The most unsettling result of this adventure is that we find ourselves in possession of a superfluous child."
  • The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. A story about a foster child, an accordian player, a Jew in hiding, some stolen books, Germany in the midst of the Second World War, and the way human beings respond to overwhelming crises--all narrated by the compelling character of Death. It's hard to describe, so I just tell people to read the first paragraph and see if they can resist being hooked.
(images all snagged from Powell's online store)


Vicarious Boston Cream Pie

My friend Megan, the fabulous baker, wrote and asked when I first got to Boston if I had had Boston Cream Pie yet, what exactly it is, and was it any good? I had to answer "no" to the first question, and thus had no idea about the answers to questions 2 and 3. I promised to hunt some up, try it, and report back.

Today, I finally got around to doing just that at the Omni Parker House hotel, which is credited with actually creating the "pie" back in the 19th century. The dessert is actually a vanilla sponge cake cut in two layers with a vanilla custard between and some sort of chocolate glaze over top. Apparently there are endless variations. The one I had today included almond shavings, whipped cream, and strawberries, and looked more like this version (right) than the one above. Unfortunately, I neglected to take my camera, so don't have a genuine "Anna's Boston Cream Pie" visual.

(images from What's Cooking America and Rosie's Bakery)


Friday Night in Grad School

Well, I just finished my third job for the day--this morning I worked at Barnes & Noble from 7-11am; then I had my first shift at the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1-4:45pm; then I finished up a batch of carrier additions for Lean Logistics after supper. Hopefully this will be the only day I put in that many shifts! I will be finishing up next week at Barnes & Noble, and start my regular schedule at the MHS on October 22nd. Everyone has been wonderful, and I am so excited to start in earnest (but grateful I will not be doing double-duty until then)!

I thought I would take a moment, before finishing the final draft of my Evaluation of Information Services evaluation proposal, to sit down and write a little bulletin about what I have been doing this week in library school (I am still on the fence about the whole am-I-an-archivist/am-I-a-librarian divide; I'm glad my new job title is "Library Assistant.").

I knew I had arrived in library science school when I went out to Blick art supplies and purchased a dozen soft lead pencils and a pencil case this week. I need to take notes at my internship, and other various places where pens are highly discouraged, and I was always finding myself without the proper tools. I am very pleased, and may soon (my archivist-historian friends assure me) find myself preferring pencils above all other writing implements. I have not taken the next step, which would be to start taking "notes" using a laptop and digital camera.

I also know I am in grad school because I have become extremely forgetful. Since being offered the MHS job last week I have locked myself out of my room once, left my wallet at work, forgotten my T-pass for the subway, and (the crowning achievement) left my mobile phone in a cab on my way home from Barnes & Noble Sunday night . . . in my defense, it was 2am following music inventory, but still . . . the cab driver was kind enough to return it unscathed the following day on his rounds through the neighborhood.

This week in classes:
  • In Evaluation of Information Services, we were testing our "evaluation tools" (social-science speak for surveys and data-collection exercises) designed to evaluate how well the library science school website works (verdict=not-so-well). After posting this, I have to go do the final draft of my group's evaluation proposal, with the appended "tools" and bibliography.
  • Introduction to Archives is tackling "arrangement & description," which are the fancy technical terms for the order in which items are put in their boxes and how they are written up in the "finding aid" (another fancy term, which I think of as the archival equivalent of a detailed card catalog record plus book index: it helps researchers decide what--if anything--they want to see from a given collection, and where it's located). We have been divided up into groups to write practice finding aids; my group got a collection of personal papers from the Simmons archive about an alumna who served as an Army dietitian during WWII.
  • For History Methods this week, we were technically talking about archives (and since the class is full of future archivists, there were a lot of people personally invested in the subject). I personally became side-tracked by theoretical issues of space and gender through our reading assignment from Bonnie Smith's The Gender of History, which is about the professionalization of history in the 19th century and how it was explicitly coded as the realm of men. "Truth was where women were not," Smith writes, "[truth was] some invisible and free territory purged of error by historical work" (which was done, of course, by male scholars). My weekly response paper was about how the physical sources of history and physical bodies (such as, ahem, the bodies of women) have the potential to disrupt our grand and tidy narratives of historical, universal "truth."

In other news, the course offerings for Spring 2008 were hot off the press yesterday, at least in the History department. I find myself torn between "9/11 Narratives," taught by an Islamic World historian with a frightening amount of energy, and "Lives of Faith: Early American Religious Biography & Autobiography." In library science, I will most likely be taking Oral History and Cataloging.

. . . and then I stopped by the public library on my lunch hour today to return a few books, and somehow left with a few more: Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care; Emma Bull's War for the Oaks; and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (I'm reading the series in reverse order). If I find any time to actually read any of these titles, you'll hear about it here . . .


Breaking News: New Job!

This week, the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) offered me a job as a library assistant--and of course I accepted! I had a lovely interview with the staff there on Monday, a tour of their gorgeous library, and am looking forward to learning a lot on the job.

The MHS is the oldest historical society in the United States, established in 1791 (yes, really!). They have an expansive manuscript collection from families prominent in Massachusetts and national history, and they host a substantial number of scholarly events throughout the year. Mostly, to be honest, I covet their floor-to-ceiling bookcases . . .

My first day is the 12th and I will not begin my full schedule there until after I have finished out my commitments at Barnes & Noble, toward the end of October.


Inside the Internship

I spent the morning today at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), my internship site for the Intro to Archives class I am taking this fall. I am working for the plans archivist at the DCR organizing and indexing a series of approximately 300 land plans (maps) which record the acquisition of lands by the Metropolitan Parks Commission in the late 1890s. Many of these plans originate from the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, the famous landscape architects.
Here is a detail from one of the maps I worked with today:

The plans, most over 100 years old, have seen heavy use and are fragile. Their edges have been torn and taped with scotch and masking tape, or repaired with bits of paper and other materials. My supervisor, Judy, is hoping to assess what we have and what the preservation needs are so that the department can apply for grant money to fund conservation work for the plans (which, she tells me, runs something like $500/sheet). Meanwhile, to make the plans accessible and to ensure that a minimal amount of damage is done as they are handled in the future, I am putting them in folders and creating a digital index in Excel.

The hand-drawn detail is full of fascinating variety. For example, compare these three directional markers, which appear on the maps to denote North:

While I have not had the time to do any background research on the individuals involved in the surveying and execution of these plans, I did find this little tidbit when I compared the maps with the accession records (which give information about when the archive acquired which plans). One 1901 duplicate of an original survey map was done by an I.C. Rogers:

In the accession book, the entry notes that the plan was made by "Miss Rogers." So apparently, I.C. Rogers was a woman (and the only identification of that kind I have run across; all others are noted in the records simply by last name). This I may have to pursue . . .

You can see larger versions of these photos, and more, in the DCR album at Picasa.


A Day on the Harbor Islands

Since I have an interview with the Massachusetts Historical Society for an assistant librarian position tomorrow, I took my "day off" today and spent it, well, reading literature on archival appraisal theory . . . but at least I did it in a national park! I took the Harbor Islands Ferry from Long Wharf in downtown Boston and stopped at both Georges Island and Spectacle Island, where I wandered around taking pictures and intermittently doing my assigned reading.

Georges Island is the home of Fort Warren, built just prior to the American Civil War and active as a military base until after WWII. I find abandoned military forts creepy, haunting, and strangely compelling. There's something satisfying about the fact that they are no longer in use and that the earth is showing signs of reclaiming sites that witnessed a lot of human violence and suffering. But turning these fortresses into parks where people picnic and play is also a bit disturbing--a way of domesticating architecture that was built for much more chilling purposes.

Aptly, I spent my time there reading historian Nell Painter's essay on the psychological ravages of institutional slavery on slaves and owners alike.

From Georges you have a clear view of Boston Light, the first lighthouse to be established in North America, it was lit in 1716 and today is the last remaining American lighthouse to be occupied by an actual lighthouse keeper.

From there, I took the ferry to Spectacle Island, which affords views of Logan Airport, the Boston skyline, and lots of oceangoing traffic. It was strange to see sailboats moving back and forth beneath low-flying jets coming in for a landing.

Harbor Islands

(click on the photograph for the complete album)


Banned Books Week: Unshelved Style

click on the image for more legible view

Unshelved is a daily web comic by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum about the employees and patrons of a public library. Today's strip (above) celebrates the beginning of Banned Book Week (Sept 29-Oct 6). I'm sure that any of you who have occasion to interact with the public vis a vis books (booksellers as well as librarians!) will get a chuckle out of it, like I did.

Hmm . . . I'm not sure I have any controversial reading planned for this week. I will be doing some studying about the Oneida community though--probably group marriage would qualify as controversial in some circles. And I bet I could come up with a way to make the history of public parks in Boston into a controversy as well. Let's see . . .


The Side Effects of Excedrin

Yes, it really is 12:27 am and yes, I'm really writing an entry to this blog. I took two Excedrin this afternoon after work to drive away a lurking migraine so that I could be coherent in Archives class. This plan worked, as far as it went, but now it is the early morning, and I really ought to be sleeping in preparation for my first morning at the DCR internship. Instead, I'm up on the computer, searching for a bakery that serves Boston Cream Pie, reading the latest on feministing, answering e-mail, listening to The Corrs Live in Dublin, and wondering when this late-September heat wave is going to end . . .

I do keep meaning to write that post on all the interesting theory we are reading in my History Methods class, but I've been frittering away my time building silly wiki pages and silly html pages for my "technology orientation requirement" and rooting around for a digital source for my history paper on using primary sources. The digital archives sources I have access to here, as a Simmons student, are mind blowing and time can get sucked into the void of historical enthusiasm with alarm speed. There's this project called "Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000" that has an endless supply of women's history diversions.

I chose a selection from the papers of the Oneida Community, a religious/free love/communitarian experiment that existed in upstate New York during the latter half of the nineteenth century. They report of a "criticism" of one of the women who lived in the community. "Criticism" was sort of like group therapy plus religious testimony: one member at a time would present themselves before the assembly and all the other people would talk about all the ways in which they could improve (morally, spiritually, socially, etc.). Yeah. Not my idea of a fun evening.

Oh, and I'm reading a fluffy novel ostensibly about eighteenth-century spies but which is really a regency romance in disguise (yes, bosoms do heave!) This actually connects rather nicely to the discussion we will be having tomorrow in History about the boundaries between historical fiction and non-fiction history (can the boundaries be drawn? where? are academic historians snobs? is historical fiction an affront to the profession?). That is, if we can make it passed the choppy waters of Foucault's "The Repressive Hypothesis," Joan Scott's "Gender: A Useful Category for Analysis," and Robert Darton's The Great Cat Massacre. One fellow student said to me today, "I didn't understand how they were connected at all!" Since I'm one of the discussion leaders, this is slightly worrying.

That having been said, I had best try to get some sleep, or other students' struggles with postmodernism will be the least of my worries!


Wee Britain in Boston?

Some of you may recall the plot arc of Arrested Development in which Michael (Jason Bateman) is involved in international intrigue, crossing into the settlement of Wee Britain and, for a short while, dating a mysterious young woman named Rita (played by Charlize Theron). Well, it was the first thing that came to mind when I walked passed this sign on my way to the Arnold Arboretum today:

Honestly: do they all wear uniforms? (or maybe robes, and carry broomsticks?) . . . or maybe it's more along the (in)famous Summerhill free school model, and they run around like wild savages and set their own bedtimes at democratic community meetings (more my style).

A little further up the road, while speculating about the nature of British schoolchildren, I happened to stumble across this peculiar architectural specimen:

If it weren't for the half-dozen American flags liberally sprouting from the battlements, I might be tempted to suggest this was the school in question . . . what purpose do you think the giant golden crown serve? Anyone?

Happy Monday!


B&N Pictures

Here are some photos I took on my way to work this morning, at the Barnes & Noble store, and on my way home again.
Barnes & Noble (Boston) #2

I've discovered that (on nice days) it is as fast to walk to work along the Fenway park system as it is to ride the T, so I am getting my exercise without having to get up any earlier than the 7:00-11:00am shift at work requires!


Internship Assignment

Today, I was given my internship assignment for Intro to Archives. I will be working at the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation (which means I will finally learn how to spell "Massachusetts" correctly!), the governmental organization which oversees many of the natural areas in the state, including the Walden Pond Reservation, which I visited on Monday.

For my internship, I will be working under the DCR Plans Archivist to arrange and describe one of two collections (there are two interns assigned to this site) they have of architectural and engineering plans, land surveys and maps that provide information on the properties and structures held and administered by the DCR.


Walden Pond

Today being my self-imposed day of rest, I left early with a sack lunch for Concord, Mass., to take a walk through the Walden Pond Reservation. This meant boarding the T and then switching to the commuter rail at North Station for the remainder of the journey to Concord. I left home at 8:15 and was in Concord by 9:30.

Walden Pond is a mile outside of town, though I made an inadvertent detour by turning the wrong way on Thoreau Street and walking for a good ways through a wealthy suburb before realizing that I was not going in the right direction. I backtracked through town, passed the rail station, and out across, finally ending up on the boarders of the reservation.

Walden Pond

(click on the photograph for the complete album)

I admit that I know very little about Henry David Thoreau, nor have I made any serious study of the transcendentalist movement. The site, however, is beautiful and--despite its well-trodden paths--reminded me of Northern Michigan, particularly the small lake systems I used to canoe in the Upper Peninsula. And I was also reminded of my time at the Oregon Extension, since Thoreau's retreat to Walden Pond was one of the early inspirations for their own educational project.

I stopped for lunch on the far side of the lake, away from the visitor's center. There were several intrepid souls swimming in the water! The guy working at the gift shop later told me told me they swim till it freezes over out there, so I guess this wasn't much different than high summer for them. Sitting by the lake, I caught up on some correspondence and got slightly sun-burnt on the back of my neck for my troubles.

In the park shop, I bought a Dover edition of Margaret Fuller's Women in the Nineteenth Century (and early American feminist tract), which I started reading on the train home. My favorite quote so far? "We would have every path open to woman as freely as to man . . . a ravishing harmony of the spheres would ensue"! (16).

I have to say, of all the results of women's equality, I never put "ravishing harmony of the spheres" on my list . . . but whatever it is, it sounds good to me!

I will definitely have to go back when the leaves start to turn.


". . .but the people working there are fairly nice."

Today, I took a field trip to Cambridge to visit the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, one of the largest repositories of archival material on women's history in the United States. The impetus for the visit was an assignment for my Archives class, in which I had to visit an archive and describe the experience. However, I admit that enjoyed the very personal pleasure--perhaps more aptly described as "reverential awe"-- of simply by being in the same space where so much of the history (or herstory as many feminists would insist!) I care about is preserved, and the historical work I value done.

(Note: In the photograph above, the banner above the library's main entrance reads "Votes for Women!" in the suffragist colors of violet and gold).

Aside from the pilgrimage aspect of the visit, I actually chose the Schlesinger because they are the repository for the Boston Women's Health Book Collective records. (The BWHBC is the collective that wrote--and continue to update--the classic book Our Bodies, Ourselves, and are feminist advocates on a variety of women's health issues worldwide). Our Bodies, Ourselves was one of my earliest, most comprehensive, and unabashedly feminist forms of sexual education and it remains near and dear to my heart (as well as close at hand on my reference shelf). I was interested in seeing some of their earliest manuscripts and gleaning what I could about the collective consciousness-raising process that had led them to publish the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves--then called Women and Their Bodies: A Course--which sold for 75 cents in 1970, and was intended as a working study guide for women's health workshops.

The original publication was fun to browse through, permeated as it was with the language and political ethos of the women's liberation movement which had given it birth. The first chapter of the 1970 edition, for example, is titled "Women, Medicine, and Capitalism"; a later chapter on abortion describes the hurdles unmarried women face when seeking birth control. A footnote highlights a single clinic in Boston where women--regardless of marital status--can obtain birth control no questions asked. The authors of the chapter observe: "this program is financed by the federal government, but the people working there are fairly nice."

The most fascinating folder of material I read through was a collection of newspaper clippings and letters detailing the backlash to Our Bodies, Ourselves in the late 70s and early 80s when, apparently, it was being used quite widely in high schools as part of the health curriculum! In this age of abstinence-only education, it's amazing to me that OBOS ever made it into high school libraries, let alone the curriculum. One teacher from Pennsylvania wrote the collective and described in detail how her students (ages 14-18) had used the book as part of a human sexuality class, including their sophisticated interactions with a pro-life activist who insisted on coming to the class and speaking on abortion. Another letter, written to a high school librarian in 1978, was from a pediatric doctor with teenage daughters who lauded the librarian for her defense of the book and observed:
Young people are far better served by the combination of access to all valid knowledge, even if at variance with parental thought, and the opportunity to discuss this openly with concerned and mature adults.
On the other side of the controversy, of course, were outraged parents and organizations such as the Moral Majority, which sent leaflets to its members detailing (in their minds) unacceptable sexual and political content of the book. One man was quoted in a 1981 newspaper clipping: "I am challenging [defenders] of this book to walk into church and read material out of Women, Our Bodies, Ourselves [sic]"--clearly expecting his audience to be shocked by the idea (though I rather like the image myself).

While this particular trip to the archives was a self-contained event for the purpose of a class assignment, I chose the content with an eye to my interest in feminist activism around sex and sexuality education, and who knows--these records may continue to play a role in my graduate education as I begin the task of designing the project for my history thesis.