Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Playboy under the American mattress...

As Professor Crosby mentioned with post-war America, the rise of consumer culture marked a major turning point for American history, the result of which has had significant effects on the state of our society today. The themes covered in our last two classes reminded me of the book "Playboys in Paradise," by Bill Osgerby. To get some insight on into how youth culture got its start, or how "the American male" has developed and been redefined throughout history, read this book.
This is a fantastic read for AMST, HIST, FGSS or SOC majors, but I would readily recommend this to anyone remotely interested in consumerism or the conditioning of the male gender in America from a historical perspective. This book starts with a highlight of masculinity in the U.S. during the early 1800's and quickly moves to the turn of the century, covering the subsequent evolution of male style and consumer culture in the States until the late 1970's.
Osgerby does an amazing job of covering topics like the progression of masculine identity (the dude, the swinging bachelor etc.), the emergence of male magazines like Esquire and GQ, and the role of the American family over the past century. Osgerby provides a mosaic of historical figures and events that have shaped the way America engages leisure and entertainment. Zuit suit riots, Sex and the Single Girl, and Hugh Hefner's Playboy Empire all make an appearance. Osgerby also evaluates ideals of masculinity in the campaigns and politics of numerous American presidents (in case you wanted to know why Kennedy was so damn sexy. Or Nixon…if that’s what you’re into…)

So, slip this one into your next order if you so please. And if anyone wants to borrow a copy to browse through, just email me at Lhoeffel@wes. Or you can do the whole ‘google’ thing:,M1

Happy Halloween,

Monday, October 22, 2007

Great Read

Hello everybody,
Hope you all aren't too stressed out about the mid-term. But listening to Professor Potter's lecture today about the Japanese internment camps reminded me of a great book I have read that deals heavily with the subject. David Guterson's wrote Snow Falling on Cedars, which some of you may have already read cause it's sort of a modern classic. But if you are at all interested in the post-WWII America, especially race relations, it is a remarkable novel. It really illustrates much of what Professor Potter was talking about in terms of the Japanese loss of property, income, jobs, and really whole lives, and discusses how racism and fear tore communities apart. It's mos def one of the best books I've read in the last 5 years. It won the Pen/Faulkner Award. I've also heard they made it into a movie, but I hear it sucks. But if your interested and looking for a good read over winter break or something, I would highly suggest it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More on Margaret Sanger

Peter and Zoe are engaged in an interesting debate about Margaret Sanger in the comments section of the previous post. The debate, as I understand it, is this: do we need to contextualize Sanger in her own period to understand the ethical dimensions of her work? Zoe notes the complexity of this issue, but also argues that we need to judge knowledge, and the way people act on knowledge, in relation to what individuals understood to be true in their own time. This becomes particularly important, she argues, in relation to science, where evolving scientific "truths" become critical to the formation of ethical frameworks for action. To do other than to judge individuals by the standards of their own world, Zoe concludes, is not history, but presentism. There is a lot of merit to this position, and many historians I know would back her up.

Peter, on the other hand, argues that Sanger's eugenic theories had consequences that were discriminatory in her own time, and became disastrous as they were actualized in other historical phenomena, such as Nazi race science and the Holocaust (I would add to this, Peter, involuntary sterilization of the poor, a practice that continued in the United States well into the late twentieth century.) Given that we know these things are an outcome of eugenic theory, how can we not judge Sanger by a presentist ethical standpoint? How can we assume that Sanger could not have been aware of how her work would be used -- or indeed, the unavoidable consequences of such theories in a society where citizenship was drastically unequal and race a potent method for sorting the desirability of individuals for citizenship? Given social inequality and hierarchies of economic and political power, then, How could Sanger have not known on some level what "we" know: that one woman's reproductive "choice" could be another woman's reproductive "restriction?" Furthermore, she had a great critic in her own time, the Caholic Church, which did argue against her work and its science from a moral and ethical standpoint. I am glad to say that a great many historians would be on Peter's side too in this argument.

Zoe and Peter have hit on one of the great methodological problems of historical writing. It is a particularly important issue when we are addressing historical issues about citizenship that continue to be fiercely controversial, like a woman's right to choose whether to bear children or not. Indeed, many people would argue today that the fetus also has citizenship, an argument that would not have been made in Sanger's day, and some of our laws now reflect that premise. Perhaps some of you have suggestions as to how and why you might make a decision about this kind of problem in your own work. I'm also going to see if I can get one of my colleagues to comment on this issue.

One thing I learned in the last few days as your teacher is that Sanger siezed people's imaginations and raised a number of questions relevant to this section of the course: next year, I'm going to do a day where some of the questions and arguments you all raised about her are more central.


Hannah Freece has done us the favor of sending in an online source about women's suffrage: the digital archive for the National Women's Party. Hannah had some very specific images in mind, but for some reason the links were not admitting me to the right places (they kept telling to go back "home." I am home, dammit!) Anyway, hat tip to Hannah: this is a great source.

Monday, October 1, 2007

If You Are Interested In....

Women's Suffrage: here's a timeline that shows the complex politics leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment (otherwise known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.)

Doing research on Margaret Sanger: here is the website where you can get an overview of her papers. The Sanger colleciton itself, as well as many other great collections on birth control and women's health, are held in the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

This Margaret Sanger and her colleague Ethel Byrne, being tried in a New York courtroom for the distribution of obscene devices in 1916. They viewed this commitment to women controlling their own bodies as a fundamental political right, and their own activism as a responsibility to a greater public.

Contributions From Classmates and Other Interested Parties

Ron Schatz, one of the three twentieth century United States historians currently appointed to the History Department (Next year, there will be four!) and who also teaches this course, sent me a couple of links for the class, which I will also put up on the Blackboard as permanent links. They are for the The National Review, from 1955 on, and The New Republic, from 1914 on. TNR, as its intimates call it, should start being useful to you as we launch this second part of the course; and The National Review is going to be key when we get to post-World War II political transformations and the rise of the New Right.

From time to time, your classmates suggest things that might be useful to the collective you, and as I promised, I am going to use the blog to post them. I don't want to rub it in, but -- remember that this counts as participation, as would reading the articles and responding to them in a comment below. Longer essays, either inserted in an email, or posted during the writing fellows' office hours, will also be posted. If you want to become a regular blogger, let one of us know (me, Stephanie or Ryan), and we'll get you a password. So, without further ado -

From Kim Segall a few days ago: "I went to the New York Times website this morning (actually to do a little research for my paper on citizenship in the United States) and I came across this article. The article seems to touch on some of the topics we discussed in class about citizenship--What do we ask of our citizens? Who can be a citizen? Anyway, if you haven't already read it (doubtful!), you might find it interesting." Click here. Hat tip to Sofi Newmeyer, who also saw the article and sent it on.

Our brief conversation about current events on campus caused Brian Colgan, formerly editor-in-chief and currently executive editor of the Argus, to send a set of three articles about the labor issues at stake in the Usdan dining areas, and student efforts to work with the union to negotiate labor conditions: click here and here and here. Brian also wishes faculty like myself would try to stay informed about campus politics through the Argus: excellent point, well delivered and fully received (although some of us live in fear of being mentioned in a Wespeak.....)

And while we are giving out hat tips, check out Julie Zhao's comment on the post below about civil disobedience, where she compares the Little Rock Nine to the current situation in Myanmar. Good thinking, Julie.