24 August 2012

History Reviewlets (Part 1)

   So, I bet that title caught your attention right? I'm sure everyone has a hankering to cuddle up with a nice history monograph, yes? Anyone? No? Really? Well, I am actually one of those people who does enjoy doing that, within reason. I've been reading some of the books my significant other is reading for his upcoming exams, and it's been really fun (for the most part)! Don't tell anyone, but I'm actually getting a Masters education right now without paying for it. (shhhh!) Ok, not really, but I do feel like I'm getting a bit of an "in" here.

   I thought since I hadn't posted in what seems like forever I'd get back into it by giving you little snapshots of what I've been reading with him. I began typing this with every intention of listing all of them, but I realized how long it was getting to be (story of my blog!) and decided to do this in installments. I'm nervous about this because I worry a little that he'll read this and think, "What!? Did you even read that book? That is not what it was saying." (He'll actually be a lot nicer than that) But that will be fine because if I understand something incorrectly he can point out what I missed. So, in order of appearance:

The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward (Completed): It's basically what it sounds like. The book charts the Jim Crow laws in the South, how they came in and how they died (or if they died). This was actually really interesting to me particularly because Mr. Woodward pointed out that segregation wasn't a problem during slavery. Because of slavery there was almost a forced (I hesitate to use) camaraderie that existed between white and black, just due to so much interaction. Also there was a very fixed hierarchy during slavery days. It wasn't until after emancipation did the whites feel a "need" to establish some form of dominance that had nothing to do with owning the now freed blacks. I feel like I ought to have known that. It was one of those things you read and think, "Oh. That makes...so much sense. Why did I not consciously know that before." But yes, I learned something. Also, I enjoyed how the author didn't rail on the southerners. He very fairly pointed out that Jim Crow thinking was kind of an imported idea from the North.

The Search for Order by Robert Wiebe (Completed): Here are my thoughts on this book. 1. It's a very tedious book; 2. I'm sure it is very helpful in establishing a lot of the thinking during the Progressive Era (of particular interest to John); 3. It's a very tedious book; 4. "Wiebe" is a fun name to say in a squeaky voice; 5. Annie and I kept calling it The Search for Search and now I have issues calling it by its official name; 6. It's a very tedious book; 7. There is a very long chapter in it about economics that basically made me look like this.  I hope that sums up how I felt about this one.

The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics 1830-1930 by Anne Firor Scott:  This was probably the most interesting of the books I've read so far (though the one I'll talk about after this is a close second). Most likely because women's history interests me. (Go figure...) Sometimes it can be a little infuriating, but it is very interesting to see what people have to say about it.
Ms. Scott had four main points (see, I really liked it because she laid out her points right in the introduction). 1. The cultural ideal of the "southern lady." 2. The pressure on women to conform to that ideal. 3. The ways in which the actual southern lady differed from the ideal, and 4. The breakaway into freedom from the ideal.  Now, there were very interesting things that I learned. I learned that some historians make the link between the patriarchal system in the home to the patriarchal system in the broader culture (White Americans over Americans of other races). I learned that there were a lot of silly things said about what an ideal woman should be. I wish I hadn't given the book back to the library in order to quote some of this stuff, but one thing I thought was hilarious was how the ideal lady was supposed to be vulnerable and need a protector, yet endowed with a "magic spell" (yes, that was a real quote!) to draw any man in her circle to her, in order to achieve said protector.  It was fairly accepted that unless you married you were basically not fulfilling God's will for you. Also, there were essays written urging women to submit to their husbands even when asked to do something wrong.
However, as funny/disconcerting/infuriating as I do find all that stuff, I do actually believe in the whole 'headship' thing. It's in the bible, so I take it seriously. Though, one also finds, "We ought to obey God rather than men," in the bible. And there are instances of single people having a place in God's plan as well. I do think Ms. Scott would go further than I would in the excoriation of this ideal lady. She gave one instance of a diary kept by a young woman listing what Ms. Scott thought were excessive resolutions. Listed among them were, "Read the bible every morning," "Pray before the rest of the house wakes up." How shocking, don't you think?
Something that stood out to me that I really wish I wrote down was Ms. Scott's apparent confusion that a patriarchal domestic system could actually contain happy marriages. She even said something to the extent of (and this is my paraphrase) "What is surprising is not that so many marriages were unhappy marriages, but that they seemed to be happy." And then she listed letters between husbands and wives that surprisingly contained actual romantic feelings. Imagine that. It's almost like God had a plan for men being the head of the household and it actually works.
So, you may know by the rambling I'm doing here, that I had some ideological differences with Ms. Scott, but I really appreciated her research. Basically I wanted to be her just because she had the opportunity to read diaries and letters and sermons and essays from before the Civil War. That just seems neat to me. I'm glad I read the book.

The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880-1950 by  Jenna Weissman Joselit (In progress): Unfortunately I have not made much progress in this book yet. I had to set it down to read Bleak House for one book club and My Name is Mary Sutter for another. However, the book will end up how it sounds. It will talk about Jewish Culture in America, from 1880 to 1950. (That's the nice thing about History books...or the annoying thing depending on who you are...there really aren't many surprises) From what I understand the author is positing that "Jewishness" in America became more based upon the individual and the home rather than on tradition. This seems like it makes sense considering the American culture of individualism. Anyway, I've really been interested in it.

I think that is all I will do for now. I did go on about The Southern Lady longer than I meant to. I'll have more soon, I hope.


Carrie said...

It is a very attractive title for a post, yes.

I don't want to read that very tedious book.

BerlinerinPoet said...

It is exceedingly tedious. Did I make that clear enough? I felt I was really vague.

bekahcubed said...

I, for one, am not at all upset that you went on about The Southern Lady for longer than you intended. It sounds like a fascinating book. You just have to roll your eyes, though, at comments like Scott's surprise that happy marriages appear to exist within "patriarchal" families. (I love the "seem to exist". Of course that has to be merely an illusion, since how could a marriage possibly be happy with a man at its head?)

BerlinerinPoet said...

@bekahcubed: It WAS fascinating. I mean, even at the times I completely disagreed with her I was interested.

I did laugh at that, yes. I just kind of like when the stuff Christians do ends up working and the world is so surprised when it does. I'm thinking, well, we sort of try to obey an all knowing all powerful God, so it actually makes the most sense that His way would work. hahaha!