Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Telling history through families

Historians are using families to tell history. Some examples, of which I have read only the first:

Anne F. Hyde, Empires, Nations and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011). It's not news that long-range business transactions worked better when family ties were involved. The same was true in the fur trade and other trades on the far side of the Mississippi. Among other things that meant that the Chouteaus and the Bents had family connections with their Native American trading partners. Generations of mixed-race people worked together. But their world began to end as land-hungry squatters advanced on the west (loudly insisting that the government protect their often illegal intrusions), eastern Indians were forced westward onto the plains, and scientific racism sought to classify and divide by blood quanta. Although the book feels disorganized, reading it gave me a new outlook and attitude on the whole process (and on its less documented form east of the Mississippi a generation and more earlier).

Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hebrard, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012). According to reviewer Maurice Jackson in the April 2013 American Historical Review, "a superb microhistory and a transnational history of Atlantic migration," focusing on a family beginning with Rosalie, kidnapped and enslaved from Senegal in West Africa and enslaved in Haiti, then to Cuba after Napoleon's 1801 invasion, then to New Orleans, then to Pau, Basses-Pyrenees, France. The story spans several generations, several revolutions, the US Civil War, the Holocaust, and Belgian tobacco merchants -- all in this mixed-race family.

Erika Kuhlman, Of Little Comfort: War Widows, Fallen Soldiers, and the Remaking of the Nation after the Great War (New York: New York University Press, 2012). According to reviewer Nancy K. Bristow in the June 2013 American Historical Review, "a triumph," bringing together many historical approaches and human voices. After World War I, officialdom in both the US and Germany "celebrated widows as symbols of patriotism and devotion to the nation." They "often served as justification for continued militarism. Widows, though, did not necessary accept this role."

Harold Henderson, "Telling history through families," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 June 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Geolover said...

Thanks for these reviews -- books to have on the shelf.

An older but enduring favorite of mine is Katie Yoder Lind's /From Hazelbrush to Cornfields, the First One Hundred Years of the Amish-Mennonites In Johnson, Washington and Iowa Counties of Iowa 1846-1946/ (Kalona, IA: Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa, 1994), 755 pp., every-name index, map.

The author sets the Mennonites' migrations in historical context, and includes many details on evolution of agricultural practices: from use of the walking plow to "How the Chicken Yard changed." Notes on how deaths in the epidemic of 1917-1918 affected the families are food for thought. The volume also includes extensive genealogical material on families of the vicinity, not all of whom were Mennonites.

Harold said...

Thanks, Geo. I had never heard of this book but it sounds like a keeper. I am pleased to see that it is available at both Fort Wayne and Madison . . . and at the Mennonite library in Goshen, Indiana!

Geolover said...

Harold, yes, it is a gem. If you should look for it when intending to do ~work~ at Ft. Wayne, count on spending an hour with it at the very least (heheheh). Good books are their own reward.

Michael Hait said...

Add another one, which I am currently about halfway through reading:

Carla L. Peterson, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011).

Michael Hait said...

See for more information.

Harold said...

(Added to the virtual pile.) Thanks, Michael. It sounds monumental!