Sunday, August 6, 2017

Historians Against Slavery and Teaching Modern Slavery

After coming back from the SHEAR (Society for Historians Annual Meeting) in Philadelphia, PA I was inspired to write a piece for the Historians Against Slavery blog. Check it out here: Thoughts on Teaching: Why Modern Slavery Belongs in a History of Slavery. I use the piece to explore my past approaches to History of U.S. Slavery and reflect on the need to bring the discussion of modern slavery into future courses on the topic. Shout out to my colleague Bridget Diamond-Welch and her students in the Spring 2017 Human Trafficking course for inspiring me with their work.

A photo of some of us from my Spring 2017 Race and Slavery in U.S. History course participating in the Red Sand Project installation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thoughts on Wonder Woman

So, did I like the movie Wonder Woman? You betcha. But there is a lot more to say about it! Fortunately, I was invited to join Jackie Hendry on SDPB's radio program In the Moment to talk about the summer blockbuster and the history of the character.

From SDPB:  

Wonder Woman has been the subject of scrutiny since her comic book debut in 1941, from her costume to her feminism. So how does this summer's movie match up to the character's origins? Sara Lampert is assistant professor of history and coordinator of the women, gender and sexuality studies program at the University of South Dakota. She spoke with her former student, SDPB's Jackie Hendry, about the movie's relationship with history and gender politics.

Visit to list to the program. There's also an extended cut from the interview. And don't miss Jackie Hendry's fantastic interview with Vince Schilling of Indian Country Media Network about Native American representation in the film.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating character and her history, pick up a copy of historian Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014), which explores the work of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, and his partners and inspiration Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

“Dear Miss Cushman”: The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

Cross-posted from
Explore Rural Women's Studies to learn more about rural women’s studies research and activism around the world and connect with scholars in the field. To learn more about the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA), check out the website and visit RWSA on Facebook.

As an early republic historian working on the gender history of commercial entertainment, I am always on the lookout for Carrie Meebers, or women and girls who can open up the longstanding trope of the country girl seduced by the city. Carrie Meeber is the heroine of Theodore Dreiser’s turn-of-the-century novel. This is a quintessentially urban tale: Carrie is awakened to the seductions and possibilities of mass culture and urban life by her explorations of the city. Her rural girlhood and the dreams that brought her from Waukesha to Chicago are dispensed with in the first page as the rural landscape of her Wisconsin childhood rushes by on her train bound for Chicago. These gestures deploy familiar tropes, rural girlhood as ennui. Carrie releases a faint sigh for “the flour mill where her father worked by the day” and the “familiar green environs of the village,” but as then train picks up speed, “the threads which bound her so lightly to her girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.”[1]

Charlotte Cushman.  Half plate daguerreotype, ca. 1855.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZC4-13410.

Dreiser does not give us a chance to spend more time with Carrie in Waukesha, to read her letters with sister Minnie in Chicago, survey the sheet music on her parlor piano or open the chest in which Carrie might have kept press clippings and women’s periodicals and catalogs. How might her rural girlhood have shaped her expectations about the world she would exit into at other end of the train line?
In Washington D.C. while researching 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, I briefly stumbled into the world of Eva McCoy, a girl from rural Illinois who penned a piece of fan mail to her idol in 1874.[2] The letter survives today taped into a red bound volume in the Charlotte Cushman Papers in the Library of Congress. It is likely that the letter was received and read by Cushman’s life partner Emma Stebbins, and later saved by Stebbins, who took on the weighty task of managing Cushman’s legacy after the actress’ death from breast cancer in February 1876. The letter was preserved and later mounted, along with miscellaneous fan mail, much of it from the 1870s and much of it from other women.