The crush of disaster and upheaval disproportionately falls upon people in oppressed groups. This panel focuses on the extent to which records by those in power express the traumatic experiences of their subjects or of themselves.
The agony of disaster and upheaval is usually far more crushing to society’s oppressed people. But the “winners who write history,” whether they gained or lost from a particular event, are the ones who tell the story. This panel investigates whether the storytellers grant their subjects a voice--or steal the stories to fit their own agenda.
Moderated by Lisa Baer-Tsarfati. Lisa is a doctoral candidate at the University of Guelph. Her research uses natural language processing and vector space modeling to examine language and discourse as instruments of social control in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain. She is particularly interested in the control of women and the regulation of ambition. Lisa has published on the use of invective to reestablish patriarchal authority over politically active women at the court of James VI/I, and she is currently co-editing the fifth volume of the Guelph Series in Scottish Studies.
His Gallant Soul Had Fled: Death, Remembrance, and Race in Early America, by Adam Franti
Reporting the death of generals and admirals in the wars of the long 18th century followed particular patterns and were written for political purposes. Generals lying slain on the field were venerated, celebrated, represented as central to victory or nobility in defeat. Reports, from military dispatches to newspaper accounts, imitated stylistic components from earlier deaths, creating a self-referential genre of death. The pattern changes markedly when applied to the deaths of Native leaders. While similar in style and veneration, the death of Native leaders initiated long-term squabbles over the identity of the man or men responsible, and served as a way to turn the Native struggle into one that reflects white values over Native.
This paper contrasts the death reports of prominent white leaders such as James Wolfe, Isaac Brock, and Edward Pakenham with those of prominent native leaders such as Metacomet and Tecumseh, and explores the racial dimensions of military propaganda.
Adam Franti earned his Master's degree in history from Eastern Michigan University in 2018, focusing on military and cultural history of North America. He has worked on research projects for the National Parks Service and presented research at international conferences with a heavy emphasis on Native American history of the Great Lakes region in the long 18th century. His Master's Thesis focuses on the nationalist historiography of the United States militia during the War of 1812.
Dealing with Catastrophe: Medical Men and the Diseases of Women in 19th century Britain, by Katie Truax
My paper will discuss descriptions of catastrophe in women’s bodies in the medical field in 19 th century Britain. In the first half of the century, before medical school and the medical field were codified and institutionalized, medical men struggled to deal with the diseases of women. Handling gynaecological issues was complicated by the limits of propriety in patient interactions and the limited knowledge of women’s bodies and diseases. Furthermore, the field was often cutthroat and difficult to earn a living in, leading to a continuous effort to create a narrative about women’s bodies and diseases that removed culpability from physicians, protected their reputations, and justified experimentation. This historical moment sheds light on the conflict that can arise between medical professionals, their patients, and their public perception when catastrophic medical events occur. The diseases became “incurable,” the women were blameworthy, and the uncertainty and fatality created long-term effects in the field of gynaecology.
Katie Truax holds a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh, specializing in the History of Medicine. She currently works for Lone Star College in Texas and plans to pursue a doctorate in technology and history pedagogy. She and her students use r/askhistorians to discuss historical thinking and research.
“A Den of Monsters”: Women, Crime, and the City in 1930s China, by Stephanie Montgomery
Emerging out of the chaos of revolution, the Republic of China founded in 1911 faced a dizzying number of obstacles to consolidating power across the former Qing empire. By 1927, the Republican government had gained tenuous control over some eastern coastal cities, launching social, cultural, and political campaigns with mixed results. At the same time, writers in the popular press wrote prolifically on the pervasiveness of crime in Republican-held cities, with special attention to the problem of women’s crime.
This paper examines how popular writers in the 1920s and 1930s imagined women’s crime as an unfolding catastrophe in a rapidly changing society. Their conversation fit into a larger genre of heated debate during this period: the discussion of uneducated, illiterate, foot-bound Chinese women who were economically dependent on men, widely known as the “woman problem” debate. Likewise, in writing on women criminals, popular writers used sociological studies, criminology, and pseudoscience to argue for women's socioeconomic vulnerability, but also their biological predisposition to crime. Influenced by theories of social Darwinism, they concluded that women’s crime was a threat to the domestic sphere, the Chinese race, and to the very future of building a modern Chinese society.
Stephanie Montgomery is an Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College. Trained to teach broadly on the history of twentieth-century East Asia, her research interests also include the history of gender, sexuality, and the body; women’s history; the history of criminality and penology; and the history of science, medicine, technology, and drugs. Dr. Montgomery also co-hosts East Asia for All, a public history podcast that historicizes and analyzes East Asian popular culture. She is currently working on a book, based on her dissertation, entitled, Problem Women: Gender, Criminality, and the Prison in Republican China, 1928-1949.
Young People in the Chinese Great Leap Forward and its Aftermath, 1958-1962, by Melissa Brzycki
Nine years after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, state officials initiated the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), an attempt to rapidly transform the country into a socialist, industrial powerhouse, using increased agricultural production to fund industrialization. The Great Leap Forward constituted a disruption to the lives of all Chinese people, not only because it necessitated the mobilization of all members of society, including children, but also because of the famine (1959-1961) that resulted from Great Leap Forward policies. This deadly famine caused widespread starvation and malnutrition, killing tens of millions of people.
There are relatively few sources that contain the voices and experiences of young people during this period. However, according to official records, the rate at which young people—some as young as 10 or 11 years old—were committing crimes in the late 1950s and early 1960s seems to have been increasing. State records make no connection between these crimes, which include theft and speaking out against state policies, and the Great Leap Forward and famine, but as historians, we can use these accounts to glean some insight into how young people may have reacted to this period of starvation and scarcity.
Melissa A. Brzycki, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the History and Anthropology Department at Monmouth University. Her research focuses on state efforts to create the ideal socialist child and historical children’s experiences in the People’s Republic of China from 1949- 1966. She also co-hosts and co-produces the podcast East Asia for All with Dr. Stephanie Montgomery of St. Olaf College. East Asia for All discusses East Asian pop culture— including movies, TV series, documentaries, fiction, and memoirs — and their relevance to understanding different aspects of East Asian life and culture.