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Dynamic duo Marianne Petit and Jody Culkin will be at Maker Faire this weekend (Oct. 1-2) with  “Fairy Tales, Science Fiction and Freud: Telling Stories.” The works consist of  pop-up books with embedded electronics, animation, 3D papercraft, VR, and other materials and objects that tell stories originating in the 19th century.  This would be exciting enough–but to make it event better, one of Jody’s projects is based around Harriet Hosmer’s time travel play 1975.  (Plus, Jody is my aunt.). maker-faire-petit-culkin-2.jpg

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Julia van Haaften, my “seminar sister” in the Women Writing Women’s Lives Seminar, will be speaking about her forthcoming book Berenice Abbot: A Life in Photography on Oct. 17.  I can’t wait for this talk–or for the book to come out.

WWWL Dorothy O. Helly ‘Work in Progress’ lecture
Monday Oct 17, 2016 4-5:30PM
CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue, rm 9205
Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography by Julia Van Haaften

Julia van Haaften has spent a quarter century researching and writing the first-ever biography of American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). It begins with Abbott’s troubled lower middle-class Ohio origins, through post-WWI Greenwich Village and 1920s Paris, and ends after the photographer’s rediscovery in the go-go art world of 1970s New York. Less an obsession than the fulfillment of a mission, undertaken while Abbott was still alive, the book is scheduled for publication by W. W. Norton in fall 2017. The author was the founding curator of photographs at The New York Public Library in 1980 before shifting to its Digital Library Program; she retired in 2010 as director of collections for the Museum of the City of New York. She will discuss the surprises and long meander of her Abbott biography, which was aided by an NEH summer stipend and an NYPL Cullman Center fellowship, not to mention the insight and enthusiasm of the photographer’s many friends and associates.

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The Women Writing Women’s Lives Seminar is hosting a blog on its website in the weeks leading up to its 25th anniversary conference.  Members will be posting their thoughts on feminist biography and memoir and how they have changed in the past 25 years.  The first posts are by Diane Jacobs, author of Dear Abigail, and Carla Peterson, author of Black Gotham. Check back each weekday for new posts.

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The Women Writing Women’s Lives Seminar is having a conference celebrating its 25th anniversary conference on October 2 at the CUNY Graduate Center.

This seminar, of which I’m lucky to be a member, has been instrumental in promoting feminist biography.  The conference description explains, “Biography and memoir writing have been transformed by feminist understandings of women in society. Members of the  New York-based Women Writing Women’s Lives Seminar (WWWL) have contributed to these changes, through their many books, for 25 years. Meeting monthly, these writers, scholars, academics, journalists, novelists, and filmmakers discuss their work and explore new ways of telling women’s stories.”

I’m looking forward to it.

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I spent several days last week at the Sedgwick Symposium in St. Louis, devoted to the study of the 19th-century author Catharine Sedgwick and her contemporaries. The location was selected to honor Sedgwick’s sketch “The Great Excursion,” which appeared in Putnam’s Monthly in 1854. I was honored to be asked to give a plenary talk, titled “‘It is More My Home:’ Harriet Hosmer’s Journey from the Sedgwick School to St. Louis to Rome.” A bonus for me was that several of Hosmer’s works are in St. Louis, giving me a chance to visit them. All in all, a wonderful few days filled with lively, inspiring conversation (and a few local mircobrews)


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The Atlantic Monthly has an interview with the historian Eric Foner, titled “You Have to Know History to Teach It.” It is a sad state of affairs that we need a prominent historian to announce that fact, but it does seem to be where we are at. He also suggests you need a passion for the subject to be a good teacher, a sentiment with which I also agree.

This is my favorite part of the interview:

Do you have other specific advice for what teachers can do to more effectively instruct history students?

The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. A lot of the history teachers in this country are actually athletic coaches. I mention this in class, and students always say, “Oh yeah, Coach Smith, he taught my history course.” Why? Well, Coach Smith is the football coach, and in the spring he’s not doing much, and they say, “Well, put him in the history course, he can do that.”

They wouldn’t put him in a French course, or a physics course. The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it’s ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it’s important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject. They know a lot about methodology. [That’s] important, but as I say, the key thing is really to love the subject, to be able to convey that to your students, and if you can do that, I think you’ll be a great teacher.

Or no, maybe this is:
“I think there’s a general tendency in education nowadays toward what you might call the pragmatic side of education, which is fine. The students need to have jobs eventually, no question about it. But education is not just a vocational enterprise—teaching people the skills that will enable them to get jobs–although that’s obviously part of it. [We]’re also teaching citizens. We try to teach people the skills that come along with studying history. The skills of evaluating evidence, of posing questions and answering them, of writing, of mobilizing information in order to make an argument. I think all of that is important in a democratic society if people are actually going to be active citizens. Teaching to the test does not really encourage emphasis on those aspects of the study of history.”

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In the last month, several of my close friends and warm acquaintances have been mentioned in the New York Times.  I am proud of them all. 

Perri Klass praised Jennifer Hart, aka Book Club Girl, for her work in reissuing the Betcy-Tacy series, calling her the “heroine” of the annual Betsy-Tacy convention.  (And I urge anyone who grew up loving Laura Ingells Wilder to give the world created by Maud Hart Lovelace a try).

Scott Korb, who was my colleague at the Harriet Jacobs Papers, contributed a fascinating article about Jacobs’ work as a reporter in Washington at the beginning of the Civil War to the Times’ Disunion series about the Civil War.  (And that is the second time this year Jacobs has been featured in the NY Times).

William deJong-Lambert, a fellow Bronx Community College history professor, and his wife Cheryl were featured in the article “Where to Go Outside and Play in New York City.” This summer, the deJong-Lamberts published Outdoors with Kids New York City: 100 Fun Places to Explore In and Around New York City.

And finally, Paul Thureen’s theater company The Debate Society was the subject of a laudatory piece titled “Old Friends Whose Past is Always Present.” The company’s new production Blood Play is now in previews the Bushwick Starr.

Congratulations, one and all.



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I love Harry Potter, although I fear I can’t keep up in conversations with the most ardent fans.  Nonetheless, I am excited about the next movie.  And I can’t wait to read this new book on Harry Potter and History, which was edited by Nancy Reagin, a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Pace University.

From the publishers website:

“Harry Potter lives in a world that is both magical and historical. Hogwarts pupils ride an old-fashioned steam train to school, notes are taken on parchment with quill pens, and Muggle legends come to life in the form of werewolves, witches, and magical spells. This book is the first to explore the real history in which Harry’s world is rooted.

Did you know that bezoars and mandrakes were fashionable luxury items for centuries? Find out how Europeans first developed the potions, spells, and charms taught at Hogwarts, from Avada Kedavra to love charms. Learn how the European prosecution of witches led to the Statute of Secrecy, meet the real Nicholas Flamel, see how the Malfoys stack up against Muggle English aristocrats, and compare the history of the wizarding world to real-life history.

  • Gives you the historical backdrop to Harry Potter’s world
  • Covers topics ranging from how real British boarding schools compare to Hogwarts to how parchment, quills, and scrolls used in the wizarding world were made
  • Includes a timeline comparing the history of the wizarding world to Muggle “real” history

Filled with fascinating facts and background, Harry Potter and History is an essential companion for every Harry Potter fan.”

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Thanks to everyone who came out to hear me speak about Harriet Hosmer at the Watertown Free Public Library on Thursday.  It was great to talk about HH in her hometown.  If you are interested in her and ever find yourself in the area, it is certainly worth stopping by and seeing the library’s Hosmer collection of sculptures and artifacts.

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Thanks to everyone who came out to hear me speak about Harriet Hosmer in the Syracuse University History Department and at the River’s End yesterday.  And thanks also to those who tuned into the Stonestreet Cafe. (Remember if you missed the show, it will eventually be archived on the site.  Although, unfortunately, that version won’t include the wonderful music Julia selected, including Nina Simone and Celia Cruz.)  In the biography, I discuss how having a great network of friends was critical to Hosmer’s success.  And I feel very lucky this week to have so many people willing to support me as I bring work of Hosmer and my biography to the public.  Carol, Bill, Mindy and Julia, I am lucky to know you all.

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