Friday, November 27, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: the Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War by Eric Foner
"Since its publication twenty-five years ago, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men has been recognized as a classic, an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the causes of the American Civil War. A key work in establishing political ideology as a major concern of modern American historians, it remains the only full-scale evaluation of the ideas of the early Republican party. Now with a new introduction, Eric Foner puts his argument into the context of contemporary scholarship, reassessing the concept of free labor in the light of the last twenty-five years of writing on such issues as work, gender, economic change, and political thought."
"A significant reevaluation of the causes of the Civil War, Foner's study looks beyond the North's opposition to slavery and its emphasis upon preserving the Union to determine the broader grounds of its willingness to undertake a war against the South in 1861. Its search is for those social concepts the North accepted as vital to its way of life, finding these concepts most clearly expressed in the ideology of the growing Republican party in the decade before the war's start. Through a careful analysis of the attitudes of leading factions in the party's formation (northern Whigs, former Democrats, and political abolitionists) Foner is able to show what each contributed to Republican ideology. He also shows how northern ideas of human rights--in particular a man's right to work where and how he wanted, and to accumulate property in his own name--and the goals of American society were implicit in that ideology. This was the ideology that permeated the North in the period directly before the Civil War, led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, and led, almost immediately, to the Civil War itself. At the heart of the controversy over the extension of slavery, he argues, is the issue of whether the northern or southern form of society would take root in the West, whose development would determine determine the nation's destiny." (Amazon product description) Published in 1995 by Oxford University Press
“A realistic biography, a rare find. On putting down this book one feels that one has read the history of all pioneering.” – New York Times Book Review (from back cover)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
By Dee Brown
By Elliott West
"Historians have paid little attention to the lives and contributions of children who took part in westward expansion. In this major study of American childhood, now available again in paperback, Elliott West explores how children helped shape--and in turn were shaped by--the frontier experience. Frontier children's first vivid perceptions of the new country, when deepened by their work, play, and exploration, forged a stronger bond with their surroundings than that of their elders. Through diaries, journals, letters, novels, and oral and written reminiscences, West has reconstructed the lives of the children who grew to become the first truly Western generation." (from the publisher) Published in 1989 by University of New Mexico Press.
By Jonathan Raban
Rachel Calof’s Story
By Rachel Calof
"In 1894, the 18-year-old Calof, a Russian Jew, was shipped to the U.S. to marry an unknown man and stake a homesteading claim with him in North Dakota. She later set down her memories of that time in fluid prose that occasionally reveals a biting sense of humor. Although her circumstances were often pathetic, Calof never is. She writes matter-of-factly about her 12'x 14' dirt-floored shanty, her husband's unappealing family and their unsanitary living arrangements. Each winter, her husband Abe's parents and brother would join them in their home in order to save fuel-an arrangement revealed only on her wedding day. There are pleasurable moments here too, like an impromptu supper of wild garlic and mushrooms (Calof does a taste test to see whether they are poisonous-"It didn't burn or taste bad, so I swallowed it"). Childbearing is particularly difficult: Calof seems to be constantly pregnant, and her superstitious mother-in-law keeps her secluded after the birth of her first child until she begins to hallucinate about demons. An epilogue by Calof's son, Jacob, picks up the courageous author's story in St. Paul, Minn., in 1917, while an essay by J. Sanford Rikoon on the phenomenon of Jewish farm settlements provides fascinating background." (from Publishers Weekly) Published in 1995 by Indiana University Press.
Friday, November 13, 2009
By John Carter
"Dugouts and sod houses were the only shelter for homesteaders in the 1870s and '80s on railroad and government land grants of the Nebraska plains. Twenty years later, there were frame houses, farm machinery, even automobiles and an emerging Main Street here and there. S. D. Butcher, a self-confessed pioneer failure who, happily, was successful at photography, recorded it all. In this vibrant collection of Butcher pictures from the University of Nebraska files, we see, for the most part, family portraits with farm and ranch backgrounds, but there are also schoolchildren, skating parties, rodeos, pretty cowgirls, and pelts nailed to the barn door. Carter's text, and quotes from regional authors, retrace the story of heartland America. The high quality of the reproductions from antique glass negatives helps make this a superb portrait of a bygone time." (from a Publishers Weekly review)
Published in 1985 by University of Nebraska Press.
By Donna M. Lucey
Published in 2000 by Mountain Press Publishing Company.
Homesteading: A Montana Family Album
By Percy Wollaston
Published in 1999 by Penguin.
Land in Her Own Name: Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota
By H. Elaine Lindgren
Published in 1996 by the University of Oklahoma Press
Women of the Northern Plains: Gender and Settlement on the Homestead Frontier, 1870 – 1930
By Barbara Handy-Marchello
Published in 2005 by Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Published in 1986 by Bison Books.
Nothing to Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother
By Carrie Young
Published in 2000 by the University of Iowa Press
Friday, November 6, 2009
In the course of writing and research my posts, I happened across the National Park Service page on the Artist-in-Residence program. Hmmm… wouldn’t that be interesting, I thought. Next thing I knew, I got a call from Homestead saying my application had been accepted!
But what to do for my program? The germ of an idea came when I applied for the residency. As I searched the park’s website for information so I could write a coherent proposal, I found this article on the nineteenth-century exodus of freed slaves, who became known as Exodusters. An estimated 20,000-40,000 of them poured out of the South, most in 1879 and 1880. Kansas, with its abolitionist history, was the prime destination of these African-Americans.
This was one of the greatest migrations in American history, yet I had never heard of it. I asked many people, black and white, if they were familiar with this movement, and found only one person who was.
So naturally, I knew this HAD to be my subject!
How to present this information became my next focus. After some back and forth with the Homestead rangers, I settled on writing and performing a monologue about a white woman from New Jersey (me) telling the story of her move to Kansas with her family to become homesteaders, and how she befriends an Exoduster.
Then I tackled the research. I must have read all or parts of around twenty books (some of them children’s books, which provide information simply and concisely), about the Homestead Act, blacks in the West, women in the West, and the Plains states in general. I took voracious notes, picking up little bits and pieces to use to give authenticity and flavor to the plot slowly evolving in my head (the tale of the 1874 grasshopper invasion I owe solely to Laura Ingalls Wilder!). The three books I relied on most were Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction by Nell Irvin Painter; In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 by Quintard Taylor; and especially In Search of Canaan: Black Migration to Kansas, 1879-80 by Robert G. Athearn.
Finally, I began to write. I wrote so much than I ended up with 42 pages! If I’d kept it at that length, I’d have talked for two hours! I reminded myself that first and foremost I was telling a story, and even though the historical facts were important, the characters were what would make the narrative come alive. A few days of editing and revising yielded a much tighter, more manageable manuscript.
After that, it was just practice, practice, practice!
If I was blessed enough to have you in the audience when I performed Steal Away, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You calmed my biggest fear—that I would be boring—by giving me your full attention as I wove a nearly-forgotten piece of history through the fictional tale of an unlikely friendship. And when one of you said to me, “I’ll never look at a sunflower the same way again,” I uttered to myself the phrase every artist longs to be able to say: They got it!
Next year you will have a different Artist-in-Residence. Who knows if it will be a sculptor, painter, photographer or even another writer? My hope is that he or she will be as enriched as I am for having been at Homestead.