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Posts by Carolyn Herbst Lewis

What Claire Fraser Didn’t Know About J. Marion Sims

by Carolyn Herbst Lewis

I have a not-so-secret weakness for historical fiction series. I think, in some roundabout way, this is what started me on the path to studying history. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, John Jakes' North and South series as a tween, and it's been my genre-of-choice ever since. But there is one series in particular that really is my favorite. Maybe even an obsession. I have no idea how many times I've read and reread the now eight volumes in the series. I've even considered going on one of those themed-vacations, where you visit sites featured in the books. It's that bad. My obsession, I mean. The books are simply that good.

When I say that I'm talking about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I imagine that most of you who have read the books will know what I am talking about. I say "most" because I have heard that there are people who have read the books and didn't like them. Seriously, what's not to like? There is adventure. There is drama. There is time travel. There is really great sex. Unlike so many other titles in this genre, the storyline and many of the characters are decidedly feminist. I could go on, but I think I've gushed enough to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Here I actually want to focus on a particular facet of the series: Gabaldon's careful attention to the history of medicine.

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Our Wellness, Our Selves

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

Recently, I taught my first upper-level course on the history of health and medicine in the United States. The course readings covered a broad base, both chronologically and thematically. The discussions that emerged from two of the assigned texts, however, really stand out in my memory. In fact, in retrospect, I can see that they shaped the emergence of an unexpected theme in the course: a critique of both the concept and rhetoric of wellness that is so prevalent in contemporary American workplaces, including many college campuses.

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Adventures in the Archives…Of Our Lives

This semester, I taught an introductory-level course on historical methods. One of our tasks was to consider an array of historical materials. We read novels and memoirs; watched documentaries and Hollywood films; read speeches and government policies; looked at architectural plans and advertisements for suburban homes. We even watched an episode of Star Trek. Throughout this exploration, a theme we kept coming back to was how people of the past documented their daily lives. This prompted us to consider how historians of the future will examine our daily lives. What sources will they use? What sources are we leaving behind?

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Frozen Pipes on the Prairie

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

We don't have water. The pipes running through our walls are dry. I discovered this situation nine mornings ago. I woke to visit Aunt Nellie, as my great aunt would say, and, after contemplating the meaning of life, I rose, I flushed, and I washed my hands. Except where water once flowed at my beck and call, now there was none. By the end of the day, the plumbers would deliver the verdict: no water was reaching our meter, and there was no break in any of the lines. After two bouts with the polar vortex, the temps of the previous few days, hovering right around the zero mark, had allowed the frost layer to reach deeper than it had ever been. Roughly three times deeper, in the estimation of the local farmers. Somewhere along the eighty feet of pipe running between our meter and the city main (most probably the section that had been repaired last summer and thus is now sitting in disturbed earth, but no one can say for sure without exploratory digging), there is a freeze. All we can do is hope for a thaw.

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Adventures in the Archives: Julia Heller’s “Boy Friends Book”

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.

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Girls, STEM, and My List of “Ingenious Inventors”

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

There is much talk these days about girls and STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In 2009, only 24% of scientists and engineers were women. This is not surprising, given the fact that women comprise only about 17% of the students earning degrees in these subjects, as compared to the 79% of students earning bachelor's degrees in education. There are material benefits to building careers in STEM. A woman in a STEM-related career earns, on average, 33% more than a woman in a non-STEM field. Given the continued gender wage gap, and the high numbers of women in poverty in this country, it makes sense to encourage an interest in STEM. How to do so has been the tricky part. Colleges and universities -- as well as prospective employers -- actively recruit women to enroll in STEM programs. But getting young women interested in these fields has been more difficult. The old maxims that girls don't pursue these interests because “Math class is tough,” and their brains are not “hardwired” for it, no longer suffice. Researchers have found ample evidence that demonstrates that it is a combination of gender conditioning and a lack of role models that make girls feel that they don’t “belong” in STEM. This isn’t just about finding gender equity in the workplace or the college classroom, then; it's also about reframing the gendered messages we send to young girls and women about femininity and science.

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Dropping the K-Bomb

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

Sixty years ago, a great many Americans spent the final weeks of the summer of 1953 thinking about sex. Five years earlier, a hefty scientific volume on the sexual experiences of men had become a surprise bestseller. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male detailed the sex lives of 12,000 American men, revealing incidences of masturbation, premarital and same-sex encounters, and sundry secrets that shocked, intrigued, reassured, and infuriated the nation. Now, it was the ladies’ turn.

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Adventures in the Archives: These Losses Which Are Not My Own

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
Lately I find that my mind is muddled. I have accepted a position at a new institution, so both professionally and personally there are big changes ahead. In the meantime, I am caught in that strange space in-between. I am finishing up projects and responsibilities here, even as I am already making plans and thinking about my courses there. I look around my home and my campus office and all I see are things that need to be put into boxes. It is a strange time in which beginnings and endings are all tangled into one busy mess. No wonder it’s hard to get anything “done”.

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No Green Beans for You

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
One of my escapes is reading Good Housekeeping. When it arrives in my mailbox, I usually take that afternoon “off,” and spend it on my porch swing, sipping coffee or wine as I page through it. Mostly, I read it and find the pleasure in all of the things that I am not going to worry about. The best recipe for mu shu shrimp? There is no way my picky son will put that anywhere near his mouth, so I’m not going to cook it. How to make the craftiest seating cards for a dinner party? Not gonna do it because my dinner parties are self-serve buffets. How to reorganize your closet so that it is color-coded? Not practical in my tiny hole in the wall. Lose five pounds by doing sit-ups before you get out of bed in the morning? I'd rather just hit the snooze button. It’s not that I find this information or these suggestions laughable or useless or anything like that. I do not mean to sound condescending or snobby about it. I love Good Housekeeping. It’s just that most of its contents don’t really have anything to do with the kind of household that my husband and I maintain. And yet I faithfully read it. Why? Because every so often there is something that works for me. [Like the suggestion to use a cup to amplify the music from my iPhone (March 2013, p. 29). I’ve been walking around with my iPhone in a coffee mug for the last four weeks. It’s brilliant.] And I really do find comfort in the feeling of being free from having to do any of the things that the GH articles suggest that I do to make my home, myself, or my family happier, healthier, or prettier.

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“My, What Healthy Breasts You Have!” (said no one, ever)

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
This past May, I attended the annual meeting of the Western Association of Women Historians, which is one of my favorite history conferences (I’m pretty sure there is no other history organization that concludes its awards banquet with a sing-a-long). Usually I hate to miss any of the sessions. But this year, I snuck off with Cheryl Lemus and another historian (I’ll call her L) to do a little “mentoring” in the shops of Berkeley. This isn’t totally facetious, as we were on a mission: to find me a properly fitted sports bra. I had started running a few months earlier, and while I had great shoes and a snazzy outfit, certain other areas of my anatomy were feeling less well-equipped. Cheryl and L are seasoned runners, and they were appalled by my bounce. So, we headed to the only place where any self-respecting women’s historian would go for such things: Title IX Sports.

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