Category: History

Carrying Community: The Black Midwife’s Bag in the American South

The classic 1953 documentary film All My Babies features the life and work of Mary Coley, a legendary African-American “granny” midwife.1 The film follows Coley as she travels around her rural Georgia community carrying her ever-present black satchel. In one memorable scene, the exhausted midwife returns home after a long night of “catching babies.”2 As… Read more →

A Miscarriage of Justice

My book, A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil (Stanford University Press, 2020), begins and ends with the story of twenty-nine-year-old Isalina Vieira, a Brazilian woman living in the country’s capital of Rio de Janeiro. One October morning in 1912, Vieira went into labor. She called her female… Read more →

Just Being There: The AIDS Crisis and the Shanti Project’s Hospital Counselor Program

When Ward 5B premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, the nurses of the first AIDS inpatient unit in the United States walked down the red carpet with movie stars Julianne Moore and Halle Berry. Garnering critical and popular praise as well as Oscar buzz, Ward 5B explores the famed AIDS unit from the time it… Read more →

Containing Explosives: The Cold War Link between Bombs and Breasts

I don’t know that it’s possible to watch Mad Men without experiencing a healthy envy of Betty Draper’s flawless white, suburban housewife aesthetic. Produced by Matthew Weiner and created by Lionsgate Television, Mad Men (2007–15) brilliantly narrates the gripping Cold War story of mysterious executive Donald Draper and his colorful coworkers and acquaintances at an… Read more →

Assassination as Cure: Disease Metaphors and Foreign Policy

On January 3, 2020, I was at my mother’s house where CNN is her constant companion. A drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and nine others. I was horrified and wanted to hear the news, but I was only half-listening because I hate CNN’s so-called analysis and… Read more →

Death, Danger, and Decadence in 1920s Dublin: The Murder of Honor Bright

After the body of twenty-five-year-old Dublin woman Lizzie O’Neill, also known as “Honor Bright,” was found in June 1925, Irish newspapers jumped on the sensational story. The case had everything that readers sought at the time: a who-dunnit featuring the murder of a young, glamorous woman, a pair of unlikely well-off and respectable suspects (a… Read more →

Making Room for Miscarriage

After I miscarried my first pregnancy, I quickly realized that I needed a historical perspective to make sense of this shockingly unexpected and distressing event. Before I got pregnant, I had no idea that around 20% of confirmed pregnancies miscarry, mostly in their early months, and that miscarriages are a normal part of childbearing for… Read more →

“Keepers of the Light”: A Musical History of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus

Music forms a critical part of every documented human culture, providing a functional and emotional form of communication. Studies show that individuals who make or listen to music experience heightened levels of oxytocin and endorphins, resulting in decreased pain perception and relief from symptoms of depression. Within groups, creating music can sync heartbeats, leading to… Read more →

Worcestershire Sauce and the Geographies of Empire

Had a Bloody Mary to drink at brunch? Ate a Caesar salad last week? Munched on deviled eggs at that party? All of these dishes, and many more, commonly are made with Worcestershire sauce. But behind this seemingly innocuous condiment is a much larger colonial history that touches on issues of authenticity, domestication, and Anglicization…. Read more →

The Case for an African Magneto: African Experiences of Torture and Oppression during World War II

The internet broke in August when Zack Stentz, the writer of X-Men: First Class, tweeted that he wanted Giancarlo Esposito to play a reimagined Magneto. Stentz proposed that Esposito’s Magneto could be a Tutsi man who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide and became a different version of the classic character featured in the X-Men comics,… Read more →