Category: History

“A keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life”: Pandemic Journaling in the History Classroom

In January 2020, I showed students a clip of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in the documentary A Midwife’s Tale. Ulrich discusses how she reconstructed the life story of midwife Martha Ballard from the sparse entries left behind in Ballard’s diary. The diary covered all aspects of life on the Maine frontier in the late eighteenth… Read more →

Such a Pretty Tsaritsa

In her 2018 memoir Such A Pretty Girl, Nadina LaSpina describes her childhood in mid-twentieth century Sicily, and the pitying comments directed at her, a disabled girl, that cast her in two lights: attractive, but damaged.1 LaSpina contracted polio as a child, which left her without the use of her legs. Her family moved to… Read more →

Talking Back to the NIH

In January 2018, Serena Williams went public about how she almost died after giving birth to her daughter. Williams has a history of blood clots, and when she recognized the signs of a clot after her C-section, she walked up to her nurse and asked for exactly what she needed. But as she tells it,… Read more →

Clara Immerwahr: Science’s Tragic and Surprisingly Modern Heroine

A woman is in an unhappy marriage. After much stress and hard work, and a healthy dose of sexism in her lab, she’s also awarded a doctorate in chemistry. After having graduated with Latin honors, the woman’s graduate research is on the solubility of different chemicals, including mercury, copper, and other important metals commonly used… Read more →

Asymptomatic Lethality: Cooper, COVID-19, and the Potential for Black Death

Black people in the United States have long known that all white people, at any time, have the potential to hurt them. For centuries, white people have had easy access to histories of racial power and deploy them, almost like a pathogen, against Black people. Against people like me. Before the country erupted into a… Read more →

Absolutely Disgusting: Wet Markets, Stigma Theory, and Xenophobia

Since the initial descriptions of cases of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, there has been a persistent focus on “wet markets” and their role in spreading the virus. Wet markets are similar to farmers’ markets, offering stalls selling fresh meat and produce, with some markets featuring the slaughtering of animals on-site, which can – albeit… Read more →

COVID-19 Didn’t Break the Food System. Hunger Was Already Here.

Like everything else in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, American food has become almost unrecognizable overnight. Grocery stores picked clean of pantry items and baby formula. Closed schools jeopardizing millions of students’ access to meals. Restaurants converting to delivery and takeout, or shutting their doors, perhaps never to reopen. Produce rotting in the fields… Read more →

Understanding Her Position and Place: An African American Nurse at the Stewart Indian School, 1908-1917

In September 1908, Allie Helena Barnett left her family in Atchison, Kansas, and traveled to Carson City, Nevada, where she had accepted a job as a nurse at the Stewart Indian School. Barnett, an African American woman, had graduated from nursing school at Provident Hospital in Chicago in 1906. At the Stewart Indian School, she… Read more →

A Complete Halt to the Liquor Traffic: Drink and Disease in the 1918 Epidemic

When the annual Pennsylvania convention of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) began on October 4, 1918, delegates “rejoiced” that the state Board of Health had closed all saloons, and most other sites of public assembly, as a preventive measure against the influenza epidemic. The most influential organization advocating for prohibition, the WCTU pressed for… Read more →

Living in Isolation and Connecting through Reading, 1930–1946

Amid all the dramatic headlines about COVID-19, news stories describe how people now share anniversaries, birthdays, and other occasions with windows between them to prevent the spread of infection to those most vulnerable to its consequences. These twenty-first century encounters remind me of early twentieth-century letters I read in the Iowa Women’s Archives, written during… Read more →