Making the Personal Historical: Reflections on Pregnancy and Birth

Lady and Children

“A Lady & Children,” 1780 mezzotint, the British Museum.

Human reproduction is simultaneously unchanged and radically different over time and across cultures. This paradox has preoccupied me for over a year as I carried and gave birth to my first child one year ago today, and as I watched my sister follow the same path soon after. Throughout my pregnancy, delivery, and now early motherhood, I’ve found myself thinking often long-dead women and pondering how vastly different our experiences of the same condition must be.

Pregnancy and birth generate intense  feelings. Most parents experience joy, hope, and fear. As a historian, I regularly identify with the women I encounter in the archive. The empathy born of our shared biological and emotional experiences generated two additional emotions that most new parents may not: gratitude, on the one hand, and anger on the other. Continue reading

Autumn Reads

Valley_of_the_Catawissa_in_Autumn.jpeg

“Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn,” Thomas Moran (ca. 1862)

Fall brings new early American titles to explore. Enjoy our Spring Reads 2015 list, too, and share your finds below!

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Guest Post: Teaching Toilets in an Age of American Ebola

K.A. Woytonik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of New Hampshire. In 2013-2014, she was a Research Associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her dissertation is a cultural history of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Early Republic Philadelphia.

PennsylvaniaHospitalWilliamStrickland-1A bevy of esteemed scholars across fields have established the devastating effects of early modern epidemics, from Europe’s plagues to the decimation of Native American populations in North America. Epidemics occupied the minds of colonists, who, depending on region and demographics, participated in prevention strategies including quarantine, the destruction of soiled linens belonging to sick individuals, days of fasting and prayer, and immunity-building efforts such as inoculation and changes in diet. In today’s academy, epidemics offer historians avenues of interdisciplinary discussion, as the impact of contagious disease can be read not only in the archive, but in literature, in artwork, and in archaeological findings.

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