This Week’s Readings, February 17-February 23

Academic Articles and Chapters:

George Basalla, “Transformed Utilitarian Objects,” Winterthur Portfolio 17, no 4 (Winter 1982), 183-201.
James Carrier, “Reconciling Commodities and Personal Relations in Industrial Society,” Theorizing and Society 19, no 9 (October 1990), 579-598.
Rachel P. Maines and James J. Glynn, “Numinous Objects,” The Public Historian 15, no 1 (Winter 1993), 8-25.
Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, “Viewers Make Meaning,” In Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 45-71.
Gloria Vollmers, “Industrial Home Work of the Dennison Manufacturing Company of Framingham, Massachusetts, 1912-1935,” The Business History Review 71 (Autumn 1997), 444-470.


Marie Jenkins Schwartz, Birthing A Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (New York: A.A. Knopf, 2016).

Essays, Think Pieces, and the Like:

Noah Berlatsky, “Bari Weiss and the Solidarity of the Punditry Class,” Forward, February 20, 2018.
Carolyn Herbst Lewis, “What Claire Fraser Didn’t Know about J. Marion Sims,” Nursing Clio, August 12, 2014.
Chris McDaniel, “Missouri Fought for Years to Hide Where it Got Its Execution Drugs. Now We Know What They Were Hiding,” Buzzfeed, February 20, 2018.
Perri Klass, “Caring for Siblings of Sick or Disabled Children,” New York Times, February, 12, 2018.
Sarah Kurchack, “I’m autistic. I just turned 36 — the average age when people like me die,” Vox, February 19, 2018.
Latonya Pennington, “Despite Legacy of Racism, Black Women Rock On,” The Establishment, July 2, 2016.
Sarah Tuttle, “A Tragic Tale of ‘Nature’,” Medium, September 7, 2017.
Cathy Young, “Leave Bari Weiss Alone,” Forward, February 14, 2018.


I Stand with West Virginia Teachers

Kayetta Meadows and Jennie Shaffer knew what they had to do. It wasn’t an easy decision, but after days of delegation with Governor Gaston Caperton and other state officials, they informed members of the West Virginia Education Association of their next move: a teachers’ strike would happen across the state.

On Wednesday, March 7, 1990, West Virginia teachers, under the direction of the Meadows and Shaffer, West Virginia Education Association president and vice president, went on strike for the first time in the state’s history. The motivation behind the move to strike related to teacher salaries. At the time, West Virginia teachers were ranked 49th in the nation regarding pay.

The governor and state legislators claimed they offered a five percent pay increase for teachers and higher education employees, and $6.5 million for PEIA, or the Public Education Insurance Agency, but rescinded this offer when teachers did not call off their strike. Teacher labor leaders responded that they neither heard nor agreed to such offers.

During the strike, Meadows, Shaffer, and West Virginia Federation of Teachers President Bob Brown met with the governor and state officials, while other strike leaders met with state legislators and National Education Association representatives from Washington, D.C. The NEA promised its support, and Brown promised that his teachers wouldn’t cross picket lines. Union leaders requested a special legislative session to discuss their concerns before teachers would return to their classrooms, though the governor refused to hold a special session until educators ended their strike.

In a sign of worker unity, 46 of 55 counties in the state, one that was ranked 49th nationally regarding teacher pay, walked out of their classrooms. Eventually another county joined, bringing the total number of striking counties to 47. Teachers picketed in front of their schools, and hundreds marched in Charleston, the state capital. In 19 counties, officials canceled classes for nearly half of the 328,445 public school students enrolled in the state.

In Jefferson and Greenbrier counties, officials attempted to force teachers to return to work through legal pressure. Thomas Steptoe, Jefferson County circuit judge, issued an injunction for teachers while the Greenbrier County Board of Education declared that any teachers who remained on strike on Monday, March x, would be fired. State Attorney General Roger Thompkins declared the strike illegal and threatened teachers with the loss of their jobs if they remained on strike. These pressures mirrored statements made by state superintendent of schools Henry Marockie.

The 1990 strike wasn’t easy, but solidarity between education labor unions and among members meant that the demands of the teachers were heard. Teachers throughout the state picketed in front of their schools. Hundreds marched in Charleston. Ultimately, the efforts of the teacher’s union resulted in faculty senates in each school. After eleven days of striking, teachers received major pay increases, moving them to the 37th in the nation.

Throughout the state, union officials have stated that each county will see walkouts in light of the state budget that offers only a 1% pay increase each year for the next five years. The most recent pay raise for teachers came in 2014, but with rising out of pocket healthcare costs, the raises were negligible; many teachers lose take home pay in this system.

This week, West Virginia public school teachers need our support as they strike once again, continuing a legacy of teacher labor activists in the state. It’s not the first choice of West Virginia teachers to leave their classrooms. They are the stewards of children’s education, but they simply cannot fulfill their duties as educators without knowing that they will receive a salary and benefits that reflect the value of their labor. In light of the pressures that teachers face, not forgetting the threat to their personal safety because of the ease with which semi-automatic assault rifles can be purchased, educators deserve our support now.

Edit: see Sarah Jaffe’s “West Virginia Teachers Walk Out” in Dissent for more.

“That’s your bread and butter, boy!”

I recently returned home to attend a funeral on my father’s side of the family. The drive home is almost 4 hours, and to make it to the funeral home for the service was another 45 minutes. Completing such a trip in 24 hours is a marathon of driving, eating, drinking, chatting, and hugs. It’s relatively unpleasant, but the trade off is seeing my family.

On this particular occasion, the funeral home was near the still-active paper mill in which my paternal grandfather and his brother-in-law worked. The house that my dad grew up in was the same one where I spent my first decade and my early teen years. It was far enough from the paper mill that we weren’t immediately exposed to the sensory cues that an industrial process was taking place near home; no truck traffic, no smoke stacks in our backyard. I’m certain that my body was exposed to molecular carcinogens that haven’t left since.

If you’ve been near a paper mill, you know that they stink. Not like chemicals, not like the burning of paper. It’s a gaseous smell (I’ve heard some describe it as “propane,”) but one that, frankly, smells like flatulence. It’s unpleasant, and when the family needed to drive past the campus of the mill to visit relatives or do other errands, shrieks arose from the backseat where my brother and I held our noses, at once giggling and telling our parents, “no, you really don’t know how bad it smells!”

My close-to-my-heart knitting research project is on hold this semester while I examine and historicize crepe paper. Paper is present everywhere, and so many texts that explore the history of the material begin such statements. I never thought about my own personal connection to the material, because everyone has one. Thank you cards, love letters, to-do lists, diplomas, birth certificates, passports, lecture notes, and so many other paper products exist in our daily lives. This list, of course, does not include food and product packaging. Yet, my personal connection to the material goes beyond using it every day.

When our funeral party broke up, and the mourners returned to their cars, my second cousin approached my dad to say goodbye. Everyone was in good spirits, all things considering, but it still surprised me when he chuckled when he took my dad’s hand.

“John, you smell that?,” he quoted his father and my grandfather, ‘That’s your bread and butter, boy!'”

They laughed, remembering their youth, and their fathers lecturing them when they complained about the smell of the paper mill.

Although I grew up in the same area, breathing in the same air, I never heard the phrase. My dad didn’t follow his father into the world of work at the paper mill, so perhaps it never crossed his mind to share the saying, even though my brother and I complained frequently about the smell. As I pursue this project on crepe paper, its decorative uses, its disposability, I’ll think of the grandfather I didn’t know who worked at the mill in order to buy bread and butter for his family.

This Week’s Readings, February 3-February 9, 2018

Academic Articles and Chapters:

Dannhel, Karin. “Object Biographies: From Production to Consumption.” In History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, edited by Karen Harvey (New York: Routledge, 2009), 123-138.

Heathcott, Joseph. “Reading the Accidental Archive: Architecture, Ephemera, and Landscape as Evidence of an Urban Public Culture.” Winterthur Portfolio 41, no. 4 (2007), 239-268.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of
Race.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 17, no. 2 (1992): 251–74.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commodification As Process.” In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appaduri (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1986), 64-91.

Marcus, Sharon. “Queer Theory for Everyone: A Review Essay.” Signs: Journal of Women in
Culture and Society 31, no. 1 (2005): 191–218.

Preston, Beth, “The Function of Things: A Philosophical Perspective on Material Culture.”

Riello, Giorgio. “Things that Shape History: Material Culture and Historical Narratives.” In History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, edited by Karen Harvey (New York: Routledge, 2009), 24-47.

Scott, Joan, “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis,” American Historical Review 91, no. 5
(1986): 1053-75.

Warren, Wendy Anne, “‘The Cause of Her Grief’: The Rape of a Slave Woman in Early New
England,” Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (2007): 1031–49.

Nelson, Kim Park. Invisible Asians: Korean American Adoptees, Asian American Experiences,
and Racial Exceptionalism. 
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Zagarri, Rosemarie, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

Cornum, Lou, “White Magic,” The New Inquiry, February 5, 2018

Fattel, Isabel, “Why Do Cartoon Villains Speak in Foreign Accents?,” The Atlantic,
February 4, 2018.

Samaha, Albert, “This Teenager Accused Two On-Duty Cops Of Rape. She Had No Idea The Law Might Protect Them,” BuzzfeedFebruary 7, 2018.


A note: I hope to share some of the articles, books, and essays that I read throughout the week here. I won’t post every week, but I am hopeful that creating these lists will encourage me to read more long form essays and other journalistic writing that I tend to miss when courses are in full swing. Please feel free to comment and share what you’ve read, too. I’d love to hear about it!