Category Archives: History
Joanne B. Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2002), is straightforward and compelling. In it, she argues that the political culture of the United States’ first generation of congressmen under the constitution of 1788 was based on a strong sense of personal honor, governed by “a grammar of political combat.” Because there were no formal political parties, representatives had to try to best represent their constituents in an unfamiliar environment, while working with people from diverse regions whose loyalties or support could never be fully known or assured.
Joanne B. Freeman is a professor of History specializing in the politics and political culture of the revolutionary and early national periods of American History at Yale University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Affairs of Honor won the Best Book award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.
Freeman uses many primary sources to flesh out her argument, including the diary of William Maclay, a member of Pennsylvania’s first two-member delegation to the U.S. Senate. Maclay’s diary was a convincing way to illustrate his contemporary political culture because he seemed to be an observer more than a participant, and was therefore in a good position to critique it. Maclay was not without his biases, however. He was an outsider who was critical of the non-republican nature of congress, and that certainly led him to highlight certain aspects of the political culture that played into his own viewpoint.
In Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800, historian Keith Thomas argued that English sentiments regarding the natural world progressed from exploitation in the sixteenth century to conservation in the nineteenth. Before 1500, the prevailing worldview in England had been that wilderness was something to be subdued and civilized. After 1800, the prevailing belief was that wilderness needed to be saved from misuse by humanity.
The English view of nature prior to 1500 was theologically-based. According to scripture, God created each animal and plant to serve man and subordinate to his wishes and needs. Animals were considered to be automaton without souls, and previously wild animals had to be broken in order to use them as labor and food. Many classical scholars also taught that human beings were unique and separate from the animal kingdom. According to Aristotle, only mankind possessed reason.
The common man used religion and morality to distinguish himself from animals. Evil spirits almost always took the form of an animal, and the devil appeared as a goat. Likewise, mankind’s bodily impulses were negatively equated with animals and considered things to be subdued. Englishmen also labeled outsiders as bestial. Anyone who wasn’t Christian was considered worse than a beast and in need of civilizing. The aristocracy also put the poor into this category. However, Thomas was careful to point out that this “uncompromisingly aggressive view of man’s place in the natural world… was by no means representative of all opinion in early modern England.”
In German Women for Empire, 1884-1945, Lora Wildenthal paints a compelling picture of contributions made by German women in the pursuit of imperial ambitions. In Germany’s African and Pacific colonies, women from diverse backgrounds played a conscious and often enthusiastic role, carving out a place for themselves as guardians of “Germanness” and racial purity. In Imperial Germany, feminism took on a distinctly chauvinistic tone, demonstrating that history is full of nuance.
Germany was late to the colonial game, seizing territory in Africa and Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century. This included modern day Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Togoland, Cameroon, and parts of Botswana and Nigeria. Its Pacific possessions included parts of present day New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. German women participated in the establishment of these colonies through nursing and missionary work. For women who wanted to experience the most independence, nursing was their chosen field. The German-National Women’s League, founded by Martha von Pfeil and Frieda von Bülow, was one of the first and most influential nursing organizations in the colonies.
Wildenthal portrays von Bülow as a striking figure and an adventurous woman who sheltered the German-National Women’s League from male oversight. She evangelized the colonies in several novels, portraying them as an ideal place for women to work alongside men to promote radical German nationalism. Von Bülow, conservatively dressed and menacingly pointing a revolver, graces the cover of German Women for Empire.