Author Archives: caitlinsmithwriter

Working with the Map of Early Modern London

When working on the Map of Early Modern London (MoeML), keep an open mind and look for creative solutions. Research into primary texts, attempting to uncover an earlier point of view, is quite different from researching what others have said about a place or piece since it entered the realm of culture. Here are a few resources to help you one your way:

Map of Early Modern London: The people working on the Map have already gathered a large number of resources. Use the bibliographies and digitized texts. Delve into the articles already published and see where else your site has been mentioned on MoeML. Intricate style guides are located under the “About” tab, and you can learn a lot about the writing style employed by MoeMl as well as what kind of content to look for when you read the articles on the site already.

Libraries: If you are working through an institution, you likely have access to large physical libraries and even larger digital libraries. While you may not be able to find many primary texts, you might come across a Victorian era book available to check out or even read online. Your library will also give you access to vast amounts of online materials; they will possibly have primary texts on your site, and they will definitely give you access to critical articles that can point you to helpful primary texts and give you an deeper understanding of how early modern people thought about particular sites. Critical articles are especially useful for famous sites with large amounts of primary texts. University Libraries also give you access to databases like the Early English Books Online
(EEBO) where you can find scans and searchable transcriptions of a large number of early modern texts.

Google Books: Through Google Books, you can gain access to resources from a number of notable libraries, including Oxford’s Bodleian and the New York Public Library . Google has partnered with a number of book collections to digitize and publish texts from as far back as the 1400s. These texts are not always easy to read, but Google’s search engine is fairly reliable, and you will be able to search the texts for key words. I would also suggest using the search tools function to limit your search to specific dates. Limiting the date can help you locate specific texts or access a range of primary sources from a specific time.

Project Gutenberg: If you cannot access the full texts you need through your library, through Google, or through MoeML, Project Gutenberg can be a great resource. Although this scholarly project does not contain scans or images of the original pages, it does provide accurate transcriptions of primary sources.

Encyclopedias and Surveys: If you are able to find a large amount of text pertaining to your site, encyclopedias and surveys can be invaluable for helping you determine what to add and what to leave out of your article. They also tell you how people understood your site at the time the reference work was published. On the other hand, if you do not find enough about your site, an encyclopedia or survey may be able to point you to primary texts and other resources that can help flesh out the entry. John Stow’s Survey of London has been particularly useful to our class. Because the Map of Early Modern London is a digital encyclopedia itself, encyclopedia articles on your site can also help you develop your writing style.

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Building, building, building

As class is moving forward, we are shifting more to writing about our research and presenting our research. We have been putting our findings on the Transatlantic site all along, but now we are actually building our own exhibits and writing about the things we’ve found and it is all very exciting and much more work than I anticipated.

I use the Internet all the time, to shop and find coupons, to relax on my favorite websites, to watch shows and movies, and to research everything from the artists mentioned in my Victorian Literature class to Steampunk costume ideas. I love borrowings around good exhibits, and although I was aware a lot of work went into developing complex websites, I never really considered how things got online.  After the last few weeks of class, I will never see websites the same again.

Dr. May thought we should know more about how our particular website works as well as the basics behind all websites, so we spent an entire class learning to code HTML and then another week building sites.

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(Mine is pretty!)

The site I built in class  (featuring images of books and text from my own version of “Beauty and the Beast”) helped me put together a five-page site to display the research and work I have been doing on Emily D. West and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

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I am so proud of this website; it may look like a super-simple, text-based 90’s site (because it is) but I poured myself into building it, finding perfect (and free) images of vintage wall paper to use for wall paper, coding out the lines of the song (each line has to have its own paragraph tags, which can take ages to type), and compiling everything in the simple text editor. I also gave myself some great headaches from staring at the screen for so long and managed to impress/annoy most of my friends by proudly displaying my work.

While we were busy building our own sites, Dr. May has been working on our exhibit, and it is looking beautiful:

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(That is some of my sheet music in the image at the top!)

Everyone’s personal research has come together into a smooth story: the tale of slavery in Texas and the effect it had on the people and the culture therein. We have talked about transitions—how Texas was a place where many new slaves were sent to be broken, the way the state transitioned from a Mexican holding to a republic and then a member of the United States of America and how this affected slaves and slavery, and even the transition of the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas” as time and re-telling changed its tale.

I don’t think I can actually convey the sheer energy building up in each class as we gather and compare notes and look for next steps forward while making sure the last steps are securely in place, but I know we are on our way. This exhibit, with our team pulling in research and insight and Dr. May leading us into the realm of the Great World Wide Web, is going to be a great exhibit. We have amassed tons of papers and documents to read and transcribe. We have put in hours not only finding our documents, but also entering them into the site and typing all the little bits and pieces of data to ensure people can find and use the images.

And after studying other archives this week, I know we are building something just as professional, just as scholarly, and just as interesting here in our little class. And it’s amazing.

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Out of the Mess

This past week, we worked on the archive projects, which everyone dove into. With so much momentum and enthusiasm displayed in class, Dr. May decided to give us another week on the project and push his own plans from the syllabus back a bit.  As my other classmates have been doing secondary research and making research trips, I’ve been plumbing the depths of the Internet to get to the depths of the archives. I’ve arranged a visit to the Baylor University Texas Collection archives to gather more primary sources, including a music file hopefully, and I’ve been contacting libraries around the United States to get access to some of their documents.

I am particularly looking for information pertaining to Emily D. West and the Yellow Rose of Texas legend, including the song. I’ve written the Library of Congress, Texas A&M University, Dallas Baptist University, Texas’ State Archive, and Baylor so far. I’ll spend more time searching through other databases and sending out more humble requests. (Don’t worry Dr. May, I’ve arranged to do more in-person research at Baylor this Friday, per the assignment!) I don’t want to jinx it, but I have yet to find the persnickety librarian of stereotyped lore. All the librarians I’ve contacted have been very obliging, going into their systems to look for information, sending me links I can use to search myself, even double-checking the items I requested to make sure they are what I described.

I’ve found some interesting archives among all these libraries. I should save this for a later class assignment (dibs!) but I wanted to show you some of the beautiful work other people have done on Texas history!

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This archive was put together for the Texas State Library and Archive. I love how tidy the exhibit is. It’s pretty, well-written, and even has a snappy title! The information is organized in an intuitive way, and it’s easy to find out why we should care about these letters and documents. When you click on “Passport of Emily D. West“:

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I bet they would LOVE to get a copy of UTA’s letter for this exhibit!

Overall, looking at this exhibit helped give me an idea of what we are working to create. We are compiling history in order to present it in an organized and informative way, but in a way that is still engaging and fun.

My research has continued into the history of the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Despite supposedly was based on Emily D. West, there is actually no concrete evidence linking her to the song. How cool would it be to actually find the legendary “Maid of Morgan’s Point” lyrics? Or even an older version that might link back to Emily? As I’m diving in to the myriad of song sheets and lyrics online, I am also planning trips around the state to see those primary sources.

As we continue to collect information, a sort of single vision is emerging, and I know this class is going to produce an excelling online exhibit. I can’t wait to see who turns up what next!

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Ode to Archives

I thought archival research would be a new and interesting challenge, but I love libraries, am relatively good at research, and usually can finish my school work without too much fear and trembling. I was not all that daunted by the assignment. However, I’ve learned archival research is a lot more complicated than I thought. The class got the details of our assignment on Thursday night: we had exactly one week to find and upload some kind of document to the Transatlantic Writing Project. With Friday and Sunday the only days I did not have work obligations, the schedule turned into the first hurdle. Thankfully, my group members (Andrew and Justin) and me were able to meet Friday morning at the UTA Specials Collection.


We walked into the archive and found a beautiful library, with burnished wood shelves and desks and graceful old books lined up neatly, preserved behind glass and illuminated with soft lighting. The library is designed with nooks and alcoves, each fitted with a large table for a group to gather around and spread out materials. Book rests and stacks of paper are scattered around, waiting for eager researchers. The best part of the library, though, was the librarians.

The librarians in the special collection were fantastic. They were kind and obliging, helping us navigate the catalogs and indexes, bringing out material they thought would work, and revealing the mysteries of the library to me. After a long morning, I had to leave with a list of relevant information, and was unable to go back to the library. Thankfully, Andrew and Justin had different time constraints and were able to go back to the library together, when a librarian brought out our jewel, the Emily D. West letter. We could not have gotten anywhere on this assignment without the assistance of the librarians, and I have thank you notes and Starbucks cards waiting to be delivered to the UTA Specials Collection on Wednesday.

On the way to finding our letter, we waded through a LOT of old materials. First, we found a collection on a lawyer who had charges brought against him in Texas for being an abolitionist; we don’t know if his accusers were able to disbar him, but we did read through a 26-page letter comparing Texas to New York, I believe. Sadly, there was not a mention of slaves or other black people, so we were forced to dig deeper. From there, we looked over the papers of an old slaveholder; he kept a journal with births and deaths of all his slaves. However, his writing was hard to read (a grave disappointment after the beautifully written lawyer’s letter), and we decided to look further. A family who kept every scrap of paper and receipt ever had it’s own box; we read through receipts and letters and orders and bills for over an hour, but we could not find the freemen’s contracts promised by the index, nor did the letters mention slaves. My own archival research ended after surrendering to that old box, but my partners persevered until we were brought the Emily D. West Letter.



This letter is one of the only three pieces of paper surviving directly relating to Emily D. West, better known as the legendary Yellow Rose of Texas. UTA has the only paper with her actual signature!

 Finding an interesting piece at the archive was only the first half of this adventure. From there, we had to obtain permission to use the piece, double-check with Dr. May, get a hold of additional material to supplement the letter, transcribe the letter ourselves, check it against the transcription provided by the library, get a better scan to put on the website, talk even more with the wonderful librarians (who got us an excellent image of the letter!), write annotations, and move on from there.

We are still working on our annotations, to date, and still putting the project together, but over all, it has been an amazing experience. Dr. May is right; there is nothing quite like going into the archives, meeting with the guardians of knowledge there, finding interesting old documents, wading through the detritus of one life only to find jewels buried in the midst. I felt like a treasure hunter, a fearless explorer. I was awed by the age, the history, the documents, the librarians. Words fail here. Next time, you need to come with me.

(And go Like the Specials Collection Facebook Page!)

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A Letter Home

This week was really interesting: we got to actually transcribe a letter from 1776. The letter writer, Nelson Woolsey, was a free black man with a good bit of wealth. I believe he was a merchant, and his penmanship and phraseology indicate a high level of education. Woolsey is driving a supply wagon during the Revolutionary War, and the events of the letter seem to take place between New Jersey and New York. Woolsey is a Patriot, for he writes about seeing Tories, and he is also a bit of a poet, as you will see below.

I was a bit nervous when we started with the translation project; I’ve seen reproductions of old letters and they can be incredibly hard to read. In order to prepare, I read the textbooks, and then I worked through some copies of Jane Austen’s writing (which helped me transition from my Victorian Lit homework over to this as well!) Jane’s letters and journals were hard to make out, and the textbooks helped me translate, but they also made me even more afraid of deciphering the handwriting I was sure to encounter.


Thankfully, when I got online to transcribe, I found Woolsey to have wonderful handwriting, with very clearly formed letters and a consistent hand. I fairly flew through the two pages of text I was assigned and even thought about doing an extra page for fun. In order to see the letters best, I opened the PDF file and used my Mac to zoom in so the entire screen was taken up by the letter. After reading through once, I put the letter on half the screen and Microsoft Word on the other half in order to read and transcribe. From there, I was able to zoom in on words I was unsure about. Many of the phrases came clear through zooming in, getting another pair of eyes (I had my historian boyfriend take a look at several pieces), and using common sense and knowledge of the phraseology of the time. I am really glad I am taking this Victorian class, because reading those rather archaic novels helped me interpret some of the phrases Woolsey used. You can find the pieces I transcribed here and here.

A few words tripped me up: Woolsey used the phrase “mud and mire” at one point, which I have heard (though not from old hymns as I originally thought, but from Psalm 40) but not seen actually used. The salutation is entirely unreadable, sadly, so we can’t see who he was writing to. Dr. May and Andrew both puzzled over it, but we are left without even a good guess. The abbreviation Stand absolutely confused me; I guessed it as Starn, but Dr. May told us it was the abbreviation for Stanford. The symbol used in place of “&” looks remarkably like an “I,” which also tripped me up in one place, but thankfully my partner for this project was able to catch the mistake.

Another hard part of the project was deciding how “diplomatic,” or similar to the original in spelling, punctuation, and even letter formation, we wanted the transcription to be. Should we stick to the original as best as possible, or provide clarification for modern readers? Several people in class voted for no changes, but I support making things clear– after all, why transcribe if it is still not going to accessible? In the end, we decided to keep it as close to the original as possible (I even used Microsoft Word to restore some of the superscripts) but we did allow for brackets for clarity when needed. This means the original punctuation and spelling are all intact– so don’t judge us! (I might be persuaded to adopt a more-punctuation, less-diplomatic approach with my personal transcriptions though…)

You can read the entire letter done by our class below:

[Watermark] OGR [/Watermark]

Dear shipe(?) more(?) Page 1 Christmas & New Year

As you well know that I am no Genius at writing upon a subject call’d nothing. I shall make it the business of this letter to give you the history of my March which I fear will be but imperfect— 19 Decem – 23rd Marchd from Pecks hill with 1700 Men & 80 Baggage Waggons Commanded by the Hon’ble Major Gen Lee crossed the Hudson & Marchd on two miles when we halted, the baggage being in arear & no inhabitants we were obliged to stay out in the rain, all but myself– I having a good no inhabitants we were obliged to stay out in the rain, all but myself– I having good coverd waggon well painted lay very Comfortble 4th March’d down to the lower part of Haverstraw Bay where we encamped for we heard that the Enemy were within 12 miles of us here the General sent of a Scout of 300 Men Commanded by Colo Webb of Stamd[Stanford] to go down to Hachinsack & make discoveres & try to bring off some Prisoners 5th this day after a tedious march of 15 miles thro mud & mire we arrived at Cakeat or new hamps [New Hempstead]. Here we found the People very ill-natur’d & not willing to assist the Provencials (as they called us) in the least upon which I made myself heartily welcome to any thing and ev’ry thing they had, 7th Lay by all day it being rainy 8th Proceeded (sic) as far as Ramapough where we found the People still unfriendly Consequently lived well 9th This day march’d as far as Pumpton Plains (Pompton Plains) where I got good quarters

Page 2

the land here is extremely fertile and & the most beautiful wheat fields I ever beheld. I rode between two Grand mountains which are about a mile apart between those in the Plains about 2 miles in length as a land & not a stone or stump these fields are cover’d with fine Green wheat & reflection of the sun which then near going down made the Prospect very beautiful 10th had a very agreeable march on the banks of Passaick River on the night that is a very high mountain loaded with majestic Oak & the ground coverd with a long green moss which is see at a great distance, on the left is an extensive tract of meadows very rich the bank of the river is preserved by a romantic row of Hemlocks the bottom of the flood is of clean white pebbles & every little way there is a pretty fall- I really beleive it was the place where Damon wrote: Bathe on my fair!

I wish I was a Poet born

I’d echo with my sylvan horn

The beauties of the plain

The floods shou’d hear the poet say

That all was beautifull and gay

And hills repeat ye strain

The Rocks woud listen to my song

The birds woud round the songster throng

To hear the welcome Tale

Each word shd be a Gluttons feast

I’d charm the ear of man and beast

If I describ’d the Vale–

Let it Suffice to say, that it affords a most beautiful piece of Perspective.

Over & Over

Page 3

Colo Webb return’d with his party that went out the fourth but bro’t no material news except that the Tories had all fled & he’d bro’t off 19 of their horses at night we encamped at Chatham on the 12 we march’d to Morris town where I met with Mr & Mrs Miller who were very kind to me I lay by all day at Mr Thomas Doughtys; he use’d to know my Mother & Uncles, & gives his love to them 12th we march’d as far as Mine brook & encamped, this night the British light Horse were in & about our Camp Con. C Lee lay about 2 miles in the rear of the Army & I with the Military Chest & all the [illegible] about one, in the Morning […] between 8 & 9 o’Clock the Light shone under the command of Colo Harcount Surrounded the house G. Lee was in & made him Prisoner & had they known where I was they might have taken me & the Cash with ease & safety if there had been only 15 good men with the Genl they might have defended the house (a stone one) to this home 15th & 16th Continued marching on the right of the 16th made a forc’d march & crossed the Delaware at Easton 10 miles above Philadelphia the Occasion of this was, we heard that the enemy had done the same after us, the night before & were within 6 miles of us but this inteligence proved false 17th as we were now safe we rested this day & the 18th month to Bethlehem the Cotton place

Over & over

Page 4

The finest place I was ever in the best People in short. I beleive they are the nighest perfection of any people on the continents, it requires an abler pen than mine to describe the place, the People their Laws & Customs their Manners Religion & Curiosities. however I’ll give them a touch. Aby (?) the Place it is situated on the banks of the west branch of Delaware & Consists of about Seventy large stone houses, the river is about 60 yards wide & fordable opposite the town is a range of Mountains at of which & arow of level fields & is as pretty a a prospect as W.V., they are remarkable for their hospitality & kindness, as they can speak but little English they seem to be rather reserv’d, their Religion is Lutheran; their Customs & Curiosities I cant seperate, their Greatest Curiosity is their Convent or sister house, the Priest Conducted me thro the whole house, in the first apartment was about twenty five healthy girls spinning Cotton & flax in the next there were 35 weaving Handkerchiefs & but I cou’d not purchase any in the next 35 more nitting (sic)! fast fast! fast! I was then conducted in to a beautiful room where there was 40 Angels 20 of them had each a small Quilting frame before her. working tambour upon Musling which they did very dextrously & curiously they have a small piece of ivory about the size of Quill with a little hook in the end which they fasten they’r (sic) cotton to. with this I see them do 2 inches in one minute

New leaf

Page 5

here’s new leaf

the others were painting, some flower pots. […] some landscapes & some taking likenesses, I went to one end of the room and view’d their performances in course & when I got almost thro the whole I perceiv’d that one of them had a face hid under her hand, which as I was looking at her work I quickly pull’d out from under it & found it to be myself (I asked her if it was not,) which she conferd with down cast modesty — I was then led thro a large hall in to a room on the right. This was their lodging room it contain’d 60 single beds (I shou’d like to crept in & squat) in the center of the wall is a Grate with a lamp hanging in it that the air need not be unhealthy — next […] is the Church .. There is 15 beautiful pieces of Painting that reparesents our saviour from his birth to his Assention, whilst I was in the Church they all came in to attend public-private duty where no male is allowed to be present, but out of Politeness to me as a stranger they let me stay to hear the music precceding their devotions.. the band consisted of an Organ a Base Viol a bassoon 2 french horns 2 Guittars 1 Harpsicord 6 Violins and 4 German flutes, these all but the Organ were played by beautiful Girls of about 18 dress’d in white Cotton sacks & peticoats with blue ribbands round their Waists; I then went to the Brother house

Page 6

where are all kinds of Mechanics at work in the same order as in the Sister house– next was they’r burying yard, There is two long rows of Graves the males on one side the females on the other they lay feet to feet the Graves are about 2 feet apart at the head of each is a square stone 8 Inches high with the persons name & age, none of those […] Inscriptions that we have– here the Parson gave me his blessing & told me to behave like a Good Soldier Jesus Christ, & then parted with greatly to my satisfaction in this Society there is but one farmer to supply the whole with milk Grain & I went to him & desird to see his Curiosity which he readily consented to, he first came in to a stable, a clean He in [is] middle & on each hand 20 of the finest Cows I ever saw I pass’d thro this in a room where was 30 Women Washing & then in to another Cow stable the same as the first, Not to forget the milk maids who in summertime have their cows all tied up in a row & they dress in green with flop’d straw hats & a garland of flowers on their heads, go forth to milking follow’d by a band of music he likewise keeps all the horses for the town, farewell Farmer – I then went to the waterworks which supplies the whole town with water this & an oil & flax mill are al (sic) carried by an artificial

Page 7

stream or Canal which is brot from the river and emptys in to it again-in this way least you should be dull this being cut out of flat land makes a Beautiful island of about 2 Acres and is improved as a garden, it is so romantic that you cant look at it without laughing-

So much for Bethlehem where no person can resist the temptation to be good-

19th March’d to Buckingham & tarried the 20th & the reach’d Newton where I now am in Glover Quarter which good Colo Palfrey Provided for me before I come–

I long to hear from you all, but coud not expect it till I got settled, & how long I shall be so I know not, how do you all do tell me a long story in your next & I mention my new flame- or I shall think you neglect her. Polly did it bytimes & has show’d her good judgment in what she said, your dear Gary is Married to miss Nancy Lour-

Remember me to all friends affectionately & particularly my mother I hope she’s lost her anxiety for me in great measure it wou’d make me much happier to hear that she car’d less about me.

Turn over ye last time

Page 8

I’ll mention my most valuable friends who you must give my love & duty to

My mother

Uncles John &Jo

Coz [Cousin] John

Sylvester (?) Daay (?)

Uncle & Aunt Wolles

[B] Polly ___d

Doctor Cogswell

Sal & Nab if at home

Ben Wells wou’d be in the list only he’s my rival

Don’t forget the servants give […] of service to Jack Jupiter & Sam and Fowler & little ned– Sylvia & is Fab (?) dead?

all this time I love you almost the best


Nel S Woolsey

Now that I am an expert primary text reader, I think I will curl up with some Shakespeare this weekend, original text of course.

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Maria Stewart: A Woman of Valor

Maria Steward, who wrote this week’s reading “Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality,” was an abolitionist and a feminist, famous for speaking in front of a mixed audience featuring men and women, blacks and whites. Maria was a devote Christian and employed many Biblical allusions and direct quotations in her works. What caught my eye in “Religion” was her use of Proverbs 31.

Maria writes:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Blessed is the man who shall call her his wife; yea, happy is the child who shall call her mother. O, woman, woman, would thou only strive to excel in merit and virtue; would thou only store thy mind with useful knowledge, great would be thine influence. Do you say, you are too far advanced in life now to begin? You are not too far advanced to instil these principles into the minds of your tender infants. Let them by no means be neglected. Discharge your duty faithfully, in every point of view: leave the event with God. So shall your skirts become clear of their blood.

In this passage, she is quoting Proverbs 31: 10, the King James Version, directly: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” She goes on to paraphrase other parts of the verse, emphasizing the woman’s family, who are happy and blessed, as well as the way the woman should for excellence in merit and virtue and gain more knowledge in order to influence the world. Maria says even women who feel they are too old or not able to influence the world can still do these things and teach excellence and wisdom to their children. If they do not do this, Maria warns, they will be held accountable to the blood of slaves, as

Never, no, never will the chains of slavery and ignorance burst till we become united as one, and cultivate among ourselves the pure principles of piety, morality and virtue.

Maria uses strong imagery here, urging women to be strong and forceful in their fight for virtue and therefore to end slavery. She chose an apt passage to impart strength to women, though she may not have know how apt. Proverbs 31 would likely have only been available to Maria in the King James translation, which is transcribed below. But more recent scholarship into the Hebrew language and its implications in Proverbs 31 reveal the passage is about much more than a “virtuous” housewife. In fact, some scholars suggest the virtuous woman is better called the “valorous woman.”

The King James Version of the poem reads:

The Virtuous Wife

10Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11The heart of her husband does safely trust in her, so that he shall have no lack of gain.


15She rises also while it is yet night, and gives food to her household, and a portion to her maidservants.

17She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms.

25Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

26She opens her mouth with wisdom; and on her tongue is the law of kindness.

27She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness.

28Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

The entire passage can be found here. Unfortunately, the verbs in most of English Bibles fall short of the poems meaning. Rachel Held Evans researched this topic extensively for her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and she found the Hebrew verbs here are militaristic verbs. When the passage says she “Gives food to her household,” the literal translation is “Prey” (v.15). Other warrior parallels include her husband lacks nothing of value, it literally says he lacks no “Booty” (v. 11), “She girds herself with strength” (v, 17), “Strength and honor are her clothing” (v. 25), “She shall rejoice in time to come” literally “laugh in victory” (v. 25), and “She looks well to the ways of her household” is literally “Spies over the affairs…” (v.27). The heroic language in the poem is amplified by its form: its structure is closely related to heroic poetry celebrating the deeds of warriors.

Hebrew culture still recognizes this passage as a poem celebrating all women do in the home and in the world, many things which are often overlooked. In fact, Jewish husbands sing the poem to their wives every Sabbath, and eshet chayil (woman of valor!) is a common praise among modern Jewish women. I love how Maria Stewart picked one of the seemingly more passive Bible passages about women (especially as interpreted by modern Christians!) and used it to it’s original intent, inspiring women to go forth and do battle for their children, their families, and their communities.


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Equiano and Amazing Grace


This week’s reading, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, coincided with Ryan’s decision that I needed to sit down with him and watch Amazing Grace, the 2006 movie which made the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England more widely known. It was fascinating the see the fight Equiano wrote for waged on the screen, but what most interested me is the relationship between Equiano and Wilberforce and the Abolition movement as depicted by both narratives, as well as how both employed narrative biography/autobiography to prove a point rather than provide a factually-acurate history.

Equiano’s account was incredibly detailed. In fact, thinking back to earlier classes, his story could make a gorgeous, detailed, and moving graphic novel for print or online reading. I could not find any good graphic novelizations, but youtube had interesting videos. I was particularly impressed with with student-made video.

In his Narrative, Equiano talks about Africa and his boyhood, and I can almost feel the heat of the sun and enjoy the company of his tribe. Yet scholars debate if Equiano was actually born in Africa and taken through the horrors of the Middle Passage. Naval muster roll and Baptismal records claim he was born in South Carolina, making him an African American by birth. Also, it has proven devilishly difficult to find the specific village and people Equiano claims to be part of before his kidnapping. With details he offers on the Middle Passage were very similar to accounts already published, means he could have fabricated his early childhood and horrific journey in order to prove his point. Other scholars argue that since so much of his account is true, and easily proven so by records and letters, than his earlier accounts must also be true.

Regardless of the veracity of Equiano’s origin, his tale is certainly compelling and works and influences both by evoking pathos in the reader and helping establish his own ethos. Equiano also uses his own time in slavery to expose the very horrors inflicted upon men in the name of the wretched institution. His tale of kidnapping, of a disgusting and terrifying trip across the Atlantic, and first-hand accounts of the various evils pressed upon the slaves certainly revealed the evils of slavery and made many of those who were ignoring or ignorant of the facts face the darkness of slavery.


In the movie Amazing Grace, Equiano is part of a group assembled by soon-to-be-Prime Minster William Pitt, the purpose of which was the convince William Willburforce that he could both serve God and be a politician: his mission would be abolishing slavery. Equiano appears at the initial dinner arranged by Pitt and then attends strategizing meetings throughout the tale until his death is mentioned. His friend, Rev. Thomas Clarkson sits on Equiano’s grave to celebrate the abolition of slavery and share a drop of spirits with Equiano.

While Equiano did write about Clarkson in his Narrative, there was nothing about Wilberforce except a mention that the matters of slavery and abolition were now before the Parliament. At first, I was surprise Equiano did not mention so powerful an ally. Upon reflection, though, I began to see how the narratives were working.

In The Interesting Narrative, Equiano was writing in order to reveal the evils of slavery and bring more people to the cause. Mentioning an ally in Parliament could make people think the war was already won. On the other hand, Ryan pointed out that at the time Equiano’s narrative was published, Wilberforce was not a very powerful member of Parliament. His cause was just garnering attention, and Wilberforce himself was a very young, junior member of the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, although Equiano and Wilberforce were both driving members of the Abolition movement, it is also likely that the filmmakers of Amazing Grace fabricated or exaggerated the two men’s meetings in order to tie a famous former slaver slave into Wilberforce’s narrative, giving him more ethos and creating more pathos in the audience. Equiano’s appearances in the movie are memorable, and I do think his character was treated with due respect and dignity. The movie gave Equiano agency and power, and it made him an equal ally who not only aids Wilberforce and movement but actually helps pull Wilberforce into the fight. (Interestingly enough, the trailer takes away some of that agency). I would recommend it for anyone studying the abolition movement, however tangentially.

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Taking Tea with Sancho

This week, I was most captured by reading the letters of Ignatius Sancho, and I was particularly compelled by the religious elements of his life. In Sancho, I found a congenial fellow, with a taste for theater and nice things as well as an interested in and working knowledge of both religious and politics. His life is not dominated by religion, but his faith is woven throughout his missives. His experience of religion and life is much like my own: doing the best I can day to day, continually asking questions and taking my knowledge further and further so I can live more and more like I think my faith calls me to.

One questions Sancho brought forth is a question I have also struggled with, and being able to relate to Sancho helped me see that this is an old old questions. Sancho writes:

I am reading a little pamphlet, which I much like: it favors an opinion which I have long indulged—which is the improbability of eternal Damnation—a thought which almost petrified one—and, in my opinion, derogatory to the fullness, glory, and benefit of the blessed expiation of the Son of the Most High God—who died for the sins of all—all—Jew, Turk, Infidel, and Heretic—fair—sallow—brown—tawny – black—and you and I—and every son and daughter of Adam. (82)

Taken in the light of our discussion on Calvinism, this passage clearly points to a move away from that strict doctrine of Limited Atonement, a move I’ve also been making over the past two years. I was raised more Arminian, but we still believed that all those who did not know Jesus were doomed to eternal damnation. (There was some hope for those in heathen lands unbreeched by missionaries: Romans 1: 19-20, which reads “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV).)

As I grew older and began to think more critically, though, this sat less and less easily on my spirit. After reading  C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and then Rachel Held Evan’s Evolving in Monkey TownI began to question both the limited nature of Heaven and the permanence of Hell.


In The Great Divorce, Lewis explores Refrigerium, the idea that the damned have holidays. Most of these spirits, according to the book, use this time away from Hell to make mischief on earth or moan after what they once had. A few, however, take the bus all the way to Heaven. And if they go to Heaven, they are allowed to stay. The book makes it clear that staying is not so simple  as it sounds: for one, the shades from Hell are airy shadow people and the realness of Heaven can hurt: the grass is so real that is pricks through the feet of the shade narrating the story.

The teacher character in the book also makes distinctions between purgatory, Hell, Heaven, and Deep Heaven when explaining them to the shade.

The shade asks “But I don’t understand. Is judgement not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?”

The teacher responds “It depends on the ye’re (sic) using the words. If they leave that grew town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heave. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand… Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first.”  (Lewis 68)

This, coupled with Held-Evan’s questions on who exactly qualifies for Heaven (Anne Frank and Ghandi are damned while the hateful Westboro Baptist Church members are promised eternity?) and readings from other scholars like N.T. Wright and even bloggers like Two Friars and a Fool have all convinced me the matter of Hell is not near as cut and dried as we would like it to be.

In the midst of my own questions about the fate of eternal souls, it’s nice to know that others have worked through this too, including congenial Ignatius Sancho, whom I think I would have gotten along with rather well.


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Welcome to Readings

This week’s readings launched us into the Black literature of the 18th Century with writers Britton Hammon, Jupiter Hammon (no known relation), and Phillis Wheatley, all from the book Unchained Voices. I’ve heard of moth of these writers and even remember studying a bit of Phyllis Wheatley’s work. Interestingly enough, it was Britton Hammon’s 5-page tale that most stood out.

For one thing, I’m fairly certain I’ve read this before; the story was a familiar one, with it’s harrowing situations, daring escapes, and desperate drama. Perhaps the tale was mirrored by another adventure story, but I actually think I read this in high school. In light of the article from this week, I couldn’t help but think of this story as a chose-your-own-adventure hypertext. I am temped to go ahead and make a website myself; it would be good for English classes and the story is really interesting!

            You and your fellow crewmembers have been drifting as sea for weeks when you sight land! Sadly, there are not enough seats in the boats to take everyone to shore at once. They are going to take two boats ashore and send one back for the Captain and the rest of the crew. Do you head for shore or stay with the Captain?

Then, if you chose “Stay with the Captain,” the text would read”

            Too bad. This is Indian territory, and most of the landing party was captured and killed by natives in longboats. Now they are following the remaining boat back to you! You and the Captain arm yourselves and start shooting, but it’s too late. The Indians swarm on deck, killing the Captain with one well-placed tomahawk blow. And now he’s coming for you.

Then you have two choices: accept your death and end the game or go back a page and change your answer.

The rest of Hammon’s account contains equally thrilling tales: capture by Indians, ransom, impressment, imprisonment, slavery, escape attempts, and, if you play the game right, being reunited with a beloved employer thirteen years from the fateful first voyage!

The other readings were slightly less dramatic, but instead quite enlightening and poetic.

Jupiter Hammon was the first published black poet in the United States; his work was first printed in 1761. Hammon wrote poems and sermons and letters, and though remembers as a great poet and a founder of African American literature, Hammon spent his life as a slave.

In this week’s reading, Hammon’s deep faith stuck out to me. Though he lived without earthly freedom, he cried out to Jesus, seeking salvation in him rather than from man, and seeking freedom from sin rather than from slavery’s embrace. His reverent faith coupled with an apparently passive view of his own slavery (and thankfulness for Phillis Wheatley having been captured from Africa and enslaved so that she might come to know Jesus) sent me searching for more about Hammon. Simple sourced like Poem Hunter attributed Hammon’s lack of anti-slavery rhetoric to shrewdness, citing the “Hammon Address” by saying “Black people should maintain their high moral standards precisely because being slaves on Earth had already secured their place in heaven.” Hammon also apparently suppoted gradual emancipation, perhaps knowing it was more likely and more palatable to the white men in power. An NBC article revealed a discovery Dr. May talked about in class: how a UTA student working under him found a previously undiscovered poem by Hammon that pointed to a rather different ideology, stating slavery as a manmade evil rather than the will of God. Hammon’s address to Phyllis Wheatley does show a man to whom eternal salvations matters much more than earthly states of being, but the evidence that such a learned and devote man saw the evils of slavery eased my own heart on the matter.

Phillis’ poems were probably my favorite readings for this week. Although we didn’t get to see her reply to Hammon, I also love Wheatley’s literature story (found in the Appendix). Wheatley’s mistress, Susanna Wheatley, encouraged Phillis to become literate, and then helped the girl pursue and eventually achieve publication, although they had to go to London to do so, which gave Wheatley a Transatlantic reputation and led to the poetess’ freedom, “at the desire of my friends in England.” Wheatley’s tale ends sadly though; she was unable to publish a second volume of poems and died in poverty, buried in an unmarked grave with her youngest child, barely more than 30 years old.

Wheatley published her poems when she was only 17, and her youthful enthusiasm shines through all the learned allusions and elegant lines. Her poetry captured me more than Hammon’s did, and it seemed more complex and yet easier to understand. Wheatley also addressed slavery in her poems, specifically in “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” She praises God for saving her soul, but admonished Christians to not view the blacks with “scornful eye” and reminds them “Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’angelic train.” She rebukes the whites’ superiority, even if she does not outright say “Slavery is wrong.”

My favorite poem was “On Imagination,” which actually reminded me of my own seventeen-year-old-self’s attempt at poetry, with a piece titled “An Ode Upon Imagination.” I do have to say, Wheatley has a much more compelling command of language than myself at that age, though.

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Waiting for Digital Integration

When I started this class, I was absolutely terrified. I’ve heard of Dr. May and how much work he asks from his students. But I’d also met him before, and thought any class of his was bound to be interesting.  Plus, it fit my schedule perfectly. After seeing Dr. May’s syllabus, though, I wasn’t so sure. I launched forward with the first reading, though, and quite enjoyed it.

This week’s reading was looking at how we read now, specifically how hyper-reading (quickly skimming through an article, or reading in an F pattern, which is often the way we read online) affects our brains and our comprehension. The article by N. Katherine Hayles titled “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” was writing back against earlier research which suggested all people exposed to online texts no longer have the capacity to read closely or to focus for long periods of time on a particular text. At one point in the article, Hayles looked at hypertexts, texts displayed on a computer screen with links to other pieces of the text. Hypertexts create an interactive yet fragmented stories, letting the reader create the text with the writer.

The example most academics turn to for hypertext is The Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson, but I began wondering how I encountered hypertext stories as I searched for entertainment online. One hypertext I love is Pottermore, the website J.K. Rowlings created to sell e-books of her popular Harry Potter series and on which fans can explore illustrated and interactive scenes from the books themselves to find hidden snippets of text from Rowling, either definitions from the books or notes from Rowling on her ideas and inspiration. Pottermore contains hypertext which makes the books themselves more fun and interactive. Rowling’s old website was great, but this takes interconnectivity to a new level.


Another hypertext where I’ve wasted considerable hours is The Potter Games, a chose-your-own-adventure where you either play as Katniss making her way through Hogwarts or as a Harry Potter Character battling it out in the Hunger Games.

The article continued on to talk about how hypereading can be a good thing, especially when doing research. Hayles agrees close reading is an important part of reading comprehension and literary study, but she also sees the value of online text and combining literature with digital in new and unexpected ways. She encouraged teachers to integrate media with literature, and discusses “Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy, ” a project through Literature + which staged Romeo and Juliet on Facebook and examined data through the Friend Graph tool.



Scholars have always been interested in the intersection of Internet interactions and drama, and in my Global Drama class at DBU, we talked about a live chat version of  “Waiting for Godot” in which avatars named Didi and Gogo delivered lines from the play, while other chartroom members chimed in occasionally.








More recently, Hank Green and Bernie Su wrote and produced The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a vlog-based version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story was told mainly from Lizzie’s point of view via Youtube vidoes, but also featured guest bloggers, vlogs from Lydia Bennet, Tumbler posts, and Twitter feeds, letting viewers interact with the characters and see “behind the scenes.” The show recently earned an Emmy award for Original Interactive Program at the Creative Arts Emmys. This shows people are paying attention to the way entertainment is shifting as the world become more and more immersed in social media and interactive media.

There are countless other projects tying literature to social media, and spin-offs are in the works from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, including Emma Approved, scheduled to air Fall 2013. This blend of new media and old has already captured millions of viewers, and it helps young readers interact with texts previously perceived as old and dry. Hopefully teachers will find ways to implement all the amazing content on the web today and even have their students add to the media revolution, which just might make them read those texts a little closer.

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