Friday, October 24, 2014

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Describes Her Journey From Mormon Motherhood to the Halls of Harvard

I love reading biographies and autobiographies of historians and other academics.  I have been teaching Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's movie (based on her Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title) "A Midwife's Tale" for probably fifteen years.  It works very well with students taking the United States history survey course.  I have also used Ulrich's Good Wives several times in my colonial America course.  She is one of my favorite historians.

I was thus pleased to see this interview with Ulrich at The Harvard Gazette.  Over the course of the interview she describes her unorthodox journey into the profession and how she conceived of several of her books.  Here is a taste:

UNH had just hired faculty members specializing in early American history. That’s why I majored in early American history — because the best faculty were in that field. So it was Darrett Rutman and Charlie Clark: both former journalists who really cared about writing. They really encouraged me. They were both really terrific, really wonderful. But of course I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have done it, if I hadn’t had my women’s network — still in Boston, a lot of them. It was a very close network of good friends, and we continued to work on feminist stuff. Claudia Bushman got a Ph.D. at BU about the same time I was at UNH.
Q: What was that transition like in those days, from literature to history?
A: Charlie had an American studies degree, rather than a straight history degree. He had studied with Carl Bridenbaugh at Brown. Darrett was a hard-core social scientist in his approach to history, but a writer. The two of them really emphasized the literary side of history — history as writing — [but] their methodologies were totally different. Charlie was interested in historical literature and narrative, and he did more intellectual history. Darrett did a lot more quantification and social history. I really think working with the two of them made it possible for me to do what I did. I really got good training in social history and lots of nourishing in terms of writing history. It was a nice combination.