Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Author's Corner with Lisa Wilson

Lisa Wilson is Professor of History at Connecticut College. This interview is based on her new book, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: Researching my previous book [Ye Heart of a Man: the Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England (Yale, 1999)]. I kept running across stepfamilies in the sources I was using. I realized after some sleuthing that only a few articles existed on the topic (written by historians) and only one on the United States. There was an obvious gap in the history of the family in America. Of course, we always write to our interests. I am also a member of a stepfamily and felt like families like mine deserved a history of their own.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: I argue that stepfamilies are not some sort of pathology due to modern divorce rates. They were common in the past and suffered some of the same prejudices still embodied in fairytales today.

JF: Why do we need to read A History of Stepfamilies in Early America?:

LW: The title suggests that there are many histories of stepfamilies still to be written. I see my book as a first attempt. The cover is of a portrait titled, The Washington Family. It included the father of our country with his two step-grandchildren. He raised his stepchildren and two step-grandchildren but never had children of his own. Stepfamilies were part of our nation from the start. They were and still are "traditional" American families.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

LW: When I became a park ranger for the National Park Service at Valley Forge during the bicentennial I fell in love with eighteenth century. I caught the bug for teaching as well in this public history setting. I wore my Park Service uniform but also eighteenth-century replica clothes. I did living history. I was hooked.

JF: What is your next project?:

LW: My next project is aimed at including more women in Atlantic world history. Specifically, I am looking at British women in Barbados, Bermuda, Jamestown, and Plymouth to compare their experiences in the seventeenth century.

JF: Looking forward to hearing about it. Thanks Lisa.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner