Query: American Cultural/Historical Constructions of Personhood and the Self

Pat Reeve's picture


I would appreciate suggestions of student readings for an interdisciplinary 400-level history course, "Unraveling Selfhood: Personal Identity, the Body, and Sexuality in American History." (The course attracts history and non-history majors.) Students will examine the distinctiveness and interplay among these dimensions of the personal.

I have taught the course previously and am revising the curriculum.

Given that personhood and selfhood are slippery terms, I welcome suggestions of readings that can help me frame the course scope and content.

I will gladly share all suggested readings with whoever requests it.

Thanks in advance,

Pat Reeve

Associate Professor of History

Suffolk University





Hi, Professor Reeve--

For your course, you might want to consider assigning all or part of the following work:

Sobel, Mechal. Teach me dreams : the search for self in the revolutionary era / Mechal Sobel. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2000.
xv, 368 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Library of Congress call number: E209 .S68 2000
ISBN: 0691049491 (alk. paper)

An H-Net review of this work is online at http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5479.

Thank you for offering to share the list of readings that H-Amstdy members suggest. I would be grateful to have it.

All the best,

Jurretta Heckscher

Dr. Jurretta Jordan Heckscher
Research Specialist
Digital Reference Section
The Library of Congress

Dear Pat,
I'm not sure if this is quite what you're looking for, but I wrote a short article for The Atlantic about a particular photograph of an African American woman whose subject had been mis-identified as being the Civil War spy Mary Bowser. The article analyzes how our 21st-century expectations about the availability of visual sources (and the growing belief that any query is just a google-search away from being easily and accurately answered) prevent us from appreciating what good historical research entails, and also how unknowable some aspects of the past ("but what did she look like?") will always remain. The fact that Bowser's actually body is described very differently in various written sources makes her an especially useful person for this kind of discussion.

The article can be accessed both through The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/06/the-spy-photo-that... and through Black Past, the site edited by Quintard Taylor at the University of Washington http://www.blackpast.org/perspectives/mary-bowser-use-and-misuse-photogr...

I have more articles related to Bowser, if your students interest in piqued, but this one is especially useful for raising broader issues for historical research.

Best regards,
Lois Leveen

Apologies for the self-promotion, but my recently published book The Brooklyn Thrill-Kill Gang and the Great Comic Book Scare of the 1950s (Praeger, 2014) centers on a mentally-ill teenager's search for self in the mid-twentieth-century. Although Jewish, the gang's leader was a self-proclaimed Nazi and Hitler admirer, who further identified with comic-book vampires -  often donning a vampire "costume" when attacking homeless men.  One chapter of the book in particular delves deeply into issues of the complexity of coming-of-age as a Jewish man in this period and the challenges faced by those with alternate sexualities. 

Best regards,