Saturday, February 28, 2009

101 Ways, Part 71: Yielded Her Spirit to its Benevolent Author

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I've been reading James Blachowicz' wonderful From Slate to Marble: Gravestone Carving Traditions in Eastern Massachusetts, 1770-1870. He showcases a couple of stones with new ways to say died.

On page 150, he features the Hannah Symmes stone (1794) in Plymouth, MA. It was carved by Lemuel Savery and is an example of that carver's late-career simplified style. I don't have a picture of my own, but you can find one at Find A Grave.

The epitaph:
Here lies
inter'd the body
of Miss. Hannah
Symmes eldest Daughter
of Mr. Isaac & Mrs. Hannah
Symmes who at the early
period of 28 years after being
long exercis'd with bodily pain
with christian fortitude
yielded her spirit to its
benevolent Author.
Born Jany. 30. 1766.
Died May 27. 1794.

An interesting note: the letterer originally misspelled "yielded" by transposing the i and the e, but scratched them out and treid tried again.

Friday, February 27, 2009

On Taxation and Representation

I'm spending the afternoon immersed in revolutionary-era Boston again. I am charged with the simple task of issuing a 1,000-word rejoinder to either Bernard Bailyn or Edmund Morgan on the subject of the ideology of freedom in this period. Nice, easy assignments in this class.

As I cast about for something original to say on this topic, let me take heart from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who has shown us all that it is not impossible to put a unique spin on 18th-century arguments. At a recent conference (CPAC), emcee Bachmann asked the eager crowd of conservative activists,
I just wondered that if our founders thought taxation without representation was bad, what would they think of representation WITH taxation?
What indeed.

Sarah Swan

You know how I love the "depated" stones. Here's another:

Sarah Swan, 1767, Rumford, RI

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Art and Criticism

It's been quite a day here at VPI. I usually get fewer than 50 hits per day, mostly from people looking for gravestones or Puritan names, but yesterday, more than 3,000 people visited the site.

It seems that Internet Personality Jason Kottke linked to my old Pixar post, thus sending quite a flood of readers and commenters my way. Thanks, Jason — I appreciate the attention!

Many of the people who have commented on or linked to that post have engaged meaningfully with my central arument: Pixar movies generally present a male=neutral, female=particular understanding of gender. I appreciate the feedback and the constructive criticisms offered in good faith. Some good points from commenters/friends/linking sites include:
  • WALL-E has the potential to be gender subversive. 
  • The Incredibles might deserve more than 5/10. (This is a perfectly valid argument that hinges on criteria — I was thinking that 5/10 indicated balance and was a perfectly respectable score.)
  • Reading these movies through other categories of analysis might also be fruitful.
I'm happy to take a break from reading a foot-thick biography of Charles II to talk about gender in some of my favorite movies. It's like vacation.

Yet, there is one criticism I just can't wrap my head around. Several commenters (especially at sites that have linked to this one) have argued that Pixar movies are not appropriate texts for serious analysis. This generally takes the form of They're just kids' movies!!!! or Movies are just for entertainment!!!!, etc. These commenters usually accuse me of over-analyzing the films and/or projecting "gender issues" onto them. Occasionally, they accuse me of wanting to censor Pixar or enforce some sort of animation affirmative action policy.

These people are not arguing that my analysis is wrong, they are dismissing it on the grounds that Pixar movies can bear no serious analysis.


I firmly belive that cultural productions (movies, novels, art, clothing, furniture, architecture, etc.) embody cultural values and are appropriate texts for analysis. The idea that a movie is "just entertainment" makes no sense to me. A film's primary purpose can be to entertain or to make money for a studio, but it is also a rich cultural text.

Do these commenters go into museums and limit their comments on Monet to, "Ooh, pretty?" Do they read Longfellow and say, "Yay, it rhymes!" I know that my definition of "text" is fairly broad — as a material culture person, I believe that anything from hairstyles to bones in a trash pit can be read for cultural meaning — but surely we can all agree that fine art, books, and films can bear critical analysis, can't we?

By treating Pixar movies as serious texts, I mean them no disrespect —in fact, I would argue that I am showing them more respect than people who seem to think that they are mere baubles for distracting children (I also have a healthy respect for children and their capacity to look beyond "shiny"). Maybe people heard "criticism" and thought "hate" rather than "a meaningful engagement with the ideas presented in this piece of art."

What do you think? Are all artifacts fair game for cultural analysis? Or is a talking fish just a talking fish?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

101 Ways, Part 70: . . . For a Never Ending Eternity

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I have not abandoned 101 Ways to Say "Died"! I am still confident that I'll be able to find 101 unique expressions of the same idea — I just haven't been doing much graveyarding since winter set in. There are some great examples in James Blachowicz's From Slate to Marble and I'm anxious to track them down and get my own photos to post here.

I debated whether Ann Power's epitaph constituted a way to express 'died.' It bears a close resemblance to #11 and #6, with a little extra flourish on the end.

Sacred to the Memory of 
Daugh. of Nicholas Power, Esq.
She was born Feb. 10th, 1738
and after exhibiting a long
Life of sincere affection &
unaffected piety,
departed this transitory state
of existence for a never ending
eternity, on the 21st of April
In the 76th Year of her Age.

Marther Stone

It's been a while since I posted a gravestone. The snow is mostly gone, but it's still very cold and icy, so I haven't been able to go on graveyard field trips. 
When going through some photos from last fall, I noticed this one from the North Burial Ground in Providence:
I took this picture because I was looking for examples of that strange plant-like shape — I didn't even notice the spelling of "Martha" as "Marther."
 We've seen this spelling variation before with Annar Lawrence and Alletherr Grosvenor.
Love it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

William and Rachel Smith, Abolitionists

I am endlessly fascinated by people who name their children after public figures, especially when those names reveal a particular political or religious commitment.

In the case of William and Rachel Smith of Wrentham, Massachusetts, that commitment was the abolition of slavery. Of their (at least) twelve children, three are sons named Frederick Douglass (b. 1851), John Brown (b. 1862), and Abraham Lincoln (b. 1866).

The Smiths, one of the few black families living in a rural town near the Rhode Island border, owned a modest farm worth $350 in 1870 (their white neighbors' farms were generally worth $700–$2,000). Both William and Rachel were born free in Massachusetts in the 1820s.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bodies Politic

I recently finished reading John Wood Sweet's Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830 (2003). In part, this book is a project of recovery — Sweet points out that while "American came to present itself as a white nation," the reality was that "it was, and had been from the start, diverse, hybrid, and multiracial" (10). His basic argument is that racism in 18th-century New England was not a matter of cultural misunderstanding — in fact, as people of color converted to Christianity and assimilated other aspects of European culture into their daily lives, they found themselves even more reviled by their white neighbors. Over the course of the century, "stubborn, essentialist identities of race . . . supplanted a potentially mutable form of difference — culture" (108). The larger point is one that is often difficult for proud New Englanders to swallow: even though the Civil War pit North against South, the war and its memory "has obscured underlying similarities that derive from a shared legacy of colonialism" (11).

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in American History, particularly if that interest is focused on southern New England. Sweet's title says "the American North," but what he really means is Rhode Island with some eastern Massachusetts and a smattering of Connecticut. That was great for me — I love Rhode Island history —but readers looking for Pennsylvania or Maine will be disappointed.

Bodies Politic is a thick book (409 pages), but an easy read. Sweet employs many engaging vignettes to make his points, which makes this a great book for the casual reader or for the academic looking for some arresting anecdotes for lecture.

The one scene that stayed with me after reading this book was the opening paragraph of Chapter Four:
When Paul Revere set out on his midnight ride in April 1775, one of the first landmarks he passed was the body of a long-dead slave — a figure that represented, no less than the Sons of Liberty themselves, a colonial family drama of abused paternal authority, emasculating enslavement, and rebellion. Revere knew the body by name. Mark's remains, suspended in a metal gibbet overlooking the road, had been greeting travelers for some twenty years — since 1755, when he was hanged. His accomplice, Phillis, was burned at the stake. Their crime had been killing their master, Captain John Codman of Charlestown.
I was already somewhat familiar with the case of Mark and Phillis because all the graduate students have been talking about Blindspot lately, but I hadn't really assimilated the image of the gibbet into my mental picture of late colonial Boston. When I think heads on spikes or bodies suspended near the road, I'm thinking 17th-century Ireland or the Caribbean, not Stamp Act-era Boston. You won't see any gibbets in the John Adams miniseries, that's for sure. Now, I have adjusted the image in my mind, though I can't quite imagine what a 20-year-old exposed corpse looks like. Blanched bones? Strips of ragged cloth? A pile of dust?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spirit of Generosity

"The purpose of a book review is to show that you are smarter than the person who wrote the book."
- an unnamed professor of my acquaintance

This week, I have been unable to avoid the subject of book reviews: my writing workshop is spending the week on Criticism and another of my professors spent part of our fortnightly meeting informing us of his philosophy regarding reviews (noted above).

I enjoy a good mauling as much as the next person, but I was somewhat horrified to hear my professor tell us that he not only saw it as his duty to rip apart books sent to him for review, but that he saves up one-liners to deploy against hapless victims whose books are not even written yet. What good does that do? I suppose his reviews are fun to read (certainly moreso than his other prose), but why not deliver criticism in a spirit of generosity? No book is perfect and most are far from it, but I quake at the prospect of sending a well-researched, painstakingly-written manuscript out into the world knowing that there are reviewers who will delight in its faults.

On the other hand, I don't like timidity in reviewers. My peers in my writing workshop are a bit too wishy-washy so far (except A, bless her opinionated little heart). When I spend ten hours writing and revising a thousand-word essay, I want them to spend at least 20 minutes marking it up and commenting. Last week, I handed back manuscripts covered in comments, suggestions, and edits, but received mostly blank copies of my own work. If they don't put a little more effort in this week, I won't bother taking so many pains in writing for them.

Perhaps I'm just hard to please. I want tough criticism of my work, but not for toughness' own sake. I try to give what hope to receive — thorough, fair comments based on the quality of the ideas and the writing, expressed respectfully, and offered in the spirit of colleagial cooperation. Too naive?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Miserable Prose

Last semester, I started a series of readings courses with a prominent scholar of 17th-century England in preparation for my general exams. At the time, it seemed like a great idea — after all, shouldn't historians of early America know a little something about English history too?

I'm still glad I decided to take this course of action, but I do have one complaint: I have never before encountered such unreadable prose.

The British historians* of this era seem to have forgotten that writing is about more than stringing together phrases that contain facts. Most of the books I am reading for this field are tomes filled with 100-word sentences that recount parliamentary procedure in the dryest possible tone. Oh sure, they get feisty when they're ripping each other to shreds in journal articles, and I won't deny that there are some witty turns of phrase, but there is no storytelling. It makes my little Americanist heart so sad.

Here is the introduction to a journal article I'm reading this evening on Richard Cromwell's relationship with Parliament:
Seeking to bolster the legitimacy of his government, seeking funds to rescue it from the imminent bankruptcy bequeathed by his father the previous September, and hopeful of the national 'healing an settlement' which had forever eluded Oliver, the the young Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell, summoned a Parliament to meet him in January 1659. He was to encounter only frustration, for the political animosities which had driven Oliver to dissolve in haste his second Parliament a year earlier quickly welled up again. The attempt in the second written constitution of the 1650s, the Humble Petition and Advice of 1657, to meld the new and the old, a non-monarchical order and forms of government which otherwise appeared traditional, proved incapable of containing the passions of zealots.
Could you follow that? Even if you could, did it make you want to read another 21 pages?

Here's another sample, this time from the introduction to a chapter in a monograph of 500+ pages:
The extremists of the puritan movement who — unless Field spoke only for himself — had found themselves disarmed and enervated by Grindal’s tolerance had been stung into a renewed militancy by their first taste of Whitgift. None of them was safe from the High Commission, a punitive engine trained with some accuracy on those preachers now known to be subversive. But puritans of Field’s quality responded positively to this challenge. 1584 saw an intensification of conference and propaganda, culminating at the end of the year in a counter-attack launched through the House of Commons, a political campaign without precedence in parliamentary history.
 Is that any way to start a chapter? Who are those characters? What are their politics? How could you possibly read this if you weren't already a specialist in the field?

Writing is about communicating ideas to an audience, not about showing how smart you are. And frankly, if I can't make heads or tails of an author's prose, I do not automatically assume that he is just way smarter than I could ever hope to be. Most of the time, I conclude that he is a piss-poor writer.

There's plenty of bad writing in American historiography, but the historians I know do make efforts at making their writing accessible. Some even shoot for "enjoyable to read."

What's the point, otherwise?

*I recognize that a few of the offenders are, in fact, American. This leads me to believe that the problem stems from the conventions of this historiography, not from national/cultural differences in taste/style. 

Also, I don't mean to imply that my prof is part of the problem. We definitely disagree on many, many issues, but I must give credit where it is due — measured against this crowd, his writing is positively delightful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More DNA!

The results from my parents' genealogical DNA tests are in!

My mom's maternal line, which can be traced back to Ireland, belongs to haplogroup H. This is not very surprising — half of Europe shares this type of mitochondrial DNA.

My dad's paternal line is more unusual (for Europe): haplogroup E1b1b.
We know the recent history of this side of the family:
My paternal grandfather was born in Sassinoro, Benevento Province, which is near Naples and slightly North of the orange area on the map. His father was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents from Sassinoro. As far as we can trace back, their ancestors also lived in the village (pop. 635).

The DNA evidence suggests that my ancestors may have lived in southern Italy before the Romans or may have been more recent immigrants from Greece, Turkey, or North Africa.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Boston, 1770

I'm taking a writing class this semester in order to improve my style and my work habits. I write very slowly and methodically, agnoizing over each sentence and taking an hour (at least) to write a good paragraph. That makes for little revising, but it is not exactly the most purposeful way to go about things.

This week's assignment was to write 1,000 words on any event/s covered in the Boston Gazette during 1770. Here's my crack at it:
[I should add that I removed a long bit on the Boston Chronicle due to word limits.]

In January of 1770, two country farmers, James Hearsy and William Bradley, spent their winter leisure traveling to Boston to purchase “a few articles for their Families Use.” Oblivious to the sidelong glances of passersby, they approached a curiously empty shop in Cornhill, purchased several items from the gruff shopkeeper, and retired to their lodgings with their arms full of packages and their bellies ready for a hearty tavern supper.

As soon as they stepped into the common room, they knew that something was amiss. Instead of welcoming the newcomers with jocular banter, “the whole Company refused to have any Intercourse with them.” What had they done? At length, a man who had promised to accompany them home the next day approached the bewildered pair and informed them that he “refused to keep company with them on the road” unless they returned their purchases to the shop of William Jackson, the infamous importer. Since January of 1769, most Boston merchants had refused to import goods from Britain in protest of new taxes under the Townshend Acts, but Jackson had ignored the non-importation agreement. His loyalty was suspect and his customers tainted by association. Eager to prove their patriotism, Hearsy and Bradley attempted to return the offending items the next morning, but were rebuffed. With public sentiment against him and the Gazette monitoring his customers, Jackson argued that returned goods “might possibly lie long on his Hands.”

As far as Messrs. Edes and Gill, co-editors of the Boston Gazette, were concerned, there were two types of merchants in Boston in 1770: patriots who refused to import British goods such as tea, glass, paper, and cloth, and traitors who “prefered their own little private Advantage to the Welfare of America.”  To show their support for the boycotts, Edes and Gill used their newspaper to publicize the identities of suspected importers and their customers. A recurring front-page item listed the addresses of a dozen shopkeepers who refused to abide by the non-importation agreement, proclaiming that the accused had “detached themselves from the public interest” and should be considered “Enemies to their Country.”  Customers became collaborators and were liable to see their own names in print. In addition to Hearsy and Bradley, the Gazette kept watch over Ezekiel Fosgat, who “purchased a large Quantity of Goods” from Nathaniel Rogers on January 11, and Israel Williams, who found his father derided as “an –famous tool of the late detested governor” after he visited William Jackson’s shop in February.  Through that restless winter, the Gazette helped a watchful city divine the loyalties of ordinary shoppers.

The men and women singled out by the Gazette feared more than damaged reputations. Though the Boston Massacre looms large in popular memory, that event was just one of many outbreaks of violence during the winter of 1769-1770. Those named by the Gazette were repeatedly targeted by crowds of angry Bostonians who broke their windows, seized their property, and assaulted their persons. John Mein, editor of the anti-boycott Boston Chronicle, fled to London in November of 1769 after a mob destroyed his offices and attacked him with shovels and pistols. Patrick McMasters was abducted from his home, dragged to the city limits, and forced to run the gauntlet.  Ame and Elizabeth Cummings, orphaned sisters who sold imported lace and satin to support themselves, were the victims of intense intimidation:
we was alarmed with a violent Skreeming Kill him Kill him, I fleu to the Windue . . . a larg Mob of [about?] a thousand Man & boys aranged themselves befor our Dorr & on a Kart a Man was Exibited as we thought in a Gore of Blood; . . . [the attackers] posted him on a kart tar[re]d him all over the town then fathered him all under our windo thin carid him threu the town.
The threats reached a crescendo on February 22, when suspected importers arose to find their windows smeared with tar and feathers. Theophilus Lillie’s shop was decorated with a wooden effigy of its owner’s head impaled on a spike. When Lillie’s neighbor, Ebenezer Richardson, attempted to remove the effigy, a crowd of boys pelted him with ice, rocks, and feces. Richardson retreated into his house, but the barrage continued, shattering Richardson’s windows, breaking down his door, and injuring his wife. Richardson responded with a blast of birdshot that left 11-year-old Christopher Snider dead and several teenagers injured. 

Snider’s death electrified the city. The Gazette devoted the greater part of a page to coverage of this “barbarous murder,” proclaiming that Snider was “the first whose LIFE has been a Victim to the Cruelty and Rage of Oppressors!”  On February 26, two thousand Bostonians paraded Snider’s coffin through the streets as thousands more looked on. Coverage of the funeral dominated the March 5 edition of the Gazette, including the rumor that Richardson would escape prosecution. That night, a crowd of enraged civilians confronted British Regulars near the State House. When the chaos of clubs and gunfire subsided, five civilians lay dead or dying in the street and the fragile peace lay in shambles.

When James Hearsy and William Bradley crossed the threshold of William Jackson’s shop on that January day, they stepped onto a minefield where everyday actions served as proxies for imperial politics. The tea, glass, and printed cotton that would bring a touch of refinement to their rural farmsteads had become symbols of a distant King’s high-handed tyranny, their choice of merchants a statement of misplaced loyalty. They had not changed, but the ground had shifted. Over the next decade, as the American colonies lurched toward an unexpected independence, ordinary men and women scrambled to find a new equilibrium. As the voice of the nascent revolution, the Boston Gazette defined new standards for patriotism and encouraged its readers to enforce them for the good of the emerging nation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lost Cause Nostalgia

One night, when I was in high school, I babysat for my siblings while my parents went to see the Tony-nominated musical/concert, "The Civil War." My mom and dad are massive Civil War buffs — they went to Gettysburg for their honeymoon — with a particular interest in Civil War music, so they were pretty excited about seeing this show.
They came home spluttering.

Besides the overall dreadfulness of the show in terms of music and lyrics (detailed in delightful pans here, here, and here), they were highly offended by the content. My mom could not stop raging over a nurse's song called, "I Never Knew His Name," in which the nurse repeatedly expresses her gratitude for not knowing the names of the dying so that she can retain emotional distance. Of course, real Civil War nurses were desperate to find out soldiers' names in order to notify families and give the dead proper burials (see This Republic of Suffering). My mom, who was in the midst of editing a Civil War nurse's letters, was beside herself.

Then there was the whole slavery issue. Apparently, this show decided to take the "everyone is equally brave, so who cares about moral questions" approach. Yes, there are slaves in the show, but they are this oddly estranged third party who stand around passively hoping for freedom. The production is heavy on uplifting songs called "Someday" and "River Jordan," but light on connecting slavery to the Confederacy or acknowledging black men's and women's roles in securing their own freedom.

I recently came across the soundtrack of this monstrosity and was quite shocked by it. I had remembered that it was bad, but not this bad.

In particular, one song — "Virginia" — made me queasy. Sung in the voice of a Confederate soldier, this maudlin crapfest is as bald a celebration of the antebellum south as you're likely to find on iTunes. Sample lyrics:
There was a time, a time of splendor and grace
When the world moved by at a kinder pace.
There was a land, a land to pleasure the eyes
Where the old was new and the foolish wise [wtf?].
Truly awful stuff, all wrapped in cotton candy and run through a synthesizer.

My one question was whether there is a degree of plausible deniability in the fact that this is sung by a Confederate soldier. Unlike the odious "Going Home" from Gods and Generals,* which adopts the voice of a modern viewer yearning for the antebellum Elysium, "Virginia" is presented as the sincere nostalgia of an historical actor. Of course, he is a sympathetic character whose highly selective vision of his homeland is supposed to touch the audience, so the distinction only goes so far. There are no cues in the show suggesting that we should regard this character's ideas as unfortunate, problematic, or racist.

After seeing a post on Civil War art over at Civil War Memory, I decided to make a video combining this terrible song with Lost Cause imagery. If you can make it through the first two minutes, I added some commentary near the end.

p.s. I was going to make a parody video of "Going Home," but nothing could be more hilarious than this serious video, starting around 2:15:

*Why do I hate "Going Home"? 
Simple: it conflates the antebellum south with heaven. You might even think that the song is about heaven if not for the lines,
I know in my bones
I've been here before,
The ground feels the same,
Though the land's been torn.
A close reading of this passage strongly supports the idea that she's talking about the south, a place where the "land's been torn" by the war. If you still think that this song is about heaven or going "into the West," check out the actual beginning of Gods and Generals, where this song is immediately preceded by the following quotation:
A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some area of native land where it may get the love of tender kinship from the earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one's own homestead. —George Eliot
It is then followed by a three-and-a-half-hour Jackson hagiography.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

In honor of Lincoln's 200th birthday, I bring you my two favorite namesakes from the 1870 census.

Abraham Lincoln McDonald, b. 1862
Conneautville, PA
George and Kaziah McDonald named all of their sons after famous men. Thus, we have George Fremont McDonald, Kit Carson McDonald, Abraham Lincoln McDonald, and Grant McDonald.

Abraham Lincoln Terry, b. 1866
Miller, Missouri
This is fabulous for several reasons:
  • good sibling names (Illinois and Vermont)
  • the census taker added a little flourish on that L
  • 4-year-old Abe's occupation listed as "Hurrah for the Union"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Frenchmen into Peasants

Earlier this week, I read Leslie Choquette's Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French Canada (1997). I don't know as much as I'd like to know about Canadian history, but, luckily, the professor who is examining me in early American history takes a very broad view of that field, so I was able to include this on my generals list.

Choquette’s in-depth demographic history of the colonists of New France challenges many of the origin stories cherished by their descendants. While French-Canadians often think of their ancestors as rustic peasants who emigrated from the French provinces, Choquette finds that migrants to French Canada were generally cosmopolitan and middle-class (many were artisans). Her title is a reversal of Eugen Weber’s seminal work, Peasants into Frenchmen (1976), which charts the consolidation of French nationalism in the late 19th century.

Frenchmen into Peasants is heavily influenced by social science methodology. Choquette’s argument is based on statistical analysis of 16,000 French migrants whose birthplaces, occupations, and migration patterns can be recovered because of a “mania for encyclopedic description” that characterized French imperial projects from the beginning of the 17th century (10). She does not present literary evidence (not even letters, diaries, etc.) or other forms of documentation to support her conclusions, which is too bad. As it is, this book reads like raw data. Choquette’s conclusions are plausible given her data, but without corroborating evidence in other forms, it is difficult to accept them wholeheartedly. She convinces the reader that French-Canadians were not peasants when they set sail from France, but her actual discussion of the peasant-ization process is feeble.

This book had no maps, which was a problem because so much of it was about regional origins and settlement patterns. Tsk, tsk, Harvard University Press.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Squirrel Bagels

Today, I saw a very strong squirrel carry an entire bagel across the Harvard Law School campus and up a tree.

Apologies for the poor quality of these photos, which were taken with my phone.

I hear squirrels like the coffee, too.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Customer Service

I had a brief (but maddening) encounter with a customer service representative today. I was not able to keep as calm as this poor guy:

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The beginning of the semester always stresses me out, so I like to do craft projects that allow me to work off some creative energy in a non-academic context. Sometimes I knit, sometimes I produce subversive cross-stitch patterns, etc.

This semester, I have decided to make little clay pieces for Agricola, a new board game that Pete bought for us. The game has lots of boring little wooden pieces, but some people over on Board Game Geek have decided to customize their sets with clay replacement pieces. I thought I'd try my hand at it. Here are my results:

The Green Team (Team Ireland):
Pete is usually green when we play games, so I made a red-headed team for him. The father figurine is just a hair over 2" tall (with hat).

The Red Team (Team Italy):
I am almost always red, so I gave the mama for Team Italy a book. I wouldn't be very useful on a farm. The little discs under the figurines' feet are the original "people" tokens from the game.

The Blue Team (Team Sweden):
No one in our house plays blue and, in retrospect, I should have done this team first so I could work on my technique. After completing Green and Red, I was getting ambitious — hence the quilt and young Olaf's freckles.

The Purple Team (Team France):
I don't know what Papa Purple is so surprised about. I didn't run out of clay — I meant to make him bald.

The Naked Team (Team Nudist/Utopian Co-op):
Ok, this one takes some explaining. Normally, game designers will make the fifth team a primary or secondary color (yellow, orange) or a neutral (white, brown, black). The Agricola designers decided instead to just slap a sealant on the natural wood and call it a day. In honor of their choice, I made little natural people who work their nudist, co-op farm in peace and harmony with nature. Another take on this theme here.

The Guest:
In the game, you can get an extra worker called The Guest. The token for this character shows him (inexplicably) holding a cat. I have named him Luigi.

The game also includes many tiny animals (sheep, pigs, cattle) and crops (grain, vegetables), along with fish, bread, and plates of food.




Grain and Vegetables:



Here is a complete Agricola setup (2 players) near the end of the game (Pepsi can for scale). This game ended in a 49-49 tie:

I was inspired by many of the photos submitted to Board Game Geek. My favorites were these abstract, Holy-Land-ish creations and this brilliant take on the Blue Team.